Sirius Is An Idiot
MINISTER OF MAGIC MURDERED!
The Ministry of Magic gave the official announcement last night in a special press conference. Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour was found dead in his home early yesterday morning, having been the victim of the Unforgivable Killing Curse.. The Dark Mark was seen over the Minister's residence, and the ten Aurors assigned to protect the Minister were also killed along with at least twenty five Death Eaters.
Senior Undersecretary Dolores Umbridge told reporters that the scene was discovered by Aurors who were scheduled to relieve their comrades in the protection of the Minister. Official reports state that the attack occurred sometime during the night, roughly around one or two a.m. Tuesday morning.
Rumors persist throughout the Ministry that the Minister's murder was in retaliation to the attack on Malfoy Manor in which the house itself was burned to the ground It is believed that Narcissa Malfoy, and her son Draco, were killed in the fire which is believed to be the work of anti- You-Know-Who vigilantes. It is unknown if the Malfoy patriarch, Lucius Malfoy, a fugitive of the Ministry at this time, was also in the home at the time of the attack
Amelia Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was the Wizengamot's first choice to lead the nation, but has declined the appointment to Interim Minister, choosing to focus solely on bringing the terrorist Death Eaters to Justice. Samson Cuffe, of the Department of Foreign Affairs was named as interim Minister until elections can take place later this month.
Hermione Granger finished reading the article, and set it aside with a heavy sigh. The war was escalating now. The death of the Minister of Magic was the latest in a series of attacks, and by far the most frightening. If the Minister of Magic, arguably one of the most protected individuals in Great Britain could be reached, no one was safe from Lord Voldemort. And to Hermione, that was a very disturbing thought.
She quickly finished her breakfast because today, Harry was finally being allowed to leave the Hospital wing. Yes, it was only for a few hours, but that didn't really matter, as he was going to be completely in Hermione's care.
Madam Pomfrey had decided that Harry needed to get out of bed and move around to prevent his muscles from atrophying, at least that's what she had said the night before. Hermione thought it was more likely that Harry was driving the school matron nuts by getting out of bed to engage in sit ups and pushups. It was clear to Hermione that Harry was getting better, and simply had an over abundance of energy he needed to burn off.
Hermione hadn't been allowed to remain at Harry's side as she wished she could have been. She had been forced to return to classes after two days at Harry's side when it was clear that he was out of danger. Hermione had spent all her time outside of classes and meals with Harry. She tended to work on her assignments while Harry slept. Having her studies to occupy her helped to prevent her from overanalyzing the situation, especially as she had yet to speak to Harry on the current state of their relationship. He had not told her that he loved her since that night he'd been brought back to the castle. Although, he hadn't been awake much, and when he was, he was pretty doped up.
Hermione finished her cereal and quickly made her way out of the Great Hall. It was still very early, and hardly anyone was partaking in the morning meal yet. She had been awake very early this morning, and gotten her morning workout, even before Neville, who'd sort of stepped up to lead the defense club.
She wasn't exactly certain why, but Hermione felt a growing anxiety about being alone with Harry again. While it was true that they had spent a lot of time on their own over the last few days, Harry was recovering from his injuries, and meant he slept a lot. But, when he was awake, it still wasn't quite as nice as it could have been, as Madam Pomfrey seemed to hover to make sure Harry didn't do anything to hamper his recovery.
Today however, Hermione was going to be allowed to take Harry on a walk around the grounds without supervision. Other people would be in classes and they would be all on their own. Hermione also knew that this would be the perfect time for them to finally clear the air between them, and figure out where they were in their relationship. If they had any chance of moving forward, they needed to open up to one another.
"Miss Granger, are you aware of the time?" Madam Pomfrey confronted the Gryffindor as she entered the infirmary. Hermione blanched a bit but nodded.
"Just past six, Madam." Hermione said, finding it difficult to look at the school matron.
"I know you must be as anxious as Mister Potter is to escort him on the grounds this morning, but it is still far too early. He isn't even awake yet, much less had a decent breakfast or his medicine." Pomfrey scolded, though it was quite clear she wasn't truly upset. In fact, Hermione swore she saw the hint of a smile on the matron's lips.
"I… uh…" Hermione stammered but Madam Pomfrey shook her head, and nodded towards Harry's bed.
"Go on." The matron smiled. "But do not wake him."
Hermione nodded with a smile and hurried down to the end of the infirmary, thinking to herself that it was highly likely that Harry was in fact awake already, and ready to bolt from the infirmary just as soon as he had permission.
She wasn't wrong.
Harry was sitting up in his bed looking very uncomfortable. He kept readjusting himself, trying to get comfortable. Hermione remembered that Harry had been told in no uncertain terms that if Madam Pomfrey caught him trying to exercise again before he was released, she would use a body bind curse on him, and keep him there for a month.
"Good morning." Hermione said when she saw him. Harry looked up and grimaced.
"It will be when I get out of here." He scowled. Hermione gave him a sympathetic smile and came to sit in the chair beside his bed. She took his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze to try and get him to relax.
Nearly all of his bandages were gone now. The areas of his body which had been burned were smooth once again, though the new skin still had an angry red tinge to it. His hair had grown back fully. Only his left eye remained bandaged now, though Madam Pomfrey was sure that his eye was healing quite nicely.
