Voldemort's plan starts to unfold
For Hermione, the end of the autumn term had been very much a blur. Harry had cosseted and protected her nearly every minute they had not been in their little suite, while Luna had been by her side in the Gryffindor common room, and Tracey, Daphne, Susan, Hannah, Mandy, or Padma had been with her outside of Gryffindor.
Just getting used to her new status had also occupied her. Harry had adjusted to their new sleeping arrangements (and sleep was all they had done until their first night back after the New Year) much more quickly than she had. Learning that just sleeping in the same bed with her drove away his frequent bad dreams made Hermione feel warm in ways she had never anticipated.
Still, Hermione took some time to get used to the squirming form sleeping next to her. Even more difficult for Hermione to get used to was how Harry treated her in private.
In public, Harry was tender and considerate towards her. In the common room or when someone else was with them, Harry was shyly affectionate. Still, Harry was always to some degree on alert whenever they were not alone. Harry Potter wore a series of masks to face the world, more so than anyone else Hermione knew. Even with Luna, their best friend, or with his mentors Jason and Cobra, Harry still seemed to be at least wearing a half mask.
Only Hermione knew the frightened Harry, the boy still recovering from years of abuse, dealing with being The-Boy-Who-Lived, or as some in Gryffindor and Hufflepuff were starting to whisper, The Chosen One.
The Chosen One was, Hermione had decided by the end of January, the most uxorious, yet overtly masculine, male she had ever heard of. Harry's greatest joy, in private, was to pamper her. He delighted in washing and bathing her, he varnished and polished her nails, and even learned how to give her manicures and pedicures. He even brushed her hair several times each week. Once she initiated their sex life, he was willing to play any role so long as it was affectionate.
Hermione realized that he had to be the hero to the world, but alone with her, his greatest joy was to make her happy, which to him mostly meant physically pleasing her, although he had tried to buy her gifts in Hogsmeade the few times they went that spring. By making her happy, he could earn the affection from her that he was still not convinced he deserved, even if she was happy to give him that affection unconditionally.
The weekend Hermione figured all that out, Harry was a very happy young man.
At the same time, Hermione's language and private magic lessons with the members of the Brotherhood took up whatever free time she might have had. Despite the death sentence hanging over her, Hermione was happy -- emotionally, physically, and intellectually stimulated. Whenever the thoughts of the clock slowly ticking away her life surfaced, Harry was always able to distract her long enough for her to keep going, and any despair or existential angst was kept at bay.
The rest of Hogwarts seemed to simmer down quickly after the winter break. Any disputes seemed limited to a few individuals, and none seemed to involve, or evolve into, inter-House rivalries.
Thinking about that as March worked its way towards April, Severus Snape felt some twinges of shame. He realized that a fair part of the cross-House rivalry and even violence had been started, one-sided, by his own House, and that he had been (largely)unconsciously egging his students on by protecting them while bullying the other Houses. The previous year had shown where that violence could lead, and without Snape egging both sides on to adegree, no one seemed interested in restarting their past behaviors at anywhere near their previous levels. The common response of both Gryffindors and Slytherins to the other was still a sneer, but even Snape admitted that most of these were more a learned reflex rather than any real sign of hatred.
Snape had to swallow his anger, but still had to admit that it was Potter and his consort who were leading the way. They had refused to bully Malfoy the previous spring, and Potter had even scolded the Weasleys when they had gone too far.
Snape had literally bitten his tongue enough to slightly draw blood when Filius had remarked to Lupin one night how glad he was that Harry was closer to behaving like his father had during his last year instead of his first five.
As he had swished the healing potion around his mouth after dinner, however, Snape had to admit the possibility at least that Flitwick was a more balanced observer than himself when it came to Potters. James Potter had been a cruel, arrogant dandy during his first five years. Lupin had claimed the term before that Snape and his cohort of future Death Eaters had given out more bullying than they had absorbed, and Snape finally had to admit that was true -- except they had rarely been able to strike at the Marauders with any success.
