I strongly recommend you re-read chapter one before reading this one, especially as it has been awhile since I updated. That way, you won't miss out on the flow of the story. This chapter has not been beta'd so forgive any mistakes.
As per usual, I own nothing and make no money.
The silence, which followed, was deafening. It was as if the entire occupants of the room were holding their breath simultaneously. Then, several people began speaking at once.
"You don't actually think…"
"You can't honestly believe…"
"True!" bellowed a voice from the kitchen doorway, startling them all. Moody entered the room, his wooden leg, and staff thumping off of the floorboards, his artificial eye spinning wildly.
"Alastor," Molly huffed, outraged that anyone would ever think such a thing. "You're being ridiculous, everyone here loves Hermione, and for you to suggest that one of us would betray her… well it doesn't even warrant a second thought!"
Severus noticed that Molly hadn't mentioned Black on that list of who 'everyone loves' and while he found it interesting, it wasn't especially suspicious. Molly had a less than loving attitude toward Black. Ridiculing the impending nuptials between Tweetle-Dumb and Tweetle-Dumber had only served to exacerbate the situation.
To be fair, if he must, Miss Granger was most certainly not dumb in the normal sense of the word; she just happened to show a horrendous lack of intellect when it came to her choice of friends. In other circumstances, he would have been impressed with her many accomplishments, even admire her for them. Of course, that opinion would swiftly change if the little chit actually was stupid enough to accept Molly's brain-dead son.
"Or, Sirius for that matter." The Hapless Hero added. "Why would anyone here want something horrible to happen to him?"
A chorus of disgruntled "yeahs" and "of courses" followed his statement.
"I could think of numerous reasons." Snape drawled while examining his fingernails with fixed fascination. "Unfortunately, time will not allow for me to wax on and on. Instead, I will say, that it was never the plan for Black to be taken. That was a bonus of sorts." Severus deadpanned.
"So you knew about the plan…" George rounded on Snape.
"…why didn't you stop it?" Fred demanded, his face flushing with anger.
Severus didn't even bother to hide his eye roll this time before addressing the annoying youths. "Even you, in your ignorance, cannot possibly believe that I am privy to all of the Dark Lords' plans. I was not aware of what was to happen until the last moment at which point it was too late to inform any of you without alerting the Dark Lord of my true allegiance."
George and Fred snorted their disbelief.
"He's got a reasonable point." Arthur agreed.
"He certainly does," Moody harrumphed. "If the Dark Lord were to discover the truth, Severus would suffer most grievously and we would be deprived of one of the only advantages we have over that insidious snake."
"What Moody says is true," remarked Bill, joining the conversation. "Severus is above suspicion."
"What?!" cried Harry, advancing on the adults who had settled in a group by the window. Pointing an accusing finger at Snape, he spat out, "But, he's a Death Eater, he's one of them."
"Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say that Severus is above suspicion," Moody disagreed. "As I said, no one is." He hesitated before addressing Harry. "I will, however, concede that out of all of us in this room, Snape is the least likely to be the spy." When Harry opened his mouth to object, he bit out, "He has the most to lose, son. No, it's most likely not Snape."
Severus mimicked a yawn, as if to thrust home the point that the conversation taking place around him was boring him silly, which in fact, it was.
"Ex-excuse me." A tentative voice chimed in. Immediately all eyes switched toward a short, brown-haired boy with a camera strap round his neck. "I was wondering if we could leave?"
Moody eyed the youngster warily before asking, "Ain't you the Creevey lad?"
"Yes sir," he replied, voice shaking. "I'm Colin and this here," he motioned with his thumb to the kid standing next to him who was, if it was possible, even shorter, "is my brother Dennis."
Moody startled both boys when he rushed at them as fast as his wooden leg could carry him and towered over them, saying in a voice filled with suspicion, "Don't recollect either of you being close enough friends to be invited to this here shindig."
Terror widened the boys' eyes as they took a step back in perfect synchronization. Colin clutched his camera convulsively to his chest as if afraid that Moody would rip it from him.
"I invited them," Molly said while standing protectively in front of the boys. "I thought," Molly's throat tightened up painfully but she managed to choke out, "some pictures would be nice, a surprise for Hermione and Ron so they could start a family album of their own."
Arthur handed his wife the handkerchief he'd had stuffed in the inner breast pocket if his robes. She dabbed at the tears pooling in the corner of her eyes while her husband rubbed her back in a rhythmic, comforting manner.
"No matter," Moody informed them in a brusque voice, "they ain't above suspicion. For all we know might be Molly here, and you two in cahoots with her."
"Alastor Moody!" Molly retorted, anger making her body visibly shake, "What utter rot!"
"Now see here," Arthur exclaimed. "There's no call for spouting such nonsense."
"Are you calling our mum …"
"… a traitor?"
"Wise up and get this through your thick skulls," Moody, answered an irate George and Fred, "everyone is a potential traitor."
"Even you?" asked Ginny, hazel eyes spitting fire as she marched over to plant herself next to Harry; taking his hand in a show of support.
Moody hesitated before grudgingly agreeing, "Yes, even me, 'specially so. But let's not be forgetten' was you the Dark Lord possessed once upon a time, girlie."
Severus was quite amused at the look of shocked distress, which settled on the Weasley girls face. True to vomit inducing form, her family members swarmed around her in a protective wall of orange headed, freckled faced bodies.
"You cannot be serious." Harry insisted, coming to Ginny's defense. "Ginny – none of the Weasley's – would ever do something like that."
"Don't be an idiot, Potter." Was Moody's answer. "The traitor is in our midst and we must rout him," he hesitated briefly looking in the direction of Ginny, "or her out." Thumping his staff on the floor once more with such force that the cups on the table rattled, he bit out angrily, "The traitor is here and whoever that might be, they cannot, and I mean cannot leave the premises! Now I don't know bout the rest of you," he spat out while turning his blue, whirling eye on to each person; his other near wild with speculation, "but I for one am not about to stand by and let that witch or wizard walk out of here!"
