Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros. Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author's note: I want to thank you all for reading, alerting, and most of all reviewing: Kichigai17, carolina 25, nat, Scarlet Woman, Kazumi Tachikawa, Le26199, Ehann, cosettex, moregoth, Allie Martha, Dax, Serpent In Red, Guess who (well, I think my crazy co-author of Mary and Gary from Estonia, xxp), Spock, blurtoot, gsalilsecret, kayellis, patie, BlueSkyHeaven, Ilaaris, Darkness-Lightness, vampirelover2009, ThreeMoons, sum, The Lady Massacre, WhispersOfTheWind, DizzyZina, Sailor2Moon, PyroAngel8605, OrangeSoxz, LK-Hogwarts-Headgirl, Puffbeans, Laetitia du Chatelet, Beautiful-Liar13 (thanks for the kicks under my butt by PM), xiia0moonlight, alannalove1990, sweet-tang-honney, seriana14, Lady Enchantress, Darkshadow-lord, sbrande, sesshomari, shinobinaraku, Ayame1313, Anda Faith, slytherinangel01, Summer Leah, Ms-Trixie, Midnight Lost, ElvesWizardsCentaursOhmy, RaeRae9, iloveebfanfics

sum: thank you.

ThreeMoons: Glad you enjoyed Hermione's book protection bit and her conversation with LV. I prefer chapters with them interacting, they write quicker. LOL. Thank you for reviewing.

Dax: Many things would be good … or bad. You'll see. ;) Thanks for the kind compliments. I'm glad you're enjoying the story enough to reread it. Cliffies, what cliffies? *whistles innocently* (although I doubt anyone is still buying). Sorry for the long wait. I had a lot of frustrating characters who went of on meaningless tangents in previous versions of this chapter. It took a while before getting them in line. Yeah, I know… fictional characters can be such a *insert descriptive words not worthy of repeating*. XD Thank you for reading and reviewing.

Spock: Ermm… I update when I have a chapter finished. I don't have an actual schedule to be honest and this one was a troublesome write. Thanks.


Sorry for the long wait everyone. What can I say? Well, nothing really. Sure, the muse left after too many versions of this chapter and there was this real life thingy, which is, I daresay, highly overrated. Who needs RL when you have internet? *snnnrks*
Anyway, this chapter is a bit more normal length, but I figured you'd all prefer an update above waiting longer for me to get an additional scene finished. I'm not making any promises as to when the next chapter will be finished anymore, because that turns out to be just asking the gods to toy with me, and I never get the answer right anyway. When I say it will be done quick, it usually isn't and vice versa. But rest assured, I will continue writing on this story. Tomione is my addiction and I do need my fix. *winks*


Special thanks to Serpent In Red for beta-ing.


The Apprentice

Chapter 29

A vicious hex split and charged Professors Flitwick and McGonagall upon their arrival at the rooftop of the flat in Brentford. They dove out of the way.

'Albus! It's us!' Filius squeaked in panic, having sought cover behind a huge barbecue on the roof terrace, while Minerva lay flat on her belly behind a recliner.

Dumbledore lowered his wand and spoke over his shoulder, 'It's all right, Septima, you and your family can use the Portkey to Hogwarts now.' He moved to the two others, while in the background, a tiny group took a hold of a ragged jumper and disappeared in a flash. 'What can you tell me so far, Minerva?'

'Aurora is fine. She's gone to Australia. But Pomona is dead.'

Dumbledore's face contorted. 'I've brought Bathsheba and Poppy to St. Mungo's. They were severely injured by the time I arrived. Wilhelmina, Gilderoy, Silvanus, Argus and Irma are dead. I've no idea where Sybill is. She was the first I checked upon, but she wasn't in her chambers. Firenze said she went to the Hog's Head because she was out of her usual stash, but Aberforth hasn't seen her.' He shook his head worrisomely. 'I've sent messages to everyone on staff, past and present, but I've not heard back from most of them. Horace was the only one who contacted me, and he's gone into hiding in his old chambers at Hogwarts. He should be safe there. We need to split up, so we can cover more ground quickly.'

'What about some Auror support?' Minerva asked, aghast.

