The story is AU, and for most part, follows the canon from the first five books, i.e., from PS to OotP. Whatever canon exists in HBP or after the battle of the Department of Mysteries is mostly ignored. The story has a very manipulative and ends-justifies-the-means-Dumbledore, so if it is not to your taste, you have been warned. The story picks up just after the battle of the Department of Mysteries. Possible ships - Harry/Hermione, or Harry/Cho - I invite my readers to vote on it.
(Author's note: The battle of the Department of Mysteries was the point which essentially turned me off the HP series, and I could barely read HBP. I firmly believe in the cardinal rule of the Evil Overlords list, viz, All my minions will be trained in basic marksmanship. Anyone who cannot learn to hit a man sized target at ten yards will be used for target practice'. Further, the problem is that, for most part, the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters are portrayed as caricatures - almost cartoonish. Draco Malfoy, at the end of HBP was the only fleshed out Death Eater', so to speak. The other part that struck me as strange is how none of the Death Eaters likes the Dark Lord, but no one really tries to escape him. This is an attempt to address both of those problems'.)
5th October, 1996, Hog's Head
Harry had just managed to recruit Dumbledore's army, and everyone was leaving the pub. Just as Harry and Ron rose to their feet, Hermione tugged at Harry's sleeve, "Sit down, Harry. There are a couple of more people we need to meet."
"Hermione! How many more did you invite?"
"Just two more. Please sit down, Harry. I am sure they will be around soon."
"Why didn't you invite them with them with the others?"
"You will see soon, Harry", replied Hermione desperately. "They should be here ..."
Just as Hermione was speaking, the door opened and two Slytherins stepped in. "Ah! There they are!", exclaimed Hermione.
"Are you mad?", roared Ron disbelievingly. "You invited Slytherins?!!"
"Ron, you cannot judge people by the house affiliation. There are plenty of nice Slytherins.", Hermione cried shrilly.
"All Death Eaters are Slytherins! They enjoy licking You-Know-Who's boots", snarled Ron.
Greengrass snapped back, "Not all Death Eaters are Slytherins, Weasley, and you know it. There have been Gryffindor Death Eaters and quite a few Ravenclaws, too. However, if you do not want us in Defence group, there is no need to discuss anything." The duo turned away.
"Wait!", cried Hermione at the two Slytherins, glaring at Ron furiously. "Harry, you are not rejecting them outright, are you?"
12th August, Ministry of Magic:
"Very well, very well", barked Fudge. "Cleared of all charges."
Harry got up to leave, and just as he reached the door, he heard someone tap him on the left shoulder.
"Hello, Potter!", came a soft voice from his left.
Harry spun round and saw two Slytherins in his year he knew little about – in fact, he knew little more than their names, Theodore Nott, and Daphne Greengrass.
"Permit me to offer you my congratulations at getting off, Potter. We were worried Fudge would have his way."
"Why are you happy that I got away?", questioned Harry.
"Oh! Potter, remember that not all Slytherins are on the side of the Dark Lord. There are many who fear and hate him as much as you do. Many Slytherins in the jury today voted for your innocence, and send you their compliments on your Patronus."
"I thought the court was closed. How did you get in here?"
"We came with one of the jury. We shall speak on this some other time, but remember allies are often found in unlikely places", returned Nott. "Goodbye for now, and good luck." With that, both Nott and Greengrass had bowed, and marched away.
Harry had told both Ron and Hermione about what had happened, but Ron had only imputed the most sinister motives to the advances of the Slytherins, but Hermione had been ecstatic. And now, with their counsels in their oppositions, Harry was torn between Ron and Hermione – both of them were looking at him hopefully, and to decide either way was to annoy the other. However, thinking, he remembered the number of times Vernon and Petunia had called him a freak, the number of times he was loathed for being a parselmouth, the times when everyone thought he was an attention seeking brat. He was not going to judge people by the labels – he would determine for himself what they were, and then make a choice.
"No", he replied to Hermione. Turning to the two Slytherins, he spoke, "Sit down, will you? We need to talk about this."
Ron roared, "You are both insane. I am not going to chummy up with these snakes." With that, he rose and stormed off.
