Happy Friday!

Hope everyone is doing well and staying safe. A quick recap of what happened last time:

Hermione was 'poisoned' and has been using the time turner and 'recovery' to get some work done! The break mean she's finally made progress - and has a plan in place!

On to to the chapter!

Chapter 63

Kingsley Shacklebolt sipped at a chipped mug full of weak coffee, thinking longingly of the kind his mother used to make, strong and dark and full of sugar. His mother was in hiding now, a measure that Severus Snape and Mad-Eye Moody had each separately insisted on since he had moved further into the ranks of Order leadership.

Ekuwa Shacklebolt was a formidable witch, despite her small stature and wizened features. She had been the political force behind his father, a magical British ambassador to Ghana. When the Muggle colonial regime in Ghana had fallen in 1957, the Magical one had not been far behind. His father has chosen to stay, saying that he had felt more comfortable in Ghana than he ever had as a black man in England. As Ghanaian politics had soured in the late 1960s, he had sent his son to Hogwarts. Kingsley had appreciated the education, but when Lord Voldemort had begun his reign of terror in truth the summer after his seventh year, his parents had begged him to come home.

He had insisted that as a pureblood he would be fine – but even as he had spoken the words, they had faltered on his lips. Nevertheless he had finished his Auror training, even while he had sat for his Magical Law examinations. He had returned to Ghana a few months later and had worked with the International Confederation of Wizards on a specialized task force. One thing had led to another, and before he knew it, he had heard news of the Potter child defeating Lord Voldemort. At that point, he had enjoyed the ICW well enough to stay on, working with the British Aurors as a liaison with the Muggle Interpol.

Kingsley heaved a sigh, and placed the mug back on his desk, half full. He doubted he would finish the cup, even though he was anticipating a long evening. Thinking about James and Lily Potter always curdled something in his belly. They had been a few years behind him at Hogwarts. Kingsley had been a Gryffindor prefect when they had started. His memory of Lily Potter was a round faced child who spent too much time with the troubled Slytherin boy who would become Severus Snape. He had empathized with Snape at the beginning. His skin color made him stick out, but Snape's poverty did the same to him. He had liked Lily a great deal – she had always had a bashful smile for him.

James, on the other hand, was a headache and a half for prefects. He and Black had snuck a bottle of firewhiskey into the dorms and had gotten drunk at the ripe old age of thirteen – that had been his last year. The lot of them – the Marauders, they had called themselves – had borne their point loss and detention with aplomb, and promptly pranked Kingsley rotten for the next month. Blue hair, vanishing robes (at least Marcy Stewart had agreed to go to Hogsmeade with him, saying she hadn't realized he was so 'fit'), even a pair of antlers at one point. But then they had turned back to Snape, as they always had…

A sharp rap at the door brought Kingsley's attention back to the present. "Yes," he called," leaning back in his chair and setting down his quill. "Enter."

Nymphadora Tonks entered, no small excitement on her face. "Wotcher, Kingsley," she said in a bright voice. "I have an update for you before I go home for the evening on that strange situation I mentioned to you in September. You know – the French one." She waggled her eyebrows – blue – for effect.

With a wry grin, Kingsley beckoned her further into the office, raising privacy spells as he did so. Tonks had to try so hard to be subtle – unlike her mother. Back at Safe House Three, Andromeda had thoroughly impressed him with her nuanced understanding of Wizarding politics. Unsurprising, as once she was an eligible daughter of the Ancient and Noble House of Black.

"We're covered," he assured Tonks. "Go ahead and report on the Lestrange vault, but be quick. Dumbledore asked me to stop by Hogwarts – said that Hermione had something important to share with the Inner Circle but that she wanted to run it by me first."

"She's been working hard," Tonks said, her brow furrowing. "I had hoped her little accident would give her a break, but she's been working so hard I've hardly seen her outside of the hallways."

The devil works hard but Hermione Granger works even harder, Kingsley thought wearily. "We'll find out what it is soon, I hope," was all he said. "Was she at least able to file her petition to the vault?"