"Well, Madam Pomfrey's not going to let you out of her sight until she knows you've eaten a proper breakfast. And I'm not going to let you go crazy today. I don't want to make her mad by letting you over exert yourself. If she says no running, that means no running. I'll be very upset if you make me stun you." Hermione warned.
"I promise." Harry said, his grimace melting a bit as he looked up at her. He reached out to take her hand, which made her smile widen a bit. It was nice to have him off his pain medication. As silly as he was, she actually missed talking to him normally.
"How are you feeling otherwise?" Hermione probed. "I mean mentally."
Harry sighed and thought for a few moments.
"I'm not really sure. I mean, I haven't thought too much about it, but that could mostly be because I've been sort of out of it." Harry motioned his head towards where they could hear Madam Pomfrey bustling about.
" I suppose I should feel angry at myself, or something, but in all honesty, I feel like I succeeded." Harry shrugged.
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked intrigued.
"I knew before I went up against him that I wasn't going to beat him. At least, not that night. But I had to fight him because I had to know how he moved, do you know what I mean? I needed to see how he used his power so I could see where his strengths and weaknesses were." Harry explained.
"I don't understand." Hermione confessed. "You didn't stop to watch the Death Eaters at Neville's party and you beat them easily."
"I didn't need to. Most Death Eaters fight the same way. They use fear, and numbers to gain their victories and don't expect anyone to oppose them. They usually don't expect people to resist them, so when someone does stand up, it throws them off. You can usually take two, maybe even three down before they realize what's going on. The problem is that most people aren't trained to really fight, and the Death Eaters always outnumber their victims."
"How does that differ from Voldemort himself?" Hermione asked.
"He actually wants you to fight back." Harry stated. "He wants to get in your head and under your skin to make you angry so you attack him without thinking."
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked her curiosity piquing.
"He kept taunting me. I think he was trying to get me to attack him first or something." Harry explained. "I think he's constantly trying to prove to himself and his audience that he is the greatest magic user that has ever lived. He also draws out the duel for longer than necessary. He wants to be in control all the time. I think that's something I can exploit."
Harry fell silent as he began to think about it while Hermione gave him a nervous smile, and squeezed his hand. They remained that way for a few minutes until Harry turned to find Hermione giving him a bit of an anxious look.
"I'm not going after him today." He assured her. Hermione gave a soft grateful smile and looked away as she heard Madam Pomfrey approaching.
"I know that I shouldn't be surprised to see you up already, but I do wish you would at least pretend to be sleeping." The matron huffed as she entered the curtained off area. She whipped out her wand and waved it at Harry. A mess of symbols appeared in front of Harry's face, and the Matron nodded and smiled happily.
"Alright." She said, bending towards Harry. "Let's take a look, shall we?"
She reached out and tenderly removed the bandage over Harry's left eye. Hermione smiled with relief when she saw his eyelid was back, though it looked just as pink as the rest of his newly healed flesh.
Slowly, Harry opened his eye and Hermione felt a flood of relief. The eye itself looked raw and bloodshot, but Hermione could see that it was whole again, and not a lump of bloody goop resting in the socket. Hermione hated the idea of Harry having a magical replacement like Moody had worn. Not that she cared about Harry's appearance, but more about how Harry might feel having to use a replacement appendage. Or that he might blame her for it.
"Yes, that looks good." Madam Pomfrey declared inspecting Harry's eye. "Very good indeed. Now, why you are out today, I will have you wearing a fresh bandage, but, when you return, I will have you remove it. You'll need to get used to bright light again, and it will be better to slowly acclimate your eye rather than have it scorched by the sunshine today. Also, no running or any other type of exertion. Walk today. Tomorrow, we will see, am I understood?"
Harry gave a curt nod, and Madam Pomfrey harrumphed as she turned and left the teens again. Harry hoped it was to get him breakfast so he could get out of bed at last.
Hermione was gazing at her boyfriend as they sat in silence. He was fidgeting as bad as a nervous first year before the sorting ceremony, and it made her laugh to herself. She'd never seen Harry so anxious before. She knew it was because he was sick of being in bed, and she couldn't blame him really. No one liked being in the hospital. But Hermione was sure that Harry had never been forced to remain stationary for so long. It was this thought that made her wonder about some of his upbringing.
"Harry, have you ever been hurt before? I mean like have you ever hurt yourself and wound up in the hospital before?"
"I broke my leg once, and I've had plenty of falls and bruises and little things. But I've never been in a hospital before. Even during my little coma I was at headquarters. Remus was always pretty good about fixing me up ok, so there was never a need." Harry shrugged.
"What about vaccinations and things like that?" Hermione asked. Harry just shrugged. Hermione knew that he probably didn't know and guesses madam Pomfrey likely updated anything he needed during his treatment anyway.
"Is there anywhere special you want to go to today?" Hermione asked changing topics. Harry shook his head, watching to see if Madam Pomfrey was coming back with breakfast.
"As far away from here as I can get is good for me." Harry replied. Hermione snickered at him and shook her head.
"I will do what I can." She promised.
Madam Pomfrey came in again levitating a large tray of food for Harry, which she set before him.
"Remember to take your potions before you eat. When you're finished, I will come and rebandage your eye, and then you may go." The Matron advised before leaving once again.
Harry nodded, and dove into his rather large breakfast. Harry was a pretty fast eater, though he was nowhere near as disgusting as Ron Weasley. However today, Hermione wasn't sure Harry was even chewing his food."
