This day was not going how Hermione had anticipated at all.
Since forming a plan with the others - which felt like ages ago but was, in reality, probably just a few hours before - she had been through a lot: she was bruised from Millicent's grip on her in Umbridge's office; she was covered in giant splashes of Grawp's blood; her clothes were covered in dirt from the scuffles in the Forbidden Forest; her bones ached and her hands were frozen from riding that godforsaken thestral to the Ministry all the way from Northern Scotland.
But she had her wand and she had her friends and, Sirius or no, this would be at an end soon. After all, how long could a group of teenagers run rampant through a government building without getting caught?
The thought froze in her mind suddenly. The vast Atrium was completely empty, and newer, fresher alarm bells started going off in her head. It shouldn't have been this easy, surely? To just walk in? Using the visitors entrance?
"The Ministry of Magic wishes you a pleasant evening," the disconnected voice of the phone booth recited. When they had all disembarked the red box, it gave a ringing, brassy ding before rising up again and disappearing into the dark, vaulted ceiling. Meanwhile, the only other sounds were of the water in the massive fountains of the Atrium. Hermione's heart beat quickly in her chest as she turned to look at Harry; they were here, what now?
"Come on," Harry urged, his voice carrying in the cavernous, empty hall. He took off at a run, Ginny, Ron, Luna, Neville, and herself close on his heels. They thudded down the long end, Harry slowing slightly as they passed by an empty security desk. That didn't bode well in her opinion. She saw her own hesitation clear on Harry's face; at least he was cognizant of the danger they were invariably in.
Still, they pressed on, down through the rattling elevators and stepping out into the Department of Mysteries.
Harry turned quickly to the door she knew he had seen time and time again in his dreams, over and over, taunting him. She watched his expression closely and he seemed a bit shocked to be finally looking at it in the flesh. Or - wood, she supposed. Harry drew closer to the black door reverently, before stopping short.
"Okay, listen. Maybe…" he started hesitantly, "maybe a couple of people should stay here as a—as a lookout, and—"
"And how're we supposed to let you know something's coming?" Ginny asked, firm. "You could be miles away."
"We're coming with you, Harry," stated Neville boldly.
"Let's get on with it," Ron followed up.
Irritation passed over Harry's face but he quickly came to the conclusion that it was no use trying to get any of them to stay behind; they were here to help him, no matter the danger.
For some reason, Hermione was expecting the room behind the door to be much smaller and more narrow, like the corridor outside. Instead, it was large and round and had black doors set into the gently curving walls. It was dark, and Harry looked confused.
Neville shut the door behind the group at Harry's muttered request, which threw the room into more darkness. The blue candles flickered in their sconces, and a low rumbling started.
Alarmed, Hermione looked around for the source of the sudden noise in the starkly silent room and realized - where the walls moving?
Oh no. This was even worse than she thought.
Hermione grabbed Harry's arm, her fingers digging into his flesh to keep him from moving until everything came to a sudden stop again. The group remained silent, alert for any other sudden change that might happen with no notice.
"What was that about?" Ron asked in a whisper.
"I think it was to stop us knowing which door we came in from."
Ginny's words made Hermione's stomach sink like a lead ball, the truth of them cold in her veins. Everyone was looking around quickly, realising in an instant that things were going to be a bit more difficult than Harry might have thought. Adrenaline gave a renewed burst and her heart thudded heavily.
"How're we going to get back out?" Neville's voice was surprisingly steady given the circumstances.
"Well, that doesn't matter now," Harry responded. He was determinedly keeping his features from showing any panic, and Hermione steeled herself. They was not much of a chance of going back now; forward was the only alternative - or rather the other 11 possible forwards they might take. "We won't need to get out till we've found Sirius -"
"Don't go calling for him, though!" she warned, stricken. That would be just the thing Ron or Neville would be likely to do without thinking.
"Where do we go, then, Harry?" Ron asked from her right side.
"I don't—" he stopped. "In the dreams I went through the door at the end of the corridor from the lifts into a dark room—that's this one—and then I went through another door into a room that kind of… glitters. We should try a few doors," he trailed off. "I'll know the right one when I see it. C'mon."
With wand in hand, they all reached for the nearest dark door and Harry pushed it open.
The Department of Mysteries turned out to be just that.
The second room they pushed into was dark and empty, with a very large tank of greenish water situated in the middle of it. When Hermione realized the floating objects within were, in fact, brains, she recoiled with the others, and they retreated back into the circular door room to choose another path.
"Wait!" Hermione declared just as Luna was making to close the door behind them. She had a sneaking suspicion that as soon as the door closed again, the room would spin and throw them off once more. Instead of leaving it blank, Hermione cast a simple Flagrate Charm, marking the door with a crimson X.
"Good thinking. Okay, let's try this one," Harry said, picking another door to the left, his wand still ready and raised in his hand.
