Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns Hermione Granger, and no one owns algebraic topology.
A/N: Finally. Sorry I'm late. Holiday travel plus a couple of last-minute plot changes plus some real life stuff made this chapter a bear to finish. I should be back on schedule for the next update, though.
Come Sunday, Harry returned to Hogwarts with Ron and Ginny. There had been a lot of debate over whether it was safe for him to return to the school, but in the end, the decision was out of their hands. Harry had to go back. He was still underage, and as Professor Slughorn had done a runner after Dumbledore's death, they didn't have any certified tutors in Transfiguration for him, which he needed on the Auror track.
Hermione was not going back despite Slughorn's absence. She was of age, and her own studies were now so far off the standard curriculum that it wasn't worth the trouble. She was nearly doing self-study at this point, with Molly to help with Potions and Defence, Bill for Runes and Charms, and getting by on her own for Transfiguration (though Bill and Fleur were happy to help). Alchemy was cancelled.
Remus and Tonks had gone to a different safe-house together, which surprised her. She hadn't thought they were that much of an item. And Sirius was at a different safe-house still, as far as she knew. It was strange having only five people at the Burrow (albeit with frequent visits from George and Fred). That would have been plenty for a normal house, but Hermione had never seen the place that empty before.
Hermione spent her days studying and researching, jumping from topic to topic, but always with an eye towards helping Harry and defeating Voldemort. She wasn't really even thinking about her Arithmancy Mastery anymore, although she had several likely projects that would fit on the back burner. She suspected arithmantically breaking down the horcrux ritual would more than qualify, but she couldn't exactly tell anyone about that. She was hesitant even to include Septima.
Inventing new curses and countercurses was another useful task for her, and she stocked up on reference material. She wasn't hurting for money; she could sell a new jewelry piece every month or two and never have to work a normal job in her life. So she bought a bunch of new textbooks from the dental school's bookstore, which was the only university store she knew to Apparate to. She grabbed books on neurology, psychology, pharmacology, surgery, and even, although magic didn't play nice with radiation, radiology, as well as an ICD, a DSM, and a BNF, and besides this, if she saw mention of a curse she didn't recognise in the newspaper or something, she'd make a note to reverse-engineer it or design an equivalent.
But while she was creating some truly horrific new curses, it wasn't random; there was a method to her madness. After discussing all of her notes on horcruxes with Bill, they had decided that the best first step to finding a way to cure Harry would be to reverse-engineer the Killing Curse—something that had never been done arithmantically, as it dated back to the Middle Ages before most arithmancy techniques had been invented. If she could do that, it would give her valuable insight into the magic of life and death, and maybe, just maybe, she could find a way to block it, too.
Finding the horcruxes was another matter. Using discreet methods of communication, Hermione and Bill arranged to meet Harry at Hogwarts on Saturday so that they could investigate the Chamber of Secrets. They had reason to be cautious; they remembered what had happened in the shack. But they had to figure it out sooner or later. It was easy enough to find an excuse for Bill to come to the castle.
There were Aurors guarding the main entrances of Hogwarts, but there weren't much in the way of patrols within the school, at least during daylight hours, and even if there were, Hermione and Harry both had maps they could use to avoid them, so there was little danger of their secret getting out. They mostly only had to deal with the Aurors at the door.
"Name and business?" one of the Aurors said.
"William Weasley, Cursebreaker," Bill said. "Professor McGonagall wants me to look at the curse on the Defence Professorship."
"Hermione Granger," Hermione added. "Private tutoring session with Professor Vector."
The Auror checked them against some sort of list, scanned them with a Probity Probe, and waved them in.
Bill did go poking around to look for the source of the curse on the Defence Professorship. Professor McGonagall even escorted him down to look at the anchor stones, although those were so complex that it could take years to trace a well-hidden malicious addition. And that was if Voldemort had carved it into the anchor stones and not somewhere else, something that would have been difficult during his brief visit in 1957.
No, Hermione corrected herself, during his known brief visit in 1957. It wasn't hard to sneak into the grounds if no one was looking, and the anchor stones were accessible from the boathouse. For that matter, it wasn't that much more difficult to get into the castle proper without being seen. Voldemort could have done sometime after his visit to Dumbledore to curse the position, hide a horcrux, or any number of other nefarious things.
But Bill would look at the anchor stones, since parts of the castle had been in continuous use for Defence in particular since 1957, while Hermione visited Septima. She was momentarily surprised when Septima took one look at her and pulled her into a tight hug. "Oh, Hermione, I was so sorry to hear about your parents. I couldn't believe how fast it all happened. How are you holding up?" she asked.
"Oh, that," Hermione said with a small smile. She closed the door to Septima's apartment and made sure it was locked. "There's something you should know about that, but I need you to keep it a secret…I faked their deaths."
Septima stared at her. "You did what?" she asked.
Hermione quickly explained about her plan, in less detail than she had to the Weasleys and especially skimming over the part about the cadavers. As her mentor and friend, Septima deserved to know, and she was amazed at the story.