"If you don't slow down, you're going to make yourself sick, and she'll never let you go." Hermione warned. Harry heeded her, and slowed down significantly, which made her chuckle softly.
Fifteen minutes later, Harry had consumed every last crumb, and was slipping out of his blankets. Hermione rose with him and followed him to Madam Pomfrey's office. The matron gave him one more potion to drink, and placed a fresh bandage on his eye before telling him that she wanted him back in the infirmary by lunch. Hermione promised she would bring him back and then led him out of the hospital wing.
"I want a shower." Harry said when they had crossed the threshold. Hermione turned, and began leading him to Gryffindor tower. It was still very early, and while she was sure there would be people awake, most of the Lions would still be snug in their beds.
"You should be able to get one in peace. I don't think any of your roommates will be awake yet, so they won't hound you with questions about where you've been or what happened." Hermione said as they reached the stairs.
"And they would be less likely to notice you in there with me." Harry said. Hermione felt her face heat up and she shook her head.
"Harry I can't…"
"You promised Madam Pomfrey to keep me from exerting myself." Harry said, and Hermione noticed a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. She slapped his arm and laughed.
"You're not supposed to over exert yourself, remember?" She laughed. "I'm pretty positive that you would if I took a shower with you."
"Maybe. But I can't think of a better reason to end up back in the hospital." Harry replied. His joke sobered Hermione a bit, and her laughter faded into silence. She gave him a look that told him it had been a bad joke, to which he merely shrugged. Then, to her surprise. He took her in his arms, and gave her a long, searing kiss that made her toes curl in her shoes. His right hand held her in the small of her back, while the other was on the back of her neck, holding her tightly, pressing her body into his.
He finally released her, and their kiss faded into small lingering kisses. Hermione found she was breathing as if she'd sprinted around the Quidditch pitch all morning.
"What was that for?' She panted. Harry looked at her longingly and smiled.
"Because it's been too long since we've really kissed." He smirked. Hermione couldn't help smiling dreamily at him, and wrapped her arms around his left bicep and led him to Gryffindor tower, almost floating on air.
About thirty minutes later, Harry returned to the Gryffindor Common Room now showered and feeling loads better. He had fresh clothes on and a grateful smile as he sat next to his girlfriend on one of the sofas to lace up his boots. Common Room was still rather empty, though occasionally a few people would come down from the dorms on their way to the Great Hall.
"So now where do you want to go?" Hermione asked, as she watched him tie his shoes.
"Wherever it is you want to go to have the discussion you've been dying to have with me." Harry said, making Hermione look a bit startled.
"How did you know I wanted…"
"You've had this look on your face for the last three days. It's the same look you used to get when the Slytherins would come around to taunt you. Like you're waiting for something really bad to happen to you and you're trying to figure a way to stop it from happening." Harry said as he finished tying up his boots and got to his feet.
"Plus, Lavender came by yesterday and told me you've been kind of uptight lately. She figured you might be feeling guilty or something and would want to talk about it." Harry added.
Hermione sighed heavily and swore she would strangle her blonde friend later that day.
Hermione accepted Harry's offered hand and the couple headed outside to enjoy some fresh air, and to clear the air between them. Nary was a word spoken between them until they had stepped out onto the grounds. Harry inhaled deeply, reveling in the smell of spring.
"You're right, I have wanted to talk to you Harry." Hermione admitted at last. "I've barely been able to function while you've been recovering. I've felt so guilty because of what I said to you. I don't want you to change who you are, Harry. I love you exactly how you are. I wasn't trying to make you choose me over your duty, I was just scared that… I was scared. I've never had a boyfriend before, and I was becoming possessive over you. I didn't want to share you, especially not with a war. I want you to know though that I won't ever do that again. I will always support you, Harry and I…"
"Hermione." Harry cut her off, and turned her to face him. Something in his eyes made Hermione's heart pound in her chest, but it wasn't from fear, or worry. He was looking at her in a way that made her weak at the knees, and her hands feel sweaty. Like she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
"When I left that night, I admit I was angry. But it wasn't you I was angry with. I was angry with Sirius, and Remus, and Moody, and everyone who's had a hand in raising me, or protecting me. I was angry at Voldemort for being the reason someone like me is even needed. But mostly, I was angry at myself. I wanted to stay with you that night, more than you could possibly know, but all I could see was the people who would die because I didn't act. I saw you. I saw what could happen to you one day if I didn't do all I could to end this war." Harry rambled. He took a deep breath, and pulled away from her a bit.
Hermione's heart felt as if it was being squeezed in her chest, but remained silent.
"I've been wrestling with all these feelings and everything since we met, Hermione. But that night, when Voldemort looked into my eyes, and pushed his way into my head, I finally understood. I was sure I was going to die and all I could think of at that moment was that I was never going to see you again."
Hermione felt tears stinging her eyes now, and wanted to close the gap between them and hold him and never let go. He kept her at bay with the look in his eyes. He needed her to hear this, and understand.
"I started thinking about you. From the moment we met until that night, and how I felt when I was with you. What it felt like to kiss your lips, or just hold you while we sat in the Common Room, or how close we got in France. All of those memories filled me with warmth, and the fear I had started to disappear, and then I felt Voldemort pull out of my mind. He was screaming, and that's when I knew what Dumbledore had told me was true. I also knew then without a single doubt that I loved you."
