Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any of the characters in the Harry Potter books or movies.
Author's Note: This story is set in an Alternate Universe. A number of canon events didn't or won't happen. The society of Wizarding Britain is a bit different and a number of characters will act differently as well.
I'd like to thank fredfred for betaing. His help has improved the story a lot.
Original prompt by CG99.
Near Blagdon Hill, Devon, Britain, August 23rd, 1981
He knew he was too late the moment he arrived and saw the Dark Mark floating in the pitch black sky. He ignored the Auror raising his wand in his direction, just as he ignored the older Auror grabbing her partner's arm and pulling it down. All of his attention was focused on the burning cottage. His home. Green, cursed flames were leaping through the roof and out of the windows.
A dozen Aurors and Hit-Wizards were struggling to control the fire, to keep the flames from spreading into the garden and nearby fields, their red and grey robes tinted green by the fire's glow. For a second he felt hope. Maybe Martha had managed to escape with Jane. His wife wasn't a member of the Order, nor a duellist, but she was a talented witch, and…
He spotted the two bodies laid out at the gate, covered with white sheets. An adult and a child. His family. He trembled, stumbling towards them. One Auror got in his way, saying something he didn't hear. He pushed the man away and fell to his knees before the bodies, reaching out to lift one of the sheets.
Then he screamed.
He didn't react and kept staring at the ashes of his home. The fire had, finally, burned itself out. The Aurors had gone, as well. They had tried to talk to him, but he had ignored them. He had never cared much for them, anyway.
"I offer my heartfelt condolences, my friend. To suffer such a loss…"
He tensed up and clenched his teeth. He had expected him, had expected those words, had heard them before, even if not addressed to him. But to hear them, now, after… "Save it, Albus!" he spat.
When the old wizard didn't answer he turned his head to look at him. Albus met his eyes, and his expression was so understanding, he wanted to hex the old man. No, to curse him! "Where were you?"
"There were multiple attacks all over Britain, most of them aimed at the homes of Order members. I did what I could, but it was not enough. Gideon and Fabian were murdered, as was Edgar and most of his family."
"And my family." He stared at the old man.
Albus inclined his head in response.
"I should have been with them. I should have protected them." Together, they would have managed to escape. Snuck out and disappeared. He was good at such things - it was why Albus had recruited him. And it was why he hadn't been with his family tonight.
Again, the old man remained silent. He hated that, that understanding, that pity!
"Aren't you going to ask if I succeeded at my mission? The oh so important reason I wasn't with my family tonight?" He snarled at him, daring him to answer. "Aren't you going to tell me how much we need to stand fast in our darkest hour, to prevent others from suffering the same fate as my family?"
Albus shook his head.
"Why not? Are you going to let me grieve a day, a week, before you have another 'mission' for your personal thief? A task to focus on, to take my thoughts off my pain?" He trembled with anger as he faced Albus. He didn't let the old man answer and pulled the ledger he had copied inside Parkinson Manor earlier tonight and threw it to the ground.
"Here!" After a deep breath to regain control of himself, he went on: "Don't speak to me again! I'm through with you, with the Order, with this whole damn war!"
Spinning on his heel, he apparated to an abandoned factory in muggle London. He had used the place before, to test spells and potions, and no one had ever bothered him here. He could cry here as long as he wanted, too.
And, Mundungus Fletcher added to himself as he pulled out the bottle of Ogden's Old Firewhisky he had pilfered from Parkinson's desk after cracking the man's strongbox, no one would bother him while he drank himself into a stupor either.
Chapter 1: Expelled
Hogwarts, March 31st, 1993
"That's it! That's my grandmother's necklace!"
Standing near her bed, Hermione Granger stared at the golden pendant dangling from the Auror's hand, barely registering Greengrass's words. How had this thing appeared in her trunk? "I've never seen that necklace before!" she exclaimed, shaking her head. How could it… "Someone must have planted it in my trunk!" That was the only explanation - she knew she hadn't stolen it!
"And someone else who looked just like you was seen by Miss Parkinson, sneaking out of her dorm?" The Auror - John Dawlish, she remembered, was his name - didn't bother to hide his derision.
"They could have used Polyjuice! Or else she's lying!" Everyone knew that Parkinson was Malfoy's girlfriend. Or wanted to be his girlfriend. And Malfoy had ample reasons for trying to get Hermione into trouble.
"The only one lying is you!" Greengrass snarled at her. "Filthy thief!"