Tonks nodded. "It went better than we had hoped," she admitted. "My mother filed for family rights, Hermione filed as rights of conquest. She filled out the paperwork for Harry to file as well, so I submitted both at the same time. Augusta Longbottom filed on behalf of her son and Alice Longbottom. She actually did a separate petition for Neville – I didn't know this, but he had also been harmed in the attack. Apparently he didn't speak until he was almost six."

"Watching your parents tortured to senselessness right when you're learning to talk will do that to you," Kingsley said grimly. "I wouldn't have put it past Bellatrix to have hit him with a spell or two to shut up a crying toddler as well." He and Bellatrix had been the same year. He hadn't liked her at all.

Tonks squirmed in her seat. "I read the petition," she said quietly. "Apparently the last thing his mother told him was to not make a noise. The last spell fired from her wand wasn't a hex or a curse – it was a Silencing Spell. He was hidden for most of it, but they had just found him when the Aurors arrived."

Kingsley felt his stomach flop again. That had been more a year after the Potters had died. He had worked closely with the Aurors as the ICW had helped them round up stray Death Eaters. He had been on Bellatrix's trail for eight months before they had handed it to someone else for some 'fresh eyes.' What they had meant was he had made no progress. Part of him would feel guilty every time he saw the memorial plaque to Frank and Alice in the Auror breakroom.

It seemed that Tonks had taken his silence as urging to keep going. "And surprisingly, Draco Malfoy filed on his own. I was concerned, but Hermione told me not to worry."

Kingsley remained impassive, but he nodded. "We are fine there."

She looked at him curiously, then sighed. "You've always had a face like a brick wall, Kings," she complained. "Can't read you for shite. Anyway, we have a hearing date scheduled for three weeks from now – I argued for an extension given Hermione is still 'recovering' from her poisoning. Will you let her know?"

Kingsley nodded, then waved his wand to Vanish the rest of his coffee with a sigh. "I will, I will." He stood slowly, as Tonks did, and was about to release the privacy spells when he hesitated. "Tonks?"

Tonks had caught the hesitation in his voice. "What is it?" she asked. "I'm up for anything, you know me."

"It isn't anything specific," he said, shaking his head. "I just wanted to ask if you had noticed anything… off… about Hermione." He noticed that Tonks stiffened, and that the corners of her eyes narrowed. He knew Tonks was defensive about Hermione – had defended her, to many Order members, even. "I don't think she's compromised, or anything like that," he hastened to add. "I just… do you remember her, that first summer at Safe House Three? She was earnest and eager and too much of a rule follower for her own good."

"I do," Tonks said, giving a half laugh. "I thought spending the summer with someone who was, by all accounts, a bit of a swot would be boring if not awful. But Kings, that's just the air she gives off to everyone. She's always had a bit of ruthlessness under all of that. It was why Dumbledore and Snape chose her, after all."

Kingsley rubbed the back of his head. "How do you feel about Snape?" he asked. "Hermione and Dumbledore say to trust him."

He let the pause stretch beyond what Tonks was comfortable with, waiting her out. It was a classic Auror tactic, and one his colleague knew was in use, but she gave in with a sigh anyway after a while. "I don't know about him," she admitted. "I do know that I trust Hermione, and I know that Hermione trusts him more than just about anyone else, even if she never seems quite sure if she actually likes –" Tonks paused abruptly, and her face went carefully blank. "Sorry. She never seems quite sure if she actually likes him."

Kingsley pretended that he didn't notice the fact that Tonks had, quite clearly, just realized something. She would either tell him in time, or she wouldn't if it wasn't important. "She's always defending him," he said, nodding. "But they couldn't stand to be in the same room as each other this summer. Hermione's a warm girl, and she was ice cold around him."

Tonks, with that same studied blank look on her face nodded. "He's a prickly one, and she has to spend more time with him than anyone else," she reasoned. "In my mind, it's much like spending extended amounts of time with Mad-Eye, except with less yelling and more subtlety."