"I'm surprised you actually convinced your parents to go all the way to Australia and leave you here," she said. "Whenever I've seen them, they've come across as strong-willed as you are. How did you do it?"
"A lot of screaming and crying and dazzling them with magic," Hermione said. "Plus Dumbledore leaving a specific task for me."
"And they're well-hidden, I take it? They must be if you're trusting others with this knowledge."
"Only my closest friends know, but yes. I'd be hard-pressed to find them myself without actually going to Australia."
"Well, I can't tell you how glad I am to hear that. So what are you going to do this semester? To be honest, I'm a little surprised you came back here at all. Are you still trying for your Mastery? Because I have to be forthright with you; that might not be possible for the duration."
"I know, Septima. I'm not really going for my Mastery as such. I told you Dumbledore left me a job. I was hoping I could ask your help."
"Always, Hermione. What is it?"
"Well, I'm not so sure you'll like it. It's a lot deeper into dark magic than a lot of people I know would be willing to go."
"Dark magic?" she said worriedly. "What kind of job is this?"
"Reverse engineering the Killing Curse and trying to find a way to block it."
Septima nearly choked on her tea. "Blocking the Killing Curse? That's the job Dumbledore left for you."
"Yes," she lied. If they got that far, she'd tell her more later.
Septima shook her head: "Only you, Hermione. If anyone can, you can…I'll help you. If you can do something that big for the war effort, it would be incredible. Although I admit I don't have the faintest idea where to start."
"I have a few ideas." Hermione pulled out her carefully redacted notes on the Killing Curse from her larger body of work and pointed out the patterns she had seen. The meeting after that came down to a lot of talking with no real tangible progress, but most projects started like that. When she left, she felt like they had made a good start.
Coming back down from her meeting with Septima was when the real trouble started. There in a corridor on the fourth floor, a small crowd of people were facing off. Pansy Parkinson, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle like Malfoy always was, plus the other Slytherin boys, Nott and Zabini, stood across the hallway, blocking a pair of younger students as well as Hermione in their path. The other students were little Georgina Vector and a Ravenclaw in her year whom Hermione didn't know. She didn't like the look of this.
"Granger!" Parkinson snapped. "There you are! I heard a rumour you showed your face here again."
Hermione drew her wand since there were already several pointed at her. "What do you want, Parkinson?" she groaned.
"You. Gone," Parkinson snarled. "You don't deserve to come back to Hogwarts with what you are—after what you did—"
"Are you talking about Malfoy?" Hermione interrupted. "Because that was Harry—"
"Using your spell, Granger! On your secret mission! He died because of you, too!"
"And Dumbledore died from Snape's spell, and Harry nearly did, too," she said. "It doesn't matter who invented it. Malfoy did it."
"Shut up! You aren't worthy to walk these halls, mudblood."
Georgina tensed, and the younger Ravenclaw boy gasped, to Hermione's surprise. It was almost cute how sheltered he still was. "Yes, real mature, Parkinson," Hermione said, rolling her eyes. She looked around at the boys. "Is this really worth the effort."
"Worth the effort? My boyfriend is dead!"
"And my parents are dead!" she screamed.
"Eep!" squeaked Georgina.
Finally remembering to play the part of the grieving daughter, Hermione repeated, "My parents are dead, Parkinson. Dolohov may have cast the spells, but he was enabled by whiny bitches like you who think purity of blood matters and try to blame anyone else for her boyfriend being a murderer."
The crowd gasped. Parkinson's Boil Hex sat there on the end of Hermione's wand like a fly trapped in a spider's web. Hermione thought quickly about her options and decided to make an impression. "Let's get something straight, all of you," she said. She drew her second wand from her other sleeve, raising some eyebrows. "People like you killed Dumbledore." She used her second wand to rip the outer layer of magic off the hex. It started sparking. "People like you killed my parents." She pulled one of the remaining magical fields away, flipped the rest of the spell over, and slotted it back into place. The Slytherins gasped as it began crackling with electricity. "People with bloody stupid ideologies like yours have caused unspeakable horrors in the muggle world over and over again until we've become sick of it." She rotated one of the fields so the spell wouldn't fly apart at the slightest provocation, creating a crude version of her own Taser Hex. "And now you're trying to take it out on me—to ruin me. But you won't."
And with that, she whipped her arm around and flung the spell back at Parkinson. The Slytherin girl was too shocked to put up a shield and tried to dodge at the last second, but the spell was so unstable that it didn't need a direct hit. (That could be actually very useful if she could control it, Hermione thought.) It exploded and zapped both Parkinson and Goyle as it flew between them, knocking them both to the ground.
"Whoa!" as voice came from behind her. Hermione half-turned and saw Harry and Bill hurrying up the corridor while the younger students looked up at her in awe.
"That was impressive," Bill said.
"There you are, Hermione," said Harry. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, just taking out the trash," she said.
