DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Harry and Ron groaned as they entered through the trap door into Professor Trelawney's Divination classroom. On each of the tables they could see a crystal ball.
"Oh no," said Ron, "I thought we'd finished with those. I never could make out anything in that swirling mist."
"Today, class," said the professor when all the students had taken their seats, "we'll brush up on your crystal ball work. You can expect it to come up in your OWL later this year! Now tap your wands on the top of the crystal, and wait for the mists to reveal the future."
Ron tapped his crystal ball and looked into the swirling mist, humming 'A Foggy Day In London Town,' which drew fits of giggles from most of the students.
Harry tapped the surface with his wand, and saw the mist swirling about, and then something started to take shape within its depths. This was accompanied by a low moaning, which came from Harry's crystal ball and echoed around the room. Harry jumped and shouted in surprise.
Professor Trelawney swooped over to Harry and looked into the ball, quickly followed by the other students. "What can you see, Harry?" She asked.
"I .. I can see a shape," he replied, "It's like the shape in my dream. I think it's the figure of a man, and he's waving his arm, calling me." This was followed by a slight raise in the pitch of the sound - and words could clearly be heard by all in the room.
'Come .. Come .. Do not delay … I am waiting …'
All the students gasped, and the professor had a glassy look in her eyes. The mist in Harry's crystal then cleared and the voice stopped. The crystal was now inert.
"That is the first time I have ever heard sound coming from the crystal," said the professor, "This is very powerful magic. You are privileged, Harry. Very privileged."
When they left on their way to Transfiguration class, Harry was pounced upon by Parvati and Lavender.
"What was that, Harry?" said Parvati.
"Do you know who was saying those words?" asked Lavender.
"It was just like a dream I've been having," said Harry, "But I can't make out who the shape is."
The two girls walked on ahead, looking impressed and whispering to each other.
Hermione was already waiting in Professor McGonagall's classroom when the others arrived. Ron sat next to her, and Harry and Kristen sat behind. The professor came in and sat at her desk, looking at the students over the top of her glasses.
"I want each of you to come out to my desk and pick out a button from the pot in front of me. The buttons are different sizes, varying from very small to very large. I then want you to go back to your desk, and transform the button into a spider, and I want you to make it walk from one end of your desk to the other before transforming it back into a button. Clear?"
To everyone's surprise, Ron's arm shot into the air. "Yes, Weasley?"
"Uh, Professor. I .. I .. Can I have the smallest button in the pot please?"
All the students laughed - Ron's fear of spiders was well known.
"It all depends what you pick out of the pot Weasley. I can't control that. Come on, you come down and pick first."
Ron walked to the front and put his hand into the pot nervously. He looked at the button as he withdrew his hand and groaned as he saw a very large button. "Bad luck, Weasley," said the professor, "I think that's the largest button in the pot. Go back to your desk please - and don't swap with anyone!"
Ron looked terrified as he sat staring at his button, wondering how big the spider would be. Harry whispered in his ear from behind, "At least it won't be as big as Aragog, Ron." Ron shuddered at the memory of Aragog in the Forbidden Forest.
"Right," said McGonagall, "Hermione - show everyone how it's done please."
Hermione touched the button with her wand and concentrated. Her medium-sized button immediately changed into a medium-sized spider that scuttled over towards Ron. Ron let out a strangled moan as it run past him, and then Hermione changed it back into a button. "Excellent, Hermione. Now you have a go Ron."
Ron touched his large button with his wand, and closed his eyes. The spider was large - so large that the individual hairs on its legs could plainly be seen. As it moved quickly across the desk, Ron jumped out of his seat and ran to the front of the classroom, his eyes wide.
"Weasley!" Shouted McGonagall, "Go after that spider and change it back."
"I can't. I can't," he wailed.
The professor looked aghast at Ron, and then asked Hermione to change the spider back into a button, which she did.
"I .. I'm sorry, Professor," said Ron, "I just can't stand spiders."
"Oh go and sit back down, Weasley!" she said.
Throughout the rest of the class, McGonagall kept glancing over at Hermione. She could see that something was bothering the girl - although she did everything correctly in class. She looked quite down, not the bouncy, confident girl she usually was in her class. When she dismissed the students at the end of the lesson, McGonagall asked Hermione to stay behind.
"Hermione, is anything bothering you? You looked a bit distracted in class today."
"No, Professor. Everything's fine. It's just all this work for the OWLS."
Professor McGonagall watched Hermione as she left the room and shook her head. She knew that her favourite pupil would not be bothered at all by the study for her OWLS. 'Sirius was right,' she thought, 'I'll have to keep an eye on that girl.'
At lunch, Ginny noticed that Hermione just picked at her food. She hardly ate anything. "Aren't you hungry, Hermi?" She asked.
"Uh, no, Ginny. I had a large breakfast this morning."
Ginny knew that Hermione had no such thing. She knew that she had eaten only one piece of toast. She sighed worriedly, not knowing what to do.
The following Saturday saw the Quidditch match between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. It went down as one of the shortest matches in the history of Hogwarts. The game was barely five minutes old, with Gryffindor leading 30 - 0, when Harry spotted the snitch and caught it easily. No one had broken into a sweat, and Lee Jordan had said no more than fifty words in his commentary.
Harry grinned ruefully at the dejected Hufflepuff captain, Ernie McMillan, as he shook his hand. "Sorry, Ernie. I guess it was luck that the snitch showed itself so soon in the game."
"It wasn't luck that you spotted it and caught it, Harry. Congratulations."
The celebrations were a bit muted in Gryffindor tower that day - everyone had looked forward to the game, but hadn't really seen one. They'd have to wait for the annual battle with Slytherin later in the year.
That afternoon, Harry, Kristen and the others went down to see Hagrid. He had sent Harry a note telling him that he had a new baby magical creature to look after, and invited him and his friends to come and see it. The five walked up to Hagrid's door nervously, wondering what sort of danger they'd be walking into - last time, it had been Norbert the baby dragon!
"Come in, you lot. Look what I've found," said an excited Hagrid.
Harry and the rest peered around the door, and saw a small shining white horse lying on Hagrid's rug, sleeping.
"A horse, Hagrid?" said Ginny disappointedly.
"No. No Ginny. It's not an 'orse. It's a baby unicorn!"
All five youngsters gasped and went over to inspect the young creature. "Look," said Hermione, "you can just see the small bump on the front of his head, where the horn will grow."
"Where did you get it, Hagrid?" Asked Harry.
"I foun' it wandrin' over by the edge of the Forbidden Forest. I think he must 'ave lost 'is mother."
"What are you going to do with him?" Asked Ginny.
"Well I can' let 'im go - he won' last five minutes in the forest. I'm goin' to keep 'im 'ere until I can find 'is parents. I'll start lookin' tonight."
"Oh, I hope you find them, Hagrid. The poor little thing," sighed Kristen.
After a cup of tea, the five set off back up to the school. "Wait. What's that?" Said Ron, looking towards the edge of the Forbidden Forest.
