8. Familiar faces.
The Aurors never came to the Dementors' level, so she never had to hide their new acquisitions, and she could easily stay downstairs when the Aurors brought a new prisoner in. But doing so reminded her too much of the time when she'd still been a prisoner. She preferred to transform and fly out, visiting the mainland or circling far overhead until the Aurors were well and gone.
This time, in the second week of February, she'd flown to the shore, disguised herself by changing her hair to a short, dark and curly cut that made her look boyish, and Apparated to Glasgow for some fresh bread and vegetables. Her groceries transfigured into a fish again –if it weren't so much, it was a simple spell- she transformed, picked up the fish and flew towards the island.
As she came closer she was always glad to feel the Dementor. She'd gotten used to his absence in her mind on her short trips, but it still felt empty. He waited for her as she landed, dropped the fish on the floor, and transformed –in that order, now.
'The new one is someone you know,' he told her when she was back in her human form. 'His image is Charlie Weasley.'
'Charlie?' she asked, startled.
'He's convicted for treason, harboring fugitives and kidnapping,' the Dementor sent.
'Damn, so Fudge has started to pick people up,' Hermione cursed. 'How did he get a hold of Charlie? I thought Charlie was in Egypt.'
'I didn't look that deep. He knows about you but he's still quite scared.'
Hermione nodded. 'Thank you. I'll go see him.'
She transfigured the fish back into the Tesco bag with groceries and they went to Charlie's cell.
She could feel his fear as she unlocked the door. 'Don't worry, it's me, Hermione,' she sent immediately, before she even stepped inside. Charlie looked up, startled.
"Hermione! I thought you were free?!"
"I am," she said. "No one knows I'm here." She'd let her friends in exile know she was out and doing well, but no one but the Hogwarts staff, the Order, and her parents knew of her current living arrangements, or her Animagus form.
Charlie frowned, confused.
"You've met," –she sent his image. "He and I are a couple, we live here until we can have a place to live outside."
Shock, but also relief at not being alone. Charlie glanced uncertainly at the Dementor, who'd remained well behind her. Then he spotted her Tesco bag and latched onto the one thing that looked familiar. "You can go shopping?"
"I'm an Animagus now. I can get you anything you need, but more about that later. How did Fudge get you?"
Charlie grimaced. "The dragon sanctuary owled me, they had an injured Chinese Zenger, been in a fight. They were having trouble treating her. Dragons don't really bond to people, but I'd hatched and raised her and they thought I might be able to help."
"Did it work?" Hermione asked.
Charlie nodded, she could feel his satisfaction in spite of his fear. "Yes, she'll be fine." Then his face fell. "When I wanted to return to Egypt the Romanian Aurors showed up. They read a long list of charges Fudge brought against me. I knew some of it, of course, that's why we left Romania. But I still hadn't expected them to pick me up when I came alone and wasn't doing anything but work at the sanctuary. It'd seemed like it was just the steadily growing group the Romanians objected to."
He felt bitter as he spoke. "They added the most ridiculous charges, too. Fudge had been owling Harry, trying to persuade him to return to England. Harry refused, of course, and now Fudge claims we –my brothers and I- are keeping Harry against his will. The charges against me included coercion and kidnapping. I couldn't believe it when I heard that!"
Hermione shook her head in disgust.
"That was the day before yesterday," Charlie continued. "Fudge's Aurors picked me up and Fudge himself read the charges again, then broke my wand without even allowing me to speak."
Hermione's anger flared as she remembered her own trial, and how that had felt. "I'm sorry," she said.
Charlie sighed and shuddered. "I can't say how glad I am to see you here. What about the Dementors? The others," he added quickly.
"They will feed on you, but it doesn't have to hurt. Offer them to let them take the thoughts you send to the surface, the thoughts you think of actively. Not everyone's the same, some are more likely to be rough at first, but most will agree to take what you offer and be careful. Try not to be afraid."
Charlie tried to nod, but he bit his lip as he looked past her at the Dementor. Others had joined them, too. "Hermione, I am scared," he admitted.
"I know, I can feel it, and they can too. But they'll also know if your effort is sincere, that will have to do. I was afraid when I came here, and I didn't have anyone to speak for me."
He still looked anxious, his freckled face pale, but she could also feel determination come through. She reached out and patted his arm in reassurance. "It'll be fine."
"So what do I do?" he asked hesitantly.
