The next few weeks passed in a blur of attacks. Ragnok had sent Harry the results of his research, providing the names and addresses of both known and suspected DEs along with monetary supporters. Fred and George lovingly referred to it as "Harry's Hit List". They'd organized the list according to priority. The known and more violent DEs were placed at the top while the silent supporters, who were least destructive, were placed at the bottom. Following this they hatched out a schedule of when they could do reconnaissance and when they could do the actual attack. Times varied from shared breaks during the day to midnight patrols to weekend trips and everything in between. They were going to a lot of effort to not establish a pattern so that anticipating attacks was more difficult for their targets. And damn, was it working well.
Throughout all of November thirteen homes and two pubs were attacked resulting in the death of thirty two DEs and the capture of an additional twenty seven. Amelia was happily pouring veritassium down their throats and shipping them off to Azkaban or through the veil, whichever they deserved the most. The goblins had been happy to negotiate a deal with the ministry and were now being paid to ward and guard the terrifying prison. Voldemort would have a hard time retrieving any followers from them this time.
The response to these results was overwhelming. Wizarding Britain had quickly gotten past its fear of the new vigilante group and was openly supporting them. It helped that Harry owned the paper that reported on their activities, but still, most of the response was genuine. Visual results were occurring, led by the government no less, who had killed and/or captured an additional forty DEs on their own. Hope was running rampant through the towns as the Prophet blared that if things continued at this rate, the war would be over by years end. Speculation was high as to who the vigilantes were, but so far no one had guessed correctly, at least out loud. McGonagall and Flitwick had been surprisingly generous in looking the other way whenever the teens broke curfew or were late to their classes. If they smelt healing potions or saw blood specked shoes, they simply looked the other way.
Not everything was going so well for everyone, though. Voldemort was bloody miserable. Almost all of his forces had been killed or captured and those damn creatures were preventing him from retaking them. If he'd had enough men he'd have attacked the prison, but as it stood he simply couldn't assemble enough manpower to overcome the current security. Curse those goblin scum!
In addition to this his followers were all terrified. Somehow Potter and his little vigilante group were crossing some of the strongest wards in existence, even the Fidelus, with seemingly little effort and attacking his followers in their own homes. Voldemort himself had had to move his location three more times due to recent attacks.
On top of all of that, he was flat out broke. He refused to think too much about what happened at Nott's cottage because thinking of it sent him into a rage and he simply couldn't afford to kill any of his remaining followers in that rage. He couldn't even torture them too much for fear that they would flee. In fact, several had already fled his service. He would track them down when he regained his previous numbers, but for now he could do nothing. He couldn't even pay for food. He'd been counting on the Nott money but it had vanished into thin air after luring some of his best servants, including Pettigrew, to their deaths. He'd lost nine followers before catching on to the traps in place. In his rage he'd burned the cottage to the ground but it was too late, the money was gone and so were his followers. All he had left were a handful of wizards too scared to sleep and a bunch of monstrous beasts that refused to show him proper respect. He needed a victory badly, and he needed it soon.
Hermione needed to talk to Harry right away. Her research had revealed some shocking information that was sure to either make or break the war. She knew he didn't trust her anymore, and she understood. Hell, she wasn't sure she trusted herself either right now. She'd gotten caught up in her jealously and blind respect for authority and had lost the only true friend she'd ever had. She deserved a lot worse than being shunned by Harry and his new friends and she'd be the first to say that. The problem was, what she'd discovered was important, really important, and she'd be damned if she let Harry down again.
This is why she burst into the Headmistress's office on the Morning of November 30th disrupting a small meeting between McGonagall, Flitwick, and Snape. Panting from the effort of sprinting all the way from the library to the office, she waved a parchment around her head and gasped out, "Need… to see … Harry!"
The headmistress stood, looking shocked and insulted by the actions of the young lady in front of her. "Miss Granger, what on earth do you think you are doing?! Barging in lie you own the place and demanding to see-"
"-it's important," she yelped, cutting the headmistress off to the obvious shock of those present. "Like, life or death important! Harry needs to see this now!"