Snape now wondered, for the first time, what would have happened if the Potters had survived their encounter with the Dark Lord? Would he and Lily have remained estranged? Or would the fact that he had tried to save her at least have at least partially mended their old friendship? Or would his motives for trying to save her -- just her, not her husband or son -- have driven them even further apart?
With that question, and the shame it brought, Snape finally let go his jealousy and hatred of James Potter. Not his dislike, never his dislike, but Snape could live with that without poisoning himself.
A few days after Easter, Barty Crouch knelt before his master, trembling.
"You have developed doubts about me," Voldemort said coldly.
"No, my lord, not about you," Crouch groveled. "Never about you!"
"Then about what? Your impersonation next year?"
"No, my lord."
"I do wonder how I am to accomplish my mission with these Druids and others at Hogwarts."
That had been nagging at Voldemort, as much as he loathed to admit it. "And what do you suggest?" he asked nicely.
That terrified Crouch, as such politeness was nearly always aprelude to violence. "I understand why Potter must be killed by your hand, my lord," Crouch admitted. "I would just like you to be restored before I go to Hogwarts. That way, if I should fail, you would still be fully able to implement your other plans. I do not trust the girl to be an adequate tool, let alone the others."
Voldemort had no other plans ready for action, but he was hardly going to admit that. He had this plan, and two semi-reliable agents in Hogwarts, both of whom would be leaving at the of the school year. "There is some value in what you say." Voldemort thought hard for a few moments. Negating Potter's blood protection would be very useful. However, he knew that at least part of the blood protection had been broken when the Boy's Muggle relatives had attacked him.
Under these circumstances, Voldemort decided negating whatever blood protections remained were not as urgent as they would have been if they had been fully intact. "Very well. Get Macnair to help you. Capture Moody. We will drain his mind and you will begin your impersonation sooner than I had planned. You will still need to get into Hogwarts and get Potter into this tournament, and see that he survives the first two tasks and wins the third."
"Yes, my master," Crouch said.
Crouch scurried from the room, glad that his only punishment was not being able to bugger the girl in passing as he usually did.
Two weeks later, Alastor Moody watched in horror as Voldemort was brought back into physical form. There was nothing he could do to prevent it, tied up as he was. What little satisfaction he had was that he had not been taken easily. Walden Macnair was dead, and young Crouch (his mind roared with anger at the knowledge that young Crouch had somehow not only escaped Azkaban, but that his escape was undetected) would carry scars on his face and chest far worse than Moody's own. He was now also missing his left hand, having cut it off in the rebirthing ceremony.
The body that emerged from the cauldron was humanoid, but not human. The creature picked up a wand, which only now Moody had noticed was on a tombstone, with a sigh of satisfaction. With ahiss, Crouch's wrist was healed. "I cannot restore your hand. It would be lost any time you transformed, and we can't have you bleeding out unexpectedly."
"Yes, my lord," Crouch whimpered.
"You've done well," Voldemort told his servant. He approached Moody. "Anger, defiance, and fear," he mused. "Most would have their fear uppermost in their mind. I shall not punish you for killing one servant and nearly depriving me of my most useful one. In fact, I believe you shall spend at least the next fifteen months or so in a very pleasant daze. I could kill you, but then you would not be nearly as useful. I have in mind an interesting potion, since I now have the time to brew it, but until then, Imperio!"
Lucius Malfoy reported the pains caused by his Dark Mark to his contacts, just as Severus Snape had to Dumbledore and Cobra. Dumbledore carried on for over a week on how Harry's scar might have been useful.
What distracted Dumbledore, as well as the Ministry, the Druids, and the Brotherhood, was the discovery of the decomposing body of Walden Macnair in late April. The fact that he had been suspected of being a Death Eater was uncovered in his files, which, it turned out, had been sealed in 1982.
The Ministry then went through a 'thorough' self-investigation that lasted nearly three weeks. The only other suspected Death Eaters who had not been at some time publically accused before 1982 were now dead.
