Disclaimer: JK Rowling really didn't think through the ethical implications of what the Carrows were doing to the students at Hogwarts…but she still owns Harry Potter.
Dean sat beside the immobile body of Penelope Clearwater where she was laid out on one of the beds in the Factory. She was still breathing on her own, but her eyes remained closed, and she didn't move, even to turn in her sleep. As he gazed down at her body, Hermione came in and pulled a chair over to sit by him.
"How are you doing?" she asked softly.
"Still sick to my stomach," he said.
"I know the feeling," she said.
"She saved me."
"I just…I wish I could do something for her."
"I know." Hermione had never seen the Dementor's Kiss carried out, and she probably would have traded a year of her life to never have to witness it in person, but it was not to be. She looked down and the young woman and held the hand that couldn't feel her.
"I don't think I ever so much as talked to her when we were in school together," Dean went on. "And then Umbridge set that thing on me and…" He didn't finish.
"She helped me out once," Hermione said after a pause. "When the whole Chamber of Secrets thing was going on, she helped me figure out that the monster was a basilisk and made the blue glasses that kept me from being petrified."
Dean looked up at her: "Really? I think 'helped you out' is an understatement."
That sat in silence for a few minutes. It was hard to think of anything to say at a time like this. After a while, Dean started shaking his head. "This is wrong," he muttered.
"Yeah," Hermione agreed.
"I mean, this is wrong. She's lying there without a…" Without a soul. "That's not supposed to happen! I went to church growing up, you know. They'd have thought this was ridiculous—impossible. It's not supposed to work like this."
Hermione nodded: "I did, too. A lot of wizards belong the same church I do and probably you do, but they go on believing…this…all the same. You'd think they'd be different having tangible proof of the existence of souls." Or horcruxes. "I barely believed myself anymore, but when I learnt about that—I mean, shouldn't that change everything?"
"You'd think, but they just…they don't think the muggle way," Dean complained.
"I know," she groaned. "So many wizards don't have an ounce of logic. And this…augh!" Where did this deal with the devil come from? She just couldn't fathom what they were thinking.
Dean chuckled weakly. "My sentiments exactly, Hermione."
She slumped back in her chair. "What were you doing in there anyway, Dean? I'm not judging, mind you, but I thought you'd go to ground fast and stay there."
"I did at first," he said, leaning back. "But I couldn't just stay there. Not when other muggle-borns were being hunted down. I wanted to help. I'm pretty sure my dad was a wizard, and magical Britain's so small, there's gotta be records on him somewhere, right?" Hermione nodded. A lot of purebloods didn't have much perspective on how tiny a community of ten thousand was. "There can't even be that many candidates," he added. "Not that many black wizards, and he'd have to be the right age and had to've dropped off their radar either when he met Mum or when he disappeared."
Hermione did the mental math. It was obvious when she thought about it. "A hundred at most even before the last bit," she said. "Enough to find him in an afternoon if you could move freely."
Even Dean looked surprised at how easy it ought to be. "I knew it was risky, but I thought I could do the most good if I could prove it and work from the inside," he said. "You know, a wizard in good standing who actually knows the muggle world helping the muggle-borns get out…Plus, I really wanted to know who my dad was."
Hermione reached out and patted him on the shoulder. "I understand," she said.
His hung his head, and his shoulders shook with anguish. "And now, Penelope got…Kissed trying to save me!"
"So what do you want to do?" Hermione asked.
"I don't know. But I know this is wrong. I mean, my gut tells me wizards are wrong about this. It tells me I shouldn't give up on her…Am I nuts?"
"No, Dean. My gut tells me the same thing—has ever since I learnt what the Dementor's Kiss was. Maybe someday…" she trailed off her idle speculation.
He looked her in the eye. "So what do we do?"
She shrugged: "Drop her off at another muggle hospital?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Would that help?" he asked.
"They'd keep her alive until the war's over. That's what I'm concerned with now. I'd like to get her a brain scan, too, but we don't have time to worry about that."
"You need to take care of yourself first, Dean."
"I will, Hermione, but I want to do something, too…but now I don't even have my wand," he sighed.
"We have some people we can connect you with," she told him. "And as for your wand. I can help you out with that."
"Of course. I'll need a few of your hairs, a couple drops of blood and some wood glue. Now, what kind of wood was your old wand…?"
Harry was subdued as the subset of the Order reconvened. This operation had been his idea in the first place, even though Hermione had jumped in with both feet, too, and they'd saved a lot of lives—or at least saved a lot of people's freedom. But even so, losing Moody really hurt, and she knew he'd be feeling guilty. So did she, a little, but everyone had agreed this was a good strategic move. She remembered what Dumbledore told her in his posthumous message: sometimes, you can make all the right moves and still lose.