McGonagall opened her mouth to respond but Snape beat her to it. "Miss Granger, while I pay little attention to the teenage melodrama that surrounds me, I do recall that you and Mr. Potter had a falling out. Life and death or not, I very much doubt he will listen to you either way."
A brief flash of hurt and guilt crossed Hermione's face before it was overcome with determination. "Then you take it to him. He'll listen to you, or the headmistress. He doesn't have to know I was involved at all. Just please, tell me where he is."
McGonagall stared at her for a moment before responding. "I'm afraid he's currently away on business, Ms. Granger. He should return to the castle by mid-afternoon."
"Shoot," she said. She'd known it was a Wizengamot day and that Harry would be leaving for the meeting, but she hadn't thought he'd head out this early. "Please, professors," she begged, "I know I don't deserve his trust, or yours for that matter, I'm not blind to my previous actions and their consequences. But I'm begging you, please, I need to see him right now. Afterwards you can do what you like, give me detention, throw me in Azkaban, I don't care, but I need to go to him."
McGonagall looked at her for a moment, then surprisingly to Flitwick, who nodded, and then to Severus, who nodded much more reluctantly. "I hate to say it, but Potter can handle himself one way or another."
"Very well," McGonagall replied primly. "I will allow you to use my floo straight to the ministry, but I want to make it clear that you and only you are responsible for any consequences of your actions."
Hermione sagged in relief. "Thank you."
"I wouldn't thank us quite yet," Snape replied with grim humor as Hermione took a hand full of floo powder, "I've seen what Ms. Greengrass constitutes as revenge. I wouldn't be too relieved if I were you." The last thing he saw was Hermione's unsettled face as the roar of green flames took her away.
Harry really hated these robes. They were itchy and stiff and ridiculously uncomfortable. He'd rip them off and burn them if he could, but Daphne would probably kill him. Not to mention, they'd cost a bloody fortune. Still, all this pomp and circumstance wasn't what he needed right now. He was sure today's meeting would address his group's actions, and the last thing he wanted to sit through was a lecture on morals and speculation on the "mysterious vigilantes". He didn't need to be here anyway. Amelia was doing a great job cleaning up the ministry and Harry and his friends were doing severe damage to the DEs. The war was going well on both fronts and today was one of his rare days off. He just wanted to curl up with Daphne and ignore the rest of the world for a day. But no, his training held firm (and Daphne held even firmer, wink wink nudge nudge) so here he was, waiting in the hallway in his overdone robes making small talk with people whose names he didn't know.
Daphne seemed to sense his frustration and came to hover by his side, looping her arm through his and displaying her engagement ring for all to see. She still grinned dopily at it every time she saw it and just couldn't resist showing it off. The last month had gone wonderfully and she was riding the emotional high that it had brought.
Her high came crashing down when the last person she wanted to see right now came charging at her fiancé, gasping a demand for a meeting like they owed her something.
Finally she'd found them. She been spit out of the floo into the ministry atrium before realizing that she had no idea where to go. Still, that hadn't deterred her. She'd headed straight to the elevators and read the listings until she hit upon the department of magical law enforcement. After scouring that floor for someone who knew where the Wizengamot met, she made her way back to the elevators and through the maze of the ministry until she found the entrance to the courtroom. Then of course she realized that Harry probably used a difference entrance and took off down some back hallways, avoiding the aurors patrolling the area.
Finally she'd found him making small talk with some nameless faces. Gathering the last of her energy, she sprinted up to him, ignoring the glare being leveled at her by the woman on his arm.
"Harry," she gasped, "I need to talk to you."
Harry's watch beeped, indicating that he had five minutes before the meeting began, and he sighed with impatience. He just so wasn't in the mood for this. A subtle tug on his arm directed him to something he was not expecting to see at all. Hermione Granger, her bushy hair waving wildly, was sprinting right at him. Subtly he slipped his wand into his hand and felt Daphne do the same. Soon Granger stopped in front of him, bent over with her hands on her knees, gasping. Despite himself Harry couldn't help but be a little concerned.
