This story begins after the fight at the Department of Mysteries and Sirius's death, just at the beginning of their summer holidays before their Sixth Year.
At the beginning of this story Dumbledore is still alive, and so is Snape and everyone else who died in the final War.
This story is strictly AU. And I completely understand that quite a few scenarios appearing here could not have happened in our beloved series. The characters will be different from their original selves.
It's rated M not only because of some serious smut but also because I will be experimenting with the darker aspects of human nature in this story.
Variation from Canon:
* Hermione belongs to an elite Pureblood family, and after much internal debate by the Sorting hat between Ravenclaw and Slytherin has been sorted into the later. Although she will retain most of her canon characteristics like being brilliant and bookish, she will also display some very aristocratic, Pureblood, snobbish traits true to her house.
* Ron's will not exactly be OOC, but his Sixth-year self will be more mature/broody than in the books and the reason will come to light in due course.
* For all the Trio's feats that have included Hermione's brilliance from year 1-5, Just assume they managed without Hermione somehow (I've told you it's AU remember?).
In short, please expect people and situations to be different from as they are in the books.
All Characters belong to JKR.
Ch 1: The Unwanted Task
The door banged shut and not very lightly either as Ron entered the kitchen holding a Quaffle under his arms, his flaming hair windswept, sweat-soaked t-shirt sticking onto his chest.
Molly turned around from the oven to glance at her youngest son and with her brows furrowed in concern, went back to opening a packet of sausages before dropping them onto the sizzling hot pan. The sound of a chair scraping sounded behind her, and she spoke without taking her eyes off the food.
"You are not sitting at the breakfast table like that, Ron."
"Mum- " he grumbled, and for a brief minute, she wondered when his voice had become so deep, how all her little ones had grown up so fast.
"I said, no," she responded however, he was still her little boy after all. "Go, take a shower, and then you may have breakfast," she instructed, her tone softening ever so slightly this time.
It had been a few weeks since they had lost Sirius. She still shuddered at the thought of the stunt the kids had pulled that night by going to the Ministry all by themselves- couldn't help feel saddened about the fact that they had been forced to grow up so much, so soon.
She heard him grumble inaudibly for a few minutes before he pushed back the chair roughly, and stomped his ever-growing feet on the staircase as he went up. Any other day she would have called him back and lectured him about his behaviour, but she could not bring herself to do it anymore. Their most recent loss was still hanging heavy over all of them, and Ron looked particularly forlorn ever since he had got back from school. She would have immediately called him for a cup of tea and a chat but for Arthur who reminded her that he was growing up. He had assured her that Ron would speak to them if he needed. But she knew better; Ron would never ask for help.
At least, Harry was arriving later that night with Dumbledore, she thought to herself. Hopefully, the boys would be able to help each other better. She was extremely worried about Harry too. The poor kid had lost so much already…
Wiping away a stray tear, Molly busied herself with the eggs and the toasts as the rest of the family slowly trudged down the stairs for the first meal of the day.
"An Order meeting at Grimmauld Place?" Ron asked, lifting himself up to rest on his side. Harry untied his shoelaces lazily, not meeting Ron's eyes and took time removing his shoes before shoving them under the bed. He collapsed on the spare bed that had been a permanent fixture in Ron's room since their second year.
"Yeah..." he replied, and Ron could pick up the reluctance in his voice.
"I thought we were avoiding the place after, you know-" Ron paused uncomfortably, "-Kreacher." Harry hadn't mentioned Sirius's death but the despair still hung in the very aura of his person.
"Dumbledore has personally reset and strengthened the wards," Harry provided in a tone way too flat. "He made me question Kreacher to see if he has disclosed anything. Apparently, the elf kept quiet about this one thing at least," he added bitterly. "I have ordered him against disclosing anything that happened or will happen inside that house to anyone outside the Order, " Harry finished in a rush, no longer bothering to hide his displeasure.
Ron eyed his best mate and collapsed back on the bed.
"What now mate?" he asked softly, watching the Chudley Canon players zoom in and out of the frayed poster overhead, and heard Harry shuffle and adjust himself in his bed.
"Dumbledore said he'll give me some lessons this year and... I don't know..." Harry answered back.
"Private lessons with Dumbledore?!" he gasped, "Bloody awesome, mate," he replied eagerly, hoping to cheer his best mate up with his enthusiasm. "Bloody fuckin brilliant."
"Yeah, I guess," replied Harry but without much cheer.
They remained silent for a long time as the candle flickered and eventually died down, Ron having lost his enthusiasm, his mind flicking back into the dark corners he was trying to escape for weeks.
"Ron?" Harry said after a long while; Ron had almost forgotten he wasn't alone.
