AUTHOR'S NOTE: Who's back in the swing of writing chapters way too quickly? One guess, guess who!… Some surprise appearances and revelations in this chapter (though I'll admit I'm kind of spoiling the biggest one from the get-go). Some set-up (isn't there always?), some jokes (as there must be to make this story what it is). I hope you like it. As always, please review if you like the story. Or if you don't. Review, on general principle.

Chapter LIX: We've Lost the Minister

Hermione's second post-Christmas week proceeded much like the first, in that the general joy of being back in Hogwarts was true to itself, but marred by Harry continuing to be inexplicably broody and sulky and all in all most un-Harry-like.

On Tuesday, Harry showed up wearing a bloody bandage over his forehead, nearly staggering down the moving staircases on his way to the Great Hall. This wasn't that odd in itself — Harry got into all kinds of scrapes, particularly with Quidditch — but when his friends all showed the appropriate amounts of concern (aside from Tsh, who started complimenting him on his new ribbon), he rebuffed them all and ate breakfast as far away from them as possible. Ever stranger, he wore the same bandages through the week, clearly as reluctant to seek out Madam Pomfrey's help as he had been theirs. On Thursday, Fred Weasley, hoping to get Harry to take the blasted thing off, sneaked up behind him and charmed it to be green and furry, but Harry hardly took notice.

Still, not everything was going wrong. Through Luna, Hermione managed to recruit a squadron of Ravenclaw amanuenses to begin copying down all known languages into the Babblebook, Owlish included, and she hoped to have it ready by February — she could hardly wait to add in the Dictaquill charms and begin work on the magical voicebox.

Helen Monroe had calmed down a little bit, and Hermione, deciding modesty was the better part of valor, didn't go tickle the sleeping dragon, despite a twinge of curiosity and the feeling that she ought to get to know the girl better (in part for her strategic value, in part because she seemed like a very interesting person, and in part because Helen had saved her life that one time). When she broached the topic, Ron warned her that the Dark Lady was probably plotting something, and… he was probably right, but it would do no good to anyone to worry about it until something actually materialized. Besides, her central goal of bringing Grindelwald back to power was in itself so nonsensical that even if she somehow managed to get into Nurmengard or something, nothing too bad would happen; she'd just come face-to-face with the fact that her 'Lord' wouldn't budge from his cage, and that would be the end of that.

Her correspondance was the same hive of insanity as ever — a letter of news from her parents, giving her news of Nettle and the Dysons, came next to a stone tablet bearing the seal of the Goblin King and Lucius Malfoy's report of charities to which he had donated. Then there came letters from the two estranged Marauders. Remus's announced that he and the Great Basilisk would soon be returning from the Americas, while Jester White's contained gibberish words that jumped from the paper, hopped off the table, and trotted off to the Dungeons, where she later found them tugging on Snape's hair.

There were also the customary panicked cries for help from Minister Fudge, answered with impeccable tact and unfailing logic, which ensured that the British Isles didn't sink into the depths because of an oversight in the Unspeakables' control group. (Statistically, of all the things Hermione had to keep an eye on in Fudge's place, the biggest threat to the integrity of the Solar System were the British Unspeakables, who had the mindset of the average movie mad scientist. This particular week, one of them had sent a formal request for permission to experiment on how to make the Gemino Curse work on Basilisk Venom. And Fudge, being the same old conciliatory imbecile, was all set to give them the go-ahead.)


On Friday, they had Charms Class. This was, usually, nothing out of the ordinary, but Professor Flitwick had dropped hints that they would be doing something of considerable interest in that particular lesson, and so the teenage wizards and witches (plus one Boggart) who assembled in front of the Charms Classroom at 1 p.m. was substantially more excited than the average Charms students.

Professor Flitwick dropped fifteen minutes late (which was quite unlike him). And 'dropped in' is here to be taken literally: to everyone's wonder, a round trapdoor opened in the ceiling of the corridor, and the minuscule man half-fell, half-jumped down into the crowd of students, slowing down his fall with a Feather-light Charm.

With agiddy grin, Flitwick looked around and said:

"Well? What are you all standing here for? Let's go!"

"Let's go where?" asked Neville.

Flitwick blinked.

"Ah," he coughed. "I… I haven't actually told you, have I… oh my giddy aunt. Oh, well. Follow me!"

