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Chapter 5 : Reunion
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Ron looked to her, but her attention was elsewhere. They were walking down Diagon Alley. A fog, silent but daunting, was creeping back up on the wizarding community, and they didn't know the half of it. Even here in Diagon Alley, things just weren't as they should be. People walked briskly while always looking down and avoiding strangers. The bustling cheer and joy was absent.
It was like dejavu. Hermione had seen times like this before. This was just how it was when Voldemort had returned.
'Impossible,' Hermione had to remind herself.
She and Ron were walking to the Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. The gray world came flush with life as soon as they walked in. All the colors and bangs and flashes and laughter could not help but lift a troubled spirit. Some parents still seemed tense, but not their children, they were alive with laughter and excitement.
This was exactly what Hermione needed. It was like a breath of fresh air. It helped remind her of why she did it, of why she was doing it.
"Hermione!" George cheered happily, spotting her from afar.
He rushed forward, weaving between the short children that hardly reached his waist and took Hermione in a strong bear hug as soon as he reached her.
"Still putting up with this git?" George asked nodding towards Ron.
"Oh, lay off!" Ron chirped in.
"For the time being, I suppose," Hermione answered smiling.
"Well, whats this all about anyways?" Ron asked grumpily.
George frowned at him.
"Straight to business then, nevermind just stopping by to pay your beloved brother a visit?
"You asked us to come by."
"Come on then, if you are going to insist, lets have a bit of tea," George quietted him sternly.
They left the crowded floor via a door in the back that emptied into a long deserted hallway. Several doors lined it on both sides. At the very end was a staircase that led to George's office.
"The Order is having a meeting," he informed them nonchalantly.
"The Order?" both Ron and Hermione turned and asked at once.
"The Order," George answered.
"Here?" Hermione asked.
"But why..." Ron asked George hesitantly, "...he hasn't?"
"No," Hermione instead answered, "but it is Death Eaters, and a good number of his other supporters."
Ron and George both stared at her with surprise.
"But we...only a few were able to...Death Eaters, really?" Ron was unable to complete a sentence.
"Are you two blind? Have you not seen whats been happening ? The recent disappearances. Mrs. Humphery of the Department of Accidents and Catastrophes, Mr. Bagget of Magical Law Enforcement. And just last week Peggy Hopkins found to be under the Imperius Curse...well? This is just how it started last time. Won't be long now until we find someone turned up murdered here in England. Don't get me started on whats been happening abroad."
"Honestly woman, do you have to talk like that," Ron shook his head.
"The Order, when is it?" Hermione asked as they reached his office door, ignoring Ron.
"Today," George answered as he opened the door. His dad and Bill sat within. They both rose to greet them.
"Bill, your scars, they look wonderful! They're healing!" an excited Hermione exclaimed as she pushed her way past Ron and George to greet him.
"I know," Bill smiled. "Did just as you told me, its working great! You're going to make a wonderful Healer!"
"Oi, Bill, didn't anyone tell you, Hermione's training to become an Auror now!" George said with a great sense of pride. Hermione was like a sister to them all.
"Really!" Bill was surprised. "Well I guess it makes sense, considering...thats great news!"
"Well I don't like it," Ron put his own two cents in. Hermione just rolled her eyes.
"Whatever, you're just jealous," George nudged Ron.
"Of what, going out and risking my life all the time...its just plain crazy if you ask me."
"Guess its a good thing no one's asking you," George informed him. Their father stepped forward to give her a hug.
"Congratulations Hermione, I've heard your training has been coming along quite nicely," Mr. Weasley talked over his bickering sons.
"Ha! She's barely started," Ron interrupted, "pushes papers all day long, most boring thing ever!"
Hermione did not correct him.
"Well then, 'bout time to be off," Mr. Weasley instructed them after checking his muggle pocket watch.
Mr. Weasley placed his hand on an old tea kettle which sat atop the table and encouraged everyone else to mimick him.
"See you there," George winked at Hermione as the pot lit up in blue light.
"Where's there?" Hermione asked, but before any could answer, a hook caught them all by the navel and jerked them into darkness.
It wasn't long before their feet came down on the stone floors of the Great Hall of Hogwarts. Everyone else seemed to be appearing at just the same time. Several of the school's professors awaited the arrivals at the head table. Minerva McGonagall stood up.
"Welcome back to Hogwarts, friends," she smiled at them.
Hermione looked around the familiar room with a feel of nostalgia. It seemed so long ago that she had last been here.
Several of her old professors sat at the head table, Horace Slughorn, Septima Vector, Rolanda Hooch, Filius Flitwick, Hargrid, and the newly named Professor Longbottom. To McGonagall's right sat none other than Sir Edward Byron himself.
"If we may, I intend to keep this short and your absences unnoticed," she called everyone to attention.
There were a lot of old faces there, Elphias Doge, Dedalus Diggle, Hestia Jones, Sturgis Podmore. Tons of strength. Hermione smiled at this, it gave her comfort. A few other Aurors were there as well, including Savage and Proudfoot, both of whom Hermione had first met when they were stationed in Hogsmeade to help guard the castle during the war. She also noticed Amos Diggory, Cedric's father, and then there were several other faces she did not recognize.