Dumbledore shook his head. 'I already tried, but Rufus sent them all to Diagon Alley. Apparently, Lord Voldemort is turning the place upside down there himself. We're on our own for the time being.'

'Isn't Harry in Diagon Alley with Hagrid today?' Minerva said, wide-eyed.

Dumbledore nodded. 'Which is why I didn't insist more with Rufus. We'll have to do this ourselves.'


'How's the chest, Mudblood?'

Antonin Dolohov's words rang through her mind like a bad dream, forcing her to relive her stupidity.

'We've got him! In an office off–'


That had been her choice of casting: a silly Silencing Charm. The man had yelled, and she'd wanted to stop him from telling the others where they were. So, she'd cast a Silencing Charm out of reflex. Incredibly stupid. If she'd cast a Stunner, he would've been silent, too. And more importantly, he would've been unable to curse her with Godric-knows-what. Incapacitating her. Hurting her. Attempting to kill her.

As she witnessed that vicious glint in his grey eyes – the same glint he'd had that day – she recalled feeling that purple dash slice through her chest, rupturing everything in its path. The pain had been horrific. She remembered tasting blood in her mouth as she collapsed, remembered how her broken ribs misaligned themselves and froze into a position that made it impossible to breathe; the panic she felt inside as she couldn't get in any air was insurmountable. She'd known she was dying when the world turned black around her and she lost consciousness. That she was still alive today was a bloody miracle. It was more luck than anything else that, somehow, her magic had kept her body and brain oxygenated when her lungs were unable to.

That man had tried to kill her. She knew it. He knew it. And she was pretty darn sure Voldemort knew it, too. What the hell was he thinking leaving the two of them here alone? Her fingers clutched around her still hidden wand, while Dolohov merely rolled his between his fingers loosely. Arrogant son of a bitch. She'd show him.

'My chest is perfectly fine, actually,' she sneered, tilting her head triumphantly. 'Thanks for asking. I'm touched.'

Dolohov paused; his wand suddenly lay motionless in his hand, and his eyes narrowed at her tone.

'You dare speak to me like that, Mudblood,' he hissed. 'You and your filthy–'

'Oh yes, I dare,' she intervened before he could continue talking. 'According to your boss, I tend to go on and on and on. But look who's talking, it's not like he's any better and–'

The pendant suddenly burned against her chest in a clear warning signal, and quickly, Hermione sidestepped the curse hurtling towards her. She followed its path almost casually with her eyes as it impacted on one of the boulders and deformed its solid shape. For a second, a cold shiver ran down her spine as she realised what that would've done to her had it been able to reach her.

However, it wasn't. Feeling the pendant settle against her chest, she smirked in clear vengeful satisfaction. This was going to be interesting, to say the least.

'Are you deaf as well as stupid with perhaps an exaggerated death wish?' she enquired in an overly sweet tone of voice. 'I do recall your master telling you that I am his guest and was not to be harmed.'

Antonin snorted. 'I've known him since we were both eleven, Mudblood. I don't expect you to understand the workings of a mind far superior to yours, but he no longer needs to explain the euphemisms he uses to me. I've got a good grasp what stands for "guests" and "not harmed". All it means is: Don't kill the prisoner. Other than that, anything is fair game … guest,' he mocked, slashing his wand again.

Hermione ducked rapidly, causing another red jet to fly over her head. Dolohov laughed loudly as she jumped back to her feet.

'Come on then, little girl,' he mocked, slowly stepping towards her, 'come on and play. You won't evade my curses forever. If you stand still for the next one, I promise to go easy on you. It will hurt, but it will be nothing too lasting.' He whipped his wand.

'Protego!' Hermione cast hurriedly.

A gong-like sound echoed around her when Dolohov's curse impacted on her silvery shield.

Hermione tutted condescendingly. 'What? Weren't expecting a real fair game?' she asked, scratching her head demonstratively with her wand, enjoying the shocked expression on the Death Eater's face. 'It must be so nice for you to know him since you were eleven. Too bad it doesn't seem to grant you any favours or an actual working brain.' She held up her index finger as if she'd just got an idea. 'Tell me, oh smart one, do "guests" always get to keep their wands or am I just a new kind of euphemism?'