Parkinson gasped for breath as she pushed herself to her feet. "H-h-how?" she said.
"This is what happens when you persecute someone just for who they are, Parkinson. After a while, they stop putting up with it and fight back. So really, this is your fault, too."
Parkinson snarled and whipped her wand back up: "You—you—!"
"What are you talking about, mudblood?" Zabini snapped, raising his own wand.
"I'm talking about the consequences of pushing someone too far," she growled. "Of driving someone to extremes." Suddenly, she tapped her wand to her necklace and said "Revelio"—not her D.A. galleon necklace, but the other one she'd made as a fun Ancient Runes project. The five stored spells carved into it would only last for half a minute, but that was all she needed. The hardest part was getting them to respond to Revelio rather than a normal activation command. That little bit of misdirection would make all the difference.
Suddenly, with glowing white skin and glowing red eyes, blowing hair and billowing robes, and finally, a voice-changing charm that made her voice sound deeper and echo ominously, she spoke:
"In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!"
The charms faded, but the impact didn't. Nott and Zabini decided discretion was the better part of valour at once, and Parkinson followed after them without a word. Crabbe and Goyle watched stupidly as their allies abandoned them, took a quick look at each other, and ran for it too.
Hermione turned to see Bill and Harry staring at her with their mouths hanging open. Georgina and her Ravenclaw friend were pressed up against the wall in terror.
"Sorry, did I scare you?" she said.
"Mere parlour tricks." She smiled: "Muggles do like their special effects." She was pretty sure Georgina caught her meaning, but she also had a strong suspicion that the Ravenclaw boy—Lisa Turpin's little brother, apparently—didn't, and she had no doubt that the infamous Hogwarts rumour mill would have her cast as a new Dark Lady by supper. The smart people wouldn't buy it. The really smart people might even guess what she'd done, but she was pretty sure she'd made an impression.
Hermione reassured the children and sent them on their way, then proceeded with an uncomfortable-looking Bill and Harry to Myrtle's bathroom, checking their Maps to make sure no one was close enough to notice.
"Hermione?" Myrtle said, floating out of her stall. "Oh, hello. I didn't know you were still here. What are they doing here?" She pointed at the boys.
"We're searching for cursed artifacts, Myrtle," Hermione said. "We'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone. We need to find them to defeat Voldemort."
"That man who killed you. We're going to take him down for good."
"Oh." Myrtle looked touched. "Go ahead, then."
Harry opened the entrance to the Chamber with Parseltongue, and Myrtle fled in fear to hide in her toilet. As the door opened, Hermione pulled her new Comet 260 out of her handbag. She'd finally got the second Extension Charm to work. She looked up and saw Harry and Bill staring at her again. "What?"
"You brought a broom?" Bill said.
"You bought a broom?" Harry added.
"Something of an impulse purchase, I admit," she said, "but you'll never know when you need to make a quick escape." They were still staring. "What? I didn't fancy sliding down that shaft again. Didn't you bring one?"
"I didn't think of it," Harry said sheepishly.
"I brought a coil of enchanted rope," Bill said. "A broom's not so good in such a tight space."
Hermione blushed. And just after she'd done her Lord of the Rings routine. "In retrospect, that's probably a better idea." She put her broom away, and the three of them rappelled down the rope to the Chamber. She had to steel herself when she saw it in their wandlight. The place was as dark and disgusting as ever—worse actually, because there were now live rats breeding down there, skittering atop the pile of bones now that there was no basilisk to eat them. The place was fouled by half-eaten corpses and excrement, and all three of them started casting Scouring Charms everywhere before they touched the floor. The smell alone nearly made her vomit. The rats scattered as they touched down and cast light around the Chamber.
They worked slowly, with Bill in the lead and casting most of the spells, looking for dark magic—which was everywhere—but in the tight knot that accompanied a horcrux rather than the old dark wards that saturated the entire Chamber. Hermione and Harry knew enough detection spells to rule out most places and manners of hiding one, leaving Bill to focus on the most devious, so it didn't take that long to search the whole antechamber. They found nothing, which wasn't surprising. The hard part was searching around that old snake skin—unfortunately, one that was in too bad a shape to be useful for anything. Then, Harry opened the main Chamber.
The basilisk had been reduced to a skeleton—probably what those rats had been eating, given how many of them there were. The main Chamber hadn't been fouled nearly as much, though. It was still cold and damp and held a musty smell that contained a lingering hint of rotting meat, but it was much better than the antechamber. As a skeleton, the basilisk was much less frightening and looked smaller than Hermione remembered—a little—although Bill warned them the fangs were still dangerous.
"It's a shame it wasn't preserved in better conditions," he told them. "In an Egyptian tomb, the skin would've still been usable, and maybe some of the other parts. No one thought to salvage it at the time?"
Hermione shrugged, and Harry said, "Well, I was the only one who could get in here. And between people being petrified and dementors surrounding the school the next year, I guess no one did until it was too late."