"Calm yourself, Alastor." Remus said while reaching over to place a hand on his shoulder which was tight with tension. Remus was truly concerned that Alastor would, out of a true desire to help, do something rash.
Shrugging Remus' hand off with a grunt, he turned to him and bellowed, "By thunder, Remus! I expect this sort of ridiculous nonsensical clap-trap reaction from Molly here but you have a more sensible head on your shoulders! Use it!"
"Well I never." Molly gasped, horribly offended at Moody's summation of her intellect.
"Truer words were never spoken," Moody grumbled back. "You're a good woman, Molly," He continued almost kindly. "But you let your feelings cloud the more rational spectrum of your noggin. No shame there in the right circumstances. But this is war, war! You're many a good and kind thing, but a fighter, you ain't and that," he emphasized with a stab of his finger, "is what we need in these dangerous times. Molly-coddle 'em all you want after we bring down this vile monster. Love 'em to death afterward but for the love of Merlin, don't bring 'em death cause you love 'em."
"That's a bit extreme, don't you think?" Snapped Ginny; speaking for the mass of Weasley children and several unrelated people in the room. "Our mum organized the cleaning up of that dump Grimmauld Place." At Harry's indrawn breath at the slight she made on his godfather's home; Ginny gripped Harry's hand more firmly when he made an attempt to pull it from her own, and added in a placating manner. "You know it's true, Harry. It would still be crawling with doxies and other dark magical objects if not for my mum."
Hurt by Moody's words, Molly admitted, while wiping her hands down the sides of the skirt, "I know I'm not much use to the Order the way most the members are. I don't put my life in danger every day like Severus. I don't go searching out the giants the other werewolves and such like Remus and Hagrid. And I am far more comfortable waving around a serving spoon than a wand, but I do what I can."
"You're a major contributor to the Order, Molly." Remus said, while shooting a glare at Moody who turned away with a huff. "You offer comfort when the rest of us get caught up in the less than pleasant aspects of this mess." Remus smiled. "You keep us human, Molly when we could easily slip over that line to being cold, cruel and calculating with Machiavellian tendencies; not unlike that of Voldemort. I, for one, appreciate all you've done."
Molly's lips trembled and her brown eyes filled with tears of gratitude. "Thank-you," She breathed quietly.
"All right, all right," Moody sighed. "That much is true. My apologies, Molly."
Molly merely sniffed.
After a brief, uncomfortable silence Bill stated, "Back to our current problem." Focusing everyone's attention on to the issue at hand. "We've got to stick to why we're all still here and not on our way to our perspective homes."
"I need to go home," Another previously unheard voice piped up. "My grandmother will be worried."
"Mister Longbottom I presume?" Moody eyed the tall boy with the sandy brown hair curiously. "You have the strong look of your father but I can see your blessed mum in the nose and brow."
Neville's smile was strained. "My Gran says the same." He knew it too from his many visits to St. Mungo's. "She's a real stickler for being on time. She's gonna tear my ear off for being late."
Much to everyone's surprise, Moody chuckled; his good eye twinkling merrily. "Yep, that's your grandmother all right. One of the finest witches of my acquaintance - brooks no nonsense neither, handy with a hex or two if I recall." Moody, said winking at Neville. "She was a real firecracker in her day."
Neville's response was less than enthusiastic having been on the receiving end of a few of his Gran's disciplinary measures; both magical and non. "That'd be her."
"Sorry, son… no one leaves." And again, to peoples surprise he did sound sorry. "Gus would understand. She might not have been in the Order but she was real proud of your parents and the sacrifices they made."
Neville gave a confused nod, not sure what to make of Moody's comments on his Gran. No one in his entire life, that he could recall, had ever called his indomitable Gran anything other than Madam Longbottom, ma'am or if they were on a less formal footing, Augusta. But Gus?
"Our parents will wonder where we are too." This came from dark-skinned, pretty girl with a mirror image of her exotic appearance standing next and stated, "We can't just not show up."
"At least let the children leave." Molly said, ever the motherly figure.
"We'll owl 'em. Say the party has turned into an all-nighter." Moody replied. "That should placate 'em."
And it would too. The parents would have no problem what-so-ever as they knew that Arthur and Molly would keep a steady eye on their children and would never allow it to turn into a drunken free for all. The fact that it was a special occasion was another point in their favor.
"Oh? And how will the owls get out? The wards will keep them in. And we only have two owls here, ours and Harry's." Ginny said, sounding snotty and triumphant all in one fell swoop.
Moody was starting to get annoyed with Arthur's brat and becoming more and more suspicious of this little smart-alecky red-head. Especially as she hadn't once commented on the well-being of Hermione nor Sirius for that matter but Alastor didn't expect her to question his safety. Sirius was an adult and she probably assumed he was well able to take care of himself. If she only knew. In the hands of Voldemort… no one, no matter how competent, was safe.
Raising his hairy eyebrows, Moody said one word, "Bill."
"I'm on it." Bill assured Moody while heading for the back door.
Leaning on his staff once more and giving Ginny the full benefit of his rather disconcerting fake blue eye, stated just as triumphantly, "We'll use the owls we have here and send one to these lassies home." Indicating Padma and Parvati. "And the other to theirs." Pointing to the Creevey boys. "As for the rest? I'm thinking a Patronus will work just fine."
Harry was confused and asked, "Can you do that? I thought Patronus's were only used in emergency situations."