Harry reached out, and grabbed Hermione, pulling her close to him. He stared deep into her chocolate brown pools as if searching for something only he knew was there. Slowly, he drew her closer until his lips pressed against hers. It was soft at first, hesitant. And slowly, it deepened and Hermione slipped her arms around his neck, and began to hold on as if her life depended on it. Hermione knew now that her feelings weren't unrequited. Harry loved her. He loved her, and it was his love for her that kept him from dying that night.
She suddenly wished very much to show him how much she loved him in return, but couldn't think of a good private place. Also, she kept picturing having to explain to Madam Pomfrey why Harry was in worse shape than when they had left that morning.
Slowly the kiss ended and they wound up just standing there, holding each other with their foreheads touching.
"So, that's what you meant when you said I hurt him?" Hermione asked in a soft whisper. Harry pulled back with a confused expression on his face. Hermione felt the laughter bubbling up in her chest, and couldn't stop it from bursting forth.
"When did I say that?' Harry asked.
"The same day you told Lavender to snog Neville." Hermione laughed.
"I what?" Harry exclaimed.
"Madam Pomfrey had pumped you full of pain potions." Hermione explained.
"Ugh." Harry replied, shaking his head. "I hate feeling that out of control."
"Hermione gave him a nod of understanding as they began walking again.
"So, did see take my advice then?" Harry wondered.
Hermione grinned. "She did actually. They're not together yet though, but I think they will be eventually."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked.
"Well, Lavender told me later that they talked a lot after they left." Hermione started, Harry shook his head in bewilderment
"I can't believe it. She really kissed him?" Harry asked, sounding impressed.
"Right in front of us. Though, I think you had fallen asleep by then. Anyway, they went and talked about everything, and Lavender admitted that she had liked him since New Year's. She told him that she'd tried to be supportive of him and Hannah, but that it was killing her inside. Neville told her that he liked her, but was afraid that he would just be another guy to her. He also said that he didn't want to hold it against her, but he was worried about her cheating on him, and that he wanted something really special. Lavender said that was what she wanted as well, and they decided that they needed to work on things with themselves." Hermione explained.
"So, they aren't together now?" Harry wondered. Hermione shrugged.
"No, but they're spending more time together. I think they're taking things slow, and seeing if maybe it's a passing fancy, or if it is something deeper. Plus, we're so close to the end of the year, I think they're both afraid that their feelings might change over the summer."
"Can that happen?" Harry asked, a little frightened.
"Sometimes." Hermione admitted. "Some relationships just don't last. Sometimes, feelings change, and people fall out of love."
"I don't want that to happen to us." Harry said firmly, looking to Hermione imploringly.
"I don't either." She agreed.
"How do we prevent it?" He asked. Hermione smiled and leaned her head on his shoulder.
"We just take it one day at a time, I guess." She sighed.
They had reached the shore of the Black lake and stood together in comfortable silence. Occasionally, Harry would turn to her, and kiss her gently, making her smile. This was how she had always imagined it would be. Just the way she had seen other couples together. Side by side, holding hands and just enjoying the togetherness. Hermione wanted to freeze this moment in time forever.
"The school year's almost over.' Hermione said after a long time. "Where are you going to go during the summer?"
Harry shrugged. "No one's said anything to me about it yet."
"Do you know if you'll be coming back next year?" Hermione asked when she suddenly realized that he might not return to school to Hogwarts. Their relationship suddenly felt fragile. She wanted to cling to him, and never let go as she felt as if everything was slipping through her fingers.
"I hope so." Harry said evenly. "I don't know that I want to go back to how things were before. If I couldn't see my friends again… I don't know if I could accept that."
"And what about us?" Hermione asked.
"What about us?" Harry looked up into her chocolate brown eyes, clearly confused by her question.
"Well, if they don't let you come back… I mean, how can we make things work between us if we never get to see each other?" Hermione asked trepidatiously. Harry gave her, her favorite smile, the one that was only barely there, but shined in his eyes. He gave her hand a squeeze and leaned into her, grazing her lips with his.
"I just told you that I loved you and that my greatest fear was never seeing you again… do you really think I would let anyone keep me from you?" Harry asked pointedly. Hermione felt the knot in her chest loosen, and she shook her head.
"Sorry, I guess I'm just insecure. I've never had anything like this. It's why I acted the way I did. I was being selfish in trying to keep you with me. I knew how you felt about fighting the war, and all." Hermione sighed, watching the water lap against the bank of the lake.
Hermione noted that Harry was looking towards the Forbidden Forest rather intently.
"Harry?" She asked tentatively. "What is it?"
"I don't know." Harry said, taking a step forward towards the tree line. "I thought…"
Hermione waited several moments, as she scanned the edge of the forest for whatever had caught Harry's attention.
"Maybe it's nothing. Residual effects of all those damn potions Madam Pomfrey forced down my throat." Harry said. Hermione wasn't as convinced as Harry began leading her away from the lake and closer to the castle.
"Have you been keeping up with you exercise and everything?" Harry asked when they got nearer the castle. Hermione hesitated, but decided Harry would know if she lied.
"Until today, I haven't. I spent all the time I could with you. Last night I realized you'd be upset that I hadn't, so I got up extra early to get back on track. Neville's been running the Defense club in your absence, and Lavender says he's doing a pretty good job of it."