"I don't think we can beat around the bush here," Kingsley said at the mini-Order meeting. "The way the Order of the Phoenix is organised now, someone needs to replace Mad-Eye as co-leader, and coordinator of his cell.
"Right," Sirius agreed. "We can't be adrift, not reporting to anybody, and I'm guessing putting us under you or Minnie would defeat the purpose?"
"Yes," Hermione said. "Cells need to be small: two to four only."
"So how do these things work?" asked Fred.
"The standard thing to do would be to promote someone in his subcell to his spot, and so on down the chain," she said, "but it could be anyone, really. We're barely maintaining the cell structure as it is."
The group looked around at each other. Hermione knew in broad strokes the structure of Kingsley's branch of the organisation, even if she didn't know the names. And with McGonagall at Hogwarts, she would be limited to people she could contact easily from there. So Hermione had a pretty shrewd idea of who had been under Moody.
Harry seemed to have the same idea, because he looked at Sirius, as did several others.
"Whoa, don't look at me," Sirius said. "Can you imagine me in charge of this outfit?" It was a fair point. "Hestia, you're the only other Auror we've got who's not on maternity leave. Maybe you should do it."
Hestia frowned and surveyed the group. "I could do it, but it's not my first choice. Moving up the rankings in the Order doesn't exactly put you on a desk job, and I've still only got one good arm. I'm curious if Hermione has any suggestions, since she brought it up."
Hermione shook her head. She really didn't. There were so few veterans of the last war left—good ones anyway. "I was just pointing out the possibility," she said. "I don't know. Who's our most powerful fighter who's still alive?"
"That's hard to judge," Kingsley said. "If we're going by the cleverest and most versatile, it might even be you."
"Me?" she said in horror. "You've got to be joking! I'm just shy of eighteen, and I haven't even completed my formal education yet. If I'm the best we've got, we're screwed!"
"The best in one measure in particular," Kingsley repeated. "There isn't just one answer to that question. You shouldn't sell yourself short, Hermione. You've been training yourself—heavily. I saw you fighting at the Ministry. You may not have the strength or speed of many of the veterans, but you're smarter, and you have a far wider repertoire of spells—extra tricks up your sleeve that can tip the balance. Like what you did with the statue. I doubt anyone short of Dumbledore could have done that with raw power, but you found a way. Between that and what you did to Umbridge, I wouldn't want to face you myself."
Hermione looked down, her face flushing.
"That was pretty disturbing," Emmeline Vance pointed out.
"I know," she said.
"And you pretty much had her down after about the first four spells."
"I know," she snapped. She took a deep breath. "I lost my temper—everything she's done, was going to do. Seeing her have Penelope Kissed. I lost it and took her down as hard as I could."
"You've always had a bit of a vindictive streak," George pointed out.
She looked up and glared at him, but her heart wasn't really in it. "It wasn't my best moment, no, but I'm not keen to help her anytime soon, either. Anyway, that's not the point. The point is, I'm not leadership material, and I hope we have a dozen fighters who are better than I am."
"That's fair," Harry said softly, "but Kingsley has a point. You're good when you're on your game. I wouldn't want to face you, either."
"Harry, I'm pretty sure you could take me in a fair fight," Hermione said.
Harry snorted: "Yeah, a fair fight where you only have one wand, and you can't make up any new spells, and I already know all of your tricks."
Hermione frowned. She could kind of see his point, but something about the thought unsettled her, especially after Umbridge.
Fred laughed: "He's got you there, Hermione. And you've been doing a lot to help run the Order as it is. You made the rings."
"Fred, half the reason I made the rings in the first place was that I was trying to do too much on my own. Why are we even considering this? Promoting me would take me out of my cell, and I'm needed here to work with Harry."
"We are considering all of our options, Hermione," Kingsley said. "Right now, you and Hestia are the only ones on the table. Sirius doesn't want it, and there aren't many others I'd trust with leadership. Elphias? Emmeline?"
Emmeline quickly indicated a negative, and Doge said, "I think I can do more good where I am, Kingsley."
"I see," he replied. "Hestia, I hate to impose a responsibility you don't want—"
"I'll do it," she said resignedly. "If I'm the best candidate, it's better this way."
"Good. Thank you, Hestia. Now the next order of business: what should our next move be?"
"I want to bury Moody," Harry blurted. He flinched when everyone stared at him in disbelief. "I—I mean, I know we can't get his body back…" He shuddered. "The Death Eaters probably burned it by now—or worse. But you got his eye, right? I think we ought to give him a proper memorial."
