AN: Last chapter! Thank you so much for all of the support for this story and Princess Shido for her review. I have a Christmas story in the mix. It will be out before Friday, promise. It will follow this same 'verse, so keep an eye out.
Chapter Six: Always have a Plan B
"How could you be so irresponsible?!"
Mrs. Weasley has been blustering for fifteen minutes straight now, Hermione ideally thought to herself. Yes, I know what I did was wrong. Yes, I know that I went against what I was told. Yes, I know Dumbledore was the one who told Sirius to stay inside. Yes, I know he would be disappointed. Yes, I know there is a madman running around England. Yes, I know we could have been caught. Yes, I know it was irresponsible.
"Molly, no one got hurt."
"Arthur," Mrs. Weasley turned her red face to her husband. "That is not the point. She deliberately went against a declaration from Dumbledore, and…I can't even believe I'm saying this…she got our boys involved in her scheme. What do you have to say for yourself young lady?"
Is she actually going to let me talk now?
Hermione opened her mouth to respond, but Mrs. Weasley continued on with her tirade like she had been the entire time. She would pause every so often to await an answer from Hermione yet never actually let her respond.
I'm going to be here all night, she thought as she dropped her head.
She looked up again when she felt a hand lightly squeeze her shoulder.
"Molly, we all get that your pissed but calm down. There is no need to have a heart attack over a simple trip to the movies," declared Sirius in an unaffected tone. He had stoically listened to Mrs. Weasley rant without showing any previous intention of interacting with her need to vent.
She was worried, Hermione concluded. She removed herself from Sirius and walked to Mrs. Weasley.
"I don't even know where you got such a …"
Mrs. Weasley cut off as Hermione hugged her.
"I'm sorry. I know it was stupid, but Sirius would not have let anything happen to me. I made sure that no one would recognize us and picked locations close enough that help was within reach if needed but far enough away that the presence of another Wizard was minimal." Hermione stepped away from Mrs. Weasley and looked her in the eye with squared shoulders. "This whole thing was my idea. I talked Sirius into leaving. I convinced the twins to create a distraction."
"I don't think it took too much convincing," mumbled Lupin beside Sirius.
"Too right," agreed Kingsley.
"I take full blame for all of it. I will finish cleaning up the effects of the fireworks and accept any other punishment you deem appropriate." With that Hermione fell silent leaving a wide-eyed Mrs. Weasley in the wake of her declaration.
Never had any of her children— with the exception of Percy—accepted punishment so diplomatically before.
"Well," she floundered. "You will aid the twins with the clean up tonight instead of taking it over. They were the ones to actually create the mess even if you instigated it."
"Since you leave tomorrow," Mrs. Weasley continued after looking to the other adults assembled, "we'll suspend any other punishment."
Hermione couldn't believe what she was hearing. No punishment?
"I will be informing Dumbledore of your actions tonight, of course."
Of course, Hermione thought morosely. Bye-bye Prefect's badge.
"Now Molly, is that necessary?"
"Yes Sirius, I think Dumbledore needs to be informed if not for the scheme…then…for the new opportunity for discretionary tactics."
Wait…what? Hermione could not have heard her right.
"Muggle means might give us an edge if some people were not so easily recognized."
A little makeup, hair dye, and contacts would do him a world of good if he ever found himself hunted again.
No, they were probably all thinking of spies since they seem adamant about excluding Harry from the fighting.
"Well," Mrs. Weasley's voice broke Hermione out of her musings. "Get to work. Tomorrow we're off to the station." With that, she left the room. Arthur followed close behind her after giving Hermione a brief but reassuring hug.
Maybe, he could convince Mrs. Weasley that all of this wasn't worth telling the Headmaster about.
Exuding a dejected air, Hermione turned to bid the others good night before she went to join the twins only to be pulled into a tight hug.
"Thank you 'Mione," Sirius whispered in her ear. He placed a kiss on her brow before releasing her. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Hermione watched him leave with a slight smile curling her lips.
