The Sugar Quill
Author: AllyBear (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Dark Before Dawn  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

<!-- saved from url=(0022)http://internet.e-mail --> A/N:<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The events in this story take place directly following Book 4;<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>there are spoilers through the end of that book.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The author would like to thank Zsenya for her thoughtful comments and SugarQuill for archiving.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal align="center">***</p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Harry paced his room anxiously, mind whirling with bad thoughts and terrifying images.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>It had been two full days since he had heard from either of his close friends and he was worried that something awful had happened to them.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Since the very first moment he arrived at Privet Drive this summer, there had been at least one, sometimes two messages for him every day.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>It seemed that Ron and Hermione were not going to leave him completely alone with the Dursleys over the summer.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>At first, he had griped at their behavior, especially when there was an owl waiting on the branch outside his window by the time he arrived from King s Cross Station.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Harry-<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:2'> </span>Hermione and I got home safely from the station.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>You?<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Ron.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Great, he said to himself.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Not only do I have Voldemort watching my every move, now my friends are too! <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>The events of the Triwizard Tournament were weighing heavily on his mind, and he just wanted to be left alone, to grieve, to burn with anger at Voldemort, and to worry.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Harry often let it cross his mind that Ron and Hermione  even Sirius and Dumbledore  would be better off if they didn t know him, ignoring the pain in his heart that thought cost him.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>But his friends seemed to know what he was thinking, and were determined to cheer him up.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione would summarize things she had read that day, or talk about her upcoming trip to Romania and Bulgaria.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Ron would talk about his new  summer job working with his father in the Ministry, or about the latest Quidditch match.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>It had been nearly a month, and Harry was feeling better.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He had even written them a little bit about the tournament, and how he still felt responsible for Cedric s death.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>They, of course, both responded quickly with their denouncing of that and their support of Harry.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He felt even better, knowing no matter what he did, they would never leave him.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Now, as day turned into night and the wind howled outside his window, he paced.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Finally, there was a sharp tapping at his window and a large gray owl swooped in.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Harry tore open the letter.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count: 1'> </span><o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'>++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Ron Weasley was not looking forward to the summer like most students.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Earlier that year it had been decided that he was to come to work at the Ministry with his father a few days a week.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>They needed every good person they could get, he said.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>At first, Ron was furious  he could see his youth and halcyon days rushing before his eyes.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Then he got his first paycheck and everything looked much better.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>His job was sort of interesting. Four large basins of water were set into a table, each pool of water enchanted to be a window to the outside world.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Each Scrying Pool, as they were called, would display a place where magic was being used, or was regularly used, or places that had their own natural magic were shown.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Both wizarding and Muggle communities were monitored for any unusual activity.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Ron s job was to watch as the Scryers skipped from scene to scene, and look for any misuse of magic happening within 500 miles.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>So, his wary eyes skipped from pool to pool, watching as the scenes changed, looking for anything out of place.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He found it wasn t difficult work, and actually rather enjoyed it.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Usually, one of the pools would stop on a Quidditch match, so he wasn t too bored.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Hey, Ron.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Anything going on tonight? <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>his father asked from the doorway.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Are the Chudley Cannons winning? <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> 550 to 310 so far, Ron grinned, blushing.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> I have some more work to do, so I m afraid we ll have to stay a bit longer.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>That was a good catch with Higgenbottom this morning. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He had been caught selling real magic hats to Muggles, without a license.  I just never knew how many magic top hats one man could produce. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Or how many disappearing rabbits! <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Ron joked back.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Percy s on his way home now, if you want to go with him&  Mr. Weasley started.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Nah, that s okay Dad.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I ll wait. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He d rather catch the Cannons game than listen to Percy prattle on about Penelope or work.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>He kept scanning the four pools, checking the score of the game every few minutes.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He worked out a system  1, 2, 3, look, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, look!<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>But a sighting of the snitch by the Cannons Seeker pulled him away.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He whooped as the Seeker dove and spun, racing madly for the winged ball, closing his fist around it just a split second before the opposing Seeker did.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Belatedly, he went back to his job.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He was surprised to see Hermione in what looked like her bedroom, doing something to a floating pillow with her wand.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Ron blushed unconsciously, seeing her in such a private setting.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>But she looked so different in her Muggle clothes, and so relaxed, he didn t want to leave her view.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He knew she had special permission to use magic this summer, but even without it, he would never have turned her or Harry in for it.