"Harry," Hermione gasped, "I need to talk to you."
"Granger," he said coldly, old feelings welling up inside of him. He so wasn't in the mood for this. Not at all. "What on earth are you doing here, at the member's only entrance?" His tone drew some looks from the crowd around him and he felt Daphne guide him slightly further away from them. Meanwhile Susan and Neville noticed his company and flanked him on either side.
"Being here is paramount to trespassing, Granger," Susan said coldly. "I suggest you remove yourself before the aurors get here to do it."
"Wouldn't want you to get in trouble with your precious authority," Neville added snidely.
"I deserve that, I really do," Hermione said, "but-"
"But nothing," Daphne snarled, lowering her voice to a whisper when she noticed the looks sent her way. "You abandoned him, just like everybody else did, and let your stupid prejudices run your decisions. You almost gave my sister over to a madman, refused to see what was in front of your face, and now are just waltzing in here, demanding we speak to you?" A chime went off behind them signaling the two minute warning to those waiting at the doors.
"Daph," Harry said quietly. "We don't have time for this."
"Right," she responded. Turning, she signaled to a passing auror to come closer. "This girl is neither welcome nor needed here. See that she ends up where she belongs."
"Perhaps a trash chute," Susan added, her Hufflepuff sense of loyalty offended.
"Yes ma'am," the auror said, snapping a salute before grabbing Hermione by the arm and forcibly dragging her away. Behind him the members began to enter the court room and he turned to join them.
"Harry, wait," she cried desperately, "it's important!" He ignored her and continued in. "It's about Dumbledore," she shouted, panicking now.
"We're well aware of your opinion of him," Daphne said coldly.
"No, you don't understand. I've been researching him, digging up all his dirt. I was wrong, Harry!" He stopped at that and turned to her, showing he was listening. "I was wrong! I should never have sided with Dumbledore, should have stood by you just like you stood by me. I don't expect you to forgive me, hell, I can't even forgive myself. But please, you need to hear this! He kept something from you, from all of us. Something you need to hear!"
Harry was faced with a hard decision just then. Hermione had hurt him, and hurt him badly. He wanted nothing to do with her again. But at the same time he remembered her laughing with him after a snowball fight, or her annoyed smile when he asked for homework help. She'd been his friend for five years. She'd broken his trust, yes, but she'd also done a lot to gain it. He thought she at least deserved a chance here, even if Daphne would say he was just being a sentimental Gryffindor.
Making his decision, he turned and stepped fully inside the Wizengamot chamber.
As Harry turned his back on her once more Hermione finally gave into the tears and broke down. It was her fault that Harry didn't trust her, and her fault that he wouldn't listen to her now. It was all her fault that he wouldn't get the information she'd gathered, and her fault that it could see him killed. All her fault. With a defeated sob she turned and went quietly with the auror to the elevators. As the ding sounded and the doors opened, she felt something inside her break.
"Wait, hold on a second!" And then it was whole again as a familiar voice rang out behind her. Turning in painful hope, she began to sob anew as she saw Harry running down the hall towards her, his girlfriend loyally by his side but looking confused. The auror stepped back out into the hall, dragging Hermione along with him. "Give us a second," he told the auror, who nodded and released her arm. Noticing the crowd he looked at her, his face blank, then mentioned for her to follow him.
Ahead of her Harry and Daphne were having a murmured discussion but Hermione didn't care. He'd given her a chance and just maybe she could make things right this time.
They led her to a small office reserved for Wizengamot members that was stocked with a small sofa and two armchairs positioned around a fireplace. A desk stood in the corner by the door. Gesturing for her to have a seat, Harry instructed the auror to guard the door from outside and then shut the door, casting a multitude of privacy charms, most of which Hermione didn't recognize. Then he sat down on the sofa, pulling his girlfriend down next to him and looking at her expectantly.
"I hope what you have to say is important," he began coldly, "because I don't like making an ass of myself by walking into a meeting five minutes late."
"It is," she said, wiping her eyes and trying to pull herself together.
