12 Grimauld Place was a beehive of activity. Members of the Order flew in and out during all hours of the day and night. Talking was reserved to hushed, urgent tones. Witches and Wizards from all around the globe gathered under the same roof. Putting aside their differences, as they worked side by side trying to obtain the same goal. The Second War had begun and no one had any intention of losing. Sadly, neither did the other side.
The atmosphere was tense. Everyone waiting for news on the next Muggle or Mudblood attack. It was expected, now that Lord Voldermort's return was revealed. Denial burned away as memories from years ago brought a wave of terror on the Magical Community. It hadn't taken long after the Daily Prophet announced the happenings at the Ministry when the Dark Lord's name appeared on headlines through out the world.
Instead of alerting the Magical Community, educating on ways to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, the articles stroked the fires in an already tense society. Creating levels of paranoia and hysteria to dangerous extremes.
At times, the hysteria caused more harm than any Death Eater ever could.
Neighbors, suddenly became suspicious of one another. While damaging rumors flowed like wine around the pub and hearth. Old wounds, long ago healed, were ripped wide open. Anxiety had everyone, young and old, jumping at unexplainable noises that went bump in the middle of the night.
Voldermort didn't possess the power to destroy the Magical World the way paranoia did. At the moment all the Dark Lord had to do was sit back and wait until the dust settled. Before taking advantage of their weakened state.
If it weren't for the relentless drive of the Order there would've been massive mayhem. Or at least this was what Hermione had been told her first night back at the Order's Headquarters. Pretty much all at once. As Harry, Ron and Ginny lounged around the parlor each of them filling her in on what she'd missed over the summer.
After his mandatory time at the Dursley's, Harry had escaped the suffocating imprisonment of Private Drive. Joining Ron and Ginny at the Order's Headquarters, under the eagle eye of Mrs. Weasley. They'd spent the majority of the summer clearing the Black house of all remaining memorabilia that had been cursed by the previous occupents. But not with out a few close calls and near misses.
They told her of the attacks. The very ones she'd been reading about all summer long. In the relative safety of her home. Like the big fat coward she was. No one really talked about what had happened before school had let out for holiday. Not in actually words. They'd skirt the topic, but when the conversation strayed too close to dangerous territory they would either become extremely vague or quickly avert and go the opposite direction.
No one was ready to talk about the death of Sirus Black. Or the fact that they all had come way too close to dying.
"You should've seen his face." Shaking his head, Ron face held an amused expression, his voice snapping Hermione out of her thoughts. "I swear Snape was going to explode when Dumbledore invited us to their last meeting."
"You got to attend one of the meetings?" Frowning, Hermione looked at her friends feeling as though she'd missed a large portion of the conversation.
"That's what we've been saying." Looking over at Harry, Ron raised a brow at him before turning back to Hermione. "Are you feeling alright, you seem . . . off."
"Ron!" Jabbing her older brother in the ribs, Ginny narrowed her eyes when he opened his mouth to respond.
Clearing his throat, Harry shifted on the couch. "Dumbledore feels there's no reason to bar us from the meetings, considering what happened last spring."
"Something about our ability to land into more trouble by being kept in the dark." Ginny added.
"Mum was none too pleased." Shaking his over the memory of the fit his Mother threw, Ron flushed.
"W-What about Fred and George?" The palms of her hands started to sweat and Hermione cringed when the tea cup she was holding started to shake.
Her friends frowned slightly before changing the subject. "They're making a killing." Ron shook her head sadly. "The store is a smashing success."
"That's great." Clearly not understanding Ron, Hermione looked over at Ginny. "What's wrong with that."
"Mum is still smarting over Fred and George dropping out. She's besides herself." Ginny answered. "And with them being part of the Order now . . . Well lets just say it's tense."
Still looking put out, Ron sighed. "She hasn't even let us pop in for a visit."
"You haven't been to the joke shop yet?" Clearly surprised, Hermione could see by her friends expressions that it was a particularly sore subject. "What about Percy?"
This time both Weasley's paled and looked away, unable to meet her eyes. Harry looked uncomfortable. "He was fired from the Ministry."
"What?" Choking from the tea she'd been carefully sipping, Hermione gasped for air. "Why?"
"No one's talking." Harry answered slowly, his voice dropping to a hushed tone. "You thought last year was bad. It doesn't even come close."
A spark of curiosity ignited in her head, but it didn't last long. "Oh. Well." Sucking in a deep breath, Hermione reminded herself it was none of her business. "That's too bad."
"Lupin?" Molly Weasley hurried into the room. "Oh! I'm sorry dears. Don't mind me, I was just looking for Lupin. Seems another Boggert found it's way into the Armoire in the blue room upstairs." Her forced smile seemed to falter some as memories from the previous summer came flooding back. "I could just take care of it I suppose."
"We'll do it." Harry gave Ron's Mother an understanding smile. His face was eager from wanting to do something, anything to make things easier for her.
"No." Mrs. Weasley gushed. "The four of you have a lot of catching up to do. It's an easy enough chore."