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>The Scryer shimmered, and changed to another scene.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He was a little sad, but turned to continue his survey of the world.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>But his mind was stuck in Hermione s bedroom, wondering what she was doing, and what she was thinking.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>They had taken up quite a correspondence that summer, writing to each other nearly every other day.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>They were also conspiring to keep Harry in good spirits, writing him every day, too.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Ron found he missed Hermione just as much  perhaps more  than Harry.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Shaking his head, he focused his attention to one of the pools.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>In it, he could see an abandoned church and graveyard in a rainstorm.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>A flash of lightning illuminated the scene for a split second.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Chills went down Ron s spine.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Could it be?<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Did he really see that?<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>It looked like two men, one short and gaunt, the other swaddled in many cloaks, bent over a cauldron.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He held his breath, praying for the next strike of light, training his eyes on the pool.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>There!<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>But there was nothing there except for bent and broken gravestones.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Ron let out a breath, angry with himself for letting his imagination run away with him.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>But he gasped again when the next sight came on the Scryer.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The Dark Mark, signal of the Death Eaters, was hanging low and ominous over a Muggle house.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Without thinking, he called out for his father in the next room, voice choking when he saw who came out of the house.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>His father yelled a spell, grabbed Ron, and with a great rush of force, Apparated away.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'>+++++++++++++++++++++++++++<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Hermione Granger lay on her bed reading, Crookshanks curled up at her feet, the window open beside her, teasing her hair with a mild summer breeze.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She could hear her parents downstairs in the kitchen, doing dishes and talking quietly, the neighbors calling their children inside, and a dog down the street barking idly. All in all, outside seemed like a perfectly normal summer evening.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Inside, however, it was anything but.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Yes, she was laying on her bed reading, which was a usual sight, but it was *what* she was reading that was unusual.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Right before she left Hogwarts at the end of term, Professor McGonagall had pulled her aside.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Due to recent events, she began, referring to the disastrous Triwizard Tournament,  we thought perhaps we would give you a head start on next year s Charms lessons.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Don t be worried if they are difficult and you can t master them by yourself.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Fifth year Charms are the hardest.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>You ve been given special permission to practice this  in private only  over the summer, she said sternly, handing over a book and a piece of parchment with her permission from the Ministry written on it.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The professor paused and smiled faintly at Hermione.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> But, I m sure if anyone can learn these on her own, it s you, Miss Granger.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Have a good, safe, summer holiday. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>It turned out that fifth year Charms was all about combining spells to make them more powerful.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>That way, you could do two things at once, or one thing with several parts.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Currently, she was still on the most simple spell combination  making a pillow levitate and spin at the same time.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>It had taken her a full day just to do that, and she was annoyed with herself despite Professor McGonangall s words.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>She let the pillow drop, and flipped through the later lessons.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>It seemed that in the fifth year, things not only got harder, but classes intermingled.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>There were Charms that were for Transfiguration and for Defense against Dark Arts.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She would be able to Stupefy someone and turn them into a rabbit by the end of next year.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>She turned to the beginning of the Defense against Dark Arts chapter, and looked at the first spell  <i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>Expelliarmo Stupefaction  </i>disarming and stunning a wizard at once.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She repeated the phrase, thinking how useful that could have been before.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Realizing she wouldn t be able to perform those more advance spells, she went back to the beginning, and started levitating her pillow again.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>A while later, when darkness had set in fully, she got a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The noises of her street had died away; leaving an eerie silence that was heavy, like a wet blanket.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Even the breeze had stopped whispering, the air still.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>A vile green glow illuminated the page she was reading.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Crookshanks arched his back and hissed.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Somehow, she knew what she would find, but looked out of her window anyway.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Floating above her house, nearly out of her line of sight, she could make out part of the glowing green skull and snake.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Panic thrilled through her body, and she grabbed her wand from the desk and ran downstairs, calling out for her parents.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Their confused faces met her in the front hallway, wondering why she was screaming.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> They re coming, was all she could say.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span><o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> What? Who? her father asked.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She did not answer.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>She threw open the front door and went out to the porch as the streetlights went out one by one.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The green luminescence became stronger, lending a sickly color to everything in sight.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione could feel her parents beside her, and, with a nauseating flip of her stomach, knew they had no way of protecting themselves.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She had told them about Voldemort, but didn t think they really understood.