Of course, going from just the trace of an idea to a plan that could probably work was far more complicated.
One of their primary concerns was perhaps the most obvious: after they found a portkey that led to California, what was to stop Voldemort from immediately sending a contingent of Death Eater after them?
Ron, perhaps not surprisingly, figured out a way around it. Located in a room not far from the Chamber of Prophecies was a directory of known portkeys, showing where they were and where they led too.. They would figure out which one got them the closest to Sunnydale, and take it. Of course, that list had always been highly guarded even before the takeover of the Ministry; it was probably going to be ten times more difficult to get inside there now.
Hermione had found another not inconsiderable factor regarding that particular problem. If somewhat at the Ministry even guessed which portkey they were going to take, the end result would be disastrous. At the very least, it might cause Voldemort to accelerate his timetable when it came to invading America. While Ron's counterargument had been: "Well then, we better bloody well not leave any clues!" even he had to admit that this could be an issue.
It took them nearly five days to get around this particular problem, and by then the number of people lurking in the square surrounding Grimmauld Place had doubled. News from the Daily Prophet, that Snape had been confirmed as headmaster of Hogwarts, didn't do much to improve the general mood.
Hermione admitted her solution was more of a stopgap than anything else, and that the Order of the Phoenix, if they followed through, would be increasing their exposure considerably. But they had no choice --- the spell they would need was one that would be difficult for a skilled Auror, much less a Hogwarts student who hadn't even graduated.
Hogwarts was on all their minds, not only with the ascension of Snape to Headmaster, but with the passage of the Hogwarts Express. None of them could shake the image of waiting on Platform Nine and 3/4, or of seeing Neville, Ginny and Luna all considering ways to undermine the new regime. For the first time, Harry considered the very real possibility that he might not ever see any of his old classmates ever again. He could tell it was on Hermione and Ron's mind as well.
Harry understood how important the execution of this plan was, but after the second week of watching the Ministry entrance under the safety of his Cloak of Invisibility, he said they couldn't put it off any further. He acknowledged how difficult it would be getting to the directory would be, but that the longer they put it off, the farther away the locket was going to get. After all, since it didn't open, there was good chance Umbridge had tossed it.
"We know everything important," Harry reminded them. "They've stopped Apparition coming and going out of the Ministry, and only senior Ministry members are allowed to connect to their home using the Floo Network. We have a good idea where Umbridge is. And we know you get in using those funny tokens or whatever they are."
"That gets us as far as Umbridge," Hermione reminded him . "It's going to be a lot harder getting near the directory."
"I realize it leaves an awful lot to chance, but that's going to be an issue now matter how long we take. It's been nearly six weeks; we have to act."
"All right, let's say we do this tomorrow," Ron countered. "How are we going to get the word to the Order? You said it yourself; someone needs to cover our tracks."
Harry admitted that this was the most uncertain part of the plan. It had been too dangerous to try and communicate with Ron's father while he was going in and out of the Ministry. Making contact with him while inside it was a move that could get him tossed into Azkaban. Ron was more than willing to risk his life for this plan; he wasn't sure whether he could risk the wellbeing of the rest of his family. Harry and Hermione had finally argued that no matter what happened, he would be in danger regardless. At least this way, Mr. Weasley could prepare himself, and he'd have a better chance.
"Remus was right," Ron finally replied. "There's no safety for any of us, is there?"
Harry was about to utter some words of comfort.,. when pain shot through the scar on Harry's forehead. His hand jumped to it, even though he tried to pass off the movement by brushing his hair out of his eyes. He brushed aside Kreacher's question of if he wanted his dinner, and excused himself.
In the back of his mind, he knew that Hermione was watching him suspiciously, but reality was falling more and more away from him, as he managed to make it into the bathroom, and bolted the door. Grunting in anguish, he slumped over the washbasin and closed his eyes....
He was gliding in a dark alley. He'd seen some woebegone stretches of housing in his years, but this was low level for the Dark Lord.
There were several men standing in a circle. He knew Voldemort was capable of moving silently through the night, but these people heard him anyway.