"Well, generally that's true." Moody, agreed. "But it shouldn't give anyone any cause for alarm." Smiling again, he said, "It might set Gus to a wondering but she'll trust in our judgment." Speaking to Neville, he assured, "Don't worry, boy. I'll make sure you go through life with both your ears intact."
"Th…th… thanks?" Neville stuttered, with a look of baffled gratefulness on his face.
"I'll go get Hedwig." Harry exited the room. Ginny's eyes followed him with a yearning that those who still remained, other than Dean, did not miss.
"I'll get Errol." Ginny volunteered, though not through any real helpful intentions more to be in the same room as Harry.
"You do that." Moody grumbled, whispering under his breath. "And good riddance."
Molly grabbed parchment, quill and an ink pot from one of the kitchen drawers and hastily penned out two notes saying basically what Alastor had suggested. Short and simple was probably best.
"What about those who have already left?" Severus enquired, face bland. "Minerva, Kingsley, and Blacks vertically challenged cousin?"
Moody eyed Severus seriously. "Agreed, there's always that possibility but I think not."
Severus didn't think so either, adding fodder to the fire beneath this cauldron was just too good to pass up. If he could, he would have rubbed his hands together in glee, such was his pleasure in all of this mayhem and madness. Assisting in the rescue of that beatnik Black was an absolute kill-joy for this amazing buzz.
"Boy," Moody barked, addressing the still distraught looking Ron. "What happened and don't leave anything out! Every word, movement, gesture, or sound could be a clue." When Ron didn't immediately respond, Moody slammed his staff on the floor, causing him to start in surprise and ordered, "Come on, come on, we don't have time for your histrionics!"
Ron lifted his red, blotchy face. He opened his mouth but all that emerged was a choked sob while tears continued to flow freely and copiously down his cheeks. He looked lost, shocked, and emotionally drained – in other words—totally useless. Moody couldn't keep back the frustrated snort that escaped his own mouth at the sight.
"Can anyone here tell me something I don't already know? Did anyone see anything?"
In the midst of the crowd of students, a small hand wavered in the air.
Moody's one good eye lit up. "Well, come on, come on. Don't be shy. Step forward! Step forward!" Moody demanded.
A young girl that Severus recognized as Lavender Brown, made her way through the clump of Hogwarts students.
"Well?" Moody, barked out the single word.
"I… I was thirsty so I was going to the kitchen for some punch." She hesitated.
"And?!" Moody, sounding impatient, hurried her along.
"Mister Black was standing at the window." She had everyone's full attention at the mention of Sirius' name. And didn't the little chit look as if she was enjoying it all. "I guess he was watching Ron and Hermione." Lavender cast her eyes downward. She hoped nobody would guess that her own intentions had been the same. "When, all of a sudden he pulled his wand from his waistcoat and started running out the back."
Rubbing his hair roughened jaw, Moody asked. "And what pray tell were you doing whilst Sirius was running out the door?" It was clear he thought there was much more to this story.
Looking flustered, Lavender reiterated, "Like I said, getting a drink."
"Balderdash!" He exclaimed. "What else?!" Without giving her an opportunity to explain herself, Moody plowed on. "Why didn't you call for someone? Didn't you find it odd that Sirius rushed outside?" When she didn't reply, just stood there shaking, Moody roared, "Well, didn't you?"
"I just didn't think about it at the time. I'm so sorry." She wailed and then burst into tears. When Moody turned away in disgust, Lavender said excitedly, "Wait!" wiping her hand across her face, "I did see something else."
"Thought you were only getting a drink." Moody reminded her, sounding even more suspicious.
"I was…"she sputtered. "But, after Mister Black left I went to the window myself."
"Being nosy, no doubt." Moody, guessed.
The flush that crawled up Lavender's face was answer enough.
"Hopefully your nosiness will pay off. Go on… what else? What did you see?" Moody groused, sounding more and more impatient at the snail-like pace of Lavender's answers.
"At first I couldn't see a thing because of all the flashes of light," She bit her lip.
"Death Eaters." Remus proclaimed with certainty.
Her smooth brow creased then Lavender said, "No, not at first." At Moody's narrow-eyed examination, she hurriedly declared, "They were there, I swear but I didn't see them right away. I was distracted by the lights that were exploding out of the corner of my eye."
"The corner of your eye?" Remus questioned her. "You mean in front of you, right?"
Scrunching her face up, she replied, "No, the corner. I remember because I turned to look and I was blinded by all the lights. I saw spots for a bit and when I could see again, Death Eaters were everywhere." Her voice wavered, "Then I saw Ron kinda fall over." Pushing her hair behind her ear she gulped back a sob. "I thought he was dead. It was awful!"
"Fall apart at a more convenient time, if you please!" Moody bellowed. "What else?"
"That's all, really. After that," she flushed again, this time with shame. "I hid."
Moody gaped. "You hid? You hid?! Valuable time was a wasten' whilst you were being a coward!"
Her face crumpled completely. "I was scared!" She wailed even louder than before.
Lavender fully expected someone, anyone to come to her defense. Not one of her school mates, not even Padma, said a word. She sent a side-ways glance toward Ron, but he had his face buried in his hands once more. Biting her lip she caught professor Lupin's eye, silently begging him to come to her rescue. He did not disappoint.
"Alastor," he quietly admonished. "She's not to blame. We've all been there; her actions were natural enough when faced with such a situation."
"By thunder, Remus – all of you – as a matter of fact." He directed his remarks to the adults in the room. "You're too soft on 'em! We don't have time to coddle the youngsters! We gotta get 'em battle ready!"
"Well, really." Molly, retorted.
"Yes, really!" Moody stated, in no mood for Molly's indulgent attitude toward 'the children' as she referred to them. "We've wasted too much time as it is. Valuable time that could have been more wisely spent teaching these young witches and wizards – I'll concede that much—the ways of defensive and offensive magic! But mind me Molly," Moody continued, undeterred by the furious faces around him. "If they'd been trained proper we might – just might – have Sirius and Hermione here with us now."