"What. Where?" Said Harry
"There - look!"
"Oh yes - look - it's a Centaur. Hey it's Firenze!"
The five walked over to the Centaur, who nervously stayed inside the tree line.
"Greetings, Firenze," said Harry, "It's good to see you again."
"Harry Potter. Ronan warned me against coming here, but I had to tell you. The stars show great impatience. They say you must hurry. And you must watch out for great danger. I must go now."
"Thank you, Firenze. Goodbye," Harry called as he watched the galloping Centaur disappear among the trees.
"What was that about, Harry?" Asked Kristen.
"Uh, Kristen. It's best that you don't know about this. It's dangerous, and I don't want you getting mixed up in it."
Kristen looked hurt, and looked at the others who were staring fixedly at the ground, "Well it's obvious that you've told everybody else about it. If you can't tell me then that says a lot, doesn't it Harry?"
Tears welled up in her eyes and she turned and ran back up to the castle. "Go after her, Harry," said Hermione, "She's upset."
Harry looked at Hermione, "I can't tell her, Hermi. It's too dangerous. It's bad enough that you're all involved in my problems, without Kristen getting involved too."
"But she's your girlfriend, Harry. It's natural she'll want to be involved," said Ron.
"No, Ron. I won't risk it. I can't put her in any danger. And you all heard what Dumbledore said - I can't tell her," and Harry ran after Kristen as he saw her go in through the main doors.
Harry found Kristen in the common room, sitting by the window. She looked miserable as she stared out into the spring sunshine.
"Kristen, can I talk to you?" said Harry quietly as he went up to her.
She turned her head and sighed, "Ok, Harry. What's it all about?"
"I can't tell you that Kristen. It's not that I don't want you to know, but there's something that I have to do, and it's dangerous. I don't want to risk you getting hurt."
"And how does that make me feel? You're going to do something dangerous, and I don't know what it is and I can't do anything to help you. Please, Harry."
"I'm sorry, Kristen. I just can't. Please understand - Professor Dumbledore's involved in this, and he'll make sure I'm safe. And he's told me not to involve you - he doesn't want to risk you getting hurt while you're under his care. He's made me promise not to tell you about it." Harry looked pleadingly at Kristen.
"Well I'm not happy about this Harry. I was placed in Gryffindor after all, and I'm not afraid of a bit of danger. But I guess if Dumbledore's made you promise him, I won't press you about it any more. But please promise me, Harry, that you'll take care. Please promise."
"Yes, of course I'll take care Kristen"
Ron, Hermione and Ginny walked into the common room as Kristen reached out to Harry and held him close, fiercely gripping his shoulders as they kissed.
"Awwwwww," said Ginny and Ron looking at them. Hermione, meanwhile, trotted upstairs and ran into her dorm.
She was lying outside a dark cave. The air was still and there wasn't a sound coming from the animals in the forest. She saw movement inside the cave, and she recoiled in horror as something tall and horrible ran towards her from its depths.
'You will be the first Mudblood I kill on my new path to glory," hissed the Dark Lord, his wand raised in front of him and his red eyes flashing cruelly, "You will pay for helping Potter on his quest - you've been asking for it. Prepare to die'
'Please, no,' she wailed, hoping that it was all a dream.
Then she heard a loud rushing noise - the beating of powerful wings. She looked up to see a huge golden eagle swooping towards her. Astride the eagle was Harry; his arm upraised holding a golden sword.
The Dark Lord looked up and she could see terror in his eyes. He turned and ran back into the cave, looking over his shoulder in fright. The eagle landed in front of her, and Harry jumped off, grinning. She was filled with longing and love as he approached her, smiling.
She reached out to Harry, aching to hold him close.
Harry's expression changed from a smile to a look of horror, and she saw him pulled backwards into the cave, as if into a vortex.
"Hermi .. Hermi.. ," Hermione woke up and felt tears running down her face. She was crying bitterly.
"What's wrong, Hermi?" Said Kristen. She, Parvati and Lavender were bent over Hermione's bed looking worriedly at her.
"It .. it was only a bad dream," she sobbed, "I'll be ok in a minute."
The three girls looked at each other and frowned with worry. This was the third time that Hermione had woken them with her crying.
At breakfast that morning, Hermione had not appeared. "Where's Hermi, Kristen?" asked Ginny.
Kristen looked at Ginny, then beckoned for Harry and Ron to lean close to her. "I'm getting really worried about her. She woke the rest of us in the dorm this morning, sobbing her heart out. She said it was just a nightmare, but I'm not so sure."
"Oh, no," said Ginny, "This is getting worse. I've noticed that she's not eating properly, she just sits and picks at her food. I .. look out, here she comes."
The four leaned back in their seats and watched Hermione as she slowly walked over and sat down, as if in a daze, next to Lavender at the top end of the table. There was not a hint of a smile on her face, and she looked very pale. Her hair was not as smooth and shining as it had been before - it had started to bush out again, with strands sticking out here and there.
"There's something very wrong, here," Harry whispered to his friends, "I've never seen her like this before. Do you think it's still the shock of being attacked by that Slytherin, or is it that .. that boy she likes?"
"I think she got over Grimus Plonger's attack, Harry," said Ginny, "I think it's that boy!"
They looked up the table at Hermione, who was just picking at the scrambled eggs on her plate. "I can't stand seeing her like this," said Harry, standing up, "I've got to talk to her."
Harry walked up to Hermione and sat down next to her. "Hermi?"
She looked up, and Harry was shocked to see that her eyes were dull - there was no longer that special sparkle in them. Something tugged at Harry, deep inside. It was like that time he'd held her after the incident in the corridor, and he felt an overwhelming sense of protectiveness towards her.
"What's wrong, Hermi? You don't look well."
"I .. I .. didn't get much sleep last night, Harry. That's all."
Harry put his hand on her shoulder and looked deep into her eyes. "It's that boy isn't it, Hermi?" he said gently.
A look of panic showed in her eyes and she suddenly jumped up from her seat, "Leave me alone Harry. I'll be all right," and she ran from the Great Hall, her breakfast left untouched.
"Hermi .." Harry called after her. He had a haunted look in his eyes as he went back to sit with his friends. Kristen looked at him quizzically, but didn't say anything. 'Was Harry's reaction just natural concern for a friend?' she thought to herself.
Ron suddenly threw his fork onto his plate and stood up, "I've had enough of this. I'm going to talk to her - find out who this .. this .. bloody git is!" And he walked purposefully from the table. The others got up and followed close behind him.
They found Hermione sitting in the common room, looking at one of her books. The four sat down around her, and she looked at them. "Hermi," said Ron quietly, "We know there's something wrong, and we're all very .. concerned. Please tell us what it is."
"Look, Ron. It's nothing but overwork and a bit of stress. After all that research I did, and all the homework we've been getting - and studying for the OWLS. It .. it's just getting to me a bit, that's all. There's nothing to worry about. Now come on, we'll be late for Charms."