There was no gruesome discovery waiting for them in this room, upon first glance. No more creepy floating brains. This room was expansive, and just about every surface seemed to be made of stone. Hermione followed Harry, and the others trailed after them, scanning the room from their vantage point at the topmost level of a tiered stage of sorts that seemed to be modelled after a greek amphitheatre. In the middle of the central stage, at the bottom of the stepped bowl, was a massive stone arch with a tattered bit of a black fabric hanging from it.
The group slowly dispersed, each set of eyes aside from Harry's cast downward looking for any indication that Sirius or Voldemort might have been there recently.
"Who's there?" Harry called out loudly, jumping down a few steps in the direction if the sunken stage.
"Careful!" Hermione stage whispered after him, but he didn't seem to hear her. His eyes were locked on the arch, and he was intent on reaching it. His footsteps echoed hollowly as he made his way closer and closer.
Ginny was nearby, behind her to her left, and she hissed for Hermione's attention.
"Aren't there records in the Ministry for bonds?"
Hermione came to a complete stop. When she turned, Ginny had her eyes on Harry, following his progress down to the stone arch. Hermione's stomach felt heavy watching him go, as if there was something not right about this place, and her instincts didn't want anyone to go near it at all.
"I mean, you said the thing with George started with a misplaced spell, and activated something else—" Ginny continued, eyes flicking from Harry below, to Hermione, and back again as she spoke.
"Yes…" Hermione trailed off. "I know they track marriage bonds, but I don't think the ledgers would be in the Department of Mysteries."
"No, me neither, but the only place I can think that the Magical Bonds Office would be is either off the Atrium, so people can find it easily when they come in for a marriage license, or maybe on on the same level as the Minister's Office."
"Maybe when this is all over, we can look."
"Do you really think the Ministry is going to let us ask questions and wander around looking through highly-protected magical ledgers after we broke in and went straight for the most secret and high-clearance level of them all?"
"Can't hurt to ask," Ginny shrugged, eyes flitting back to Harry again.
"Let's go," Hermione called out to the group, though largely for Harry's benefit. "This isn't right, Harry, come on, let's go…"
Hermione could hear the uncertain waver in her own voice, and the roiling in her gut urged her to speak out again when Harry didn't acknowledge her voice in any way.
"Harry, let's go, okay?" she tried again.
"Okay," he responded, still not tearing his eyes away from the gently fluttering fabric of the arch. Ginny was now by her side, eyes just as intent on Harry, the both of them tense with worry. "What are you saying?" Harry asked very loudly, still staring at the veil, and the outburst fueled the girls into movement, but beginning to make their way down to him.
"Nobody's talking, Harry!" Hermione tried to reason.
"Someone's whispering behind there," he insisted. "Is that you, Ron?"
"I'm over here, mate." Ron's face appeared on the other side of the dias, around the edge of the arch.
"Can anyone else hear it?" Harry's voice was getting more frantic, and Hermione picked up the pace, Ginny on her heels.
"I can hear them too," Luna spoke up, and Hermione resisted the urge to growl in frustration. She was supposed to help them diffuse Harry's more errant inklinations, not encourage them.
Hermione reached Harry, and tugged on his arm. He wouldn't budge.
"What do you mean, 'in there,'? There's isn't any 'in there,' way, there's no room for anybody to be there—Harry, stop it, come away—"it's just an arch
She tugged again, but Harry remained fixated.
"Harry, we're supposed to be here for Sirius!"
Her voice was creeping in the direction of hysterical, but finally Harry acquiesced.
"Sirius, yeah…" he trailed off. "Let's go," he finished, finally tearing himself away.
"That's what I've been trying to—well, come on then!"
The next room they tried was locked, but Harry had Sirius' knife on him, and tried to use that to unlock the door. It melted.
The one after that shimmered like gold in a wishing fountain, and was filled with the ticking of time and an enormous bell jar with a bird's egg cycling through a hummingbird's life cycle.
Finally, they found what Harry had been searching for for months in his dreams. Hermione had very mixed feelings about the whole expedition, and laying eyes on the final destination she had spent those same months discouraging Harry from dreaming of them, it felt like she had undermined herself in some way. But Harry was convinced that Sirius was being held and tortured here, and so they flew down the rows and rows of silver orbs.
The farther they moved down row 97, where Harry was sure he would find his dark-haired godfather, the more sombre the mood became around him. Everyone was realizing that the likelihood of finding Sirius there was getting slimmer and slimmer as time passed. The aisle was clear, the massive cathedral-sized room they were in was silent apart from their footsteps, and the end of the row was within sight.
"Harry?" Hermione whispered.
"What?" he snapped back.
"I… I don't think Sirius is here." Her face was scrunched in a grimace, anticipating his outburst, but no one else spoke, and Harry remained silent, glaring at the floor. Before saying anything else, Harry took off running, his form moving away from them. Hermione made to follow him, her mouth poised to shout for him, when Ron's hand wrapped around her wrist.
"Let him look. He has to be sure Sirius isn't here before we can leave."
"These are so pretty," Luna breathed out, and when Hermione turned, she was leaning in close to the nearest shelf of silver-smoke orbs.