She shook her head. "I didn't steal that necklace! I didn't!" She looked at Professor McGonagall. "I didn't steal the necklace!"
But her favourite teacher wasn't looking at her. "I'll inform the Headmaster," the old witch said, her face set in a grim expression.
As she followed McGonagall, walking between the two Aurors as if she was a prisoner being transported to jail, Hermione felt like crying - and even more so when she noticed how many of her fellow students were in the Gryffindor common room, watching her being led out, and heard them whispering behind her back. Hunching her shoulders, she kept her eyes down - she didn't want to see them staring at her.
"Hermione! What's going on?"
Harry! She whipped her head around, looking for her friend. There! He was standing near the entrance, still wearing his Quidditch gear - he must have just arrived. Ron was right behind him, and both looked confused, and concerned.
"Parkinson and Greengrass are framing me for theft!" she responded. "It must be Malfoy's work!"
"Miss Granger!" McGonagall glared at her. "Don't make this any worse!"
Hermione gaped at the teacher. What did the witch mean? Didn't she realise that this was a setup? Didn't she believe Hermione? Was McGonagall angry at her? She wasn't a thief! "But…" she began, only to be interrupted by the old witch.
"Don't say anything until we're in the Headmaster's office!" McGonagall snapped at her.
Trembling, Hermione followed the witch. How could her teacher think this of her! As they left the dorms, she tried to calm down. The Headmaster would fix this - he knew she wasn't a criminal! He knew what Malfoy had done!
"I see. This is quite a situation," Dumbledore said, stroking his beard.
"A situation?" Dawlish blurted out. "It's an open and shut case! We have Miss Parkinson's statement, and we found the stolen necklace in Granger's trunk!"
Hermione bit her lower lip to stop herself from saying anything. Dumbledore had to know she was innocent!
"Appearances can be deceiving," Dumbledore said. "I will need to talk with Miss Granger in private."
"What?" Hermione and half the others in the room said in unison.
"That's against Ministry regulations…" Dawlish started to object.
"This is Hogwarts, and Miss Granger is one of my students," the Headmaster interrupted him.
"This is not a disciplinary matter, but a criminal matter!" Dawlish retorted.
"A student being accused of theft is most certainly a disciplinary matter," Dumbledore corrected him, and Hermione felt her heart lift. But his next words destroyed her growing hope that he would nip this awful plot in the bud: "It remains to be decided whether or not this is also a criminal matter."
"That is not your decision to make."
"I never claimed it would be - only that as the Headmaster of Hogwarts, it is my prerogative to handle disciplinary matters. It should not take overly long."
That apparently calmed Dawlish. It had the opposite effect on Hermione, of course, and by the time everyone but her and Dumbledore had left the Headmaster's office, she had bitten her lower lip bloody to keep herself silent.
"Headmaster! I'm innocent! Someone planted the necklace in my trunk! Parkinson is either lying, or was fooled. It has to be a plot by Malfoy! You have to believe me!"
"I do believe you, my dear." Dumbledore's smile was gentle. "This does look like Lucius's handiwork."
She nodded rapidly. "He's trying to get back at me for foiling his plot against Harry earlier this year!"
"Indeed. Though I would say that he does not simply want revenge, but also to remove you from Harry's side, to prevent you from foiling further plots." Dumbledore nodded gravely.
That… that… Hermione clenched her teeth before she cursed in front of the Headmaster. The depths to which Malfoy and his father would stoop! "So… how can I prove my innocence?"
The old wizard hesitated to answer, and she gasped. He sighed. "Alas, that may prove impossible, Miss Granger."
"But I am innocent! Even if they do not believe me, they can interrogate me with Veritaserum!" She knew exactly how well that worked, after all.
"I am afraid to say that that cannot be allowed to happen, Miss Granger."
"What?" She stared at him. "Why not?"
"The Aurors, well-prepared by Lucius, would most certainly not limit their questions to the matter at hand."
She gasped, finally understanding. "You mean…" He knew! Of course he'd know, he was Dumbledore!
"Indeed. While it is very impressive for a second year to have brewed Veritaserum - a feat even many who have passed their N.E.W.T.s have trouble with - you broke the law in doing so. And to make matters worse, the illegally brewed potion was then used on young Mister Malfoy." She shivered, and he smiled sadly at her. "The punishment for brewing a restricted potion is not overly harsh, but to use Veritaserum on someone…" He shook his head. "Many among the members of the Wizengamot are well aware of how easily they would be ruined, should they be forced to spill their secrets, and will make an example out of you." Or her friends, who had helped her use the potion on Malfoy.