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Her heart was pounding in her chest.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>How was she going to protect them by herself?<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She didn t know if she could do it even with Harry and Ron beside her. And Harry and Ron  who would make them study if she wasn t there? And Ron  oh Ron, she would never get to tell him that she and Viktor were no more than friends.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>All these thoughts flashed through Hermione s brain in a second.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Because in another second, she had frozen with terror.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Out of the murky darkness came shapes, half a dozen or more, laughing cruelly under their masks and hoods.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The Death Eaters made a tight semicircle in front of her house.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione heard her mother gasp behind her.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Mudbloods and Muggles, fear us! one shouted, the others echoing his sentiment.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Crookshanks pressed against her ankles, hissing and spitting at the Death Eaters.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione, taking a firm grip on her wand, shouted back,  No!<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We will not fear people who hide behind masks and evil! <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>There was another low, unsettling laugh.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> You should, my dear.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>For we have come to kill all of you. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> What do you   Mr. Granger started toward the crowd, angered by their words.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Dad! No! Hermione screamed.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>One of the Death Eaters raised his wand, the tip of it glowing green and getting brighter.  Imperio! Mr. Granger stopped in his tracks, contorted in a hideous pose.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione watched, seeing the stark terror on her mother s face, and the pain and fear in her father s frozen eyes.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>They were all going to die if she didn t do something.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>But what could she do against Death Eaters?<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She was just a fifth year student.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>But she had to do something!<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The Death Eater was saying something again, pointing at her father, the tip of his wand burning so bright she could hardly look at it.  You will meddle no more in the work of our Lord. Avada Kedavr  <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>For once, Hermione did something without thought.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She pointed her wand at the threatening man and shouted, all the fury, fear and hope pouring out of her.  <i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>Expelliarmo Stupefaction</i>!!! <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The force of the spell knocked her backwards, and struck the spellcaster straight on.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She heard her father call out in pain and her mother scream.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>Suddenly, there were several popping sounds, and shouts.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione didn t know what was happening;<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>her head was spinning.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She crawled over to her father, who lay on the steps of the porch, her mother weeping over him.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She looked around, but couldn t find her wand, and knew that they would be dead if she couldn t find it, if her father wasn t dead already.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione would protect them with her body, if nothing else.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>But no more spells came at them.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span><o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>Within seconds, the Death Eaters had Disapparated, leaving just the one, frozen and disarmed.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Several Ministry wizards, who had appeared just split seconds before, took him into custody, while others came up onto the porch to help the Grangers. Her father shook his head, groaning.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione let out a whimper of relief that he lived, but then saw the angry burn mark on his face and knew how close he had come to death. Mrs.Granger looked up at her daughter with a gaze of both awe and fear, not understanding what had happened.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>Time had suddenly sped up.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Wizards swarmed all over, relighting the streetlights, asking questions of her family, and trying to dispel the Dark Mark.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione just sat with her parents, unmoving for a long moment, amazed that they were still alive, and more amazed at what she had done.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>Hermione hadn t noticed the blisters on her fingers and hands until a kind-faced witch pointed them out to her.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Don t worry, dearie, your da will be just fine.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>You re going to take a while to heal, though. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Where s my wand? Hermione asked, shocked to hear how small and frightened her own voice sounded.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>The witch clucked her tongue.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> I m sorry, dear.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>It s been burnt to ashes.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>When you force a wand to do that much magic, and you hit another powerful curse at the same time, sometimes that happens.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>That s how your hands got hurt. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She waved her wand over the burns and Hermione hissed at the severe stinging.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Don t worry dear.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>It will all be over in a minute.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>But then you ll have to be careful for a while. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>To take her mind off of the burning pains as the witch ran her wand over her hands, she looked around.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She was surprised to see Ron and Mr. Weasley replanting the small hedges that had been trampled in the confusion.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>A small smile came to her lips as she caught Ron s eyes.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He gave her a wide grin and continued straightening the plants.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>When the witch finished bandaging her hands, Hermione went inside with her mother and father.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Despite the burn, which was now a dark pink color, neither were hurt very badly, just confused and scared.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Mr.. Weasley joined them in the living room, while Mrs. Weasley (who had Apparated just moments before) made some tea with her wand.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Crookshanks jumped up on her lap and curled up, purring.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Mr. and Mrs. Granger, I m so sorry that this happened, but I must say, I m glad you and Hermione are all right, Mr. Weasley started.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> What was all this about? Mr. Granger burst out.