And up he led them through stairways and corridors unending, watched by curious paintings and gargoyles, some of whom clearly hadn't seen another human being than Flich in many, many years.

"Come on now, don't lag, we've wasted enough time as it is…"

As they went, there were many abandoned rooms with the doors left open. Most of them were only classrooms where unused chairs collected dust and pixies, but for a brief moment, Hermione thought she'd glimpsed a darkened room with a coffin

"Hurry, hurry, hurry—"

She looked round and it was no longer there, and faster and faster they pressed on.

"Nearly there — come, come, follow me —"

By the time they reached their destination — a classroom identical to the usual Charms Classroom, for all intents and purposes — they were sweating and panting, clothes ruffled and feet sore. An outraged Seamus Finnegan produced his wristwatch and complained:

"Alright, Professor, what's the idea? We've been trampling about for —"

He checked the watch and his eyes boggled.

" — negative five minutes? What the bloody hell—"

"I'd deduct points for language, Mr Finnegan," Flitwick said, "but you're quite right. It makes no sense at all."

Oh dear. Was Flitwick going Dumbledore?

He raised a finger.

"Unless you understand the wonderful web of charms and enchantments that make up the Castle Hogwarts. And at the end of this lesson —"

Two dozen faces stared in awe.

"—you'll understand nothing at all. How could you? Even I have no idea how most of this is even possible. But. You may, possibly, be a little closer to the right track. And that's still something, isn't it? Now, basic stuff first. Can anyone tell me how Hogwarts was made? …Not you, Miss Granger, you read Hogwarts: A History much too much for asking you to be fair to your classmates."

She lowered her hand. Ron spoke.

"There was an Architect, wasn't there…?"

"Correct! But tell me, Mr Weasley, did they build Hogwarts all in one piece?"

"No, they must have Conjured it somehow…"

"Wait, I thought —"

The debate went on, voices rising, until Flitwick put everyone's minds to rest. To his credit, Professor Flitwick knew more about the construction of Hogwarts than what Professor Bagshot had consigned in her masterpiece, and could deliver a better history lesson than Professor Cuthbert Binns ever had, before or after his death.

It turned out that Hogwarts had first been built, according to the Architect's plans, as a mostly non-magical castle, though some of the stonework had bene Transfigured rather than carved. None Conjured thought.

Well—

There had been a Conjured tower, known simply as the Conjuration Tower, which Professor Slytherin used as his laboratory; but a few months after the Founders had begun to live in the Castle, Slytherin, as part of his experiments, had done something that had launched the entire Conjuration Tower up into the night sky like an anachronistic rocket. Calculations indicated that the Tower had probably crashed somewhere on the Planet Mars, and, clearly quite intent on retrieving whatever was inside the Tower, Slytherin had built the Astronomy Tower where the Conjuration Tower had once stood, using it to scry into space, hoping to get a glimpse of his lost haunts and work out a plan to retrieve them. The plan was abandoned after Slytherin's exile, and, to make use of the damned Astronomy Tower, they had created the Astronomy Class.

That was all rather besides the point, of course — and nothing she hadn't known before, from the Sorting Hat.

The more salient point was that the Founders had only started the enchanting work once a working outline of the Castle was already in place. This meant that they had not enchanted every stone as needed. Instead, they had used a rare and powerful spell known as the Transitive Charm, a complex enchantment with heavy ties to the simpler Protean Charm. A Transitive Charm, placed on an object, carried over its magical qualities to a network of other, similar objects if you linked them magically.

Thus there were, with Hogwarts, seven keystones (really, they had only needed six, but seven was more magically stable, Flitwick reminded them, redirecting any questions there towards Professor Vector) which controlled the magical abilities of the entire castle. They were hidden, buried deep, so that no one could tamper with them; indeed, they moved about, and if the rooms in Hogwarts had a tendency to shift position too, that was more an unforeseen side-effect of this thanks to the Transitive Charm than a planned feature.

Without the keystones and the magic they carried, Hogwarts would fall apart — and it was to illustrate just to what extent that he had brought them to this classroom. As the class reached its end, the small scholar beckoned them to the windows… where they realized that the classroom was inside a turret which floated a few feet above the tiled roof of the Hospital Wing, with nothing connecting it to the main building but one single, solitary thread of silver. (Several students gave the door through which they had entered wary looks.)