Recalling a rather useful curse from the book she'd nearly finished, she slashed her wand sideways, erupting a dark shape from its tip that sliced through the air in front of her. Dolohov Disapparated immediately. The lone tree that stood behind him took the blow, and the dark shape rushed through it. Nothing seemed to have happened for a moment. All that was visible was a horizontal, charcoal-like stripe in the tree's bark as if it'd been burned. Then, the wind caught hold of the huge volume of branches and leaves as if it were a sail, and with relative ease, the three got blown to the side and collapsed to the ground a few feet away, leaving behind a short, perfectly straight cut trunk covered in ashes.

The noise of the tree crashing drowned out Dolohov's Apparition. Yet, she'd been expecting him to reappear about now and was ready. With a flick of her wrist, another silvery shield enveloped around her and blocked his Disarmament Charm. Hermione turned around to face him, deliberately plastering the most condescending, smug expression she could muster on her face. Well, a Disarmament Charm wouldn't cut it. He needed to cast something a lot more volatile before she was going to chance NOT throwing up a defence and see how his curse fared against Voldemort's pendant. Her previous experiences with it had shown her its reactions were proportional to whatever was aimed at her, and she really wanted Dolohov to hurt.

'How did you get a wand, Mudblood?' Dolohov hissed furiously, his wild eyes glaring at the stick in disbelief.

Hermione shrugged unapologetically. 'How on earth did you get one?' she countered. 'I'm surprised you ever got a letter from Hogwarts with such sloppy abilities. Not even capable to penetrate through a Mudblood's shield,' she taunted.

Dolohov's lips were set in a thin line. To Hermione's satisfaction, she witnessed a small tremble travel through the man's body as he barely could contain himself from hexing her. It was obvious her having a wand had thrown him slightly off balance and made him have some doubts about cursing her. Still, she figured it was just a tiny, little push he needed and she'd be reaping her reward.

'You lot are so arrogant,' she sneered, wiggling her wand demonstratively. 'Never checking to see if someone might have a spare.' She snorted. 'Brilliant thinking. I can see why he spent a whole year making up convoluted plots to get Harry to collect the prophecy instead of simply taking it off the shelf himself. It proba–'

Dolohov's face contorted in fury at her words, and he made his move. A familiar purple dash sped towards her again, stopping her taunting, mocking words and curving her lips upward.


Hermione didn't raise her wand and didn't move sideways; she just stood there, waiting for the inevitable impact satisfied. The pendant had discriminated between spells thrown at her in the past with regards to its reaction, but right now, she felt its heat unlike she'd ever felt before – a heat that the stone seemed to draw from within her. It was beyond volatile and so dark there were no words to describe it. She had not a semblance of a grasp on what was happening next. Nothing in the Dark Arts books she'd read so far prepared her for the strange, joyous sensation dancing inside of her when a green light burst around her and something dark clashed into Dolohov's curse.

It was marvellous.

His eyes widened in shock when that dark smoke turned into a snake that left a skull's mouth, eradicated his curse and smashed into his chest next, not giving him the time to even erect a fragment of a shield or perform a Disapparition. The Death Eater flew through the air – his mouth opened in a silent scream. Antonin smashed into one of the large rocks and crumbled to the ground, unconscious and, from the looks of it, bleeding.

Hermione smirked, looking down at the now extremely handy piece of jewellery with fondness. She felt on top of the world: wonderful, invincible, and so – so … happy? Yes, she was happy; this was something she could get used to. Maybe there were more Death Eaters around she could antagonise into cursing her? That would be fun, especially if it felt even remotely as good as it had done a few moments ago. Too bad the sensation was beginning to fade away now.

She looked around, surprised nobody had come to investigate. There were a few Death Eaters in the air who should've had a clear view of what had happened, but it seemed like Dolohov's "comrades" didn't care much about his fate. They kept doing whatever it was they were doing up there.

Hermione shrugged. Perhaps they'd seen the Dark Mark and thought it best not to get involved?

Hmm … that would be a shame. Just her luck, sensible Death Eaters, who knew they existed?