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Why did they want to kill us? <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>He went on to explain the situation about Voldemort and the Death Eaters;<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>the same explanation Hermione had given them once before.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> You okay? Ron whispered in her ear, sitting on the couch arm beside her.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>She smiled wanly up at him, thankful he was here.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Fine.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Scared, but fine. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>He patted her back, rubbing gently, but didn t leave her side as the conversation turned to her side of the story.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>In fact, Ron s hand stayed on her through her entire speech, for which Hermione was grateful.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She didn t expect her story to be as difficult to tell as it was.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>When she reached the part about using the combined curse to protect her father, she couldn t stop herself from sobbing.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>When she looked up again, she saw there wasn t a dry eye in the room, except for Ron and Mr. Weasley.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Her mother squeezed her hand tightly.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> We d like to extend an invitation to you to stay at our home.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>It will be safer for you there, Mrs. Weasley put in gently.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione heard her parents discuss the issue and decide it was probably safer, at least for the night.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione and her mother went upstairs to get some things for them to bring.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> I m sorry to say that I must get back to the office.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Molly will escort you back to the Burrow, Mr. Weasley was saying when they came back down. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Do you need me to go with you, Dad? <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Ron asked.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>He regarded his son and shook his head.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> No. You did well enough when you spotted this as quickly as you did. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>And with that, he Disapparated.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Now, Molly Weasley said, producing an old tire iron Portkey.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> If you re all ready, please gather round.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Mrs. G, can you take the cat?<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Oh, Hermione, your hands& well, Ron, hold on to her, will you?<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Everyone take hold of this and we ll be back in the Burrow before you can say   <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>Hermione felt a tug around the middle, and thought it was Ron s arm, which was anchored firmly there.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Ignoring the pain in her hands, she held on to his arm with all her strength as the world around then spun away.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>As quickly as it started, it stopped.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Ron set her on her feet in the Weasley s kitchen and turned to help her parents up.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The twins came in, grinning at Hermione but rather subdued for them, and took the luggage upstairs.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Ginny ran over to hug Hermione.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> I m so glad you re okay! she whispered thickly.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Oh, all right, all right.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Everything turned out okay.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Now, Ginny, take Hermione up to your room.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Ron, would you please show Mr. and Mrs. Granger up to Bill and Charlie s old room?<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I do hope that will be all right, she said, taking charge.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The Grangers smiled slightly and assured her it would be.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The hour had gotten very late, and they all trudged off to bed.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>Hermione sat and talked to Ginny for a while, until it was obvious the younger girl could barely keep her eyes open.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione lay quietly for several minutes, and soon she heard soft snores coming from the other side of the room, then got up and padded down to the kitchen.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She was wide awake, and not nearly ready to find out what dreams would come to her that night.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>Surprisingly, she found Ron stoking the big kitchen fire.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He looked concerned as he saw her come in.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Can t sleep? he asked quietly.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Not yet, she answered.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Like some tea? <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Please.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Thanks. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She sank into the chair closest to the cheerful fire.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> What are you doing up? <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Dad or Percy usually stokes the fire before bed, and since they re not home, I thought I d do it. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>She sat in silence for a moment, until Ron came over with the teacups.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She noticed that one he had made was huge  three times the normal size of a regular teacup. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"></span>She looked at him curiously.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> I thought it would be easier for you to hold a bigger cup, he shrugged, motioning at her bandages.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Oh, thanks. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He was correct.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She held the cup like a bowl and sipped from the edge in silence.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> You were amazing tonight, Ron told her, staring deep into the fire.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> I couldn t believe it when I saw it.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Thought you were gone, for sure. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione thought she heard a hitch in his voice, but didn t look up from her cup.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>In a second, his voice returned.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> But you were amazing.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione the Heroine.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>You ll be heralded in song and legend. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She snorted with a little laughter at that, looking up at his smile.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> No thank you.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I just did what anyone would do. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> No. Ron looked uncomfortable for a moment.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Mrs. Wingknut  the lady who healed you?  she was telling my dad that your hands got burned by the force of the Avada Kedavra curse as you blocked it, and that your wand had been destroyed in the process. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>Hermione didn t know why, but the reminder that her wand had been destroyed completely undid her.