Hermione thought this was all very interesting.

And it gave her a lot of ideas.

"Hermione —" Ron nudged her on their way out, "please, in the name of peace and sanity… whatever you're planning… don't do it."

"How could you tell?"

"Hermione, have you seen what your face looks like when you start thinking?"

She gave a good-natured sigh.

The still-bandaged Harry, on the other hand, shuffled past with a groan. She held him back by the shoulder.

"Harry?"

"Mmyeah?" he moaned, his voice dripping with the unfathomable depth of his lack of interest in the conversation.

"I don't believe I'm mistaken in saying," she told him, "that you know the Castle best out of the lot of us."

"Hmhmmh."

"And I know," she went on, "that you spend most of your free time in the weekends roaming around under the Cloak. So next time you do this, I'd like you to have a look around for anything that might lead to the Keystones. It's useful information to have around."

"Hmmh."

"Oh," she added as an afterthought, "also see if you meet any Voldemort on the way. How do you lose a silver monkey and a terracotta warrior, I ask you!?…"

That seemed to pique Harry's interest.

"Voldemort…" he startled her by enunciating, in an odd tone. "Looking for Voldemort?… you… shouldn't, I … mustn't…"

"What?"

Biting his lip, the boy readjusted his bandage.

"I mustn't waste my time," he hastily finished, "or yours. I… you'll probably never find uh-him. Them. Whatever."

"Hm, maybe not," she admitted — in truth, she didn't really believe that, but if agreeing was what it took to get Harry to keep talking, so be it. "They are a wily one. He is several wily… this is confusing. …Splitting one's soul isn't just against the laws of nature and magic, it should be against the laws of grammar! Don't you think?"

"You… you shouldn't speak of H- of these that way," said Harry, and he looked almost scared.

"Harry, we've been joking about how Sir Tom is a gaudy turban since First Year. Now is certainly not the time to go all-out on the 'fear him' thing."

She thought that was a well-made argument, which should have won her friend over.

But only a groan answered.

They walked silently to their next class, just a few feet between them, yet worlds apart.


On Saturday, Harry missed his Occlumency lessons again, and she had another talk with Dumbledore — a peaceful one, about her work on interlocking enchantments for the Babblebook. The Headmaster's insight was, as always, invaluable; and as always she surprised him with a bit of out-of-the-box thinking that shed knew light on the dusty theories of parchment enchantment.

Then there was another week, with other letters. Then another Saturday, another talk — grimmer — the Crimson Heir's had attacked the Crouch family home. Nearly dead, Barty Crouch Senior had only escaped to end up in long-term care in Saint-Mungo's. Albus warned her that an Order Meeting would take place the next day.

Then it was Sunday.

She spent the morning working on the Babblebook, confident in the knowledge that the meeting would only take place at two in the afternoon,

At a quarter past one, she had completed almost all of the enchantment. Now only a few surface charms to allow the various other spells to better interact with each other — she raised her wand —

— aaand there was a frantic House-Elf standing on her desk.

"Quicky, quicky, fast-fast-help! Mistress Hermione Granger is being required! Help-help!"

She resisted the urge to twirl her wand into a very nasty jinx, and set her mind to trying to recognize the noisy little thing. She had seen him somewhere, she thought… ah. Pompy. The Fudges' well-named butler, that was it.

Alright, so it wasn't his fault that he had interrupted her at a crucial moment.

"Gnnngh. {Stupid little—}"

Nor was it, if she was being honest, his fault that she found House-Elves' broken grammar and shrill voices profoundly obnoxious. In fact, she wouldn't be nearly so annoyed if not for the circumstances.

The circumstances being that the panicked little being was stomping on her masterwork.

"Pompy," she greeted. "I appreciate that there must be some sort of emergency, but please, stand still for a minute."

The Elf froze.

"Off the book."

Pompy stood there for a moment, clearly considering how best to obey this new directive while remaining faithful to the earlier, 'stand still' part. In the end he disapparated from his position to one just a foot to the right — which was actually pretty impressive.

"Huh. Alright," she said. "If you've calmed down, you may speak. But quietly, please."

"Mistress Hermione Granger!…" said the Elf. "It is being a terrible tragedy! You is must help Pompy and the Glorious Fudge Household!"

