The Art of War
Moon: Hello everyone! ...Okay, I know, I know, I know, I have other stories that aren't done yet, but there are some things you just have to do, and this is one of them. Plus, I've been suffering from a complete inability to focus on ANYTHING over the past two weeks, and I do mean anything, which doesn't help because I also had writer's block. Anyway, welcome to Art of War, my single most requested story. Probably the darkest so far, and the second M rating besides Huntress.
Chapter 1: Hard Truths
"I can't remember why I ever let you walk all over me. I won't take your shit forever, now its time for me to leave." -The Cab, Another Me
"Nearly expelled for saving your own life!" Hermione ranted, turning the copy of the Daily Prophet over in her hand as though she'd like no better then to rip it to pieces. Her brown eyes were burning like wildfire. "From a Dementor, no less! And is anyone asking why the bloody hell there were Dementors down at Privet Drive in the first place? No, they don't, because god knows that's not a serious breach of security!"
Angrily she flung the paper down on the seat next to Ron and stomped her foot. "What is wrong with this country? Authority figures are supposed to protect us! Not throw us to the dogs! Well, fie on this Ministry! They can't be bothered to do their bloody jobs anyway!"
Harry Potter sat on the train to Hogwarts with his trunk under his feet, looked at his bushy haired friend in amazement. His other best friend Ron Weasley was looking equally stunned, through he was also angry, scowling at the paper in his hands as though it had personally offended him and his extensive family.
Both his friends had been waiting for him the minute he appeared on the doorstep of Sirius's place, and immediately asked him for full details regarding his trial after they finished greeting each other and he vented his annoyance at them not writing to him. Perhaps it hadn't been fair of him to blow up at them for not writing to him, but being shut up at Privet Drive, completely alone, tormented by memories of Voldemort's resurrection and Cedric's death, wondering every morning and evening if Voldemort was going to storm Privet Drive with an army of Death Eaters behind him, looking to finish what he'd started. The stress had steadily built up and he'd ended up venting on his friends, and he'd felt immediately bad about it afterwards.
He calmed down, apologized for getting sharp when they explained why, instead electing to internalize his anger with Dumbledore when he found out that he had told them not to write to him. He angrily said that the Headmaster was doing him no favors by locking him out of the loop, he was so confused and helpless, and then he told them about Fudge and the Dementors.
Neither had taken the news well – both of them had been fit to fry almost every day since.
Ron had been muttering about 'stupid gits', 'can't possibly be that stupid, they're supposed to be our leaders' and 'too much trouble to think for themselves' at a near constant basis, sending scowls and dark looks at various Order Members when they started talking about politics or the Ministry. He was frequently in trouble with his mother for the language he used whenever someone mentioned Fudge's name. He'd sat with Harry whenever he could and told him whatever amount of information he could scrape by, the twins occasionally helping with their handy extendable ears.
Ron had also picked this time to buckle down and start focusing on his studies, when he had been more careless about them in previous years. The twins were horrified at this, but Ron was bound and determined, to the confused delight of his mother. After many hours Ron eventually figured that he'd be able to raise his grades once he was back at school.
Harry, personally, thought that Ron had a very unique skill that manifested through his chess set. Ron was a planner, a schemer. And a good one, once he had the right opportunity. They had been playing chess almost every day since while Ron had discussed theory and practice with him, usually pointing the more headstrong Harry onto more careful routes.
Hermione...Hermione had been worse, though. Hermione had been threatening to boil over like a teakettle, shooting venomous looks at almost every adult that passed her, excluding only Molly Weasely, Sirius and Remus, more out of affection then anything they were doing. She was often found reading books on politics in wartime, bringing up the words 'corruption' and 'incompetence' as though they were going out of style, and would talk about what she thought people should be doing whenever she was allowed to listen in on something. Even her plans for elfish welfare were taking a backseat to her current 'studies'. Molly had been at a loss to understand, or handle, her change in attitude; she wasn't the only one either. It was as if she'd undergone a complete transformation from the girl they'd used to know.
Firstly, her original glowing respect for Dumbledore had descended into scowls and dark looks. She made a point of being uncooperative whenever the Order Members tried to convince her to do something, even if it was menial, as a way of stating her displeasure with this entire situation. She even went into the Black family's extensive library in the higher levels of the house over Sirius's protests that some of the books there shouldn't be read by a young girl.
Hermione had taken any opportunity available to make a snide or sarcastic comment on the Ministry's apparent lack of common sense, and the next issue of the Prophet that had fallen into her hands had resulted in a particularly impressive explosion, one that Harry and Ron were still waiting out.
He thought he wouldn't have lived to see the day when Hermione Jane Granger cursed authority, after she had staunchly upheld it for as long as he had known her. It was so surreal.
"Okay, who are you and what did you do with Hermione?" He asked her, semi-jokingly.
Hermione sent him a withering look. "Oh,you think this is a joke, Harry? Because this isn't funny! Dementors! Honestly! There are only two people who ever controlled the Dementors, Voldemort and the Ministry! And unless they sent the Dementors, who else would have? If Fudge is determined to insult our intelligence by claiming that there is no base to everything that happened to us since first year he could at least try to be discreet about it!"
Harry leaned back slightly. He knew the dangers of making Hermione too angry, even if he'd never experienced them first hand. Rita Skeeter had proven that quite handily. And right now Hermione was angrier then he had ever seen her.
"And how's that for nonsense?" Ron agreed mutinously, pointing to the cover of the paper. "I mean, really? Harry Potter, a deluded attention-seeker? Why would you act like that? What could you possibly get out of that? You hate the attention you get."
The redhead had learned that first-hand when he and Harry had fallen out during the Tri-Wizard tournament last year. "And I don't care what Umbride-whatistis says, Dementors being over at your house is more than suspicious." He added. "What would they be doing over there, anyway? I mean, nothing happens to you by accident. And that's a total muggle area. Supposedly the Ministry's the only one controlling of all the Dementors, so unless they sent them themselves, who else could have?"
Ron paused and then crossed his arms over his chest, a gesture that made him resemble his sister Ginny. "After you being a danger magnet for four years in a row? Something is up, somebody has it in for Harry even if it isn't Voldemort. Hell, according to what they know Sirius still wants Harry dead, and they can't find him anywhere! He walked right in and out of school in third year! 'Course, he's actually a good bloke but they don't know that! But nooooo, it's much easier to just stick their heads in the sand and pretend there is no problem."
Harry sat quietly in his chair, listening to his best friends rant. It warmed him to know that someone was on his side after a very bad summer, but his farce of a trial was fresh in his mind. He'd been in a dark place ever since he had seen Cedric die; living with the Dursleys immediately afterwards with no real closure hadn't helped. The more he thought about it, the more he agreed with his friends. And in the end, it came back to the man who told them not to contact him.
"The worst part is Dumbledore," Harry muttered. He hadn't said it very loudly, but both Hermione and Ron stopped and looked at him.
"What do you mean, Dumbledore's the worst part?" Hermione asked, frowning.
"After the trial, he couldn't be bothered to stay two words to me." Harry grumbled. "After everything I just went through."
"Why would he do that?" Hermione demanded, turning on her heel to glare out the window. "First he tells us not to write to you this summer. Now he's not saying anything to you while the Ministry is attempting to make you look like you're mentally ill. What, exactly, is Albus Dumbledore's grand plan here?"
Ron fidgeted with a chocolate frog card at the reminder. "I reckon we should have written to you anyway this summer, Harry." He said guiltily. "Must have been really messed up after what happened last year...them Dusleys probably weren't very supportive..."
"It'll be fine, Ron." Harry muttered. It was true, the Dursley's certainly hadn't helped with his issues from his fourth year, but by now he had come to expect that from them. Receiving no helpful words from his godfather and his best friends had been the thing that bothered him most. "Really."
"It's not fine, Harry." Hermione insisted, spinning on her heel to scowl at the boys again. "I mean it. We know that Voldemort is back, even if Fudge won't believe it. We know that it's only a matter of time before he's back."
Harry sighed and closed his eyes tightly. This was undeniable. What was also undeniable was the fact that he had no idea what he was going to do when that happened. He was fifteen, and not a seasoned warrior like Mad-Eye.
"What am I going to do?" He wondered aloud.
"What are we going to do," Ron interjected rather forcefully. He sat up in his seat and looked straight at his best friend, eyes hard with determination. "Whatever you do, we're doing, Harry. We're right behind you even if the entire world is against us."