She swallowed. "Azkaban?"
"Yes. A year at the minimum. But since you are a muggleborn, and the potion was used on the son of Lucius Malfoy…"
She sniffled. She wouldn't survive that. "What… what can I do, then?" She couldn't go to Azkaban!
"I could obliviate you of the critical knowledge, of course, but that would, if detected, which would have to be expected, invalidate your testimony under Veritaserum."
"Can't you limit the questions? They can't just ask all sorts of questions, can they?" That was how it worked with muggle trials, wasn't it?
"I am afraid that they can, provided they can claim to have reasonable suspicion of further crimes. Which Lucius will ensure - I am certain that he has anticipated this course of events. There is a reason that the use of Veritaserum requires explicit permission from the Wizengamot, unless the accused asks for it, and that such permission is very rarely granted when it involves a relative of a member of the Wizengamot. We are rather fortunate that you, as a muggleborn, are merely being accused of larceny, and not of a more serious crime."
"But…" That was corruption!
"I am sorry, Miss Granger, but the only way to avoid Azkaban is to avoid being interrogated using Veritaserum."
"But I can't prove my innocence otherwise!" When he didn't answer and simply looked at her with a sad expression, she understood. "You mean… I will be found guilty?"
"With only your word to put against Miss Parkinson's, and with the necklace found in your trunk, it is a certainty. The most I can do is lessen the punishment." He spread his hands with a rather apologetic expression. "An attempt to do more would be decried by Lucius and his allies as me trying to interfere with the course of justice, and might even lead to a harsher punishment."
"But…" She couldn't get punished for this!
"It saddens me to tell you this, in light of the fact that you find yourself in these circumstances for having helped your friend, but I do not see any other way to handle this without seeing you condemned to Azkaban."
"What… what punishment should I expect?"
"Fines. I may not be able to exonerate you, but there are enough good people on the Wizengamot to ensure that a young witch will not be sent to Azkaban for theft - especially not for a first offence. I doubt that Lucius would even attempt to push for such a sentence, knowing how it would be received."
"Even as a mudblood?" She couldn't keep the bitterness out of her voice.
He frowned at her. "Miss Granger, while I am the last wizard to claim that the foul and foolish ideology of blood purity has no more adherents in Wizarding Britain, your blood status will not significantly change anything with regard to the sentence." Chastened, she lowered her head. After a moment, he continued: "Although, and it honestly pains me to say this, your expulsion from Hogwarts is also unavoidable."
She stared at him, blinking. That couldn't be true. It couldn't. She couldn't get expelled. If she was expelled from Hogwarts, she'd lose her wand. She'd lose her education. She'd lose her friends!
He slowly shook his head in response to her silent plea, and she broke down in tears.
Hogwarts, March 31st, 1993
"I've heard that they arrested Granger. For theft!"
"Yes. Aurors found her trunk full of stolen jewelry!"
"She's been taken straight to Azkaban!"
Harry Potter clenched his teeth and resisted the urge to yell at the gossiping witches in the corner of the Gryffindor common room to shut up or get hexed. Hermione wasn't a thief! She wouldn't steal some stupid necklace. But she hadn't returned to the dorms yet, nor had she been at dinner.
"Stupid witches spreading lies," Ron mumbled, shifting around in the seat next to his. Harry's friend looked as worried as Harry felt, though. "Tomorrow they'll say she broke into Gringotts."
To be fair, Hermione had stolen potions ingredients - but they had needed them to foil Malfoy's plot. And Harry and Ron had helped her. He leaned towards Ron, who was scowling at the closest witch, Lavender. "Do you think this is another of Malfoy's plots?" he whispered.
Ron looked at him as if he was confused. "Of course it is! She told us so when they took her away!"
"No." Harry shook his head. "Do you think she might have stolen the necklace because Malfoy wanted to use it against us?"
"Oh." Ron blinked. "But why didn't she tell us? We'd have helped her!" he whispered back.
"I don't know. But it's all Malfoy's fault either way." Harry was certain of that. He suddenly stood up. "We'll get to the bottom of this. Come!"
"Huh?" Ron looked confused, but stood up anyway. "What do you mean?"
"We'll go to Dumbledore!" Harry said. They should have done that right away.
"Please sit down, Harry, Mister Weasley."
Harry didn't want to sit down. He wanted to stand, to pace, to do something, anything. But instead he sat down in response to the Headmaster's invitation, as did Ron.
