Chapter Seven: The Return
Harry walked down the stairs of Black Palace, his mind a hundred miles away. He kept retracing the events of Hogsmeade. Mr. Granger's plan had been spot on. The Death Eaters reacted as predicted. They hid behind the threat of bringing harm to the village residents. They had been able to draw the Death Eaters out as the rest of the Alliance cut them off. The surprise had been Ginny.
"Knut for your thoughts?"
Harry blinked. "Morning, Cassie. Sorry. My mind—"
"Had returned to the morning at Hogsmeade." She interrupted, giving him a knowing look.
"It's been a week and she hasn't been the same since."
"Could it be because you haven't either?" Cassie placed a hand on his shoulder. "It's completely understandable to feel conflicted after having to stop your girlfriend from murdering someone that you once considered family."
"Still consider family," Harry corrected. "It feels like only yesterday that we were chasing Death Eaters out of the courtroom while trying to save Ginny and now we're battling her in the middle of Hogsmeade!"
"That's because it was only yesterday, Harry." Cassie wiped her face with her hand. "Bloody hell. What you've been through in the last four months is enough to give a wizard white hair. Don't take this the wrong way, but you're only fifteen. You should be worried about OWLs, Quidditch, and girls. Not defeating the darkest wizard in history."
Harry looked away. "I don't have a choice."
"I didn't say that you did. What I'm saying, is that while you want to end this now, and are trying to push Voldemort to make the wrong move, you've got to think of this war as Wizard Chess. Time to take a step back with Hermione and clarify where you stand. Show her how you feel. Let her know that you still love her."
Harry's eyes darted to the fountain in the middle of the grand foyer, then to Cassie. "You're bloody right, on both counts. It's time for Hermione and me to play some Wizard Chess, together."
"Umm… I think you missed my point, Harry."
"Not at all." A smirk that could rival his godfather's any day of the week curved his face. "I heard you loud and clear."
Hermione stepped out of the grate in Black Palace and straightened her robes. Harry and Cassie stood at the bottom of the staircase on the other side of the fountain, locked in conversation. Breathe, Hermione girl. You can do this.
Harry made his way, walking around the fountain to where she stood. "Morning. Sorry I didn't return to Hogwarts last night."
"Morning." Hermione bit her bottom lip. "Sirius said that you needed some time to breathe after the Order meeting. That bad?"
"Mad-Eye continually accused the Alliance of being sloppy and emotional." Harry rolled his shoulders. "He still seems more concerned about twelve dead Death Eaters than he does the fact that the Ministry and the Wizengomat are being played like puppets. It's time to inform Madam Bones that her time is up. Whatever her plan was to draw out Voldemort has failed, just like his attempt to get me to turn myself in."
"You have that, 'I have a plan' look about you."
"That obvious?" Harry snorted, an impish smirk curving his face.
Hermione stared into his eyes. "To me it is."
Harry extended his hand and she accepted. He guided her around the fountain, past a grinning Cassie, and out into the snow-covered grounds of Black Palace. The enchantments that surrounded Black Palace allowed the fallen snow to create a picture-perfect scene, yet the temperature remained warm and cozy.
"I have two plans, actually." Harry rubbed his chin. "One is still forming while the other I've been working on for about a week."
"Care to share?"
Harry stopped and turned to face her, taking her other hand in his. She could feel her wand grow warm within her robes and see the fire reflected in his eyes.
"I want to apologize for my actions after the Hogsmeade incident."
"Harry, you've already apologized. Besides, I'm the one that was bloody out of line."
"No. Ginny tried to do you in and you had every right to react accordingly. I've had plenty of time to rehearse what happened and it's clear to me that, Imperiused or not, there's going to be casualties of war. I'd rather it be on his side than on ours. Sirius showed me some clippings from after the last war. Nearly every wizard family claimed that their family members had been Imperiused by Voldemort."
Hermione shook her head. "Even so, you were right. We had the opportunity to capture her. If you hadn't had to stop me from doing her in, we could have taken her. Our focus needs to be on taking down the Death Eaters we know to be in charge of their own actions, like Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix."