"You shouldn't," Harry protested, looking between his two friends. His best friends. He tried to imagine them at the mercies of the Death Eaters and a violent shiver went down his spine. "No, guys. Voldemort is a monster. I'd never be able to forgive myself if he killed either of you."
"Maybe," Hermione responded, unmoved, "But we will never forgive ourselves if we just sat back and let him kill you, either. So you might as well accept it; we're staying with you."
Harry was both humbled and abashed by this declaration, so he said nothing, but beamed at his two best friends with the warmth of pure sunlight.
"'Sides, I reckon mum and dad would be out for blood if something bad happened to you, anyway," Ron added. Harry couldn't argue with that. Molly Weasley was very protective of all her children, and he'd hate to be in the shoes of someone with ill intentions towards them. It wouldn't go over well. "Probably the same for Dumbledore."
"Dumbledore?" Hermione echoed frigidly, her scowl reappearing on her face so quickly Harry nearly jumped. "We can expect no help from Dumbledore. He doesn't care what happens to us."
"Hermione!" Ron exclaimed, shocked and scandalized. Harry was hard pressed to disagree with this, just staring at her stunned. It was the very last thing he would have ever expected to hear from Hermione's mouth when she was in her own mind, but the tone in her voice made it clear that she had given this a fair bit of thought.
"What, Ron?" Hermione asked dryly.
"You're talking about Professor Dumbledore," Ron said weakly.
"So what?" Hermione bristled, shoving her hands in her pockets and glaring around the compartment, eyes flashing, looking all in all like a very different girl then the one Harry had known over the past five years. "He completely failed to protect Harry from all this nonsense that the Daily Prophet has been spewing all summer, and the way he's just left Harry to hang – that's completely unacceptable! I would have been more understanding about this if it hadn't become a pattern for him!"
She spun on her heel and walked to one end of the compartment, kicking her bag under the couch while she was at it. "First year! He takes a highly sought after magical item and puts it in a school full of impressionable children, puts highly dangerous monsters around it, and then tells these impressionable children not to go anywhere near it or they'll die. It's amazing that no one else decided to test that bluff, and that's even before you factor in that a mass-murdering psychopath wants this object, and will enter a school full of defenseless children to get it!"
Turning on her toe this time, she stormed to the other end, Harry and Ron pulling their knees back to avoid getting trampled on. "Second year, apparently at no point during a time when students were being threatened with death and turned to stone did it occur to him that he could just evacuate instead of acting like these was no problem and going on about his business as if there wasn't a highly dangerous snake monster moving about as it pleases! And considering the nature of the basilisk, it's a bloody miracle no one was killed. Do you know what a muggle school does when it receives a bomb threat? It sends it into lock down and gets the children out as soon as possible!"
"I had been wondering about that the summer afterwards," Harry admitted. "I guess I felt like it would have been giving in to Voldemort and giving him power to have stepped away and let him escape."
"A sentiment that should have gone out to professionals investigating the school, not a twelve year old," Hermione said darkly, turning and pacing again. Crookshanks hissed, as though he was sharing his owner's irate emotions.
"It's like he doesn't even care!" Hermione exploded at last, "It's like all these horrible things that keep happening are just minor inconveniences that we should just learn to tolerate instead of threats to our bloody lives! And the bullying that goes on inside this building! They act like it's just a couple of people occasionally being sarcastic!"
"Dumbledore never supported pureblood bigotry," Ron protested, sounding almost confused as to where Hermione was going with this.
Harry, however, having spent the better part of his childhood living in the same house as Dudley Dursley, knew exactly what Hermione was talking about. "It's the whole thing with Malfoy, isn't it Hermione?" He asked. "People see him getting away with calling you nasty names and they decide to follow his example. Snape backs him up too, I don't think I've ever seen the man punish him when he's not blatantly playing favourites."
"Teachers like Snape, students like Malfoy," Ron muttered. "Maybe I should have gone to Drumstrang. Least they're honest about their programs."
Cynically, Harry asked, "I don't suppose they accept transfers this late, do they?"
"Unfortunately? No," Ron responded unhappily, "Cutoff date was last year. They might make an exception for someone like you, but the rest of us are just stuck where we are."
For a moment, the three of them sat in silence, fuming over the injustice of all of this, before Harry turned to his friends and asked, "So, how did the Prefect meeting go?"
This turned out to be the wrong question to ask. Ron's eyes narrowed into slits, and the question was enough to send Hermione back into the red zone she had just spent the better part of two hours in, and she started ranting once again.
"Malfoy made it a bloody nightmare! He was already insinuating that he'd be undermining our authority every step of the way, and that he was going to use his power to give Slytherins the advantage throughout the year. He even called me a mudblood in front of the other Prefects!"
"Daphne did tell him to shut up, but no one else said anything. Padma looked like she wanted to say something, but was too frightened or too jaded to speak up. Don't really blame her at this point, all things considered." Ron agreed gloomily. "I wanted to hex him but we all know that all that would do would be to get me in trouble. Never well mind the bigotry he's throwing around. He's not even trying to be discreet about it anymore."
"Daphne?" Harry echoed. He remembered Padma from the Yule Ball last year, and figured that he should talk to Ron about apologizing to her – he probably owed Parvati an apology of his own for not being an attentive date. But he didn't recognize the name Daphne.
"The girl prefect for Slytherin. Pretty blonde girl, stoic, sarcastic, doesn't talk a lot in class unless she's called on." Ron explained. "She looked disgusted when Malfoy said it. Funny, that. I figured all Slytherins had the same leanings."
"There are exceptions to every rule, I guess," Harry said thoughtfully. "You figure that Malfoy's being serious about trying to undermine you, or if he's just mouthing off, like back in second year?"
"Not sure," Ron said. "Hard to tell with him."
Hermione was still thinking about something else. "Padma did look like she wanted to say something, but she knew as well as we did that it would have been useless – might have gotten her targeted by the miserable brat as well. What the hell was Dumbledore on when he agreed to make Malfoy a prefect?"
She stomped her foot on the ground, causing Hedwig's cage to rattle slightly. "Dumbledore – gah! - Dumbledore made Malfoy of all conceivable people a bloody Prefect for Merlin's sake! Malfoy, who's always throwing around racial slurs like they mean nothing, Malfoy, who's father gave Ginny the diary that almost killed her, me and a bunch of other students, Malfoy, who openly crowed when muggleborn students were getting petrified! Welcome the devil right into our bloody house, why don't you? Give him a shotgun and the keys while your at it too!"
"Hermione?" Harry started cautiously, but Hermione was on a roll by this point.
"Not to bloody well mention he knows that Lucius has been a Death Eater for ages...would have raised Draco to be just as rotten as he was, to do what he did while he had been back in school. And there's no way Dumbledore could possibly NOT know that, seeing as he taught the old fart for seven years AND fought in the first war where Lucius would have been going around killing people!"
Hermione eyes narrowed into slits, and she was completely confident when she spoke what had clearly been a suspicion of hers for some time. "I bet that Draco and his friends have been spreading Voldemort's creed through their classmates ever since they set their feet inside this bloody school."
"Whoa, Mione!" Ron abruptly sat upright. "You think Malfoy's here as a spy?"
"Isn't that a bit much?" Harry asked. "I mean sure, he's a bully, but I don't..."
He trailed off without realizing it. Those words seemed hollow even to him. A swirling sense of dread took hold in his stomach, and he did his level best to assess it. His thoughts were jumping around his head like ping pong balls, it took him a moment to reach out and catch one.
Could that be true? Could Draco be a sleeper agent or a recruiter? Was it wrong of him to think that it could be true this easily? Harry wanted to chalk it up to his personal bad feelings towards the blonde Slytherin, but then he thought about how openly Draco had praised the opening of the chamber, and how badly he treated Hermione...
And how many people did that? There were a lot of Slytherins, sure, but now that he was thinking about it, there were a select number of names that popped to mind whenever pureblood supremecy really came up. Draco and his goons. Millicent Bulstrode. And it wasn't just the Slytherin house, was it? He'd been in the halls when some Ravenclaws had been bullying an odd blonde girl last year, calling her freak, 'Lunatic', and blood traitor. Some of the Hufflepuffs last year, not letting go of their disgust and contempt for him long after people seemed to accept that he hadn't put his own name in the cup. There were even a number of thugs in Gryffindor, as much as he'd rather deny it, that he could remember harassing muggleborns in the hallway.