"Although…" Hermione mused as she looked around. "You'd think there'd be another way out. Otherwise, what did the basilisk eat?"
"I'd wager it lets out into the Lake," Bill said. "You see that sometimes in Indian tombs—more often for nagas, but I've heard of it for basilisks, too. Based on where we are and the design of the Chamber, it's the logical answer. If it was hibernating, it would've only had to come out once a year—during summer when the castle's nearly empty. We would have noticed if it was hunting in the Forest, but in the Lake—"
"It would be harder to keep track of," Hermione finished. "And the water would have diluted its death stare."
"Yes, although we wouldn't have known that before your studies."
They scanned the Chamber as well, which took longer. There were a lot of nooks and crannies plus heavy enchantments laid on the statues. The basilisk skeleton was hard for even Bill to parse, but he eventually pronounced it as clean as a basilisk skeleton could be. There were other rooms attached to the Chamber proper. The largest was the basilisk's sleeping chamber behind the huge statue of Slytherin. There were also hidden cupboards in the walls that held empty bookshelves and potions cabinets, but they had long since been looted, perhaps by Slytherin himself, or perhaps by one of his early heirs, who must have attended the school at some point, or even by Voldemort. They found no sign of any horcrux.
"Well, that's it," Bill said. "If there's one at Hogwarts, it's not here."
"I still think he would've hidden one here," Harry said.
"Well, it's not in this Chamber. And it would have to be someplace Dumbledore wouldn't have found it while he was looking for the Chamber."
"And we don't know where Dumbledore looked," Hermione said.
"That's not really the point. It has to be someplace You-Know-Who wouldn't have expected Dumbledore to look for the Chamber. And not a well-travelled area either, or anyone might have noticed. Even narrowing it down, we won't be able to search the whole castle."
"I'll talk to George and Fred and try to map out the most likely areas," Hermione said. "Hm…if we could find the one in that sea cave, I wonder if I could copy its signature to make the Mathemagician's Map find any that are here."
Bill's eyebrows shot up. "I doubt it," he said. "It would be dangerous, and it might be someplace that doesn't show on your Map. I don't fully understand what you did, but I'd guess you'd have more luck if your soul-detecting spell pans out."
Hermione filed that in the back of her mind. She had quite a few ideas, but no good lead on which direction to go yet. She did have another thought, though. After some consideration, she crouched down next to the basilisk's skull and, wearing dragonhide gloves, carefully removed a fang from its mouth.
"What are you doing?" said Bill.
"Well, think about it. We only have the Sword of Gryffindor right now to destroy horcruxes, and according to Dumbledore, Harry's the only one who can wield it unless another Gryffindor calls it. We know a fang will work, so this will be more reliable." She rummaged through her handbag. "Now, I think I've got an Imperturbable box in here for carrying dangerous chemicals—ah, here it is."
"Why would you need to carry dangerous chemicals?" asked Harry.
She looked him in the eye: "Do you really want to know?"
Harry took a step back. "Probably not."
Hermione got stares on the way out of the castle. She heard whispers behind her back, but no one dared challenge her to her face, not even the children of Death Eaters. Good.
She met with George and Fred a couple times over the next few days to go over the Mathemagician's Map in detail to rule out as many places as they could where Voldemort could not have hidden a horcrux. Rooms that were in common use, rooms that had shifted in the last few years, and rooms where excess dark magic would have had detrimental effects, like broom cupboards and potions storage, were quickly ruled out. Molly and Arthur provided what help they could without being told why to remember what rooms had shifted since they were in school. It still left a lot of ground to cover.
It was the next Friday night when they got the message. It was late. Molly and Arthur were about to go to bed, and only Hermione was likely to stay up very late, when a shimmering lynx Patronus ghosted in through the window with the speed of a meteor to land on the carpet. Molly squeaked in fear as the lynx spoke in the voice of Kingsley Shaklebolt.
"The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. Do not reply. You are being watched. Stay behind wards. Be ready to run."
The Patronus vanished to horrified silence.
Molly moaned. "Oh, Arthur! What do we do."
"Exactly what he said, Mollywobbles. Sit tight and be ready to run."
"But if we're being watched—"
"Dad's right, Mum," Bill stopped her. "Snape said You-Know-Who wouldn't take over overtly. He'll go through a puppet. He has to keep up appearances. I'll go check the wards."
"And I will 'elp," Fleur added. "We will be ready for anything."
"Scrimgeour is dead." Hermione said absently as they went outside. "I thought we were trying to protect him."
Arthur shook his head, still holding his wife. "An old battle-axe like Scrimgeour wouldn't let the Ministry go without a fight."
"But we need him. He's the leader of the government. If he's not there to retake command—"
"It would be no different if he'd been deposed or arrested," Arthur said. "It might even be worse—strategically, that is. Easier to tarnish his legacy that way."
"Propaganda can tarnish any legacy, Arthur," Hermione countered. "Who takes over if we take the Ministry back?"