The others looked at each other helplessly, but followed Hermione out through the portrait hole and walked with her towards Professor Flitwick's class. Ginny, however, was thinking furiously. She hadn't bought Hermione's explanation for the state she was in. She knew that Hermione would never get stressed with research and schoolwork - she positively thrived on that sort of thing. 'No, it's definitely that boy,' she thought, 'and for her to be reacting this way, she must be desperately in love with him. And after the last few weeks, I think I've got an idea who it is. I'll talk to her tonight.'
Ginny was still deep in thought as she left the others to go to her Transfiguration class.
That night, Ginny waited until Hermione went up to her dorm. She had noticed, lately, that she went up much earlier than usual. And she thought she knew why. Hermione's roommates were still in the common room, busy with their homework, so she went up the spiral staircase and opened the door slightly, "Can I come in, Hermi?"
"Yes .. come in Ginny," said Hermione. She was sitting on her bed, looking up at the window. Ginny sat next to her, and took one of Hermione's hands in hers.
"Hermi, it's that boy isn't it? That's what's making you so unhappy."
Hermione looked at her friend, "No .. no Ginny. It's the work …"
"Hermi. I think I know who he is. It's Harry, isn't it?" She whispered. "I've noticed lately that you don't sit with us so often - you find it difficult to be close to him don't you? And I saw your reaction when Professor Dumbledore told us about the Anima Summa's birth date."
Hermione stared as if she'd been struck. Then her eyes filled, and she reached out and clung to Ginny desperately, the tears flowing unchecked.
"Oh, Hermi," she whispered into her ear, upset at her friend's pain.
"Please don't tell anybody," sobbed Hermione, "Especially not Harry"
She calmed down after a few minutes and sat back, looking at Ginny. "I .. I've been in love with him for a while, now. I don't know when exactly, but it just sort of crept up on me. I tried to ignore the feelings I'd been getting, but they just got stronger. It's horrible, Ginny, when you're not in charge of what you think and feel. And what makes it worse is that it's so futile - I know I can never be anything more than a friend to Harry. Not after what Dumbledore told us."
"I'm so sorry, Hermi. If there was only something I could do."
"But there's nothing, Ginny. I've just got to try to live with it. But it's so difficult. I think that I'm going crazy, sometimes. I've even been getting these nightmares - about 'You Know Who' - and Harry coming to rescue me - then he's pulled away from me just as I think he ..," she broke down again, crying pitifully, with Ginny doing her best to comfort her.
She pulled away from Ginny again, "I didn't tell you what happened last year. I kissed him when we were alone in the common room - I just couldn't help it. You remember you told me what Parvati said about her first kiss? Well it was like that - and more. The feeling of excitement was incredible. And he responded, Ginny. Then Ron came in and it was all over. We both had time to think about it. I told Harry afterwards that I shouldn't have done it - that I didn't want it to spoil our friendship. He agreed with me - he said he didn't want to lose a best friend either. And that's how it's been ever since. I suppose I had my chance back then, and like a fool I ignored it. But after what Dumbledore said, it was probably the best thing to do - it couldn't have worked out, and I'd have ended up getting hurt even more."
"I've been there, Hermi. I think I know something about what you're feeling. As you know, I had a crush on Harry for years, and it's only now that I'm getting over it. It's only now that I can stand seeing him with somebody else. But at least I know he loves me - even if it is only as his honorary sister. I know there's nothing I can say that will ease the pain, Hermi. Only time will do that. But you know that I'm here for you if you want to talk."
"I know, Ginny. And thanks - thanks for getting me to share the burden. It's helped, you know."
In the following days, Hermione didn't get any better. In fact, she got worse. She still found it difficult to get to sleep, and when she did, she was disturbed by her recurring nightmare. She wasn't eating properly, either. She just didn't seem to have the appetite.
Harry and Ron were increasingly worried about her, and Harry noticed that she didn't spend as much time with him as she used to.
"It must be because I've been pressing her to tell me about that boy," he told Ron. "I'm going to have to ease off on her, I think - I might be making things worse for her."
"Yes, but I'm going to talk to Ginny. There must be something she can do to help," and he walked off to find his sister, leaving Harry and Kristen sitting by the fire in the common room.
Harry pushed a hand through his hair, and got up from the chair and started pacing around in front of the fire. "I don't know what to do, Kristen. I can't bare to see her like this."
Kristen just looked at her boyfriend … and wondered.
Ron found Ginny in the library, and went to sit next to her. "Ginny, we can't ignore what's happening to Hermi. Harry and I are worried sick about her. Isn't there something you can do? Talk to her or something? Perhaps we should ask Madam Pomfrey to take a look at her."
"No, Ron," said Ginny hurriedly, "I don't think that would help."
Ron eyed his sister suspiciously, "Why not, Ginny? Come on - you know something don't you? I know you too well and I can tell when you're hiding something"
"I'm not, Ron. Now leave it!"
"I will not leave it, Ginny! Now why don't you think Madam Pomfrey can help?"
Ginny looked at Ron, and knew her brother well enough to see that he wouldn't let go. "Be .. because she can't mend a broken heart, Ron," she whispered.
"A brok .. so it is that boy! She's told you, hasn't she? She told you who he is."
"Ron, please .. I can't say anything to you," Ginny wailed, thinking desperately how to get out of the hole she was in.
"Ginny Weasley," Ron whispered dangerously, "She's my best friend too. You know I won't let go until I find out what you're hiding. If you don't tell me, I'll go and tackle Hermi about it - tell her I know something. Now come on!"
Ginny felt terrible. She knew that she had to tell Ron. There was no way out for her. She knew that she couldn't let him tackle Hermione like that.
"It .. it's Harry," she whispered almost inaudibly.
"WHAT!" Ron shouted, attracting the stares of Madam Pince, who tutted at him. "That .. that GIT. That stupid GIT. Well I'm going to put him straight right now!" and he got up to dash out of the library.
Ginny caught hold of his robes and pulled him roughly back into the chair, which almost toppled over. Madam Pince looked up in annoyance "If you two can't keep quiet, I'll throw you both out. Now please!"
"Ron. You can't say anything to Harry. He doesn't know about this. He's as worried as any of us. And if he knew he was the cause of Hermi's pain, how do you think he'd feel? He wouldn't be able to cope, Ron. You know how protective he is. And he's our best friend too."
Ron sat back, taking in what his sister had said. "But he's got to be told that Hermi's got a crush on him. Maybe he can talk to her."
"It's not a crush, Ron - Hermi's desperately in love with him. What she's feeling is far worse than the crush I used to have on Harry. Ron - you can't say anything to anybody about this. Please understand - it's very important. There's a lot more to this than you know, but I can't tell you anything about it yet. I've been sworn to secrecy, so don't even try to get me to say any more, because I won't."
Ron sighed deeply, "All right, Ginny. But I want to know as soon as you can say about it," he paused and looked closely at his sister, "This is a mess, Ginny. I just can't let Hermi suffer alone with this."