A snort left her lips as she slowly approached the still body of Antonin Dolohov, rolling her wand between her fingers. He was lying face down on the ground. It was impossible to determine his condition. Another look around assured her nobody was coming to his rescue and another certain someone was nowhere in sight. Perfect. Her fingers tightened on her wand as she kicked Dolohov's body over. It was an absolute mess to look at – something dark coiled around him, inflicting what had to be painful wounds if he'd been conscious.

However, to her sincere disappointed, Hermione noted he was still breathing. Evenly and steadily. Not a single stagger or hampered motion of his slashed chest. He'd live. That much was obvious to her, causing her wandhand's knuckles to turn white with her rising ire. He'd live. Dammit.

Unless …?

Something inside her jumped in joy, cheering her on.

Go for it. He has it coming. He tried to kill you. He wouldn't hesitate. It's just two little words. You can do it. I guarantee you it will work. From what I saw, you're powerful enough to produce that curse to its full extent. It's pronounced Ke-daaah-vra, not Ked-avraaah. It will be magnificent. It will feel magnificent. Finish him off, now!

As in a trance, Hermione aimed at the body; her mouth opened to speak up–


The sudden, heartfelt exclamation being called out behind her made her whirl around immediately, her wand raised. Her eyes quickly took in the man scrambling back to his feet after having, apparently, slipped on the wet rocky surface and hurting his knee in the process. He was rubbing it with a sore expression on his face, until he noticed her and alarm flashed over his features.

'Whoa!' the man shouted, raising his hands in the air, palms forward. 'Relax, dear, I am only strolling around the island. I am no threat to you. I don't even have a wand to scratch my arse with.'

Scrutinising the elderly stranger in a prisoner's outfit, Hermione flicked her wrist and performed the Disarmament Charm. After all, Dolohov had stated something about wands being returned to their owners. However, it seemed like the man had spoken the truth. No wand came sailing through the air towards her. Odd. Why hadn't he got his wand back?

She narrowed her eyes at him. There was something familiar about him, but she just couldn't place her finger on what it was. He had really short, dark-grey hair with a slightly receding hairline. A pair of twinkling brown eyes, which somehow spoke of an intelligence beyond the mediocre, watched her cautiously. He had a straight nose and a well-kept dark-grey goatee on his chin. A tiny moustache completed his look. This prisoner was surprisingly clean, compared to Dolohov and even Sirius Black. And he had to be much older than them, considering the many wrinkles on his face. Clean, big, and muscular; he seemed tremendously in shape, especially for someone his age, she noted, as her eyes flickered over his pumped up body.

Perhaps he'd worked out in his cell?

He wore his striped shirt unbuttoned, and when the wind blew it open, she saw a huge burn mark situated diagonally over his Herculean-like chest all the way up to his beefy neck. And then, she recalled the picture in her History of Magic textbook. Only in it, he'd been much, much younger. Yet, that wound was famous. He'd got it from slaying three dragons that'd attacked his hometown. He'd been a teenager then, fourteen years of age, doing something that was seen as a miracle: divine intervention. He'd saved many lives that day. Lives, he would later in life sacrifice for the greater good of Gellert Grindelwald.

'Hludowig Herrmann,' she whispered, 'Grindelwald's general.'

Herrmann's eyes lit up. 'You recognise me? That's so flattering.'

'I've seen your picture in "A History of Magic". It's required reading at Hogwarts.'

'Ouch, I'm history. You've harshly burst my happy bubble with that "subtle" reminder to my age,' he said, clutching humorously to his chest as if he were in terrible pain. 'Why, thank you, Miss Granger.'

Her forehead wrinkled. 'How come you know who I am?'

'We did get several newspapers in Nurmengard, and I've always liked to stay informed about current affairs, be that local or abroad. It keeps you prepared, wouldn't you agree?' Herrmann asked rhetorically, smiling. 'Although, I don't believe a word of what that Skeeter woman wrote about you. Reporters,' he shook his head, 'they're always so full of it. You should read the rubbish they wrote about me when I was younger.'

'I am sure,' Hermione mumbled.

'You can lower your wand, Miss Granger. I have no interest in harming you, even if I could, which I doubt, considering that magical aura hanging around you.'

