Harry sat up and he realized the bed was soaked in red, the crimson flowing off the threads of fabric and dripping onto the ground. The air stank of dehydrated cheese and expired milk, mixing in with another foul order that Harry couldn't quite place.
He was naked, but he couldn't remember why or how he got there. As he placed his hand down to push off the bed, he was meet not with the soft push of the bed but something else entirely. Dread crawled straight through his fingertips and to his head when he registered what he was holding.
Turning his head and confirming what his nerve endings already told him, Harry saw that his hand was placed on a woman's body.
A dead woman's body.
One look at the slack jaw and the surprised expression in her eyes confirmed the woman was Cho. Yet, as Harry searched his memory for any recollection of what happened, he retrieved nothing. The last thing he could remember was leaving the Ministry of Magic.
Looking at Cho again, Harry realized a long gash drawing straight across her throat as the source of liters of blood. She, too, was naked, her pale skin contrasting horribly against the red splatters of blood that had evidently flown from her jugular.
Harry felt sick, the bile rising in his throat as his vision swayed and he scrambled to get off the bed. He had to get away from here. He had to tell someone what happened.
No less than three wizards Apparated straight into the room. Harry twirled around, confusion wracking his body as he spotted the tell tale dark robes of Aurors. The trio of Aurors already had their wands out, but all three of them were just as surprised to see Harry standing there, naked and coated in blood.
"Wait!" Harry cried.
Hermione was enjoying a nice dream where she was on a beach drinking a Pina Colada and reading this admittedly escapist book about children hunting each other as game. The sand stuck in between her toes and she smiled contently as the sun beat down on her skin. It was perfect except for this absurdly loud alarm ringing in her ear. She looked around the beach, trying to find the source of the sound. It was only when she looked up and realized the sun was flashing red intermittently.
She cracked open her eyes, wary of the magically enhanced phone sitting at her bedside table. Trying to hold onto some semblance of her Muggle upbringing, Hermione had Arthur alter the phone so her secretary could reach her without having to use the Floo or send an owl. But right now, she hated herself for coming up with the idea.
"Is there cake?" Ron mumbled beside her.
"Go back to sleep, Ron," Hermione plucked Ron's heavy arm from around her waist as she swung her legs and tiredly rubbed her eyes.
"I get it, I get it," Hermione moaned at the phone and she picked up the receiver.
"Granger," she complained into the phone.
"Hermione," said a deep voice that definitely wasn't her secretary, "You're going to want to come down to the Ministry."
"Kingsley?" Hermione asked as she sat a little straighter. The Minister knew this number only for dire emergencies. "What's going on?"
"I can't discuss this over the phone, but it's incredibly urgent," Kingsley sounded grave.
"Okay," Hermione confusedly agreed, "What's this about though? It's four in the morning on a Saturday."
There was a pause on the other end of the line and Hermione imagined that Kingsley was calculating whether or not it was secure enough to transmit the information over the phone. Sighing, Hermione said, "Kingsley, it's okay. I'll be there in -"
"It's about Harry."
Hermione's stomach immediately dropped and the phone slipped a little bit from her grasp. Emotions that had not overcome her since the war were back in a flash. The worrying knot that resided in her stomach for all her Hogwarts years was slowly building, the source of it residing with one person.
Immediately assuring Kingsley she would be there in an instant, Hermione dialed a different number on the phone and waited for a response. There was nothing on the end but a disconnected line. Making a frustrated noise, Hermione ran a hand through her hair as she deduced why Harry's personal phone wouldn't be working. There were a myriad of reasons ranging from him having the phone off to the magical properties malfunctioning. Not for the first time, she wished Ginny had given in to getting a phone so she could at least contact her. Ginny reasoned that since she and Harry were living together, she didn't need her own phone.
Hermione ran to the living room, immediately throwing Floo Powder into the fireplace and calling for Ginny.
"Ginny!" Hermione called, looking around Harry and Ginny's flat to see if there were any signs of activity. A kitchen light was on and the living area was fastidiously clean, a hallmark of being a Weasley matron, but there were no other signs that anyone was home. Why would Ginny be out at this hour?