"She's not alone with it, Ron. She knows she can talk to me, now. All we can do is to watch her and at least try to get her to eat properly. I'm really worried that she's going to get ill over this. And Ron - promise me you won't say a thing to Harry. You've got to act normally around him. Promise me Ron - it's very important."
"I promise Ginny. Don't worry, I won't say anything."
Towards the middle of March, Hermione didn't get any better. Despite all the efforts of her friends, she still wasn't eating as she should. And it was starting to show - her robes started to hang loosely on her shoulders, and it was obvious that she was starting to lose weight. In desperation, Ginny went to see Professor McGonagall.
"Professor," she said as she sat in her office, "It's about Hermione. I'm getting very worried about her."
McGonagall nodded, "Yes, Ginny. I've noticed how she's been acting and looking over the last few weeks. And frankly, I'm worried too - as is the Headmaster and most of the teachers. Is there anything you can tell me about it?"
Ginny took a deep breath and told McGonagall about Hermione's feelings for Harry.
"Oh, no," breathed the professor, "The poor girl. And she knows that nothing can come of it, too. She must be feeling terrible."
"But what can we do, Professor. Is there anything you can think of?"
"If things get too bad, then I'll take her to the hospital wing for Madam Pomfrey to make sure that she gets the vitamins she's lacking. But what do you do about a broken heart, Ginny? Not even Madam Pomfrey can do anything about that."
"There has to be something, Professor!"
McGonagall thought for a few moments, then, "I wonder if her mother can help? I know that Hermione's very close to her."
Ginny brightened, "Yes, I think that would help. Can you bring her here, Professor? I'm sure Hermione would love to see her and talk to her at a time like this."
"I'll see what I can arrange, Ginny. Look, when she gets here, I think it will be best if you speak to her first - before she sees Hermione. You know more than anybody about this."
"Of course I'll speak to her, Professor. And thanks. I feel a lot better now. I'll go and tell the others."
The following evening, Ginny had a message to go to see Professor McGonagall. She walked up to her office and knocked on the door. "Come in, Ginny," shouted McGonagall.
Ginny entered and saw Mrs. Granger sitting at the professor's desk, looking very worried. "Hello, Mrs. Granger. It's nice to see you."
"It's nice to see you again, too, Ginny. Come and tell me what's wrong with Hermione."
"I'll leave you two together," said McGonagall, "Feel free to use this office for as long as you want. I'll see you both later." She smiled reassuringly at them as she left her office.
"Ginny - what's happened? Is anything gone wrong with her .. uh .. magic?"
"No, Mrs Granger, if only that was it. We could do something about that. But this - well let me start at the beginning …"
Mrs. Granger wiped a tear from her eye as Ginny finished, "But if Harry doesn't know that Hermione loves him, shouldn't he be told? Perhaps there's a chance that they can get together."
"I'm afraid not. There's this very powerful prophecy at work - and Harry's future mate is someone else, and Hermione knows this, I'm afraid. I can't tell you any more about it, though."
"Oh my poor girl. She must be in a terrible state. Can I see her now please, Ginny?"
"Yes, I'll fetch her from the common room now - and Mrs. Granger - be prepared for a shock - she's not looking at all well."
Ginny saw her friend sitting alone in the common room. She went up to her, "Hermi. There's someone to see you in Professor McGonagall's office. Come on."
"Who is it, Ginny?" asked Hermione as they walked along the corridor.
"You'll soon see. But I think you're in for a nice surprise."
Ginny opened the door and followed Hermione into the office.
Hermione stopped suddenly, looking at her mother. "Mum!" she cried and flung herself into her mother's waiting arms. They were both crying as Ginny went back out into the corridor, "I'll just be outside. Take as long as you like."
Ginny paced backwards and forwards outside the professor's office, hoping against hope that Mrs. Granger could ease her daughter's torment. She didn't care how long she waited, just as long as something good would come of it. After about an hour, Mrs. Granger come out of the office, wiping a tear from her eye.
"Oh, Ginny. I haven't seen her this ill since she was a little baby. Look, can I see you before I leave? You're her best friend and I'd like to talk to you before I go. Can you come back in about an hour?"
"Yes, Mrs. Granger. No problem. See you later. Uh, how is she now?"
"It's going to take a lot of time before she's over this. But I think I'm getting through to her - I'm trying to get her to understand that she has to look after herself. And she's agreed to come to France with us over Easter. I think the break will do her good."
Ginny walked back to the common room to tell her friends. She was smiling for the first time in a quite a while, full of hope for her friend now.
Later, Ron walked with Ginny back to the professor's office, and they waited outside. After a few minutes the door opened, and Hermione and her mother walked out. Hermione seemed a lot better - her eyes no longer had that dull and empty look.
"It's been so good to see you mum," she said, "You don't know how much it's meant to me."
"I think I do, Hermione. Ginny, will you come with me to find Professor McGonagall?"
"Goodbye, mum. I'll see you in two weeks," and Hermione walked back to the common room with Ron, after kissing her mother goodbye.
"Are you feeling any better now, Hermione?" Ron asked as they made their way to Gryffindor tower.
"Yes, I think so, Ron. It was lovely to talk to my mother about things, and I'm really looking forward to seeing my dad in France for Easter."
"Hermi. Er .. I know how you feel about Harry. I know he's the one you've been so upset over."
Hermione stopped and looked stricken, "How did you ..? Ginny told you didn't she? Look Ron, I don't want Harry or anybody else to know about this."
"Don't worry, Hermi. I won't say anything - Ginny made me promise. And don't blame Ginny, I forced it out of her - we're all worried about you, you know - especially Harry. He's beside himself with worry."
Hermione looked wistfully at Ron, "Yes - I suppose I've been a bit silly. I can't help how I feel about Harry, but my mother made a lot of sense in what she said. I've just got to accept things as they are and get on with it."
"I know it's going to be difficult for you, Hermi, but don't shut Harry out. I don't think he could handle it if he thought you weren't his best friend any more."
"Oh I'll try, Ron. It's hard being around him, but I'll try"
As they entered the portrait hole, Hermione saw Harry sitting with Kristen, talking. When he saw her, Harry jumped up and rushed over, looking a bit apprehensive. "How was your mother, Hermi? Did you have - you know - a good chat about things?"
"Yes, Harry," she replied, "I can see things a bit differently now. Talking to her has helped a lot."
Harry grinned with relief, "So we'll get the real Hermione back then?"
She smiled, "Yes, I think so. But give me a bit of time and space to get my head around things," she looked back at Ron, who was standing behind, "Ohhh - I'm starving."
"No problem, Hermi. Wait here and I'll go down to the kitchen and get something for you. I won't be long."
As Ron opened the portrait hole, Ginny came in, grinning. "What are you so happy about, Ginny?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing Ron," she said airily, "I'm just glad that things seem to be working out at last." She walked over to Harry and Hermione, still grinning. "So! She's looking better already don't you think Harry?"