'Excuse me?'

Hludowig Herrmann smiled. It opened his face and made him incredibly disarming, which was strange considering what a broadly built man he was.

'Now, now, don't play ignorant, it doesn't suit you. I am sure you know what I am talking about. I don't know what it is that you're wearing on you, but it's emitting a very powerful defensive magical signature. I'd be a fool not to notice it.'

'He missed it,' Hermione said, gesturing to Dolohov with her wand.

'Well, I suppose that makes him a fool then,' Hludowig said, glancing at the body with a mocking smirk on his face.

Hermione's mouth curved upwards. 'I suppose it does,' she said, giggling.

Somewhat more at ease, she glanced one more time at the wizard before she pocketed her wand. Hludowig Herrmann lowered his arms with a relieved sigh. 'Ah, much better. I can tell I've gotten old. My muscles just don't work as they used to.' He rubbed his arms as if to relieve some kind of ache.

Disbelievingly, Hermione looked at him. Even through the long-sleeved shirt, she could still see that his biceps were impressive.

'Yeah, right, I am sure holding up your empty hands caused you great discomfort,' she said dryly.

Herrmann laughed. He walked to a nearby large rock shaped like a bench and sat down.

'Why, thank you for the compliment. But I really am out of shape. Azkaban doesn't have the same facilities as Nurmengard.' He nodded to the partly destroyed tower. 'It's incredibly primitive, almost medieval in all its inhumanity. I'm surprised your ministry allowed this prison to remain in this state.'

'Yeah … well …' Hermione shrugged; her face screwed up as she thought back at her conversation with Scrimgeour in annoyance. She began walking to and fro with short abrupt steps. 'They're not the brightest cookies in the jar.'

'Oooh, high frustration levels,' Herrmann commented joyfully. 'Is that why you're here, because you disagree with how they run your country?' he asked, tilting his head slightly.

'I don't see how my presence here is any of your business,' she said, stopping her pacing and eyeing him sharply.

'It's not. It's just that …' He looked around and shrugged. 'Well, you don't really fit in with this crowd. And anomalies always make me curious.'

'Curiosity killed the cat,' she muttered and continued her pacing, occasionally glancing at the building in irritation.

What the hell is keeping him? Surely, he isn't planning to stay? I've got to get to the joke shop before they know I'm missing. Merlin, I shouldn't be here.

'Do you mind,' Herrmann said, waving his arm in a clear imitation of her pacing. 'You're making me dizzy with that nervous walk of yours.'

'I'm not nervous.'

'Sure, you're not,' he said mockingly. 'Here,' he patted on the rock surface beside him, 'come join me.'

She watched him sceptically, causing him to elicit a tired sigh.

'I'm not your enemy here, Miss Granger.'

'Says the man personally responsible for the death of almost every Muggle-born on the continent fifty years ago.'

'Because they opposed us. Muggle-borns were never the primary target. Hell, we had several Muggle-borns on staff who agreed with us. Mauve was my bestest friend, and she was a Muggle-born. Really, Granger, I'm shocked you don't know this. The quality of your History of Magic classes can't be all that if you weren't told that our war was aimed at Muggles. Gellert and I had nothing against anyone of the wizarding race.'

Oh well, if you were only targeting Muggles, I suppose it won't matter to me then.

She rolled her eyes at his stupidity. Really, as if one type of bigotry was somehow less bad than another. All forms were hideous in nature, whether it was aimed at gender, skin-colour, sexual preference, religion, blood or whatever other silly thing people invented to oppress and demean another human being. It was all foul and spoke of such ignorance that she'd never been able to comprehend how seemingly intelligent people could believe such nonsense.

But Hludowig didn't notice her eye roll. His eyes were tracking all the Death Eaters in the air around them demonstratively.

'It's not something that can be said about your present company,' he added, watching her thoughtfully.

Hermione scratched the back of her neck uncomfortably. Yeah, I bloody well know that.

She really didn't need an outsider telling her how much Muggle-borns were "loved" by Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

'Have a seat,' Herrmann said gently, patting the rock next to him again. 'When in war, you should always take every opportunity you get to relax because you never know when such a fortunate circumstance will arrive again.'