"Think of something pleasant, anything. You won't lose the memory, not really. That only happens when it's taken too roughly and too often, or when it's something that just happened and hasn't been stored in your long-term memory yet," Hermione explained.
Charlie nodded. "Okay," he said quietly. He stared as he searched his memory. There were several Dementors in the cell now, but fortunately Hermione knew all would be careful. Charlie started as the first thought was taken, but his feeling of fear abated as the Dementors went slow and made sure they did not hurt him.
Hermione stepped outside with her partner.
'He'll have to stay here for now,' she sent with a mental sigh, knowing not everyone would accept Charlie down in the Dementor's quarters, and he had no way to block those who wanted to harm him. 'Could he walk around up here?'
The Dementor hesitated. 'Better wait. You can take him to the showers and show him around, but it's better if he weren't caught out by himself, not right away.'
Hermione agreed. Then she looked down at her bag of groceries. 'I'll have to go out again, bring some more food, clothing, and tell his parents he's okay.'
'I'll call off the others, no need to overdo it, new as he is,' the Dementor said. 'See what he needs.' He didn't have to ask if she could handle another trip to the mainland, she was in much better shape now and the weather was fine, clear with little wind.
As the other Dementors left, she returned to Charlie. He was a little pale but otherwise alright. "They do that to you all the time?" he asked.
"You get used to it. And it's not all bad, I've remembered a lot of things I thought I'd long forgotten while trying to think of thoughts for them to feed on."
For the first time, Charlie grinned. "There must be a lot of things I haven't thought of in years, some of the pranks I pulled at Hogwarts when Bill and I were both there."
Hermione grinned back. "I wish I could look at those memories. You'll have to tell me when you find a good one."
He frowned at her. "Is it true you can read people's thoughts?"
"Just their feelings, emotions. I'm empathic but I don't think I can ever learn anything more. We differ too much from them physically. I can send, though, so that others can read it, even to humans or house-elves. That's what I did when I spoke to you through the door. The Dementors are full telepaths, most of the time they speak by sending directly to the person they're addressing."
"Should I learn that too?" Charlie asked.
"It can't be learned just by practicing, it's a sharing of abilities the Dementors used with me. They teach their own children that way. But you don't need to speak aloud to any of them, and you can learn to keep your thoughts at a deeper level, only thinking those things you want to say in the forefront of your mind."
"I'm not sure how to do that, but I'll try," Charlie said.
"It isn't something you learn overnight, but it will help if you make the effort," Hermione replied. She looked around the bare cell. "I wish you could walk around as you like, but not everyone will accept that, not yet. I'll show you around and take you to the showers every day, hopefully when they all know you you can go around by yourself or even come down to where we live, on the lower level. Not that it's much bigger than here, but it's cleaner and more quiet. For now, I'll get you some extra blankets, warmer clothes and other basic needs. I don't know if I can find a wand that'll work but I will try that, too. Is there anything special you would like to have?"
Charlie pondered for a moment. "A few Quidditch magazines would be nice. I doubt there's a lot to do here."
Hermione nodded. "You got it."
She left his cell, dropped the groceries off downstairs and made sure she had enough Muggle cash for another visit to the grocery store. Then she transformed and flew out across the sea. She didn't have to fly the entire distance, but just in case the Weasleys had visitors she Apparated to a spot a little distance from the Burrow, then transformed again and flew in.
As soon as she landed on the window sill, she knew the Weasleys had not learned what had happened to Charlie yet. She felt only pleasant surprise from Mrs Weasley as she opened the window to let her in. Anger flared up again as she realized Fudge, nor any of the Aurors involved in Charlie's imprisonment, had cared to inform them.
"Is Mr Weasley home?" she asked as soon as she transformed.
Mrs Weasley started at her brusque manner, but she nodded. "Arthur!" she called, then turned back to Hermione. "This isn't a social call."
"No," Hermione admitted.
Mr Weasley came in. "Hermione!" he said, sounding pleased, then caught on to their mood. "What's wrong?"
"Charlie was brought to Azkaban this morning," she said without preamble. "He was picked up in Romania at the Dragon sanctuary."
"What?!" Mr Weasley exclaimed. Shock and anger came off him.
Mrs Weasley felt mostly worried. "The Dementors?"
"He'll be fine. He's scared but most will be careful. He'll manage." She didn't sugarcoat it and pretend it'd all be easy, or that all of the Dementors would be friendly from the start, preferring to be honest. But Mrs Weasley trusted her assessment.
