Hogwarts Castle, Hospital Wing, 25th of June, after midnight

Hermione had been wrong to assume that all there was to do was wait. She had barely even glanced at Harry, when there was a loud noise somewhere in the castle. Since Hermione and Ron had started to talk in whispers the moment they had re-entered the room, this was even more noticeable.

"What's happening in the corridor?" Mrs. Weasley asked.

The voices seemed to grew louder and louder as their owners drew closer to the Hospital Wing.

"Did you see anyone when you came back?"

"They'll wake him if they don't shut up!"

"What are they shouting about? Nothing else can have happened, can it?" Ron asked, looking worried in her direction. No, it couldn't have. Not when everyone was still trying to comprehend what had happened a few hours before.

Mrs. Weasley stood up, walking towards the door. "That's Fudge's voice," she whispered. "And that's Minerva McGonagall's, isn't it? But what are they arguing about?"

Hermione focused her eyes on the door as well. The voices were now not only recognizable, but clearly understandable.

"Regrettable, but all the same, Minerva —" Minister Fudge was saying loudly.

"You should never have brought it inside the castle!" yelled Professor McGonagall. "When Dumbledore finds out —"

Suddenly, the hospital doors burst open, and Fudge and McGonagall rushed in, accompanied by Professor Snape. Both Fudge and McGonagall seemed very red. As scared and shocked as Hermione had seen McGonagall this evening at Hagrid's, this was nothing compared to how angry she was now. She seemed to have lost control of herself. Fudge came striding up the ward, McGonagall and Snape followed him closely, looking the most sensible of the trio.

"Where's Dumbledore?" Fudge demanded of Mrs. Weasley.

"He's not here," said Mrs. Weasley angrily. "This is a hospital wing, Minister, don't you think you'd do better to —"

But to everyone's surprise, the door opened again, and Dumbledore came sweeping up the ward, as if he had heard that they were looking for him.

"What has happened?" he said sharply, looking from Fudge to Professor McGonagall. "Why are you disturbing these people? Minerva, I'm surprised at you - I asked you to stand guard over Barty Crouch —"

"There is no need to stand guard over him anymore, Dumbledore!" she shrieked. "The Minister has seen to that!" The angry blotches of colour in her cheeks seemed to redden even more and her hands were balled into fists; she was trembling with fury.

"When we told Mr. Fudge that we had caught the Death Eater responsible for tonight's events," said Snape, in a low voice, "he seemed to feel his personal safety was in question. He insisted on summoning a dementor to accompany him into the castle. He brought it up to the office where Barty Crouch —"

"I told him you would not agree, Dumbledore!" McGonagall interrupted. "I told him you would never allow dementors to set foot inside the castle, but —"

"My dear woman!" roared Fudge, interrupting also, "as Minister of Magic, it is my decision whether I wish to bring protection with me when interviewing a possibly dangerous —"

But Professor McGonagall's voice drowned Fudge's out completely.

"The moment that - that thing entered the room," she screamed, pointing at Fudge, shaking terribly, "it swooped down on Crouch and – and —"

Hermione shivered and saw that Ron did the same. They had seen and heard enough about dementors last year to know what had happened to Barty Crouch. He was worse than dead now.

"By all accounts, he is no loss!" Fudge said irritably. "It seems he has been responsible for several deaths."

"But he cannot now give testimony, Cornelius," said Dumbledore. He was staring hard at Fudge. Hermione could not help being quite glad that she was not the one on the receiving end of that stare. "He cannot give evidence about why he killed those people."

"Why he killed them? Well, that's no mystery, is it?" blustered Fudge. "He was a raving lunatic! From what Minerva and Severus have told me, he seems to have thought he was doing it all on You-Know-Who's instructions!"

"Lord Voldemort was giving him instructions, Cornelius," Dumbledore said.

Hermione had heard that name far too many times already. Again, she felt that odd twist of fear in her stomach at the mentioning of it.

"Those people's deaths were mere by-products of a plan to restore Voldemort to full strength again. The plan succeeded. Voldemort has been restored to his body."