"Yes she is. And I'm glad you've got your appetite back Hermi." Harry went back to sit with Kristen and talked incessantly about the relief he felt now that Hermione was on the mend. Kristen smiled, delighted with the news, but she couldn't help but wonder as she looked at Hermione and Ginny talking together at the other end of the room.
"My mother knows me inside out, Ginny. She knew instinctively what my problem is. Oh, she can't do anything about the way I feel about Harry - the way I'll always feel about him. But she made me realise what it was I was doing. I've always got to find the answer to everything, Ginny. If there's a problem, then I've got to solve it. I've been trying to find the answer to what I can do about Harry - the solution that would put everything right. But as my mother said, there's no answer to this problem, and that's why I've made myself ill - searching for something that's not there. Now I realise that, I can focus on other things - stop trying to search for the impossible. I'll always love him, you know," she looked into her friend's eyes, "I love him so much that I want him to be happy - even if it's not with me. So I'm still going to help him with the secret and the Anima Summa - there's no way I can abandon it, even though I know I'll be doing something that will push him away from me for ever. Can you understand that, Ginny?"
Ginny reached over and squeezed her friend's hand, "Yes, I think I can, but I don't know if I could do that. You're very brave, Hermi."
"Well I am a Gryffindor!" They both laughed briefly, and then Hermione looked quizzically at Ginny. "Why did you tell Ron about Harry?"
Ginny looked guiltily at her, "He told you, did he? Oh I'm sorry, Hermi - you know what he's like. He wouldn't leave me alone until I told him. Don .. don't be angry with me .. please."
Hermione smiled at her friend, "How can I be angry with you, Ginny? And I don't mind that Ron knows, really. And he's promised not to tell Harry."
Ginny sighed with relief, "Of course, I didn't tell him about the Anima Summa, but he knows there's something I was holding back from him. I told him I'd tell him about it when I was able to."
"You know, Ginny, I've never had friends like you before I came to Hogwarts. My mother made me see how lucky I am to have you and Ron to help me through this. I won't forget what you've done for me."
"Look, Hermi, Ron and I will always be there when you need us - you know that. And .. and Harry will too. You do know that don't you?
"Yes, I do. But I don't know if that'll make things easier or worse"
"So, what's happening at Easter?" said Harry. He was sitting with Ron, Ginny and Hermione in the common room the week before the holiday. Kristen had gone to her student-exchange review meeting with Professor McGonagall and the other Americans and Europeans who were at Hogwarts. "Kristen's going to spend the holiday with her family back in America."
"I thought she'd be staying here with you, Harry, " said Ron, "Anything wrong? You don't seem to be as 'lovey-dovey' as you used to be."
"No, I don't think anything's wrong, Ron. But lately, she's seemed to be a little bit distant, as if something's on her mind. Maybe she's still a bit off with me for not telling her about the Rhedae mystery."
"Ron and I'll be staying here with you, Harry," said Ginny.
"As you all know, I'm going to France with my parents. They're going before the end of term, but I'll follow them on the 30th - I'm catching a plane from Glasgow airport," said Hermione.
"Where in France are they staying, Hermi?" asked Ron.
"They've hired a gite in the South of France."
"What the hell is a gite?" asked Ron.
"It's a holiday cottage for rent, there's a lot of them in France. This one's near Carcassonne."
"Carcassonne… Carcassonne..." muttered Harry, "Where have I heard that before?"
"It's a mediaeval walled city, not far from Toulouse," answered Hermione.
"I've got it!" exclaimed Harry, "It was mentioned in one of those books we were researching about Rhedae. How far is it from Rennes-le-Chateau?"
"Yes, of course! I remember now. I'll go and get my atlas," said Hermione and rushed up to her dorm. Almost immediately, she came back down and laid the atlas on one of the tables. She searched through the pages until she came to the map of France.
The four leaned over the table, looking for Carcassonne. "Here it is," said Hermione, pointing towards the bottom of the map, "It's in the Langedoc region, so Rennes-le-Chateau can't be that far away."
They all pored over the Langedoc region of the map, "There it is," said Ginny, pointing to a small dot underneath Carcassonne, "It's about 25 miles due south of Carcassonne."
Harry was deep in thought, then looked up at Hermione, "Hermi? How big is this gite you're staying in?"
"On no, Harry," she said, "You know what Dumbledore said. You can't think about leaving before he says it's ok."
"But this is perfect, Hermi. Don't you think it's a bit of a coincidence that you're going to be staying right on the doorstep of the mystery? It'll be a perfect base to investigate the secret."
"Do you think your parents will mind if they had another two guests, Hermi?" said Ron, "If there's not much room, Harry and I can take a wizarding tent and stay in the garden, or something."
"I'm sure they'd love you to come. But there's no way you can come if Dumbledore hasn't managed to get those aurors to protect us," said Hermione.
"So let's go and see him, then," said Harry, jumping up from his chair.
As she listened to all this, Ginny had a very odd expression on her face, and her brow was creased in furrows. "Just one minute!" she said testily, "What do you mean two extra guests? Don't you mean three?"
"Now don't get any ideas Ginny," said Ron, "You know it's dangerous, and what would mum and dad do to me if anything happened to you?"
"No way, Ron. I'm coming!"
"Listen, Ginny," said Harry, "Ron's right. It's too dangerous, and I won't risk you getting hurt. You'll have to stay here."
Ginny's face took on the colour of her flaming red hair, and her eyes flashed dangerously, "Sod off, Harry! Haven't you noticed I've grown up now? I'll be 15 in a few days - the same age as you! I'm not a shy little girl any more - the one that changed colour every time I spoke to you. I've been involved in this right from the start, and .. and what's more, Harry Potter, I'm a Gryffindor. So there's no way you're stopping me coming with you. Right?"
Harry and Ron just stood looking with their mouths open as the little firebrand swept out of the portrait hole. They couldn't believe that Ginny had just stood up to Harry at last. Hermione just grinned with a twinkle in her eye as Ron let out his breath and said, "So now you know, Harry. I'm not the only Weasley with a temper."
"There's no way you'll stop her coming, you know. I'd better go and try to cool her down," giggled Hermione as she followed her friend out of the common room.
"Oh well, I'd better start thinking up some explanations for mum and dad," said Ron resignedly.
"That makes two of us, Ron," said Harry, grinning.
"Ginny .. Ginny, wait up," Hermione called to the furious form of her friend. "It's ok, you can come with us. I think you made your point."
Ginny stopped and turned, the fury still showing in her pretty face. "I should bloody well think so, too. The cheek of those two gits!"
"Ginny! Honestly, your language."
Ginny's expression softened, "Do you think Harry will ever speak to me again, Hermi? I just told him to sod off!"
"It'll do him good, Ginny. Don't think twice about it."
"Ron's right, though. When mum and dad find out I'm going with you for Easter they'll go bananas - I know it's going to be dangerous in Rennes-le-Chateau."
"I think Professor Dumbledore will explain things to them, Ginny. Don't worry"
"Speaking of the Headmaster, shouldn't we go and see him about this?"