Hestia nodded and pulled the oversize, pale blue eye from her pocket. It had been cleaned of blood and was still roving around on its own, staring in a very unnerving way. "Bury the eye, then?" she asked skeptically.
"But can we make use of it, though?" Hermione suggested. "Learn from it? Or have someone use it without losing an eye of their own?"
"Could you do something with it?" Hestia asked.
"Me? No. I have too much to do already. But maybe we could pass it along to Bill or Arthur."
Harry's face fell. "I feel like we ought to do something for him," he said.
"Ah, that old soldier would've wanted us to grab any advantage we could, Pup," Sirius said. "I don't know if much will come of it, but we can pass it along."
"Harry, if you want to memorialise Moody, maybe a propaganda campaign would be better," Hermione pointed out. "Have people put up posters of him in Diagon Alley declaring him a martyr or something."
Harry looked a bit happier at that, and Hestia said she'd look into whether they could pull it off.
"We'll need to be careful," Kingsley warned. "The Death Eaters will retaliate. They will try to hunt us down, if they can, and they will go after the remaining muggle-borns more aggressively."
"Oh…" Hermione muttered. Of course there would be consequences to their raid. But it was still probably the best thing, she told herself, both with regard for morale and in tangible gains.
"They'll have a hard enough time finding us, though, won't they?" asked Fred. "We're all in hiding."
"We are," Sirius pointed out. "A lot of the Death's Eaters' enemies aren't, or aren't as well-hidden."
"There's only so much we can do for them," Hestia said practically. "If anyone has ideas for another raid, I'm open to them, but anything we do will have the same risks as the Ministry. We can only afford to act where it really matters."
There was a pause as everyone waited for someone else to speak before Harry said his piece. "I've been thinking about that a little," he said. "I saw all the muggle-born prisoners we freed yesterday were adults. I know we got the word out to a lot of the students at Hogwarts, but that can't have been all of them. What are they doing about the kids?"
"It might have been all of us students, Harry," Hermione said. "The muggle-borns at Hogwarts all know each other, at least in the same house—enough to get the word around to all of us…Although I don't know about the new first years."
"McGonagall just didn't send their acceptance letters this year," Doge spoke up. "The muggle-born eleven-year-olds still don't know anything about magic. Not that that's especially healthy. They'll keep going around doing accidental magic—"
"Oh, crap!" Hermione shouted.
"What?" everyone said.
"Accidental magic! The Ministry tracks it. They have the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad. All the muggle-born kids who are too young for Hogwarts are on the Ministry's radar because of that."
"Radar?" asked Emmeline.
"Muggle invention. Not important. The point is, the Ministry knows where all the muggle-born kids are."
Harry paled as he understood the implications, and she could tell the others were starting to get it, too. "Oh, Merlin," he said, "and the Death Eaters have been controlling the Ministry since January. They could've been picking off muggle-born kids for months."
Kingsley shook his head: "No, I'm reasonably sure they didn't start before the Muggle-Born Registration Commission started working. And families move, and children go to school, so they couldn't be sure of finding the right children unless they attack each case of accidental magic when it occurs."
"Ah…so at this point, probably nine out of ten of them are still okay," Hermione estimated.
"But that won't last long," Harry said. "Is there any way we can help them?"
Hestia shook her head: "Not unless you want to stage another raid on the Ministry, steal the records, and piece together the kids' identities through guesswork. You should've thought of this before the op."
Harry's face fell. He wouldn't want to admit it, but it would be nearly impossible to get into the Ministry again, and they wouldn't be able to find the right kids any better than the Death Eaters.
"Kingsley, is there any way one of your spies could smuggle the records out?" asked Hermione.
Kinsgley sighed: "I might be able to convince one of them that it's worth the risk, but it will be hard with the increased security they're sure to have."
"Now wait just a minute," Sirius cut in. "Why are we so worried about the Ministry? There's another place that knows all the muggle-borns better than they do: Hogwarts!"
"The Book of Admittance," Hermione whispered. "I can't believe I forgot about that. It's been so long since I read Hogwarts, A History."
"The what?" Harry said.
"Honestly, Harry, didn't you ever wonder how McGonagall knows whom to send the letters to, especially for muggle-borns? There's an enchanted book and quill in Hogwarts that records the name and address of every magical child in the British Isles the moment they show signs of magic. Their record is far more complete than the Ministry's."
"Exactly," Sirius said. "Do you still have a way to sneak into Hogwarts?"