"Molly was right about one thing."
Hermione turned to Kingsley.
"We might want to look into more Muggle alternatives. Not all of us are naturals like Tonks." With a wink, he too left the room.
Before she could speak to the last remaining adult, she was pulled into another hug.
"You shouldn't have done it," Remus breathed gently, "but thank you for doing what none us were willing to do."
She pulled back to look into his eyes. "He looked happy, didn't he?"
"In a way that only Harry normally achieves."
A chaste kiss to the cheek left Hermione alone to begin her punishment.
"No, that's not how you do it."
"We've done this before."
"It's not that difficult."
"It is if you do it wrong."
"What are we doing wrong?"
Fred and George both threw down their rags. They had been cleaning for hours, and as the time ticked by, the three youths got more exhausted. With exhaustion came agitation.
Ten more minutes and they would pull out their wands and Avada each other.
Shaking her head, Hermione calmly declared, "I can finish up on my own. For the last time, go to bed." She enunciated the last three words with a push towards the door, but the twins were unmoved.
"We've already had this discussion 'Mione," George growled. "We made the mess."
"You go to bed," Fred stated.
"It's almost finished," Hermione replied. "All that needs to be cleaned are the banisters."
"With our help, you'll be finished faster," Fred volleyed back.
"But you're not doing it right," Hermione declared in exasperation.
"Simply scrubbing is not going to work. That wood needs to be treated first. You two don't know how to do that, so go get some sleep and I'll finish up."
The twins shared a look. They were awfully tired. They'd been busy scrubbing floors and walls three hours longer than Hermione. If they didn't get to sleep soon, they would be useless tomorrow.
But, they didn't want to leave her.
She hadn't made the mess, but they knew she would clean until morning over some stupid sense of guilt. The rooms she cleaned already looked better than before the fireworks trashed them. She somehow removed stains from the carpet and resembled wallpaper.
If they didn't know better, they would suspect she was using magic to…
"Is that a wand?"
Hermione sent George a smug smile. "Sirius slipped it to me before he retired for the night."
Gobsmacked, the twins began to bombard her with questions.
"How did we not see that?"
"How did he get it?"
"Is there a charm on it to block the underage magic detectors?"
"Why didn't you tell us sooner?"
"Guys," Hermione held out her hands to stop the flood of question. "If I understand correctly, Sirius picked it up while he was still on the run, and it has been stripped of all locator and detector charms and spells. Plus, Grimmauld Place is under the Fidelius Charm, which blocks its location. And I tried to tell you that I could do the clean up alone."
Sighing, Hermione pleaded with the twins. "Let me finish alone."
"Okay 'Mione," Fred conceded. "But you know what this means, don't you?"
"You are now an honorary troublemaker," George said as he threw an arm around her shoulders.
"We are so proud," declared Fred as he pretended to wipe away tears.
"This year is looking up, Forge."
Both smiled softly when they turned back to Hermione.
"Now we will leave you," said Fred.
"But don't stay up all night Granger," added George.
"Or you'll have us to deal with on the train." Together they pulled her into a tight hug before turning in after a long tedious night.
Deciding to ignore the twins' threats, Hermione cleaning prowess exceeded even Mrs. Weasley's expectations.
The living room—which the twins had already thoroughly scrubbed—had a brighter shade of paint adorning the walls and all the frames and knick knack dusted and polished respectfully. The hallway and stairwell carpet was clean. The threadbare rugs looked refurbished and the peeling wallpaper repaired. The windows were washed and the drapes refreshed. The old wax upon the light fixtures was removed and replaced with new candles. The fireplace was cleansed of soot and ash with fresh logs and paper on the hearth.
The desperate hustle normally associated with the beginning of a new term was muted when the occupants discovered the previous night's labors.
"How did they…do you see this…I can't believe…" Mrs. Weasley babbled incoherently as she took in the extravagance of Hermione's punishment.
When the twins apparated down, they muttered curses to each other when they saw the room.
"I told her not to overdo it," grumbled George; his eyes already plotting Hermione punishment.