There were others he had heard using the names, too, though he didn't know their names. Just how many where there? Had they talked to Draco or some of the other kids, and decided to get on the dark lord's bandwagon because they believed in power and oppression? And if Dumbledore made no attempt to reign Draco or the other Slytherin followers in, even though they were considered the 'evil' house, would he be even trying to talk down those in the other houses? Or did they – especially Gryffindor – get a completely free pass because they were on the side of the 'Light'?
How much was growing inside this building, because people weren't paying good enough attention to it? How much had they themselves missed over the years?
Could Draco prove to be more dangerous then a schoolyard bully, just given more time, and the right opportunity?
"...you think it's possible?" Harry asked.
"Harry!" Ron exclaimed, looking shaken. "C'mon, that's going a bit far, isn't it? I mean, sure Draco's a nasty piece of work, no mistaking it, but he's only as old as we are! There's no way he's spying for the Dark Lord. Right?"
He looked uneasily between Harry and Hermione.
"You're right," Hermione said slowly, "We are his age. Remember what we did in year one? We were willing to risk our lives to keep the stone out of Voldemort's hands. You nearly sacrificed yourself, Ron. What was Draco doing that time? Trying to get Harry expelled, and bullying Neville almost as bad as Snape. Remember what you two did in second year? You risked your lives to find what was petrifying students, so you could fight and kill it. Him? He was strutting around, bragging about what the Heir of Slytherin was doing, and hoped that he would manage to kill someone soon."
"She's right," Harry said, realizing that these ideas had been rummaging around the darker parts of his mind for quite some time. He had pushed them back, or hadn't really realized that he was thinking them, but hearing Hermione put all this out in the air made it seem all so clear. Like a fog had been lifted from around him. "Age doesn't mean anything about morality. I don't know if you've read Lord of the Flies Ron, but it proves that even kids our age can be dangerous. Are capable of bad things."
"But condoning murder? Working for V-Voldemort?" Ron pressed, sounding disbelieving, "I thought we agreed that Draco was just blowing hot air. He can't be that bad. Can he?"
"Well, he hasn't really had the legroom to do anything more then he already has," Harry pointed out. "He's been getting more and more confident over the years, haven't you noticed? And all this time, it's like the rules are making accommodations for him."
Harry looked at Hermione, hoping for more of her input. The bushy haired witch opened her mouth like she was going to say something, before abruptly sat down as though something had just occurred to her. Then she rummaged through her bag. Ron and Harry watched her, unsure, Ron looking nervous bordering on sickened while Harry bit his lip, wondering what new logic Hermione was going to present them with that could make their situation any worse.
A second later, she pulled out a thick book with the words "History of the World Wars, tactics, important battles, and generals" written on it. Harry felt his shoulders instinctively tense at the names of the wars that could have destroyed the world not many years before. Why had Hermione felt the need to check this out?
Hermione opened the cover and looked at the table of contents, deep concentration on her face. Ron looked at Harry in confusion, while Hedwig chirped as though she could sense the level of distress and anxiety in the room.
She vehemently spun through the pages and, with a noise of satisfaction, dropped it on Harry and Ron's knees. "Look at that." She said.
Harry dropped his eyes to the page.
It was about the Hitler Youth.
Of course. He should have known.
Harry squeezed his eyes shut and began muttering all sorts of words that he had picked up from Dudley over the summer, words that would have gotten him into a heap of trouble of Mrs. Weasley had overheard them.
Of course there would be death eaters inside the castle. In the media. Maybe even inside the Ministry, encouraging this entire slander campaign against him for saying that Voldemort was back, for being the one who defeated him all those years ago, and again at the cemetery. It had been an act of utter optimism to think otherwise, and you'd think he would have grown out of that by now. Wouldn't he have known to accept and expect the worst? Hadn't he already survived Voldemort twice, to know what the monster was capable of?
Hermione stood with her arms crossed. "Ron, I don't know what it's like in the magical world, but in the muggle world the very first thing a dictator does is sway and corrupt the minds of children. Because when they grow up, they'll be his soldiers! Children are brainwashed from before they can walk to accept the words of their leader as if he were God. They will spy on the grown ups around them and report them to him, because no one suspects that children are spying on them. They'll do what he asks them to without question. When he says jump, they say 'how high'? When he tells them to kill the person standing next to them – even if that person is their friend! - they'll ask him what the preferred method of execution would be."
She paused for breath and watched as Ron read further, turning slightly green as he did. Harry didn't blame him. Out of all the non magical monsters out there, there weren't many – any – quite as nightmarishly evil as the Nazis.
"Lucius was one of Voldemort's supporters even before he came back," Hermione said firmly, looking grimly pleased at the effect it was having on their non muggle friend. Ron turned the page and whitened further. "He will have filled Draco's head with pureblood dogma and Voldemort's ideals before he could understand them. Draco is already brainwashed, Ron! He's a lost cause. He's been so ever since he entered school."
Hermione let out her breath. She sounded as though she had been waiting a long time to say this.
The voice of one of Harry's previous teachers, talking during a lesson on World War II, echoed through his mind like an old, unwanted tape. Lost cause. Completely brainwashed. Can't be salvaged in any way...people like him are incapable of rejoining society without causing chaos and violence. They won't give up their ideals, even in the face of loosing. They figure it will just make martyrs out of them, and they might just be right.
Harry swallowed. It had been frightening to hear that during one of his history lessons back in grade school. The fact that they were in that situation was infinitely more so now, and the more he thought about it, the darker his mood turned.
Another thought slithered into his head, slowly putting pieces together. Taking this information and playing it against every soothing thing Dumbledore had said about the school, to its supposed vaunted safety, to everything, everything he had come to know as the truth over the last few years. And found it wanting.
"When you say it that way..." He said uneasily, "It kind of makes sense, doesn't it? I mean...the way Draco acts around people, it isn't rational, it's lost him Quidditch games and house points. And he's hated me from almost ever since he knew my name-"
Harry stopped as something occurred to him. "Wait. If Lucius wanted Draco to grow up and serve the Dark Lord, why did he try to befriend me back before I knew who I was?"
"Huh? Oh yeah – he came into our compartment back in first year." Ron contemplated that for a minute. "Maybe he wanted your alliance? Or your vaults?"
"Oh, honestly Ron, what would the Malfoy's want with Harry's vaults?" Hermione snapped, rolling her eyes. "They have plenty of money on their own."
"You're right, Hermione." Harry said. "The more I think about it...I think Malfoy was supposed to recruit me."
There was a silence in the compartment, broken only by Crookshank's disgruntled mew as Ron jerked in his seat, staring at Harry.
"Recruit you?" Ron repeated incredulously. "But you're Harry Potter! The boy-" He broke off, eyes widening in a sickened understanding, before weakly finishing, "-who lived."
"And the only one who ever survived when Voldemort wanted me dead," Harry finished, a trace of bitterness in his voice when he remembered why he was ever in this mess to begin with. How he wished he had been born to different parents, or even that he had simply died that day alongside his mother and father. It almost wasn't worth it, raised to fight against this all but hopeless cause for people who wouldn't support him.
Continuing one, his fingernails digging into the palms of his hands, "Makes sense, doesn't it? At first, he tried to kill me – but when that didn't work...he thought that maybe he couldn't. So he waited for me to turn up in magical society again. His followers probably had all their children scouting for me. The fact that I grew up in a non-magical household meant that I knew nothing. They were supposed to take advantage of that. But you two got there first."
He nodded at Ron and Hermione when he said this. "So when that didn't work, they decided to go back to trying to kill me again."
They took a moment, and let the words just hang there like a death sentence. The silence was prevailing, and Harry felt something slowly falling down inside him, leaving him forever. Perhaps it was his innocence, or any hope for support or an easy ending to this conflict that might have remained even after Cedric's death and Voldemort's return.
Hermione gave a dry sob, and roughly brushed some stray hair out of her face. Harry wondered if it would have been better for her if she had failed to convince her parents to let her go back to Hogwarts after her second year, if only so she could stay out of the line of fire of these madmen. He would have given anything to keep her someplace safer.
A huge ball of resentment swelled up inside Harry's chest. Why hadn't any of the Order or the Ministry listened to him? He hated the fact that they were just ignoring his words as the actions of a child who didn't understand the full circumstances of the war they were in. No, he had understood the circumstances from the very first day that Vernon had flung him into a cupboard for one little showing of accidental magic, to the time when Cedric had been murdered in front of him just because he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He knew these people, these fights, these patterns. This was his war; he'd been fighting it ever sine he was eleven, no thanks to Dumbledore because no one else had managed to prevent him from being involved because of things beyond his power.