"This is a bad time for an apology, Granger," Daphne said sternly, her ice mask solidly in place.
"I didn't come to offer one," she responded.
Daphne paused in her retort, obviously trying to decide whether or not she'd been insulted. Looking over her fiancé's ex-best friend, she decided that it wasn't her decision to make and looked over at Harry, who seemed to be going through the same internal struggle.
"Alright then," he said after a minute of contemplative silence, "what's so important that you charged through the ministry to get to me?"
"This." She pulled a stack of parchment out of her shoulder bag and slapped them down on the table in front of her.
Harry took one look at the papers and baulked. "Umm, why don't you just give us a general overview?"
Forcing down the giggle that threatened to bubble up at Harry's continued aversion to paperwork, Hermione nodded and began to separate the large stack into smaller piles.
"As I said before, after I'd realized that I'd made the wrong decision and realized what it had cost me, I started looking into Dumbledore and all his dirty little secrets. I know that most of the blame for my decision lays with me, but he has his fingers in the pie as well and I'd be damned if I let him get away with what he did. I started going through the papers you'd given me before, about the wards and the finances. This stack here," she indicated a stack of parchments to Harry's far left, "is simply a continuation of that line of enquiry. I'm sure you had the goblins investigate and thus know most of this information." She then moved on to the next stack. "This middle stack here is all about his manipulations in other's lives, including mine, the Weasley's, Sirius's, and even Tom Riddle's. This final stack, though, is why I'm here." She motioned to Harry's right where most of the parchments had ended up.
"I'm not sure how they got there, but I found these in the library one day hidden behind an old tome on potato farming. It contains a summation of Dumbledore's history, from childhood to when he was arrested. Most of the stuff isn't important right now, but the big thing was that the parchments detail his dealings with Grindlewald."
"So do most history books," Daphne said with an eye roll. She was failing to see the point and growing tired of an unneeded history lesson.
Hermione seemed to know what she was thinking and smiled grimly at her. "Not like this." Her grim tone captured both teens attention and Hermione found herself facing two serious sets of eyes. "Dumbledore and Grindlewald didn't start as enemies. In fact, they were once lovers. Together they envisioned a better world, one where Dumbledore's sister, Arianna, would never have been attacked by muggles and where she never would have refused her magic."
Daphne's eyes widened at the implications. Refusing your magic was suicide. If you didn't let it out on purpose then it would slowly build up and leak out, often at times of great emotion. Over time the buildup of magic would cause the body to implode. It was an extremely slow and painful way to die, and dangerous to others as well.
Hermione nodded sadly. "She was only six at the time. It tore the Dumbledore family apart. Dumbledore was determined that that should never happen again, and Grindlewald added fuel to the fire. It wasn't until Arianna was killed by a stray curse that Dumbledore began to question the extremes Grindlewald was willing to go to, but by then it was too late and a new dark lord had risen. History books tell us that Dumbledore went on to gather the light forces and defeat Grindlewald in a glorious duel, becoming the leader of the light we all know, or at least thought we knew. But these papers say differently. Yes Dumbledore did question Grindlewald, but not for the right reasons. Grindlewald wanted to annihilate wizards who weren't of "pure blood" whereas Dumbledore wanted to focus on the muggles and create punishments for them that punished an attack by muggles on wizards.
They split over how to achieve their goals, not on moral grounds. But somehow word got around that Dumbledore and Grindlewald had argued and split, and rumor spread until it was believed that Dumbledore had opposed the "dark" ideologies of the new dark lord and was preparing to take him down. "Light" wizards and witches flocked to support him and Dumbledore decided that he would use his new position to achieve his goals rather than his old one. He went on to face off with Grindlewald in public, but the curse he hit him with wasn't a killer, it was a modified stunner. Grindlewald fell to the ground and everyone just assumed he was dead. Dumbledore couldn't bring himself to kill the man he once loved so instead locked him away in a German Mountain prison under a false name.