"Personally, I'd like to know what those mysterious lights were." Arthur intervened, eager to get off of a subject that had been a bone of contention between certain members of the Order for quite some time.
"As would I." Remus agreed, curious as to what Lavender really had seen. "It might be an important factor into all of this. Miss Brown," Remus prodded gently, "Think… are you sure you don't remember anything else?"
Lavender shook her head. "I'm sorry professor." She answered, while wiping her nose on the sleeve of her robes.
"It's my fault," Ron uttered mournfully; speaking for the first time since Severus had arrived.
"No, son," Arthur argued. "There was nothing you could have done. We were all taken by surprise."
"I should have been more vigilant," Ron stated, while glancing in Moody's direction; who nodded in agreement.
"Don't beat yourself up, Ron." Charlie interjected, attempting some form of consolation. Scratching behind his ear, he continued, "But what I don't quite get is that none of us got hurt."
Silence descended once more, because Charlie was right.
"That thought occurred to me as well." Remus spoke, his brow furrowed in confusion. "Not one actual death curse had been used, most unusual" Turning toward the only Death Eater in the room; he asked the question that had been on his mind since he'd realized that all were all basically unharmed with nary a mark to show for the skirmish they'd just been involved in. "Why?"
"It could very well have been dumb luck that no one was hurt." Charlie butted in before Severus had a chance to answer. "The wards might not have been breached from the inside at all. We shouldn't automatically assume that just because no one was injured, that it means that hidden amongst us is a Voldemort supporter."
"I'm surrounded by morons." Severus bemoaned. "Of course they were tampered with from the inside." He sneered. "Don't be a dunderhead if you can help it, Weasly, although, heredity dictates otherwise. The wards held steady against our initial attempts to break through." Looking down his nose at Bill, who had returned with Ginny and Harry after releasing the owls, remarked snidely, "Congratulations on a job well done. Therefore," Severus snapped, "we could not have gotten through without the assistance of someone here."
"If you've quite finished insulting my family, perhaps you can answer Remus' question." Arthur snapped back.
Sighing dramatically, Severus continued, "The Dark Lord ordered it so. The target was to be Miss Granger. As to why he showed mercy to the rest of you - and I assure you he did- I am uncertain."
Scratching his chin again, Moody muttered, "The rent in the wards was huge which is why so many Death Eaters managed to slip in. They could have swarmed the house but they didn't. They could have killed young Weasley here." He used his thumb to indicate Ron. "But they didn't, why?"
"Is that why you think it's someone in the house who messed with the wards?" Asked a tall black boy standing next to Ginny.
"And who might you be?"
"Dean Thomas, sir. Ginny's boyfriend."
"Is that so?" Moody questioned, his tone disbelieving.
Frowning, Dean straightened his shoulders before stating unequivocally, "Yes, sir." Noticing Moody's pointed look in Harry's direction, Dean explained, "They're just friends," Dean looked to Harry for confirmation, who gave it with a nod of his head. "If that weren't the case, wouldn't I want to get rid of Harry instead of Hermione?" Dean asked.
Hesitating, while weighing Dean's words, grudgingly grunted, "That makes sense." Then as if another thought just struck him, Moody offered up another suggestion. "Unless, of course, you are the traitor and suspected that Harry here would be made vulnerable at the loss of Miss Granger. There's a thought."
Dean paled alarmingly.
"You leave him alone; you washed up, paranoid alcoholic!"
"Ginerva Weasley!" Molly fairly screeched at her daughter. "You apologize; this instant, immediately!"
Setting her jaw in a stubborn line, Ginny mumbled angrily, "I will not! It's the truth and everyone knows it. That's not exactly pumpkin juice he's got in that flask." Pointing to the slim, ornate object securely attached to Moody's belt. "He comes in here accusing us of all manner of horrible deeds, which makes it clear he's not right in the head!"
Leaning on his staff, Moody crossed one ankle over the other. "See here, missy; I make no bones about my drinking every now and again and as you say 'everyone knows it'. Listen and listen good, I don't give a rat's ass about it or what you or anyone else thinks. At least I'm not hiding – or, should I say – attempting to hide my addiction. Not that you're doing a very fine job of it!"
The reference was clear. Even Harry had caught on; biting his lip and looking massively uncomfortable. A flush of brilliant red color suffused Ginny's face and neck. Whether out of anger or embarrassment, Moody didn't know nor did he care.
"As entertaining as all this is," Severus smirked. "Perhaps we should return to the subject at hand." Severus was of the opinion that the retired auror, be he drunk or not, just might be onto something. "The Dark Lord is well aware of the extensive contribution in which Miss Granger has supplied your cause." Severus informed the group. "It is quite possible, as Moody suggests, that in order to cripple the Order, not to mention Mister Potter; Miss Granger was taken. But I do believe there is much more to this abduction."
"Such as?" Questioned, Remus.
Shrugging his shoulders, Severus admitted, "I do not know but I will attempt to discover why it was so important to capture Miss Granger alive."
"And Sirius." Harry interjected. "Find out why Voldemort wanted him too."
"It appears as if you listen as well outside of class as you do while in, Potter." Severus stated, snidely. "Which is to say - not at all. I've already explained that Black was not part of the Dark Lord's plan. Do I have to spell it out for you slowly so that you can keep up or do you think you can manage to retain the information in that pea-sized brain for more than five seconds?"
Gritting his teeth, Harry stated with firm conviction, "You've made it more than obvious that you can't stand Sirius, so you better not forget about my god-father, Snape!"
"Threats, Potter?" Severus asked, smirking. "How quaint."