"If not sneak in, at least a way to talk to them," Hermione said. "But I was hoping to find a way to go in person on Friday anyway. I wanted to see Septima on my birthday."
"Didn't they block off all the secret passages?" asked George.
She thought for a minute, then asked Harry to pull out the Marauder's Map to get a better picture of the situation. After a couple minutes examining the lower levels, she had it. "Eureka!" she said. "They closed off all of the passages leading out of the grounds, but that's not the only way to get in unseen. "Harry, do you fancy a swim?"
"Hermione," Hestia called her aside after the meeting broke up.
"I apologise if I seemed antagonistic after the Mininstry. Losing Moody was hard, and I was just—"
"You were just doing your job for the Order," she said. "I understand."
"Thank you. I just wanted to ask, if you'll be visiting Hogwarts, or at least talking to the students, if you'd check up on my sister."
"You have a sister at Hogwarts?" Hermione said in surprise.
"Yes. She's ten years younger than I am. Megan Jones. She's a seventh-year Hufflepuff. We didn't advertise last year that we're related, but I'm sure the Death Eaters know. Could you just make sure she's doing alright, and see that someone's watching over her?"
"Of course, Hestia. She wasn't in the D.A., though."
Hestia sighed: "No. I told her to keep out of it while it was still a shadow war and gave her private lessons instead, but it doesn't much matter now. She'll probably join now if you ask her. I'd tell her to go ahead myself, but I can't contact her safely."
"I'll talk to her," Hermione assured her. "I can't promise anything, but the D.A. has been pretty good at watching each other's back so far."
"Thank you, Hermione."
You couldn't Apparate into Hogwarts, and according to their reports, Hogsmeade was under patrols, but there was still one place accessible to the castle that Hermione did know how to Apparate to. She and Harry appeared in the middle of the woods next to the rune stone she had found at the end of fifth year, along the ley line from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts Castle.
"How did you know this was here, again?" Harry asked her.
"I needed to find the exact location of the ley line to use my ritual to remove the Trace." She consulted her compass. "Come on: that way."
The walk was slow-going. They had to traipse through the woods nearly two miles southwest to reach the part of the Black Lake that extended outside the wards. They proceeded under Disillusionment Charms once they got out of the trees just in case a lookout was watching from the castle through a telescope. They approached the shore line.
"You remember the Bubble-Head Charm, Harry?" Hermione asked.
"Yes, you already reminded me," he said.
"Okay, just making sure we're ready. Ebublio." She could detect the slight change as the smells of nature faded when the invisible bubble appeared around her head. "Let's go," she said. They waded into the water and readied their method of transportation.
Harry knew from experience that it took the better part of an hour to cross the Lake underwater with ordinary swimming. They had considered using Gillyweed to speed it up (something Hermione thought she'd like to try sometime anyway), but they decided it would be safer to use a more reliable method: brooms.
Broomsticks were waterproof, since they had to fly in all weather, and while they weren't designed to fly underwater, they were powerful enough to do it. The terminal velocity of an object in a fluid was inversely proportional to the square root of the density. Harry's Firebolt had a top rated speed of 150 miles per hour in air, so underwater, it could make just over six miles per hour, three times as fast as they could swim and the fastest method they could do on short notice. For Hermione, they had contacted Ron and convinced him to lend her his Cleansweep Eleven. It wasn't quite as fast, but she was lighter and presented a smaller cross section to the water, so she could keep up.
The brooms turned a long, hard swim into a fifteen-minute underwater "flight". They proceeded across the Lake, crossing the wards without being detected. Even with the dementors that were patrolling the boundaries of the grounds (to Hermione's great dismay) they weren't noticed underwater.
They stayed under even as they entered a tunnel, and the water darkened around them. They lit their wands to keep moving forward, revealing glittering quartz scattered throughout the rock. A little farther, and they surfaced in the crystal cave where the boats brought the new students to the castle. They didn't go to the same staircase the first-years took, though. That led to the front doors outside the castle. Instead, they kept floating through the cavern on their brooms to reach the very heart of Hogwarts: the glowing quartz stone circle that formed the Foundation Stones of the castle—the tunnel Hermione had wanted to explore her very first night there, but had never got the opportunity. Now, it was their secret way in.
They didn't bother dismounting and climbing the two hundred foot staircase to the castle proper. There was enough climbing in the castle itself. They let their brooms carry them up instead, and Hermione stuffed them in her expanded handbag when they reached the top while Harry pulled out the Marauder's Map. Once they knew the coast was clear, she unlocked the door into the castle, and they found themselves at the base of the Grand Staircase.