They turned, and looked indifferent. Harry generally sensed moments of satisfaction when he and Voldemort were sharing memories, but this was different. He was irritated.
"Half-breed," said a high cold voice. His voice was audible, but the men made no effort to answer; if anything, they seemed more irritated then him.
"I expect an answer!"
"Your whole creature of the night bit," said an angry Cockney voice. "Doesn't really work when you're dealing with the real thing."
"I want the Seer."
"And what makes you think we know where to find her?" A different voice responded. "Hey, magic boy here thinks all vampires look alike!"
There was laughter here, but no fear. He grew angry. "I want Drusilla."
Now the laughter disappeared, and there was a sense of menace among them. "And what makes you think we'll listen to you, Tommy Boy?"
He readied himself. "Because of who I am!"
"Why should we?" Now the man's face changed; Harry was looking at the face of a demon.
"You're only human!"
Any attempt at reason disappeared. He raised the wand, and uttered a spell. Yet even as he did so, Voldemort was dissatisfied. There was no way to make them suffer enough.
Harry began to rise from the floor. He must have shouted out. Very slowly, and with a splitting headache he didn't normally associate with a vision from his scar, he unbolted the door. Hermione all but fell in, and while she regained her balance, Ron followed behind her, looking unnerved as he pointed his wand in the chilly bathroom.
"What were you doing?" Hermione demanded.
Harry decided to skip the protests that he was fine; it clearly wouldn't fly with his closest friends. "What did I yell out?" he asked instead.
"Unmentionable half-breeds!" Ron replied.
"I just saw Voldemort trying to wipe out a group of people. They're all probably dead by now."
"Harry, you aren't supposed to let this happen anymore!" Hermione seemed about to launch into mother hen mode. "Dumbledore wanted you to use Occclumency. He thought the connection was dangerous! Besides, what's the point of watching him torture and kill?"
"That's just it," Harry replied. "Voldemort wasn't doing that."
Hermione stopped speaking for a moment. Ron carried on. "You just said he wiped out a group of people," he asked.
"Yeah, but I'm pretty sure that they were already dead before he went after them." Now that Harry could look at this in the light of day, something was very different about the vision.
"What are you saying?"
"I'm pretty sure that he was destroying a group of vampires." Harry replied.
This revelation actually managed to shut Hermione's mouth. Ron was positively gob-smacked as well. "What the hell was Voldemort looking for vampires for?"
It was a legitimate question. Considering how dark the creatures were and that they had been all but ignored by the Ministry for centuries, one would've thought that vampires would've been a legitimate recruit for Voldemort. But in both this war and the last one, none of the Death Eaters were making even an effort to win (non beating) hearts and minds. The most popular explanation was that considering that vampires were considered even lower than half-bloods, the Death Eaters had even less use for them. None of the intelligence on any side had involved the undead at all, and it seemed that this entire war might end with them being completely untouched. Considering what he had just seen, it looked like the feeling was mutual.
Something else tugged at Harry's memory as well. "Voldemort said that he was looking for Drusilla. He called her a seer," he told her.
"Drusilla," Ron considered this. "Why do I know that name?"
"Vampire, member of the Order of Aurelius, known companion of William the Bloody, and Angelus." Hermione replied dully. "Luna was particularly detailed when it came to do that report in Defense against the Dark Arts. Of course, it helped matters that we had some of the same material."
Neither of the other wizards in the room were surprised at Hermione's recital. "Voldemort was looking for her?" Ron asked. "Why?"
"He said she was a Seer," Harry looked at Hermione.
"She may be a Seer," Hermione replied. "She's also bloody crazy."
"Voldemort's looking for a crazy vampire oracle," Ron replied. "Which side do we root for in that particular struggle?"
Harry actually managed to smile at this--- then he had a sudden picture of Voldemort as a vampire. It was not a mental image he wanted to hold on to for long.
"This makes no sense," Hermione replied. "With everything Voldemort has at his disposal now, why would he want to waste his time looking for a loose cannon like Drusilla?"