"Severus, please." Remus interrupted. "Baiting Harry is pointless not to mention cruel in this particular situation."
Severus said nothing, merely turned away. Lupin, though guilty by association with the elder Potter and Black, had not actually taken part in making his days at Hogwarts miserable with those other two loathsome cockroaches. Through the years, and while associated with Lupin by way of the Order, Lupin had managed to garner a smidgeon of respect in Severus' eyes.
Suddenly, gripping his arm, Severus hissed, "The Dark Lord calls. I must go."
"This way." Bill, indicated the door with his head. "I'll open a slit in the wards so you can get out."
"How will he…" George wondered out loud.
"… explain that to snake face?" Fred finished.
"Your idiocy is of an astonishingly large proportion." Snape snapped. "The Dark Lord will naturally assume that the Order continues to be hood-winked as to my true allegiance. The Order will therefore allow me to leave to discover what is or has become of Miss Granger and Black. The Dark Lord will then assume that I will report back erroneous information to you all."
Feeling like the idiot Snape claimed he was, Fred muttered with a glare, "Fine. Whatever."
Snape followed Bill out to the backyard discussing quietly where they were going to breach the wards so that Snape could apparate back to the Dark Lord's home base.
"I would have preferred to have had Severus do this," Moody, grumbled loudly, after Snape had gone. "No help for it now, I suppose." Clearly unhappy, he grunted. "So… let's begin the interrogations. Anyone else here proficient in Legilimency?"
"You can't do that!" Proclaimed another young man who Moody didn't recognize by sight. "That's… that's illegal."
"And you are?" Moody, asked in a frustrated voice. He just wanted to get down to business, all this him-hawing around went against his nature as a person and as an ex-auror.
Straightening his shoulders, the young man stated belligerently, "Seamus Finnigan and I for one refuse to be bullied into any of this crap!"
"Well, buck up Mister Attitude because Legilimency is not illegal. Somewhat intrusive? Yes. Easily abused? Certainly." Once more Moody gave Ginny a meaningful passing glance as he added with relish, "Potentially embarrassing? Most likely. Dangerous if performed incorrectly? Unfortunately, true." Seeing the relief on more than one persons face, thinking there was no way anyone would purposefully dabble in something potentially harmful, Moody disabused that thought quickly, "But not illegal! So… is anyone proficient in that area?"
"Mione was." Harry whispered. Shaking his head in the negative, he stated more adamantly, "Is! Hermione is!" Until he had definite proof Hermione, in his mind, was still alive as was his godfather.
Ron's head jerked up. "Huh? What the bloody blue blazes are you talking about?!"
Looking slightly shame-faced, Harry admitted, "Hermione knew how to do it. She practiced for hours while we were hunting the Horcruxes." A search that had yielded very little results; to the dismay of them both.
"Why didn't you guys tell me?" Ron demanded, sounding hurt.
Shrugging, Harry answered in a tired voice, "What for, Ron? It was just something she did when she wasn't reading that book Dumbledore gave her or the other one million she'd drug around in that bottomless sack of hers." Harry finished with a small reminiscent smile and then added, "Half the time we were bored silly and the other half we were scared out of our wits. We had time on our hands and you know Hermione, never one to waste time."
"Still, you could have told me." Ron griped, his face flushing angrily.
Ron didn't know the half of it. There was plenty that they hadn't told him. If they had, Ron would be even more pissed than he obviously was now. Like, how close he and Hermione had become after he'd left them. They'd depended on each other, not only because they were best friends but because they had no one else. It forged a bond, a strong one. It was the sort that nothing – short of death – could destroy and went way beyond whatever feelings of friendship Harry had for Ron. There were no complexities involved. It was relatively simple. Hermione had stayed. Ron had not.
One of their most recent and biggest secrets that they'd been keeping to themselves was that he and Hermione had been planning on going back out to search for more of the Horcruxes. She hadn't been at all happy when he told her point blank that he didn't want Ron to go with them again. She'd argued against his decision vehemently and it wasn't until he'd told her she was welcome to stay back too, that she'd reluctantly relented.
There had been another reason; Hermione and he had been intending to ask Sirius how they could become Animagi. It would be difficult enough task without all the animosity between Ron and Sirius making it more so. Harry wouldn't have put it past Ron to try to talk Hermione out of it from nothing other than spite and unwarranted jealousy on his part. To Harry's mind, that was not a delay they could afford.
Learning the technical procedure through textbook guides had been Hermione's initial suggestion. But there was no arguing against that fact that in this case, tapping into first-hand know how, would yield faster and better results. It had been one of those rare moments where Harry's smarts had out-smarted Hermione's.
As to Hermione marrying Ron? Well, that would have put the kibosh to all their careful planning. So, the sorry sad truth was that Harry had had to work up a smile – hard – when Ron had confided in him as to this evenings' agenda. Sad and stunned hadn't been the only feelings racing through Harry at the news. To be honest he'd been a bit scared too. But Ron's wholesome face had been beaming brighter than the mid-day sun so how could Harry do anything but clap him on the shoulder and wish him well?
"Harry, that's quite a difficult talent to master." Remus reminded him, skeptical. "It has very intricate components, not to mention the fact that in order for one to become truly adept one must work on it diligently. It's also very time-consuming and while I don't doubt that Hermione had time to do so and would definitely be up to the challenge, there's still the matter of the actual physical aspect behind it all. Knowledge, though invaluable, is not enough. Practice is paramount to success and unless she practiced on you…"
Remus' words trailed off as Harry cleared his throat and ran a hand through his thick, messy mop of dark hair and shuffled his feet awkwardly as his lips worked themselves into a nervous smile.
"Harry, you didn't!" Gasped, Molly her hand pressed to her chest over the area of her heart. "Why would you ever?"