"Yes, yes, of course," she said, "but what exactly is the tragedy?"

"It is being an unhappy calamity of badness!" wailed the stout elf. "Awful and unfortunate and sad-sad-sad-sad-sad-"

She had a sinking feeling she would not get much more out of him than that.

"…Very well then," she ordered, "take me to someone more coherent, please. Someone in the know. Say… Senior Undersecretary Slughorn?"

Pompy nodded, grabbed her hand with his own tiny, gloved digits, and, without ceasing his litany of sads, he POP-ped her into the office of Horace Slughorn. It was, much as she expected, all green upholstery and comfy chairs and expensive-looking trinkets and richly-framed photographs.

The old walrus of a wizard looked about as desperate as the Elf; mustache aside, the one rather looked like an enlarged version of the other. For one terrible moment, Hermione wondered if she hadn't made a terrible mistake. Fortunately however, Slughorn pulled himself together like a decent grown-up; he adjusted his tie and walked to her.

"Ah… Miss Granger, so glad you came, so very nice — terrible crisis — I trust you know the facts of the case?"

"I don't," she said flatly.

Slughorn stared for a moment until he realized that was all she was going to say.

"…Ah," he sighed. "Well. The truth is, plain and simple… the truth is…"

He leaned in closer.

"We've lost the Minister."

Hermione took a sharp breath.

"…Oh dear. How did it happen? Was it an assassin? Did—"

"Oh, no, no," Slughorn corrected her, "I don't mean that as a euphemism. It… it's, ah… hem… we've… misplaced him. We don't know where he has gone, poor fellow. Very concerning."

"Are you sure he didn't run away from home?" Hermione suggested, mild.

(Cornelius Fudge was such a child in most other ways that she really didn't think it was that far-fetched.)

"Ah… well, I did consider it…" Fudge replied, and just for that her opinion of him increased just a little bit, "…but I don't think it likely — after all, you see, he left his bowler behind."

"Oh? Where?"

"In his office. At the Ministry."

"Huh."

"Yes. Quite. That is what I said when I came in and first took in the… sight."

"Cornelius, without the bowler. The bowler, without Cornelius," Hermione muttered, bemused. "It's… huh. It's so hard to imagine those two apart. It's like trying to think of Fred or George Weasley as a single individual apiece. Or separating Crab and Boil. I… I don't think I can do it."

They both stared into the void for a few more instants, contemplating the sheer absurdity of the concept.

"Yes, yes, my thoughts exactly," Slughorn said, breaking the silence.

"So," Hermione said, getting down to business. "What do we do?"

"Yes, that is the question, isn't it," mused Slughorn. "I mean, I certainly don't want to be Minister, even acting. Much too involved for me. I'm already bending my principles working this job… Minister, it's much too involved. No, no, no."

"Before you ask," Hermione compounded, "I'd love to be Minister someday, but right now, have you seen my schedule?"

"I think we've established that my esteemed predecessor Madam Umbridge's proper place is not so high in the hierarchy… As for Department Heads, well… I suppose Mr Cresswell is —"

"—out of the question," she cut him off. "The Goblins keep pulling the wool over his eyes in the Goblins Liaison Office over and over. In the last few years krœzvüll has become synonymous with 'gullible' in Gobbledegook."

"Really?" chuckled Slughorn. "Who told you that?"

"The Goblin King," she said. "Well, wrote me, to be more accurate."

Slughorn's mustache twitched in amusement.

"How can this — Miss Granger, no Goblin would share this information with a witch, let alone the K—"

"Ah, but you see, to him, I'm not a witch," she explained. "I'm a violin."

She got a vacant look.

"…Long story. Anyway. Mr Cresswell's no good. Mr Crouch is out of commission. Madam Bones… isn't what we need. Forceful woman, bellicose disposition, I hear… things are too tense with Albania to risk it. Arthur Weasley is the opposite — he's much too soft. Besides, he's needed where he is now. Hmm…"

They went on for over ten minutes, bouncing useless names of Ministry workers off of each other. Even Dumbledore's name was called up, then shut down.

"…Alright," she concluded, "that seals it. There's only one wizard in Britain who wants the job and would be halfway-decent at it."

She grinned and whispered:

"Percy… destiny awaits."