"I love you. You know that, right?"
Hermione's heart leaped in her chest. "I love you too."
"Then let's play some extreme wizard chess!"
Hermione blinked. "Not quite the response I was expecting."
"But I believe that you'll enjoy the outcome." Harry gave her a wink.
"This isn't some strange kinky thing, is it?"
"No, but I'll keep note that you're open to kinky ideas." Harry wiggled his eyebrows, earning a slap to the chest. "Seriously though, remember those plans that Ron, Bill, Fred, and George came up with? The ones that expanded on what they started at Hogwarts during Umbitch's short reign?"
"The ones that we agreed were too extreme?"
"Yep. Well, I've changed my mind. I think it's time we modify them and play some more aggressive wizard chess with the Ministry and old snake face. Your father is right. All we've been doing so far is moving pieces around the board. We've allowed Voldemort to control the tempo while taking one of our pieces in Ginny and murdering Neville's parents. While he's lost the use of the werewolves, Lupin says that it's only a matter of time before he regains their loyalties."
Make the suggestion. "Then I think that we need to start with Lucius Malfoy."
"Targeting? I dunno, Hermione. In wizard chess, you play to take what's available—"
"All the while thinking twelve steps ahead," Hermione interjected. "I agree. We take what the Ministry and the bastard give us. However, while we're dealing with the pawns, we plan on how to remove the key pieces from the board. We'll just have to make sure that the Order doesn't think we're targeting."
"Hell with the bloody Order," Harry growled, looking up at the outside of Black Palace. "We're better off moving without them. They can play cover for our movements."
"They won't be happy."
Harry lowered his gaze to her as he brushed a strand of hair from her face. "I don't bloody give a damn. We keep playing by the rules and we keep getting burned. Moody has berated me for the last time. I'll keep McGonagall informed, but Moody is on a need to know basis, at best."
Gone was the unsure fifteen-year-old boy from Hogsmeade that worried he'd fail those that chose to follow him. Now, before her stood the battle-hardened leader that would face down a hoard of angry goblins. How quickly five months had changed them all.
Let him lead, Jean whispered. He's becoming the warrior we need.
Hermione stared up into his bright green orbs. "Where do you wanna begin?"
"First, we need to meet with our Weasley Alliance and plan out our next move. Then we take down the pawns that will draw in the pieces we want."
Harry wrapped his arms around her then pulled her into a kiss. Hermione melted in his arms, enjoying the simplicities of being with her boyfriend. She smiled into his shoulder as Jean whispered in the back of her mind, Time to make Lucius hurt.
Two weeks later ….
Draco strolled into the Great Hall, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle. He rolled his eyes as he examined a nearby Christmas tree. "Thought that we wouldn't have to suffer the overabundance of foliage this year. Then, that great olf had to come back. I feel sorry for all those that have to stay here during the holidays."
"At least the school is Potter free," Crabbe suggested.
Dean Thomas cleared his throat. "Haven't read the paper this morning?"
"What are you on about, Thomas?" Draco hissed, spinning round to face the Gryffindor table. "Surprised a muttblood like you can read."
"Muttblood," Dean repeated, turning away from his breakfast.
"It's a new term I invented just for you, Thomas. You like it?" A proud look covered Draco's face. "It's when someone's so pathetic that they don't know if they're Pureblood, Half-blood, or even a Mudblood."
"Never mind him, Dean," Seamus Finnigan snorted, brushing Draco hard in the shoulder as he entered the Great Hall. "He's just sad to see that you didn't die or get bit." A mask of indifference covered Draco's face. "Besides, he's just jealous that you can read."
"What's in the paper that's so bloody important?"
"Language, Mr. Malfoy." Draco turned to see one of the Gringotts Curse Breakers enter the hall. "Wouldn't want to deduct house points from you the first day on the job. Especially from my own house."
Draco's eyes went wide. "What are you talking about?"