Harry began, "Wait, Ron..", but the other had already exited the door. With a sigh, he turned to the two Slytherins, "Well, that went well. Now, will you two tell me why you want to join a group taught by an attention seeking lunatic?"
Nott sighed, "Potter, we don't think you are off your head. We know that the Dark Lord is back."
"Oh! And why are you two not interested in sucking up to Voldemort?"
Daphne winced, "Can you at least refrain from speaking the Dark Lord's name, Potter?! Not all Slytherins are Death Eaters, and not even all Death Eaters serve the Dark Lord willingly."
"All those death nibblers seemed happy kissing the hem of his robes", sneered Harry.
Nott returned quietly, "None of them is suicidal. You must have noticed that no one went to look for him when he was broken and disembodied. That should give you an indication of his popularity. They simply are bound to him, and therefore, serve him, no matter how hateful it is."
"What prevents them from leaving?", queried Harry his curiosity, for the first time, his annoyance, and hostility for Slytherins.
"The Dark Mark, Potter", answered Greengrass. "One does not simply hand over a resignation to the Dark Lord. Regulus Black found out that the bitter way – being hunted down by the Dark Lord himself. The Dark Mark is firstly a tracking charm of sorts – it can detect people everywhere, unless they are under strong wards. So, anyone who defies the Dark Lord becomes a virtual prisoner, since they have to stay under wards for eternity to escape the scrutiny of the Dark Lord. Even more troublesome is that the mark can be used as a means by the Dark Lord to channel pain. Let me assure you that the Cruciatus curse is a spell of voluptuous delight compared to what the mark can do."
"Aha! Who wants to quit Voldemort's service?"
"Oh! There are quite a few who are disgusted with the Dark Lord and are willing to take desperate chances to get away from him. But we are getting off track here. What exactly are you planning with the Defence group?"
Hermione answered, "Basically, we will have Harry teaching us all spells that can be used in defence. We are calling it DA." Hermione had obviously thought it prudent not to mention that DA stood for Dumbledore's army.
"I bet you want to pass your Defence against the Dark Arts OWL as well", remarked Nott.
"Of course. But with V-V-Voldemort back, it is more necessary to learn to defend ourselves."
"Hmm, yes, so it is. So, when and where are you organising the club?"
"We haven't decided yet. Hermione, give them the galleons." Hermione explained the charm which would tell them the date, time and place of the meetings. The two Slytherins agreed to attend, and to keep their mouth shut. When Hermione suggested that the two sign their names on her enchanted parchment, the two exchanged glances, and Daphne muttered, "The parchment would not happen to be hexed, would it, Granger?"
Hermione flushed scarlet. Nott laughed outright as he looked at the list of names on the parchment, "Good, good, Granger. I see you are taking a bit of precaution – not bad for a Gryffindor, I suppose."
"You are not upset by this?", asked Harry.
"Potter, if you were naïve enough to trust people without any magical contracts, I would not have attended the meetings. As it is, there is a bit of security for us. Your opponents are half a school away. Ours are just one bed apart."
The sobering remark had its effect on the Gryffindors. Hermione spoke, "Are there any more students in Slytherin who would like to join?"
"At this point of time?"
Seeing Hermione's nod, Daphne shook her head. "Between Umbridge, Snape, and Malfoy, I would not dare to approach anyone else in Slytherin for now. Tracey may have joined, but she is too scared of Malfoy."
Nott suddenly shot Harry and Hermione a sharp glance, "Potter, you are Dumbledore's golden boy. Do you know anything about how prefects were chosen this year?"
"What do you mean?"
The Slytherin boy frowned, "Is it just me or do others find the choice of prefects to be strange? Look – in Slytherin, Malfoy and Parkinson are the two hardcore supporters of the Dark Lord. Why in the name of all that is wonderful did Dumbledore make them prefects, especially now that the Dark Lord has returned?"
Harry and Hermione exchanged glances, but Hermione returned, "I am sure Dumbledore has his reasons. He probably thought it better to give them a chance."
Daphne responded in a voice of bitter resignation, "It is giving them a chance, alright. They are conducting a recruitment campaign for the Dark Lord with impunity in the Slytherin common room. With the implicit blessings of Snape, of course. Ah, well! No point talking about it – we have to make do with what we have."
They both rose, "Okay, Potter, let us know when the meetings are. Until then, good luck."