Harry thought that this was an excellent question; he also noticed that she had completely dropped the argument about seeing into Voldemort's mind. Which is why he was somewhat surprised when Ron spoke up.
"I think this is one of those things we're going to have to drop, at least for now," he told them both.
"Ron, I don't like saying this, but Harry may have a point. This is our first real lead on what Voldemort might be doing next," Hermione countered.
"I happen to agree with you," Ron replied. "Unfortunately, it doesn't change our present situation one bit. We still need to get to the Slayer, now more than ever. He's going after a crazy vampire, we may need Buffy Summers to figure out our next move. Which means was need to get into the Ministry tomorrow, and this plan needs to be perfect, don't you think?"
Hermione clearly could have argued the point, but she knew that there was a great deal of truth in the statement. They returned to the kitchen where Kreacher finished serving them dinner.
They didn't get to bed until very late that night, after spending hours going over and over their plans until they could recite it, by rote, to each other. Harry, who was now comfortable enough sleeping in Sirius' room, lay in bed with his wandlight trained on the old picture of his father and his friends for another ten minutes. When he finally extinguished his wand, he was not thinking of Polyjuice Potion, Nosebleed Nougats, or the robes of Magical Maintenance; he thought of why Voldemort , with everything that he wanted now well within his reach, was going after vampires that saw the future.
Did this have something to do with Voldemort's hunt for him?
Was this some kind of preemptive strike?
Dawn seemed to come far too soon. Harry wondered if he'd actually slept that night.
"You look awful," was Ron's greeting.
"Not for long," Harry counter, yawning.
Hermione was downstairs in the kitchen. She was being served coffee and hot rolls by Kreacher while wearing the slightly manic expression Harry associated with exam review. He found this oddly reassuring --- Hermione's efforts almost always worked when she had that look on her face. "Robes, Polyjuice Potion, Invisibility Cloak, Nosebleed Nougat, Extendable Ears....
They barely seemed to taste their breakfast, as they set off upstairs, Kreacher promising to have a steak-and-kidney pie for them when they returned. Harry thought that they'd come a long way from thinking that the house-elf would murder them all in their sleep.
They made their way onto the front step with intense caution--- already a couple of puffy-eyed Death Eaters were watching the house from across the morning fog.
Hermione Disapparated with Ron first, then came back for Harry.
After the darkness and suffocation passed, they found themselves in the tiny alleyway. Phase One was about to begin. The alley was deserted, except for a couple of large bins--- the first Ministry workers didn't usually come until around eight.
"Five minutes. After I've stunned her---"
"We know, Hermione," Ron replied sternly. "How about we make sure the door is open first?"
Hermione squealed, pointed her wand at the door, and it burst open. From their previous scouting trips, they knew it lead into an empty theater. She pulled the door back towards her, making it look as though it was still close.
"Now, we put the cloak back on, and wait."
They didn't have to wait long. A witch Apparated feet from them. Before she could blink more than once, Hermione hit her with a silent Stunning Spell, and she fell over.
From this point on, it took less than ten minutes to take out the wizards that they chose, down the proper amount of Polyjuice potion, dress in the robes of the wizards they'd incapacitated, take the proper tokens from the employees, and walk to the entrance.
They were a little surprised to learn that the entrance involved utilizing the men's toilet, but they went in anyway. They were not at all encouraged to see that the Atrium near the entranceway was very dark, with a giant sculpture of a witch and wizard sitting on ornately carved thrones. Carved into the statue in foot-high letters were three words: MAGIC IS MIGHT. Upon closer examination, the thrones were revealed to be hundreds and hundreds of naked bodies: men, women, and children, all looking blank and disproportionate to support the wait of the far more handsome wizards.
"Muggles," Hermione whispered in a voice that sounded like she might be sick. "In their rightful place. Let's get out of here."
They joined the stream of witches and wizards moving towards the gate, but there was no sign of Umbridge anywhere.
The next part was far more difficult (not that anything that had happened already had been a cakewalk). Before, there hadn't been much in the way of security; now a Death Eater stood between every other elevator. Harry and the others could sense the fear rippling through them just being around them. The directory of Portkeys was located on level two --- someone from the Minister's office had been assigned to guard it during Fudge's rain; none of them wanted to think how many guards were watching it now, or if there had been any additional safeguards put in play.