He had saved the school and everyone in it four times and had a record to anyone who cared to look that proved that he was on the side of justice and rightness ever since he stepped into Hogwarts itself. You'd think that might be taken into consideration when evaluating the fact that there was a psychopathic wizard Nazi after him, and him alone, but nope.
Apparently Harry Potter was observed by a different set of rules then the rest of the student body, including by the government itself. And apparently his school headmaster was also allowed to direct his every movement in life. Even when he's outside of school.
Brooding on all this information around his life wasn't putting Harry in a very good mood, but it was all to prevalent for him to just ignore anymore, and even his ingrained mentality of trusting someone else to take care of the big things was rebelling against everything that was happening to him.
And he wasn't alone anymore, was he? His two best friends believed him. Ron didn't ignore his words like he had initially during the Tri Wizard Tournament fiasco, and Hermione wasn't letting hero worship of Dumbledore cloud her judgement like it had many times before, including when she had thought that Sirius's gift to him had been bought and jinxed because the adults said so.
No, this time they were choosing to believe in him.
That alone would have been enough for Harry. What he was being told by the adults was the thing that wasn't enough.
Why, exactly, did Dumbledore have any say in whether or not he stayed with the Dursleys? Or what he did during Summer Vacation? He wasn't Harry's guardian. The Dursleys were, much to their continued resentment.
If Grimmauld place was so safe, why didn't he stay there all summer? If it was absolutely imperative that he remain behind the blood wards, why was he ever allowed to leave Privet Drive at all? The fact that he could leave without getting killed implied that alternative accommodations were, in fact, possible.
The more Harry thought about that, the angrier he got.
Hadn't he proven himself by now? Hadn't he proven that his word, about how the Dursleys treated him, about everything, had at least a grain of truth to it?
And yet they acted like none of that had ever happened, that none of his words held any weight, that he was just an insane and dangerous boy who had to be pointed in the right direction before he did anything. They were all just content to sit there and wait for the big bad wolf and his psycho supporters to creep up on them and devour them, because Merlin knew that if you just pretended a problem didn't exist, it would just go away by itself!
Ron unconsciously reached down and petted Crookshanks, which he only did when his nerves were well and truly fried. Hermione was starting her pacing again, but it wasn't simple fury that was driving her at this moment. It was anxiety, too.
"They've been trying to do you in this entire time," He said bluntly. Slowly, he shook his head and ran a hand through his flaming red hair. "How...how could no one notice this? How could Dumbledore not notice this? He's supposed to be one of the greatest wizards who's lived in centuries. How could Draco be flying under his radar?"
"Someone else's war," Harry muttered under his breath.
"It almost worked last year," Hermione muttered. "It almost worked...if you weren't as strong or as smart as you are, Harry...oh, dear Merlin."
At this, Hermione seemed to loose her nerve. She quickly hurried over to Harry's seat and hugged him tightly. Awkwardly, Harry returned her hug, trying to be as comforting as he could while his own inner turmoil whirled around inside him.
"What about the diary? Or Quirrel?" Ron added, now clearly on the same page as his two friends. His earlier uneasiness had been shed, and no longer did he share his parents loyalty to Dumbledore, a man he now perceived as one who had let his best friend, practically a brother, down over the years, in incidents that could have killed him.
His eyes were narrowed with thought. "Those were also attempts from Voldemort to get at Harry. Nearly snapped up Ginny too, but that's a good thing for him, right? Us Weasleys...you couldn't find a more prolific family of blood traitors. Malfoy's dad must have picked her deliberately."
"He sure did," Harry said darkly, remembering with a fresh wave of anger Lucius's candid words as he dropped the cursed object into Ginny's caldron, practically crowing over the fact that it could have sentenced her to a fate worse then death, hoping that would be the result. Hoping that Ginny could have been expelled, tried, or worse...
Just thinking about it made him see red.
"Not to mention the other muggleborns and half bloods who were hurt when the Basilisk was rolling around. And both times you had to fight him completely alone." Ron added. "I mean, we tried to help but both times we got incapacitated before the real fight happened."
"God!" Hermione shrieked when Ron said this, causing everyone – including Crookshanks – to jump. Ron yelped when the large orange cat clawed his legs.
"Alone!" Hermione shouted. "Why should Harry have to have done any of this alone? Where were the teachers? Where was Dumbledore? Where was the Ministry when you were fighting for your life? Or when we were being very deliberately attacked by a monster? Why wasn't the school closed down? Why were we left to find for ourselves? Have you ever been Petrified, Cornelius Fudge? Let me tell you – NOT PLEASANT!"
"Hermione! You're going to get the attention of the whole train," Harry said urgently. The last thing he wanted was for the other students to think Hermione was crazy, too. And for some reason, he felt very strongly that this conversation shouldn't be overheard.
He didn't want it getting back to Malfoy and his cronies...or the teachers. They couldn't know that Harry was onto them now. They couldn't know that he was better prepared.
Sure enough, the door opened. Harry sighed in relief.
It was just Ginny...and a tall, light skinned, blue eyed girl he'd never met before. He tensed for a second, but the girl's eyes were friendly, unlike some of the other students he had passed while he was boarding the train. Besides, Ginny looked comfortable standing next to her, and she had never been the freely trusting type ever since Harry had rescued her from the Chamber of Secrets.
"Are you okay, Hermione?" Ginny asked worriedly, stepping across the compartment and hugging Hermione comfortingly around the middle. "We heard you yelling."
"Sorry Ginny," Hermione said, taking a calming breath. She smiled gratefully and put her hands on Ginny's shoulders. "I'm just rather stressed."
Ginny gave a slightly dry smile. "Just a bit. I could hear you yelling and cursing Dumbledore from a few compartments down."
Hermione blushed a bit, though she didn't look particularly repentant. "Sorry about that. I found I needed to vent a bit, Draco being a prefect and everything..."
"I'd be more surprised if you weren't." The girl remarked. "Draco Malfoy, a prefect? Is Dumbledore high when he makes these executive decisions? How is Draco wait-until-I-tell-my-father Malfoy in any way qualified to be a prefect?"
"My sentiments exactly," Hermione grumbled resentfully.
"It wouldn't surprise me if the everyone working for the bloody Ministry was high off their asses, with all the stuff they're saying." The girl added.
Ginny nodded in mutinous agreement, to Harry's surprise. The only Weasley girl rarely voiced her personal opinions out in the open, preferring to keep them inside her own rooms, almost as though she didn't trust anyone to hear them.
"Finally," Ron said happily, "Someone who speaks English, instead of stupid."
The girl responded with a grim smile. She had a surprisingly muscled body, like one who had taken a liking to doing sports and other such workouts on a regular basis. She was tall for her age, and looked quite strong. "Thank you, Weasley."
She glanced at Harry and said, "Good to see you're coming here after all, Harry. With everything going around in the air out there, some of the other girls thought you wouldn't show up to get away from it all."
Harry stiffened for a second, but there was no bite to her words. They sounded sincere. "I wasn't about to let the Daily Prophet drive me out of house and home," He answered. "With all the garbage the prophet is spewing out, it's fairing little better then a celebrity tabloid."
"Except everyone believes it," Ginny muttered resentfully. The girl nodded sagely. Evidently she and this stranger had been talking about this at length before they reached the compartment.
"Excuse me, but can you tell me your name?" Ron asked, naturally suspicious of the fact that a stranger was accompanying his sister.
"Oh, guys this is Morag." Ginny indicated the girl next to her, smiling for the first time since the start of the conversation. "I ran into her on the platform, and we hit it off."
"First thing I should say;" Morag said seriously. "I believe your story, Harry. Voldemort is back, no matter what Fudge says."
Harry stared at Morag; he'd met so much resistance and denial he was sure that only the Order of the Phoenix accepted the truth. Being flat out told that someone believed him without first asking Dumbledore or the newspaper was a novel experience.
"Uh ge beh," He stammered in shock before collecting himself. "Thank you," He said warmly. "that means a lot to me."
Ron and Hermione nodded in agreement. "Think nothing of it," Morag responded, "The moment you decide to believe everything the media tells you is the minute that you loose all your common sense and ability to make rational decisions."
"Hear, hear," Ginny and Ron said in vehement agreement. Harry didn't say anything, his grateful smile widened ever so slightly.
Hermione studied the other girl for a second before snapping her fingers, as though recalling a thought. "I thought I recognized you. Morag, you're the new Beater for the Ravenclaw Quidditch team. You joined up back in Third year."