When in war … Am I at war now?

Tilting her head back, she exhaled slowly. Oh what the hell, she was tired and aching all over from straining her muscles too much; she'd been clutching to Voldemort far too hard during their flight over Britain. Former General Herrmann had a point, and it wasn't like he could actually hurt her. Lord Voldemort's pendant had proven excellent protection against Dolohov who'd had a wand.

Still, caution made her walk to Herrmann's right side instead of the left where he'd patted. Her wand was in her right-hand pocket, and she wasn't planning to put it within his grasp that easily. No matter how nice General Herrmann seemed, she recalled what an excellent strategist and warrior he'd been. This way her body would be blocking his line of sight to her wand. He might outmatch her physically, but he'd definitely not be able to overpower her before she had a chance to pull her wand. Then, it wouldn't matter how many hours he'd spent pumping up his muscles, she'd curse him into oblivion.

For a while, they sat there in silence, watching the waves strike the shore violently.

'So …' Herrmann said with a curious lilt in his voice, 'why are you here?'

'Seaside vacation trip,' Hermione deadpanned. Nosy bugger.

He roared with laughter and slapped her back in joy. 'I like you, Granger. You've got spunk.' He leaned forward and gestured to her wand's pocket, causing her to feel even more relieved about choosing to sit on his right. 'And … a strategic thinker, I approve.'

He sounded impressed as he turned sideways towards her, placing his right leg crossed on the "bench", his ankle resting on his knee. He seemed like he was lounging, utterly comfortable and relaxed while being interested in his company.

'I'm not,' Hermione responded.

'Not what?'

'Not much of a strategic thinker. Not putting my wand in range of your grasp hardly qualifies as strategic thinking. That's just self-preservation.'

'Eh, it's a strategy: a move to prevent an action,' Herrmann objected.

'One move to prevent one obvious action,' Hermione corrected. 'Strategic thinking would require one to be able to predict the moves that follow and counter that.' She shook her head. 'It's why I suck at chess. I can't really see the whole board without being overwhelmed by all the choices, and then, I just make a move because I get fed up with it and lose.'

'Mmm … that's human nature,' Herrmann said thoughtfully, stroking his goatee. 'It's not within us to want to wait. Waiting plays havoc on our nerves, it's the reason why impatience often is the source of defeat. And trying to oversee the whole board is like trying to see the forest through all the trees: impossible and unnecessary. People are remarkably predictable. You don't have to oversee all the actors – you need to look at the pivotal pieces. Their moves will determine the outcome of everything.'

'But how do you determine what the pivotal pieces are in your game?'

'By understanding your opponent.'

'And if there's more than one?'

'Disregard the mass and see the individuals.'

'Like looking at all the trees again?' she said, amused.

He snorted. 'With individuals in this case, I meant all those who aren't followers: Identify the leaders and dissidents, and you've won half the battle.'

'Mmm …'

'It's basic group interaction theory. I'll grant you, it takes some practice to see it at a moment's notice if it doesn't come naturally to you to spot it. But it can be learnt.'

Hermione sighed, stretching out her aching limbs again. 'So … what am I then: dissident or leader, Mr. Strategist?'

Surprised, Herrmann's eyes flashed to her. Hermione folded her arms over each other and lifted her chin, daring him to respond to her assessment.

'I haven't decided yet,' Herrmann said, resigning that she'd seen through his motives for talking to her.

'Never knew you were a diplomat, too.'

'Eh, I'm not lying. I really am unsure of your status …' he paused, scrutinising her. 'However, it also makes you without a doubt the most interesting person on this island to talk to. You have no idea how incredibly boring everyone else is.'

'I can imagine,' she replied darkly, causing him to chuckle.

For a while they sat there in silence again, and Hermione started staring at Dolohov's mutilated body uncomfortably. She wasn't so much uneasy about having tricked him into cursing her because she still rejoiced about that, but what had happened after that unnerved her. What had been wrong with her? She'd been on the verge of casting the most illegal curse of all if it hadn't been for the timely interruption of Hludowig Herrmann, and in retrospect, she had some serious doubts whether she'd been in complete control of herself. She'd felt vengeful before but not like this. It was like her wrath had grown to exponential levels, levels beyond slapping Malfoys or jinxing traitorous Edgecombes. She'd never wanted to murder a human being before. Never.

