Almost five months had passed in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry since Hermione Granger's disappearance.
Not one day passed in which Harry and Ron didn't wish she appeared as unexpectedly as she had gone.
They knew nothing of her whereabouts. Even Draco Malfoy wasn't bragging about having secret information concerning her disappearance. Everybody was in the dark.
Except for, naturally, Professor Dumbledore. The wise and peculiar headmaster always seemed to know the truth about every occurrence in the magical world.
Perhaps it was the twinkle in his eyes, behind those half-moon spectacles, that led everyone to believe it.
However, this twinkle was not present when Professor Dumbledore received the news that one of Hogwarts' most brilliant students, not to mention one of his protégé's best friends, was missing.
It was clear that what Harry and Ron were expecting to hear from their headmaster were words of reassurance, that he would do everything in his power to find out what happened to their friend and a way to get her back.
But that wasn't an answer he could give.
Because, you see, the ex-Transfiguration professor remembered the bushy haired girl become… acquainted with a certain clever, dark haired, boy from the times when teaching a class was still his profession.
Therefore, he believed best to let time do its job and wait.
So they waited and waited, but as each week passed, their hopes diminished.
The Great Hall was covered with its usual morning chattering. Sneers towards fellow students could be heard from the Slytherin table, some Ravenclaws had books beside their plates, the Hufflepuffs were passing the marmalade around, and the giggles coming from the Gryffindor table were becoming louder by each bite its students took.
Soon enough, the owls started arriving, dropping packages or letters on the tables, some waiting to be paid a few knuts.
Normally, since Sirius died, the Boy Who Lived didn't receive anything. Today, though, a pretty grey owl landed next to his plate and let a very fine looking envelope fall from its beak before flying away.
"Who's it from?", asked Ron, putting his fork full of eggs aside.
Harry grabbed the envelope but before he could open it, it sparked to life and the cold, high pitched, voice of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named reached every ear in the room:
"Greetings, students and staff".
Dumbledore rose from his chair at the staff table, wand in his hand, ready to lift strong wards around every student if needed.
"Before you begin panicking and what not, I assure you: the contents of this Howler won't harm anyone. Though I do believe the person that could suffer the most by seeing this, has not arrived yet. Pity.
Now, onto the… pressing issue of the evening; it has come to my attention that a Gryffindor has been missing for quite a while, and none of you have a clue of where she is".
There was a collective gasp, everybody looking at their neighbors with an equally shocked expression.
"Yeah, you probably know all about it. Since you took her", said Harry through gritted teeth. He was practically rubbing on his face the fact that he could use every person he cared about to hurt him.
"And, Potter, whatever you just said is wrong".
A few Slytherins, including Malfoy, smirked at this, how well the Dark Lord knew his nemesis.
"Almost the entire wizarding community is blaming me for her disappearance; therefore, I felt the obligation of clearing my name.
I. Did not. Kidnap. Miss Granger.
However, I do have knowledge of her whereabouts. Very fascinating information, actually. Something you all would be interested to see.
I have placed a Memory-Projector Charm on this paper (I wonder if your beloved students know what this is, Dumbledore) that will activate as soon as the letter ends.
I thoroughly advise to judge Hermione's actions without thinking of a plausible explanation first… or is it supposed to be the other way around?
Silence took over while the Howler disappeared in clouds of smoke and something that looked like a translucid screen began to form before their eyes.
"What will the charm do?", a third year Hufflepuff asked out loud.
"We'll be able to see whoever's memories these are as if we were present while they happened", Dumbledore responded, taking a seat but not lessening the grip on his wand. Voldemort couldn't be trusted and he wasn't taking any chances. On those days, protecting the students from the world outside was the staff's job, even more than teaching. However, there was a word on the letter that told Albus it truly wasn't meant to do any harm. Not physical, anyway.
"Like a Pensieve" Luna Lovegood added, "People from the Rotfang Conspiracy use it to get information from their spies' undercover missions".
The Headmaster nodded, "Correct, Miss Lovegood, but this particular charm will allow all of us to presence it, while a Pensieve doesn't permit a group of people this big"
"Before it begins, I ask you to not "judge before finding a plausible explanation", as Lord Voldemort put it. I dare not guess what any of us would've done in Miss Granger's position".
Harry looked at Ron, wearing a distraught expression. Hermione's situation was sounding worse with each comment. What could've happened to her, that Voldemort had no part in? It was impossible for Harry to actually believe what Riddle so hard tried to make everyone understand: that his hands were clean. For some reason, that was nagging in the back of his mind and resting on the tip of his tongue, the Gryffindor didn't consider credible the Dark Lord's assurance.
A bright flash that came from the, surrounded by mist, screen pulled him out of his musings. Everybody's stare was fixed on the Charm, where a clear image could already be seen.
Like with the Pensieve, it absorbed the person and he or she were able to move around inside the memory, but, nobody had moved from their seats, or showed any signs of being "inside" it. Curious thing, magic is.
It reminded Harry and the Muggleborns of a telly. Or watching a film in the cinema.
The corridors leading to the Great Hall of the grand castle were deserted. Not even Peeves was in sight. Silence filled every corner of the hall, but the dark haired guy walking through them seemed at ease with it.
He was just finishing his Prefect rounds, when a loud crash coming from an upper floor made Tom Marvolo Riddle snap his head upwards.
"Who's that?", Seamus asked. What was so important about that guy?
Dumbledore looked sideways at the professors McGonagall and Slughorn. They surely knew who the young man was, but the teachers were too busy frowning and reaching their own conclusions to answer Mr. Finnigan's question. "That is none other than the young Lord Voldemort".
The reactions of the student body varied from anger to shock. The Slytherins that had family in the Death Eater ranks looked amazed at how normal their Lord looked. The female sector, however, was the most stupefied of all. Murmurs of how it was possible that he looked like that before, and now was bald, weird, etc., traveled tremendously fast. Soon, every girl was either swooning over the perfect image of the dark angel they were seeing, or cursing the fates for ruining his good looks. Well, most girls were. Ginny was, amongst others, glaring at the boy, her arms crossed and her lips pressed into a tight line. It was the same guy that had used her on her first year, making her go through something nobody should experience.
Harry and Ron were, without doubt, the ones trying to burn a whole through Riddle's head with their stare, watching with hatred as the young man entered the place where the crash was heard.
The library was dark when Tom entered, not a surprise since it was after hours, but not even a candle was lit. Strange.
He walked swiftly around the room, inspecting the hallways, the tables and chairs. Nothing seemed out of place. He turned to leave; having found nothing that could've caused the loud disturbance, and bumped into a body.
There was a yelp and his arms instinctively stretched to stop the person from hitting the floor. He looked down and his eyes met brown ones, and for a moment he stood still, his arms still around the girl.
"No way…", Anthony Goldstein said, his mouth hanging open.
Ron and Harry were simply shaking their heads. It couldn't be true.
"It is her!", the Transfiguration Professor breathed. She had remembered her old friend when she first met Miss Granger 6 years ago to inform her parents about their daughter's magic, the little girl had looked similar, but she had cast the feeling away. Her friend was gone.
"Err… thanks" her voice shook him awake, and he frowned.
"I've never seen you before. Who are you?"
"Hermione. And might I ask who you are as well?", she said, not so timidly. But there was an uncertainty visible on her eyes.
He barely had time to catch her on his arms once more as her eyes opened wide and fainted right on the spot.
Author's Note: Thank you for reading, reviewing, and adding me or the story to your alerts! It feels wonderful. I hope you liked this chapter, it's the begininng of the good stuff ;).