Very slowly, they walked into the nearest elevator. The lift moved upwards. A disembodied female voice began speaking: "Level Four, Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, Goblin Liaison office, and Pest Advisory board." A couple of wizards got on, one nodded at Harry
"Level two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, improper Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters, and Magical transportation Services."
This was where they had to get off, but just as the doors slid open, two more wizards got on --- and one of them was Umbridge.
"Ah, Mafalda," She was looking directly at Hermione. "Travers sent you, did he?"
This definitely wasn't part of the plan. "Yes!" Hermione squeaked.
"Good, that's one problem resolved. If Mafalda can be spared for record keeping, we can begin straight away," She looked at the others. "Morning, Albert, aren't you getting out?"
On the one hand, Hermione could handle herself on her own if they were separated. But Harry knew that they had no plans on how to meet back up again if they did.
"Yes," Harry said, hoping like hell the person he was disguised as was named Albert.
"Well, hopefully, I'll see you before lunch then. Have to deal with those undesirables from Peckham." Putting her hand on Hermione's shoulder, the elevator doors closed behind her.
"Now what?" Ron demanded.
"Do what we came here to do," Harry whispered. "Where did Remus say he would place the tokens?"
Ron looked around. "Near the main office of Wizengamot Administration," he finally replied.
Remus had gotten a message from Ron's father that you needed a special kind of charm to get inside some of the higher level offices like the Directory. Even though Arthur had taken a demotion, he still had access to the higher levels. He had told Remus that he would conceal one in a glamour of a parchment and leave it in a wastebasket that was on the floor. When a maintenance person--- like the one whose robes and form Ron had taken less than an hour earlier--- emptied the basket as part of his duties, the token would be there. It would be a risk, of course, but one that they were willing to take.
Ron walked over to the wastebasket, and very carefully emptied it, surreptitiously grabbing the piece of parchment at the top of the basket. He barely had to put his hand in it before he came up with the disk. He then proceeded to walk by Harry, and carefully put it in his robe.
Considering all the effort that it had taken to get it, that had been the 'easy' part of the operation. Now they actually had to get inside the room with the Directory. They had decided that the easiest way to do it would be to cause a distraction--- however minute they could manage; they didn't want to have that much attention focused on it---- and have Harry or Ron get in, using the Invisibility Cloak. The halls of the Ministry were not especially crowded, but now there was a much greater consequence to being spotted. Furthermore, the idea of a quick and subtle exit had been shot to hell, with Hermione now being stuck in court proceedings, which would undoubtedly take hours.
Paying close attention to the names on the doors, Harry put the Cloak over his head. It wasn't an easy feat. The wizards whose form he'd taken was so tall, he had to stoop to make sure his big feet were hidden. Still, even moving very carefully, it only took him three minutes to reach his destination. The Magical Transportation office had only had one wizard guarding it that one time; now two Death Eaters were on duty.
This was where everything got extremely dangerous. Fortunately, Ron was the brother of Fred and George, and had learned a thing or two about surprising the opposition. He made his way back to the end of the hall, placing the wastebasket on the ground. He had gotten to the other side when the Decoy Detonator he had placed in it exploded. No one was hurt, but there was noise and a big mess --- enough of one so that both of the guards were startled and began running towards the other end of the hall.
Harry didn't know how long he had, and he was hindered by the fact he couldn't run in his Invisibility Cloak in the form he was in. He made sure that both of them were by the other end of the hall before he inserted his token into the doorknob.
It was only when he got in there that he realized yet another flaw in the plan he and the others had spent weeks developing ---- the Directory was in several volumes, and they didn't have an index. Furthermore, Harry had no idea how long he had until someone with a genuine need to be here would show up. He was just going to have to hope that Ron continued to perform as flawlessly as he had, providing a distraction.