"Wow. Great job, Hermione," Harry said.
"Happy to be back?" she asked.
"Not the way things are now. We shouldn't take the Grand Staircase. It's too exposed. This way."
They climbed up the back way, taking the lesser-used staircases in secluded corners of the castle, doubling back whenever there was any trouble. Twice, Harry had to pull Hermione out of the way of a patrolling teacher or wandering student before they made their way to the seventh floor. When they got there, they saw one name on the Map waiting in the corridor.
Harry and Hermione looked at each other and shrugged. Well, Map doesn't lie, Hermione thought. They stepped around the corner. "Psst. Anthony," Harry said.
Anthony spun around and snapped his wand up, although they were both ready to defend themselves. "Password?" he asked softly.
"Bonhoeffer," Hermione said.
Anthony nodded once and lowered his wand, motioning for them to follow. "This way."
"Where are we going?" asked Harry.
"Neville figured out how to get the Room's entrance to move," he said.
"You can do that?" Hermione hissed.
"Yeah. We can seal it off so none of the Carrow supporters can get in, but the patrols are too tight for us all to sneak into the same place every time. Plus, Umbridge kinda found out where it was before."
"Yeah, that's true," Harry admitted.
"But how?" she demanded.
Anthony gave a slight smirk over his shoulder: "Turns out it doesn't just take requests from the outside. It takes them from the inside, too. Neville also appointed a lieutenant for each of the other houses to run things when we can't all get together," Anthony explained. "Me for Ravenclaw, Susan for Hufflepuff, Daphne Greengrass for Slytherin."
"What about Luna?" asked Harry.
"She said we should have a seventh-year for it. We've been recruiting again. Not a lot yet, but we're still growing."
"Good to hear."
"Yeah, well, we need it," he muttered. "We're here."
Anthony opened the door—placed in the middle of a disused corridor on the sixth floor—and revealed a winding staircase. It was stretched in a non-Euclidean path that Hermione thought should have intersected one of the other corridors and ended, if here sense of direction hadn't failed her, right around where the entrance to the Room of Requirement ought to have been to start with. Her mind was whirling with the possibilities. The Room could change its configuration on both sides, to the point where it could send its entrance out to anywhere in the castle, not just affect the wall where it was supposed to sit. She had to wonder if that was an intended feature.
The door to the Room proper opened, and the three stepped inside. There were twenty or so people there—not enough to be a full meeting, but they were from all four houses.
"Harry! It's Harry!"
They all leapt to their feet, rushing to greet the two heroes—at least, that how Hermione felt they were treating them. Neville and Luna were at the front, and they both hugged her.
"Hello, Hermione," Luna said. "I'm glad to see you're well. I heard how you helped free the muggle-borns from the Ministry. That was very brave. Oh, and happy birthday."
"Thank you, Luna," she said. "It's good to see you, too. Neville, how are you?"
"As well as can be expected," he said. "It's lonely up in Gryffindor. Me and Seamus are the only ones in our dorm now, and only three girls, too."
It was then that Hermione noticed there was a cut on Neville's face—bandaged, but not magically healed. "Neville, someone hurt you?"
He touched his face briefly. "Yeah, that was Amycus."
"The Defence teacher?"
"Dark Arts teacher, remember? The Carrows are in charge of all punishments. I got this 'cause I wouldn't go along with his Dark Arts lessons. They want us all to learn the Unforgivable Curses."
"They what?" Harry and Hermione shouted together.
"The N.E.W.T. students, that is. It's not as easy as just pointing your wand—"
"Neville, you can't—!" Hermione started.
"I didn't. I refused. Got detention instead. But most of us carried over the N.E.W.T. class from last year, and we still learn to fight there, sort of. Anyway, some blokes are into it. Crabbe and Goyle are finally getting good marks, for once."
"That is just…so wrong," Harry said.
"I know. We all deal with it differently. I flat-out refused. Some people fake it. They go through the motions, but can't or won't put any power into the spell. Some people are scared enough that they actually try."
"Neville, that's not good," Hermione said.
"I know, but it's not technically illegal."
"That doesn't matter!" she shouted. "When the war's over, they won't just ignore that. War crimes trials aren't like regular trials…" She stopped, realising that people were staring at them. She was thinking in terms of muggle law, but even so…She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to centre herself. How would the muggle world do this? Wizarding Britain couldn't afford a Nuremberg Trial that swept up half the older students in the country. The nation couldn't withstand a shock like that, politically or demographically, not to mention how inhumane Azkaban was, even to people who were basically wizard Nazis. She thought back over the war crimes legislation she had specifically read over, but even that was an imperfect analogy. No situation this extensive had ever happened in the muggle world, so far as she knew, and she didn't know how the muggle world would react.
