The next morning, the Daily Prophet seemed to be having a field day with the previous day's verdict:

Sentencing to follow after further Ministry interrogation

which seemed to be the story of what had happened at the trial, almost word-for-word, undoubtedly provided by whatever plant the Daily Prophet had managed to sneak onto the Wizengamot;

The fantastical tale of the rat who was a rat

which was really just another retelling of Sirius' initial claim to the Wizengamot, but printed again; and Hermione's personal favorite:

Pettigrew's arrest returns Britain to its peaceful state

"Dementors gone!" Tracey crowed. She waved the paper around. "Finally!"

"Not a moment too soon," Millie said, sighing with relief. "Last Hogsmeade visit's soon."

"This is interesting," Blaise said, reading the paper. "He never said he regretted joining up with the Dark Lord?"

"He did not," Hermione said. "It was a rather large point."

"Huh," Blaise said. "After all that's happened… I mean, I figured he'd be able to manage at least that on the stand. Well, at least that's done and over with now, right?" he said. He grinned. "So what's next?"

"Introducing my bill to the Wizengamot," Hermione said, sighing. "It's written, but I feel like I need to network with the Sacred 28 a bit more before presenting it. I need to get someone on board to plan the fundraiser."

"A fundraiser?"

Hermione glanced up to see Daphne Greengrass, who was peering at her curiously.

"Yes," Hermione said slowly. "A fundraiser."

"Can I plan it?" Daphne's eyes shone. "I've always wanted to plan a big event!"

Hermione looked at Blaise, lost. "I—it's a rather big thing. It'd be for the Ministry—"

Daphne waved her hand carelessly. "So? If you let them plan it, they'll hold it in the Ministry cafeteria and serve soggy chips and sausages. No one would come." She grinned. "But if I organize it, and I get my mother and father to help – we can dazzle people. They'll come in droves and donate tons of gold."

"You don't even know what the fundraiser is for," Blaise commented, amused.

"So?" Daphne pouted. "Doesn't matter. It's still an event."

Hermione was struggling to hide her grin. She knew Daphne fully intended on being a wife of high society, but it was amusing to see her leap into her first opportunity to organize a social event with such enthusiasm.

"Why don't you sketch out a preliminary idea?" Hermione suggested. "Owl your parents and let them know what you're working on. If you tell them to support my bill and get their friends to support it, we'll stand more of a chance of actually getting to throw the party."

"Oh, that'll be perfect," Daphne said. "My dad is desperately trying to get on your good side anyway, so it'll be easy to convince him to support whatever your thing is."

Hermione blinked. "He is?"

"Of course." Daphne looked startled. "He's sent you several owls by now."

"Regarding what?" Hermione asked. "I haven't gotten any—"

"He wants to hire the coven," Blaise said, his voice lowered. "Susan got them."

"Oh!" Hermione remembered. Susan had mentioned Daphne's mother's struggle with infertility. "Ah, I—I'll have to look at them after exams. We're waiting on all that sort of business until after—"

"Oh, of course," Daphne dismissed. "But he'll still want you to think well on him before you make up your mind."

Lupin looked haggard in Defense Against the Dark Arts, dark black circles under his eyes. Hermione wondered why – it wasn't anywhere near the full moon – until she realized Sirius had probably told Lupin all about Pettigrew's trial. She couldn't exactly blame him for having had a rough night.

History found Lockhart beaming at the class. He had immensely enjoyed their essays, he told them (Hermione had no idea how he'd read them all between Thursday night and now), but he was disappointed by the lack of personalization in many of them.

"History happens to people!" Lockhart explained passionately. "These things we learn about – they're not just empty dates and facts! History is people's memories, what shaped them growing up. And we feel more connected to other people than we do empty meaningless facts and dates."

He proceeded to read to them from the 'winning' essay, which had been written from the point of view of the Department of Mysteries' Unspeakable representative for the Wizengamot. The story seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with Peter Pettigrew's trial, and everything to do with the Unspeakable's connection with the Department of Magical Games and Sports Head, Ludo Bagman, a retired Quidditch player, and the angst of flirting with him and growing to care for him during the Wizengamot sessions over the years while never being able to reveal herself to him and pursue a true relationship.

Hermione listened on in astonishment as the story finally came to the trial, where the Unspeakable had decided to vote 'not guilty' based on a misconception that Pettigrew had once been Bagman's friend. The story ended with Bagman voting guilty and giving the Unspeakable a betrayed look at her own white paddle, the Unspeakable feeling her heart break, and the Unspeakable resolving to ask for a transfer to work in the Love Room so she could figure out how to tear her feelings out once and for all.

It was incredible, ridiculous, and entirely fictitious. It was also, Lockhart emphasized, human.

"You sense a person's motivation in this!" he declared, smacking the chalkboard for emphasis. "Not everyone is motivated purely to see justice done! The protagonist was motivated by love – what is more human than that? It is her love that drives her, even though it ultimately causes her downfall when she votes the wrong way at the conclusion of the trial. But the story connects. You feel her story and its place in history. What person among us cannot relate to the exquisite pain of pining for another and unrequited love?"

Incredulous, Hermione tried very hard not to laugh.

The rest of the period was spent discussing the merits of humanizing historical figures and characterization. Lockhart challenged the class to build their own 'historical canon', and Hermione watched on in amazement as different classmates took turns writing personality traits on the chalkboard underneath the names of her coworkers on the Wizengamot. It was surreal to see people characterizing Royce Fiddlewood as "a chav" and Era Hornbeam as "a grown-up Essex girl". The space under Hermione's own name was left suspiciously blank.