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She hugged her knees to her body, put her head down and cried.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Vaguely, she heard Ron beside her, mumbling  Don t worry, we ll get you a new wand!<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>A better wand! as he rubbed her back.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Eventually, she was cried out, so she wiped her tears and looked at Ron.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Thank you, she said.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> All right? <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> No. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She stared into the fire.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> No, I m not all right.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>And neither is anyone else.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>But I m not afraid anymore, Ron.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I m mad.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Voldem- <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Please! he interrupted, looking frightened that she would say His name in his own kitchen.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> No, Ron.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We can t be afraid of him anymore.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span><i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>Voldemort</i>, she said with emphasis,  tried to have me and my family killed.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>But they failed.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>They were foiled by a fluke of luck  that I happened to read that spell earlier- <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> It wasn t a fluke of luck.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>You were great.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I couldn t have done that, Ron cut in solemnly.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>She smiled a little at his compliment.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Sure you could have.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Anyone could have.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The thing is, people are too afraid to stand up to the Death Eaters when they come.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>More people hide from them than stand up to them.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>That s how they can get away with it.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>They re no more powerful than regular adult wizards are  in fact, they re MORE cowardly because they hide.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>They re kind of like the Boggarts  they seem scary, and they are scary and dangerous, but if you stand up to them, you can win.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I think we shouldn t be afraid anymore.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We should be angry that he s trying to do this. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> But, Hermione, what about   <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> No, Ron, she s right. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>They started, and turned from the fire to find Dumbledore sitting at the table behind them.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>How long he had been there, neither knew, but he seemed to have heard most of their conversation.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione blushed, glad he had interrupted before she had said something embarrassing.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span><o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Sorry to startle you, your father, brother and I just Apparated in with when I heard your conversation, and I didn t want to interrupt.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>And I m glad I didn t.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Miss Granger is absolutely correct.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Except about the part about you being great, Hermione.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>When Minerva and I discussed giving you the Charms book at the end of term, we had no idea it would be of such great use.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Perhaps someday you ll be an Auror.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>It s not often that we catch a Death Eater, and recently we have had very little luck.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Your quick wits and bravery have gotten us a pawn from the other side, and that is no small accomplishment.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>But it is just beginning.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I came back here with your father, Ron, because there will be a meeting tomorrow, here in the Burrow, to decide what should be done.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>And Hermione, I think you have hit the nail on the head.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>When Voldemort came to power years ago, everyone was afraid, and rightly so.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>His power was the likes we had never seen before.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>But he was defeated once, and we can do it again. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He smiled at the two and cracked a large, fake yawn.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Now, it is quite late.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>If you ll excuse me, I believe I am bunking down in Percy s room.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Be aware not to step on your brother when you go up, Ron, as I think he s in your room. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He winked as he said his good nights.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>After Dumbledore left, the two sat in silence and watched the flames in the fireplace.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione thought about everything he had said and all that had happened.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Her outburst earlier seemed to have calmed her down and made the events of the evening easier to think about.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>One thing especially& <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Ron? she started hesitantly, just as he yawned so widely his jaw cracked.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She laughed.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Never mind.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Go to bed. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> No, I m all right.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>What is it? <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He leaned forward in his chair, pinning her with an earnest gaze.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>Well, Hermione, she thought to herself, you re brave enough to face down Death Eaters, you re brave enough to do this.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She took a deep breath.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> I just wanted to tell you that& Viktor s not my boyfriend.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I told him we should just be friends. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She hoped the flush in her cheeks would be hidden in the dim light.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Really? Ron s voice cracked.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Yeah. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She raised her eyes from the fire to look at him.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>He sat up suddenly.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Well& good. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'>A spark of an argument rose in her, but she was too tired to pursue it.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Instead, she got up and wandered toward the staircase.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Goodnight, Ron.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>And thanks for listening. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal style='text-indent:.5in'><span style='font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:Garamond'> Goodnight Hermione. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'>++++++++++++++<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>The next morning, there were more people in the Weasley s kitchen than Hermione could ever remember. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"></span>Her parents were quite stunned to find themselves surrounded by so many witches and wizards, but were happily received by all.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>When Professor McGonagall arrive, she gave Hermione a quick, unexpected hug.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> I knew you could do it! she said with a grin.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione thought she looked so much prettier with her full smile.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>More people arrived that neither Ron or Hermione knew.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Near nine o clock Lupin arrived with Sirius in the guise of a black dog.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> We came as soon as we heard, Dumbledore, Lupin stated.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> I m so glad you and your family are all right, Hermione. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Sirius came over and nudged her hand, and she assumed he felt the same way.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Soon after, Mrs. Weasley shooed them all out of the house, telling Fred and George that she had enchanted the windows to slam shut if any of the them came anywhere near the house.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> But we have a right to hear! Ron said hotly.  Hermione s family   <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> We ll talk to you later, Ron.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>You will all have a part in this, I m sure. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Mr. Weasley smiled kindly at them all.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Now, please go outside.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We ll call you when we re through. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>For once, Hermione was grateful for the antics of Fred and George.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Within a little while, they had started a raucous game of Quidditch, and even coaxed Hermione to play, despite her wounded hands.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>They didn t sting as much as they had the night before, and while still bandaged, she could manage to hold onto her broom with little trouble.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She knew she was a terrible Quidditch player, and Ron would much rather have Harry as a teammate, but they all had fun anyway.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Especially when Fred and George played  Monkey in the Middle with a Quaffle, spinning her back and forth until she laughed so hard she fell off her broom.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>They were flying low, she wasn t hurt, and actually felt better for the laughter.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>When the boys and Ginny saw she wasn t injured, Ron took off after Fred and George, which quickly became a flying race.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Soon, Hermione found herself sitting in the sun watching them zoom around the fields, while Ginny made daisy chains a little way off.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Hermione felt so peaceful and relaxed that she didn t realize she had fallen asleep until she woke a few hours later.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Ginny was now down by the pond, watching the twins catch frogs using firecrackers.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She blinked and sat up.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Hey, Ron said, from his place a few feet away.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Hey, she replied.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Meeting still going on? <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Yeah.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Mom sent out some lunch a little while ago, though.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hungry? <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She nodded and he handed her a covered plate of sandwiches.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I had to guard it or Gred and Forge would have eaten it all. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Thanks. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She ate quickly.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Ron, I was thinking.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I wish Harry were here. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Yeah.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Me too.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I wanted to send him an owl this morning, but Dumbledore suggested we wait until after the meeting.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I guess the owl could get intercepted or something. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> He could be in danger though! <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Nah.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Unfortunately, his being at the Dursleys is the safest place for him.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Mum was telling me that it s been safeguarded many times over. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> I still think he should be here. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She finished her lunch and covered the plate.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Thoughtfully, she went back,  Or maybe not. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> What? <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> He s been feeling so responsible lately for Cedric s death.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Maybe it s better that he doesn t know<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I don t want you two ditching me all the while so I won t get hurt.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I mean, that s nice and all, but if I can help, I want to. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Harry might want to do that, but after last night, if there s a fight, I want you on my side.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>You re getting to be a pretty powerful witch, Mione. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He said lightly, but she could tell he meant it seriously.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Truth to tell, Ron, if you hadn t gotten the Ministry there so fast&  she trailed off.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Percy was bragging about you this morning, before you came down. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Ron looked embarrassed.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> That was nothing   <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> It was something.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We have to look out for each other, because we can t do it on our own.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Not even Harry. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She paused, thinking.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Maybe we should tell him, after all. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> And, we ll tell him that no matter what, he s stuck with us.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We re more powerful together than apart. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Do you think he ll listen? <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Probably not.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>But he doesn t have a choice. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Their minds made up, they lapsed into silence.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The frogs were croaking down at the pond, Ginny<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>was laughing, the birds were singing.