"Probably Mad-Eye if we can convince him—temporary only, obviously, but he'll be able to clean up. But we can't think about that until we're stronger. We have to focus on our immediate problems."
"But the Order's been working for a year and a half, now, and we're worse off that we were before. How can we get stronger?"
"There will be people we can recruit," Arthur said. "Others like Scrimgeour. Ministry employees and wizards on the street who weren't willing to help when it 'wasn't that bad'. They won't be the best, but they'll make the difference."
"Arthur," Molly cried. "What about Percy?"
Hermione felt a sinking feeling. With the hours Percy kept, there was a good chance he was at the Ministry when it fell, and a falling out with his family probably wouldn't protect him from being a 'blood traitor'.
"I'm sorry, Molly, I don't know," he said. "There's no safe way to contact him. If he's being watched, we can't risk a Patronus. I'll have to find out when I go into work next."
"Work?" Molly gasped. "Arthur, you can't go back to that place!"
"I have to, Molly. Even in a war, we need the money. And if You-Know-Who has to keep up appearances, then so do we. They won't go after me in the Ministry."
Molly only cried harder. Hermione felt for her. Even with Dobby helping, she couldn't think of a really safe and efficient way to get in contact with Percy undetected. Of course, she had her own family to worry about, and not just her blood family. "Harry needs to know," she said. "Kingsley might not have messaged Hogwarts."
"And Ron and Ginny and the Twins," Molly said.
"Yes, and the D.A.," Hermione agreed. "Okay, I can do this." Counting characters in her head, she tapped out two messages. One, on the Lord of the Rings ring on her left index finger read: MINISTRY FALLEN—BEING WATCHED—BE CAREFUL. That would go to the duplicate rings she made last year: Arthur, Molly, George, Fred, Sirius, and Remus, who probably already knew—and Cedric, Septima, and most importantly Harry, who probably didn't. Since the rest of her friends at Hogwarts didn't have rings, she made the executive decision to push Harry to call a meeting. On the D.A. galleon she wore around her neck, she tapped another message: EMRGCY DA MTNG ASAP—WATCH 4 NEXT MSSGE.
"That's all Kingsley said," Sirius told Harry over his enchanted mirror. "He was contacting all of us. We're lucky he got a message through at all."
"But what do we do, Sirius?" Harry demanded.
"You stay put. You're safe at Hogwarts, even without Dumbledore. You're behind the strongest wards in Europe, and you have four Order members there. Trust them."
"But what about you?"
"Remus and I will be fine. We're good at hiding. We got through the last war just fine, after all. The only thing you need to worry about is the Slytherin students. I know you can take them in a fight, but they might take you by surprise."
"Yeah. I told you they tried to go after Hermione last—ah!" He hissed and looked down at his hand. Sirius would have reacted, but he felt a burning on his own hand. He'd nearly forgotten the ring Hermione had given him a year ago to send messages outside the usual Order channels.
"Hermione sent a message," Harry said, but his face fell when he read it. "Ministry fallen, being watched, be careful. Yeah, tell me something I don't know, Hermione—ouch!"
"What is it, Pup?" Sirius asked.
"And she just did," he said. "The galleon necklace she made me—the one for the D.A. She sent another message…Emergency D.A. meeting ASAP. Watch for next message," he read off. "But we didn't call a…oh. She's calling the meeting for me."
"It sounds like she wants you to warn the others," Sirius observed.
"Yeah, I get it. It'd be nice to get a heads-up first, though." Of course, he thought, Hermione didn't really have any truly secret one-to-one communication methods besides Dobby, and the elf wasn't perfect at staying out of sight. Still, there was no reason not to, so he called the meeting.
About half of the D.A. showed up. Probably, most of them had been ignoring their galleons after the D.A. was de facto disbanded with Umbridge's ousting, but he guessed a lot of them started watching again after Dumbledore's death. Things were more dangerous now, and they would want the reassurance of the group and Harry in particular.
They met in the Room of Requirement, being the only room in the castle where they could be assured of a private meeting. It was public knowledge now, sort of, but now that he knew more about it, he could specify that only D.A. members would be allowed in.
All the Gryffindors from their year came, and so did Ginny and the Creevey Brothers. They were missing quite a few who had graduated, though, and Harry noted with sadness that two of their number, Lee and Cho, had died. A handful showed up from the other houses: Luna, Padma, and Anthony from Ravenclaw; Susan, Hannah, and Justin from Hufflepuff. Even two Slytherins showed up: Georgina Vector and Astoria Greengrass.
"Thank Merlin Potter's doing something," Astroria said wearily.
"I didn't know you were still watching the galleons," Harry said.
"Are you kidding? We never stopped watching," she replied as she lay against a pile of cushions, her eyes closed. It wasn't easy for her to climb all the way to the seventh floor. "We can read the writing on the wall. We need connections to other people who can help us. Daphne and Tracey have been watching, too, but they sent us alone so they could keep up appearances."