Fudge looked as though Dumbledore had physically hit him. Dazed and blinking, he stared back at Dumbledore as if he couldn't quite believe what he had just heard. When he finally managed to speak, it was with great difficulty.

"You-Know-Who…returned? Preposterous. Come now, Dumbledore…"

"As Minerva and Severus have doubtless told you," said Dumbledore, "we heard Barty Crouch confess. Under the influence of Veritaserum, he told us how he was smuggled out of Azkaban, and how Voldemort – learning of his continued existence from Bertha Jorkins –went to free him from his father and used him to capture Harry. The plan worked, I tell you. Crouch has helped Voldemort to return."

She didn't think she had ever heard such a complicated plot. Who would believe it without hearing it straight from the criminal? Dumbledore didn't seem to have convinced Fudge.

"See here, Dumbledore," said Fudge, suddenly smiling, "you - you can't seriously believe that You-Know-Who – back? Come now, come now…certainly, Crouch may have believed himself to be acting upon You-Know-Who's orders – but to take the word of a lunatic like that, Dumbledore…."

"When Harry touched the Triwizard Cup tonight, he was transported straight to Voldemort," said Dumbledore. "He witnessed Lord Voldemort's rebirth. I will explain it all to you if you will step up to my office." Fudge glanced at the bed Harry was lying in, but Dumbledore shook his head. "I am afraid I cannot permit you to question Harry tonight."

Fudge's odd smile didn't budge. He continued to look at Harry, then suddenly looked back at Dumbledore and said, "You are - er - prepared to take Harry's word on this, are you, Dumbledore?"

There was a moment's silence, in which Hermione tried to comprehend what Fudge meant. Was Fudge insinuating that Harry was a liar? McGonagall appeared to be angry beyond words. Snape was standing there with his mouth wide open, looking rather stupid, (Not, Ron would say, that he needs much help there) and Bill and Mrs. Weasley were frowning at Fudge. Sirius seemed to be the angriest of them all. He growled, his hackles were raised, and he was baring his teeth at Fudge, who looked rather confused at such a passionate response coming from a dog.

"Certainly, I believe Harry," said Dumbledore. His eyes were also blazing. "I heard Crouch's confession, and I heard Harry's account of what happened after he touched the Triwizard Cup; the two stories make sense, they explain everything that has happened since Bertha Jorkins disappeared last summer."

Fudge still had that strange smile on his face. Once again, he glanced at Harry before answering. Hermione wanted to follow his gaze, but was too shocked by what the Minister said next.

"You are prepared to believe that Lord Voldemort has returned, on the word of a lunatic murderer, and a boy who…well…."

Well what? Did he think Harry was crazy? That he had made this all up? That it was too coincidental that things like this happened to Harry all the time?

Fudge shot Harry another look.

"You've been reading Rita Skeeter, Mr. Fudge," said a quiet voice from behind them. Hermione jumped and turned her head. Harry had been awake the whole time! She looked at him, but he ignored her gaze and kept staring at Fudge.

Fudge reddened slightly, but what Harry had said seemed only to stiffen his resolve. "And if I have?" he said, looking at Dumbledore. "If I have discovered that you've been keeping certain facts about the boy very quiet? A Parselmouth, eh? And having funny turns all over the place —"

"I assume that you are referring to the pains Harry has been experiencing in his scar?" said Dumbledore coolly.

"You admit that he has been having these pains, then?" said Fudge quickly. "Headaches? Nightmares? Possibly – hallucinations?" Hermione felt a wave of anger flowing through her. Did Rita know how much damage she had actually done this past year? She had managed to make the minister believe Harry was crazy! How many more people were now convinced of that? She remembered that even Mrs. Weasley had taken the story about her love triangle serious. Were people really that stupid?

"Listen to me, Cornelius," said Dumbledore, taking a step toward Fudge. Hermione could tell that Dumbledore was really angry with the Minister now, but unlike most people, the angrier he was, the calmer he appeared.

"Harry is as sane as you or I. That scar upon his forehead has not addled his brains. I believe it hurts him when Lord Voldemort is close by, or feeling particularly murderous."