Morag nodded. "I know I didn't interact with you much," She said. Her voice had a nice accent Harry couldn't identify; it sounded vaguely southern. "Considering all the trouble that happens around you three, I wasn't sure it would do you many favours."
"Don't blame you for it," Ron responded awkwardly. "Kind of danger magnets, the three of us,"
Morag chuckled at that, her expression relaxing. "Understatement of the century, Ron, but accurate. I was watching you all of second year, and I thought you were kind of crazy. A good crazy, but still crazy. When Black broke out and the Dementors rolled around two years ago I seriously thought you were going to get yourselves killed."
"Hey, that's not fair." Harry complained, "I might be impulsive sometimes but even I'm not stupid enough to do too much running around with Dementors around."
Ginny giggled, then blushed, "Sorry Harry, that was a really awful year for you I shouldn't be laughing. But the thought of you not getting into trouble was a bit much for me."
Harry gave a theatrical groan. "Great. Now the papers are going to be right about one thing, Harry Potter really is a danger-seeker! Just what the Prophet needs to hear, they're actually right about something. It would just encourage them!"
At this, Morag's expression became serious again. She seemed to contemplate saying something for a moment before shaking her head.
She gestured for Ginny to enter the compartment. "I have some friends waiting for me. And, Harry." she turned her bright blue eyes on Harry in a way that unnerved the younger boy to a certain degree. "I'm not the only one who believes you. But you're going to have to do something soon, or something will happen worse then the last time."
With those words, Morag disappeared into the hallway.
Ginny frowned. "What does that mean? 'Worse then last time'?"
"I don't know." Harry said, rubbing his fingers together. A shiver went down his spine. The warning certainly wasn't helping his current frame of mind. "Come sit down, Ginny."
"So we're alone?" Ginny asked faintly. She was studying Harry's face, as though pleading for it not to be true. "Are we going to die, Harry?"
Harry sucked in a breath. It had been one thing to think it. It was another thing to have someone say it out loud, much less his best friend's younger sister. Who had already just barely managed to escape Voldemort's claws in her very first year at school. Faced with her, his decision was easy. But even then he hadn't really realized just how far his decision would go.
You never do.
He reached out with one hand and brushed stray strands of hair away from her face. "No," he said firmly, voice hard with certainty. "We are not."
"But you said the teachers-"
"The teachers can fry," Harry said flatly, "I'm talking about me, and Ron and Hermione. We'll do something if no one else will. It's what I've had to do before and I see no reason to stop now. We'll keep you safe, you and everyone else. I promise."
Harry knew that it was best not to make rash promises, but the way Ginny smiled gratefully at him blew away any questions he might have had about what he just said.
"And how exactly are we going to do that?" Ron asked.
When everyone else scowled at him, he raised his hands defensively. "I'm not bashing anyone, that's a legitimate question. The teachers will probably be watching Harry closely, and there's a Ministry representative that'll be at Hogwarts trying to be as obstructive as possible. Whoever that is will be watching him too. How are we supposed to do anything without them noticing?"
Hermione frowned and bit her bottom lip, "Maybe there's someplace inside the school where we can meet up discreetly? When we have to talk about something that the adults aren't going to approve of?"
"The Shrieking Shack?" Ron suggested. "No one goes near that place anymore, and Crookshanks knows how to immobilize the Whomping Willow."
"That's a possibility, though Professor Lupin knew about it he's not at school this year. It's not particularly spacious, though," Harry said thoughtfully.
There was a knock on the door of the compartment. Surprised, Harry looked up and said, "Come in." A young boy and girl slid the compartment door open and looked at Harry with a nervous sort of hopefulness that definitely wasn't the usual oh-my-goodness-that's-the-boy-who-lived look. "Hello."
"I'm Natalie," The girl said, sounding shy but determined. "And this is my friend Graham. We wanted to say that the Prophet's rubbish, and that if there are going to be sides taken, we'll be on yours, Harry."
Harry looked between Natalie and Graham. They couldn't have been more then twelve, but there was something in their expressions and this declaration that told him everything he needed to know. "Thank you," He said gently. "But sides? Are you being bullied?"
Natalie turned and looked expectantly at Graham. "Malfoy is our generation death eater," The boy said tersely, "And between the supposed Light side's inaction and the Ministry's denial, sitting and waiting for the inevitable is going to get us killed."
"You've always protected us," Natalie burst out, "Like last year and the year with the great big snake. Certainly you've never abandoned us like those horrible people who are talking trash about you."
"You were saying something about needing a place to meet," Graham added, "Well, I stumbled on something last year when I felt I needed some space. It's called the Room of Requirement, and I don't think anyone else knows about it."
Harry felt something drop out of the pit of his stomach as Natalie and Graham talked. If second years had guessed the vice they were trapped in, then the gravity of the situation was possibly worse then he thought. "The Room of Requirement?"
Graham rocked on his heels a bit, "How to explain it...it's this room that appears from the wall on the third floor of Hogwarts. Whatever's inside of it suits whatever you need it to be when you enter. I used it a number of times last year and no one ever caught me."
Harry nodded slowly, "Thank you. I'll look for it."
Natalie shot a look down the train. "Malfoy's coming!" She said hurriedly. "We have to go Graham."
Graham nodded, turned his head back towards Harry just long enough to say, "Tell us when to meet you there," before disappearing down the hall.
Hermione quickly shut the door and, muttering something, cast a number of spells. There was a pause, and then a rattling and yanking noise. Draco was trying to access the compartment, and everyone inside waited tensely until he stopped, and they could hear footsteps moving away.
"That git," Hermione fumed, releasing the spells. "Coming to gloat more, wasn't he? As if the prefect meeting hadn't been enough for him. Oh, I hope Natalie finds a compartment before he can start bullying her."
Ron expelled a breath. "That was close," He muttered. Ginny let out a sigh and released her knuckle-white grip on her wand. Ginny had a near homicidal hatred of Draco which was not surprising considering what his father put her through. She'd gotten in trouble for hexing the older student before, mostly being detentions with (surprise, surprise ) Professor Snape. Harry was fairly certain that if Draco had come into the room, the diminutive redhead would have hexed him bloody, damn the consequences.
He didn't blame her for feeling that way. If that smirking little brat approached him one more time these days, and he would do so himself. Draco had been allowed to get away with far too much because his father, a rich pureblood, had an ear in with the Minister. Harry would have been a liar if he hadn't had a few fantasies involving freezing Draco to the spot and punching him in the face until his pretty angular features were all but unrecognizable.
He would have earned it by now.
Then Ron turned his head towards Harry, Hermione and Ginny and spoke again, effectively snapping Harry out of his darker thoughts and addressing what had just happened. "So there really are other kids who believe you," He said to Harry. "That's good to know. But they're second years, aren't they?"
"The poor things," Hermione said sympathetically. "This must be so frightening for them."
"Do you think that Graham kid was telling the truth? I mean, a secret room on the third floor...shouldn't that have turned up on the Maurader's Map?" Ron asked. "It's a bit too convenient, I mean...wouldn't the teachers have known it existed?"
"Not necessarily," Ginny said, "After all, they didn't know about the secret passageways Fred and George have been using for years, even the old teachers like Professor McGonagal and Dumbledore. And they've been teaching at this school for decades. Maybe there's more to this school then just walls. It's a thousand years old, after all. It might just be hiding a few secrets."
"I don't know..." Harry said, shrugging, "He has no real reason to lie about it, but why wouldn't it have appeared on the Map? That map shows everything at Hogwarts, but it doesn't mention a Room of Requirement."
Ginny tapped her fingers against her knee, before saying, "Maybe it isn't on the map because your dad and his friends didn't know it was there either," She suggested. "I mean, they couldn't have put it on the map if they didn't know it was there."
Harry felt himself beginning to smile. A room the teachers didn't know about. It was a perfect meeting spot. "I think your right, Ginny. Well, that settles our problem of finding a place to meet."
The door opened a third time. Harry looked up and his heart jumped into his throat.
Standing in the doorway was Cho Chang, her fingers clenched slightly, but her pretty face was creased with a wild variety of emotions, dark brown eyes stormy. She was in her school robes, and there was a sleepless look to her, as though she was just recovering from a flu virus.
"Hello, Harry," She said softly. "Do you mind if I sit in here for a little?"
"No, not at all, it's fine," Harry said faintly. He was sure he was blushing, but there was something in the tone of Cho's voice that was keeping him grounded. Something was very different from the last time he remembered hearing her.