"I wouldn't think that Mad-Eye doesn't appreciate the subtle," Kingsley said, finally taking down the wards. "He had quite the knack for it in the day. Especially when it came to the ladies."

Tonks shuddered, then tossed him a quick wave as she made her way through the Auror bullpen. Kinglsey watched her go, hair turning from bright pink to a concerned green-blue as she went to her desk. Something was happening there – but he figured it had to do with their friendship. He was glad that Hermione had someone her own age, more or less, to confide in. Working for this war made them all feel like they were less human than construct, these days, with all of the work and none of the time.

As was nearly habit by now, Kingsley made his way through the Ministry, greeting people left and right. As a tall, intimidating, and unapologetically Black man it had not been easy to win the goodwill he carefully cultivated at the Ministry. His father had always drilled into him that it was less about how good you were and more about who you knew when it came to finding interesting work, and he had taken it to heart. He dressed in interesting ways, took lunch down in the cafeteria often, and went to all of the birthday parties, retirement parties, and potlucks he could stomach to make small talk, ask about the babies, and suggest good Wireless broadcasts. It now meant that he could walk the halls and recognize almost every face in the crowd – and better yet, that he had an excuse to dip into any random department to use to the Floo. Most people just assumed he was coming in for an extra slice of cake or for a quick chat with the head of the department. Kinglsey didn't want anyone tracking his Floo and seeing that he was going to Hogwarts or Hogsmeade any more than was strictly necessary.

Today the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes was his mark – he chatted with a tired witch (triplets, bless the woman) who was charged with registering the accidents, and sudden realized he was late for a meeting. A wink and a tip of his fez got him the use of the Floo in the back, where two men had just exited, feathers dusting their robes.

The rush of green fire roared in his ears – halfway through the trip, Kingsley spoke the password for his destination and nearly emerged in the Headmaster's office. He dusted some ash off of his bald dome, then redonned his fez, greeting Albus with a warm smile.

"Good afternoon, Headmaster," he said, giving Albus a respectful nod and a shake of the head to wave away the offer of a lemon drop. He wanted all of his faculties in place to understand this new plan of Hermione's – the girl ran circles around most adults, and he did not want to be the only dope in the room who didn't understand what she was talking about. Dumbledore, of course, was sharp as a tack (although – was he still?) and Snape's only good quality was his brain.

"Kingsley, my dear boy," said the Headmaster, conjuring a squishy armchair with a flick of the wand. "Thank you for making time for us today. I know how busy things must be at the Ministry at the moment."

Kingsley stifled a groan and the urge to squeeze the bridge of his nose. "That would be an understatement, Albus. But I'm yours for the rest of the evening. Are you anticipating a long one?"

There was a quick shifting of the Headmaster's gaze, a tightening in his clear blue eyes. Kingsley noted it and filed it away – it appeared that the Headmaster was also in the dark about this new plan, and that he did not like this fact. "It would appear to be quite the complicated plan our Miss Granger has devised," he demurred. "I'll let her explain it to you."

The two men chatted for a few moments more as the clock ticked down toward six; Kingsley always made it a point to be at least a few minutes early, even if he hated wasting time. This is not time wasted, he reminded himself, only time banked for when you need something down the line. This was not from his father, but from his mother.

At six precisely, there was a sharp rap at the door. Dumbledore bade entrance, and the long and surly form of the Order's spy slunk through the door. Kingsley appraised him with a critical eye, expecting to see what he had always seen: greasy hair, sallow skin, a perpetual scowl and a sense that there was a lifetime's worth of rage behind those still grey eyes and carefully calm and fluid movements. He remembered when Severus was a boy and that rage had burst across the boy's eyes at every reprimand from a Prefect, every hex from a Marauder. Now Severus was tightly controlled, but Kingsley knew that kind of rage did not sleep without a powerful sedative.

Kingsley kept a frown from creasing his brow as he evaluated Severus once more. The man was on guard, that was for sure – one did not stay a living spy for nearly two decades without being on guard – but there seemed to be less suppressed rage behind his cool gaze and something more like – like excitement as he settled in the chair he had made appear for himself.