"I assume that you are here because of the incident with Miss Granger," Dumbledore said.
He wasn't smiling, not even a little, Harry noted with a sinking feeling in his stomach. He hadn't even looked as serious after Quirrell's death, and Harry had played a rather large part in that! "Yes," he said, nodding. After a moment, he went on: "She hasn't returned to the dorms. Not even after dinner. And there are rumours that she has been arrested…" He trailed off, pressing his lips together.
"I am sorry to confirm that your friend has been arrested."
Ron let a curse slip for which his mother would scourgify his mouth while Harry gaped at the Headmaster. "But… she wouldn't steal a necklace! Not unless it was part of a plot by Malfoy!" Harry protested, leaning forward in his seat and almost jumping to his feet.
"Yes," Ron chimed in, "she scolds us when we break the rules, too! The Slytherins are lying!"
Dumbledore sighed. "I am certain that Miss Granger hasn't stolen Miss Greengrass's family heirloom."
"So she'll get off?" Harry blurted out, then winced when he realised that he had interrupted the Headmaster.
Now Dumbledore smiled - but only a little. "She hasn't stolen the necklace, but I have it on good authority that she isn't actually innocent of any crime."
Harry blinked. "What?" Hermione wouldn't commit a crime, she wouldn't! What was the Headmaster talking about… "Oh."
"Yes," Dumbledore said, "I am referring to the actions she took in dealing with your 'curse' earlier this year."
"The Malaclaw venom? Harry almost died because of that!" Ron scowled. "We had to do something!"
"And it was Malfoy's fault!" Harry added, rubbing his right arm. He had had to take a large dose of Skele-Gro after the crash that had destroyed his Nimbus 2000.
"Indeed it was. But the manner in which that knowledge was revealed has caused quite a serious problem."
"What?" Harry tried to think of what they had done that would cause this. They had slipped a few drops of Veritaserum into Malfoy's pumpkin juice during dinner…
"It was quite clever of you to arrange for a teacher to question him about the latest misfortune that had befallen Harry, but dosing anyone with Veritaserum is a serious crime." Dumbledore looked from Harry to Ron and back.
"But… that's got nothing to do with the theft!" objected Ron.
"No, but given the evidence arranged against her, the only way for Miss Granger to prove that she is innocent would require that she be questioned under Veritaserum - which would almost certainly reveal her own use of that potion. And the punishment for illegal use of Veritaserum is far harsher than for theft."
"But…" Ron trailed off.
Harry shook his head, trying to make sense of this. "You mean… she'll be found guilty for something she didn't do?"
"In order to avoid being punished for something she did do," Dumbledore said. With a noticeable frown, he added: "And to avoid incriminating her friends."
"Oh." Harry repeated himself. Hermione would do that. Like when she had lied to the teachers after the troll attack.
"But we helped her!" Ron exclaimed.
"Admitting your own culpability will not help Miss Granger; all such a confession would accomplish would be to see you two sent to Azkaban as well, and see your father ruined, Mister Weasley."
"She'll be sent to Azkaban?" Harry gasped. He had heard enough about the wizard prison this evening in the common room to know how horrible that would be.
"No, not for the theft which she is accused of having committed." The Headmaster's smile had appeared, but it was rather thin. "Do you now understand the situation in which Miss Granger finds herself?"
"Can't we do anything?" Harry asked.
"I shall do my best to mitigate her punishment. She will not be sent to prison, I can assure you." Dumbledore sighed. "But she will be expelled from Hogwarts."
"What?" Harry looked at Ron. His friend seemed as shocked as he was. Hermione, expelled? Gone from Hogwarts? That was… she had once called that a fate worse than death.
"But only the Headmaster can expel a student!" Ron said. "You can refuse to expel her."
"I could - but the school governors would take action against me, and I doubt that my successor would uphold my decision." Dumbledore's faint smile vanished again. "The events of this year and the year before have not been received well by the governors."
Harry clenched his teeth. It was partially his fault, then. If he had paid more attention, hadn't been so reckless, then Quirrell would still be alive, and Malfoy wouldn't have been able to poison Harry.
"It's not your fault, Harry," Dumbledore said, in a gentle voice. "As the Headmaster, and even more so, as a wizard of my experience, it was my responsibility. I should have handled things better. I was preoccupied by politics, but that is no excuse."
Harry nodded, but he still felt guilty.
"But… where will Hermione go, if she can't go to Hogwarts?" Ron asked.
"A witch as gifted as her has several options," Dumbledore assured them. "Even after this affair."