Ginny and Hermione scooted over to give the Chinese girl room on the couch. Cho sat down and folded her hands in her lap, closing her eyes. Her cheeks were slightly pink, and after a moment Harry realized it was because she had been crying before she found his compartment. The tears had run dry, but it only made him even more at loss for words then he had been before, so he just sat there in paralysed, rather pathetic silence.
Hermione looked awkward, like she wasn't sure what to say. Ginny had an odd look on her face, while Ron was wearing a rather familiar Merlin-it's-a-crying-girl-I-better- keep-my-mouth-shut expression that Harry had come to recognize.
For a long moment, no one said anything, and a slightly awkward silence hung in the air.
"They're lying to me," Cho said softly.
"I'm sorry?" Hermione ventured cautiously.
Cho opened her eyes again, and they were a bit teary around the edges, but there was a hardness to them that resembled deep mountain stone. "The Prophet, the Ministry. That...that rag, and that self-interested pack of bureaucrats is lying to be about why C-Cedric died."
Harry fought the urge to wince as he was reminded of the friendly and genuinely kind Hufflepuff who he had become friends with, only to die at Voldemort's wand in a pointless and horrible death. He looked at Cho, who rubbed at the edges of her eyes to keep more tears from coming, and a surge of anger rose up in his chest fast enough to choke him.
The Ministry was choosing to spit on Cedric's memory by denying that he had been murdered, like his life was worth less then the price people paid for a copy of the Daily Prophet.
"Yes," He agreed quietly. "They are lying."
Cho looked at Harry for a moment, not sobbing, just looking. "You were there, weren't you Harry?" She said softly.
Harry valiantly resisted the urge to flinch, again, and nodded without saying a word. Cho swallowed hard, clearly refusing to cry anymore.
"I know you would tell me the truth. You always do. You're one of the gentlest, most noble p-people in this school. Won't you tell me how he died? Why he died?" She asked, her voice growing unsteady as though she might burst into tears again.
"It's not good, Cho," Harry started, wanting to spare her the story, but Cho shook her head.
"Of course it isn't...but I want to know. I need to know. Please."
Reluctantly, Harry nodded, and slowly told Cho everything that had happened, from Krum being put under a spell in the maze, to him and Cedric grabbing the cup together, to everything that had happened in the graveyard, and to Crouch, because he felt that she deserved the whole story for what she had lost. He was worried that Cho would start crying again, but she sat as still as if she had been carved in sandstone until the story was done.
Slowly, Cho nodded, sniffing. Hermione shyly offered the other girl her arm, and Cho seemed to draw in some strength from the support before saying, "Why did they lie?"
She paused and then looked around the room, beseeching for an explanation for this cruelty, the injustice. "Why wouldn't they tell us why Cedric died?"
"Because they're afraid," Harry responded bitterly.
"Why should they be?" Cho asked. Her voice grew hard. "You faced V-Voldemort. You fought him. You got away and you brought Cedric back with you. There was one of you. There's an entire government full of them, with the law at their backs. Why are they afraid?"
Silence followed, because no one in the compartment could think of an answer to that. This made Cho angry, and her fingers clenched into fists. "What – what right to they have to be afraid?" She spat out, voice trembling.
"They're afraid for their own hides, mostly." Harry said. It wasn't the kindest story, but he wasn't going to tell her a sugarcoated lie like Dumbledore might have. She deserved better then that. "Fudge would rather not want to deal with Voldemort because he's been getting money from the man's supporters, and the pressure of dealing with him after the last war is the last thing Fudge wants to accept. Dumbledore...Dumbledore has his own unique set of priorities, and I'm not sure if our safety actually factors into them. Year by year, it's just the same. Like everyone else who's supposed to be teaching us, looking after us. It's a pattern with every adult that runs this little world."
"When I saw that paper," Cho said, swallowing, but speaking with purpose, "I wanted to rip it up. Shred it. I hate them. I hate them for doing this. I hate them for – for being such cowards."
"Couldn't have said it better myself," Hermione said, her tone supportive.
Ginny bobbled her head in agreement. "It's not fair," She agreed. "But they're making all the decisions because they're the adults. Because being an adult and a coward is apparently the better word then being a brave and a minor."
Cho's eyes narrowed into slits at this, and it changed her beautiful face into something almost dangerous. "More then anything, I just want to make them pay for doing this." She told Harry. "All of them."
"They will pay," Ron agreed. "How is anyone's guess right now. But they're not going to walk away this time."
Cho looked around again. "If...if they won't do anything, can we do something?"
"I've been thinking about that," Harry said honestly. "There are a few ideas that I have but we haven't come up with anything concrete yet. And the scope is something we don't quite understand yet. We have to figure out a few things before we can plan anything. But once we do, we'll tell you about it. I promise."
Cho nodded, sniffling silenced. "Be careful around the Ministry employee, Harry." She said quietly.
"The woman who's going to be the Defence teacher this year?" Ron guessed.
Cho's eyes narrowed. "Yes. My mother looked her up when she heard about her, and she told me to stay out of her way and pass the message on. Her name's Dolores Umbridge. She's a nasty piece of work, Harry, and she's Fudge's chief toady. She won't have anything nice to say about you either; don't let her bait you. She'll use it to back up the garbage the Prophet's spewing out."
A suspicion formed in Harry's mind. "She wouldn't happen to be in the habit of wearing a hideous pink cardigan and having toad-like features as well as a silvery laugh that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up?"
Cho's scowl deepened. "That's her."
"She was at my trial. One of the people who voted me to have me charged, even after Dumbledore made it clear the charges were ludicrous." Harry said darkly. Ginny made a noise like an angry cat and Hermione's eyes narrowed.
"I should have known...should have expected something like this." Harry muttered, remembering the pink thing and wincing slightly. "Thanks for the warning Cho. I'll be careful around her."
Later, during the welcoming feast
Harry watched and listened carefully as Dolores Umbridge got up and made a long speech, and he was growing steadily more wary the longer she did.
"Ministry has always been concerned with the education and wellbeing of the future witches and wizards...progress is not necessarily good...should monitor what should and should not be taught...the Ministry is here to protect you...standardized curriculum...Minister set me up in the school..."
All parroted straight from the slanderous newspapers, and the false grandmother act just made it more saccharine and more obvious what kind of person she was. It really was tailored right to what Fudge wanted the population to believe. Harry felt a familiar burst of anger. He had a track record of saving the school and being on the side of good, and yet that still wasn't enough for these people.
A quick look over at the Slytherin table made it clear that Draco was extremely pleased with this development. Probably one of the many Ministry employees that kissed his father's helm, Harry realized with disgust. Draco was going to be getting away with more then ever before this year.
Unless we do something about him, he thought. If we don't, who else will? We've decided that we'll have to take care of ourselves...that extends to dealing with our bullies and enemies.
"...You are not in danger...to discourage the wild rumours from less savoury people...I am here to inspect this school and make sure it fits our country's expectations..."
Harry cast his eyes to the Ravenclaw table. Cho was sitting straight up in her chair, doing her best to light Umbridge on fire with her angry stare. Some of the girls surrounding her looked as though they shared the sentiment, while the girl right next to her was trying to calm her down.
He spotted Morag not too far away from his current crush; the Ravenclaw beater met his gaze and slightly shook her head. The message was clear. This woman is full of shit. Harry inclined his head in agreement before turning back to his plate.
"Bamy," Ron muttered as Umbridge prattled on. "I thought only Fred and George could say that much with a straight face."
"I don't think even your brothers would make it that far," Harry responded wryly. "They may be troublemakers but they're decent people at heart. They don't make jokes like this."
"She can't possibly believe all of that." Ron said incredulously as Umbridge began to draw her 'short speech' to a close. Most of the students were looking confused at this point, some having taken to looking uneasily at each other.
With a start Harry realized that not everyone was buying into the nonsense that they were being fed. Maybe he had more allies then he had suspected. Near the place where the second years were sitting he spotted a despondent-looking Natalie shooting a longing look across the tables to where an emotionless Graham watched the new professor with a fathomless expression. Given what he had said to Harry earlier, the younger boy was clearly a better liar then he let on.
That thought emboldened him and shot him full of energy. "I think she does," Harry said quietly. "She fanatically believes in the powers of her government. I don't think she'd be able to accept the truth if it was standing straight in front of her."
Ron scowled again. "You'd think that if the Ministry was going to force a teacher on us, they'd at least have the decency to pick someone who's actually going to teach us."
Harry snorted. "Ministry? Decent? Those two words don't belong in the same sentence, Ron."
