A/N: Thanks everybody for feedback
and patience! More of both is needed, I'm afraid. But I certainly
hope you'll enjoy.
Chapter 18: Hermione
'What, in the name of Arnold the Pygmy Puff, was that!'
Harry sat up and glared at the wall. At the very same wall with the very same torch-holder just above the line of his head, but in a very different room. Definitely not in corridor, at least… He wished he had taken the Marauders' Map.
'Lumos,' he thought, and the tip of his wand flared. He was in a tiny, rectangular, absolutely bare room. He had no idea what its use was, because there was literally nothing within. It was cold and dark and dry, and there were no entrances nor exits.
'Fawkes?' he inquired, ever so slightly ashamed of himself. He managed to get lost, trapped, and worked up at the same time, having no idea how to get back, or what to do generally, and that despite having downed a capsule of Felix. He was hopeless…
'Just breath, Harry,' the phoenix noted with another spark of amusement. 'It will be fine; just wait for a while. There is someone headed your way…'
"What was that?" he repeated his question, this time leaving out the unnecessary, and perhaps even offensive part.
'That, Harry, was a rather less frequent reaction to adrenaline. It is a powerful drug for humane organism – and I dare say your friend is pretty high right now.'
'Higher than when we faced Death Eaters?' he asked disbelievingly.
'Not really. She just didn't have a victim to curse, so her emotions bounced somewhat… a simple overload, nothing to worry about. Only perhaps young Mister Weasley…'
"Fawkes?" Harry asked worriedly. "Are you high, too?"
There was a loud gasp behind him; Harry reflexively spun and cast a wordless 'Expelliarmus', while the person facing him cast the same in quiet, feminine voice. Two wands shot into midair, and with Seekers' reflexes were caught by the opponent of their respective owner.
"Ginny?" Harry asked disbelievingly.
"Harry?" the girl exclaimed, and the shock threw her off balance. She sagged against the wall.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
"That's my line!"
"Alright, I have no idea. I'm here by accident. I don't even know where 'here' is. Your turn," he said, gradually calming himself. Ginny chuckled. Either she was relieved that he was not a blood-thirsty Slytherin, or he was simply making a fool of himself.
'You worry too much, fledgling.'
"This room is an exception in the wards, Harry," Ginny replied with another chuckle. "You can't Apparate anywhere in Hogwarts, but there are three places you can Portkey from. The Entrance Hall-"
"The Head's office-"
Harry's breathing was by this time even, and he, too, allowed himself a faint chuckle.
"Still doesn't explain what you are doing in here."
Ginny scowled, opened her mouth to say something harsh, but then her eyes glazed over, and Harry knew that Fawkes was talking to her. It took a better part of a minute, but finally Ginny sighed and hung her head.
"I talked Bill into giving me a job. Nothing big and nothing dangerous, of course, but still, I at least get the feeling that I'm helping... I've got a permanent Two-way Portkey, so I can go straight from Hogwarts there and back. So don't worry, Harry. I'm not going to do anything that could get me killed."
He glared at the girl and she glared back. He had come to terms with her translating for Fawkes, even if it meant that she was prastically being possessed on a regular basis, but this… leaving Hogwarts to get somewhere… and he didn't even know where… he didn't like it. Not in the least. And no matter how much she scowled at him, he wasn't going to step down. It made him rather sad that she would be angry with him for worrying about her, but there was little to nothing he could do to influence that.
"Don't pester me about it, Harry. I'm sworn to secrecy."
He let out a low growl of frustration, but he knew well what 'sworn to secrecy' meant. He wasn't going to question her, but…
'Where is she going?'
'I cannot tell you, Harry. That place has a Secret Keeper, and it is not me.'
'Jolly wonderful…' he thought sarcastically, and Fawkes dropped him in a bathtub filled with Ever-lasting Ice-Pyramids as a response. It hurt a lot – Ice-Pyramids had pointed edges. A lot of them.
"Harry?" Ginny quipped, and he was forced to split his attention.
"It's alright, Ginny," he lied. "Go on, and take good care of yourself."
She beamed at him. It was… worth it. Definitely.
The girl pushed herself off the wall and stood in the centre of the room. She reached into her pocket and retrieved an object that fit into her fist so that Harry couldn't see what it was, except that he was already quite sure that it was a Portkey.
She looked at him expectantly.
"My wand…" Harry passed her her own wand, and she took it, examining it closely. He had no idea why she would do that, but let her do so. Almost hesitantly, she returned his wand to him, and gave him a crooked smirk.