That made Harry feel a little better. Ron and he might lose their best friend, but she wouldn't lose magic. "Will we see her again?" he asked. "Before she gets expelled, I mean."
"Yes, of course. Although I expect that she will have to spend a day in the Ministry's custody first."
Harry managed to smile at that, even if he felt like crying.
Hogwarts, April 2nd, 1993
They were waiting for her when Hermione Granger came down the stairs, dragging her trunk behind her. Harry and Ron. Her best friends. Her only friends, even. There were others in the room as well, but she didn't care for them. They didn't care for her either, anyway.
"Hey." Harry shuffled his feet and tried to smile.
"Hermione." Ron wasn't doing any better.
She bit her lower lip then took a deep breath. She could do this. She had to do this. She had prepared for this. "I guess this is goodbye." She wouldn't cry.
It was obvious that they didn't know what to say. "Did you talk with the Headmaster?"
Harry nodded. "We did."
They knew then. Good. She couldn't say anything more, not with an Auror standing behind her.
"I'll write you. And we can see each other in the summer," she managed to say.
None of them mentioned how difficult it would be to meet, with the Dursleys, and Ron not being familiar with muggle London, and her… expelled. "Good," she pressed out, then lunged forward, gathering both of them together in a hug.
"Don't do anything stupid," she whispered. "Malfoy's just waiting for that." It was bad enough that she had to take the fall; she wouldn't let that bigot ruin her friends' lives as well. She could feel them tense, but they didn't answer. "Promise me!" she added.
"OK," Harry said after a moment, and she felt Ron nod.
"That's enough," the Auror said in a gruff voice. "We're leaving now." She released her friends and looked over her shoulder at the wizard. He had his wand drawn. He would probably use it on her, too - he had taken her wand, so she couldn't levitate her trunk, earlier.
Frowning, she turned away and bent down to pick up her trunk again. To her surprise, it was far lighter than before. She looked up, and saw Fred or George smile at her.
She smiled back, feeling a little better. Her ordeal would soon be over, too. She wouldn't even have to spend another day in a cell, so she had been told, since her trial would take place that afternoon. She could do this. She had to.
Her smile didn't last long. Along the route to the entrance, students were lined up - all of them Slytherins. But they should be in their classes or dorms right now! Some were simply staring and whispering, but many were jeering and sneering at her.
"Look at the thief go!"
"Check her pockets, I'm missing a Knut!"
"Have a good time in Azkaban!"
"You should never have come to Hogwarts, mudblood!"
That was Malfoy. This was all his fault! She wanted to yell at him, to curse him, but she couldn't. It would just make everything worse. She had to endure this, to show that she was better than them. No matter how much they doubted her, believed her to be a criminal, she knew the truth. She knew who the real criminal was here.
"Go back to the muggles, mudblood!"
Turning a corner, she saw Snape walking towards her, a scowl on his face. He was shooing the nearby students away, and for a moment, she felt relieved. Then she felt rage rise inside her. Snape should have stopped this from happening at all! There were no Ravenclaws or Hufflepuffs around, only Slytherins. As if the bigot wouldn't have been able to prevent this! He was just covering himself now that his students had already slung their slurs at her!
Hermione focused on her anger, her rage, and sneered at him, then held her head high and did her best to ignore the hecklers as she strode out of Hogwarts.
London, Ministry of Magic, April 2nd, 1993
Sitting in the centre of a large chamber, magical chains binding her limbs to a wooden chair, with everyone looking down at her from their seats above her, wasn't how Hermione Granger had wanted to visit the Wizengamot. Not at all.
Bu here she was, the accused, with everyone already convinced of her guilt, or so she thought, glancing at the faces of the assembled Wizengamot and the rest of the court. She could even spot Malfoy's father, among the Wizengamot, and up high, among the spectators, his son. He must have asked his father to pull some strings to be allowed out of Hogwarts for this so he could gloat!
Dumbledore smiled at her, but the rest of the wizards and witches present didn't. Especially not the fat witch standing in for the Minister for Magic - Dumbledore had managed to keep the Minister from interfering directly; Lucius Malfoy had been cultivating Fudge for years.
The fat witch cleared her throat. "Criminal trial of the second of April, 1993," she spoke, her nasal voice amplified by a spell. "Hermione Jean Granger stands accused of multiple counts of grand larceny."
What? Multiple counts of grand larceny? Hermione gasped and looked at Dumbledore. But the Headmaster seemed to be surprised himself.