She thought about Apparating to their flat but decided if Kingsley needed her for something concerning Harry, the stupid boy would probably be at the Ministry already. Hermione hoped to Merlin that one of the few remaining Death Eaters had not caught up to the Boy-Who-Won, but couldn't spare another speculation as to what happened. Rushing back into her room, she waved her wand and out jumped her Ministry clothing and robes.
Ron, ever the heavy sleeper, awoke from the commotion and rubbed his eyes like a newborn baby as he looked at Hermione.
"Hermione? What are you doing?" Ron asked as he sat up. "It's four in the morning!"
"Something's happened," Hermione impatiently snapped as she stripped off her clothing and hurriedly put on her pants and blouse.
Ron's eyes lingered for a moment on Hermione's naked form, but he shook his head and asked her, "What's happening at the Ministry?"
Hermione bit her lip, closing her eyes as she was suddenly sent back to her Hogwarts days.
Ron immediately hopped out of bed, waving his wand and summoning his clothes as well. His face was grim as he quickly dressed with Hermione. They made eye contact, knowing Ron's involvement was inevitable even if Kingsley only called on Hermione. They were the trio and if something happened to Harry, Ron would be right at his side.
"Are you ready?" Hermione asked as she fastened the clasp of her robe. Ron nodded and they simultaneously Apparated to just outside a modern building in London.
Stepping inside, Hermione crossed the sharp tile in the bare hallway. At the end of the hallway was a desk with two people manning their stations. Behind them was what looked to be a normal elevator.
"Ms. Granger? Mr. Weasley?" asked the desk guard in confusion, "What are you doing here at this hour?"
"The Minister has summoned us," Hermione impatiently informed them.
Looking down at the computer monitor in front of him, the desk guard nodded his head as he saw the magically updated monitor confirm Hermione's summoning. He looked at Ron and the redhead simply glowered, perfected with years of training, at the guard. Gulping, the guard nodded them through and opened the elevator.
The elevator was enhanced to magically accommodated the number of people entering. It was far more updated than the juvenile method of being flushed down a toilet. The elevator thundered down many floors until it came to a gentle stop, the trip lasting less than ten seconds. The door opened with a chime and Hermione stepped into the atrium of the Ministry.
The many statues of the different magical creatures had been replaced with just a fountain. There was no way Hermione was going to let that unequivocal monstrosity stand there and made it one of her first items on her agenda to destroy those statues when she became the liaison to Muggle Affairs. Though it wasn't a particularly high position in the Ministry, she was still one of the golden trio and used that fact for a rare favor.
Hermione and Ron strode purposefully to the Minister's office where they presumed he would be waiting for them. The hallways were empty, the steady clapping of their feet filling the Ministry halls. It was eerie in it's emptiness as neither of them were rarely here at this time. Ron's mind flashed back to their time here in their Fifth year at Hogwarts and goosebumps broke out along his skin. He could only hope something similar was not about to happen.
Opening the Minister's door without warning, Hermione was surprised to find Kingsley and Seamus, Harry's third-in-charge, waiting for them. Kingsley only had a flash of mild surprise at Ron's appearance but doused the appearance immediately. Standing up, he motioned for them to take a seat.
Hermione remained standing, her face stony as she asked, "What's going on, Minister?"
Kingsley sighed, the age and creases crinkling along his dark face. He was skinnier after the War, the tolls of the Ministry and politics trimming his weight. His eyes were more sunken in and his cheeks hollow from lack of sleep, but he looked even worse at this early hour.
"Harry's in trouble."
Ron and Hermione both gulped, knowing if they were being summoned at four in the morning, it was something deadly. Hermione nodded at Kingsley to continue. Kingsley, in turn, motioned for Seamus to step up. Their former housemate looked at them in the eye, knowing them long enough to be straight forward.
"A couple of hours ago, Harry was found in a Muggle hotel with…Cho Chang," Seamus let the statement linger for a moment, allowing them a chance to interject.
Thoughts raced through Hermione's head, the very first one shaming her. The connotations of being in a Muggle hotel with another woman were traitorous in nature, but she gave Harry the benefit of the doubt. He was the purest person she knew and until she received every fact, she would withhold judgment.