He was interrupted from his evaluation by the Floo flaring green as Hermione Granger stepped through. "Hospital wing," she said breezily. "Madam Pomfrey wanted one last check up and I asked if I could borrow her Floo."

Of all the people in the room, Hermione Granger discomfited Kingsley the most. She had dropped her Glamours before arriving, at least, so there was none of the sudden lurch of change from girl to woman. No, this version of Hermione Granger had lost the roundness of her cheeks, added an inch of height, and had the beginnings of fine lines around the corners of her eyes. Usually, when Kingsley saw her without Glamours there were dark circles under her eyes, a perpetual exhaustion that spoke of long nights. She was also without her Hogwarts uniform, but also in different clothes than what she normally wore to the Order meetings in the summer, when she had to slip away from her charges. No more loose jeans and old tee-shirts, bushy hair pulled back into a puffy ponytail. It was a hard lesson for the Order to learn to take her seriously, looking like she was barely fifteen, but there was always that careful Occlumented calmness in her gaze and ruthlessness in her speech.

As he had done with Severus, Kingsley scanned Hermione carefully, taking her in slowly. She was dressed simply in long black pants and a cream sweater made out of some kind of thin material. It was loose around her middle, where he knew she had knives in easy reach. He wondered if she also had weapons in the bulging leather bag she had slung across her left shoulder, leaving her wand arm free. Her hair was down, which was unusual for her, and curled prettily, if riotously, around her shoulders. The darkness of her hair matched her deep eyes, which considered him with the same frankness he was considering her. Those eyes were endless pools, Kingsley was realizing, dark and pulling him in and in –

"Is there a reason you're trying to read me, Hermione?" he asked. He wouldn't be this frank with just anyone, but Hermione was a special case. He had trained her from the beginning, when she was a precocious teenager with a reluctance to abandon the rules. Kingsley had been the one to insist to her training team that they merely had to give her new rules to follow – rules that were, perhaps, a bit more expansive. Severus had snorted at that meeting, and said that if they wanted a mindless sheep following the rules, they had best find another child because Hermione was too smart to fall for it. He may have been right.

Hermione gave Kingsley a small smile. "To prove a point," she said lightly. "I have a breakthrough – or two – to announce and I thought it would make my point clear."

This intrigued him – and Dumbledore, whose white eyebrows rose slightly. "A breakthrough?" he questioned. "That involves Legilimancy?"

"One that involves secrets," Hermione said clearly, crossing the room to a chair that Severus had conjured for her and sitting neatly, crossing her legs and accepting a cup of tea. "And then… a secret." She took a long sip her tea, then smiled at Kingsley. "Before we get down to business, how is the Ministry?"

"Fine," Kingsley said, regaining his normal calm and pushing down the brief lure of hope that had risen in his chest. "People talk, people plot, but most of all they just bide their time until their supervisor retires or moves. The usual. Tonks wanted me to let you know that the hearing for the Lestrange vault will be in three weeks."

"Plenty of time to plan, then," Hermione murmured. "We might have to pull some strings to see if we can get Bill assigned to the pre-hearing assessment of the vault, which would tell us how hard we need to push. Severus, can you ask Draco to make sure you are present when he tells the Dark Lord about the hearing date? He should get the paperwork in what – a day or two? It will list all of the potential claimants. We want to see how worried this makes him and what he tells Draco to ask for."

Kingsley's eyes darted over to Severus, curious as to how the spy would take her casual order – it was phrased as an ask, but it was clearly an order from the direct tone of her voice. Severus merely nodded. "I believe that their next meeting will probably be called the day after tomorrow – when you make your miraculous recovery. The Dark Lord will be displeased." Kingsley watched as their eyes met for a moment, communicating something, before Severus looked away. She is worried about that outcome, he thought. Maybe she cares about Draco? Maybe this is the reason he has turned to our side?

Dumbledore interrupted the silence with a clearing of his throat. "Pleasantries aside, Hermione, what of the mind arts have you learned? Has your work with the unfortunate Mr. Yaxley yielded some benefit?"