"Why not?" Harry demanded, his face set in a mutinous expression. "Hermione's my friend! I trusted her not to go knocking about in areas that were private."
"Harry," Remus grabbed him by the shoulders. "You never, never let someone who isn't proficient in Legilimency go traipsing through your mind! Never!" Remus enunciated the word with uncharacteristic urgency.
Forcefully pulling away from Remus, Harry yelled, "No one seemed concerned about my mind or my personal memories when Snape stampeded through them!"
"That was different, laddie." Moody informed him quietly. "Severus was trying to teach you how to keep Voldemort from entering your dreams and your mind. In order to teach you Occlumency he had to use Legilimency as a way to build up your resistance. You needed to learn how to defend yourself against an attack."
"Mione didn't attack me!" Harry threw his arms up in frustration. "I let her inside. I invited her in! Snape," Harry spat the name as if it were a foul word. "Is the one who all but raped my mind, it was that… that bat man wannabe who attacked me!"
Wiping a hand down his face, Remus commented with a tired groan, "If you let her in, Harry… if you didn't try to keep her out, then the whole attempt was pointless. Pointless and dangerous. Can't you see that?"
Harry breathed in deeply several times in order to gain control. He was working himself up into a massive head-ache. These people, his friends; just didn't get it.
"I'm not a dunce, you know. We knew that I'd have to resist her, I do remember some of what Snape was trying to 'teach' me." Crossing his arms over his chest, Harry snorted, "What a joke. That bastard just wanted to mess with me and ridicule my most private memories."
"That's not strictly true and you know it." Remus remarked, sticking up for Snape in a way which made Harry's stomach turn. "At Dumbledore's request, Severus made an effort to educate you in the ways of Occlumency. Granted, he might have handled it better."
"Yeah, he sure was doing Dumbledore a favor," Harry sneered, not unlike Snape himself. A fact, if pointed out to him, Harry would have found horrific. "The minute I caught a glimpse inside his twisted head, all bets were off. Gee, I can totally see why his allegiance is never questioned by any of you!"
"Back up, there son." Moody ordered. "You saw inside Severus' mind? Now that's mighty interesting. Mighty interesting."
"That's putting it mildly," Remus said, sounding impressed.
"Why? What's so bloody important about that?" Ron asked while accepting a cup of pumpkin juice from his mum who had retrieved it from the table. Taking a sip, he grimaced at the taste. It was warm. Molly waved her wand while whispering a cooling charm. Ron gave his mum a smile of gratitude before gulping down its contents. Licking his lips, he asked once more, "What's the big deal?"
"It's highly unusual for that sort of thing to happen." Remus explained to the perplexed crowd. "Generally only those who are trained can turn Legilimency around on to the person performing the original spell. It's especially odd considering Severus is one of the most gifted, so much so that he can keep his true intentions hidden from Voldemort. Therefore, for Harry to slip so easily – and I'm assuming it was easily," Remus looked to Harry for confirmation and got it with a brief nod, "is a remarkable feat."
"It wasn't on purpose. It was totally accidental." Harry insisted. "I wasn't even trying to go into that slimy gits nasty head. He thought I was a hopeless, useless berk and he resented having to do anything that might help me." Bastard. "He probably wasn't even trying to shield himself from me." Harry explained, still not getting what all the brouhaha was about. "I just sorta slipped in there. It was only for a moment. Believe me, it wasn't any great feat but boy did he freak out." He was sorely tempted to tell everyone here the embarrassing scene he'd witnessed but kept it to himself. Snape hadn't mentioned what he'd seen in Harry's own head and while it grated, Harry was grateful for it.
"We'll get back to that in a moment. What I want to know now is how things went with Hermione and Harry when they were working on this little venture while they were bored silly." Moody insisted.
Harry sighed again. "We just… I don't know; thought of it one day. We'd finished setting up camp, we'd walked what seemed like miles and we were both real tired but couldn't sleep." Harry used his fingers to rub at his blood-shot eyes and then said, "She was flipping through a book and I was…" Harry stopped.
He'd been looking at the dots on the Marauders Map, angrily searching for the one bearing Ron's name. It hadn't been there no matter how often or how long he spent bent over it. Did he really want to tell all these people, one of which, who was more than likely a traitor about the existence of the map? No he did not. "… I wasn't doing anything special." He lied. "I was just kind of listening to Hermione. She was reading out loud." That part, at least, had been true.
"Listen to this, Harry." Hermione's excited voice diverted him from his task. "Occlumency can be used as an offensive measure as well as a defensive one, though it is more widely known to be used in the manner of the latter. In fact, if utilized properly, one can plant false memories in ones own mind so as to lead astray any attempt made by way of Legilimency to delve into the mind of another."
Harry twisted his head to glance over his shoulder. At his confused look, Hermione jumped from the cot crossing the room to where he sat on one of the ottomans. Hurriedly he folded the map and stuck it under one of his thighs. He'd had his back to Hermione so that she couldn't see what he'd been doing. The first few times he'd searched for Ron on the map, Hermione had hung over his shoulder her eyes running avidly over the parchment. Harry would watch in despair as the light died from her eyes each time Ron's dot had remained elusive. She would go to her cot, lie down, turn away from him and pull the covers up until they almost covered her head completely. Then she would cry. And each time that had happened, Harry felt the resentment and anger building up inside until he'd been almost consumed by the near hatred he'd experienced at Ron's departure and subsequent perceived betrayal.
Moody regarded him sternly before asking, "You sure about that?"
Fidgeting under his stare, Harry stated as firmly and with a touch of defensiveness, "Yes."
Harry failed to see how informing anyone here that it had been Hermione's depression that had been the initial reason behind the Legilimency and Occlumency lessons. Hermione's body had fairly vibrated with energy and enthusiasm at her discovery. It was something that had been lacking for quite some time and he wasn't about to turn this renewed hopefulness aside. So, when Hermione had suggested they practice this technique he'd been all for it.