"We were tipped off by an anonymous source -" Seamus started again but was interrupted by Hermione.
"Anonymous? How?" Hermione questioned in a clipped tone.
"A letter left at the station's desk upstairs."
"I'll need to see that."
"Of course," Seamus nodded, "The source gave us the address of the hotel in question and marked it as concerning Death Eaters. I tried to contact Harry but he was unavailable. As I was the only one in the station at the moment, I took Billingsley and Axford with me. We Apparated straight into the room and found Harry and Cho. Except…Cho was dead."
Hermione blinked, definitely not expecting that. She could deal with something more emotional, but Cho's death immediately complicated things. A small bit of her felt remorse for the death of one of her former classmates, but Hermione had seen many deaths in her times and stuck to the task at hand.
"And then?" Hermione tapped her foot, tired of getting small pieces of the story.
"Axford panicked and Stunned him. Harry was…unarmed," Seamus shifted uncomfortably, a movement that did not pass Hermione, "We took him in but the crime scene was gruesome."
"Crime scene?" Hermione's eyebrows immediately shot to her head and her hand unconsciously moved to her wand. Beside her, Ron bristled at the implication and glared at Seamus. Bowing his head in a defeated manner, Seamus pressed on.
"Yes, Hermione. It looked like a crime scene. Cho was spread on the bed, naked and her throat severed. There was blood everywhere, including on Harry. You know as well as I do that I would never think that it was Harry, but what were we supposed to do?"
Seamus tried to placate them. He was a good person and Seamus regularly fought for them during the Second Wizarding War, so at this point, Hermione had no reason to distrust him.
At this point.
"We did everything we could," Seamus somberly informed them, "We gave him Veritaserum. We hooked him up to the Muggle polygraph. We got an Unspeakable to perform a Legillemens on him…but it looks like he killed Cho."
"This is ridiculous," Ron gestured wildly, throwing his hands in the air. "Harry? Kill Cho? Did Fred come back from the dead to pull a prank on us?"
Seamus flinched at the sound of the dead twin's name but held steady and shook his head, "We tested him several times already and even he can't remember how he got there. Everything else says he killed Cho."
"LISTEN TO YOURSELF!" Ron bellowed at Seamus, breaking the hush silence that had enveloped the room. "This is Harry. Harry fucking Potter, Boy-Who-Won and all that nonsense. Why, in Merlin's name, would he kill Cho? He's obviously been set up."
"We agree," Kingsley suddenly said, interjecting for the first time in a while. "The Harry I know would never do something like this. That's why we've called you here. We need help cleaning this up and getting to the bottom of this."
Hermione chewed the inside of her cheek, thousands of scenarios and theories firing away in her brain. Harry didn't kill Cho; that much was clearly obvious to anyone that ever knew Harry. He had years of character background and multiple character witnesses that would vouch him.
But he also had many enemies.
"Who else knows?" Hermione quickly asked.
"Axford, Billingsley, and us. The Unspeakable knows, of course, but considering their position…"
"And where are Axford and Billingsley now?"
"In the Auror office, keeping watch over Harry. I put him in a solitary cell away from anyone else in case someone decided to show up to work early," Seamus puffed his chest, proud of his quick thinking.
"Lock them down. Immediately," Hermione ordered. Swiveling, she addressed Kingsley directly, "Absolutely no leaks to the press. If anyone asks, Harry's taking a small vacation. Where's Ginny?"
Kingsley frowned, not expecting that question, "I assumed Ginny was at their flat. Have they been having…problems?"
Ron turned to Hermione, knowing that she, more likely than him, would know of any relationship issues between Harry and Ginny. It wasn't that Ron didn't care, but he preferred not knowing the details of the relationship between his best friend and his sister. Hermione shook her head but it wasn't without a small bit of hesitation.
"Not that I know of. You'll need to get her and fill her in right away," Hermione commanded.
"I can do that," Ron immediately offered.
Sending a thankful expression his way, Hermione agreed, "Go right now. Time is of the essence. Make sure she talks to no one. It's imperative, Ron."
Ron nodded and left the room to retrieve the youngest Weasley. Exhaling, Hermione rubbed her temples, trying to think of any other possible leaks. It's not that she didn't trust Seamus' fastidiousness. After all, Harry did make him is third in command, but Hermione trusted herself more in these types of situations.