"Yes, and the sooner the better."
The two girls turned around and went back to the common room. They hadn't been able to see Draco Malfoy, who was on one of his frequent sneaking forays. He'd heard everything they'd said.
'At last - I've got something to report,' thought Draco as he walked towards the owlery, still hidden under the Invisibility Cloak.
When they got back into the common room, Ginny glanced sheepishly at Harry, "Sorry I swore at you Harry."
Harry grinned at her, "That's ok - I shouldn't have treated you like a little kid. I won't be doing that again in a hurry! Come on, let's go and see Dumbledore"
"So why won't Fudge help us with this, Headmaster?" asked Sirius. He sat around the table with the other inner group members, with Harry and his friends looking on.
"He says he can't release anybody at the moment. All his operatives are out in the field, up to their eyes in it. They're fully stretched trying to slow down Voldemort's recruitment drive."
"But Professor, the warnings I'm getting are more urgent," said Harry, "I can't wait any longer. I know I've got to go very soon now."
Dumbledore sighed, "I know, Harry. I agree with you - it can't be delayed any longer. I only wish I could risk leaving Hogwarts for a few days. But I can't. So it's down to you three," he nodded at Sirius, Ceri and Remus, "to give these four as much protection as you can. It's far from ideal, I know, but it's the best we can do under the circumstances. I'll speak to Olympe Maxine, the headmistress of Beauxbatons - she'll be able to arrange for these four to use magic in France. They're not so strict there."
"How are we all going to get there?" said Ceri
"I'll ask Madame Maxine to arrange a Portkey to Carcassonne. When are your parents expecting you, Hermione?" asked Dumbledore.
"On the 30th, Professor. I owled them just before coming to your office, so they'll be expecting Harry, Ron and Ginny as well."
"Sirius - you, Ceri and Remus will have to keep watch on them all the time, but you won't be able to interfere or help with what they have to do."
"Why is that, Headmaster?" asked Sirius.
"I don't know why. I just know that it has to be only these four who must solve the mystery - call it magical instinct if you will. Harry, I suppose you've got a plan in mind?"
"Yes, Professor. Hermione's the one who drew it up."
"Now why am I not surprised at that? Care to tell us about it, Hermione?" said Dumbledore.
"We'll use Carcassonne as our base," explained Hermione, "Ginny and I will use the second bedroom in the gite, but Harry and Ron will have to share a tent in the garden. We'll travel to Rennes-le-Chateau on our broomsticks," she pulled a face before continuing, "We'll go in the mornings, just before dawn so that we won't be seen, and we'll fly back after dark each night. I've made a list of the buildings and sites to investigate," she pulled a parchment from her robes, "and these are the ones that seem to be the most likely places to look at. They seemed to crop up all the time in the books we researched. We're hoping that we'll find magical clues as well - but that's something we won't know about until we get there."
"That seems pretty comprehensive, Hermione. I'm proud of you," said Professor McGonagall as she looked at the parchment, "How many points to Gryffindor do you think, Headmaster?"
"They're not on school work," snarled Snape, "House points are highly inappropriate, Minerva!"
"Hmmph," said McGonagall, "Now you four be very careful. I want to see you back here after the holidays all in one piece."
"We need to talk about your plan in more detail," said Sirius, "We can meet on the 29th - the day before we leave. Oh and Harry - don't forget your 'find-me' stone!"
"Wormtail," hissed Voldemort, "I want you to take ten of our best Death Eaters to Rennes-le-Chateau. The school holiday starts on 30th March, so I want you there by then."
Voldemort had just listened to Lucius Malfoy's report, and he rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "Once this little distraction is out of the way we can concentrate on our plans for the big take-over. Don't let me down, Wormtail, or you'll be sorry!"
"But master, wouldn't it be better if you led the Death Eaters yourself? No one can stand up to your power."
"That's true, Wormtail, but for once in your miserable life - think! I have to remain hidden until we are ready with my great plan - otherwise, the Magical Ministries of the world will be forced to tell their magical communities that I'm back in power, despite the panic it will cause. Then they'd be able to recruit their aurors in far greater numbers in readiness for my assault. So it suits me to stay hidden for the moment. Do you understand?"
"Yes my Lord - but master, if Lucius failed to get Potter what makes you think I will?"
"Because, Wormtail, Albus Dumbledore won't be there. You'll only have a few young kids and maybe one or two aurors to deal with. And you'll be taking my best Death Eaters. So don't even think of failing!"
"I won't let you down master," said Wormtail, cringing.
"And Wormtail - before you kill them, find out what they're looking for. I want to know exactly what it is, and if it's anything to do with this Anima Summa we heard about. Do you understand?"
"Yes my Lord. You can rely on me."
"And don't use Cruciatus on him. Avery told me that he can block it - although he wouldn't be able to block my power. I'm far too strong for him or anybody else."
"So, how are you getting on with my sister, Charlie?"
"We're getting on fine, Demont." Charlie waited for Demont's next try to find out his intentions towards his sister.
"Just getting on? Nothing else?"
Charlie grinned, "No, Demont. Nothing else."
Charlie had become amused at Demont's obvious attempts to get him together with his sister and he was sure that Nadine was getting the same treatment as well. He just hoped that she wouldn't be scared off by it.
"Anything?" asked Demont as Nadine walked over to the two men.
"No - but the vibrations are definitely stronger. North seems to be the right direction to follow."
They had parked the Land Rover near the little village of Luzenac, about 10 miles north of the northern edge of the Forbidden Forest.
Demont looked at their map, "Right, the next place to try is Les Cabannes - it's not too far north of here. We should get there by nightfall." They all piled back into the Land Rover and drove off along the rough track.
They drove into the quiet little village of Les Cabannes just before dusk, and made their way up to a promontory about half a mile away. They pitched the two tents at a slight depression in the ground, underneath a rocky outcrop, and then walked up to the highest point about a hundred yards away. Nadine closed her eyes and concentrated.
"Slightly stronger, I think," she said, "but there's not much difference from the last site."
They walked back down to the tents, and lit a camp fire to cook their usual evening fare of beans on toast. While Charlie and Nadine prepared the food, Demont studied the map by wand-light. "The next place on our list is Quillan," he said, "but it may be an idea to go a bit further west first. Montsegur is not far away and it may be a good place to try - it's got a pretty gruesome history, and it's perched high on a sheer crag. What do you think, Nadine?"
"Yes, it might be a good idea to try it. We should be there by lunchtime tomorrow if we start out early."
"Right, that's settled then. Oh, I forgot to tell you earlier - I've got to be in some meetings at the ministry for the next few days. But first I'll have to Apparate back to the cabin in the morning to collect a few things. You don't mind, do you? Being on your own for four or five days?"
Charlie could see through his ploy immediately, "You didn't mention it before, Demont?"
"Uh, no. As I said - I forgot. But you don't really need me with you anyway. You two can do just as well, if not better, without me," he smiled and looked at them with his eyebrows raised.