"How do you plead?"
"Not guilty!" she answered, still reeling from this unexpected change. "What am I being accused of?" she added. "I was arrested for theft!"
"The charges have been expanded due to new evidence," the witch - Dolores Umbridge, Hermione remembered - explained with a cruel smile.
"I haven't been made aware of this," Dumbledore spoke up.
"It was all filed properly." Umbridge's smile widened.
Hermione expected Dumbledore to lodge a protest - that was impairing her defence! - but the old wizard simply sat down again. She felt even worse, now. And Malfoy, sitting high above her, was smiling!
"Take a note that the accused has pleaded not guilty," Umbridge ordered.
"I still haven't heard what I am being accused of in detail!" Hermione yelled.
"Another such outburst and you'll be found in contempt of the court!" the other witch snarled at her. "Auror Dawlish, present the evidence against the accused."
The Auror who had arrested her in Hogwarts stood up. "Witnesses for the prosecution: Miss Daphne Greengrass. Miss Pansy Parkinson. Miss Millicent Bulstrode. Miss Tracey Davis. Mister Allan Borgin."
Hermione had never seen that man before. What was going on? She looked at Dumbledore, and saw that he was frowning. That was… she bit her lower lip. She couldn't lose her composure. Not now. She forced herself to calm down, despite her growing desperation.
"Are you Hermione Jean Granger, born September nineteenth, 1979, resident of London?"
"Y-yes." Hermione swallowed and once again bit her lip.
"Did you steal this necklace from Miss Greengrass?" Umbridge pointed at Dawlish, who was raising the necklace in the air.
"No." She shook her head.
"Did you steal this ring from Miss Parkinson?"
"What? I've never seen that ring before!"
"Answer the question!" Umbridge snapped.
"No, I didn't steal that ring!"
"Did you steal this diadem from Miss Bulstrode?"
"Did you steal this bracelet from Miss Davis?"
She looked at the sneering Slytherins. What were they trying to accomplish? Those pieces hadn't been in her trunk. Had they placed them in her room after she had been arrested, to be 'found' in time for the trial?
But as she soon found out, Malfoy's plot - and it had to be him behind all this - was a bit more intricate.
"... to sum up: We have heard how the necklace stolen from Miss Greengrass was found in the accused's trunk the morning after the theft. We have heard that Miss Parkinson, Miss Bulstrode and Miss Davis had been missing jewelry as well - a ring, a diadem and a bracelet, all very expensive, goblin-made heirlooms - but assumed that they had lost them, which is why they didn't report the loss - until they realised that if the accused could steal from Miss Greengrass, she could have stolen from them as well. And, most importantly, we have heard the testimony of Mister Allan Borgin, who bought these three pieces of jewelry during the last few months, thinking he was helping out a young pureblood witch who had fallen on hard times. Against this stands nothing but the word of the accused - a muggleborn witch who could never afford such treasures. The evidence is overwhelming, and the punishment should fit the crime. I ask for her wand to be snapped and for her to be incarcerated for six months in Azkaban. Let this be a message to others tempted to steal and rob." Auror Dawlish sat down.
Hermione was trembling when she noticed how many of the Wizengamot members were nodding in agreement. Azkaban! Half a year! She couldn't… she would not survive that. Tears were running down her cheeks, but she didn't care any more.
Dumbledore rose to speak for her. "Honoured members of the Wizengamot! The accused is a young witch; she has not yet finished her second year at Hogwarts. To think that she would be able to not only steal multiple times without getting caught, but also sneak out of Hogwarts, travel to Knockturn Alley and then sell the stolen pieces without any trouble, beggars belief. That she would stash stolen loot in her trunk, instead of hiding it somewhere else, makes this whole story even less plausible. No, she is not the culprit, but simply a scapegoat, another victim of the true culprit.
"But even should you believe this tale and find her guilty, you should consider her young age, and that this would be her first offence. Azkaban is a place for the worst criminals of Wizarding Britain - murderers, those who try to break the Statue of Secrecy, dark wizards and Death Eaters." Hermione saw a number of Wizengamot members jerk at the last words.
"You all know the fate of those sent to Azkaban. Dementors, those vile fiends harboured there, will torture her, slowly draining her of any joy and happiness, leaving her a broken shell of herself. Six month there have seen hardened criminals reduced to insanity! Will you burden your conscience with doing such to a young girl, over theft?"
Hermione noticed that the witches who had done this to her now looked uncomfortable, shifting on their seats - even Parkinson. None of them spoke up, though. And Malfoy was smiling, even!