But Fudge shook his head. "You'll forgive me, Dumbledore, but I've never heard of a curse scar acting as an alarm bell before…."

"Look, I saw Voldemort come back!" Harry shouted. He wasn't looking as calm and collected as Dumbledore. On the contrary, his face seemed to be just as twisted and red as McGonagall's. He tried to get out of bed, but Mrs. Weasley forced him back. That didn't stop him from talking, though.

"I saw the Death Eaters! I can give you their names! Lucius Malfoy —" Hermione's hand shot to her mouth. So Malfoy's father was a Death Eater! Next to her, Ron shrugged, as if he had expected it all along, which, Hermione realised upon reflection, he probably had.

"Malfoy was cleared!" said Fudge, visibly affronted. "A very old family – donations to excellent causes —"

Oh, of course, Hermione thought scathingly.

"Macnair!" Harry continued, growing redder by the second.

"Also cleared! Now working for the Ministry!"

"Avery – Nott – Crabbe – Goyle —"

"You are merely repeating the names of those who were acquitted of being Death Eaters thirteen years ago!" said Fudge angrily. "You could have found those names in old reports of the trials! For heavens sake, Dumbledore – the boy was full of some crackpot story at the end of last year too – his tales are getting taller, and you're still swallowing them – the boy can talk to snakes, Dumbledore, and you still think he's trustworthy?"

"You fool!" Professor McGonagall suddenly cried out. There were tears in her eyes. "Cedric Diggory! Mr. Crouch! These deaths were not the random work of a lunatic!"

"I see no evidence to the contrary!" shouted Fudge, his anger matching hers as his face rapidly turned purple. "It seems to me that you are all determined to start a panic that will destabilize everything we have worked for these last thirteen years!" It seemed to Hermione that Fudge was intent on ignoring everything they said.

"Voldemort has returned," Dumbledore repeated calmly. He and Snape were the only adults in the room who were still acting reasonably, but as Snape was staring open-mouthed at Fudge and not saying anything, the job of convincing Fudge had fallen to Dumbledore.

"If you accept that fact straightaway, Fudge, and take the necessary measures, we may still be able to save the situation," Dumbledore continued. "The first and most essential step is to remove Azkaban from the control of the dementors —"

"Preposterous!" shouted Fudge. "Remove the dementors? I'd be kicked out of office for suggesting it! Half of us only feel safe in our beds at night because we know the dementors are standing guard at Azkaban!"

"The rest of us sleep less soundly in our beds, Cornelius, knowing that you have put Lord Voldemort's most dangerous supporters in the care of creatures who will join him the instant he asks them!" said Dumbledore. "They will not remain loyal to you, Fudge! Voldemort can offer them much more scope for their powers and their pleasures than you can! With the dementors behind him, and his old supporters returned to him, you will be hard-pressed to stop him regaining the sort of power he had thirteen years ago!"

Fudge looks rather like a fish, Hermione thought detachedly, opening and closing his mouth like that. Her shock at everything that had happened was quickly making way for an immense amount of anger directed toward the Minister – she had never thought of Fudge as thick-headed before.

"The second step you must take – and at once," Dumbledore continued, "is to send envoys to the giants."

"Envoys to the giants?" Fudge shrieked, finding his tongue again. "What madness is this?"

"Extend them the hand of friendship, now, before it is too late," said Dumbledore, "or Voldemort will persuade them, as he did before, that he alone among wizards will give them their rights and their freedom!" She had actually read about this while doing some extra reading for History of Magic. What Dumbledore was proposing sounded so logical that she couldn't comprehend why Fudge was so against it.

"You - you cannot be serious!" Fudge gasped, shaking his head and retreating further from Dumbledore. "If the magical community got wind that I had approached the giants – people hate them, Dumbledore – end of my career —"

"You are blinded," said Dumbledore, his voice growing louder, his eyes blazing once more, "by the love of the office you hold, Cornelius! You place too much importance, and you always have done, on the so-called purity of blood! You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be! Your dementor has just destroyed the last remaining member of a pure-blood family as old as any - and see what that man chose to make of his life! I tell you now – take the steps I have suggested, and you will be remembered, in office or out, as one of the bravest and greatest Ministers of Magic we have ever known. Fail to act – and history will remember you as the man who stepped aside and allowed Voldemort a second chance to destroy the world we have tried to rebuild!"