There was a flash of irritation that passed over Hermione's face that Kingsley barely caught before there was a small smile on her lips once more. "Actually, the first part of the information I have to share with you tonight emerges from my work with Professor Flitwick." She rummaged in her leather book bag, pulling out a tattered looking quill. While they watched, she flicked her wand and murmured her spell, transforming the quill into a thick roll of parchment, which she then tapped twice to duplicate.

Kingsley took the roll she offered him, quickly breaking the seal to reveal several rows of Arithmancy in her neat, cramped hand. He gritted his teeth – Western runes had never come easily to him – and began a slow interpretation. While Kingsley liked to think of himself as humble, no one liked feeling like the idiot in the room – even when the room contained Albus Dumbledore.

To his credit, he was only a moment or two behind Dumbledore when the Headmaster asked, "Is this an adaptation of the Fidelius charm, Hermione?"

There was a lazy, sharp smile on Hermione's face when Kingsley looked up. "It is," she said, clear relish in her voice. "This was my first time participating in creating a truly novel spell, and I have to say, I enjoyed it." At the slight alarm on everyone's faces – no one wanted someone's very first mind altering spell going in their mind, after all – Hermione flapped a hand in Dumbledore's direction. "Flitwick did most of the work – I provided him with the first round of Arithmancy, he corrected assumptions, I reviewed that round, and then he built most of the scaffolding, then I tested it – on Yaxley, of course," she hastened at the glare from Severus. "I wasn't going to test it on myself, you know that."

"And what does this spell do, exactly, Hermione?" asked Kingsley, frowning at the sheet again. "Secrets? Of more than locations?"

"From what I can tell, this buries a secret in the soul," Dumbledore said slowly. "So that it cannot be removed through force." It was hard to tell if he was pleased or not by this outcome.

Kingsley whistled, low and long. "Hermione, if you've truly done this – this could change the Wizarding world."

"There are a few caveats," Hermione said, tugging at a ringlet. That satisfaction still curled catlike on her face. "It has to be your own secret, and it takes a fair bit of power. Not as much as a typical Fidelius, but the volunteer binder for this secret will severely drained. We will have to arrange for protection."

Severus was glaring at the girl. "I assume you have a plan for this too?"

Hermione smiled sweetly at him. "I have a French friend who has already volunteered. I was thinking that Cedric would be a perfect companion, to make sure she's safe. He can also pursue our research agenda while hiding in France."

"I don't think we need to talk about banishing Mr. Diggory quite yet," cut in Dumbledore, a thread of steel in his genial voice. "I think you need to do a tad more explaining, my dear girl."

"Of course," Hermione said smoothly. "As you all have already seen, this spell works to conceal a secret in the soul, with only one person being granted the ability to dispense the secret. Once the secret is dispensed, it is hidden in the soul of a person. It is impossible to find, even with Legilimancy. Much like the Fidelius, when the secret-keeper dies, each bearer of the secret then becomes a secret-keeper. When the spell is released, the secret leaves the souls and can be freely spoken. I assume you would like an example?"

She was met with three nods. "We practiced this a fair bit, Professor Flitwick and I," she admitted. "Currently, I am the secret-keeper of one of his secrets. We thought that this would be best done with a secret that was already shared between you and Professor Flitwick, Albus. We chose something innocuous – do you remember what he sent you for Christmas last year? I am the secret-keeper for this secret, so once we ascertain that you do not remember, I can share the secret."

Albus Dumbledore was a powerful wizard. It was not often that his own mind and memories were altered, and even Kingsley, who could not claim to know him better than Severus or Hermione, could see that he was deeply troubled. "I cannot say that I recall," he admitted. "I can remember him stopping by my chambers, and I can remember giving him my gift. But I do not recall what he gave me at all."

Hermione grabbed a piece of parchment from her bag, and wrote something down on it. She then passed it to Kingsley, who took it in surprise. He had expected to her to give it to Severus. He looked down, and in the same cramped handwriting saw, He gave Dumbledore a music box charmed to play the school song.