"Thank Merlin –now what happened, and why weren't we told?"
Hermione told them everything she knew, but of course she did not have the answer to that last question either. When she was done, Mr Weasley veered up.
"I'm going to see Fudge right now and demand an explanation. This is an outrage!"
Mrs Weasley held up her hand. "Arthur, wait. Don't do anything rash. We should talk to Albus first, or we'll all be in there." Her voice was calm steel, but Hermione felt more anger from her than from her husband.
Mr Weasley sat back down. "Either way, this has gone too far."
Hermione agreed. She had used the Killing Curse, even if it had been in self-defense, but Charlie had done nothing. The charges against him were all bogus.
"It's time we confront Fudge, but we should get Albus to help us," Mrs Weasley said.
"We'll Apparate to Hogwarts right away," Mr Weasley said, getting up again.
Mrs Weasley stood as well, but turned to Hermione first. "Can you take anything to Charlie?"
Hermione nodded. "I can take care of the food, but do you still have any of his clothes? It's pretty cold in there."
Mrs Weasley started to pack, first collecting much more than Hermione could transfigure and carry, but soon she had a small bundle of some thick sweaters, pants, socks, underwear and some toiletries. She added some food, too, home cooked and baked.
Hermione remembered the Quidditch magazines. The Weasleys didn't have an extra wand but they'd ask the Headmaster for one of the spares, she could pick it up later. She did the usual fish trick, and Apparated back to the shore.
Of course everything took much more time than they'd thought that afternoon. Everyone was well aware that once Fudge's position was threatened, Voldemort would make his move. They'd known that for years, and basic preparations were in place, but opinions on the details varied wildly. Some wanted Professor Dumbledore to take the position as Minister of Magic, hoping Voldemort would be less eager to attack then, others thought that would only escalate matters. Professor Dumbledore himself did not want to usurp the position, and feared an election would take too long, giving Voldemort the window of opportunity he needed to come out into the open and attack.
The arguments broke out into the open and Hermione expected to see more of her friends or others who spoke out against Fudge any day now. That didn't happen –perhaps Fudge was still afraid to go that far in Britain. Fudge did get through to the school board, which announced Professor Snape would not be allowed to return to Hogwarts next term, while Professor Dumbledore was told to stop his political activities or he, too, would be replaced after the summer.
Charlie managed to get settled in. The Dementors were reluctant to share their teaching with him, and Hermione didn't think that was such a bad thing. They couldn't teach everyone, and if they were to live among humans they'd have to learn to get along with those who couldn't send or block.
Hermione showed him around the upper levels, taught him the basics of the Dementors' language and their images, and after a couple weeks he ventured out to the showers and the kitchen without her. She even took him downstairs to their rooms a few times, but she advised him not to go down there by himself.
She also brought him a wand, courtesy of Professor Dumbledore, and through his parents kept him supplied of fresh reading material, the latest Quidditch and Dragon magazines.
In May, elections were postponed again. The threats to Professor Dumbledore and his staff were getting uglier and it was only a matter of time until something would happen. Still no one made any definite move. And as so often when no one makes a decision, a decision was made for them.
After Charlie, Hermione didn't go too far out when a new prisoner was brought to Azkaban. She circled overhead as she watched the Aurors' boat approach, and that late May afternoon she recognized the man who disembarked. Not one of her friends, by all means, but a Death Eater. Mcnair.
So it was a bit of a surprise to her when the Dementor called her in almost immediately after the Aurors left the island. She waited for them to get out of sight, then landed and transformed.
'Voldemort will attack soon,' the Dementor sent. He showed her the exchange as it had taken place.
Mcnair, acting afraid as he was brought in but in fact arrogant and smug, and filled with disdain for Aurors and Dementors alike. He dropped all pretenses as soon as the Aurors were gone.
"Don't feed on me. The Dark Lord sent me to let you know to prepare for his arrival. He will take Azkaban two days from now. You will stand with him and you'll be rewarded with all the food and souls you crave." He brought it as a wonderful offer, but underneath he was disgusted at the Dementors and regretted Voldemort's decision to take them on again.
The Dementor had replied with a mental snort. 'And if we won't?' he'd inquired.
Shock, confusion. "What? You served him well last time."
'That was then and this is now.'
Mcnair obviously hadn't counted on this. "He will give you all the souls you want," he'd tried again. He still felt confused, but the thought that this confirmed his opinion they shouldn't deal with these horrible creatures at all was unmistakably clear.