Dolores Jane Umbridge, her mind jeered.

Like she said, she'd never wanted to murder a human being before.

One-null for you, her mind sniggered. You only tried to murder a toad in a pink dress.

Exactly; vicious, false, pink-dressed toads don't count, she mentally countered. Stupid Dumbledore for saving that bitch, he should've let her die a thousand deaths. She deserved nothing less after what she did to Harry and the others. Now that would be a true joyous occasion: watching that bitch suffer. I'd buy tickets and borrow Colin's camera. Maybe make a Pensieve memory of it. Such a happy memory would be entitled to eternal storage.

Too bad "sweet" Dolores wasn't here. Someone else, however, was. But why?

'How come you're here in Azkaban?'

'Ah, well …' Herrmann shuffled on his bottom, seeming almost embarrassed. 'I, er … I sort of forgot to escape when Nurmengard fell, so the Aurors brought me here.'

'You forgot?' Hermione's eyebrows rose nearly into her hairline.

'I was preoccupied with something,' Herrmann said rather briskly, 'or rather someone.'

'Preoccupied, okaaay.' She snorted. The great warrior forgot to escape when he could.

'You wouldn't understand.'

Suddenly, the ground shook. A bright white flash blinded them, forcing them to close their eyes. Hermione's hand flashed to her pocket, yanking her wand out, while her other hand steadied her by holding onto the rock she sat on, grounding her. Even though she couldn't see or aim at anything, it still felt comforting to hold her wand, to have it ready when needed. A wave of magic engulfed her, a wave of powerful, familiar magic. She let out a relieved sigh upon knowing who was responsible and opened her eyes carefully. They drew immediately to the source of it all: At the top of Azkaban's destroyed tower stood Lord Voldemort – his wand swooshed above his head as diverse colour jets sprayed from it, connecting to something that sprang from several points on the ground at the edges of the island.

Mesmerised, Hermione rose to her feet. There was something about watching him perform complex magic so effortlessly that she couldn't deny – something extremely erotic. The way he delved into it and surrendered every ounce of his being to his power, how he performed magic with every cell in his body, making the most complex of spells seem so easy, she couldn't get enough of it.

What was he trying to accomplish?

She waved her hand through the magic; the signature was ward-like, she realised. Yet different from the wards she'd seen him erect before. Something additional was in this one. Interesting. What could it be? Frowning, her eyes stayed fixed on the casting wizard, hoping to get some clues from his movements to what he was doing precisely. But it resembled nothing to any type of ward-casting she'd read the theory on. Plus, wards never took this much power or required such intricate, elegant movements.

Merlin, he's magnificent when he's casting.

'Then again, maybe you would,' Herrmann said with a humorous lilt in his voice, interrupting her thought process rather abruptly.

'Excuse me?' Hermione snapped, turning her head to him.

Herrmann gestured at her as if to say: look at yourself. 'It's quite something watching them cast, isn't it?' he said knowingly.

She felt her cheeks burn, but Hludowig continued before she had a chance to cover up her embarrassment.

'You should've seen Gellert take down Nurmengard by summoning his magic back from the walls: the sheer force such an act takes, the control one has to have to achieve it,' he shook his head in adoration, looking at the sky dreamily for a second, 'it was absolutely breathtaking to watch. I couldn't keep my eyes off it.'

'Which was why they caught you so quickly,' Hermione deduced.

Hludowig nodded. 'Yes,' he looked down contemplatively, 'I suppose I wouldn't have been staring at Gellert mesmerised if I'd seen him cast recently, but it had been a while and I'd forgotten …' he trailed off, looking at something that wasn't there.

Another bright flash drew Hermione's attention. Something rippled through the air and several coloured arches formed in the air from the contours of the island to the tower as if resembling a giant birdcage. Said birdcage began fluctuating in every colour of the visible spectrum. For a moment, Hermione felt like she was on Mars when her environment turned red. Slowly, it shifted to another colour, taking away the alien sensation and replacing it for another.