"Demont!" said Nadine, "You can be so obvious, sometimes. Sorry, Charlie - you'll have to excuse my brother."
Charlie thought he noticed, in the firelight, a crimson tinge on Nadine's face as she turned and walked over to her tent. He smiled at Demont and shook his head in exasperation.
The next morning, Charlie and Nadine drove through the wild and desolate countryside toward Montsegur. They were a little nervous following the events of the previous evening, but soon relaxed and chatted companionably as they drove along. It was nearing lunchtime when they spotted the ruined castle of Montsegur, perched perilously in the distance on top of the huge rocky crag.
"So what's special about this place, Nadine?"
"Oh, it was a terrible thing that happened there," said Nadine, "it was the end of the Albigensian crusade in 1244, and the castle lay under siege for ten months."
"What's the Albigensian crusade?"
"That was one of the darkest times in the middle ages. The Catholic Church was determined to eradicate all the Cathars from France - the Cathars were a Gnostic Christian sect, whose beliefs were different from those of mainstream Christianity. One of the things that Rome didn't like about them was their belief that each individual could achieve enlightenment on their own, without the need for a priest. You can imagine what they felt about that! Anyway, the Inquisition was at its height and many Cathars were tortured and forced to renounce their beliefs. The last of the Cathars made their final stand at Montsegur - and you can see how difficult it would have been to attack."
"It would be bad enough to climb all the way up there - they wouldn't have had much breath or energy left to fight," Charlie commented.
"The siege ended when a surrender was agreed, with the promise that the Cathars would go free if they confessed their supposed sins. The crusaders killed over 200 Cathars that day - they burnt them to death."
Charlie shuddered, "How could Christians do that to other Christians? It doesn't bear thinking about!"
"The interesting part, though, is that before the siege ended, a group of Cathars managed to escape, carrying a great treasure. Many believe that the treasure was the Holy Grail itself. Catharism didn't entirely die out at that time. Small groups escaped to Rennes-le-Chateau, a little village to the north east of here, where they hid in the caves dug by the Romans."
As they approached the base of the mountain, Charlie groaned, "Oh no. Have we got to climb all the way up there?"
"Yes I'm afraid so, Charlie. It's the best place to check for the emanations. Are you afraid of a little exercise?"
"What me? Come on, I'll race you to the top!" and he jumped out of the car and started to run up the rugged and very steep path that led to the summit.
Nadine followed more slowly, and after 10 minutes came upon the prone figure of Charlie, his chest heaving and his face flushed. "A bit out of condition are we?" she said as she passed him.
After several hours of climbing, they eventually reached the top, both of them the worse for wear. They just collapsed beside each other on a flat rock, trying to get their breath back. Nadine lifted herself up, resting on her elbow, and looked down at Charlie, "I didn't think you'd make it all the way."
Charlie opened his pained eyes and peered up at her, shading the sun with his hand, "I couldn't leave you to come up here on your own now could I?"
"Hmmm," she replied.
After a few minutes, Charlie got to his feet and held his hand out to help Nadine stand. She caught hold of his hand, and Charlie pulled. Now whether he misjudged her weight or not is mere conjecture - but the result of his help was Nadine colliding with Charlie's chest as he supported her. They looked into each other's eyes for a few moments, their faces very close, before Nadine dropped her eyes and moved away.
"I .. I'm sorry, Nadine. Don't know my own strength!" muttered Charlie.
Nadine just smiled weakly and turned to walk up towards the ruined castle. Charlie followed closely behind, taking in the majesty of the ruins.
"It's so silent up here," Nadine whispered, "There's an air of desolation and sadness about it." She walked further along the crag and began to test for the vibrations.
After a few moments, she turned back to Charlie, "It's a bit weaker," she said, "Not quite as strong as in Les Cabannes. We must have come too far west."
"Where next then?"
"We'd better go east to Quillan, then north to Rennes-les-Bains."
"What about Rennes-le-Chateau? You mentioned that place earlier."
Nadine looked at the map, "Yes we can try there too. It's only a short way from Rennes-les-Bains - a bit further north-west. And that place is even more mysterious that Montsegur. I'll tell you about the mystery later. It'll make a good campfire story."
Charlie smiled and then groaned, "Oh no. We've got to get back down. But at least it won't be as bad as coming up!"
Nadine laughed at his pained expression, "Yes. And I think we'd better make camp at the bottom of the mountain. I don't think we'll feel much like driving after climbing back down."
"Come on, then. Lets go. I'll help you." Charlie held out his hand towards her. She looked at it momentarily, then up at Charlie. She smiled, then, and took the proffered hand gratefully as they started their way down the steep and perilous path.
"I should have guessed you'd do something like this - especially since I helped with Hermi's surprise!"
Ginny looked at her friends sitting, ginning at her, at the table behind Hagrid's hut. It was Ginny's birthday - the day before they were due to leave for Rennes-le-Chateau. Her friends had pulled the same surprise as they had done for Hermione, and she hadn't suspected anything when Hermione asked her to go with her to see Hagrid.
"Go on, Ginny. Sit down with the rest of 'em. There's plenty to eat," said a smiling Hagrid.
Ginny sat between Hermione and Ron, with Harry and Kristen and Hagrid opposite. After they'd stuffed themselves full, Ginny looked at her pile of presents, squealing with delight as she opened each parcel. The last one was from Harry, and she looked at him as she impatiently ripped open the packaging.
"I hope you like it," he said a little apprehensively.
Ginny gasped as she lifted out a gold chain that held a gold locket.
"Open it," said Harry.
Ginny struggled a bit with the clasp, but when she got it open, Harry saw a little tear in the corner of her eye as she read the inscription ..
'To My Adopted Sister
With Love and Respect
"Oh Harry, thank you," she said breathlessly, "Look everybody," and she passed it around so that they could all read the inscription. She went over to Harry and kissed him on the cheek. "Thanks, brother," she whispered to him.
Harry smiled down at her and then looked up and caught Hermione's eye. He moved his head, slightly, beckoning her over to the side of the hut. She walked over wondering what he wanted.
"That was a nice thing you did, Harry. Ginny will treasure that locket," she said.
"I hope so, Hermi. Look, I wanted to say something to you - before we go tomorrow. I .. I want you to know now .. just in case, you know .. anything .. well .. happens to us in France .. I really appreciate everything you've done for me. All the work you've done - finding out about Rhedae and everything. I'd be lost without you, Hermi - you know that don't you?"
Hermi struggled with her inner feelings, trying to hold in the tears. 'Oh Harry,' she thought to herself as she looked up at him, 'I've been doing all right coping over the last few days. Then you have to say something like that.'
"Thanks, Harry," she finally said, "But don't even think anything bad is going to happen in France. I can't think of anybody better to protect us than Sirius, Remus and Ceri."
Against all her sense of reason, she stretched up and kissed Harry on the cheek. "Thanks," she said again, blushing, before going back to sit next to the excited Ginny.