The Dementor didn't let on he could read the Death Eater's mind. 'You said that. I won't, but I'll relay your offer to the others. No doubt some of them will agree,' he'd sent. Then he'd closed the cell door on the protesting man, still catching his thoughts, which consisted of puzzlement at why the Dementor reacted like this, but mostly of disgust at having to deal with these obstinate and untrustworthy creatures, and what he'd like to do if he had any say in it.
"It had to happen sooner or later," Hermione sighed. "But it's still a problem." The Dementors couldn't defend the island against an attack without substantial aid. They made great guards, could keep prisoners from escaping or overwhelm individuals, but if Voldemort and his Death Eaters would cast multiple Patroni, they could do little. Nor would it be enough if she and Charlie would counter the spells. And of course the Dementors were hardly eager to risk their own skin for the Aurors and the Ministry.
'The good thing is that with his attitude, there won't be many who will still choose to join Voldemort,' the Dementor sent.
Hermione agreed. Yet they still needed an alternative. The regions abroad where some of the Dementors lived had so few people there was barely enough for those who were already there.
'I'll go see Professor Dumbledore. He'll have to give us a definite place to go,' Hermione decided.
The Dementor sent her an image of good luck; she transformed again and took off.
She showed the exchange between the Dementor and Mcnair to the Headmaster.
"If they know they're coming, the Aurors could hold the Death Eaters off," Professor Dumbledore said. "It's quite a stronghold, much easier to defend than to take. I'd rather not see Voldemort hold it; it'll be almost impossible to get him out again. We should make one last attempt to make Fudge see reason."
Hermione snorted at the chances of success, but she agreed with the rest of his argument. "I will come along. If it doesn't work, the truth about the Dementors will be out in two days, anyhow."
Professor Dumbledore hesitated, then agreed. He called his senior staff and explained briefly what was about to happen, then he, Professor McGonagall and Hermione Apparated to London and requested to see the Minister.
Fudge was shocked to see her. He wouldn't have been able to hide his initial shock even if she hadn't been able to read his feelings. She wished she could read his mind exactly, but it was clear that he wasn't pleased at all.
The Headmaster took the lead, telling Fudge of the imminent attack.
"And you know this how?" Fudge asked.
"Miss Granger here has contact with some of the Dementors," the Headmaster said. They still wouldn't tell him about her Animagus form or about her full abilities.
"She does, eh?" he said, sounding skeptical, his eyes narrowing as he looked at her. "I am happy to see you recovered so quickly from your stay in Azkaban. However, I must question this, you can't possibly still hear from the Dementors."
Hermione didn't let on she knew he was all but happy to see her in good health. "I assure you the threat to Azkaban is real."
"I've had it with your wild imagination. First You-Know-Who has returned, but I don't see anything but Death Eaters. And now you'd have me believe that You-Know-Who will attack the most heavily guarded place in the country. Azkaban isn't easy to take," the Minister stated irritably.
"It is when there are only a few Aurors watching the wards," Professor Dumbledore pointed out.
"There are the Dementors," Fudge said.
"You trust the Dementors to guard the prison against Voldemort?" Professor McGonagall asked.
Fudge flinched as she used the name, but recovered quickly. "They will guard Azkaban against a bunch of Death Eaters. They no longer hesitate to feed on any Death Eaters or give them their Dementor's Kiss, I don't believe they will suddenly decide to follow them."
"They can't defend against a large-scale attack with no Aurors to back them up," Professor Dumbledore pointed out. "And if Voldemort holds Azkaban he will be difficult to dislodge."
"You truly believe this attack will happen," Fudge asked, denial so strong he himself truly believed what he was saying.
"My sources are trustworthy," Professor Dumbledore said.
"An ex Death Eater, a werewolf, and a young woman whose state of mind is unfortunately still rather questionable. Of course," Fudge said sarcastically.
Hermione gave up. "Sir, you are a lousy liar, as well as a fool. I'll refrain from saying what you truly think about me, but the information we have is correct, and the Dementors will not fight for you."
"That is quite enough. I will excuse you this time as you are obviously not quite recovered yet, but next time you may find yourself back in Azkaban for such insults," Fudge snapped.
"Suit yourself," the Headmaster said, giving up as well. They left the building and returned to Hogwarts.
"We'll need some place to go," Hermione said.
"How many will come?" the Headmaster wanted to know.