On top of the tower, Lord Voldemort lowered his wand and narrowed his eyes at the strands of magic in the air before he abruptly turned his head to her position. That striking red gaze met her eyes, causing her cheeks to rouge furiously. Getting caught staring at him didn't do wonders for Hermione's emotions, so she quickly averted her eyes. A satisfied smirk appeared on his snakelike face, and his gaze wandered in amusement to the motionless, mutilated body of Dolohov. His smirk widened before he turned away and swirled out of sight in a whoosh of darkness.

'You should leave while you still can,' Herrmann said warningly.

Hermione looked up and merely stared at the ex-general's now yellowish face in reply, determined to avoid looking in the direction of that tower.

'He's going to reset the Azkaban wards if I am not mistaken,' Herrmann elaborated. 'Once he's done, I doubt anyone can enter or exit without his personal approval.'

'Azkaban's wards only keep people in,' Hermione countered, peeking at the tower from the corner of her eye and heaving a relieved sigh when Voldemort was no longer visible there.

'That birdcage looks an awful lot like the formation of a Ravenclaw Ward, which is a multi-dimensional ward; one of the hardest ones by itself to break through, and he's set it in line with the power nodes of Azkaban.' Herrmann pointed to the tower and some of the points on the ground. 'The prison's wards are still down. I'd wager a guess he's planning to merge them together.'

She stared at the now green birdcage that was gradually changing to blue. A Ravenclaw Ward ... would something of the sorts be around Hogwarts then as well? That wouldn't be good, would it? If he knew how to create it, he was bound to know how to break through one, too. Hogwarts wouldn't be safe at all then. Well, Professor Dumbledore was there; but still … not good.

Behind her, the ex-general was muttering underneath his breath in awe. 'Amazing. If it works. It all depends on avoiding disintegration of the wards by each other. I wonder how he plans to compensate for the power drain and the mutual repulsion … hmm …'

'What do you mean, IF it works?'

'Well,' Herrmann shrugged, 'it's only theory and speculation that it's possible to merge two alpha class wards. Hiarhi once sustained two alpha class wards in a laboratory under conditioned circumstances for over two hours before she blew up the building, but she's the only one to succeed at it for more than a few seconds. There is a lot of theorising on how it should be done safely, but it's simply not common practise yet. It's considered too dangerous and volatile to try out in populated areas. Still, if these wards become fully operational, if he can get it to work, it will undoubtedly provide him with one of the strongest wards on the planet.'

'Before we blow up,' Hermione added dryly.

Herrmann chuckled. 'Yes, before that.'


'Hence my comment on you getting out of here,' he added seriously.

'I don't have an Apparition license.'


'And I've never done it before. I only read the theory,' she admitted grudgingly.

'I could Apparate us both out,' he offered.

Hermione smirked and folded her arms over each other. 'And out comes the cat from the bag,' she said icily. 'Nice try. Think again.'

'Just offering,' Herrmann said innocently.

A loud, insane cackle bellowed through the sky. Hearing it, Hermione sighed. Before she looked up, she already knew she was going to see Bellatrix Lestrange. The mad witch was swerving through the air on her broom. A large brownish bag of rags dangled dangerously at the edge of it, emitting a high-pitched scream when Bella nose-dived to the ground and kicked said rags off her broom a few meters above the ground. It plummeted to the rock grounds with a thud and several sickening cracks.

Did I just see an arm in there? That's a person!

Hermione's hands flew to her mouth upon realising the oddly shaped bundle was a human being and obviously not in a well state. Bella circled the person, whoever it was, and pointed her wand.


Another high-pitched scream filled the air, but the person hardly moved under the curse. He or she was already too badly injured. Bella's insane laugh drowned out the screams easily, and in fury, Hermione took a step forwards, clutching to her wand, when she got yanked back by her collar.

'Pick your battles, Granger. You can't win this one,' Herrmann hissed.

'Help me! Someone … please!' It was a female voice coming from the rags.

That voice … Do I know that person?

'Let go of me,' Hermione hissed back, poking her wand into his body. 'Now.'