"See you tomorrow."
Ginny's lips moved as she uttered the password – using Harry's farewell to cover the sound – and disappeared.
He let out another angry growl, and Fawkes eventually released him from the punishment. His muscles ached, even though the ice had not been real.
"Nice of her to tell me how to get out of here…" he muttered. Then something flashed through his mind. 'Fawkes? What would happen if someone who wasn't informed about a location under Fidelius took a Portkey there?'
It wasn't exacly fair to ask that, and most certainly wouldn't be fair if he ever did anything based on the information, but it might be good to save for later use.
'I am not certain of that, fledgling. Empirically, it depends on the wizard in question – mostly, except for extreme cases, the wizard's mind would be broken. Something akin to Dementor's Kiss, I suppose, but inflicted upon the mind, not soul. But there is no theory I know of-'
"And those exceptions?" Harry asked curiously.
'They might not even be true, Harry. Those are stories of wizards with extreme willpower, who were close relatives to either the inhabitants of the disguised place, or the Secret Keeper. Honestly, I do not think that anyone within Hogwarts might survive the journey to where Ginevra is gone.'
"You know where it is-"
'I do. And, as I already said, there is no way for me to tell you.'
Harry sighed, finally accepting that there was really 'no way for the phoenix to tell him'.
"Fawkes…" he started, but stopped himself when something nagged in his mind.
"I was about to ask you to come and get me out of here…" Again, there was the nag.
'But?' Fawkes inquired with slight amusement. Apparently, he was enjoying Harry's dealing with Felix.
"But I have a better idea."
He swiftly crossed the room and pushed on the wall Ginny had apparently come through, with an identical torch-holder. Now that he was expecting it, and didn't advance backwards, he followed the entire process. It was ridiculously simple – the wall was in fact an independent panel, designed to spin around a shaft in its middle. When Harry pressed, it swung and he found himself in another corridor, with the same patent torch-holder behind himself.
'Crafty,' he thought, and with a smirk strolled down the corridor.
"Who's there?" an uncertain female voice asked of a dark hallway, and Harry was impressed. He thought he had been soundless, and sticking to shadows well enough to avoid even passing-by Slytherins.
"It's me, Professor," he replied quietly.
"Ah, Harry! I wanted a moment with you…"
She was about to continue, but Harry wordlessly Silenced her. He wasn't the only one who knew how to creep up on people, and he wasn't going to risk Tonks's cover for a pleasant welcoming chat.
Tonks blinked in confusion.
"…in your office, perhaps?" he suggested, and this time the message came through. The woman nodded, and lead him through a tapestry-covered portal that was notoriously well-known in the Gryffindor common room, and then up a staircase that hardly anyone found out about during their seven years at Hogwarts. Harry used it occasionally, thanks to the Marauders' Map.
Finally, when the door was closed behind them and temporarily warded, he cast a Muffliato and grinned.
"Funny, before this summer, I always had you pegged down as a Hufflepuff," Harry announced, and hoped that she wouldn't take it bad. He certainly didn't mean it as an insult. Tonks – Jane Puckle – grinned back and shook her head.
"I'm about as Hufflepuff as Neville Longbottom."
"To- Professor, Neville is 99 percent Hufflepuff," he remarked, correcting himself for the sole sake of getting used to the new title. The McGonagallishness of Tonks's appearance helped a lot. He was almost confident that he wouldn't slip during a class.
'Wow. I'm going to be taught Transfiguration by Tonks!' Fawkes pretended to roll his eyes at Harry's excitement. But this was even slightly better than being taught Care of Magical Creatures by Hagrid. And he had an idea how to make it yet better.
"Yup. I noticed," Tonks replied carelessly, and swung a fold of her dress, apparently still fascinated by the attire. "Why were you wandering through the corridors? I was under the impression that you're supposed to be in your dormitory-"
"Well, that 'you're supposed to' thing scarcely works on me, Professor," Harry replied mock shyly, and Tonks started giggling. This time it clashed with her apppearance rather astoundingly.
"I was wondering if you would give me private tuition."
Tonks hitched up her skirt and sat on her desk, on the spot that would be occupied by a stack of parchments to grade a mere week later. The furniture screeched, and she gave it a dark look, as though it was insulting her.
"Harry, I know you're not quite your dad when it comes to Transfiguration, but asking for remedials before your first lesson's a bit overblown-"
"Not Transfiguration, Professor. I was thinking along the lines of continuing the summer course of advanced DADA, and perhaps a bit of duelling…"
"Of course! That was cool! We had a lot of fun, didn't we? I'll see tomorrow what I can schedule, I'll slip you a note, how 'bout that?"