Over time Dumbledore's ideologies changed and his definitions of "light" and "dark" grew warped until he became what he is today. Now I'm sure you're wondering why this is important to you, but take a look at this." She handed Harry the topmost parchment, which was a ministry portkey request under the name Aberforth Dumbledore. The departure date was for two days ago, and the destination was listed as Germany.
"Dumbledore wants his power back more than anything, right," Hermione asked them?
Both teens nodded, still stunned from the information they received.
"What better way to do that by bringing back a dark lord that he himself had previously defeated?"
The shoe dropped as the importance of this information came to light. "He's planning on loosing another dark lord as a bargaining piece to get his magic back," Harry said in understanding.
Daphne nodded in agreement. "What's more, it would probably work, at least partially. We definitely wouldn't give him his magic back, but Dumbledore best knew Grindlewald's methods. We'd be forced to seek him out and beg for information, which would put him back into a position he could use to his advantage, and our disadvantage. What's more, without his magic he has nothing left to lose. We'd be totally screwed."
Hermione nodded and then smirked. "You would be, except for one thing. I've been researching this stuff for months and by this point I know Grindlewald like the back of my hand. These parchments detail both his and Dumbledore's main methods of fighting. I would have got them to you sooner only I didn't realize what was going on until I saw that portkey request last night. I have no idea where your rooms are or if you'd see me so my best chance was to find you here." She sat back, having said all that she came here to say.
For a moment there was silence and the young couple digested the news, and then Harry was suddenly on his feet. "Right, you two stay here. We need backup on this, a lot of it. I'll go grab some and be right back." Without another word he swept from the room, the door slamming behind him.
For a while Hermione and Daphne just stared at each other, neither backing down, before Hermione finally gave up and looked down at her shoes, her face sad. "I meant what I said before, you know. I was wrong, and I know that now. And I know that it was unforgiveable. But he's still my best friend in my mind, and I really want what we had back. I know it won't be that easy, but I'm willing to try to make it up to him, if I can."
Daphne nodded at her. "At this point, that's all you really can do. But for what it's worth, I think this is a pretty good start."
Because the bench for the twelve was a focal point of the room, it didn't go unnoticed when Harry entered the Wizengamot chambers ten minutes late. Even odder still was that when he did he didn't take his seat but instead bent down to whisper something to the nearby Lord Longbottom, who then turned to Lady Bones, who then turned to whisper to Lord Greengrass. Cyrus nodded and stood, gathering the attention of those few who had remained oblivious to what was going on.
"Do you wish to address the chamber, Lord Greengrass?" Amos Diggory, Chief Warlock, looked to Cyrus expectantly.
"Actually, a rather urgent matter has suddenly come up. Would it be possible to reconvene in thirty minutes time?"
A surprised Diggory looked around for objections, and finding none called for a thirty minute break. While most members of the Wizengamot stayed seated and used the time to chat, the members of the twelve promptly left, quickly followed by the Minister.
The group quickly arrived at Harry's private office and crammed inside, looking curiously over the room's occupants. Susan, at Harry's instruction, ran to the floo and called for Ragnok to step through. A harried Harry arrived just as Ragnok stepped out of the fireplace. Nodding to the goblin, he locked the door behind him and then stood to address the group.
"I've recently been informed of a plot by Dumbledore to get his magic back. In short, he plans to free Grindlewald from a German prison and then use his history in that subject to convince the courts that he's the best one to deal with the threat."
"But isn't Grindlewald dead," asked Susan?
"Apparently not." Harry gestured for Hermione to pass the evidence over to Amelia, who began scanning the articles quickly. After a few minutes she looked up at him with a frown.
"This all looks legit, and if true could cause a serious problem. We're making great headway against Voldemort now, but throwing another dark lord in the mix could serious threaten the status quo and set us back quite a bit."
"I know. And that's exactly why we need to take Voldemort out. Now." Silence met Harry's statement as the group struggled to understand the implications of what he'd just said.
Susan was the first to gain her bearings. "That actually makes a lot of sense. Over the past few weeks we've taken out a majority of his forces and his financial backing. At this point he's at his weakest. Striking now would have the best chance of success."