"Think, Seamus. Is there anyone else that you came in contact with from the time you Apparated to the hotel to right now?" Hermione interrogated the Irishman.
"We arrived there. We took him in to the Ministry. I called Kingsley. We fetched an Unspeakable. And then you," Seamus counted off the list of events leading to that very moment.
"Hold on," Hermione paused, "You took him into the Ministry. How?"
"Through the front, but he was bagged and unconscious. It's standard protocol for captures," Seamus answered.
"Dammit, Seamus!" Hermione groaned.
"What? I did everything by the book!" Seamus defended himself.
"The elevator records a log of everyone that comes in. Harry's magically registered to the system!"
"He's going to pop up in the registry," Seamus paled as he realized his error.
Hermione was already rushing out of the room before Kingsley could stop her, sprinting to the clerical office where the records of all magical entries were logged. The Ministry, ever since the end of the War, kept accurate records of the comings and goings of everyone registered. It kept the Ministry more secure from infiltrations or teenagers thinking they had to save someone. Even if Seamus brought Harry under a bag to conceal his identity, the second he passed through the elevator, his name was logged in a small book in a back corner office.
Rounding the corner at breakneck speed, Hermione was thankful no one else was there yet. It would have been highly suspicious to see the head of Muggle Affairs sprinting down the corridors and what Hermione didn't need was anything remotely suspiciously attached to her. Slowing down and collecting herself before entering the Ministry Records department, she slowly opened the door and hoped that no one would be working at the time.
Unfortunately, one poor soul worked the graveyard shift.
Her name was Sarah something-or-the-other. She went to Hogwarts as Hermione was leaving and there was a tiny bit of guilt at not knowing her name, but how was she supposed to keep track of everyone? Despite the acumen of knowledge at her disposal, Hermione didn't have an eidetic memory. Willing herself to calm down, Hermione approached Sarah something.
"Hi there, Sarah!" Hermione cheerfully greeted, "How are you?"
Sarah snapped her head up and Hermione caught the rather explicit cover of some trashy romance novel. The plain and slightly overweight brunette blushed as she stowed away the book and looked up in surprise to see the head of Muggle Affairs in the records room.
"Ms. Granger! What are you doing here so early?" Sarah asked in confusion.
"Got to do some early work with goblins and Muggles in China. Different hours there so I had to show up to work early for a Floo meeting," Hermione smoothly lied, presenting an completely believable story to anyone who didn't work within her department.
Sarah blanched at having to wake up so relatively early just to make a meeting. "Well, what can I do for you?"
"I was just wondering if I could see the records log for arrivals and departures for today," Hermione had no choice but to ask her directly.
"Sure!" Sarah responded in a cheery manner. "Who are you looking for?"
"Well - that's the thing -" Hermione flashed her a winning smile, "I was wondering if I could read it with some privacy. It's a bit sensitive in nature."
There was a moment's hesitation in Sarah's eyes as she knew this definitely wasn't protocol. Internally, Hermione was already growing frustrated and impatient with Sarah's stalling. There were far more important matters at hand than trying to convince the records clerk to see the books, but she had limited options with limited help.
"It's about Death Eaters," Hermione hated to play this card, but she was left with no choice.
"Oh! Ohhh!" Sarah exclaimed as she connected the dots. "Of course, Ms. Granger. Let me get today's books. Accio Logs!"
The book zipped out of a bottomless trunk and landed neatly on her desk. Thanking her, Hermione immediately grabbed the book and flipped through the pages to find the right time.
She paused as she saw the record logs for Friday.
9:37 pm - Harry Potter. Exit.
9:45 pm - Hermione Granger. Exit.
Hermione had met with Harry after a grueling day trying to convince the American Ministry of Magic to convene with their own Ministry in hopes of discussing their long term plans for Afghanistan. Unfortunately, they were reluctant and slow to respond and forced her to stay late at the office. Harry, fresh off an assignment, met her at her office for just a few minutes before leaving. Hermione departed not long there after and at least she could nail down the timeframe.
Flipping through just two pages of arrivals and departures, Hermione scrolled down until she found what she was looking for.