"Please, if we could all have a seat."
Several tables were arranged in an arc about the head table. All took a seat around the outside so that they were facing one another. McGonagall remained standing.
"Thank you all for coming on such short notice, we wanted to be as discreet as possible."
She paused for a moment to allow all the commotion of screeching chairs to quiet back down. Most seemed unsure of what was going on, just like Ron and Hermione.
"If we could please, thank you," McGonagall called for quiet.
"How wonderful it is to see you all, it has been too long. It is regretable that it is all too often ony troubled times that we finally come back together in such number."
"I mean to get right to it. All of you should be aware of whats happening in the east, even though the Ministry has done its best to keep it hidden. We are tired and worn, worthy a spell of peace, but such is not our time. We know what it is like to be afraid, we have seen neighbor turn on neighbor, but we are here tonight because we are determined not to let that dark cloud retake us without a fight. We will be ready this time. The Ministry has seen fit to order the commisioning of a readied militia. You all are being asked to be members of this militia."
Quiet murmurs erupted from around the room. McGonagall gave it another moment for them to silence.
"Here with us is Sir Byron of the Ministry," she motioned to the noble looking man sitting beside her.
"Thank you Professor," Byron rose as McGonagall sat.
Byron took a moment to look around the tables. He nodded as he did this, as if offering a sign of approval.
"The Order of the Phoenix, I am humbled to be here in your presence. Naturally, I have heard of your many great feats, and of the many great sacrifices you have made," Byron honored them while holding his arms out wide, as if to take them all in.
"Its a true pleasure to be in your company!"
Byron stepped away from his chair and slowly began walking about the tables.
"You know who that is?" Ron whispered excitedly to Hermione. She nodded without looking towards him.
"That's Sir Edward Byron, an Unspeakable!" Ron guffawed.
"Please Ron, I know, now be quiet," Hermione hushed him.
"Dark times threaten us again my dear friends, but this time we will be ready. This time we will stand together. You have been chosen to lead this Grand Militia. We will organize a chain of command, communication channels, and ensure all are readied to counter whatever threat we might face. Each of you will be asked to recruit others to serve under you, and you will help train and prepare them. We pray that peace will hold, but by Merlin should it not, we will be ready."
There were several grunts of approval. Some looked afraid.
"Why we are here today, is that tomorrow the Daily Prophet will report of a coup amongst the slavs."
Murmurs erupted from amongst the members once more. Byron gave it a moment for the news to sink in.
"Whats more, it seems to have gone unnoticed to the wizarding world. Finally, the Minister has seen reason and tomorrow the truth will be out. The Land of the Southern Slavs, Yugoslavia, is united once more, and threatening her neighbors with war. The reach of the enemy is far. The United Kingdom is one of the strongest wizarding nations in the world, the slavs will work tirelessly to weaken us. Already it has been confirmed that their agents have arrived on our very shores, attacked two of our very own Aurors."
The audience grew more uneasy.
"Those responsible have managed to stay mostly in the dark, using the Imperius recklessly to create an unknowing army. We are up against a very daunting enemy. He is determined, skilled, and lethal. We believe there has been a plan long in place, and that we are only now beginning to see it come to fruition. Prepare yourselves."
Murmurs again erupted around the room.
"We fear several other neighboring states are in danger of falling soon. While our Aurors are needed and better served abroad, we need to ensure that we are readied to defend the Motherland. Should the enemy dare to come here, we must ensure we have a worthy army ready to push him back."
"But who's behind it?" someone called out.
"They are known as the Privrzenec, or the Partisans. An army of very capable Slavic wizards who have found many allies across Europe and elsewhere sympathetic to their cause. They are intent on the fall of the Secrecy Statute,and the rise of Pruvodce Clanek, or Wizard Rule. Let us not forget the ancient history of the slavs nor their past aggressions. We are up against a very serious and determined enemy."
"First order of business," Byron promptly changed the subject, "I propose Professor McGonagall to serve as commanding officer of this militia, do I have a majority?"
One after another, all the witches and wizards began raising their hands in support of McGonagall. The professor remained seated, humbly, all the while within her chair.
"Good, thats settled then. She will be responsible for the structuring of the chain of command. Until then, I would ask that you return to your Portkey, we shall bid fairwell for the moment, begin our recruiting and await further order. Thank you."
'Thats it!' all their faces seemed to be screaming, but McGonagall had said that it would be brief.
"Arthur, Elphias, Amos, Hestia, would you mind staying for a moment?" McGonagall asked them.
Mr. Weasley turned to the rest, "Looks that I will be remaining behind for a moment, you all go on."
"What's happening, dad?" Ron asked a bit panicked by the sudden news.
"Later now, you kids go on."
"Kids? Why are you staying?"
But then Byron called over him as the other witches and wizards began leaving via their portkeys.
"Hermione, would you mind waiting behind with us as well?"
Ron looked stunned at Hermione.
'He knows your name?' Ron mouthed speechless.
"Go on, I will meet up with you at the Burrow," Hermione assured him
"Not now!" Hermione sternly whispered. It worked, Ron gave up as Byron's intent gaze fell upon him.