Already standing, Ron reached for the wand inside his pocket. "Don't worry about it Mum. We've got it."
Hermione bit down on her lower lip and contemplated on staying where she was at. The others were more than capable of taking care of the Boggart. It was silly. The spell was easy and it wasn't as though she'd never done it before.
"Hermione you look a tad peeked." With the concern only a Mother could show, Mrs. Weasely fretted.
"N-No." Standing up and straightening her clothing, Hermione scolded herself on her lack of nerves. With a shaking grin in Mrs. Weasley's direction, Hermione started after her friends. "Just the excitement I guess."
Following from behind Hermione stopped at the bottom of the stairs and watched as Harry, Ron and Ginny climbed to the second floor. It was apparent that the three of them had grown closer over the summer. Making her feel a little left out. Not that she had anyone to blame but herself. She'd been invited to join them earlier in the summer and every week after that. But each time she'd found some excuse, some reason why she couldn't be there with them.
At first she'd begged off the holiday by claiming her Grandparents were in town. Not that she'd been lying, well not much anyhow. By the time she'd received the owl with Ron's almost illegible handwriting, her Grandparents were ready to depart within days. Then there was the trip with her parents. What did it matter that it'd only been for a weekend get away? After that her replies had become vague. Fortunately the invites had stopped, until last week when Mrs. Weasley had written to her parents saying she was more than welcome to stay the last week of summer with them. Out of excuses and out of time, Hermione was forced to face facts.
She was a complete fraud.
There was a time when she viewed herself as being a strong, independent young woman. With a set of beliefs she'd lived by relentlessly. Top of her class, and vain enough to bask in that small glory. Much good all her knowledge did her at the Ministry last Spring.
"Hermione dear?" Feeling a hand on her shoulder, Hermione was startled out of her dark thoughts. Spinning around, she found herself staring in the questioning eyes of Molly Weasley. "Are you sure there's not something wrong?"
"What?" Blinking a few times, Hermione felt her cheeks grow hot. "No. I -."
A look of understanding crossed over the older woman's features. "If you don't feel up to it, you can join me in the kitchen."
"'Mione?" Standing at the top of the landing, her friends waited.
Licking her lips, she felt her heart pounding painfully against in her chest. "I'm fine. Really. But thank you." Unable to look Mrs. Weasley in the eye, Hermione brushed past her and up the stairs. Each step harder than the last.
"When the four of you are done with that I want you to come down and help with supper." Hurrying off at the sound of someone calling her from the kitchen, Ron waited until his Mother was out of view before he started to complain.
"It's been like this all summer." His mouth twisted. "This is the first real fun we've had in weeks."
"But I though you said you guys have been invited to the meetings." Ignoring the way her mouth turned dry as they made their way to the room that held the Boggart, Hermione forced herself to take a deep, steadying breath.
This time it was Harry who looked mulish. "Yeah, but it's not like we're actually doing anything. We've been locked inside the house over the summer."
"I'm sure it's only to keep you safe." She should've known her comment would have her on the receiving end of three dark scowls. "Well you all said yourselves earlier that the attacks are getting worse."
"But there hasn't been any attack in weeks." Ginny countered. "It's not like we haven't proven we can take care of ourselves."
"If you remember, this isn't the most cheerful place on the face of the earth . . ." Quickly trailing off, Ron cast a quick glance toward Harry before turning an interesting shade of purple.
"Ron it's all right." His tone sincere, Harry sent Ron a wobbly grin that didn't quiet reach his eyes. He'd been talking with Lupin over the summer, when time permitted. They'd spoken about Sirus and his untimely death. It wasn't as though he accepted his Godfather's passing. Far from it. But he was working on letting go some of the guilt that had been eating away at his soul.
"I can't remember the last time I saw the sun." Ginny grumbled.
Heading down the hallway, Ron lowered his voice when they passed Mrs. Black's portrait. One of the most stubborn pictures in the house that was proving to be a bother removing. "I'd give a month's allowance to have the chance to de-gnome the garden."
"I'd clean Dudley's room for a week to be able to get some time on my Firebolt."
Hermione, Ron and Ginny paused midstride and caught the smirk that crossed Harry's mouth.
"You almost had me going there." Shaking his head, Ron opened the door to the guest room and lead the way in. The large mahogany armoire in the corner sounded as though there was a spitting mad wet cat stuck inside. Waiting for Ginny to close the door, Ron returned his tone back to normal. "You can't be that desperate . . . yet."
"So who wants to take care of it?" His hand in his pocket where his wand was at, Harry looked over at the others.
Ron and Ginny also looked eager, but tried to act as though they weren't. "Whoever mate."
"What about you Hermione?" Ginny looked over her shoulder to where Hermione was standing near the door.
"No." Cringing at her abrupt reply, Hermione licked at her dry lips. The armoire rattled again and a cold sweat broke out on the back of her neck. The room had grown increasingly warmer.
If her answer shocked them, they did a great job of hiding it. Ron only shrugged his shoulders. Harry brought out his wand, while Ginny rolled up her sleeves.