"What was that all about?" asked Kristen as Harry sat back down. She had watched as the two friends talked, and looked closely at the way they had looked at each other.
"Oh - just thanking Hermi for something she did for me a little while ago," he replied.
A little while later, Kristen spoke quietly to Ginny as the others went in to see the baby unicorn - Hagrid had still not found its parents.
"Ginny, I wanted to ask you - Um - oh this is so difficult"
"What's wrong, Kristen? Is it about Harry?"
Kristen looked pleadingly at Ginny. "No - well yes. Oh, Ginny, is there anything going on between Harry and Hermione? I know they're great friends and everything, but - well - do you know if there's anything more than just friendship between them?"
Ginny sucked in her breath and thought hard. "Well no - at least not that I know of. What makes you think that, Kristen?"
"It's just the way he looks at her sometimes - the way he's always so protective towards her. Don't get me wrong, Ginny. I think Hermione's great and I don't for one minute think that she'd do anything behind my back. It's just that I get this strange feeling when I see him looking at her sometimes. I think, on times, that it's more than just friendship. Oh .. am I making any sense, Ginny? Am I just being stupid?"
"Kristen - look, I think that Hermi would tell me if she were seeing Harry secretly. I'm sure that nothing like that is going on. Are you sure you're not just imagining it?"
"Oh, I don't know. Perhaps I am. But you know what Harry's like - he can be so deep sometimes, and it's difficult to know what he's thinking. Look, forget what I just said. I'm just being silly."
Kristen walked into the hut to see the unicorn, thinking that she wasn't being silly. She thought that perhaps Harry might just have feelings for Hermione, but didn't realise it.
Ginny remained sitting outside, also thinking furiously. Kristen had set off a chain reaction in Ginny's head, and a grin slowly spread over her face as she worked through the possibilities.
Later that evening, the five friends walked back up to the school together. As they approached the main doors, Harry and Kristen stopped. The other three waved goodbye to her and went inside.
"Have you got the Portkey?" Harry asked. Kristen showed him the key ring that would transport her back home to America.
"Have a nice time in France, Harry. It was nice of the Grangers to invite you all. It's a wonder that Dumbledore's allowing you to go though."
"Well he's not too happy about it, but he's sending a few people to watch out for us."
Kristen sighed and looked at Harry searchingly, "I've got to go now. Look after yourself Harry. I'll see you after the holidays."
'I think I've got a lot of thinking to do over Easter,' she thought. Then she kissed Harry lightly on the lips before clutching the key ring and disappearing with a slight 'pop.'
Harry stared at the space where Kristen had been, thinking that her farewell kiss had been a little on the cool side. 'I wonder if she's going off me?' he thought.
He was still deep in thought as he walked inside the school to join his friends. They had a lot of packing to do before leaving for Carcassonne in the morning, and they also needed to go over Hermione's plan once more - this time with Sirius, Ceri and Remus.
They made their way up to the History of Magic classroom, where they'd arranged to meet Sirius, Remus and Ceri, and went in to see the three adults waiting for them.
"Did Kristen get away all right, Harry?" asked Sirius.
"Yes - she just left, Sirius," said Harry looking a bit distracted.
"Right," said Remus, "We've had a good look through your research, Hermione. You did a good job."
"Thanks, Professor," said Hermione, looking pleased.
"I think it's best if we stay in our Animagus forms for most of the time, Sirius," said Ceri.
The six others looked as Sirius replied, "Yes, three people would attract more attention than just one. And we can hide more easily as animals. You don't mind a dog and a wolf for company do you Moony?"
Remus laughed and shook his head, "No. I should be used to that by now, Padfoot. We need to stay close to the kids, but not too close," said Remus, "If there are to be any Death Eaters about we don't want them to see us. We want the element of surprise on our side."
"What we need to do is to look at the street map of Rennes-le-Chateau that Hermione found in one of her books," said Ceri, "We need to work out the order in which you'll be looking at each site, and then the best hiding place for us three at each of them. We can do it in such a way that there'll be the minimum risk of being spotted as we move between each location."
They all looked at the map, thinking of the best order in which to proceed.
"And shouldn't we contact the Priory of Sion?" said Ron, "After all, they were the ones that started this off - sending the amulet to Harry."
Hermione rolled her eyes and looked askance at Ron, "Ron! They're a secret society. They're not going to have an office at Rennes-le-Chateau! No one knows who or where they are. No, if contact is going to be made, they're the ones who'll contact us."
"Oh yes - sorry Hermi. I wasn't thinking," said Ron looking abashed.
"Right," said Hermione looking back at the map, "I think we can start at the Villa Bethania, then go into the garden to the Magdala tower. Then the Calvery, the churchyard, and leave the church until last. That'll do for starters before we look at the surrounding area. What do you think?"
Ceri looked at the map, thinking. "I think it'll be better if you start at the Magdala Tower - us three can climb up that ridge and hide in the bank of trees there. Then go to the garden and on to villa. We can follow you from inside the trees. Then go to the Calvery, the churchyard and finally the church. We can stay hidden all the time - we won't have to come out into the open at all. Yes?"
"Yes, you're right," said Hermione, "I can see you're good at this Ceri. And we can land our broomsticks on the far side of the Magdala Tower, hidden from the rest of the village."
"Right, that's settled. And you four," said Sirius looking at the teenagers, "I know you're going to be wrapped up in solving the mystery, but for goodness sake keep a look out for the Death Eaters. They're bound to turn up at some point. I suggest that two of you concentrate on the problem while the other two keep a sharp look out. You can do it in turns if you feel left out of things. And I want you all to stay close together at all times. Do you all understand?" He looked at the four with piercing eyes as he waited for an answer.
"Yes, Sirius. We understand," said Harry smiling, and the other three nodded gravely.
Sirius seemed satisfied with the response, "Right then. Any questions anyone?"
He looked around the table and everyone shook their heads.
"I suggest we meet in the Great Hall for breakfast at 9.00 am tomorrow. The Portkey is timed for 10.00am. You can take the rest of tomorrow settling in and spending some time with Mr. and Mrs. Granger. We'll be camped close by - hidden from the Muggles, of course. Do your parents know anything about what you're up to Hermione?"
"No Sirius. They think we're on a project for our OWLS - writing a thesis on the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau."
"Fine, see you in the morning then. Goodnight all."
Author's Notes : Don't forget to review - I really do need to know what you think about this fic, even if it's only a one-worder (from rubbish to brilliant and all points in between). Grateful thanks to those who have reviewed so far - it's appreciated, especially informed criticism - it's the best way for a writer to improve.
To answer the queries on the review board :
The identity of Harry's Anima Summa? - Don't make your minds up yet! There're a few chapters to go before you get all the information!
Kill Kristen off? - She's still there, but I'm intrigued why you hate her so much Kel - let me know please.
Where has Draco been? - Lurking under his invisibility cloak!
Will Harry kick some Death Eater butt? - Yes, but Sirius & co. are the main kickers!
Watch out for Chapter 8 - Rhedae. Coming very soon.