Defeated, he walked over to the portkey with Bill and George. They were one of the last groups to be leaving. Everyone but Byron, McGonagall and the few others they had asked to remain. Ron took hold and turned back to watch Hermione as he was pulled away.
Byron then walked right up to Hermione, standing oddly close to her. He held out what appeared to be some type of magical, antique compass. Hermione recognized a few of the Runes etched about it. Several dials twist and turned about within it.
"I believe we are out of time. We are going to have to get some answers, now, one way or the other."
"What's this?" she asked, referencing the device.
This will take you to Mr. Hawkins," he said calmly.
"What do you expect me to do?" she asked a bit shocked. She was capable of many things, but she didn't just run into battle gun-ho, like some american cowboy.
Byron said nothing more. He stood motionless with the out held compass, staring at Hermione, waiting for her to take it.
Hermione reached for the device. She meant to pull it from his grasp, but his grip was too tight about it. She looked questioningly up at him, that is before the blue light caught her eye. The portkey was transporting them, both of them.
It took them back to Diagon Alley, or Knockturn Alley rather. Hermione and Byron arrived, unnoticed, right at the mouth of it. Byron quickly donned himself in a dark cloak, hooded, and then headed further into the narrow alley. Hermione mimicked him.
She half ran, half walked until she caught up. As soon as she reached him though, he cut sharply and turned into the nearest door. Hermione felt some unknown force grab hold and yank her in behind him. She had no more than been pulled from view than a group of three wizards exited a nearby, unmarked door. Hermione looked from Byron to the three wizards. They were walking right towards them.
They were all talking hurriedly under their breaths. Their voices grew louder and louder as they neared. They were arguing about money, one felt that they, "hadn't been paid a fair portion."
Hermione was worried, what if they were found out? She hoped that Byron could hold his own. Her anxiety was relieved for the moment as they passed by, engrossed by the bickering. Hermione wass then shocked however, as Byron quietly stalked out after them.
"Excuse me," he called politely.
They all spun around, wands aready, but with a quick slash of his own wand, Byron sent two red beams flashing towards either of the wizards standing on the outside. The one remaining in the middle managed to cast his own stunning spell, but Byron blocked it.
"Petrificus Totalus!" Hermione cast from the side.
The wizard was unprepared and subsequently frozen in place, then toppled over onto the ground.
"Well done!" Byron applauded her. "Hurry though!" he shortly continued, running to the frozen wizard.
Again Hermione hurried after him. When she came close enough, she could see it was Hawkins beneath the hood.
'But how had he...?' Hermione could only guess as to Byron's ablility to find Hawkins like that. Was it the compass? Hermione had been trying to follow him, most unsuccessfully, for the last week.
With one hand on Hawkins, Byron clenched Hermione with his other. Leaving the two fallen wizards as the only witnesses to their kidnapping, Byron turned and apparated the three out of Knockturn Alley.
Where ever it was that Byron took them, Hermione would have gladly returned to Knockturn Alley. It appeared to be the dungeon of some old, abandoned castle. White skeletons laid scattered in the corner.
Byron did not bother explaining, rather he took the wand from Hawkins' hand and then released him.
"What's this!" he yelled coming out of it.
"Its time for some real answers, Hawkins."
Their victim was not listening to Byron, however. Instead, he was glaring right at Hermione. The look in his eye was chilling."
"Oi, don't I know you from somewhere?" he asked her.
"Your concern, Mr. Hawkins, will be with me..."
"Yeah, I know you...you're the little dame from the house," Hawkins began cracking up with laughter. Hermione shifted uncomfortably.
"ENOUGH OF THIS!" Byron yelled threateningly, scaring even Hermione. Hermione did not hear him cast the spell, but Hawkins subsequently then began screeching and writhing in agony on the floor as Byron aimed his wand directly at him.
He then forced Hawkins flat against the ground. Byron looped his wand in the air, flipping Hawkins over onto his back. Byron moved so that he was hovering over him.
"...Thats right, the same witch who bested you and your pathetic cronies, and apparently a bunch from out of town. Who've you been entertaining?" Byron demanded.
Hawkins looked up shaking his head, wearing a stupid smile across his face. His chest was heaving in an attempt to recover from the recent ordeal he'd just been through.
Byron reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a vial of what Hermione recognized as Verataserum.
"One way or the other, Hawkins, the truth be out! Smuggling in the enemy! Thats high treason you fool! You'd be lucky not to be given the Dementor's Kiss!"
Byron then knelt low to Hawkins' ear and whispered to him, "but don't you worry a thing, I'll be asking them to resurrect the ol' guilletine - all the blood - much more theatrical, you know what I mean?"
"You're the fool," Hawkins spat at him. Using his wand, Byron forced Hawkins to drink from the vial. Hawkins fought writhing beneath him, but drank every drop nonetheless.
"Who were the foreigners?" Byron again asked.
"Slavs and a German," Hawkins spat. He writhed more in anger upon the ground, unable to stop the words.
"What's their business here?"
"Looking for somebody."
"Who!" both Hermione and Byron yelled.
"Don't know, someone...or something...or both. They don't let me in on a thing, they don't! Honest. Only been using me for this or that...get Malfoy he's in on it!"