Harry frowned. That phrase was being used a lot tonight, and he was concerned for the other two girls. "Will you all be safe enough in Slytherin?"
"We'll have to be, won't we?" she replied. "It's not like there's anyplace else we can go. It's not as bad as you think, Potter. Parkinson puts on a good show, but they're pretty disorganised without Malfoy—and scared of you because you killed him." Harry flinched at that. "We're mainly hoping we can count on the D.A. to come to our aid if something happens."
Harry looked around at the D.A. They looked pretty disorganised, too. "Some of us, I think," he said. "A lot of the others still don't care for Slytherin that much. But if you actually need to get out…Hermione's spent time living in here before."
"Here?" Astoria said in disbelief.
"Yes, I know about it," Georgina said. "She reset it to look like a bedroom and told it not to let anyone else in. It could work in a pinch."
"Huh. Worth keeping in mind, I guess."
Harry was relieved. He had a feeling the girls might need it in the future. Once he felt that everyone was there who would be coming, he started the meeting. It was somewhat underwhelming when it came down to it. He told them what he knew, which wasn't much. He told them about the coup at the Ministry and that the new government would be a puppet for Voldemort. No, he didn't know anything about who had been injured or killed. No, he wouldn't explain how he got his information, but yes, it was trustworthy. Yes, they were safe at Hogwarts—probably safer than anywhere else, especially the muggle-borns. He repeated Sirius's assertion that the biggest threat was the Slytherin students causing trouble.
Susan Bones recommended that they use the buddy system—go everywhere in twos and threes in case the Slytherins tried something. That was readily agreed to. Harry told them that Professors McGonagall, Hagrid, and Jones were definitely clean and safe to go to if they were in trouble. He made a mental note to tell Astoria and Georgina privately that Snape was also on that list. The Creevey Brothers wanted to start training in spells again—stuff that would be useful in a serious fight—but not everyone agreed there.
"We've actually got a good Defence teacher this year," Anthony Goldstein pointed out.
"But that's not reliable," Colin said. "Things are getting dangerous. You never know what'll happen. Dumbledore was killed halfway through the year. Plus the Defence teacher already changes every year, and most of them suck."
"Let's vote, then," Ginny suggested. They did, and the motion carried easily. She shot Harry a smug look, but Harry wasn't averse to it. He took a little time to put them through their paces, though he went easy on them since it was the first meeting since last year.
Dean Thomas was the one who suggested they start recruiting again. Harry was sceptical, both because they'd been outed and because half of them hadn't even shown up tonight.
"They will when we get the word out about You-Know-Who," Dean said. "Look, the D.A. isn't exactly a secret anymore, but they never got our member list and they don't know how this room works…Actually, I don't know how it works, and I'm pretty sure Seamus didn't either, so they probably didn't get anything."
"Well, you just…wait, you all don't know?" Harry said in surprise.
Most of the group shook their heads. "We just know it's a secret room that only you and Hermione knew how to get into," said Padma. "You always had it set up already when we got here."
"But…" He was really confused now. "Everyone who does know how the Room works—did you tell anyone?"
The few who did shook their heads.
"Hermione didn't want too many people knowing," said Georgina Vector.
"I don't think anyone else knew at all," Neville said. "Ron was in charge after you got expelled, and he didn't tell."
"But didn't we tell…?" He looked around uncertainly.
"I don't think it was anyone but me and my brothers and Georgina," Ginny said. "Why does it matter?"
"Because Draco Malfoy was practically living in this room all last term. How did he know how to get in?"
Silence. No one seemed to know. Most of them hadn't even known that Malfoy was doing something suspicious, and Harry himself didn't know what he'd been doing in the Room. True, he couldn't rule out the people who weren't there, but now that he thought about it, he didn't think they had told anyone else how the Room actually worked—certainly not well enough to keep everyone else out when they tried to spy on him. So how…? "Never mind," he said. He'd ask Hermione about it later. "So the group and the Room are actually more secret than I thought. Now, if we're just practising spells, that doesn't really matter, but if we're keeping each other safe and helping people out if they're in trouble—"
"And fighting back," Colin piped up.
"Maybe fighting back," he clarified. "But especially then—keeping things quiet is a good idea. So we'll stick with the contract. I guess it's still binding on things that aren't public knowledge yet unless Hermione or I cancel it. Just be careful about who you recruit. Slytherins aren't the ones to worry about. Remember, Peter Pettigrew was a Gryffindor."
"Not to mention Seamus," Dean pointed out sourly.
Ron quickly jumped in: "Seamus was a mistake. We let it slip to him before we figured we needed to keep it a secret."
"So yeah," Harry said. "Be careful who you recruit. And remember, they all need to sign before they can join."
"Got it," Ginny said. "Dumbledore's Army: still recruiting."
Saturday morning was tense at the Burrow. No one had got much sleep. Despite Arthur's conviction that they wouldn't be targeted directly, they had had people keep watch. But morning came without incident, and Molly started making breakfast as usual.