Ron knew that Harry could almost sense him stalling. He fidgeted in his bed which creaked under his weight. "I am not sure what you are talking about mate," he responded eventually, glad that shadows had doused the room in darkness.
Ron instinctively knew that Harry was contemplating whether to confront him or not. After a while, he heard Harry turn on his side as the faint candlelight glinted off his glasses.
"I know something happened before we left for the Ministry that day, Ron," Harry stated, while Ron wondered if it was too late to feign sleep as Harry went on. "I'd have to be blind to not notice how you changed within a few days from the Ron I know to - to this-" he gestured towards Ron bed.
"I thought you were busy with You-Know-Who. I didn't realise you were crushing on me instead," Ron replied, hoping to divert the topic. He gave out a bark of a laugh and noticed a smile that Harry tried to hide but was unsuccessful.
"Crushing on you?" Harry said, mimicking the sound of puking for effect. "Who do you think I am? Lavender Brown?" he added, and Ron felt lighter than he had in days, watching his best mate lighten up.
"Lavender Brown?! Woah! What are you talking about?"
"Oh come on, Ron!" Harry grinned easily this time, "She has been eyeing you all year! Even I noticed it!"
"What?" he gasped, "I never knew... I guess..." he stammered, his voice much less playful now than before. He paused and sucked in a deep breath. "Hang on! How do you know she has been eyeing me? Does that mean you've been watching her too? Apart from Cho, I mean? Blimey mate, how many are you eyeing simultaneously?!" Ron laughed aloud, "Well, you might give it a try. At least Lavender won't cry if you snog her," he added chortling.
"Very funny, Ron," replied Harry in a false hurt tone before he too burst out laughing.
The moon set over the horizon as the sound of their laughter broke the silence of the night.
The next evening found the members of the Order of the Phoenix gathered around the table in the dining area of the old Black House.
Waiting for their leader, the group sat together, discussing and updating each other on the Orders plans while Harry stood apart.
"You okay there?" asked Ron softly, and as Harry turned around, he was handed a bottle.
"Firewhiskey disguised as butterbeer," Ron whispered close to his ear, "George got it. Drink up," he added, eying his mother who was sitting at the far end with Tonks.
Harry took a gulp and relished the burn as the fiery liquid numbed his senses for a while. "Thanks," he muttered looking at Ron who raised his bottle of real butterbeer and took a sip.
"Thought you might need it," Ron replied as he wiped his lips on the back of his sleeve.
"What is all this about?" asked Ron, taking a look around the room. "I thought they wouldn't allow us in the meetings."
"No clue," he provided after taking another sip; "I guess something major is happening. Dumbledore specifically asked the two of us to be present today."
The two best friends looked at each other when suddenly a familiar knock sounded from the main door.
The door to the kitchen opened, and Dumbledore appeared followed by Kingsley and Lupin. Just before the Auror turned and shut the door behind him, Ron just about noticed another figure cross the corridor outside. Before he could so much as turn around and whisper it to Harry, however, Dumbledore's eyes met his over the old wizard's half-moon glasses. To Ron's immense surprise, he found a hint of a smile in that bearded face. For reasons unknown to himself, he kept quiet, waiting for Dumbledore to speak.
A hurried shuffling of chairs and papers ensured, and the wizards and witches all settled down quickly to take their places as Dumbledore took the chair at the head of the table.
Ron found himself squeezed between Harry and Lupin, and just like everybody else, he watched the headmaster curiously. His mother was sitting a few places ahead, and he could make out her frown as she eyed them- two under-aged boys in a group of older and more experienced Order members.
"Kingsley?" gestured Dumbledore, and the Auror nodded once before turning towards the anxious group of onlookers.
"We have called this urgent meeting because something important has happened yesterday- something that the Ministry and the Prophet are doing all in their power to keep from coming out to the public," stated Kingsley in his characteristic deep voice.
The door opened again, and this time, Snape entered and took a vacant seat between Arthur and Kingsley. Ron was left wondering why the Potions master had come in late since it was obvious from what he had seen that Snape had arrived along with Dumbledore minutes earlier. He turned around and watched Harry with his brows furrowed, apparently thinking the same. There had been no sound of the main door this time around.
Harry took a few steadying breaths as he watched Snape walk casually into Sirius' house. All the pain and anger he had been struggling to keep within him threatened to spill out, but then, Kingsley began speaking and he pulled himself together to concentrate on the present.