"Sending her to Azkaban would not be justice, but needless cruelty - fit for a Death Eater, but not for a member of the Wizengamot."
As Dumbledore sat down, Hermione wiped the tears from her face and hoped fervently that his plea had been enough to sway the Wizengamot and spare her.
Hogwarts, April 3rd, 1993
Muggleborn Thief Fined And Expelled!
Sitting down for breakfast in the Great Hall, Harry Potter winced when he saw across the table the headline of the Daily Prophet Percy was reading. He craned his neck, trying to read the front page, but he hadn't gotten further than the author's name - a Rita Skeeter - when Percy folded the newspaper up and handed it to him. The older boy didn't say anything, but he smiled apologetically - or so Harry thought. It wasn't an expression he often saw on Percy's face.
Reading the article - Ron joined in a minute later, looking over Harry's shoulder - Harry hissed with anger. There was a picture of Hermione's wand being snapped in front of her. He could see her flinch, then press her lips together and stand straighter, when the two parts were thrown at her feet, before it started again.
He realised he had stared at the picture for a minute when he heard Ron exclaim: "Blimey! Have you read the paragraph about you?"
"What?" He hadn't.
According to our sources at Hogwarts, Granger was quite close to the Boy-Who-Lived, and deeply involved in the affair surrounding his almost fatal accident last autumn. While unconfirmed, the possibility of this criminal attempting to steal Harry Potter's fortune through various means cannot be dismissed out of hand - many students describe her as ambitious and cunning, so she might have had long-term plans to that effect. Several of our sources went into detail about her practice of using her relationship with Harry Potter to escape punishment for her numerous offences. It is certainly a good thing that her corrupting influence has now been removed from both the Boy-Who-Lived and Hogwarts.
"Those… those…" He knew who those 'sources' were. Slytherins. He glanced over at their table, and saw a gaggle of them bent over a few newspapers, some pointing and laughing.
"Merlin's beard!" Ron's curse drew Harry's attention back to the article. What else could this Skeeter have written? She had already turned Hermione's alleged crime into a veritable crime spree that 'had shaken Hogwarts to its founding stones'. He saw what his friend was pointing at, and hissed under his breath.
Granger's grades - she allegedly excelled in tests, but, according to other students in her year, she was lacking in practical talent - are now also suspect. A witch willing to steal an heirloom of the scion of an Old Family like the Greengrasses would certainly be able to cheat in tests. In hindsight, this should have been obvious - had the girl been truly as smart as she claimed, she would certainly have been sorted into Ravenclaw rather than Gryffindor. We can only hope that the school's staff will investigate these accusations thoroughly - it would not do to have a cheater affect the standings of hard-working, honourable students.
Harry glanced over at the Ravenclaw table and noticed several of the students in their year looking quite satisfied. "Jealous gits," he mumbled.
One can but hope that her expulsion will spell the end of the recent string of scandals which have plagued Hogwarts - as our readers know, not only did the Boy-Who-Lived almost die in a potions-related accident, but last year Professor Quirrell was killed under mysterious circumstances.
Those had been the work of Malfoy and Voldemort respectively! And the Prophet was hinting that Hermione was responsible? Harry threw the newspaper article on the table, not caring that it landed right on a plate filled with sausages. He wanted to hex that journalist, the Slytherins and the Ravenclaws!
"Hey, Potter! Aren't you glad you were freed from the clutches of the mudblood before she stole your family fortune, leaving you both orphaned and poor?"
Harry jumped up and drew his wand. His promise be damned, he wouldn't let that stand!
But before he - or Ron, who had mirrored his own actions - could hex the foul git, the Headmaster's voice cut through rising excitement: "Mister Malfoy! Twenty points from Slytherin and detention tonight!"
The Great Hall fell silent as everyone turned to look at Dumbledore. The Headmaster almost never raised his voice, much less disciplined students directly; he left that to the teachers. Teachers, Harry noted, who looked almost as surprised as most of the students. Even Snape.
Harry expected Malfoy to protest, but not even that arrogant idiot would dare to talk back to Dumbledore, and the git sat down instead.
"Did you hear me, Mister Malfoy?"
The Slytherin jerked and looked back at the staff table. "Yes, sir," he pressed out.
Dumbledore nodded slowly, apparently satisfied, then vanished the Daily Prophet on his table.
"Serves the git right," Ron whispered as both of them sat down again.
"It's not enough though," Harry answered. Not by far.