He took out his Extendable Ear. He had a horrible moment when he thought that it had been spotted, then he began to hear background noise from the hall outside. There was still a fair amount of uproar, along with a loud, disembodied voice (which sounded an awful like Cornelius Fudge) : "Remain calm! The Ministry has the situation well in hand!"
Despite himself, Harry couldn't restrain a snort --- decorum before safety; the Ministry was going to be a bureaucracy whether it was in good hands or in bad.
The Portkey directory was kept on the top shelf in alphabetical order, not unlike a Muggle set of encyclopedias. Harry knew it was a long shot, but he went to the back of the 'S' volume first. He had to read several pages before he acknowledged that Remus had been right about one thing --- there were no portkeys in or out of Sunnydale. If nothing else, looking at the 'S' volume showed him the layout of the directory---- the destination you were headed to was next to the location of the portkey, along with a small map, denoting where the place was located.
Unfortunately, this led to yet another problem --- how he was going to get the location of the portkey out of this room. Remus had told them that while there was no alarm around the room, should any of the books be removed from it, someone from security would be informed. Tearing out one of the pages wouldn't alert anyone, but when someone legitimately came to use the same volume, it would probably start the questions that they had been hoping to avoid. And just to make things perfect, Harry had no idea which cities were closest to Sunnydale. He did know that California was one of the biggest states geographically and population-wise, which meant that they could end up landing just about anywhere.
He gave a considerable sigh. He hoped Hermione was doing better getting the locket away from Umbridge. A spiteful part of him hoped that she could do it in a way that would cause the toad some real suffering.
Hermione was going through her own slow hell. -While heading into the dungeon which, until recently, had been used solely to hold people for improper use of magic, she had passed by several assistants working on pamphlets. She could only see the front of it, but it was enough to make her blood simultaneously boil and run cold: Head of the Muggle Born Registration Commission.
Umbridge had not noticed how quiet Mafalda had become, but then again, Hermione remembered how fond Dolores was of hearing her own voice. She therefore didn't notice when a horrible chill momentarily overcame Hermione as they entered the courtroom. The passageway was packed full of Dementors--- Hermione had never seen so many gathered in one place. Looking at how terrified the prisoners were, she had never been more aware of being Muggle-born. There wouldn't be even the niceties of a hearing if she were to be found here--- the Dementors would kiss her and it would be over.
It had taken all of her willpower to remain in control as she had walked into the courtroom. It was a much smaller room, though the ceiling was high: it gave the impression of being stuck at the bottom of an abyss.
When Umbridge finally took her place behind a balustrade, it took all of Hermione's energy to walk behind the parchment and inkwell. For there were even more Dementors here, casting their freezing aura everywhere. Then Umbridge had taken her place, and a bright silver, long haired cat, prowling up and down, walked freely. It was Umbridge's Patronus, she had no doubt, and it was glowing brighter than any magical creature had any right to in what amounted to a chamber of horrors. But then again, why shouldn't Umbridge feel safe? This was her perfect environment, upholding the perversion of a code that she had deemed to write.
"Bring forth Mary Cattermole," Umbridge called forth.
A woman whose face had gone shades of white Hermione had never seen appeared. Even with all the Dementors here, it was almost bearable in her place on the docket. Why shouldn't it be? The Patronus was here to protect Umbridge from the despair of the Dementors. That was for the persecutor, not the persecuted.
"You are Mary Elizabeth Cattermole, married to Reginald Cattermole of the Magical Maintenance Department?"
Mrs. Cattermole lost whatever control she had, and burst into tears. "Where's my husband? He was to meet me here!"
Umbridge showed no sympathy. "Mother to Maisie, Ellie, and Alfred?"
Mrs. Cattermole sobbed harder than ever. "They're frightened, they think I might not come home!"
"Why should we care about the spawn of Mudbloods?" the man on the other side of Umbridge replied.
Anger was beginning to replace the fear that had been in Hermione's heart. She had always wanted to believe that she was a good person at heart, but she was feeling rage in her that she hadn't felt even towards Severus Snape or Lucius Malfoy. For the first time in her life, she almost felt capable of killing someone, and not even with the Avra Kevedra or any of the killing curses she had been, until now, afraid to use. (The irony of using a Dark Art on the woman who had prided herself on not teaching them while at Hogwarts was not lost on her, even within the rage.) No, she wanted to place her hands around Umbridge's neck and squeeze.