"Don't you see, Harry?" Hermione had exclaimed, nearly jumping up and down. "If you can master this then if Voldemort were to slip into your memories or your mind or whatever it is he does… you could flash him the false ones and have him sending his Death Eaters all over tar nation with him none the wiser!" Grabbing his hands, she grinned, "Do you know what that means? All we'd have to do is wait for your scar," She touched his forehead gently, "to hurt a bit and then hit him with the faux memory or thought. We could then travel safely and without worry or fear because they wouldn't be anywhere near us! We'd have carte blanch while looking for the Horcruxes. It's perfect!"
Harry's face had broken out into a broad grin matching the one on Hermione's face.
Harry could tell the Order that much at least. After he finished doing just that, Remus breathed, "She's absolutely brilliant!"
"That she is." Moody agreed, immense pride in Hermione etched into those three simple words.
Remus' brow creased, he thought for a moment before finally saying slowly, "I consider myself I widely read wizard and to be honest, I don't recall finding or reading a book on that particular usage on the subject matter." Turning a searching look to his former pupil, he asked, "Where did she get the book, Harry?"
Harry was relieved to be able to look Remus in the eyes and say honestly and truthfully, "I don't know."
"Did it work?" Was the simple question that issued from young Colin.
Moody growled, "How come you want to know?" Moody then began peppering Colin with questions alternating them with statements faster than lightening. "What's it to you? Mighty questionable I'd say. Think it's important, do you? Why? Yes indeedy; makes me wonder."
Colin cowered against his brother, chewing on his lip in agitation and fear; wishing he was anywhere but here.
"You stop that this instant, Alastor Moody," Molly demanded. "This instant, I say!"
"Moody, stop treating the kid like a criminal. He only asked the question we all want the answer to." Bill sighed tiredly, pretty much put out by Moody's continued grilling of his family and friends.
"This is getting us no where." Remus ran a hand through his hair, looking both frustrated and annoyed. "We have to stop running around in pointless circles."
Moody grunted. "Harry… start a talken' boy. How far did you and Hermione get in this training?"
"Not too far." Harry admitted, his disappointment clear. "By that point we'd reached Godric's Hollow and set out looking for one of the Horcruxes." He wasn't going to tell them about stopping by his parents' grave. Maybe he'd tell Remus and Sirius later, they'd want to know. But no one else. It was, yet again, something private shared only between him and Hermione. "I did manage to block Hermione a few times." Looking down, he mumbled, "But I don't know how hard she was really trying. She said she wasn't holding back." He shrugged. "I assume she was telling the truth, but you know Hermione, she's looks out for her friends and might not have wanted to hurt me."
Moody grunted. "There is that, but somehow I think not. Hermione's no a limp rag when it comes to that monster and his evil ways. She's got spunk! No matter how close a friends you are, her first aim would be for you to be able to protect yourself."
"Still could've mentioned it," Ron proclaimed sounding disgruntled. "It wasn't the actions of a best mate to keep things like that from me." Ron continued heatedly, "That right there was bad enough. But for Hermione it's doubly worse! It's not right keeping things – secrets – from your husband."
Molly nodded in agreement.
"You're not married yet!" Harry retorted, his face flushing deeply. "She did not betray you so stop sounding like an addled idiot!"
Jumping to his feet, Ron crossed the room to stand in front of Harry. "What you really mean is that I betrayed her, don't you? Betrayed you both!" His own face an alarming shade of red, Ron shouted, "She forgave me! She knows the truth!"
Green eyes narrowed, Harry spat out with venom, "She sure does but she'd never say it out loud. Hermione's too good for that, but I'm not too good to tell the truth, the real truth, and the real truth is you were a fucking coward, Ron. A fucking coward!"
Appalled, Ginny grabbed Harry by the arm and said, "Harry…"
"Get off me!" Harry shoved her hand away as if it were contaminated. Turning on her, he hissed, "You're just as bad!" Ginny flinched. "Think I don't know how you really feel about her? You pretend to be her friend, but inside here," Harry pointed to his chest. "Inside, here… you're eaten up with jealousy!"
Ginny wanted to be able to dispute his claims, wanted to be able to honestly say that Hermione was her friend, even opened her mouth to do so but Harry got there first.
"Don't even bother." He stated, contempt oozing from his eyes.
Ron grabbed Harry by the front of his robes, hauling him close. "You're outta line, mate. That's my sister you're talking about and she's been nothing but a good friend to you and Hermione."
Oh, yeah, stand up for Ginny but not for yourself. It was clear to Harry why he hadn't; deep down Ron knew the real truth too.
Harry almost laughed out loud but settled for asking in stupefaction, "How can you be such a blind arse?"
"That is enough, the both of you!" Molly scolded them severely. "Ronald, let Harry go and Harry…" Shaking her head sadly, breathed quietly, "how can you say such things?" It has to be the stress of the situation. There's no other answer for it, she thought with a sinking heart. "You and Hermione are family to us."
Still gripping Harry's robes, Ron exclaimed, "Looks as if Harry's forgotten that, mum. Family doesn't turn on each other!"
Thrusting his face mere inches from Ron's, Harry pressed his point home, "Damn straight they don't and they don't desert each other when they need them the most!"
Ron had no comeback for that one and everyone in the room knew it. Slowly he released Harry. "You're right Harry, family stick by each other but they also forgive the mistakes that they make. I made a mistake, a big one and no one knows that better than me. I have to live with that. Do you think it's easy? Every time…" Ron's voice cracked, "every time I look at you and Hermione, I'm reminded of how I let you down and it kills me, Harry. It kills me."