Hermione had always had a great deal of respect for Dumbledore; after all, he was the greatest wizard anyone had ever seen! But now, listening to him speak, her respect for him could not do anything but increase. Fudge, however, looked as though he had accidentally wandered into an insane asylum.

"Insane," whispered Fudge, still backing away. "Mad…."

And then there was silence. Madam Pomfrey was standing frozen at the foot of Harry's bed, her hands over her mouth. Mrs. Weasley still had her hand on Harry's shoulder, trying to force him to lie down. Harry seemed to be too angry to speak. Sirius was still growling at the Minister – Hermione didn't blame him. Bill and Ron were staring at Fudge, who was fidgeting with his cloak.

"If your determination to shut your eyes will carry you as far as this, Cornelius," said Dumbledore, "we have reached a parting of the ways. You must act as you see fit. And I - I shall act as I see fit."

Fudge seemed highly offended by those words.

"Now, see here, Dumbledore," he said, waving a finger in Dumbledore's direction. "I've given you free rein, always. I've had a lot of respect for you. I might not have agreed with some of your decisions, but I've kept quiet. There aren't many who'd have let you hire werewolves, or keep Hagrid, or decide what to teach your students without reference to the Ministry. But if you're going to work against me —"

"The only one against whom I intend to work," said Dumbledore, "is Lord Voldemort. If you are against him, then we remain, Cornelius, on the same side."

Although Hermione was rarely caught without an answer, she could easily recognize the symptoms in others, and Fudge was no exception. He rocked back and forth, spinning his hat in his hands, the absolute picture of indecisiveness. Finally, he said, with a hint of a plea in his voice, "He can't be back, Dumbledore, he just can't be…." Hermione was shocked to hear the man who was supposed to be leading their community speaking like a small child. However, that didn't even come close to the shock she got from what happened next. Snape strode forward, past Dumbledore, pulling up the left sleeve of his robes as he went. He stuck out his forearm and showed it to Fudge, who recoiled. Hermione would have done the same. On Snape's forearm was a grey tattoo, an image that was the same as —

"There," said Snape harshly. "There. The Dark Mark. It is not as clear as it was an hour or so ago, when it burned black, but you can still see it. Every Death Eater had the sign burned into him by the Dark Lord. It was a means of distinguishing one another, and his means of summoning us to him. When he touched the Mark of any Death Eater, we were to Disapparate, and Apparate, instantly, at his side. This Mark has been growing clearer all year. Karkaroff's too. Why do you think Karkaroff fled tonight? We both felt the Mark burn. We both knew he had returned. Karkaroff fears the Dark Lord's vengeance. He betrayed too many of his fellow Death Eaters to be sure of a welcome back into the fold."

Fudge stepped back from Snape; Hermione could not help but do the same. She knew from what Harry had told her that Snape had been a Death Eater. But to see it so clear, marked on his arm was something else. For a moment she wondered why Voldemort couldn't have come up with a better system, but it was obviously effective. Fudge, on the other hand, looked horrified at Snape, who was now hiding the burning Mark under his sleeve again and whispered, "I don't know what you and your staff are playing at, Dumbledore, but I have heard enough. I have no more to add. I will be in touch with you tomorrow, Dumbledore, to discuss the running of this school. I must return to the Ministry."

He had almost reached the door when he paused. He turned around, strode back down the aisle, and stopped at Harry's bed.

"Your winnings," he said shortly, taking a large bag of gold out of his pocket and dropping it onto Harry's bedside table. "One thousand Galleons. There should have been a presentation ceremony, but under the circumstances…."

He jammed his bowler hat onto his head and walked out of the room, slamming the door behind him. The moment he disappeared, Hermione sighed. She felt suddenly very sad – if the Minister did not believe them, there was going to be a lot of trouble in the future. She looked at the Headmaster, who was surveying them over his half-moon spectacles.