"According to our sources, one of the elite Pureblood couples, the Grangers, who were providing generous funding to the dark side, and their daughter have been murdered in their own Mansion in Southampton," continued the Auror grimly, and sounds of gasps echoed around the room, -under Voldemort's orders," he finished and the muttering increased. Harry turned to face Ron and was surprised to find him frozen for a brief minute before Ron met his eyes and shrugged dismissively. News of death and murder was becoming a commonplace since Voldemort's appearance weeks back. Only, in this case, the dead were from the enemy camp and Harry knew one of the victims.
Hermione Granger was in their year, and quite obviously a Slytherin. She was also the brightest in their class and extremely proud of her superior intellect. Though Harry couldn't recall her taking part in the sneers and jibes Malfoy loved to hurl at them, she was only slightly better. Granger preferred to spend her time with her best friend, Daphne Greengrass. The duo was famed to be the ones who spend the majority of their days in the library. That, however, did nothing to decrease their high-headed, snobbish attitude for belonging to the elite Pureblood society. Granger, Harry recalled, had also drawn great attention by attending the Yule Ball with Victor Krum. It had caused quite a sensation back in their fourth year.
"She-" Harry began but was stopped with a look from Dumbledore while Kingsley continued.
"The story Ministry will release is that the kitchen fire went out of hand and burnt down the place while the family was sleeping. But it's incredibly lame in my opinion," he added, grim as ever. "Theirs was not a small cottage that could burn down by a kitchen fire. The place is enormous. We are positive Fiend Fire was used."
"Why would Voldemort murder one of his own men?" Bill asked the group at large.
"Betrayal perhaps?" offered Tonks, looking around.
"The Dark Lord required some special service from them which the Grangers denied," provided Snape in his deliberate slow drawl.
"Special service?" questioned Molly looking repulsed.
"He wanted the daughter to join ranks, although for what purpose is known only to the Dark Lord himself," Snape provided, "Extremely brilliant though she is, she is still under-aged, and hence still under the Trace," added the Potion master.
"Wait you just said, 'she is'! Does that mean?" interjected Tonks and all eyes turned towards Dumbledore who smiled.
For reasons he could not clearly fathom, Harry realised, Ron was fidgeting uncomfortably next to him.
"She is alive, yes," answered Dumbledore, and as the murmurs increased, Harry wondered whether Ron was trying to escape somewhere.
"And that is the reason for this meeting. We have been able to rescue Miss Granger before the fire hit her room," Dumbledore went on as the murmured died down and all eyes were fixed on him "As it is, the cursed fire leaves no trace. There won't be any bodies left to recover from the site, so her escape from death is well hidden from Voldemort," he provided. "Nevertheless, she needs to be kept safe, hidden and cared for."
"Is she here?" questioned Arthur.
"Yes, for now..." provided the Headmaster.
"Poor dear..." whispered Molly, and this time, Harry was sure he saw Ron flinch next to him.
"I guess I'll..." began the Weasley matriarch, half rising from her chair, Harry assumed, perhaps to fix a meal, but she was stopped mid-sentence by Dumbledore himself.
"No, Molly, not you."
The older witch looked sceptically at the wizened old man but took her seat anyway.
"You all need to know that she has been put upstairs in the third floor's second bedroom. Severus has put up special wards around it. It is not just to keep her safe, it's also to avoid her risking an escape," Dumbledore's eyes found and rested on him, or perhaps it could be Ron, Harry wasn't too sure. "Although she does know her life is at risk, she might not take kindly to be rescued by the Order. As such, I don't wish her to know more about us, just yet."
The group looked on at their leader, clearly clueless with where he was going with it.
"But she still needs to be taken care of, and that is why I have asked the two of you to join us today," Dumbledore said, this time without an iota of doubt, towards him and Ron, and the two of them stared at each other in disbelief. Ron, Harry noticed, was looking rather unwell.
"Albus, you can't be serious!" Molly intervened, "The boys... I mean..." she began looking scandalised with the suggestion.
Dumbledore smiled, watching her over his half-moon spectacles with a hint of something Harry could only describe as mysterious in his eyes.
"Molly dear, trust me. It's all for the best. This is one responsibility Ron will have to take."
Harry watched Ron scramble up the chair, extracting his long legs from under the table as he pushed the chair back.
"Professor Dumbledore, Sir, I... I can't! I-I won't!" he stammered, obviously uncomfortable as all eyes turned towards him. Harry could distinctly make out his ears turning red to almost match his hair.
"Well, I know you are putting too much trust on Ronald Weasley, Headmaster," sneered Snape, and Harry pulled on Ron's arms to pull him back into the chair. His blood was shooting to his head as Snape met his eyes and smirked. Although he desperately wanted to punch that sneer off that oily face, he knew it wouldn't be prudent to lose his temper in front of everyone and drop this golden chance of getting more involved in the Order's business.
"I am putting my trust on him because I know he is the best man for this job, Severus," replied the old man calmly. Harry loved how Snape's sneer morphed into a frown.