"Forgive me," bowed the wizard. "I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Professor Maxwell. Your new Potions Master and Head of Slytherin House. My old house when I once attended. I'm sure that your father would have told you of my appointment, had he not had to flee under such bizarre circumstances. Though rest assured, Mr. Malfoy, if the stories of you and your mother are true, then your father will be found and restored. It's very fortunate that he didn't harm you while in his Imperiused state."
Professor Maxwell patted him on the shoulder, nodded to Crabbe and Goyle, then proceeded to the staff table. The snickering coming from the Gryffindor table drew Draco back from his musings.
"Mr. Malfoy, would you, Mr. Crabbe, and Mr. Goyle please take a seat," Headmistress McGonagall requested as she entered the hall behind him. "I have some morning announcements to make and I'm sure that you'll be anxious to hear them."
Draco huffed as he made his way over to the Slytherin table while watching the Headmistress take a seat in Dumbledore's old chair. "One joke replacing another."
He then watched in horror as a witch, the other Gringotts Curse Breaker, and Harry Potter's Godfather, Sirius Black, joined the staff table. The Headmistress greeted them, then rose to her feet and cleared her throat.
"Greetings, students. I have a few announcements to make. First, we have four new Professors joining our staff. My niece, Professor Cassandra McGonagall, will be teaching Transfigurations and taking the role of Head of Gryffindor House."
Applause erupted from the Gryffindor table.
"Professor Maxwell will be teaching Potions and taking the role of Head of Slytherin House."
Whispers, followed by a smatter of applause came from the Slytherin table.
"Professor Hughes will be teaching Ancient Runes, Professor Babblings has agreed to teach Astrology, and Professor Black will be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts."
Applause, followed by a buzz of hushed talking filled the Great Hall. Headmistress McGonagall coughed once and all fell silent.
"My second announcement is that until further notice, all trips to Hogsmeade are canceled. Lord Voldemort's forces are at large once again and Hogsmeade is no longer safe. My final announcement is merely one of confirmation. As most of you are probably aware, by the number Prophets I see scattered through the Great Hall this morning, that Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and the Weasley family have been acquitted by the Ministry. A follower of Voldemort pretended to be Mr. Potter and stormed the Ministry, accompanied by multiple witches and wizards."
Whispers filled the hall once more. Draco snorted then shoved his plate of food away.
"What this means is that should Mr. Potter, Ms. Granger, and the Weasley family choose to return to Hogwarts, they are welcome." A small smile flickered across her face. "That is all."
Draco growled, "More than enough."
"What do we do now?"
Draco refused to look up. "Nothing changes, Pansy. We stick to the plan. Keep our ears low, eyes on Potter's Alliance, and report all to the Dark Lord."
"What about Blaise and Theodore?" Daphne quipped, glancing up at the staff table. "Nobody's seen them since September. You were the last one to—"
"I told you what happened," Draco snapped. "Whatever became of them is Weasley and Boot's fault, but I promise you that they will pay."
Like most Saturdays at Hogwarts, the day passed by slowly. Draco lied on one of the sofas in the Slytherin common room, levitating a pear over his head. Though he would never admit it, he missed having Scar Head around. The last month had been boring, especially without Theo and Blaise, and at least having his rival there would help keep the thoughts he dreaded at bay.
"He's coming!" Crabbe bellowed as he and Goyle thundered into the common room.
Draco swore loudly as the pear struck him in the forehead. "Bloody hell you two!" He leaped up and tossed the pear at Goyle's head. "Can't you even walk into a room without blundering it?"
"But Potter!" Goyle retorted, rubbing his head where the pear made contact.
Draco sobered at the name. "What? Who said?"
"We were coming up from the kitchens when we heard Potter's mates talking. They said that he'd be here soon." Crabbe stared at Draco, his eyebrows lifted.
"Well done fellas." Draco rubbed his hands together. "Did you hear how he'd be arriving?"
"They said he'd meet them in the grounds."
"Excellent. Let's give the Hogwarts Hero a warm welcome."
Crabbe swallowed. "You're not thinking of dueling Potter, are you?"