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Do you think you ll still go on vacation? Ron asked.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Your parents convinced mine that it s probably safer to go on our trip than stay home.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>So, yes.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We leave this weekend. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Are you & are you still going to visit Viktor? <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Yes.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>As a friend. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Will you still write to me? <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Hermione wasn t sure, but she thought he sounded a little wistful.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Of course. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She smiled at him.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Every day, if you d like. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Please.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Because, I mean, that way we know you re okay, he added quickly.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>A shadow fell across them as Lupin came up to them, Sirius padding along with him.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> May I have a word? <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Is the meeting still going on? Ron asked, as Lupin sat next to Hermione, and Sirius lay down by Ron.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Yes.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I m sorry we couldn t include you this time.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Right now it is very dangerous because we don t know who s with us and who s against us.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Plus, the Ministry is deeply divided on the subject of Voldemort.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Some people are being downright irrational. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He shook his head.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> But that s not what I came to talk to you about.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>It s Harry.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We re worried that he might try to take on all this by himself. That he will try to slip away, and keep you, and us, out of his fight against Voldemort. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Ron and Hermione shared a smile.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> We ve already discussed that.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We re not going to let him, Ron said.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> We thought you might say that.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Not Gryffindors for nothing! <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Lupin s smile quickly faded.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> But, if at any point you feel you are in too much danger and need to step down, we won t hold it against you- <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> I m not abandoning Harry, Hermione stated firmly.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Or you, Ron. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Me either.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Harry and Hermione are my best friends.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I m with them  til the end. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> You must know that it will be even more dangerous from now on.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We re just at the beginning.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>It will get very dark near the end. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Then we ll just need every light we can get.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We re not afraid, Professor Lupin.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We ll protect Harry, Hermione said, eyes flashing.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> We ll protect each other, Ron echoed.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Sirius put his paw on Hermione s knee, and she hugged the dog.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> Don t worry, Sirius.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Together, we ll win. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> If we need you to help, can we call upon you? <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Of course, Ron answered.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Then these are for you. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He handed them each a crystal on a long chain.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>The crystal seemed to glow, even in the bright sunlight.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> If you are ever in dire straits and need help, hold this in your right hand and call <i style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>Pax Dominus.</i><span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We will come.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>If one of us needs your help, we will do the same. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Lupin pulled an identical chain from beneath his robe.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> The crystal will help you Apparate  which you will be learning this year. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>The sun had sunk fairly low in the sky.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Lupin and Sirius stood.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> It s time for us to be going.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Please let us know if you need anything.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>And stay safe. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Just then, Mrs. Weasley opened the door and called them back inside.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>They saw several of the witches and wizards leave, including McGonagall and Dumbledore.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> This is really happening, isn t it?<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>I mean, we re really going to fight against Voldemort. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>It all seemed so unreal to Hermione, but at the same time, like it was meant to be.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span> Yeah. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Ron gave her hand a quick squeeze.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span> But you re right.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We re going to win. <o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'>++++++++++++++<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><span style='mso-tab-count:1'> </span>Harry flung open his window to let Pig fly in with his message.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>It was a long letter from both Ron and Hermione, explaining all that had happened.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He felt terrible for them, and deeply angry about the assault on his friends.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>He continued reading.<o:p></o:p></span></p> <p class=MsoNormal><span style='font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Garamond'><o:p></o:p></span></p> <blockquote> <p>Sirius and Lupin came and asked us to join the fight.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>They said we didn t have to, but how could we not?<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>We re in this, Harry  you, me, and Mione  and we re not going to give up.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>So, don t go trying to hide from us or ditch us or anything  I ll use a scrying pool to find you, then I ll sic Mione on you with one of her kick-butt spells.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>So you might as well get used to the fact that you re stuck with is.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>(Aren t you glad you chose us as your best friends, instead of Seamus or Neville?)</p> <p>Anyway, we re going to do this.</p> <p> Harry, we re going to win.</p>
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