They all leaned in closer to various stack around them, Harry's footsteps still echoing back and forth as he looked in every direction for Sirius, or evidence of him.
"Harry?" Ron's voice boomed out a moment later, causing the group to jump.
"What?" came the distant reply.
"Have you seen this?" Ron asked loudly.
Harry appeared again around the end of the aisle, and breezed over to the ginger boy.
"What?" he asked eagerly. When he stopped beside Ron, who was still leaning in close to the shelves, he realized that there was nothing there to do with Sirius, and his shoulders dropped in disappointment. "What?" he repeated, put out.
"It's—it's got your name on," Ron replied, and Hermione craned her neck to see over someone's shoulder. They were all creeping in slowly, gathering around the boys.
Ron was right. There on the shelf nearest them was a small, dusty orb, and the label beneath it read:
S.P.T to A.P.W.B.D
And (?) Harry Potter
"What is it?" Ron asked. "What's your name doing down here?"
Neville, Luna, and Ginny started looking around at the nearby orbs, scanning their labels for any clue, while Harry, Ron, and Hermione continued to puzzle over the one with Harry's name on it.
"I'm not here," started Neville. "None of the rest of us are here…"
"Harry, I don't think you should touch it," Hermione blurted when she saw his hard go for the glass.
"Why not?" he paused, motionless for a moment. "It's something to do with me, isn't it?"
"Don't, Harry," Neville agreed sharply.
"It's got my name on," Harry pressed, desperate. His hand again moved, his reflexes quick, and his fingers closed around the orb before Hermione even had a chance to utter a noise of annoyance at his blatant disregard for everyone else's cautious looks.
Nothing happened, until—
"Very good, Potter. Now turn around, nice and slowly, and give that to me."
Hermione barely remembered the moments that followed, for everything was a jumble of adrenaline in her mind.
Death Eaters. Taunting. Shouting. Arguing.
"Now give me the prophecy, Potter."
Crashing and crashing and crashing of shelf over shelf, glass orbs plummeting to the ground and smashing in puffs of dust and pearly white smoke-figures.
The pounding of their feet as they ran, the hot strain in her lungs—
"Check under the desks!"
Livid eyes through a silver mask. A slashing purple flame that set her chest alight.
Fear bolting through her heart, and then something else entirely.
The big push for a June finish on the shop had been inevitable. Fred and George had agreed that they would need to capitalize on the newly-released Hogwarts students to make June, July, and August to start turning an immediate profit. They intended to open with a bang.
George was bottling up their newly developed bruise cream, glancing outside at the sunshine-soaked cobbles every chance he got. This time of year was normally reserved for trying to study for exams, flying on the Quidditch pitch in the warm breeze, and throwing parties in the common room. Stead, he was stuck over a simmering cauldron.
Fred was on the other side of the work room, finalizing the Owl Order process and testing it to make sure it worked seamlessly.
One moment, everything was calm, like dust motes floating in a ray of sun shining in the window.
The next, it felt as if all the air had been sucked out of George's lungs, sucked straight out his windpipe when his body had been ready to savour the oxygen of the inhale. It threw him off kilter and the room spun for a moment. He tried gasping for air, feeling his lungs expand and contract in panic, but his blood was still screaming for more. It was as if he couldn't catch his breath no matter how much—
"George?" Fred asked, looking up from his workbench. The two had been working relatively quietly and his twin's brow was furrowed in confusion. "Are you alright?"
George still couldn't answer and he began to scramble a bit, knocking over a beaker of diluted murtlap essence. Thankfully, a moment later, the sensation let up and his vision blurred with moisture unconsciously.
"We have to go," he stated, still gasping and clawing at his throat, willing it to open fully.
"What?" Fred was still unmoving and George wanted to shout.
"We have to go!"
"What do you mean we have to go? Go where?"
"I—she—something's wrong and I have to—"
Fred's frown deepened as he clambered to his feet and threw off his lab coat, his arms getting tangled in his haste.
"Something's wrong and I have to go find her!"
Fred's eyes widened, though he was still confused.
"Did you inhale some fumes or what, Georgie?"
"No, you prat, Hermione. She's in trouble and I have to go find her. Right now. Something's happened—something's wrong."
"But—I thought you couldn't feel anything—"
"Well, obviously, I can," he pressed, and now Fred was moving, putting stoppers in George's beakers and containers, putting out the fire under the cauldron, reaching for his cloak—
All the while, George scrambled around himself and when finally they both came to a stop, he cast a patronus to send to Headquarters.
"What do I say?" he panted.
"Who cares? Just—" Fred motioned wildly for him to get on with it.
Just like he'd practiced with Harry and the DA, silvery mist came pouring out the end of his wand.
But this time, it wasn't a fox waiting for a message to carry.
It was a fierce, riled-up little otter.
A/N: Wow. So it's been awhile. But here we are. I'm trying to wrap up my WIP's so I can work on new stuff without feeling guilty, so hopefully I can get this done and finished.
If you're still out there, reading, please leave me a comment or a message to let me know. It's been so long but I love this story and this ship so much.