"There is work to be done," he said. "Molly…am I right in thinking that I can count on you and Arthur?"

"Of course you can," said Mrs. Weasley. Though she was extremely pale, Hermione knew Mrs. Weasley was a stubborn woman. "We know what Fudge is. It's Arthur's fondness for Muggles that has held him back at the Ministry all these years. Fudge thinks he lacks proper wizarding pride."

"Then I need to send a message to Arthur," said Dumbledore. "All those that we can persuade of the truth must be notified immediately, and he is well placed to contact those at the Ministry who are not as short-sighted as Cornelius."

"I'll go to Dad," said Bill, standing up. "I'll go now."

"Excellent," said Dumbledore. "Tell him what has happened. Tell him I will be in direct contact with him shortly. He will need to be discreet, however. If Fudge thinks I am interfering at the Ministry —"

"Leave it to me," said Bill and he smiled. It was only then that Hermione realised the extent of his similarity to Ron. He clapped Harry and Ron on the shoulder, kissed his mother on the cheek, pulled on his cloak, and left the room quickly without saying anything more. She could tell that Ron was a bit disappointed that his brother had left so suddenly, but he shrugged it off.

"Minerva," said Dumbledore, turning to Professor McGonagall, "I want to see Hagrid in my office as soon as possible. Also – if she will consent to come – Madame Maxime."

Professor McGonagall nodded and swept from the room, an angry shade of red still evident on her cheeks.

"Poppy," Dumbledore said to Madam Pomfrey, "would you be very kind and go down to Professor Moody's office, where I think you will find a house-elf called Winky in considerable distress? Do what you can for her, and take her back to the kitchens. I think Dobby will look after her for us."

"Very – very well," said Madam Pomfrey. She was clearly surprised by the request, but also jumped quickly into action. It was odd to see everyone suddenly following orders and doing things when they had waited and done nothing for so long. Hermione looked at Dumbledore, who was securing himself that the door was closed and that Madam Pomfrey's footsteps had died away, before he spoke again.

"And now," he said, "it is time for two of our number to recognize each other for what they are. Sirius…if you could resume your usual form." With her mouth open, Hermione looked at him. Clearly he didn't mean to – Dumbledore wasn't planning to —?

But he evidently was, as the dog looked up at him and turned back into its human form. Hermione glanced sideways at Mrs. Weasley, hoping she would remain calm. However, Sirius's sudden appearance proved to be too much for Mrs. Weasley's already shredded nerves, as she screamed and leapt back from the bed.

"Sirius Black!" she shrieked, pointing at him.

"Mum, shut up!" Ron yelled. "It's okay!" While Ron tried to calm his mother down, Hermione looked back at Snape. The Potions Master had not yelled or jumped backward, but the look on his face was certainly an ugly one. Hermione remembered how angry he had been a year ago, when he had fount out about Sirius's disappearance and hadn't been able to prove that Harry had somehow been involved in this very room.

"Him!" he snarled, staring at Sirius, whose face showed equal dislike. "What is he doing here?"

"He is here at my invitation," said Dumbledore, looking between them, "as are you, Severus. I trust you both. It is time for you to lay aside your old differences and trust each other."

She heard Ron snort behind her and understood what he meant. It was hard to tell which of the former school enemies looked more disgusted. Neither of them liked the idea of trusting the other.

"I will settle, in the short term," said Dumbledore, somewhat impatiently, "for a lack of open hostility. You will shake hands. You are on the same side now. Time is short, and unless the few of us who know the truth stand united, there is no hope for any us."

Very slowly, giving each other the ugliest looks Hermione had ever seen, Sirius and Snape moved toward each other and shook hands. She thought they might have tried to crush each other's hands like opposing Quidditch captains had Dumbledore not been there, but since he was, they settled for letting go as quickly as possible.

"That will do to be going on with," said Dumbledore, stepping between them once more, as it still seemed that Sirius and Snape might attempt to kill each other. "Now I have work for each of you. Fudge's attitude, though not unexpected, changes everything. Sirius, I need you to set off at once. You are to alert Remus Lupin, Arabella Figg, Mundungus Fletcher - the old crowd. Lie low at Lupin's for a while; I will contact you there." Hermione could understand barely a word of what Dumbledore had said to Sirius. There was time to find that out later, though.