The paper crumbled to ash in his hand at Hermione's spell. "Now, if you don't mind, Kingsley will you try to speak the secret?" She looked at him, eagerness flushing her face and making her eyes sparkle. She really was quite pretty when was excited, he noted.

"I can try," he said wryly. "Albus, Flitwick – he – for –" Kingsley struggled for a few moments more, then shook his head. "It's not coming."

Hermione clapped her hands together, delighted. "Perfect. You cannot willingly give the secret. You can't give it unwillingly either – we can test Legilimancy now. Professor Dumbledore, you can explore my mind, or Kingsley's if he gives permission, to try to find the secret. Severus, you are also welcome to see if you can find it."

The acerbic man pinched the bridge of his nose. "You cannot let people galivant around your mind for fun, Hermione," he snapped. "It's-"

To his surprise, she quirked a half-grin at him. "It's hardly galivanting if it's for research, Severus," she responded. "Here, you take me, and Albus you do Kingsley?"

This won't be fun, Kingsley thought sourly. But I'd take Albus over Snape any day. "Very well," was all he said, turning toward the Headmaster. "I'd say do your worst, Albus, but please don't."

Those ice blue eyes were frightening as they stared into his over those half-moon glasses. "If we are entrusting our greatest secrets to this spell, I'm afraid I may have to be more forceful than usual." That was all the warning Kingsley received before the Headmasters was delving into his mind. To Dumbledore's credit, it wasn't painful. Just unpleasant. Kingsley's thoughts turned back to that paper that Hermione had handed him, which was now… blank. It was completely blank. He couldn't even remember what had been written on it in the first place. His mind turned back to the paper – he could see it in his mind's eyes, crisp yellow parchment against the dark skin of his thumb, the crescent of his nail, the parchment unblemished… And then there was the moment before Hermione handed it to him, when her quill was moving over it, except his eyes couldn't focus on the movement of her quill or even on the color of the ink, and it seemed completely blank, yellow and blank, and then it was ash. And then the moment before it was ash – but it was blank. There was a push behind his eyes – this was painful, like a thudding headache – but the paper remained completely clear. He was then reliving his thoughts in the moment, and the push of Dumbledore inquiring about Christmas, and he was imagining his own Christmas holiday and the present his aunt had sent him, but he couldn't picture what Dumbledore had received.

The cool presence withdrew from his mind, and Kingsley stifled a groan. That hadn't been as bad as Moody in his Auror training, he reminded himself, but he still pressed his palm over his eyes. Now that Dumbledore was no longer in his head, he could picture the parchment and the small script and even how he had imagined the music box to look, and hear the strains of music.

When Kingsley looked up, he saw that Severus and Hermione were still engaged. Her eyes were wide, the pupils blown out, and Severus was intently focused on her. He had even reached out and grabbed her chin, strengthening the connection. As he watched, he broke it, blinking, and snatched his hand away from her skin as if it burned. Hermione responded in much the way Kingsley had, letting out a small sound and pressing her eyes with the heel of her hand.

"Anything, my dear boy?" asked Dumbledore, the ghost of a frown on his face. "I must say I could not find it."

"Nothing," he snapped. He conjured a simple glass and filled it with water, shoving it at Hermione. "If you had warned me, I could have brought something for the pain," he said, voice clipped and emotionless. "Drink."

Hermione accepted the water, draining it with her eyes still shut. "I should have remembered," she croaked. "On my own head so be it." She opened her eyes – now bloodshot – and placed the glass on the floor. "Professor Flitwick gave Albus a music box last year for Christmas," she announced. "It plays the school song."

Albus steepled his fingers. "I can now recall it precisely. Blue and bronze, and the sound comes from an eagle's mouth. A beautiful gift, with wonderful charm work." He shook his head. "This is fantastic, but dangerous magic, Hermione. Excellent work."

Hermione smiled widely at him, accepting the praise. "I'm glad you think so," she said happily. "Because we have a new secret to guard carefully." She pulled an empty ink bottle from her bag, then transformed it back into a much thicker roll of parchment. "I think I have figure out a way to remove the Horcrux from Harry's head. Without killing him. And I have a plan to weaken the Dark Lord."