"Why would they be looking for someone, or something, here in Britain, Hawkins? Use your imagination, I'm sure you've overheard something, put some pieces of it together, no?"
Hermione could tell that Byron was casting some kind of other spell on Hawkins, but she had never seen anything like this. Hawkins seemed to fall into some dream like state and Byron began pouring through his memories.
"Are they still in the country?" Byron continued the questioning.
"Yes...haven't left by me at any rate."
"Can you contact them?"
Hawkins just stared wide eyed, afraid of the sight of Byron, but at the same time, not entirely there.
"I asked you, can you contact them!" Byron shook him.
"N-na-na-no, haha" he then oddly began laughing, "no, no, no, no..." he continued going on, mocking like a little child. That is until Byron stood up and stunned him.
"Kid's gone mad."
Hermione then jumped as two loud cracks anounced the arrival of two other wizards she did not know. Per reflex she raised her wand, but they had apparently been summoned by Byron.
"You called us, Sir?"
"Hawkins can no longer be trusted, we will have to use Polyjuice potion from hereout. A trap is to be set at the house. Its been confirmed, there are five of them and they are all still present as far as we know. If we are lucky, they will leave back through Hawkins. Double our efforts on Malfoy, we'll need him alive."
They were not Aurors, Hermione was sure of it. But if not an Auror, then who? Unspeakables?
"Come now Hermione, we need to get back," Byron held out the compass to her. The other two wizards grabbed hold of Hawkins and apparated.
Get back? To where? Everything was happening so fast. It seemed like only moments ago she was standing in the Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. Who were they looking for? there was only one person really missing in England. Hermione grabbed the device. It glowed blue.
They arrived back within the Great Hall. McGonagall was still issuing instructions to the remaining others.
"You've already found him then?" McGonagall asked surprised.
"Yes," Byron walked forward too address the entire group. "Things seem to be developing faster than I imagined. It has been reported to me only today that our dear Ms. Granger here was attacked by several Death Eaters, as well as five foreign agents. And I have just confirmed this now through one of my own sources and they are still here, in Britain, in search of something...but unfortunately I cannot say what."
Everyone looked very somber.
"You must all be vigilant, recruit only those you can trust. Where these men go, so will suffer the Imperiussed," Byron warned.
The meeting adjourned but several stood around talking together. Byron pulled out his portkey but Hermione interrupted him.
"If Hawkins was one of your sources, why did you have me following him?"
"I did not have you follow anyone," Byron smiled coyly down at her.
Hermione waited, giving him that look she had come accustom to when frustrated with him.
"Patience Hermione, you'll be back in the thick of it soon enough. Besides, Hawkins is an important source, a mild enough criminal not to lock up, but instead useful for information on the other side. I needed him watched, you needed to get your feet wet. It was supposed to be a safe enough mission that you wouldn't run into any trouble... or so I thought! But look, you got your action regardless and we have a new lead."
This did not console Hermione.
"Goodbye then, Ms. Granger, I suspect that I will be seeing you soon enough, too soon." Byron parted.
"What am I supposed to do?"
"You are an Auror, Hermione, report back. Await orders."
And with that, Byron's compass lit ablue and Byron, compass and all vanished into thin air.
Hermione stared off into the void that he left, off into the hall. Things were unraveling. Images of the battle within these very walls played back to her. Hermione breathed deeply. She imagined the tables lined up, each full with their respectful houses, overflowing from the dinner being served.
"Hermione?" Arthur called to her, "Come now, we must be off."
Arthur held out an alternative Port Key that McGonagall had provided. Hermione carelessly took hold of it, her mind still reminiscing of simpler times.
"What's this all about!" Ron immediately charged as the two landed back within George's office.
"Yeah, dad, what's this all about?" George was also eager to know.
"You were at the meeting..."
"Why'd you stay behind?" Ron asked, looking directly at Hermione, but Arthur instead answered.
"McGonagall asked us to serve as captains in the militia."
"But you, why her?" Ron looked to his dad, but then continued before he could even answer, "...and the Unspeakable, what's going on?" Ron again asked, looking back to Hermione.
"I am afraid that's none of your business, Ronald," Hermione shot him down.
"THE HELL ITS NOT!" Ron roared at her.
Hermione was a bit dumbstruck by his attack. Arthur however scolded his son immediately.
"That will be enough from you, young man. I won't stand by and listen to a son of mine speak to a lady that way, do you understand me?"
Ron sulked with his head hung low.
The situation was then a bit uncomforatable for all.
"I will see you all on Saturday for Neville's party," Hermione excused herself.
"Yes, and I must be off as well," Bill followed.
"But..." Ron called after her, but Hermione apparated from the spot.
. . . .
The rest of the week was dreadful. Her mission on Hawkins over, Hermione was back in the office, filing reports. But that wasn't her true problem. This weekend was Neville's birthday...Neville's and Harry's, they shared the same birthday.
"Harry..." Hermione sighed while thinking of him. Only his twentieth. He had been through so much already. Hermione could hardly bear the thought that Harry was out there now, alone, being hunted...alone.
. . . .