"I wish I could believe that." Harry whispered, despair evident in his voice.
"Why can't you?" Ron questioned, sounding equally agonized. "Why?"
Harry stated flatly, "You don't know what it was like for her, you leaving like that. She waited every day for you to return, was certain that you would. You didn't see the hope die on her face at the end of those days when it didn't happen. The days were awful but it was the nights… the nights were the worst." Harry stared off into space, clearly lost in memories of the past. "Hermione cried, every night… every stinking, blasted night and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it, nothing." Turning his dead gaze back to Ron, he said, with no intonation, "You were killing her and as I watched a piece of her die day after hopeless day, something died in me too."
Ron visibly slumped. "You hate me."
"I don't hate you, Ron." Harry disagreed, sighing tiredly. "But I don't trust you like I used to." If at all, he added to himself. "You can't expect for everything to be the way it was, too much has happened and we can't pretend that it didn't. We're not the same people so stop trying to shove us back into those self-proclaimed - and proclaimed by others – roles. You're not good 'ole Ron, side-kick to the great Harry Potter. I'm not The Boy Who Lived, savior of the wizarding world." At least, I hope not. "And Hermione's not the Queen of Swots and little Miss Know-it-all! We're beyond all that, don't you get it?" Harry demanded, exasperated. "We've seen and experienced far too much to go back. I wish I could, Ron; I wish we all could go back… back to when things weren't as crazy as they are now. Gods, do I ever!"
More than one person present wiped at their eyes. The loss of childhood innocence was a horrible thing to have to witness first hand.
Harry's earlier head-ache, which had been annoying but not too much to bear, began to thump with a vengeance. His stomach set up a similar protest and Harry knew that he needed to get to the sink as quickly as possible. George steadied him by the shoulders as Harry all but staggered past him.
Alarmed, several people converged on Harry at once.
"What is it?" Mrs. Weasley's concerned visage wavered erratically in front of him.
"Are you going to be sick?" George asked, helping Harry to the sink. "He's burning up!" George yelled over his shoulder.
"Merlin," Colin uttered in awe. "Look at him."
Harry was indeed a sight. Sweat dribbled in sheets down his temples. His face was ashen beneath its hectic flush and he looked as if a herd of Hippogriff had trampled him.
"Help him!" Ginny shrieked, noticing that Harry seemed to be gasping for air. "He can't breath!"
"Easy now," Remus said in a soothing manner, catching Harry as his legs gave out. "Let's get him on the table."
"Stand back, girlie!" Moody demanded while pushing Ginny out of his way. Pulling out his wand he ran it over Harry's quivering body. "Damnation! I can't tell if a spells been used on him or not but it seems too sudden for it to be anything else."
Rifling through the drawers of the wooden hutch, Charlie searched frantically through serving spoons; shoving aside candle tapers and their holders until he'd found what he'd been searching for. Crying out in triumph, Charlie whipped out a table cloth intending to throw it over Harry's chilled form.
"No!" His mum yelled, throwing out her hand to prevent him from doing so. "Blanket," She suggested quickly, "He needs a blanket! It'll be warmer."
His brow furrowing in confusion, Charlie stated, "Mum, this will do for now."
"Yes, fine… silly of me." Molly agreed, wringing her hands. "I'm a complete mess. Don't know whether I'm coming or going. So much happening."
Molly did, indeed, look far more frazzled than usual but as these were unusual events it would stand to reason that she would be.
"It's all right, Molly dear." Arthur assured her quietly while hugging her loosely with one arm. "We're all a bit confused and added to that, we're worried about Sirius and Hermione. Severus will be back shortly and I'm sure he'll have good news for us."
It was an empty promise and judging by the look on Molly's face she recognized it for what it was.
Needing to feel useful, Molly stated clearly, "Accio blanket."
In a flash a thick patchwork quilt made by her own hands, rushed into Molly's waiting arms.
"Here," She thrust the bundle into Charlie's chest. "That'll be much more comfortable for Harry and much more effective."
Harry felt the firm surface beneath him but was not consciously aware that it was the dining table. He could here the low rumble of voices all around him but couldn't distinguish any of the words. Masses of swirling bright colors floated beneath his lids and then suddenly, through the agonizing, skull-splitting pain… she was there.
The others watched as Harry started to twitch, his head flinging from side-to-side. Sweat flew from the drenched strands, hitting those nearest to him. Those keeping him safely on the table felt the vibrations from his trembling body completely down to their toes.
Moody grunted as Harry struggled forcefully against his restraining hands. Gritting his teeth in aggravation, Moody wondered at how horribly wrong the entire evening had gone. What was meant to have been a joyous occasion had been twisted beyond all recognition. A sad, sorry state of affairs all round.
Without warning, Harry sprung straight up, breaking through all six pairs of hands that had been holding him down. Harry, his green eyes wild and unseeing, yelled, "STOP!" The astonishing amount of anguish in that single cry sent shivers down the spines of all those present. Reaching out in supplication, he followed it with an equally terrifying, "PLEASE!"
Then, as quickly as it had started, it ended. Harry slumped to the side, his body still shaking but this time they heard the unmistakable sounds of violent retching. A steady stream of black bile came up from the deep, inner depths of Harry's stomach.
Molly held his head, stroking back the wet hair plastered to his forehead in a soothing gesture. In control once more, Molly flew into mother-mode and said, "Ron, go upstairs and get a spare set of your clothes for Harry."
"But mum, they won't fi…"
"Do it!" She snapped angrily. Seeing her son's stricken expression, she explained gently, "They might not fit but they'll be clean and dry."
When there was nothing left to expel, Harry collapsed against Mrs. Weasly and uttered one word before passing out from exhaustion.
Thanks for reading and if you would be a dear and leave a review, I would be very grateful!