"Now put yourself into their shoes," Lockhart told the class. "What did they see during the trial? What did they experience? What did they feel?" As the bell rang, he called out, "Homework! Rewrite your essays with this new information about how the trial actually went. Be sure to humanize your protagonist!"

Hermione had never heard so loose a definition of the word 'essay' before.

She was still talking about it after classes, going on about the ridiculousness of it all to Blaise and Tom in the Chamber of Secrets as they checked on the Elixir of Life.

"—real people!" she emphasized. "It's disrespectful. It feels like a violation."

"It's just fiction, Hermione," Blaise said, grinning. "It doesn't hurt anybody."

"But it's weird," Hermione complained. "And writing it for homework… I'm almost at a disadvantage, knowing what these people are actually like!"

"You could write about it from the point of view of a ghost trapped in the chamber," Blaise suggested. "The secret behind the empty Gaunt chair, perhaps. I bet Lockhart would eat it up."

"I'm sorry – the what?" Tom asked.

"The Gaunt seat," Blaise repeated.

"It's one of the Sacred 28 seats," Hermione explained, "but it's been empty for like forever. For decades at this point, I think. But the chair hasn't collapsed, which means there's still a member from that family out there who could assume it."

Tom smirked.

"There's another reason to give me a body, Hermione," he remarked. "You'd gain another political ally. I could take that seat."

"Sacred 28 seats don't work like that," Blaise argued. "There's a blood test when you sit on them, and the chair itself verifies—"

"I mean my mother was Merope Gaunt, you blithering idiot," Tom snapped. "I could justly take that seat."

Blaise paused. "Oh."

Tom rolled his eyes, but Hermione's were growing huge with an alarming realization.

"That means Lord Voldemort could get a seat on the Wizengamot," she breathed. "Lord Voldemort. Directly in politics."

"He'd be arrested the second he stepped foot in the Ministry," Blaise dismissed. "You can't honestly think—"

"And if he showed up as someone else? And took the seat?" Hermione demanded. "If he just went as 'Mister Gaunt' and sat—"

"He doesn't even have a body for the chair to blood test," Blaise pointed out. "And I don't think formal politics is exactly high on his list of priorities."

"On the note of bodies…" Tom leaned over the golden cauldron, peering inside. "Have we decided if I'm testing this or not?"

"You are not," Hermione said, annoyed. She paused, biting her lip. "…I guess I could try by asking the stone if it's done?"

"Yes, brilliant," Tom said drolly. "Instead of using the willing test subject, we ask a rock."

Hermione ignored him, rolled up her sleeves, and reached into the cauldron to grasp the Philosopher's Stone. She reached out with her magic, connecting with the stone ever so gently, not wanting to be floating in space again.

⁌ ? ⁍

The feeling of questioning entered Hermione, and Hermione tried to respond with her own question of if the Elixir of Life was completed.

⁌ Ⓐ⅌ↂↈ◉⦾ ⁍


Hermione visualized the apple being put into the water in the cauldron of gold, then being transmuted into the Elixir of Life, the water glittering with magic, and then imagined taking the Elixir out and drinking it. It was hard to communicate an idea of 'completeness', and Hermione didn't think her imaginary situations were quite going through.

⁌ Ⓐ⅌ↂↈ◉⦾ ⁍ the stone insisted. ⁌ Ⓐ⅌ↂ₰⅏✭₰¤₦ↂↈ ℭ ◉¤⦾৻৳ ⁍

Hermione blinked. Carefully, she focused on one idea.

⁌ Ⓐ? ⁍

⁌ Ⓐ ⁍ came the response. ⁌ Ⓐ⅌ↂↈ◉⦾ ⁍

That was the stone, Hermione realized. It was the Stone's identifier for itself.

⁌ ↂↈ◉⦾? Elixir? ⁍ Hermione tried to send.

⁌ ↂↈ◉⦾ ⁍ the Stone replied. ⁌ Ⓐ⅌ↂↈ◉⦾⁍

That was the Elixir of Life idea, then. So that meant the Stone was making it still? She sent out a query of if the stone was done, trying to focus on a binary yes/no answer.

⁌ ✗ ⁍

That wordless pulse of feeling Hermione understood. She pulled her magic back with a feeling of thanks to the Stone, getting a resigned but amused response back as she did.

⁌ ❖ ⁍

"I'm almost certain it's still working on it," Hermione said, looking at the others. She felt very suddenly drained of energy and magic, and it was hard to hold her eyelids open all the way. "Communicating with the Stone is… different. But I'm fairly certain it's not done transmuting it yet."

"Any idea on a timeline?" Blaise asked, raising an eyebrow. "We don't know how long this will take. And if we can't make the deadline…"

"Then we kill people?" Tom grinned. "I'm sure I can be very helpful there. The vanishing assassin in the night."

"We are not killing anybody," Hermione snapped. "Look. We have about a month left. That's a lot of time, right? It'll be fine."

"What if it's the wrong apple type?" Blaise asked. "Will we have time to try again?"

Hermione faltered, and Blaise and Tom exchanged a pointed look.

"Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, Hermione," Blaise said gently. His eyes held hers, and Hermione bit her lip.

"…we'll give it another fortnight," she said finally. "If it's not done by then, we'll make a backup plan."

"Of a murder?" Tom asked cheerfully.