"You'll need to work harder then." Harry said with a sigh. "There's about two and a half months left in the year, and I need to be certain you can handle yourself."
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked curiously.
"I'm going to ask if you can be with me over the summer. I expect we'll be moving around a bit, and tracking Voldemort's forces. If you can't handle yourself in a fight, they might be too worried about your safety to allow you to go. So, I have to make sure that…"
"Sirius said I should stay out of the fight. That you might be too distracted in a battle if I was with you." Hermione said in disbelief.
"Sirius is an idiot." Harry replied with a smirk. "He doesn't really know just how smart you are. What we need to do is turn that intelligence into something that will make you a formidable enemy. It needs to become instinct. And we're going to start right now." Harry said, grabbing her hand and heading for the Quidditch pitch.
"I told Madam Pomfrey…" Hermione began to protest.
"I'm not going to be doing anything.' Harry said.
Harry was as good as his word. He didn't even unsheathe his wand. Instead, he spent the next three hours making Hermione cast three spells over and over and over again. The Shield charm, the Disarming charm, and the Bludgeoning hex. Over and over again, Harry would shout one out, and Hermione would cast it. On top of that, he made her move as if she were dodging on coming spells as he paced back and forth behind her, watching her.
Hermione pushed herself to make Harry proud. She couldn't help feel exhilaration at the fact that he wanted her with him this summer, and was willing to work with her to make sure she could fight if the need arose. She also felt thrilled that Harry wanted her at his side, despite Sirius' warning that it might distract him in battle.
On the other hand, she was curious why Harry only wanted her to use these three specific spells. He knew that her repertoire of spells was rather large. But, it wasn't until they were heading back to the castle that she could ask him about it.
"Repetition." Harry said evenly. "I've told you before that there is no time to think during a battle, and those three spells can, and will save your life. I need them to be so ingrained in you that you won't even think, you'll just use them. When you get those down, we'll start adding more spells, but for now…"
Hermione nodded her understanding, and they walked back to the hospital wing, hand in hand, with Harry grumbling the whole way about having to be locked up again.
Madam Pomfrey was waiting for them when they returned, and removed the bandage on Harry's eye so that he could start strengthening it. Hermione promised to visit him later than night as she only had permission to miss morning classes. She left him with a lingering kiss before heading to lunch where Neville and Lavender were waiting to hear how Harry was doing and when he might be rejoining them all.
"It won't take much, Albus.' Amelia Bones said wearily. "He could easily take the Ministry right now. We know he's got his spies in place and with everything in such a state of chaos after Rufus's murder… I just don't know why he hasn't yet."
"It really doesn't make sense." Kingsley Shacklebolt agreed.
"Actually it does." Dumbledore countered. "Tom has always enjoyed theatrics. He's reminding the people why we should fear him. That no one is safe from him. From the lowest most impoverished family, to the highest member of government, no one is safe from him. He's building a stronger, more fearsome reputation for when he does make his final move."
Amelia rose from her seat and went to the cabinet where Dumbledore kept his brandy, and poured a glass.
"I spoke to Sirius, and he agreed to take me and Susan in should the need arise. I've also encouraged my Aurors to set up safe houses for themselves and their families." The Head ot the Department of Law Enforcement informed the Headmaster. "We've also put the final protections on some of our new safe houses for the Order, in case we need them."
"We may." Dumbledore sighed.
"This is going to turn into a guerilla war." Kingsley observed.
"It has been all along." Dumbledore sighed. "If Fudge had listened to me in the beginning, then things might be different to be sure, but he refused. Voldemort has fought a very smart war this time around. He's learned from the mistakes of the past and capitalized on much of our government's corruption, much of which I am sure his forces instigated. But soon, things will change, and we will become the guerillas, for lack of a better word."
"How long before you think Voldemort will make his final push, and finally take over the government?" Amelia asked as she finished her brandy.
"I fear it will be sooner than we would like if something isn't done soon." The Headmaster frowned. "It was my hope that things would be more in our favor. But after what happened at Malfoy Manor…"
"And you're still unsure if the objective was successful or not?" Amelia asked. Dumbledore nodded.
"The only way I can think of would be to go there myself, but I am unsure if that would give me any certainty. Any residual magic may have already dissipated by now. And we weren't even positive that Malfoy was a keeper of one of the items. It was an educated guess at best." Dumbledore admitted.
"What would happen if we killed Voldemort first and then hunted for these… artifacts?' Kingsley asked. Amelia looked up, clearly intrigued herself. She wondered if anyone had asked that particular question before.
"I believe he now knows for certain that we are hunting his abominations.' Dumbledore practically spat. "We have found and destroyed three, and if my suspicions are correct, he cannot access the one which rests within Gringott's. However, should he take the Ministry, that will change, and he might hide it somewhere else. As it stands, we should assume that the one we sought at Malfoy Manor has been hidden again. His serpent is always with him, and was always meant to be the last one disposed of. After his original defeat at Godric's Hollow, I suspect he now has several plans in place to prevent such a prolonged exile. No, we must find and destroy all of the Horcruxes now, then finish our enemy once and for all."
Kingsley looked severely disappointed, but resiegned to things for the moment. No one wanted the war to drag on any longer than they had to, but as their enemy had taken such enormous steps to prevent defeat, it was becoming a real strain on those doing the fighting.
"How is Harry doing?" Amelia asked.