"Oh, Neville, Happy Birthday!" Hermione exclaimed as she and Ron entered the Room of Requirement at Hogwarts. He had decided to throw his celebration party here for old time's sake. And the Room had outdone itself yet again. The decorations were absolutely splendid, alive with magic.
All the old DA was there, all but the few they had lost in the war, and of course its leader whom none had long since seen or talked to. Hermione could hear many whispering questions about Harry, seeing if anyone else had heard any news? They would all suddenly quiet down though as Ron and Hermione would approach.
"I don't know what it is with you and those plants," Ron teased, "but who would have ever thought, Neville, a professor at Hogwarts?"
Neville laughed, "You're telling me!" but then became serious. "Don't suppose there's been any word from Harry then?" Neville just couldn't resist.
Hermione looked to the floor, Ron answered, "Nah, still no word, but I am sure he's fine. If You-know-who couldn't do him in, heh heh..." he laughed awkwardly while scratching at his head.
Neville just nodded at the news.
"And you misses, congrats on becoming an Auror!"
Hermione blushed, "Thanks Neville, but I still have a bit of training to go before its official."
"But she'll be the best Auror ever!" Ron chimed in smiling. He had given her nothing but grief sinse she had joined, but things had been rocky between them since the meeting and Ron was trying to gain some much needed browny points.
"So when's the big date, coming up soon isn't it?" Neville asked excitedly.
Hermione shot a glance at Ron as if to curse him with her glare. Ron looked completely uneasy and began scratching his head awkwardly again, "Yeah, about that...I don't know...we might have to be pushing that back a bit, hard to get everyone together you know?'
"Ronald!" Hermione attacked through clenched teeth. She now seemed to be fuming.
Neville was confused by this. He looked from Ron to Hermione, from Hermione back to Ron, but each looked embarassed and offered no other explanation. After Ron had turned as red as he would go and was apparently remaining silent, Hermione turned on her heels and walked away.
"Oh...well...I will be looking forward to it then," Neville stumbled to Ron, unsure of what just happened. The two then parted and went on with greeting and catching up with others
The party itself was a complete hit. It was nostalgic for all the old classmates to be back within Hogwarts and for all the old DA to be back within the Room of Requirement. There was plenty of fun, food and drink to go around. Ron was having plenty of all.
"Ahh, com-on, Hermi, jus' one mor dances," he slurred. Hermione winced at the use of his nickname for her, but held her tongue.
"Sure Ron, if you would without that glass of firewhiskey, you've already spilt half of it down my dress and I think you've had more than your fair share tonight!"
"Ohh, bother," he continued slurring while nearly tripping over himself, "sure I mightin' find another to - hiccup - thers ol' Lavie there!"
Hermione simply sighed with disappointment as she walked away from him yet again. This is all of course after Ron had polished off a couple bottles of firewhiskey... all to himself. And after having at least a dozen or so butterbeers...and after a few glasses of the punch, which he had taken the liberty of spiking from his own personal flask...and after he had just been escorted off the stage after having tried taking over the singing act from the Weird Sisters, to the applause of numerous boos.
Ron's next grand idea was streaking through the halls of Hogwarts...
"I am so sorry, Hermione," Professor McGonagall tried explaining, "but this is still a school and there are children here," she explained regrettably as they escorted Ron off the premises.
"No, no, I am so embarrassed, I understand completely," responded a defeated and tired Hermione. "He's just taken the latest cut pretty hard, the Irish were his second most favorite team, and...I'm just so sorry."
Hermione was nearly crying by now. Indeed, a tear streaked down her face.
"There, there now," McGonagall tried consoling her. "No reason for you to be apologizing, I can only hope that Mr. Weasley can sort himself out soon enough."
Hermione apparated the beligerent Ron back to the Burrow. Life with Ron was becoming more and more like this. Ron could harldly support himself off the wages he earned as a third string goalie, and had been cut from three different teams already within the year. Hermione had encouraged him to look elsewhere for work, that she or even his father or brother could easily get him a job at the ministry, but he would hear none of it. He was a Quidditch player, period. And it certainly didn't help that his sister had most recently been awarded a starting position as a Chaser for the Chudley Cannons.
"Pleaz', ju' let me com bak tonite," Ron pleaded drunkily, "fer ol' time sake."
"For Merlin's sake Ron, I'd be in the right to dump you right here! I can't believe you've still been telling people that we're getting married!"
"Ahh, com' on, jus' lil' fun," he smiled gaily at her.
"Ron, do you even realize that you tried coming on to Professor McGonagall tonight! The Headmistress of Hogwarts, do you know how embarrasing that was for me, how embarrassing it should be for you!"
"Wha'? Shezu nice lady," Ron then hiccupped again.
Exacerbated, Hermione slipped out from underneath Ron's arm and let him fall to the ground with a loud thud. Tears streamed down her face.
She heard someone stir up above, "Ronald Weasley, is that you again, DRUNK!" she heard his mum call.
Hermione could not bear to face her, or anyone for that matter. The tears gushing, Hermione turned and ran from the house, apparating as soon as she could muster the strength.
She apparated a few blocks down from her apartment to give herself a chance to walk and clear her head. Once she finally entered her flat, she angrily slammed the door behind her.