Hermione wearily pulled herself out of bed and trudged down to the kitchen. The problems that had looked difficult yesterday now looked near-insurmountable with the Ministry co-opted. It was even worse than last year when Fudge was being obstructionist and covering things up. This Ministry would be actively hostile and wouldn't hesitate to kill her if they could get away with it. With a shadow government like that in place, there weren't many people she could trust, and there was that much more risk that someone would figure out what she was up to. She talked to Bill over breakfast about stepping things up: "I think we need to prioritise finding the items, Bill," she said. "Once they're in hand, I can focus on our other problems, but if Voldemort—"
There was a sound that reminded Hermione of the time Voldemort shattered all of the windows in the Ministry Atrium, but more felt than heard this time. It rattled the Burrow to its foundations and was followed by a shrill whistle like a teakettle. Molly screamed, and the rest of the Weasleys sprang into action.
"What? What is it?" Hermione cried.
"The wards just broke!" Bill yelled.
"All of them?"
"What?! But how?"
The front door was blown off its hinges and crashed into the opposite wall in the living room. It was only luck that all five of them were in the kitchen at the time.
"Death Eaters!" Fleur yelled.
And indeed, two of them masked wizards were stomping in the front door. Arthur and Bill ran to the front to protect the women, but the women in the house were all fine duellists, too. Hermione was on the front line in seconds, both wands out and casting fast. In response, the Death Eaters were casting fire and explosive curses everywhere, trying to bring the house down around their ears, and with the wards broken, it might not be that hard. The Burrow was practically held up by magic as it was.
"We have to get out of here!" Bill ordered. "Reinforcements will be coming fast once they realise who they've got."
"Accio handbag!" Hermione summoned her expanded handbag to herself amid many hexes and curses. She had everything she needed in there. She kept casting: Zwinger! Extonio! Reducto! Fulmina! Ossificans! Diffindo! Dridristaub! Carnifex! Confringo! Photia Damaskou! Trigeminal Neuralgia! Rigor Mortis!
She cast some of the curses verbally, while others she successfully cast nonverbally. The trouble was, in the heat of battle, she wasn't sure which ones she had spoken aloud. The Death Eaters dodged and fought back hard, including with Killing Curses that they had to dodge or block with physical objects. Arthur and Bill pushed forward, however, manoeuvring the Death Eaters around, and she followed their lead. With more of them, she and the Weasleys had the advantage and could push them where they wanted—away from the Floo, even as the house was burning around them.
Luckily, after Kingsley's warning, the Weasleys also had the essentials packed in expanded trunks ready to go. Hermione was vaguely aware of Arthur shouting "Molly, get the Floo!" as one of the Death Eaters shielded her Butchering Spell. She'd found Carnifex in a book as a non-dark cutting spell strong enough to cleave through bone, but it didn't serve as more than a distraction here.
Molly called out "Prewett Manor!" at the fireplace while one of the Death Eaters staggered as Hermione's Blinding Laser Curse hit him dead in the face, the twin infrared lasers lancing straight through his shield. The corneal burns would leave him blind as a bat for three days. But even through the noise of battle, they could hear the cracks of more Death Eaters Apparating in.
Molly and Fleur dove through the Floo, and Bill shoved Hermione in after them just as her last curse grazed a Death Eater's arm. She felt herself tumbling through an extra-dimensional space before she fell out of the fireplace in an ornate sitting room. She look up to see a disapproving old lady berating Molly and Fleur for their messy entrance. Bill stumbled out a moment later, and Arthur finally followed just before the fire went out.
"Goodness gracious!" the old woman said. "What is all this mess?"
"I was trying to tell you, Auntie Muriel. We were attacked!" Molly sniped back. "The wards at the Burrow came down, and Death Eaters showed up and tried to burn the place!"
"The wards came down?" Aunt Muriel said incredulously. "What kind of slipshod wards did you have on that house. Couldn't afford proper ones, could you? I always told you that boy would come to trouble—"
"That 'boy' is my husband, Auntie," Molly cut her off.
"The problem wasn't the wards," Hermione cut in. "It's much worse. The amount of power it would take to smash through them like that is astronomical. It would take a ley line convergence with…Bill, I haven't studied much geomancy. What kind of power are we looking at?"
"It would take a stronger ley line convergence than the one in the town with us specifically within its area of influence—which is a short list. But I can save you the trouble. I'm pretty sure that was a Taboo Curse, and it would have to have come from the master control circle at the Ministry."
"A Taboo Curse?" she said. "What's that?"
"It's a curse that detects when a certain word or name is said. It originated in Polynesia. Out there, it could cover a small island easily. I've never heard of it being used on an area as large as Britain, but if they have the Ministry, they can control the entire ley line network to do it."
"I don't understand," Hermione said. "What does that have to do with the wards?"
"It detects the name being said anywhere," Bill insisted. "Through any wards. If it's fuelled by a powerful ley line convergence, it'll just small through them to get the information."