Hermione appeared to be tuning Umbridge out entirely, focusing on a notepad that she'd been scribbling on ever since they'd sat down. Her posture was rigid, however, suggesting that she had gotten the tone of the whole thing and didn't like it at all. The new teacher finally wound her speech to a close and sat down, at which point the meal started.
Hermione looked up only at that point; she murmured something to Ginny, who nodded.
"Harry, Ron," She whispered.
"What?" Harry asked, automatically lowering his voice. Neville, a few chairs down, looked like he was trying to get their attention, and at once Harry understood why Hermione was taking precautions. They didn't know who would report them to the teachers. The gossip mill was their greatest enemy. If the wrong people found out that they were onto them...no. It was better to present that they were ignorant and work in secret. It was the only way.
"I think we should find the Room of Requirement. Tonight."
"Tonight?" Ron whispered. "Why the hurry?"
"There's an idea I have, but it's going to require a lot of work, and could likely get us expelled at best if we get caught." Hermione responded. "Anywhere else and we could be overheard. I'm not going to risk that."
Ron's eyes widened. "You're considering a plan. That could get us expelled. And you are telling us that you want to go through with it."
Ron exhaled. "Bloody hell...Hermione Granger, trying something that might get us expelled, this is serious. Very serious."
"Oh, stop it Ron," Hermione said, rolling her hazel brown eyes. "Things change. I've changed. We're going to need to do things differently if we're planning on taking on the world. Now, make sure that no one sees you leaving and that no one follows you. We can't afford any leaks before we decide on a course of action."
Harry listened for a moment when Dumbledore said something before nodding. "Alright. When do we go out?"
"After everyone's asleep. Be at the wall for ten thirty. Watch out for Filch and Mrs. Norris. Graham said that it should be on the third floor. Meet me and Ginny there, we have a lot to discuss." Hermione murmured.
"Got it." Harry responded.
In the boy's dorm
"Harry? Is what happened to Cedric...well, did it really happen."
Harry closed his book, let out a long breath, and looked up at Seamus Finnigan. He had known this question would come up at some point, and that didn't make it any easier to hear. Knowing that the adults didn't trust him and now his dormmates weren't trusting him...maybe it had been wrong for him to get his hopes up.
He hoped that he'd be able to handle this situation gracefully, without loosing his temper and causing more problems like he had in the past. Something Ron had taught him when they were in the middle of one of their chess matches was not to let your opponent catch on to what was going on inside your head, or you would be at a severe disadvantage.
It was time for him to put that suggestion to the test. Harry took a breath, focused on forcing down his raw emotions, and schooled his face into an impassive mask.
"Do you trust me Seamus?" Harry asked flatly.
Seamus took a step backwards. "Huh?"
"I said do you trust me?" Harry repeated. He stood up, putting the book down, and looked straight at other boy, while Dean and Neville hung back apprehensively.
"O...Of course I do...I don't...I mean...why would you even-"
"Seamus. Do you think I'm an honest person? Do I have a track record of doing good things and helping out other people?" Harry continued, leaning back against one of the pillars of his bed.
He watched the Irish boy squirm uncomfortably with a neutral expression. "Because if you don't, there's no point to me answering that."
Seamus winced. "That's not fair, Harry...my mother reads the paper a lot, and well-"
"You're free to believe what you want," Harry responded, shortly, tersely. "There's no point in arguing that. I hope you find that you can trust me. Because I've been willing to fight and risk death for you and everyone else here ever since I entered this school. But if you can't believe me, then I'm not going to try and force anything and this conversation is pointless."
There was silence in the dorm as everyone looked at him.
"Are you okay Harry?" Neville asked timidly.
"No, Neville." Harry said shortly. "I've been called a lair, delusional, insane, and a host of other things over the course of this entire summer. I watched a friend die, and then see his memory defamed by people who don't want to accept something frightening. I barely survived a battle against one of the most dangerous wizards who ever lived only to be told that he was never there and I'm just making things up to draw attention to myself. So no. I'm not alright."
He sat down on his bed and watched the three boys. Seamus was fidgeting and starting to look guilty. Neville swallowed and stared back at him as though he was sorry he'd asked. Dean just locked his fingers together.
"But if the Ministry isn't telling the truth," Seamus said, scepticism heavy on the words, "Then who does?"
Harry felt an ironic smile tugging at the edges of his lips. "Good question, Seamus. One I can't answer right now. I'd like to tell you that I tell the truth, but after all this I don't think you'd believe me. I could tell you that Dumbledore tells the truth, but that would make me a liar, because he doesn't tell us everything. Hell, I'm not sure if he even tells us the important things."
"But he's Dumbledore!" Neville burst out, staring at Harry as though he had spoken blasphemy. Harry shook his head slightly. He should have expected a reaction like that. Dumbledore was touted as the icon of the light. Those who stood against him were generally considered Dark or useless, like the current Ministry.
Standing against Dumbledore's plans lowered the playing field for him significantly. He would have to work on figuring out who to trust.
"He is," Harry agreed. "He's also the man who didn't think to evacuate or lock down the school when an unstable mass murder succeeded in getting inside it, not once, but twice, and got his merry way out without anyone ever noticing."
Technically he had let a mass murderer into the school for three years, but that wasn't the official story, and Seamus and Dean were already straining themselves to even take his words into consideration. He would have to start small before he could come close to dealing with Pettigrew; he didn't even anywhere to start except the memory of him being there in the graveyard.
"And then there were the Dementors. And the basilisk. And last year a student was murdered on school grounds. Hogwarts isn't exactly as safe as its billed." He looked causally around the room. A number of the younger years, including Colin and his brother Dennis, were hanging at the edge of the dorm room, trying to pretend they weren't eavesdropping and failing miserably. Some looked uncertain. Colin in particular looked like he was thinking very hard.
Time he gave them something to think about. Harry slowly pulled himself to his feet and regarded the three boys directly in front of him. "We were here through all of that. You guys were lucky." He paused, and then shook his head and finished, "Not everyone else was."
"Consider all that, and then ask yourselves, how safe do you feel?" He asked.
Seamus, Dean and Neville looked stunned and troubled. They stared at him in concert. Ron walked up, and before he passed into their field of vision, he gave Harry a discreet thumbs up.
Harry smiled back.
Harry had no trouble keeping himself awake. The entire day replayed itself before his closed eyelids, as if the stress he was feeling wasn't enough to rob him of any ability or desire to sleep at that moment. His thoughts were roaring, tuning out everything else until he heard Neville beginning to snore. At that point, he quietly slipped out of bed. His heart no longer pounded when he did this as he had done it so many times by now.
Ron, surprisingly, had managed to stay awake as well – Harry had expected to have to wake him. Ron's eyes were alert and he gave Harry a knowing look just as the other boy had tiptoed over to his bed.
Together, they picked up Harry's invisibility cloak and pulled it over themselves. Satisfied, they started walking. They got down to the common room where Hermione and Ginny had fallen asleep on the chairs, clearly playing at having over-studied.
"Hermione. Ginny." Harry whispered. Instantly, two pairs of eyes shot open and met his. Awkwardly, the four of them pressed under the cloak just long enough to get past the fat lady and other paintings that were up at night.
Once they were at the stairs, Ginny slipped ahead, being still small enough to sneak under the few remaining paintings and up the last set of stairs. Harry and his friends followed suit, creeping along until they reached the wall that Graham had described.
"It should be right here," Ginny murmured. The four of them stood there for a moment.
To Harry's astonishment, the wall slowly pulled back until two doors were revealed. Hermione gasped. The doors swung open and the four of them walked inside.
The room was stacked with literal mountains of books. Harry had never seen that many in one place, even when Sirius had shown him the Black Family Library. Ron gaped, while Ginny made a noise of awe. Hermione...Hermione just looked unduly pleased with herself.
"It really does become whatever the person who enters it needs," Hermione said, sounding extremely satisfied. "I think I might have to camp out here while I'm boycotting the DADA class."
"Boycotting?" Harry echoed, turning to look at Hermione. "I never thought I'd live to hear Hermione Granger declare that she's boycotting a class."
Ginny giggled while Hermione snorted. "Very funny."
"I think a boycott of the Ministry mandated class is a good one," Ginny remarked. "It's a more passive rebellion and if a muggleborn like Hermione is hosting it, it could cause enough rabble to draw the Ministry and the teacher's attention temporarily away from Harry. I mean like you said – Hermione Granger, boycotting a class? That's going to turn heads."