"I am told he is healing extraordinarily quickly." Dumbledore smiled softly. "I have heard he is already trying to escape Madam Pomfrey's care. I am planning on speaking to him later this evening, as I have questions regarding what took place that night."
"That is good to hear." Amelia said, though her tone carried no happiness. "We need to get back to the Ministry."
Dumbledore rose from his seat to walk Amelia and Kingsley to the door.
"Albus, I can't get over this feeling that something very bad is about to happen. I don't know what, but…" Amelia said heavily.
"I wish I had words of comfort for you, but I fear you are right. Lord Voldemort has suffered too many losses in the past few months, and it is likely he has reached the limit to his patience. I do not believe that we will get a respite from his cruelty for some time, unless we can accomplish what we need to in order to really take the fight to him. Meanwhile, constant vigilance."
Amelia and Shacklebolt both smiled sadly at those words as they turned to go. Dumbledore shut the door behind them and sighed softly as he returned to his desk. His familiar, Fawkes, gave a soft musical trill and the Headmaster regards the phoenix with a grateful smile.
"I wish I felt as confident as your songs make me feel, my friend." The old man said with a appreciative smile. "But I can't help think that something truly dreadful is about to happen. I fear we are about to suffer a great blow."
"I can't believe Madam Pomfrey let you out." Hermione tittered as she and her boyfriend walked the third floor.
"It's only for a few hours, and I think she was getting sick of me trying to jog around the hospital wing." Harry snickered. "I think she's regretting letting me out this morning."
"Well, whatever the reason, I'm happy. I was getting tired of spending time there as well. I felt like I couldn't kiss you or anything." Hermione admitted. To emphasize her point, she captured his lips with her own for a long heated snog.
"I think she might have accused you of preventing me from resting and not allowed you back if you did that in the infirmary." Harry said slightly out of breath when they broke the kiss.
"And she would likely have put me on the other end of the room if I hurt myself just so I could be there. I think she's got a bit of a cruel streak in her." Hermione grimaced.
Both of them laughed softly at that.
"I think Professor Dumbledore may have convinced her to let me get out for a while. I think he could see I was starting to go mental." Harry continued.
"What did he want anyway?" Hermione asked.
"He wanted to know what happened between me and Voldemort that night. Dumbledore was quite intrigued by what happened when Voldemort tried to get into my head. He's had more than a few theories on Voldemort and I. You know, he thinks that if I actually touched Voldemort it could seriously hurt him. Like I've got some kind of protection in my blood that would seriously hurt him if I ever managed to get my hands on him." Harry snorted.
"That's an intriguing theory." Hermione looked disbelievingly. "If that were true, you could just run up and hug him and end it all."
"If only it could be that easy." Harry chortled. "Besides, I don't think hugging Voldemort would be even remotely as nice as when I hug you. Plus, I get the feeling that he smells really bad."
Harry suddenly stopped and turned to look behind them. The hall was empty and with the sun setting outside, it was growing darker.
"You okay?" Hermione asked. He'd been doing this a lot in the last hour.
"Yeah." Harry said evenly.
"Are you certain?" Hermione pressed. "You've been kind of jumpy tonight."
Harry turned around and shrugged.
"I don't know. I just… I…"
Harry whipped around, shoving Hermione hard to the side as a sinister red spell smacked into the floor right where Harry had been standing a moment before. Two more spells leapt from out of nowhere reaching out for Harry who rolled both himself and Hermione to the side, only barely avoiding them as Hermione's screams echoed through the corridor.
Harry leapt up with his wand in his hand, ready to take down his new enemy, but there was no one there. In fact, the hall had become deathly silent once again. The torches came to life, chasing away the growing dark, and Harry jumped slightly at the collective whoosh of flames.
The hall appeared empty, save for himself and Hermione who was now getting up as well. Harry was happy to see she had her wand out, ready to deflect anything that came at them. But there was nothing. Harry took a deep breath, and lowered his eyes. He knew there was someone there. He'd known for a while. He had heard the occasional footstep behind them. He'd felt them almost, as if they'd affected the very air around the castle. More importantly, he was sure they'd been there all day long. He'd sworn he'd seen someone at the edge of the forbidden forest earlier.
"Homino…" Harry began, but another red spell flashed, and Harry had to dodge to his right to avoid it. Hermione skipped left, and the spell passed between them. The Gryffindor witch glanced at her boyfriend, and brought up her own wand.
Homino revelio!" Hermione shouted. A poisonous green spell flashed, and Harry leapt across the corridor, knocking his girlfriend to the ground again. The spell tore into the wall, gouging a deep crater where Hermione's head had been. Hermione's spell had worked however, and four silhouettes appeared in red down the hall.
"Gods damn it!" one of the enemies shouted, and canceled his disillusionment charm. She was a slender woman with sleek black hair, and deep set brown eyes. She had the bearing of someone of privilege. Hermione swore she recognized the girl as being a former Slytherin, though she didn't know the girls name, as she had been two years older at least
"You're dead Mudblood." She snapped, her wand coming to bear on Hermione. The Gryffindor didn't cower however. In fact, she began to get very, very angry. Without thought, Hermione bombarded the woman with more and more powerful Bludgeoning hexes. The former Slytherin woman attempted to get a shield up, but Hermione's spells shattered them as if they were little more than smoke. The woman was hit in the chest by Hermione's third spell, and sent hurtling down the hall where she crashed into a suit of armor.