"But —" said Harry. He was suddenly looking very small again, and he seemed to grow paler by the second.

"You'll see me very soon, Harry," said Sirius, turning to him. "I promise you. But I must do what I can, you understand, don't you?"

"Yeah," said Harry. "Yeah…of course I do."

Sirius grasped his hand for a moment, nodded to Dumbledore, transformed back into the black dog, and ran over to the door, the handle of which he turned with a paw. Then he was gone. Ron was still whispering to his mother, trying to explain that Sirius wasn't a raving lunatic and a murderer, but he didn't seem to be doing too well. Hermione wanted to help, but also wanted to hear what Dumbledore was going to say to Snape.

"Severus," he said, turning to Snape, "you know what I must ask you to do. If you are ready…if you are prepared…."

"I am," said Snape.

He looked slightly paler than usual, and his cold, black eyes glittered strangely. Hermione had never found him creepier or…more brave. Whatever it was Dumbledore had asked, it seemed to be a great favour Snape was doing him.

"Then good luck," said Dumbledore. No sooner had he said these words than Snape turned on his heel and left the infirmary.

"No, Mum, you see, Scabbers was Wormtail! He betrayed the Potters!" she heard Ron whisper.

"So I fed a criminal for twelve years?" Mrs. Weasley hissed furiously.

When Ron nodded, she shook her head and said, "I want to hear every detail as soon as you are home for the summer holidays, young man!"

"I must go downstairs," Dumbledore said finally. "I must see the Diggorys. Harry – take the rest of your potion. I will see all of you later."

Harry slumped back against his pillows as Dumbledore disappeared. Hermione looked at him, and then glanced at Ron, who was also looking at Harry, his face full of worry.

"You've got to take the rest of your potion, Harry," said Mrs. Weasley at last. "You have a good long sleep. Try and think about something else for a while…think about what you're going to buy with your winnings!"

Hermione knew Mrs. Weasley meant well, but she couldn't help being slightly irritated with her for bringing up the subject of the prize money. Knowing Harry, he was probably thinking of the prize as blood money.

"I don't want that gold," said Harry in an expressionless voice. "You have it. Anyone can have it. I shouldn't have won it. It should've been Cedric's." His voice croaked, and he turned his face away from them.

Hermione had never felt so much pity for Harry. Just then she heard a strange buzzing noise coming from the window. What was that? She thought irritably. She looked up, and suddenly, she knew exactly what it was.

"It wasn't your fault, Harry," Mrs. Weasley whispered.

But she couldn't let that – no. She stood up, and hurried towards the window. No way could she let Rita print this. Now where was that bug?

It didn't take her long to find the source of the buzzing. A fat black beetle was sitting on the window sill and tried to scuttle away as soon as it saw Hermione coming close. The beetle spread its wings, about to fly through the open window, but she quickly shut the window.

"Oh no you don't," she hissed at the insect, and with a swift move, she caught it in both hands with a clap, restraining herself to crush the beetle. The other three looked up. Hermione felt her face turn red.

"Sorry," she whispered.

"Your potion, Harry," said Mrs. Weasley quickly, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand.

Harry drank it in one gulp. His eyes closed instantly and he fell back onto his pillows.

Feeling that at least one thing had turned out okay this night, Hermione closed her eyes for a moment as well.

It had been a long, long night, but for now, most of her burning questions were answered. She sunk back on her chair, and wasn't able to fight against the sleep that was waving over her. Tomorrow, there would be new questions to answer, and she had a feeling that they would be even more dangerous and tricky. But for now, her head was completely in peace, enjoying the last moment of quietness before the storm.


that's all!!!!
I hope you like it, even though I disclaim inventing these characters... only the point of view of this story is mine...

Thanks to Lisa, and I'm sorry if you guys think that there is too much straight from the books...let me know if I could have done it diffrently, or if you like/hate it...