Harry and Hermione, still unhappy at other major lapses, voiced their suspicious at this convenient turn of affairs. Harry's advisors voiced the pair's suspicions as their own, and some outside auditors were brought in, resulting in the quick realization that no such review of all Ministry records could possibly be done less than three months. That, plus the fact that the Ministry had fairly detailed files on every Muggle related to a magic user and even more detailed files on Squibs and the fact that the only files the Ministry had most pure-and-full-bloods were detailed genealogical records, spawned a huge public debate.
By the time the furor died down and the records scowered, it would be the middle of August. Nearly all those still living who had been accused of being Death Eaters or of having ties with Death Eaters were either out of the country (along with their portable wealth) or (like Ludo Bagman) could prove they had been falsely accused. The parting shot of those who had run off would be used by Madam Bones to justify finishing her cleaning out of the old guard from their positions in the Ministry.
But those events would play out over time.
"Arise, Ginevra Weasley," the hooded figure intoned as few nights before the start of the N.E.W.T. and O.W.L.s. "You are now part of the Ravenclaw Sisterhood. While you are a student, your first allegiance is to the Sisterhood, and to the principles of Ravenclaw. Recite with us."
Ginny and the other nine witches in the ritual chamber chanted in unison:
"We are Ravenclaw. Knowledge is Power.
We are Rowena's Women, independent, not pawns.
We work together against the world.
We swear to preserve our customs.
We swear to preserve our traditions.
We swear to preserve ancient knowledge.
We are Ravenclaw. Knowledge is Power."
The group broke apart, Penelope Clearwater guiding the happy Ginny out of the room. The seventh year prefect nodded to Cho Chang and some of the others, until she was left with the fifth year prefect, a second year, and a very nervous third year -- Marietta Edgecombe."We are the leaders of the Sisterhood," the seventh year said solemnly. "We are pure of blood, and are the natural guardians of Ravenclaw's traditions."
She glared at Marietta. "Are you with us or against us?"
"Why wouldn't I be with you?" Marietta squeaked.
"We need you to work with the Weasley girl," Marietta was told."She has the blood, but her family has strayed from tradition. Clearwater is bright, but she is Muggle-born. I want you to befriend Weasley. Write to me at least every three weeks or so next year. I'll be glad to give you advice."
Marietta bowed and then fled.
"What a wet blanket," the fifth year said scornfully. She turned to her leader. "I assume we're to do the same?"
"Yes," the seventh year agreed. "Weasley will be our listening post in Potter's camp." That what they would learn would make its way to the Dark Lord was understood, but not mentioned.
The incident which set Harry and Hermione off in early June was akey part of Voldemort's plot, although that would not be apparent for some time.
Marcus Flint had been brought before the Dark Lord over the previous winter's holidays. His mission was to assassinate Remus Lupin, although he did not know why. He was not to strike until the end of May at the earliest, although again he was not told the reasons.
After meeting the Dark Lord for the first time, Flint was not about to ask for details.
Flint had been given a silver alloy knife. He was of course not to try and attack Lupin from the front. A straight-up knife attack on Lupin would have been near-suicide even by the fully-restored Dark Lord.
Instead, Flint decided he would attack Lupin when Lupin was pressed by the crowd at the last Quidditch game of the season -- Gryffindor playing Ravenclaw.
The season had been a disaster for Slytherin, losing all three games. Flint blamed this largely on Malfoy, who had been beaten in all three games. In reality, only Potter had shown Malfoy up, and not nearly to the degree of the year before. Cho Chang had only won when the Snitch Malfoy was about to catch flew right into her face. The Snitch had appeared right in Diggory's line of sight. The fact was, Flint was a poor captain, and Snape had been too distracted to make up for Flint's poor leadership skills. Without Snape's coaching on how to avoid getting caught, the Slytherins had lost nine goals in penalty shots against both Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, and an even dozen against Gryffindor.
Now Flint was prepared to end the Quidditch season on a dramatic note. He had just finished his second try at the N.E.W.T.s the day before, and was so nervous about his actions he actually had done worse this time than he had the first time around.
After eight years at Hogwarts, Flint knew the pre-game activities very well. The two teams stood, more or less at the same time, and made their way out to change. This was the signal for the students and staff who were attended to start making their way to the pitch. Visitors who were attending would have already started dribbling in.