Hermione had no time to celebrate her success as a second enemy, still under the cover of their disillusionment spell, fired no less than seven hexes at the brunette. Harry managed to protect her from the worst, but a cutting hex clipped her forehead, and she fell backwards to avoid another spell, only to smash the back of her head on the stone floor when she lost her balance.
Harry let out a roar and conjured a wall of spikes which shot down the hall. It exploded before it hit anything, and there was laughter which rang as loud as church bells to Harry. Hermione gave a soft groan and Harry felt a wash of relief. He turned back and saw three sillouettes squared off in front of Harry.
"Still weak, eh Potter? Not back to your full…urk!"
Harry fired a piercing hex which landed right in the throat of the middle enemy. It had clearly been the speaker as the male voice fell silent as the enemy fell. The floor in front of Harry exploded, and he was sent flying head over heels, landing heavily on his back. Before he could get to his feet, he was hit in the side of his ribs with a bludgeoning hex. Harry cursed loudly as he felt and heard his bones crack.
He rolled in an attempt to get back on his feet when he heard laughter. Harry knew that he was at a disadvantage as he was not in top form. He was sure he could win this battle, but it was going to cost him. With a sigh, Harry struggled to get up when he was hit in the leg with a bonebreaker.
Harry gritted his teeth to keep from screaming as he rolled, launching a flurry of spells. He bit back a smile when he heard what was unmistakably the sound of a heavy body landing on the stone floor. There was a hissed curse, and the last of the invisible enemies fired something at Harry which might have finished him if not for the sudden appearance of a shield in front of Harry.
The spell echoed like a gong, and Harry sighed slightly when he glimpsed his rescuer.
Hermione was on her feet again, though she swayed badly. Blood was matted in her hair, and on the right side of her face, but her expression looked murderous.
"It is in your best interest to back the fuck away from my boyfriend!" She snarled. Harry's eyebrows went up in disbelief, as he couldn't remember ever hearing Hermione utter a swear word, much less looking so damn scary.
"Oh, I've waited a long time for this, Mudblood." Laughed the final foe.
Hermione's blood turned to ice in her veins. There was no mistaking the aristocratic, holier-than-thou drawl of Draco Malfoy. She had thought for sure that she had heard the last of it when the little weasel had run off when he'd lost his duel to Harry two months ago.
Hermione turned to Harry who was still on his hands and knees on the floor, coughing. He was not really in the condition to help, and the look on his face told her that he was certain that she had this. He believed in her, and it filled her up with confidence. After all… it was Draco Malfoy.
The same Draco Malfoy who'd always whipped her in any duel. The same Draco Malfoy who'd humiliated her, and made her so miserable for five years. The single most hateful person Hermione had ever known. The boy who'd effectively torn her down and made her feel as if she were less than dirt.
All at once anger boiled within her as she had never known. She gripped her wand tighter and squared her shoulders.
"I'm not going to tell you again, Malfoy." Hermione said in a voice as hard as the stone which made Hogwarts.
Draco Malfoy cancelled his disillusionment spell, and stood between Hermione and Harry, smirking righteously. He looked nearly the same as the last time she'd seen him, save for the midnight black robes, which she had seen other Death Eaters wearing. He sneered at her, his eyes boring into hers.
"You've never been able to beat me, mudblood. I'm going to make you watch as I… ULP!"
Harry launched himself at Draco, taking his legs out from under him. Draco elbowed Harry hard in his broken ribs, and rolled away from the black haired boy. He reached into his robes as he righted himself and then he threw something on the ground. All at once, the corridor went impossibly black. Hermione felt as if the sudden darkness was suffocating her.
"Harry?" She whispered with anxious trepidation.
"Peruvian Darkness Powder.' Harry replied near her now, sounding out of breath. "Hermione, be careful."
"What's going on?"
"It's really dark down there!"
"Find a teacher!" Hermione shouted to the voices of students. "Hurry, there are Death Eaters here!"
"That isn't funny."
"It's no joke, look!"
"Who is that?"
"I'm going to get Flitwick!"
There was the sound of running footsteps, and Hermione began to relax slightly, only to feel something strike the side of her head. She shrieked when she felt something hit her across the face again, and she stumbled back. She tripped over something, and realized when she landed that it was the body of one of the Death Eaters. She next felt someone stomp on her stomach, which made her curl up and moan with pain.
"You've been nothing but a pain in my arse since you came to this school, mudblood."
Draco said as he stomped on her stomach a second time, knocking the wind out of her. "When The Dark Lord asked for volunteers to end your life, I leapt at the chance. The fact that it will make Potter miserable is just a bonus. Goodbye, Granger."
"Bombarda Maxima!" Hermione coughed, and she heard the floor in front of her erupt, and a shriek of terror which was silenced a split second later. A few seconds after that, the darkness began to ebb away, and Hermione felt someone grab her leg. She kicked, and cried out, but Harry's voice cut through her terror, and began to calm her down as her boyfriend took her into his arms, and held her protectively.
"Well, done, Angel." He kept saying over and over again. The darkness finally dissipated completely, and Hermione could see where her spell had ripped a huge crater in the floor, and a short distance away, a body lay amongst the rubble.
"Stay here." Harry said, getting to his feet painfully. The first thing he did was cast a shining patronus, which dashed off down the hall as Harry turned to approach the body of Draco Malfoy. Hermione's spell had done the job. Harry saw where his own piercing hex had hit the blonde Slytherin in the shoulder, likely right as Hermione cast her own.