"We promised not to do anything," Ron said - as if he hadn't been about to hex the git a minute ago.
But Harry's friend was correct - they had promised Hermione. Slowly, Harry started to grin. "Yes, we did promise. But," he added, with a glance at Fred and George, "they didn't."
Ron's smile matched those of his brothers'.
London, Kingston upon Thames, April 24th, 1993
Hermione Granger was sitting in the garden, behind the old tree in the corner. She needed to be alone. Away from her parents and their silent accusations. And the telly covering the bombing in the City of London. And she wanted to enjoy the garden before they had to move out.
Which they would have to, once the house was sold. They would have to find a flat - a cheap one - near whatever new employment her parents could find after selling their dental practice. Which they needed to do because of her. She pulled out the broken pieces of her wand. She had kept them, despite the wand being ruined. It would serve as a reminder.
Her family was ruined, and it was all her fault. Her fault, but even more the fault of those despicable Malfoys and their friends. It hadn't been enough for Malfoy to get her expelled with his plot and the lies of his friends - no, they had to go even further! All those lying witches, claiming she stole even more from them… and Borgin, claiming he had bought those treasures in good faith, for a fair price! The fines and damages were more than her family owned! And, as a muggleborn, she was lucky that the Wizengamot, which mostly consisted of purebloods who had inherited their seats, hadn't sent her to Azkaban!
She clenched her teeth, rage filling her. They would pay! She didn't know how, yet, but all who had conspired to ruin her would pay! Every single last one of them. Malfoy, Parkinson, Greengrass, Bulstrode and Davis. Borgin, of course. Umbridge, for hiding the new charges so Dumbledore couldn't do anything in time. Dawlish, for going along with the plot. And Skeeter, for calling her a cheater! And all those who had sneered and slandered her at Hogwarts. The bigots and the jealous.
She would get her revenge!
When she noticed that her broken wand was sparking, she forced herself to calm down. A bout of accidental magic would cause even more trouble for her and her family. And they definitely couldn't afford that.
Once again, she considered asking Harry for help. But that would ruin him, and she couldn't do that. Not when it was her fault for not considering the consequences of her plan. For not researching enough. And to see him spend all his gold for her, after that awful article… But, she thought, maybe she could ask him to buy her a new wand? Nothing but the lack of money kept her from buying one - and the fact that any money she changed into Galleons at Gringotts would be confiscated right away by those loathsome goblins.
But even if she had a wand, she couldn't return to Hogwarts, and she couldn't afford to go to another school of magic. Dumbledore had told her that he'd do what he could to let her continue her education, but after sending her a selection of admittedly fascinating books to study, she hadn't heard anything more concrete from him. She could ask Harry or Ron in her next letter to bother the Headmaster for her… No. She could wait a little longer.
Hermione wiped the tears from her eyes. She had cried enough since the trial. She had lost this round, but she wouldn't stay down. She would get her revenge!
The sudden question made her gasp and jump to her feet. A man was standing a few yards away, leaning against the fence - inside the garden. How had he managed to get so close without her noticing? She looked him over. He was wearing an expensive suit. Tailor-made, she thought. Polished shoes. A bow-tie, of all things. Immaculately shaved and coiffed. "Who are you?" she asked in return.
"Fletcher. Mundungus Fletcher."
Mundungus? That sounded like a wizard name. She glanced at his hand.
He grinned and, with a flourish, produced a wand. "Indeed, I'm a wizard."
"What do you want?" She hadn't heard his name before.
"I've been looking into your trial. A clear set-up, in my opinion. You must have angered Lucius Malfoy a great deal for him to go to those lengths."
"So?" She already knew that. Then she had another thought. Was the man here for her? Wasn't ruining her and her family's life enough? Had Malfoy hired the man to kill her?
She took a step back and glanced towards her house. If she sprinted… she wouldn't make it.
"I'm not here to harm you, Miss Granger." The man smiled, though a bit crookedly, in her opinion. "I'm here to make you an offer."
"As I said, I've been looking into your case, and into your history. You didn't steal from those witches. But you could have. And you would have done it in a far less obvious way, right?"
Well, of course! She had stolen from Snape, after all, to brew the Veritaserum without getting caught!
"And you're in dire need of gold."
"Yes." What was he proposing? Was he… certainly not!
"You have the talent and the motivation - and people already think you're a thief. You have nothing to lose, I think." He grinned. "Would you like to learn how to become a real thief, and rob those pureblood bastards blind?"
She blinked in surprise.