Hermione gasped: "Any wards?"
"Any," he nodded. "It won't break Fidelius because it's ritual magic that deflects magic around it, and Unplottability runs on the national network too, but it'll still give a general location for both of them, and it'll shatter damn near anything else."
"What about Hogwarts?" Molly said fearfully.
"Hogwarts is safe, Mum. It's built on a stronger convergence than the control circle."
"But what set off the Taboo—" Hermione said, and then she paled, and her heart started racing. "Oh God…oh God, oh God. I said—I said You-Know-Who's name, didn't I?"
Bill nodded sadly: "I'm sorry, Hermione. With the way You-Know-Who is about his name, that has to be what it was."
Hermione slumped to the floor. This was too much. The Weasleys had welcomed her into their home, and she got it burnt to the ground. "I'm sorry," she choked. "I'm so sorry."
Arthur knelt down beside her. "Hermione—Hermione, it's not your fault. The Death Eaters are the ones who did this."
"I was the only one there who says his name, though."
"And you were only doing what Dumbledore always said we should all do. If he'd got his way, the Taboo would have been useless."
"Your house, though…"
"Listen, Hermione, all that stuff back there? It can be replaced. You can't. We got everything that was valuable out of there thanks to Kingsley's warning. It's going to be okay."
"Are you mad?" Muriel jumped in. "You're telling me this foolish girl doesn't have the sense to not say You-Know-Who's name?"
"Muriel, this is not the time—" Arthur said.
"Not the time?" Muriel shrieked. "Your house just got burnt down because of her—"
"It wasn't her fault. She didn't know—"
"Get her out of here before she slips up again—"
"Bill didn't even know until it happened—"
"But at least he has sense. Send the little hussy to her delinquent boyfriend—"
"Don't talk about Hermione and George like that!" Molly shouted.
"I won't have a threat like her in my house—"
Everyone stopped and turned to see Hermione standing and shakily pointing her wand at her own throat. No one spoke. Presently, she put it away, then rummaged through her handbag and pulled out a stack of index cards and a ballpoint pen. Calmly and silently, she wrote a message and passed it around the group.
There. Now, let's discuss this like civil adults.
Muriel's right. I need to break the habit. I'm worried about slipping up. Even if I went behind a Fidelius, there would be a risk. As Bill said, it would give away the general location.
I'm going to try to find a solution, if Bill will help me.
I know enough nonverbal magic to get by for now.
The Weasleys looked back at her with wide eyes when they read her note. "Hermione…" Molly said. "You don't need to silence yourself for us. We trust you." She shot a glare at Muriel to keep her from contradicting her.
Hermione shook her head and started writing another message. This time, she paused in the middle to think about her wording. She finally settled on:
Thank you, Molly, but I don't trust myself just now.
It's a muggle trait to say what needs to be said, if that makes sense. We They would agree with Dumbledore that refusing to speak a name or refusing to speak an uncomfortable truth only makes things worse.
I don't like the fact that the opposite can be true in the wizarding world, but I don't have time to relearn it now. This is the best way.
"Well, that's still very gracious of you, Hermione," Bill said. "I'm not sure what kind of solution you think we can find, but I'll help you if I can."
Muriel voiced a grudging agreement.
Hermione nodded her thanks. Another thought struck her, and she quickly tapped out a message on her ring:
TABOO ON YOUKNOWWHOS NAME—DO NOT SAY!
As explanation, she wrote another note:
I think Sirius, Remus, and Harry are the only other ones who normally say You-Know-Who's name.
Maybe Ginny, but I don't think she says it much.
Now, they'll be warned.
"That's good," Bill said. "I should have thought of that. I was setting up a cabin as an emergency retreat for Fleur and me, but Remus is the Secret Keeper. I'll have to try to get more details to him. If he's at more risk than we are, it could be a problem."
"Hermione," Arthur said, "if I may ask, what was that last spell you used back there? It sounded…unusual."
Hermione made an exaggerated sighing motion to get her point across and explained:
It's not what you think.
Well, it works by the same mechanism, but it doesn't kill the tissue.
It binds the muscle fibres together so that the area where it strikes becomes as stiff as a corpse for a day or two.
Honestly, it's not as powerful as my Ossifying Curse, but it's easier to cast and doesn't seem to have been thought of before.
I built it from a hair-styling charm that never worked quite right.
"That's…frankly a little disturbing, but I understand," Arthur said.
"So what do we do now?" asked Fleur wearily. "We are safe for now, but eef ze Ministry 'as fallen, what can we do from here?"
There was silence for a moment, and Arthur said, "We keep fighting, Fleur. Any way we can. Hermione seems to have a plan already."
Hermione nodded and wrote a short message:
Vive la Résistance.
Carnifex: Credit to EssayofThoughts (see their work here and at AO3 and Tumblr) for this idea.
Photia Damaskou: Greek for "light of Damascus".
Rigor Mortis: from the medical term; Latin for "stiffness of death".