However, it was Hermione's spell that had ended the Slytherin Prince's life once and for all. The spell had torn Malfoy apart below the waist. Harry conjured a blanket and covered what remained of the Malfoy scion, deciding it was not something Hermione needed to see at the moment. He then bent down, and collected Malfoy's wand for the Aurors. Holding his ribs and wincing, Harry turned to the body Hermione had tripped over, and tapped it with his wand, cancelling the disillusionment spell.
"Mister Potter?" Professor Flitwick called out as the tiny charms professor rounded the corner. "What has happened?"
"We were attacked." Harry replied, barely aware of being spoken to as he stared at the man lying unconscious before him. "I think Hermione might be hurt."
"H-harry?" Hermione said, reaching for her boyfriend. He was staring incredulously at a rather heavy set balding man with a pointed nose, and graying facial hair.
"Harry!" Professor Dumbledore shouted as he appeared behind Professor Flitwick. The short Charms Professor was clearly confused by the scene before him.
"Sir." Harry said, finally looking up at the Headmaster. "It's Pettigrew."
"I can't believe it." Sirius said, turning the thick folded parchment over in his hands, a look of nostalgia on his face. "I thought it was gone forever."
Remus sat in Dumbledore's office, looking at his best friend holding what had thought to be a lost treasure. A map that took the better part of four years to put together between four close friends in order to pull of the ultimate pranks without being caught. The Marauder's Map.
"I thought Filch destroyed it when he took it from us in our sixth year." Remus added.
"So did I." Sirius agreed. "James and I searched his office just before graduation. It was our intention to pass it on to our own children one day. Clearly the rat beat us to it, and had it all these years. Makes me wonder how long he was loyal to Snakeface."
"Please explain it to me once again." Albus Dumbledore rubbed his temples. "You four created a map of the school that shows where every person is at any time?"
"Exactly." Sirius said. "We never completed it. There was still loads of passages and rooms we never discovered. But we had discovered everyone of the passages out of the school."
"Which is clearly how Wormtail and his merry band of butt nibblers got in." Remus observed. "But why did they send Draco?"
"Maybe he really did volunteer like Hermione said. He could have been trying to earn the Dark mark." Sirius theorized. "He would have been driven to revenge after his mother's death, not to mention being humiliated by Harry. And if it's like you said Albus, and Voldemort thinks killing Hermione would weaken Harry… who better to send to kill her than the one boy who spent so long taunting her."
"That does make sense." Dumbledore nodded. "I would greatly appreciate your help in closing all the secret passages into this school to prevent further attacks."
Both men nodded, looking almost like they were still in school, and had just been caught sneaking into the girls locker room or something.
"When will we get a chance to question him?" Remus asked, his nostalgic smile slipping off his face. Sirius 's countenance also become more stern.
"I do have a few things I'd like to ask the rat." He grumbled.
"Amelia assures me that when she finishes her interrogation, we will be granted time with Pettigrew. I think we should count ourselves lucky that the Death Eaters didn't catch Harry asleep in the infirmary." Dumbledore sighed as he went to the window.
"They'd be lucky to catch him asleep." Sirius smirked. "We were never able to sneak up on him."
"Not even when he was young." Remus nodded. "He used to booby trap his room sometimes."
"Even so, Harry isn't completely healed." Dumbledore said, looking at the two men. "Things could have been much worse. We should considered ourselves lucky Miss Granger was with him."
"Albus, we all know that wasn't luck." Sirius pointed out.
"How is she?' Remus asked. "I can't imagine what she must be feeling after what happened."
Sirius fell silent as he waited for the Headmaster to answer. Hermione Granger was a remarkable young woman, and Sirius had become very fond of her, especially as she was clearly head over heels in love with his godson.
She reminded him a lot of Harry's mother Lily. She was brilliant and practical. She said exactly what was on her mind. And until now… Hermione had been mostly sheltered from the horrors of war. That is, until now anyway.
"She is…" Dumbledore began, looking very upset over the fact one of his students had to kill another. "Coping."
"Coping?" Sirius asked with disbelief. "Is that what you're calling it?"
"That is the only word I can think to describe it." Dumbledore sighed wearily. "She has suffered a traumatic event, and I am sure that she will eventually come to terms with what she had to do last night. If things were different, I would like to send both her and Harry away so he could help her deal with her feelings. Harry is uniquely qualified to help her through this as he's had to take lives, and can relate to her better than most."
"Have her parents been told?" Remus asked.
"I brought them here personally." Dumbledore said. "They are with her and Harry now. I do hope they don't choose to pull their daughter out of school, though I would not blame them if they did. I staked my reputation that this was the safest place for children in all of Great Britain. It seems I was mistaken."
"Maybe we should focus on the positive." Remus declared. "Harry and Hermione managed to capture one of Voldemort's inner circle. We'll be able to learn a lot about the spies within the Ministry, and who know what else. Perhaps we might learn if we managed to destroy the last horcrux after all."
"That would be…"
Everyone turned to the fireplace which had roared to life. Bill Weasley's face was floating within the green flames, looking excited.
"Mister Weasley?" Dumbledore asked as he approached the fire. "What is it?"
"The goblins…" Bill said triumphantly. "They've finally agreed!"