Upset or not, her Auror senses instantly told her that something was not right. She reached for her wand but was too late, all she saw was the red flash before crashing to the floor.
. . . .
Hermione awoke to find herself tied within a chair. Her head ached. It took a moment for the room to come into focus. She was still in her flat, but there were five other dark looking wizards with her. They looked all too familiar to her.
One stood like a statue, watching the street out below from her window. Another sat in a chair facing her, flanked by the three other wizards.
"Gut morgen, miz Granger," he offered in a heavy German accent.
Hermione struggled against her bondages but they held tight.
"Who are you!" Hermione demanded of the one in the chair.
He laughed. All the others looked as if they were prepared to commit murder.
"Ich? Ich bin Franz. Und du muzt be 'Ermione Granger, nein?"
"What do you want with me?" Hermione again demanded. He smiled eerily at her.
"Hmm...vhat don't ve vont from du?" His dark eyes looked her up and down. Hermione shifted uneasily. "Du vere looking vor us, no? So, here ve are."
Hermione looked back confused at him. The one standing at the window turned and walked towards Hermione. She recognized him as the one who had spotted her through the window, the one she had noted not to tango with. He had to be the leader.
"Who knows ov our arrival?" he asked, though in an eastern european accent, in much better english than the German.
"Everyone," Hermione threatened.
The wizard laughed a heavy and dark laugh. He then nodded to the German to continue. The German wasted no time, he struck her almost immediately with the Cruciatus Curse.
Hermione screamed and writhed within her chair. This only delighted the German further. He cursed her again and again until Hermione was on the verge of unconciousness. The one from the window called for him to halt. She heard the German call him Sambor. Sambor walked forward.
"Are zu going to be more cooperative, miz. Granger?"
Hermione mumbled something incoherent.
"Took it a bit hard on her, Franz. Ve needed her vor answers," he scolded the German while using his wand to rennervate Hermione. He was only able to improve her slightly.
Hermione felt him delve into her mind, into her memories. He was using Legilimens on her but she was too weak to resist. Images of her recent past flashed before her. The wizard was controling her thoughts, guiding her memory. The images flashed from face to face of her recent meetings. He was searching for someone.
Hermione balled up her fists and faught as hard as she could, forcing him out of her memories. The face of Ron was the last she had seen before she blacked out.
Hermione awoke from unconciousness for the second time. A bit of time had apparently elapsed. Four of the wizards now sat huddled about the kitchen table, playing a game of wizard cards. The fifth, the one who had used Legilimens on her, was standing statue-like, staring out the window once again.
They were holding her without any demands. They were just waiting, waiting for something, or someone. Were they setting a trap? For who? For Ron, no. For Carter? Perhaps. Maybe Thornsby and Carter had not told her everything.
Hermione's limbs ached from being tied so tight to the chair. No one seemed to notice that she had awaken. Well, she wasn't going to alert them. She remained sitting quietly, even dozing back off a bit. That is until a loud knock came at the door.
"No!" Hermione wanted to scream, but the wizards were too fast. The one at the window, Sambor, hit her with a silencing charm and nothing came out.
Again a fist beat upon the door. Excitement filled her guards' eyes, finally some action! They fanned out around the door.
"Hermione, please, open the door," a defeated Ron pleaded.
'Oh no!' Hermione fretted. She looked to her guards, she could not believe they were here, setting such a trap for Ron.
A bit of relief abaded her fears, they were looking at each other a bit confused, a bit disappointed. He was not who they were hoping for. The wizard at the window appeared at her side. Leaning down, he whispered in her ear while pointing his wand at her throat, "getz rid ov him or he'z dead."
The other goons smiled at one another upon hearing the prospect that they would be getting to kill someone.
"Go away Ron! I don't have anything to say to you!" Hermione screamed frantically.
"Hermione, please...just a word."
"Go Ron, I just need some time, PLEASE!" Hermione again screamed.
Silence. The guards looked disappointed. But then, after a long pause, "alohomora," sounded from outside and Hermione's door unlocked and Ron forced his way in.
Ron froze in his tracks in the entryway. He looked to Hermione tied within the chair. He looked with horror at the five other armed, dark looking wizards spread out across the room. Ron looked down at his own wand as if he was unsure of what to do with it.
"Bitte, if du inzizt, comze in," the German smiled at Ron.
. . . .
"Hahaha!" they all laughed as Ron writhed madly on the floor.
"Please, please, he has nothing to do with this, I swear!" Hermione pleaded.
"Cruzio!" another chimed in, sending Ron writhing yet again in anguish.
"Who zent du here?" the German again demanded of Ron.
"Please," Hermione cried, "He doesn't know anything!" she pleaded.
"Ich know," he smiled his eery smile at Hermione, "aber es ist ztill vun! Cruzio!" he again tortured Ron.
Ron had only chanced into this, come the next day to apoligize yet again for his previous drunken behavior. It was only a loud creak in the door that interrupted the intruders' fun with him and his going the way of the Longbottoms.
"Zu zealed ze door thiz time?" one of the goons whispered to another.
"Vit a ztrong zpell."
"Iz it him?" another hurriedly asked the one at the window. He did not respond. All spread out in an arc about the door once more, wands aready.