"Most of them," she replied. "About six hundred. There are a hundred or so who'll definitely leave the country, and I expect only a few dozen will remain and join Voldemort, especially after Mcnair's generous and sincere offer."
"It'll have to be the old manor," Professor Dumbledore decided. "There is no other alternative that will work."
The old manor was Professor Dumbledore's own residence, which he had hardly visited since he became Headmaster of Hogwarts but which he still kept up. It was more of a castle, had been in the family for centuries, and was located in an unplottable location in Wales. It was large enough, but letting the Dementors stay there would make it abundantly clear he was responsible for their presence. It might well mean Professor Dumbledore would lose his position at Hogwarts, not only because of Fudge but also because of the reactions of a good lot of the parents.
"I will take care of the boat," Professor McGonagall said.
The Dementors could float over water but if they were to get Charlie out they'd need a boat. They'd pretend to ferry some luggage across so the Aurors wouldn't suspect. Hermione was sure the Aurors wouldn't check them all individually, not when they were all leaving. She would find a robe for him and he'd have to stay in the center of the crowd.
"The Portkeys to the manor will be ready tomorrow morning," Professor Dumbledore said. "I'll get the house-elves to clean the unused rooms and to air the place out."
Hermione nodded. She wasn't sure what to say. Thanks seemed too little for she knew what the consequences might be. She agreed to pick up the Portkeys early the next morning and returned to Azkaban.
She showed the Dementor her meeting with Fudge and the decision of the Headmaster, and he showed her how most everyone had responded to Mcnair's offer. Almost all who weren't completely certain yet of where they would go had visited the Death Eater, who no longer was so cocky and smug as he had been when he'd been brought in.
Together, they spread Dumbledore's offer among the others. It was received much better, naturally, than Mcnair's was, although some questions remained about who they would feed on. Fortunately, most trusted the Headmaster far enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Hermione set to packing. They had more stuff here than anyone else. She couldn't shrink and transfigure all their things and Charlie's into just one fish, but she'd take part of it in the morning when she would retrieve the Portkeys, and the rest when they would actually leave. Charlie helped her, although his borrowed wand did not work as well as his own had.
Hermione also tried to convince the house-elves to come along, fearing they'd be killed or maltreated by the Death Eaters, but they wouldn't hear of it. They were bound to the Ministry and couldn't or wouldn't leave the island. She suggested the Dementors gave them clothes, but that didn't count, the Dementors weren't their direct employers.
They spent the night in a room already bare as it had been six months ago. It reminded her of that time, when she'd still been a prisoner, and she was glad when it was morning and time to get up. She flew out to the shore, Apparated to Hogwarts, and returned with the Portkeys. The Headmaster had given her several long pieces of string, well suited for porting a large number of people. She coiled them and took them back to the island.
Azkaban was buzzing with activity. The Dementors had little to pack but, not knowing exactly what the feeding arrangements would be, they fed deeply on the prisoners. Hermione felt bad for those still sane enough to be actually aware of what happened, but she didn't protest. She'd long given up arguing about the fate of the prisoners. She didn't feel sorry for Mcnair, who was besieged especially by those who'd planned to join Voldemort until they saw the Death Eater's thoughts. They didn't kill him or gave him the Kiss, but they fed on him so he was laying in the corridor, curled up and moaning, and many still took whatever they could as they passed.
As Hermione had expected, only a few remained behind. Forty-three of the Dementors, who were least trusting of her and the Headmaster, would still rather take their chances with Voldemort, no matter what they'd found in Mcnair's mind. Well over a hundred were going to various locations abroad; the one who'd helped her by carrying her messages and bringing her clothing would join her family in Russia. Yet they all came to the mainland and would travel on to their destination from Professor Dumbledore's manor, so no single Dementor would be the last to leave and might be overtaken by the Aurors.
The Portkeys wouldn't work from underneath the anti-Apparition wards, but the Dementors could float across the water as easily as across land. The boat for Charlie's sake arrived at just the appointed time, guided by magic and hidden by a do not notice spell. Hermione knew it was nothing but a sea shell, transfigured by Professor McGonagall and enchanted by Professor Flitwick, but it was large enough to carry several Dementors, some boxes which they pretended were important, and Charlie. The Dementors boarded, the others floated around the boat, and Hermione transformed again and flew overhead.