1:42 am Chad Axford. Enter.
1:42 am John Billingsley. Enter.
1:42 am Seamus Finnigan. Enter.
1:42 am Harry Potter. Enter.
She repressed a gasp, confirming that Seamus was indeed telling the truth. The four of them probably entered the elevator as one and then escorted Harry to the Auror cells. She surreptitiously looked up to see Sarah idly filing her nails. Hermione needed to find a way to just have a minute of privacy to remove Harry's name from the records. Faking a yawn, Hermione stretched an arm over her head for further proof of her exhaustion.
"Sarah, I know this is too much of me to ask for you, but could you get me a cup of coffee? I'm not used to waking up so early," Hermione pleaded in what she hoped was a begging voice.
Sarah smiled and responded, "Of course! I need to stretch my legs anyways. Can you just make sure to place the logs back in that trunk once you're finished?"
Hermione responded positively, thankful the girl took the bait. As soon as Sarah left the room, Hermione summoned her wand and immediately erased Harry's name from the list. She performed the spell again just in case to make sure the spell worked and waited for a moment to see if it would regenerate on the page. She wasn't familiar with the exact type of magic used for the logs.
Thankfully, Harry's name vanished.
She scrolled down the page, trying to find anyone else that could have possibly seen Harry. They didn't list the official titles besides the people who entered and left the building, but if Hermione didn't immediately notice them, they weren't important officials. Still, anyone that saw Harry would inevitably leak the story to the press and then she wouldn't be able to contain it. Sighing, she saw the last two people to enter were Ron and herself.
But then a name started to magically appear, the ink writing itself without a quill. Entranced, Hermione watched the name slowly appear into view, her stomach dropping as the last spot of ink settled.
4:37 am Draco Malfoy. Enter.
Harry groaned as he placed his head in his hands for the millionth time. He had spent the last hour trying to retrace his steps, but the last thing he could remember was leaving the Ministry of Magic after talking to Hermione. Desperately, he sought for the smallest shred of the events afterwards, but he couldn't remember a single thing.
Not one thing.
Of course, the next thing he knew, he was in bed with a dead Cho Chang and the Aurors had immediately showed up. It made absolutely no sense in his mind and he begged Seamus to give him Veritaserum to prove his worth. Yet, right after he drank the truth serum, he confessed to killing Cho Chang. It had shocked him just as much as the three Aurors in charge of the interrogation and Harry immediately asked for another form of validation. They hooked him up to a special Muggle lie detector and asked him the question again.
"Did you kill Cho Chang?"
Even from his position, Harry could see the paper scratching wildly, indicating Harry was lying. Seamus shook his head again, futilely trying to find a way to prove Harry's innocence even when every test failed.
Harry's mind believed he killed Cho Chang.
But it didn't make any sense. Harry pleaded his case to Seamus and a suddenly less than helpful Axford and Billingsley. He knew them both as solid Aurors, yet they were interrogating the Chief Auror and finding him guilty of murder so far. Seamus retrieved an Unspeakable to perform an invasive investigation into his mind, but the Unspeakable concluded the same thing.
Harry Potter killed Cho Chang.
The Unspeakable wrote it down on a piece of parchment as soon as he was finished and left the room. He offered no judgment either way and probably didn't care too much for day to day procedures. If there was ever a group of people that was almost unbiased, it would be the Unspeakables.
So Harry sat on the small cot in his cell, desperately hoping for someone to arrive to at least tell him what was happening. Not knowing, especially for someone of Harry's impatient nature, was eating him alive. As the door swung open, Harry leaped to his feet, hoping that Seamus would at least come back with some news.
Yet, it was not Seamus but Hermione that walked through the light.
"Hermione!" Harry rushed up to the glass that kept him imprisoned.
"Harry!" Hermione rushed towards him and placed her hand on his from across the barrier. She looked up at him with pain and remorse in her eyes but hidden beneath the sadness was a burning fire. A thirst for knowledge and justice that Harry saw frequently when she discussed equality for creatures and Muggles.
"Are you okay? How are they treating you? Ron's coming back with Ginny if you were wondering. No one knows so far," Hermione rapidly fired off statements and questions, filling Harry's desire to know.