"Course not, Crabbe," Draco spat. "That's cause I think. Potter got whatever relic he went for. My father said that with it he survived a meeting with the Dark Lord."
"I heard that they blew up the Ministry."
Draco spun around to see Blaise strolling into the common room. "Where the bloody hell have you been?"
"Missed you too," Blaise simpered, flopping into one of the armchairs. "I've been at home getting recovering from that hex Boot and Weasley hit me with."
"What happened to Theo?"
"I'll tell you, Goyle, what I've told everyone else," Blaise groaned. "One minute I'm dueling Boot and Weasley, the next minute I'm in a tree in the north of Scotland. Took a week to get over the urge to flap my arms. As for Theo, I dunno what happened. Draco's mum was the first I'd heard of him being turned into a beetle."
"You don't remember flying off with him?"
"I swear Draco, I don't remember, but that's why I've come back. To figure that out and to get back at Weasley and Boot. Figured they'd both be here if Potter returns."
Draco's eyes narrowed. "Then I guess it's time to be cunning."
Hermione nodded. "Let's go."
Harry took hold of her hand, then raised his wand arm high. She felt her phoenix wand grow warm as Fawkes appeared in a whirl of flames. Next moment they were surrounded by flames and filled with weightlessness. Then, her feet touched down on a thin layer of snow-covered grass. As Fawkes disappeared, faces of the Alliance swam into view. Hermione could see Ron, Fred, and George walking up the path that led to Hogsmeade.
Dean slapped Harry on the shoulder. "Nice entrance, mates."
"Always the bloody show off." The Alliance turned as one to behold Malfoy, Zabini, Crabbe, Goyle, Parkinson, Greengrass, and several other Slytherins marching their way. "Just had to make a grand entrance, didn't ya Potter."
Here we go.
Harry cut through the group and reached Malfoy in three strides. A swipe of his hand and the rest of the Slytherins were on their backsides in the snow. Malfoy's face paled as Harry grabbed him by the front of his robes.
Hermione shouted, "Harry don't!"
"You fucking ferret! You think after how you and that puke you call a father treated Hermione and her family, that you can just waltz up to me? Are you still too dumb or too arrogant to believe that I can't gut you just because you're pureblood?" Harry dropped his voice to a whisper. "Wanna find out what that relic can do, Malfoy?"
Hermione grabbed Harry by the arm. "He's not worth it."
"Listen to Hermione, mate," Ron interjected. "Not here. Not now."
Hermione glanced at the other Slytherins. Most hadn't even moved, but Zabini had started to get up. She could see his wand at his side. She looked at Ron, who had his wand drawn as well.
Harry snorted, then released Malfoy. "Lucky you."
Hermione looked towards the castle to see Headmistress McGonagall marching across the grounds, her nostrils flared.
The Headmistress stopped directly in front of Harry. "I thought that I had made it perfectly clear that when you returned to this school, there would be no warring within these grounds. You promised me that you would control yourself and behave while around all school houses."
"Professor, Malfoy-" Hermione began, but Harry held up a hand.
"Professor McGonagall's right, Hermione. I promised no outbursts. It won't happen again."
Malfoy sneered until Headmistress McGonagall rounded on him. "As for you, Mr. Malfoy. I would have thought that your return to this school would be seen as an allowance. An allowance that can be revoked. Give me one reason to believe that you're in the services of Lord Voldemort," nearly every Slytherin, save Zabini, shivered, "and I'll have you before the DMLE faster than you can say Quidditch. Understand?"
"Good. Now, everyone up to the castle. Mr. Potter, Ms. Granger, Mr. Zabini, and Weasleys. Welcome back to Hogwarts."
Headmistress McGonagall nodded, and everyone recognized their dismissal. The Alliance waited for the Slytherins to go first, as none of them wanted to place their back to a snake. When they entered the school, Malfoy and company headed for the dungeons.
Harry turned to face the Alliance. "We meet tonight. The usual place."
When they made it to the Gryffindor common room, Harry flopped onto the sofa, spreading his arms wide. "The other room has nice sofas, but there's just something about this one."