"At minimum," she decided, "you need to document everything. Precisely what was ordered and what threats and other coercion were applied. You need to be able to fairly claim duress. In the muggle-world, even that might be enough to acquit the use of Unforgivables. It would be better if you organised mass resistance—convince every member of the D.A. to refuse them. They can't teach the class if no one will cooperate. If there's no other way, consider dropping out of the class entirely."
Neville pressed his lips into a thin line as he considered it. "Alright, I'll try," he said. "But it might wind up being like with you and Umbridge—fighting over rules and loopholes and winding up back where we started."
"Is it really that dangerous here, Nev?" Harry cut in.
"Not really. I think they don't want to spill too much pure blood, so I don't think they're gonna kill anyone. If you go against the Carrows, they'll just chain you up for a while or cut you and not let you go to the Infirmary or something like that. For the worst of the worst they use the Cruciatus Curse on people in detentions, but you have to do something pretty bad, so even I haven't got that…yet."
"Neville, you shouldn't be so cavalier about that," Hermione said.
"Eh, gotta keep going or else I'll crack up. Anyway, you wouldn't've come here unless you had business. What's up?"
Hermione frowned at his change of subject, but she moved on: "Right. Well, first, I need to see Megan Jones while I'm here."
"Me?" a girl in a yellow-trimmed robe stepped forward. She did look like a younger version of Hestia, with the same dark hair and pointed chin.
"We brought her in right at the beginning of the year," Neville explained when Hermione looked to him in surprise.
"Good. We can talk after the meeting, Megan," Hermione said. "Your sister wanted me to check up on you."
Megan's eyes widened, and she nodded happily.
"Harry, care to explain?" Hermione asked her friend.
"Okay, here's the situation," Harry said. "We freed the muggle-borns who were being held prisoner by the Ministry." Some of the students cheered at that.
"And Hermione pulled down the statue!" someone shouted from the back.
"Yes, that too," he agreed. "That was pretty cool. That wasn't all of the muggle-borns who are in danger, of course, but it sends a message. All the ones who were at school were warned because we got the word out. But there's one more group we haven't been able to help yet: the little kids who would have been first years or are too young to come to Hogwarts yet. They don't know anything about magic yet, or that they're in danger, but the Death Eaters can still find them…The Ministry tracks accidental magic."
There were soft gasps as they understood. The thought was fairly horrifying. It would begin with something odd, but usually minor happening that often the child themself doesn't know they caused. Certainly, that was how it had been for Hermione. And then, men in masks and robes wielding weapons that do impossible things burst into the house and torture and kill everyone inside, and they never ever know why. She didn't like to think about it, and she knew they had to help, the same as Harry.
Harry continued to explain: "In case you don't know, there's an enchanted book and quill in Hogwarts that records the name of every magical child in the British Isles. It's the only place that has better records than the Ministry. We need to get that book. If we get that book, we can stay a step ahead of the Death Eaters and save them."
Neville stood up straighter. "You can count on us, Harry," he said. "Where is the book?"
"I'm not sure," Hermione said. "I need to check. Do you still have my map?"
"Sure." He pulled out the Mathemagician's Map and uttered the code phrase, "Dos moi pa sto, kai tan gan kinaso."
Hermione took the Map and examined it. Harry's map was good, but she was more confident in what she had and hadn't been able to include with this one, and she had marked down details of all the hidden rooms even when she couldn't get into them. It was so long ago that she couldn't remember that well, but it wasn't hard to find where the Book and Quill were located. "There," she said. "The small tower above the Hospital Wing."
"That's not too bad, then," Neville said. "We'll only have to get through Madam Pomfrey."
"Expect no student has ever been in that tower, Hermione," Luna said. "Not since the school was founded. And the book has never been touched by human hands. It responds to voices. Do you think we can get to it without raising alarms?"
"Hmm…no, but I bet Dobby can. The elves have to be able to get into that room to clean."
"Check it for enchantments," Harry said. "If you don't think you can take it without raising alarms, can you copy the pages? We need all births later than the first of September, 1985. It's not ideal because they'll still have access to it, but it's better than getting caught."
"Actually, don't copy them. Photograph them," Hermione said. "In fact, I've got a pair of Omnioculars in my bag to do it. All you'll need to do is turn each page long enough to see it clearly."
Luna smiled: "Okay, I think we can do that."
"Alright, everyone," Neville called to the group. "I think most of you can go back now. We'll only need a few people for this. Just be sure to be ready to run interference with the Carrows if something goes wrong."