"I'm putting a sleeping charm on her when we're on the train," promised Fred as he went in search of the wayward witch.
He found her curled up with Harry on a newly upholstered couch in the living room. Puzzled by his discovery, Fred went in search of his younger brother hoping for clarification.
"He went to thank her after you two turned in," said Ron around a mouth full of food. Swallowing, he continued. "He said he couldn't sleep until he talked to her last night. I guess he wound up helping her with the cleaning or maybe just kept her company." With a shrug, Ron went back to his pancakes.
Contemplative glances passed between the twins before they too began to eat.
Minutes before the security caravan was ready to leave, a scrambling Hermione was still running around trying to get all over her stuff together.
"'Mione, come on!" yelled an annoyed Ron up the stairs. "We can't leave until you're ready."
"Leave her alone Ron," grumbled Harry. "She was up all night."
"Well so were you," he snapped back. With his tone, Ron would have been easily mistaken for the one with a sleepless night instead of his placid best friend.
"Why doesn't someone stay behind," asked Ginny. "Most of her stuff was already packed, so she'll only be a few minutes behind us."
"I'll wait," volunteered Remus. "I want to make sure Sirius doesn't make another disappearing act."
Harry couldn't help furrowing his brows at Lupin's declaration. Something just seemed…off. They had both been acting odd all morning. Especially Sirius. His good bye just didn't feel…complete somehow.
"That will be fine dear," declared Mrs. Weasley as she began herding her brood out the door.
The twins and Harry cast one last glance towards the stairs as they departed.
The milling students parted the way for a beautiful girl with a large white dog. She held securely to the dog's leash as she seemed to search the crowd for someone. May people, student and parent alike, began to question the identity of this girl.
Her designer clothes spoke of wealth. Though they were Muggle in origin, she exuded an amount of sophistication traditionally associated with Purebloods.
Even her dog, despite the large crowd, stayed loyally beside her. The only thing conveying its excitement was the slight sweep of its tail.
The appearance of Professor Lupin by her side added to the mystery of the girl. Was she a relative? A new student?
Draco Malfoy's leering appreciation was echoed by some of his Slytherin housemates until they say the enigma waltz up to Potter and his gang of misfits with a brilliant smile.
Slowly, the identity of the girl became apparent with each annoyingly familiar gesture and stance.
Why, Draco posed silently though he was unsure which "why" he was seeking answered.
Harry's questioned tapered off as the huge dog jumped on him and knocked him to the ground.
"Same time," Hermione replied. "I thought he might like to see you off."
The smile she received was worth all the planning, all the worry, and all the sleepless nights.
The hug however was unexpected. Harry rarely initiated physical contact. Over the years, she and Mrs. Weasley had slowly introduced Harry to the pleasure of hugs, but she cherished everyone he graced her with.
This hug almost equaled the one she received second year after she was unpetrified.
"You're brilliant," Harry declared as he pet a snow-white Snuffles.
"Professor Lupin has agreed to take good care of him until Christmas Hols," Hermione said for all of the people listening around them. "I never thought he would take to you like he has, Harry. He's normally not so nice."
Snuffles bumped Hermione hard enough that she almost lost her balance.
She scratched him behind the ears as she bent down in front of him. Playing the ever loving owner, Hermione hugs the huge animal and murmured for him to be good for Remus while she was away, which earned her a playful lick to the face.
"Gross," she laughed as she stood.
One last hug to Remus proceeded her climbing aboard the Hogwart's Express.
Finding a compartment with only one occupant, Hermione silently mused to herself as everyone got situated and greeted the blonde girl.
This year was going to be an adventure, she could already feel it. As she listened to Harry and Ron discuss the upcoming Quidditch season, Hermione closed her eyes and fell into a dreamless sleep.
Quick Note: I'm planning a sequel—an AU version of HBP—but haven't decided on pairings yet. I'm creating a poll to help make my decision. If you don't want to cast a vote, let me know in the reviews what you think.