Lupin was one of the staff members overseeing the guests. Lupin had attended only two games before during this year, even though he had been seeing to the outside fans in each game. Still, he would want to watch Potter play.
Flint therefore stayed at the top of the Slytherin seats, near an exit. He paid little attention to the game. A small part of him could not tune it out, however. He was not pleased, but not surprised, that the game was short and dominated by the Gryffindors.
Flint exited as soon as he saw Lupin stop applauding. He knew that while Lupin was on duty before the match, Sinistra was afterwards. Flint was therefore not surprised to see Lupin clasp the shoulder of the man he had sitting next to -- Flint correctly guessed it was Sirius Black -- and then make his way to the closest exit which would take him towards the castle. Black was obviously staying to talk with McGonagall, and therefore Flint could dismiss both from his calculations.
Flint went down the stairs and made his way towards the most probable route for Lupin to take. Fortunately, Lupin's path would be the same if he was heading straight back to the castle or to the Gryffindor changing rooms.
Flint arrived in time to see Lupin, in the middle of a mixed crowd of students, speaking with Potter's pet Mudblood. A few moments later, Lupin and the crowd of about fifteen students moved off, merging with other knots of students.
For Flint, that was both good and bad news. Good because it would be much easier to approach Lupin surrounded by others. Flint had no real idea how acute the werewolf's senses might be. He guessed, as it was near the new moon, they would be little sharper than areal person's, but he was not certain enough to want to bet his life.
The smaller than expect crowd was bad news, because Flint would certainly be identified as the assailant. Flint was prepared to accept that, but would have really preferred not to. Still, he was not about to fail in his mission.
Flint moved out from the stadium wall just before Lupin pulled even with him. He had accurately judged the currents and eddies of the fifty or so students in the general area. He slowly moved closer and closer to the werewolf, pulling the silver alloy knife out when he was less than five feet away.
Remus Lupin did not realize that danger was approaching him, first from the side and then from behind. The first indication that something was amiss was the incredible pain he felt around his right kidney, as Flint thrust the knife home. It was so thin and so sharp that it felt more like an elbow to his kidney than anything else.
"Oi!" Before Flint could let go of the knife, leaving it embedded in the werewolf, he felt a hand grab his wrist and pull.
Flint whirled around, angry because he had been caught, and then angrier when he realized that his attacker had pulled the knife out of Lupin when his wrist was pulled away. Flint slashed at his attacker, hardly taking in that it was Ron Weasley. Instead, Flint next thrust the knife under Ron's ribs and then twisted it as he pulled it out.
Flint then turned back to Lupin, who was in fact turning to face Flint, a very shocked look on his face as the real pain started to make itself felt.
Flint repeated the stroke he had used against Ron Weasley, but this time he let go of the hilt, leaving the knife buried in Lupin's chest.
Flint pulled out what he had been told was a port key. It was asmall, heavy, green object -- Flint thought it looked a bit like asmall metal pineapple. There was a metal lever-like device on the top, held firm by a small piece of metal attached to a ring. The Master had called it a 'pin'.
"Jesus Christ!" Dean Thomas screamed when he saw the hand grenade."Everyone! Run for your fucking lives!" He grabbed the bleeding Ron and started dragging him away as fast as he could.
As directed, Flint pulled the pin and released the handle. Flint pulled the grenade close to his chest and waited for the portkey to whisk him away. When it didn't, he brought it close to his face to see if there was something he could identify as being wrong.
One second later, the grenade exploded.
Two hours later, a very concerned Hermione was waiting for Harry in the suite. She looked up, and then stood as Harry, still in his Quidditch robes and partially covered with dried blood, staggered in.
The two looked at each other for a moment, and then Harry said, his voice filled with anguish, "He's dead!"
Harry looked at Hermione, and her heart broke seeing the look of stunned confusion on his face. Harry took a step towards her, and then fell to his knees. Hermione moved towards him and pressed his cheek against her stomach. Harry clutched Hermione around the waist and started cry.
Then Hermione blinked in confusion. "Harry? Exactly who died?"