"Yes, sir!" someone called.
Most of the D.A. left the Room, leaving only the leaders, Harry, Hermione, and Megan. Hermione left them to plan while she pulled Megan aside to talk.
"What did Hestia say?" Megan asked.
"She just wanted me to make sure you we okay and that someone was watching your back."
Megan nodded and smiled a little. "Ah. Tell her thank you. Susan's doing that pretty well. We both have family in Law Enforcement—had in her case. Did Hestia say anything about the D.A.?"
"She won't mind that you joined. And I'd say it's probably your best option right now."
"Good. I was a little worried about that."
"Is there anything you want me to tell her?"
"Just…tell her I love her," she sighed. "I don't suppose you can tell me what she's doing?"
"No, sorry," Hermione shook her head. "Just that she's still fighting."
"Alright. Well, tell her I'm okay, and I'm being careful…And…um, there's one other thing I think you should know, Hermione…I have a boyfriend."
"Oh?" If Megan was expecting her to squeal excitedly, she'd be sorely disappointed. She ought to go to Lavender and Parvati for that.
"Yeah, but the thing is…he's a Slytherin."
"But he's not the bad sort!" the words came pouring out. "He's not with the Death Eaters, I'm sure of that! I trust him, but he has to keep his cover—"
"Megan! Megan!" Hermione cut in. "You don't have to convince me there are good Slytherins out there. I'm the one who recruited Daphne and Tracey."
"Sorry, it's just, he's from one of those families that sympathises with the Death Eaters, and he hates it. They're pressuring him to take the Mark, too, and I don't know how long he can hold out."
"The Mark?" Hermione said worriedly. "Doesn't he have to be close to You-Know-Who for that?"
Megan shook her head. "It's different now. You-Know-Who's already won. He's casting the net wider to cement his reign."
Hermione thought about the teachers forcing all the students to learn the Unforgivables. "I understand," she said softly. If it's true. "I'm not sure what you're expecting me to do with this information, though."
"To be honest, I'm not sure, either. I just…I thought someone one the outside should know. Even most of the D.A. doesn't know. I know you probably can't save him from taking the Mark, but…it's just that you and Harry are doing so much to help people go into hiding. I just thought…you know, if everything goes pear-shaped…"
"Ah, I think I follow," she said. "I'll make sure Neville and Luna know to contact us if you need help. And…I don't know if you can, but please try to find a way to keep him out of using the Unforgivable Curses." She didn't ask who the boy was. She guessed that she shouldn't if Megan didn't volunteer the information.
Megan's face fell. "That's gonna be hard, but I'll try," she said.
Septima's apartment was more or less on the way to the Hospital Wing from the Room of Requirement, so Neville and his lieutenants dropped Hermione off at the portrait of Bridget Wenlock on the way, using the maps to make sure the coast was clear. They'd be okay, she thought. The plan was simple enough. The name of the game here was caution: watch their step the whole way, and if they couldn't get through safely, back off and consult someone more experienced with cursebreaking. Being able to watch the maps, they had little chance of being caught even if they tripped an alarm.
Hermione knocked on Septima's door, and a minute later, it opened. Septima's eye grew to the size of saucers when she saw her.
"Hermione?" she gasped.
"Come in, come in, quick!" Her favourite teacher ushered her inside and shut the door behind her. "Hermione, it's so good to see you." She hugged her tight, but then pulled away with a stern expression. "What on earth are you doing here? Wait, don't answer that. It's safer if I don't know."
"I wanted to visit you today," Hermione said quietly. "We haven't been able to talk since last spring."
Septima slowly nodded, seeming to understand. "Happy birthday, Hermione," she said, "though I wish it were under better circumstances. I hope you didn't sneak into enemy territory just for this, though."
"Oh, no," Hermione said, glancing back towards the door with a knowing look. "There's something else going on out there, though with luck, you won't know until we're long gone."
Septima shook her head. "I definitely don't want to know, then." She proceeded to start a pot of tea, and they casually quizzed each other to verify their identities before they fully relaxes and sat down. "Have you been well, Hermione? I've only heard about you from news articles since we last met."
"I'm getting by." She said. "It's been a hard summer. Mr. Lovegood murdered, the Twins shop firebombed. I've still been fighting, though."
"I heard. They…they said you killed Jugson?"
Hermione's face hardened, but she nodded. "Yes. Collapsed a wall on him. Found a way to specifically shatter the mortar between the bricks."
"Merlin…are you okay?"