The door creaked again, louder. To their astonishment, the door began bowing inward. Then, in a bright flash, the door completely imploded, exploding into a thousand different splinters. All fell back.
But just as fast as the door had exploded, the pieces slowed and froze in midair. A cloaked wizard could be seen hunched over in the doorway. He looked to be in a terrible condition. His cloak was torn and weathered. It was torn off and frayed just below his knees. He wore no shoes and his legs and feet were dirty and scratched. His sleeves were the same, one torn just below the elbow, the other closer to his shoulder. His hood was intact though as a black shadow hid his face.
He held his wand loosely in his right hand as his left arm was tucked into his side, as if protecting hurt or broken ribs. Indeed, his cloak there was matted down, soaked in blood. There was another gash on his thigh.
As all gawked at the new comer, he hobbled forward, entering the room while favoring his left leg. Once fully in the room, just as they had imploded, all the wooden pieces began moving in reverse, and just like that, the door came back together as if it had never been blown to smithereens. The German chuckled and turned to the rest of the group, "he'z got ztyle!"
Hermione's mind was racing, 'who was this now? What was he doing at her flat? That was certainly not Carter, and granted the wizard was cloaked and hooded, he did not fit the build or profile of any wizard she knew.'
"Mazter zed du vould come, und zee, here du are," the German said almost gleefully. "Come to deliver ze key durzelv denn, sehr gut!"
The cloaked wizard said nothing. He slowly turned from one side of the room to the other.
"Ze Key!" the German again yelled fiercley. Hermione looked to the one at the window, he was the one in charge. But he was only watching, carefully watching.
"Ze key, or zur friends die!"
"Your friends?" Hermione's mind was racing...
"I'll killz ze red head!" he threatened.
The German aimed his wand from the unkown wizard to Ron.
"No!" Hermione screamed bloody murder.
A flash of green light.
But quicker than any could have seen, the cloaked figure flicked his own wand and a blue ball of light streaked across the room, colliding with the green mid flight. It sent it crashing out the side of Hermione's flat, and the force of the blast took out a good portion of the wall with it.
All were stunned. None had ever seen such magic. The Avada Kedavra curse was not supposed to be able to be blocked. And what speed? What power?
The goons soon recovered from their shock. All sent stunning spells at the cloaked figure. Hermione gasped as all the red beams of light collapsed upon the injured wizard. The sheer force of so many blasts pushed the warlock backwards, but alas he stood with both his hands out in front of himself, controling the now suspended, single giant ball of red light.
He appeared to be under a great deal of stress in his attempt to contol it. Hermione witnessed his feet inch backwards...he was slipping. Gathering himself, the warlock loosed a loud roar, and with great effort he doubled the grouped stunning spells backwards.
It flashed straight at the German. Blasting him square in the chest, he was sent crashing back into what remained of the far wall. A massive indention was left, but the wall managed to hold. The German however fell over, slumped onto the floor, unconcious. The others who had been knocked down from the explosion scrambled back to their feet. The warlock was hunched over again, now panting from a loss of breath. One down, but how long could he keep this intensity up?
"None need getz hurt, Potzer, just give me ze key," the one at the window threatened in a more broken english. He was nervous. He was slowly moving to position Hermione between himself and the warlock.
"Potzer, did he mean Potter?" Hermione hoped frantically. Of course, she did not want that to be Harry, here, now, in danger...but... "Impossible," she gave up, there was just no way this was Harry.
Another goon dared move as to send a hex at the hooded warlock, but before the spell could even leave his wand, the warlock flicked his own and the attacker's burst into flame and in an instant blew into the air as nothing more than ash. He tripped back over his own two feet as the warlock sent a stunning spell at him, blasting him with such force that it sent him hurdling back into the far wall of the appartment. He then crashed to the ground, unconcious, right beside the German.
Another stepped forward, but the cloaked figure again flourished his wand within the air causing the attacker to suddenly freeze. He dropped his wand and grasped at his throat, acting as if someone were violently choking him.
He clenched and clawed, but to no relief. The warlock then jerked his wand downward, and as if it were indeed a rope from the warlock's wand choking him, he was pulled down, sent crashing to his knees. The warlock pulled again, sending the wizard over onto his face. Hermione could not be sure, but she thought she heard the warlock laugh at this.
The mysterious wizard released the one he had pulled to the ground and allowed him to scramble back up to his feet, collecting his wand as he did so. Recovering, he looked to his left at the other readied wizard. Their leader was now standing guarded behind Hermione. One nodded to the other, then they each shot a killing curse at the warlock. This was the end of him, Hermione was sure of it.
But with an agile move, holding his arms out from his side, the warlock caught the balls of light out before his hands and with a fluid spin he bent the green lights' paths, arcing each about himself and sent them instead aimed towards the other aggresor. A look of utter shock on their faces, each killed over dead. Hermione gasped with fright.
Now only one remained. He cowered behind Hermione, grasping her in a choke hold with his wand at her throat.
"Give vit up Potzer!"