Tonks smirked back, but then schooled her features into a strict scowl, with her mouth forming a thin line.
"Now, Potter, it's about the highest time to get you back to the dorms. Get moving."
She held the door open for him. Harry flashed her a brilliant smile, and paused in the hallway.
"So, Professor, I hope you'll enjoy your time here…"
"I don't doubt that I will." She laughed, leant forwards and kissed his cheek. "I'm looking forward to our next meeting."
"So am I, Professor."
"Good night, Harry." She returned back to the office, aiming for the entrance to her personal quarters, and the door closed behind her. A quiet buzz indicated the re-installation of wards, and Harry set out another three levels upstairs, toward the gargoyle.
Just as when he used Felix Felicis before, Harry had absolutely no idea why he was doing what he was doing. He knew that most reasons would be uncovered over the course of the next few days, but even so he would very much like to know exactly why he was compelled to visit the Headmistress twenty minutes after curfew, not to speak about the fact that he hadn't been informed about the new password.. It was akin to tickling a sleeping dragon… or an awake dragon, as it seemed.
Harry had seen the Professor seething on occasions, and so he was quite surprised about her calm manner as she faced two students out of beds. It spoke volumes about her dragging exhaustion.
"Miss Granger, Mr Weasley, kindly explain yourself," she spoke quietly, though with a hint of exasperation in her voice. Harry groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. Now it made more sense… especially when he took a few steps forward and saw over McGonagall's shoulder. There were his two friends, standing in the centre of a junction. Ron looked chastised, hunched and staring at his shoes. Hermione, on the other hand, was standing straight, defiantly facing down the Headmistress. She carried Harry's Weight-Lifting Expandable Back-pack over her shoulder, and Harry had a strong suspicion that somebody – Ron, most likely – had packed all his belongings.
They just couldn't get the suicidal idea about 'the three of them waging war against Voldemort on their own' out of their heads.
"We're doing this for Harry," Hermione replied calmly and Harry barely suppressed another groan. Just what he needed – them getting him into trouble with the Headmistress. And he couldn't quite speak up for himself now, because he would merely confirm her suspicion.
"So, if I understand this right… Mr Potter told you to pack your belongings and wait for him in the middle of the night in an abandoned corridor, so you could set out on a suicidal crusade against the Dark Lord and his armies of Death Eaters and Dark creatures," McGonagall inquired, shocking all three students with the blatant disbelief, and amusing Harry with the eoquence, despite its obvious origin in her exhaustion. Harry's respect for the Professor went up another notch – along with gratefulness for the benefit of the doubt.
"Uh… not exactly…" Hermione spoke hesitantly. "He sort of…"
"Refused to have anything to do with it," proclaimed a clear voice and Harry subconsciously straightened, not only because it had come from behind him, but also because of its owner.
Ginny emerged from the darkness, looking a lot like when Harry met her half an hour ago, but wearing the weird embroidered robe he remembered from Grimmauld Place. He couldn't recall whether she had had it on when they met in the dark room.
He was quite impressed with the way Ginny's barely contained fury made the air around her crackle and spark. There was lightning in her eyes, but she hardly glanced at him (she was still the only one who noticed him in the gargoyle's shadow) as she passed by. She could have compromised him, but chose not to do so…
"I'm sorry for breaking the curfew, Headmistress," she spoke icily, though it was obvious that her anger was directed at the couple, "but I am sure you are aware of the exception issued for me."
She finally looked away from Harry's friends and into the Headmistress's eyes. He had to admire the daring, though after hearing her tell off Dumbledore, this wasn't as… improbable.
"Are you catering for these two?" McGonagall asked disbelievingly. Ginny looked back at Hermione and Ron, who stuck together in front of the entrance to the Headmistress's office. Bright-eyed, they looked at her with hope.
"By no means, Professor. I am merely making sure that Harry does not take the blame for something he didn't do."
"And yet, Mr Potter is out of bed even right now…" McGonagall remarked, and Harry had to wonder how did she know that. He could think of several possibilities, ranging from being informed by portraits after the Fat Lady never saw him enter the common room, to being told by Ron and Hermione before he came withing the earshot.
"Professor… Harry does have an awful lot to do, you know that," Ginny said calmly.
'You're cueing her.' Harry couldn't believe his ears.