"But do we even know where he is? Or how many death eaters are left? I'm not arguing against your idea, but we can't go in blind," Amelia stated firmly.
"Well Snape estimated that our first attack took out a third of his forces, and we've since killed or captured that amount again with the ministry and vigilante attacks," Daphne stated. Hermione's eyes widened in comprehension next to her as she realized who exactly the vigilantes were. Wisely she kept her mouth shut as she processed that information. "I'd say by now he only had a few wizards left. That just leaves us with the creatures to take care of."
"After Snape informed us of the creature's interests we goblins began to send out feelers to nearby communities," Ragnok began. "Some were receptive to our cause and agreed to pull their backing of Riddle out. A few even agreed to join our side. They had heard of our third party from the wizards but didn't trust them enough to approach us. A word from a goblin, however, had them running for their weapons." He gave a feral grin at the wizards before continuing. "For those we couldn't persuade we at least managed to get some numbers down. He pulled a parchment from his pocket and began to read it aloud.
"As of today, the Trolls have agreed to remain neutral in exchange for a years' supply of food. They really are simple creatures. One of the two giant clans has agreed to switch sides and fight their cousins for us. They hope to be rewarded with land upon victory. I've already begun purchasing some with the confiscated DE moneys. The werewolves remain lost to us, but you've already taken out at least half of those that supported Voldemort. We estimate he has about twelve to fifteen left. All of the dementors remain firmly entrenched in the dark one's forces. There are approximately two hundred thirty six present left alive today. All of them can be counted on to work against us. The rumors about the nundu have proven false, so there's one less thing to worry about. Finally, the amount of vampires supporting him were grossly exaggerated. Current counts put the number at only a dozen or so."
"So in total he's got fifteen werewolves, one clan of giants which our own clan will take care of, two hundred and thirty odd dementors, and twelve vampires," Harry summarized. "Sounds like the main problem will be the dementors. With that many around it'll be difficult to summon enough patroni to keep them at bay."
Seeing her chance, Hermione raised her hand excitedly. Harry looked at her amusedly. "No need to raise your hand Hermione, you're not in class. Just spit out whatever you've got to say."
Looking slightly embarrassed she cleared her throat and began. "Yes, well, I did some research into dementors after our third year. The only charm available to deal with them is the patronus charm, but I couldn't find anything about but actually hitting them might do."
"Hitting them," Amelia asked, looking bewildered.
"Yes, like with a cutting curse or even a fist."
Amelia looked at her like she'd grown an extra head. "I…don't think anyone has ever tried that. Once they get close enough a wizard can't usually function, let alone get off a cutter. Besides, I have no idea if it would do anything at all."
"Well, there's no reason why it shouldn't. I mean, there is a physical being inside the cloak, isn't there," Hermione asked?
"Well, yes, I suppose so…"
"Well then there's something to hit. Presumably enough damage would kill the creature, whatever it is. You could even use spells intended for larger targets, like fiendfyre, to take out multiple beings at once," Hermione said practically.
Everyone stared at her for a moment, mouths open, before pulling themselves together.
"Right," Harry said, taking charge. "Hermione, you're in charge of research. Find a long distance damage spell or whatever else you think may work on the dementors. Perhaps a patronus can be altered? Ragnok, we need you to find out where snake face is hiding out. I'll get Remus and the twins on supply duty, stocking up weapons and potions. Susan, you'd best help out with that or who knows what we'll end up with. Daphne, I need research on what we're up against. Werewolves I've dealt with, but what can we expect from vampires? Cyrus and Amelia, keep your ears open about anything to do with Dumbledore or Germany. If you can, start sending out feelers to their government. They were hip deep in this last time and may prove useful. Nev, you and I are on planning mode. The best way to attack what Voldie's got left is with an ambush. As soon as we know where that is you and I are gonna scout the place out and rig it up real nice. Report back to me at any time through Dobby, he knows to answer your calls. Right, am I missing anything?"
"There's still a Wizengamot meeting to attend," Daphne said amusedly.
Immediately Harry deflated. "Damn."