"That's because it's home," Hermione quipped, dropping down beside him. "Oh, and by the way, well done out there. I didn't know that I was dating a movie actor."
Harry shrugged. "Not much acting. I really wanted to gut the ferret."
"There'll be time for that later, mate," Ron assured him, leaning up against the mantle. "But what's a movie actor?"
Dean sat on one of the armrests. "It's got something to do with the Muggle Telley I was telling you about. I'll explain later."
Once everyone had assembled in the Room of Requirement, Harry cleared his throat. "Thank you all for meeting tonight. If you haven't already heard, our public return to Hogwarts went to plan."
"Ya know, you'd think that the Slytherins would stop …"
"... believing everything they overheard from us."
The twins looked at each other, then shook their heads while sharing wicked grins.
Harry turned his attention to the twins. "Are the Demons of Hogwarts ready for round two?"
"For that answer …"
"... you'll have to ask …"
The twins raised their hands to the opposite end of the table. "Our glorious leader."
"Not sure about glorious," Bill sniffed, a smirk drawing his face to one side.
Hughes coughed. "Don't beat yourself up."
"Yeah, Bill. You've always been a right fine leader," Maxwell added. "Not to mention an excellent brother. Right, Ron?"
Ron nodded. "Always been cool to me."
"I knew that you three must have been a part of the three days of chaos," the Headmistress interjected, shaking her head.
"Don't worry, Minerva," Sirius laughed. "I thoroughly believe that these six, the Demons of Hogwarts, will rival anything that the Marauders ever did before this is over."
Hermione had to suppress a grin as Cassie elbowed Sirius in the ribs. It's not funny, Jean. This is war.
Lighten up, Hermione. Our parents are safe and Harry is ours. Find a way to end this war, preferably with every Death Eater and Voldemort in the dirt, and we can have our happily ever after.
Headmistress McGonagall raised an eyebrow in his direction. "Sirius, that's exactly what I'm concerned about."
Harry rose to his feet, then placed his balled fists upon the table. This action drew everyone's attention and earned an approving nod from Hermione's father.
"I'm sorry Professor if some of these plans concern you, but the old ways weren't working. It's been two months since the fight at the Ministry and our theatrics have yet to draw him out. Now, it's time to settle Voldemort's mind. If he believes that he knows where we're at, he may let his guard down."
"Did young Malfoy buy your pitch about the relic?"
Ron snorted. "Oh, you should have seen his eyes when Harry whispered about using the relic on him. I'm sure that he messaged mummy and daddy as soon as he reached the dungeons."
Maxwell scratched his chin. "I'll check the charms I placed about the common room tonight to see what form of communication they're using. I'm going to have some fun with him."
"As long as we keep our eyes on the prize. We have to lure the snake out, and the best way to do that is by thinning the herd. We agitate him enough, and he'll strike. When he does, we'll be ready." Everyone, including the Headmistress, nodded. "Now Bill, as the leader of the Demons, would you like to address the next phase of the plan?"
Bill rose to his feet as Harry sat. "Absolutely. Don't wanna give too much away as to the inner movements, just in case Madam Bones becomes too inquisitive, but this is what we're going to need from the Allian—"
A loud crack from the corner drew the attention of the group and halted Bill mid-stride. They turned to see Charlie and Tonks with a nervous Dobby in front of them. Wands flew from every pocket and cloak, pointing in their direction, followed by a distinctive click.
"Sorry we're late," Charlie quipped, eying the wands trained on him and Tonks.
Harry moved forward, motioning for everyone to lower their wands. "No worries, Charlie. I'm glad that Dobby was able to track you down. Matter of fact, you're just in time for the planning stage of this meeting." Gasps filled the room, but Harry ignored them. "Then, once this meeting is over, the four of us," he pointed to himself, Hermione, Tonks, and Charlie, "are going to have a long conversation about what you've been hunting."
A/N: Time for another update! Hope that you enjoyed the chapter. Special thanks to Critters At Play for being beta. Leave me a review and let me know what you thought. It's the first chapter of this story that's 100% mine (Scary)!
Till next time!