Harry thought about that and smiled. "That would be nice – sticking it to the Ministry while distracting them from what we're actually doing. How many people do you think you could get involved?"
"Hard to say at this point, but I don't think we're actually in a minority," Ginny said. "You saw most of the kids while Umbridge was talking. And except for the first years, most of them are going to remember the last few years and how destructive this has become."
"Two of our visitors on the train were second years," Ron agreed. "If twelve year olds can tell that we have our necks in a vice, chances are a lot of other people have realized it too. Of course, it'll come down to who's brave enough to do something about it and who would rather not draw attention to themselves."
"Perhaps a promise of total secrecy could bring out some of people on the fence," Harry said. "If we can offer them a -mostly- safe way out they might feel more inclined to join."
"A way out?" Ron echoed. "The only real way out of this is to pack their bags and run as far from Britain as they could get. Move to Russia or America. Voldemort won't stop until he has everyone in Britain under his thumb, and even then if he manages it he won't be stopping there."
"We could point that out. Or suggest it to anyone who has cold feet," Ginny ruminated.
"Anyway, I'm here to talk about what we're going to be doing." Hermione brought the conversation back to its original topic. "Taking this whole mess into our own hands."
"Our own hands," Harry, Ron and Ginny echoed.
The four of them walked over to a table with four chairs, which looked almost like a military conference room from the movies Harry had watched when he was younger. Hermione quickly set herself on the right. Harry sat down at what he realized was the head chair, while Ron and Ginny took the remaining seats.
"First things first," Hermione said, "We have to get something straight. There are three players in this war. Dumbledore, The Ministry, and Voldemort. Where we stand is in conflict with how Dumbledore operates. The Ministry is full of quislings and will probably fall the moment the two more powerful sides reappear and start fighting in the public again; they can't be relied on for anything. It's been decided that you can only be with Voldemort or against him while working for Dumbledore, who's not just headmaster of this school but head of the ICW, though I believe that position is ceremonial it warrants research before we assume anything. Finally, Voldemort has brainwashed an entire next generation of students and planted them in this school."
Hermione paused and then made her first point. "If we're even going to start resistance, we have to assume there's no one we can trust."
She turned her attention to Harry. "That includes Sirius and Professor Lupin, Harry. I know you care about them, but if we breathe a word about what we're going to do, they'll go straight to Dumbledore."
Harry closed his eyes. That certainly wasn't what he had in mind for the closest thing he had to a father, but he knew that Hermione was right. "I know."
Hermione tapped her fingers against the table. "Now, what we also know is that some people have approached us declaring their support for Harry. I think we can set up secret meetings here, where we can find all these people."
"So, like our own Order of the Phoenix?" Ginny asked. "But with other students."
"Yes, in a sense," Hermione responded. "We'll take in everyone who's at risk. We'll figure out the game plan and everything that we can do from our position, and more later once we have more legroom.. That I'm not certain of yet, but I'll get as many newspapers or whatever else I can find to figure out how we'll go from here."
"This is about protecting people," Harry said, "Aside from protecting the kids in school who are at risk of Draco and his cronies, we'd have to find some way of leaving the school for periods of time to be able to help anyone else."
Hermione waved a hand. "We'll figure that out later, Harry." She took a particularly old and thick looking book out of the handbag she'd been wearing and put it down on the table.
"Now, the most immediate catch out there is the most obvious one. No one can know what we're doing. The catch is making sure that we can't be sold out to Umbridge or Snape or whoever else is going to be keeping an eye on us."
"How do we do that?" Ron questioned.
Hermione twined her fingers together. "I've been reading up on some more advanced spells while I still had access to Black library. Sirius had said that his parents used lots of the spells there, and that the contained spells are part of what made the Blacks so feared. It's the kind of thing that the standard circiculumn doesn't teach us."
"So that's what you were doing," Harry said in understanding. "Well, what kinds of things did you find out? I mean, I suppose we can have a sign up sheet...and put a complusion on it so that everyone who signs won't give us up."
"Regular complusion or confundus charms don't have the punch needed and can be undone relatively easily." Hermione responded. "They're not very advanced spells, and common, so the teachers would be familiar with them. They wouldn't hold out long enough if someone gets compromised. Now, we can learn to cast Obliviate, and that's much more useful in the long run, but there are some dangers even to that..."
"What could undo an Obliviate?" Ron asked, surprised. "That's the spell everyone uses on muggles so they don't know we're around. Some trials have had to stop because the witnesses got Obliviated before they could testify. Sounds good to me."
"It's safer," Hermione responded carefully and clearly, "But the problem is that it isn't infallible. A skilled Legilimas can even uncover traces of memory left behind by Obliviate, and just a trace could be enough to condemn us. And there are two people in this school who are noted for their abilities with mental magic. Professor Dumbledore and Professor Snape."
There was a collective scowl as the four considered those names. They were the greatest obstacle within the school itself and the ones who had unfailingly succeed in failing to help their students in any life threatening situation.
"However," Hermione swooped in for her revel, her eyes darkening as she spoke, "there is something that can unfailingly help us. Blood Magic."
Ginny sucked in a breath. "Blood Magic. I heard that's illegal."
"It was made illegal when people started abusing it to their own ends and forcing it onto people," Hermione answered. "And there certainly are nastier parts of the arsenal."
"No kidding!" Ron exclaimed shakily. "Blood Magic is universally held as something only really powerful wizards used, because they're the only ones who can get away with it. I've heard of blood magic rituals where the bodies couldn't even be identified afterwards!"
"Those were usually the ones that involved draining wizards of their magics, or doing some sort of soul-related ritual. Or an inheritance test / blood adoption gone wrong." Hermione said.
Clearly she had done some quite extensive research on the subject, because she was beginning to look excited. "Not all of it is that arcane, though, and I happened to find some of the lesser known rituals and spells that could give us exactly what we need. What I have in mind is made under entirely consensual circumstances and takes it back to its roots."
She opened the book and began to flip through the pages. For a second Harry was confused, because it was all in Latin, but Hermione waved her wand above it and the words rearranged themselves into English. She stopped at a certain page and pointed at the heading. "This is what I'm talking about. Its a part of binding vows. The modern and watered down version are referred to as Magical Contracts, often used for deals that require absolute loyalty."
Harry swore. "That's what dragged me into the Tri Wizard Tournament last year."
"Yes. Completely inescapable. Once you've made a vow, you cannot breach it. That's why you were stuck. It wouldn't matter what Umbridge or the Ministry did, they wouldn't be able to get the information they wanted, because whoever they'd found literally wouldn't be able to tell them under any circumstances. Even a mental attack wouldn't bring the information up." Hermione explained, sounding satisfied.
"Wicked," Ginny murmured. She looked at Hermione, "But are you sure that its safe?"
"I have the books necessary in my trunk; I've been hiding a few at a time over the course of the summer. Of course, we'll have to be careful when using it." Hermione responded. "But I've done all the readings and I know exactly what to do. And it will send across the message that we mean business."
"Sounds good to me," Harry said, glad they had a way forward. Ron looked more uneasy, but after a moment nodded in agreement.
"Desperate times calls for desperate measures, I suppose. How are we going to advertise this group anyway?" Ron asked.
Hermione conjured up several sheets of paper and some quills. She placed a small silver knife on the table and said, "I've already thought of that. Harry, you should be the one to write up about this group. For now, we'll call them the Wolverines."
"Why Wolverines?" Ron asked.
"Muggle movie," Hermione responded matter of factly. Harry made the connection in his head and smiled. "And code language. We'll come up with more for that once this starts gaining speed. Harry, this is a newspaper that tells the truth. When people come into contact with it, and they have the potential to see the truth, they'll be able to see what's really written on it."
"Fantastic," Harry exclaimed. "No one else would be able to tell."
"Exactly. Tell them where to meet – here – and to make sure that they aren't seen. Try to keep it to just the most important facts. Speak to the people who are in trouble. And one last thing." Hermione leaned forward. "Make it clear that this isn't a couple of kids messing around. This is a movement. This is a resistance, not a game."
...And I think that is the longest first chapter I've done so far (though I may be wrong) Featured in this story will be a darker!Hermione, which has been a plot bunny of mine for a while. And Ron...I like his whole chess thing, and that'll be my tag for expanding his character. Ginny does have a primary role, but that doesn't necessarily make her a love interest. More of the supporting cast will be seen next chapter. Also, don't expect to see GodMod!Harry - I have a different plan in mind for this iteration of Harry.
Read and Review please!