"I've made my peace with it. It was him or me, and I did what I had to. Anyway, I've been doing more since. Have you heard about the broadcasts?"
"Ah. Probably best that it didn't get to you—not personally, but it means it's staying secret. Tomorrow night, eight o'clock. Tune in on the wireless and use the password 'Sybill.'"
"Yes, it's one of the ways we're disseminating information. You'll understand when you hear it."
"Alright. I'll take your word for it. So…the raid on the Ministry—that was you, right?"
"It was. Me and some others."
She smiled weakly: "And you knocked down that awful statue. With pearls if the rumours are true. That was inspired—insane, but inspired. How did you do that? I saw it before the term started. It was huge."
"Oh, that was easy," Hermione told her. "Marble is recrystalised limestone, and limestone is made from seashells. It's the same material. It was just a matter of realigning the crystals."
"What about the extra space between the pearls?"
Hermione grinned: "That was a highly practical application of a fractal. Did I ever tell you about the Apollonian gasket."
"I…think you might have, but I can't recall at the moment."
"Ah. Well, you know about Apollonius' problem of tangent circles?"
"Well, what I did with the pearls was a generalised and iterated form of that." Hermione found a sheet of parchment and drew it out for her. Septima was very interested in seeing a fractal used in such a direct manner. She didn't ask for any more details about the Ministry raid, and in particular, she didn't ask about her old roommate, Umbridge, for which Hermione was grateful, although it remained something of an elephant in the room between them.
"So, how is Head of Slytherin treating you?" Hermione asked.
Septima chuckled a little. "You know, when Professor Slughorn retired, I was a little jealous of Snape. He was a first-time teacher only three years out of school himself, and Dumbledore made him Head of Slytherin when I had seniority. There's something to be said for having teachers of core classes as heads of house, but that was just ridiculous."
"And now?" Hermione ventured.
"Now? I'd take an early retirement just to have the Death Eaters out of this school. To keep Georgina and all my other students safe from them."
"Are they expecting you to be on their side, being Head of Slytherin?"
"Not so much. They know I'm more or less neutral, and the Carrows handle the students from actual Death Eater families themselves. It's just hard, seeing good kids fall into that, pushed into doing bad things."
"Learning the Unforgivable Curses?" Hermione said.
Septima's head snapped up: "You heard about that?"
"Yes. It's a classic tactic of terrorist militias who recruit child soldiers," she said, uncomfortably aware that she and most of the D.A. technically qualified as child soldiers themselves. "I've been reading up on the subject when I can. And I can see where they're going with it, even if they're not using them on humans yet. Force them to commit serious crimes and then tell them they'll be prosecuted for them if the other side wins. And not without justification, I might add. It happened in muggle Rwanda, although I don't think anyone's ever done it to the entire youth of a nation. I don't know what the…appropriate response would be to that."
"Hmm. Ugly business," Septima muttered, shaking her head.
"I told them to try to get those lessons shut down," she added. "Protest or drop the class if they have to. You have to pick your battles, but by the standards I was raised with, that's a pretty important one."
"I understand. I'll do what I can, too."
"Thank you. Just…stay safe."
They made small talk for a while longer. Hermione pulled out some of her maths notes and picked Septima's brain for a while on some of the problems she was having, without telling her precisely what they were for. Privately, she thought she was close to a useful Soul-Detection Charm. She considered mentioning her work on blocking the Killing Curse, but decided against it. It really wasn't relevant.
After a while, a knock came on the door—a prearranged rhythm that signified a member of the D.A. outside. Ever-cautious, Hermione held up her hand to stop Septima and proceeded to the door. She peaked out, pointing her wand through the crack. Neville and Luna were standing there.
"It's done," Neville said.
"I'm sorry to cut this short, Septima, but I need to go," she called back.
"Of course, Hermione. I understand. Good luck."
"Good night and good luck," Hermione said. Septima would understand if she listened tomorrow night. She stepped though the door and closed Wenlock's portrait behind her. She waited until they were out of earshot to ask, "The book?"
Luna shook her head: "No, we weren't comfortable touching it. We got in and took the photos without any trouble, though. Dobby was very helpful."
"Good," she said. She assumed Dobby was slipping around someplace in typical elf fashion. "Harry?"
"Should still be back at the Room," Neville said.
"Alright. Let's get out of here before someone notices."
With the maps, it wasn't too hard to do that, but even so, Hermione wasn't able to breath easy until she and Harry had slipped out and made another underwater "flight" across the Lake, this time in the dark of night, to get outside the Wards and Apparate back to the Factory. But they'd done it. They had the names of the magical children of Britain.
Next would be the hard part.