As they came to the landing dock, the Aurors saw them and came running from the cottage. Hermione was truly impressed they faced the Dementors instead of running the other way, for she could feel their fear even from way up here. They had their wands out, but she wasn't really worried, there were only three Aurors and they couldn't possibly cast Patroni strong enough to hold against this many.
"What is the meaning of this, where are you going?" one demanded, which would've been more impressive if his voice hadn't been shaking so badly.
'We're leaving,' one of the Dementors replied.
"You can't leave, you agreed to guard the prisoners!"
'We did, but we didn't agree to defend the place for you while you ignore all warnings. We don't want to be here tomorrow,' another sent.
"You can't leave!" The Auror was close to panic now.
'We're not the prisoners. We agreed to guard the prisoners in exchange for a place to live where we'd have food and where we'd be left alone, but as we don't believe we'll have that here for much longer, we're going.'
"You can't! Wait, where will you go, you must listen to us! I demand you listen to us!"
'We must nothing, and since we no longer serve you, we don't need to tell you where we go.'
Her partner hadn't joined in the exchange with the Aurors, but had immediately started to pass out the Portkey strings among those who had reached the shore. Hermione could pick him out easily, their special bond making him easy to recognize even while she circled high overhead and all wore their hoods. She could also pick out Charlie, staying well back from the Aurors in the mass of black, and was relieved when she saw he had a hold of one of the Portkeys. He'd be able to get away even if the Aurors were to spot him.
They didn't. The first Auror, who was the only one who spoke –the other two stood, opening and closing their mouths like a couple of fish, but no coherent sound came out- made a few more sounds of protest, but none of the Dementors listened to him.
When everyone had a hold of the Portkeys, they automatically activated. Hermione watched a few moments longer as the Aurors stood gaping at the empty spot where the hundreds of Dementors had been, then almost started for their own boat, hesitated, and ran into the cottage instead. Part of her wanted to know what they'd do, but she had to follow the Dementors and see they all settled in.
She landed well out of sight of the cottage, just in case the reinforcements the Aurors were sure to call would arrive outside, then transformed and Apparated to the manor.
The manor was large, a castle really. It had a large center court, where they had all gathered, a great, stone main building and several smaller outbuildings. The only downside, for the Dementors at least, was that it didn't have any dungeons, only a few old wine cellars. Fortunately even the upper rooms would be relatively cool due to the thick stone walls.
Professor Dumbledore greeted her as she landed. She was impressed, even here among this many Dementors she felt no fear from him at all. Charlie stood next to him, the hood of his robe thrown back. He would Floo to Egypt, to the others who were hiding out there, and they all hoped the Egyptians wouldn't try to pick him up. The Egyptians hadn't bothered any of the others, but now he was a fugitive, regardless of whether the charges he was convicted for were true. Her partner came over as well, holding the Portkey strings he had collected again.
'Thank you,' he sent as he handed the strings to the Headmaster.
"You took your own risks," the Headmaster said.
'Perhaps. But nothing like this,' the Dementor replied.
"No, perhaps not," the Headmaster admitted. "Do you need any help getting settled in? I've asked the house-elves to remain, they will help you if anything needs to be moved or cleaned."
'We'll be fine, thank you,' the Dementor replied. 'Can you show us the fireplace for those who want to travel on?'
The Headmaster led the way into the main hall of the castle, and used his wand to light a fire in the huge stone fireplace. "I made sure there is plenty of Floo powder, for those who want to leave and anyone who wants to go anywhere and return. I'm afraid you'll not receive a warm welcome in many places yet, but I do not intend to check or limit your freedom to come and go."
'Thank you,' the Dementor sent again, sincerely.
"You can reach me at Hogwarts," Professor Dumbledore said. "I will return with the other staff tomorrow for those who want to feed. I must return now to see to school business." He took his leave and Disapparated.
Hermione and her partner coordinated as everyone found a room. Many had to share, but the rooms were larger and far more luxurious than the lower level of Azkaban had been, and everyone was satisfied with the arrangements. Those who did not want to remain sent their goodbyes and left by Floo.
Charlie remained to help her set some extra wards, since he was the only other who could do such magic. Then he took the Floo out to Egypt, before the Aurors could learn where he was and come after him. Hermione kept expecting Aurors to show up, but none did. Perhaps they hadn't figured it out yet or they didn't dare breach the Headmaster's manor and confront the entire group of Dementors.
Hermione had un-shrunk and unpacked their own luggage. They had a small room but it was a room to themselves, as most couples had. The room was on the top floor in the east wing of the manor, and likely had been a servant's room once. But they had their privacy and there was a window, overlooking the extensive, if somewhat neglected, grounds.