Despite himself, Kingsley felt a thread of hope, a longing for her words to be true. "That's a big claim, Hermione," he said, feeling the weariness of the world upon his shoulders. "We have to be extraordinarily careful with Harry's life."

"I know that better than anyone," she snapped, annoyance lighting on her face. It appeared that her defenses were down after Severus' assault on her mind. "This will work. I can't say that I've tested every aspect of it – that would require Horcruxes – but I am confident that the theory is there."

"Will you let us see your plan, then?" asked Dumbledore. "This is, I assume, the secret we need your new spell to keep."

"I defer to your judgement," Hermione said carefully, toying with the scroll. "Do you want to make sure that we have someone present to perform the spell first, or do you want me to lay it out now?"

Kingsley couldn't help but look at Severus. The only problem was that Dumbledore's gaze had flicked to the spy as well. Severus appeared bored, as if he didn't notice at all, but his lips pursed slightly as he clenched his jaw.

There was a slight crackle in the air, and some of Hermione's curls rose.

"Control yourself," Snape snapped, his intense gaze suddenly on Hermione.

Hermione glared at him, but her hair settled. "If you hadn't stampeded through my layers like a bull in a china shop –"

"If you can't take one simple stampede 'for research' that you practically invited into your mind –" Severus hissed.

"I wasn't supposed to make it easy for you, for Merlin's sake, Severus-"

"You also didn't need to put up a defense, Hermione! It was about a fucking Christmas present of all things –"

"I wanted to make you work for it, you didn't need to slam-"

Dumbledore cleared his throat, and they both silenced, although they were still glaring at each other. "I think we can discuss this in full at a later point, and once we are sure this works fully – I, for one, need time to review the Arithmancy. Give us just a broad outline, for now."

Hermione wrenched her gaze away from Severus. "Very well. We use the spell to inform the entire Order about the existence of the Horcruxes – the more people who know how the Dark Lord is keeping himself alive, the better in the event of our deaths. The next part of my plan is two pronged – one part is seeking out the last Horcruxes, and one part is sending the Dark Lord on a merry goose chase, of our own devising, that is aimed to stretch his resources thin and prevent him from concentrating those resources on taking over the Ministry or Hogwarts. Taking Yaxley has thrown a wrench in his plans, and we can capitalize on that. We buy time – we need time."

Kingsley saw the way Hermione's teeth bit at her lower lip. "How much time have you planned out, Hermione?" he asked.

"What I have in mind to save Harry will take at least six months," she said firmly. "And that's with the Time Turner. Details later, but that's the crux of it. We could be in a good place for a confrontation by the summer at the earliest."

Kingsley could feel himself practically gaping at her. "The summer, Hermione? We barely have a fighting force, we don't have all of the Horcruxes, and the Dark Lord has only been growing in power –"

"I know," she said, cutting him off abruptly, steel in her voice. "But I have a plan." The smile that spread across her face, despite the tired lines that formed around her mouth, gave him hope.

And so ends Chapter 63!

I know, I know, I keep hinting at the plan and not revealing it. But it's there! I just had to end here because I realized I hadn't posted in forever. Next chapter should be plan, I promise.

Updates! So many of you lovely people like knowing what I'm up to... turns out after nearly 10 years you are just as fond of me as I am of you! The lovely girlfriend and I passed six years together this winter, and delight each other every day. I didn't think I'd still be madly in love 6 years (and one year of literally never being out of each other's presence) but here we are. We are going to have serious separation anxiety when life gets back to normal... Otherwise, all is well! Grad school is interesting if a bit ego and soul crushing, funding is secured for next year, money is tight, what else is new? On a sadder note, I will say that COVID has drawn lines through my family - my sibling decided to cut me out of their life for insisting on masks on a visit. Anyone else have siblings they feel like they barely know anymore? Sometimes, being an adult isn't such fun.

I hope you all are staying safe and well. Until next time!