Taking a deep breath, Hermione was happy to be able to stand back and let the others deal with the annoying Boggart. Or at least until the dark doors sprung open and out stepped a dark clad figure wearing the mask of a Death Eater.
It was the last thing she saw before crumbling to the ground in an ungraceful heap.
"Draco." Narcissa Malfoy strode into the room and looked disapprovingly at the blonde young man sitting hunched over a desk on the other side. "Did you really think I wouldn't find out?"
Turning the page of the book he'd been reading, Draco grunted out his reply. Not that there was really any need, he knew she would catch him sooner or later, he just assumed it would've been sooner. Apparently Mother was slipping in her mental state. Hearing his Mother let out a long breath he could almost picture her schooling her features into a look of pure boredom. Something she had to do a lot more as of late.
"Is it too much to ask for you to follow the one simple rule I've given you this summer?"
"Which one are you referring to this time, Mother?" Turning the page back to the previous one he'd been reading, Draco frowned before scribbling down a few notes.
In one quick stride Narcissa was directly behind her only son and grabbed the book he'd been reading. Ignoring his cry of outrage, she tossed it over onto the settee. "You snuck out last night. I have explained to you a thousand times how important it was that we keep a low profile."
Balling his hands into fists on the desk top, Draco fought to swallow the harsh words that were threatening to spill off his tongue. "Which is why I didn't announce my departure."
"Your behavior is offensive Draco and I will no longer tolerate it." Narcissa sniffed.
Pushing himself out of his chair, Draco turned on his Mother. The woman standing in front of him was a dim reminder of the beautiful woman she once had been. Her once glorious blonde hair that had cascaded down her shoulders now hung in limp heaps. Gone was the glow of health, eaten away by her whatever demons were eating away at her soul.
Worst of all, she showed signs of weakness. And if there was one lesson he'd learned from his Father, was that weakness was not tolerated in the Malfoy family.
His lips twisted into a sneer. "Do you know what I find offensive, Mother?" Sweeping his hands out wide, Draco let his eyes roam around the hotel suite that had been their him for the last week. "Staying in a bloody Muggle hotel. Being surrounded by disgusting no bodies who stare at us like we're freaks. I'm sick of leaving in the middle of the night to travel -."
"We were being followed." The fire left his Mother's eyes and the wary expression he despised replaced it.
"Really?" Folding his arms across his chest, Draco eyed her with barely concealed contempt.
Sick and tired of being jerked around Europe by a woman who was clearly was on her way to one helluva melt down, Draco was almost to the point where he could give a rat's ass if she ended up in St. Mungos. If there had been any doubt left in his mind that Narcissa Malfoy was crazy as a fox, their last pit stop on her psychotic holiday from hell confirmed it. If Father could see them now.
"Don't speak to me in that tone." Apparently some of his Mother was still in there. "I'm doing this to keep us safe."
"We were safe. At Malfoy Manner. Remember that large stone fortress we once called home?" Growing bored with the conversation already, Draco turned on his heel and headed back to the mountain of books on the desk. "I also had a life there."
He could feel his Mother's eyes follow him, and he braced himself. "If your Father were here he would never allow you to speak to me in this manner."
"If my Father was here we wouldn't be having this discussion." Draco's tone was flat. Knowing that talking to her when she got paranoid was useless. Sitting back down again to finish the chapter he was on, Draco picked up his pen only to have his Mother's voice make him pause.
"There's no need in getting too comfortable. I've given the House elves instruction to pack our things. We'll be leaving in the hour."
His blood started to furn through his veins. "No."
"I said no." Slamming his hand on the corner of the desk, Draco had no idea the picture he made. He'd grown over the summer. Filled out across his chest and shoulders. Hours of Quiditch practice he had to sneak in at night, had turned his soft-pampered body into well defined muscle. His hair had grown out, brushing his collar. Mostly out of neglect than a fashion statement. But the most startling change was how his once cherub face had leaned down. His cheeks bones and square jaw took on a ruggedly handsome air.
"How dare you -!"
"I dare Mother." He couldn't take it any longer. "I've had enough. I have done as you asked all summer, to the best of my ability. But the insanity stops here. School starts in a week and once I'm gone you can play your little games as you see fit. You can travel through out Europe for all I care."
"You listen to me -."
Taking a step closer to the woman he was once thought was the most perfect creature on earth, Draco felt his stomach twist. Damn his Father for putting him in this position. The man's stupidity for aligning himself with a Wizard who was bested by a child put a sour taste in his mouth. Anyone with half their wits could see that in the end the Dark Lord was going to fail again. Apparently his mother wasn't the only insane member in the family.
"Enough." Draco said this in a way he'd heard his Father use on several occasions. "I said no. Now leave me. I have work to do."
His Mother stood there staring at him. Her eyes narrowed briefly as a sad look played across her face. "Your Father would be pleased."
"Thank you." Discarding her from his mind, Draco almost missed her softly spoken words.
"I didn't say it was a good thing."