When she was done unpacking and they'd made sure no one needed anything, Hermione suggested taking a walk outside. While it was quite warm for the time of the year, almost too warm to be comfortable any longer, it was still beautiful. They found a cool spot in the shade underneath some old trees, and sat down. Outside together for the first time since New Year's, Hermione allowed herself to feel free at last. Sure, she realized there were many difficulties yet ahead, more perhaps than they'd faced so far, but it was a start.
Nothing happened that night. The Dementors leaving Azkaban didn't make the Evening Prophet and apparently the Ministry hadn't tracked them down yet.
The next morning the Hogwarts staff arrived early, before classes. Mr and Mrs Weasley came as well, as did most of the others of the Order of the Phoenix. Only Professor Sprout had remained behind to watch the few students who might be up this early.
Hermione was surprised Professor Snape had not volunteered for that task, he was by far the most uncomfortable around the Dementors. Even now, he was scowling.
"I don't know what I can do here, I don't have any thoughts worth taking," he muttered.
It was her partner's sister who replied. She'd sought him out immediately. 'Everyone has pleasant memories, unless they're insane. You certainly aren't.'
He snorted. "All I enjoy is taking points from Gryffindor."
'I doubt that's all. Mind if I look?'
He shrugged. Hermione thought he felt insecure more than anything. "Fine."
The Dementor didn't speak, or if she did she sent to him directly, but she felt pleased at what she found. Professor Snape seemed startled and glanced at her. Hermione quickly looked away, feeling like she had been eavesdropping.
The Dementors all fed briefly, not needing much after the generous feeding of the previous day, and considerate of the staff for whom it was a first. Then, after Professor Dumbledore had established all were fine, they returned to Hogwarts and their own residences.
That same morning, Voldemort attacked and took Azkaban. This, finally, was so big Fudge could not deny it and keep it out of the papers, although the extra edition of the Morning Prophet still spoke only of Death Eaters. There had been a few more Aurors than the usual three who stayed at the outpost, but no force big enough to hold off the Death Eaters or even put up much of a fight. Details were sketchy, but it seemed several Aurors had been killed and Death Eaters had taken over the island at dawn. There was also mention that most of the Dementors seemed to have disappeared, but nothing about where they had gone.
It wasn't until the afternoon that an owl arrived for Hermione. It carried a bright yellow letter, indicating it was priority mail. Hermione opened it, and was not surprised it turned out to be from Fudge.
The Minister demanded to know where the Dementors were. It was tempting not to reply at all, but eventually she decided to sent a brief reply, telling Fudge the Dementors would not attack anyone and wanted to be left alone.
In return, he wrote a rather more polite note apologizing for his earlier tone and asking she come see him. Finally she agreed to speak to him by Floo. He called her and as she stood before the fireplace she could tell how distraught he was even though the hearth.
"You must tell me where the Dementors are," he said, sounding desperate.
"Why? You don't hold Azkaban anymore, you don't have need of their services. They're free people."
"They could do anything!" Fudge exclaimed. "Attack Hogsmeade, the Muggles, London… you must know they're dangerous!"
"They won't attack anywhere, they know you'll hunt them down if they do."
"But you know where they are."
"Most of them."
"Most?" Fudge squeaked.
"Some remained to join Voldemort, others went to various locations abroad to join their family. I don't know where every single one is."
"You know where most of them are."
"Most are here."
"There?! Dumbledore really has gone too far this time!"
"Would you rather have them all join Voldemort or spread out all over the country?" Hermione inquired sweetly.
Fudge remained silent for just a moment. "No, of course not. But…"
"Very well then."
"Fine!" Fudge called, giving up. "I will tell Dumbledore to keep his Dementors there."
"They aren't Dumbledore's Dementors, or mine. They're their own. But they'll likely remain here as long as they're left alone."
Or most would, she thought. She knew she planned to take her partner along when she visited friends or when she had to go to Hogsmeade. If they wanted to integrate in society, they'd have to get around and let people get used to them, and her partner was a good ambassador. It wasn't a task he'd have chosen, but neither would she have chosen hers. They'd been cast in their roles by chance but they did the best to make it work.
A/N: The end, for now… there may be more chapters one day but for now they're out and that'll have to do J Hope you all have enjoyed this different look at the Dementors, thank you for all your reviews!