"Now, if you boys will follow me please?" Dumbledore called, and pushing back his chair, left the table and opened the door. " Just the boys," he added as Molly Weasley glanced helplessly at her husband.
Keeping his eyes trained on his mentor's back, Harry followed Dumbledore up the stairs, while Ron followed behind him, grumbling under his breath and dragging his feet. Once they reached the third floor, Dumbledore took them inside a smaller room and took his place in a rickety, old armchair, while the two of them sat down on the facing couch which had quite a few springs peeking out of it.
"I understand you are not very happy with this arrangement," the Headmaster stated calmly to Ron. "May I know the reason?" he asked.
Ron fumbled for a bit, but then perhaps the daunting prospect of the task he was assigned made him overcome any embarrassment he felt for his earlier behaviour.
"Because she-she is from Slytherin and...I- I don't wish to do it," he responded firmly.
"The school houses mean nothing outside Hogwarts, Ron."
"But I don't-"
"You don't wish to be part of the Order then?"
"Of course, I do! " Ron replied incredulously and looked between him and their teacher.
"Then?" asked Dumbledore softly.
"During times like these, we are often forced to do things we don't particularly like," Dumbledore continued as if Ron hadn't just refuted his order, "Doesn't mean the tasks are any less important, or that we are incapable of them. I guess I do owe you both an explanation about the importance of this."
Harry and Ron looked on while Dumbledore continued patiently, his arms placed on the armrest casually.
"You both know, Miss Granger is an extremely brilliant witch. And it's her intellect that is both her asset and enemy now. If I could change fate, I would have wished for her to be on our side. But born in the family she was, there wasn't much we could do about her being a part of the wrong side. Voldemort knows of her abilities and is sure she will be a valuable asset in the upcoming war. He realised he could use her skills to his benefit. You will get to know what he wished of her in due time." Harry and Ron looked at each other, shell-shocked, but Dumbledore wasn't done yet. "However, for whatever reasons they must have had, her parents refused to let her into his ranks, and I will be eternally grateful to them for it. They both paid with their lives for that bit of disobedience, though," Dumbledore nodded sadly.
"Now she is alone, orphaned and out of her comfort zone. She needs to realise that she still has people who can care for her if given a chance," Dumbledore looked at Ron and Ron looked positively ill. "The dark side is not where she belongs, " Dumbledore went on, eyes fixed on Ron, who looked very uncomfortable under the piercing gaze. "If we can change her heart and bring her to our side it will be a huge blow for Voldemort. But that won't be easy considering the values she has imbibed and will require immense work. I believe it will be easy for her to get accustomed if someone of her own age can help her there. Can I trust you with this responsibility, Ron?"
Ron looked like he was expecting Dumbledore to let him go. He grunted almost miserably. "Why not Mum or Tonks?" he asked like a stubborn child.
"Because I don't wish to compromise on her education. Once school starts, she will need to finish her education if she has to be prepared for this war. She will need someone to get her lessons and assignments. Although the teachers will all know about her taking the classes, she won't be able to attend them herself as she is dead to the world. For her safety, it's absolutely important, we keep it that way."
"How will she attend school without anyone knowing?" asked Harry before he could stop himself.
"Well, we have created a separate chamber attached to your dormitory which only the two of you will be able to access."
Ron looked like he would faint.
"Why can't Harry do it?! You said it will be accessible to both of us," he pleaded, perhaps knowing completely well that Dumbledore wouldn't back down and he would have to do it anyway.
"Because Harry will be busy helping me with something else," Dumbledore replied cryptically, and the boys glanced at each other again.
"And for this task, he is only your backup during unavoidable situations. Even then, he will pretend to be you when meeting her. Technically, you are the only person she will see until we are sure of her allegiance."
Harry, who was watching his best mate, wondered if Ron was beginning to get a headache, he sure looked ill. But he seemed to have accepted his fate, albeit grudgingly.
Dumbledore looked at Ron for a long time and then raised himself up.
"Your mission starts now,"
"-WHAT?!" Ron gasped, but Dumbledore continued as if he hadn't. "You and Harry will stay here for the rest of the summer. The wards of her room will allow you in, and no one else. I think I'll ask Molly to get the poor girl something to eat now, and you can take it to her. She is just in the other room," he gestured. With a swipe of his purple robes, Dumbledore left the room to go downstairs.
Ron continued to pace furiously in the small room for some time while Harry sat still, quite stunned with the events of the night.
"Fuck it all!" groaned Ron suddenly, kicking the foot of the armchair the Headmaster had occupied and swore aloud in pain. Outside, the old man's footsteps had almost died down.