"I'm…okay," said a clearly rattled Harry, "Axford and Billingsley are good guys. I just…Hermione, you have to believe me."
Harry pleaded with her, hoping that his worse nightmare wouldn't come true and his friends would turn his back on him when he needed them the most.
"I'll always believe you, Harry," Hermione whispered with watery eyes.
And it was true. Apart from an incident involving a Firebolt, Hermione never wavered when asked to stand by Harry's side and even when Harry demanded her to leave. If there was one proven constant to Harry, it was that Hermione would always have his back. Exhaling deeply and nervously laughing, Harry stepped back from the glass and ran both of his hands through his messy hair.
"I don't know what happened, Hermione! I was talking to you, I left, then - nothing. Just nothing! Next thing I know I'm in that hotel room with Cho and she was…she was dead," Harry explained.
"Seamus and Kingsley filled me in with as much as they know. Harry, you have to know that I believe you. You would never do this. You would never kill anyone in cold blood, much less someone that was your friend. Just tell me, Harry. Tell me everything," Hermione said.
"I…I got off the Thorfinn Rowle case and headed to your office to see how you were," Hermione nodded as Harry spoke, confirming that indeed happened, "We joked about Ginny and you asked for tickets to her game and I told you I'd get you them by tomorrow. I walked out of the Atrium and up the elevator and then…nothing. That's it."
"Nothing else?" Hermione bit her lip, an obvious tell that she was worried.
"I can't," Harry aguishly explained.
"Think! Close your eyes and try to recapture every single detail," Hermione urged as she stepped forward and pressed her forehead against the glass.
Closing his eyes, Harry leaned forward too, pressing his forehead against the glass so if there were no barriers, their heads would be touching.
"I…I…remember the elevator going up. I felt it shooting up from beneath me. There wasn't anyone else there with me. I…I…"
"You can do it."
"There was a bright light. Something happened. A spell, maybe?" Harry offered, hoping that his memory would come back. He squinted his eyes, hoping the extra effort would retrieve the lost narrative, but nothing else came to mind.
"It's okay," Hermione eased his frustration, "That's a good clue. Someone must have cursed you at the top of the elevator. But the desk guard…"
"The Records Department keeps files as to who was on shift at the time," Harry quickly answered, familiar with the crevices and workings of the Ministry.
"I know," Hermione rolled her eyes, "I've already been there to wipe your name off the arrival and departure logs."
"To make sure no one knows," Harry murmured, "Good girl."
Hermione gave a slight smile at the compliment and put her hand where Harry's chest would be, "We'll get you out of here, Harry. Hopefully, Ron is getting Ginny soon so you can see her too."
His chest heaving, Harry sighed to relieve a small fraction of stress, "Good. She's going to worry."
"This is all just a misunderstanding. Ron called it a set-up as soon as Seamus explained what happened."
"Did he yell?" Harry wryly grinned.
Hermione smiled, "Of course."
The door banged open and Hermione jolted away from the glass barrier with a start. Expecting the two Aurors guarding the door, Hermione was surprised to see Seamus striding through with a grim look on his face and something in his hand.
"Hermione, you need to see this," Seamus addressed her as if Harry wasn't there.
Seamus thrust the paper in her hands and judging from Hermione's expression, it wasn't anything good. Closing his eyes, Harry turned and leaned backwards against the glass barrier, knowing the likely contents.
"Let me see it," Harry turned around and placed his hands against the glass.
"Harry, I don't know if…" Hermione started.
"Let me see it," Harry quietly demanded. Years ago, when they were just children, Hermione would have been more stubborn and protective of Harry. She probably would have shielded him from the paper and tried to remove the burden of pressure from his small shoulders.
But they were older now and things were different.
Hermione unfolded the paper, slowly and deliberately as she stalled for as much time as possible. She was delaying the revelation, trying to keep every shred of Harry's innocence, but Harry knew it was only a matter of time before they found out. He was a very public figure and questions would immediately be asked. You couldn't hold a conspiracy for that long. Hermione plastered the Daily Prophet against the glass so Harry could read it clearly.
HARRY POTTER MURDERS CHO CHANG!
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