'Of course not. Merely surprised,' he said more or less truthfully. Fawkes distanced himself again, and Ginny continued her speech.
"You are also aware that steps had to be made to ensure his safety for this year; in the process of convincing Harry to stay in Hogwarts there had to be certain allowances made for him. After all, we took his freedom, Headmistress. We had to give something in return."
Harry's jaw dropped.
'Does that mean I don't have to respect curfew?'
'It means you can talk your way out of great many trespasses, fledgling. And you have my express permission to not follow rules when it's not convenient.'
A large grin split Harry's face. But McGonagall didn't like the idea nearly as much as he did.
"He is a student-"
"He is the Chosen One," Ginny countered. "Professor, you cannot tame a phoenix. You must satisfy it for it to decide and stay."
'Is this a confession?' Harry wondered. It certainly was a fitting explanation for the way Fawkes acted. There was only the small difference between 'satisfying' him, and 'being forced to satisfy' him.
'Sort of. In the first place it is a heart-wrenching speech to win Minerva over.'
'Does it work?'
"Very well," McGonagall said with a kind of aloofness Harry didn't recognise, and straightened to gain another inch on fuming Hermione. "Miss Granger, Mr Weasley, since there are no points that I could take off yet, you two have detention with Mr Filch every evening this week. I trust that this will not repeat. Now go back to your dormitories. Straight."
Hermione's jaw dropped exactly as five and half a year ago in the very same situation; only this time it was Ron standing next to her, not Harry. And there would be no Neville and no Malfoy to join them. He felt wretched, but he kind of missed Malfoy. The school was bound to be duller without the bleached rodent picking on him…
'I wonder what's happened to him… do tell?'
"But Professor!" Hermione yelled. McGonagall merely looked at the girl, unaffected.
"Is this the reason why you didn't accept the position of the Head Girl, Miss Granger?"
Hermione stood still for a long while. Although McGonagall didn't seem impatient at all, Ron finally moved and opened his mouth to say something. He was stopped by Hermione's hand on his chest.
"Professor, there is a lot of unpleasant things going on. And we all know that it is going to be only worse… we must do something. We… the wizards as a race, cannot afford a full-out war. I'm good enough in Arithmancy to count that. We must stop this conflict-"
"When you say 'we', Miss Granger," the Headmistress interposed, "do you mean the Order, or the two of you and Mr Potter?"
There was no answer this time.
"Ah. And what is Mr Potter's opinion?" the witch asked, turning to Ginny, who, for some mysterious reason, seemed to be taken for Harry's spokesperson.
"Harry knows very well that the plan is suicidal. He persuaded Ron and Hermione to return to Hogwarts for this year, and accepted his orders as an Order trainee," the girl answered calmly. Harry watched his friends' reactions. Ron looked resigned, and perhaps a little bit smug, while Hermione was pale and shaking with rage.
"And how do you know?" she snapped at Ginny, and Harry's eyes widened a fraction. Was this, too, a side-effect of the adrenaline? Ginny and Hermione generally liked each other well; he couldn't comprehend why this irked the elder girl enough to endanger their friendship.
"Because I asked him," the readhead said, and shrugged ever so slightly. "Professor, if you don't need me, I'd like to return to the Tower now…"
"By all means, Miss Weasley. And do lead these two Prefects, please. I believe we have said everything there was to say." The Headmistress faced the gargoyle, and Harry shrunk deeper in the shadows, using the opportunity he had when she looked over her shoulder. "And try to keep tabs on Mr Potter."
The trinity stood in the centre of the junction, motionless, and for a while nothing happened. Harry kept staring his friends as he listened to the rough screeching of the stones as the staircase behind the statue moved.
"'m sorry, Ginny…" Hermione broke the silence as first. Her cheeks were pink, and her posture indicated that she was very uncomfortable in the situation.
"'s alright," said the redhead with a tired smile and gestured to the corridor she and Harry had come through. "We'd better get going…"
"Is it true?" Hermione quipped quietly, mere three feet from Harry's hideout. He had no idea why he hadn't come out yet, but Felix told him to stay where he was, so he stayed.
"What?" Ginny asked. Ron was still uncharacteristically silent.
"Harry really thinks that the plan is suicidal? He wants us to stay at Hogwarts? He's an Order trainee?"
Ginny solemnly nodded and then the trio rounded a corner and Harry remained solitary.
'Is it true? Am I an Order trainee?' he inquired of Fawkes.
'Not quite. But officially you are. At this time. Don't worry Harry – you will get the last laugh.'