For the first time, the cloaked wizard pulled back his hood to reveal his face. Hermione gasped. She recognized the black disheveled hair, but the face... He was not wearing glasses but it was definitely the face of Harry Potter, only now older, more mature - bolder. His jaw line was broader, his features were sharper, more defined. Hermione could distinguish a chiseled frame beneath his tattered cloak. What had he been through?
"Hello Sambor," Harry cautiously held out his hands to ease the nervous wizard, "easy now, no need to be rash."
Harry's voice was soothing, as if there were magic in even it. Hermione could feel a calming sensation sweep over her. She knew that Sambor could feel it too.
"Ze Key!" he again barked, spitting across Hermione.
"Let her go, Sambor, and you may actually live through this," Harry offered calmly.
"I'm vorning zu Potzer, ze Key or ze girl dize!" he screamed, now pointing his wand at Harry.
But that mistake was all the window Harry needed. Hermione could not follow him, it all happened too fast. Harry moved as but a streak. He had Sambor's wand arm and spun him about Hermione, peeling him off her in such a way that Hermione hardly felt a thing. Harry had done it flawlessly. Then, flipping him over by his arm, Harry sent Sambor flying across the room in a tumble.
Hermione was in shock, she could not exactly comprehend what had just happened, but in a mere instant Harry now stood, his back to her, facing a dazed Sambor who was now scrambling to his feet from across the room.
Enraged, Sambor sent a powerful green blast hurtling towards Harry. Harry's own red blast met it the middle of the room and an explosion occurred. The two forces held each other for a moment, sparking lighting bolts and boiling what appeared to be lava out and onto the floor. The wind erupted as if a tornado had swept into the room. Everything on the walls was ripped off. Magazines and papers fluttered about the room. Everything on the counter tops were swept off. It was mayhem.
That is before Harry pivoted to the side, breaking the connection. In one fluid motion, he then slashed his wand across in front of him. Sambor leapt aside, dodging the curse as the couch behind him was sliced in two.
Sambor slashed his own wand but the beam of light was blocked by Harry. A near invisible force-field rippled from the shock as Harry's shield. Sambor parried, sending another burst at Harry, but he again blocked it. Sambor sent a flash of green light at Hermione. Harry cast a spell at Hermione, knocking her back and out of the path of Sambor's. Off guard, Sambor caught Harry with a stunning spell...or so he thought.
As Harry was knocked backward, taken right off his feet from the force of it, Harry suddenly disappeared, apparated-like.
Sambor looked around nervously, unsure of where Harry went. His eyes then fell on Hermione. She was staring wide eyed at him...or behind him. He made to turn around but it was too late. Harry was behind him and with a flick of his wand Harry sent him hurtling across the room, crashing violently into the flat's far brick wall.
Sambor was still somehow concious but before he could regain, Harry disarmed him with his signature spell, sending Sambor's wand flying from his hand. As it spun end over end through the air, Harry summoned it, changing its path right to his other, empty hand. Harry then snapped it in two.
Sambor sat slumped, now defenseless against the wall. Harry pointed his wand at him and an invisible force slammed Sambor back flat against the wall. Then, as Harry raised his wand, so did Sambor rise against the wall, all the way until his feet left the ground.
"I should kill you," Harry threatened, though still calm. Harry walked right up to Sambor.
Sambor said nothing.
"You can tell your precious Kaan that the key will no longer do him any good. I have deciphered the key. I now have the scrolls, and if Kaan still wishes to study their magic, he may continue his hunt for me, and I will gladly learn him of it."
Hermione did not understand what Harry was talking about, but Sambor managed to nod.
"I can zee du hav learned a few new tricks," he muttered, forcing a smile.
Harry smiled back before he released him, letting Sambor crash once again to the ground. Harry turned his back on him and limped torwards Hermione. Halfway between Sambor and her, Harry suddenly turned and with a sweep of his wand, a huge, unseen wave of energy rose from the floor and caught Sambor, sending him and half of Hermione's apartment crashing out through the wall.
While Sambor was cast quite violently down to the street below, the wall and debris itself, just as the door had before, froze mid air and then all began to reverse back into position. The ruined apartment was then dead silent.
Hermione watched dumbstruck as Harry closed his eyes and focused for a moment. The rest of the damage within the room began correcting itself. The couch came back together, the other blast marks erased themselves, the broken glasses and plates reformed on the counter. Papers fluttered back together and collected themselves neatly on the coffee table. Pictures re enetered their frames and moved back onto the walls
Finished, Harry broke his trance and then stumbled over quickly to Hermione's side. She could only stare at him, shock and admiration apparent on her face.
"Are you okay?" he asked concernedly. It was a struggle for him to speak.
Hermione was in tears, overcome with emotion. She was so happy to see Harry there were no words to describe it. And what had happened to him, was he okay? She tried to speak to him but was choked with tears.
Whatever it was that Harry had been through, he had apparently put all that he had left into defeating these barbarians. Harry could hardly lift his wand to cut her bondages. After he had loosened one hand, Harry collapsed to his knees.
"Harry!" Hermione screamed. Ron stirred on the floor beside him. He looked over to Harry but said nothing.
Harry fought to pick himself back up to cut more of her ropes, but as he again began to fall, Hermione snatched his wand from him. Harry fell over, unconcious onto the floor.
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