The anger she felt was so strong she was amazed that Umbridge didn't notice, but she was so intent on her prey, she was immune to it.
"A wand was taken from you upon your arrival at the Ministry, Mrs. Cattermole, " the great toad was saying. "Eight-and -three-quarters inches, cherrywood, unicorn hair core. Do you recognize that description?"
Cattmerole managed to stop sobbing long enough to acknowledge this.
"From which witch or wizard did you take that wand?"
"T-took?" the unfortunate woman said. "I didn't t-take it from anyone. I b-bought it when I was eleven. It --- it chose me."
If ever she had lacked for proof that Dolores Umbridge had a heart of stone, it came when she uttered a soft girlish laugh at what she had reduced this woman to.. She leaned over the barrier, and something gold swung forward, and dangled over the void: the locket.
This time, Hermione could not restrain the squeak that emerged, but she had a feeling a small bomb could go off, and neither inquisitor would notice.
"No, no, I think not, Mrs. Cattermole. Wands only choose witches or wizards, and you are neither. I have your responses to the questionnaire that was sent to you --- Mafalda, if you would.”
Umbridge held our hand. For a brief but frightening moment, Hermione had forgotten who she was pretending to be. Hoping that Umbridge hadn't noticed either that or her shaking hands, she very carefully fumbled through a pile of documents before she finally withdrew a sheaf of parchment with Cattermole's name on it. "That's--- very pretty, Dolores," she said, pointing at the pendant.
"What?" Umbridge snapped. "Oh yes--- a family heirloom," she said quietly. "The S stands for Selwyn- --- a relation on my great-uncle's side. Indeed, there are few pure-blood families to whom I am not related.... A pity," and just like that her focus was on the matter at hand, "that the same cannot be said for you. Parents' professions: greengrocers."
It took a level of restraint that until this moment Hermione hadn't known she had to stop her from trying to throttle Umbridge with the chain the locket was attached to. It probably wouldn't have been enough to kill, and all it would do was get her captured and killed, but at that moment, hearing this amphibian use a locket that she had taken as a bribe to bolster her own credentials as a pure-blood was overwhelming every sense of caution that she had. She focused every bit of her being on the problem that had brought her here, and which, despite all their weeks of planning, she had never come up with a resolution for.
How did she get this Horcrux out of Umbridge's clutches?
Harry had no idea how much longer he could afford to look --- it felt like he'd been in this room for hours already, and he was no closer to finding the Portkey they needed then when they'd started. California was apparently a greater crux of dark magic than Remus had let on --- San Francisco was an epicenter of several great witches, and half of Los Angeles was under the purview of malevolent dark magic in its own right.
He was about to consider the option of finding a transport hub in an adjoining state when suddenly he saw what might their only possibility. It took Harry several seconds to look at this before he realized that this could make the trip into Ministry seem like a pleasure cruise, but they had no choice. They had to get there. Fast.
And it was just as he realized he was on the page that he needed that he heard the sound of footsteps in the halls. "This place is secure?" a deep voice demanded.
Before they could even acknowledge the voice, Harry put the book back, dashed behind the door, and yanked the Invisibility Cloak over his body. No sooner had he done so then it opened and in walked a tall man in deep purple robes. Harry barely managed to smother a gasp: the wizard was none other that Pius Thicknesse, the new Minister of Magic.
Thicknesse barely spared a glance, before he opened the door further and one of the Death Eaters himself walked inside. Now Harry felt trapped, and realized that he wasn't going to get another chance. As quickly as possible, he made his way out into the halls, and slammed himself against it, trying to make his overgrown disguise take up as little space as possible. Fortunately, the chaos that Ron had caused finally seemed to have died down, and the halls were empty. Very carefully, he removed the Cloak, and removed the small piece of paper.
Harry still didn't know the magic involved in the creation of the device Ron had given him --- only that it bore resemblance to the Marauder's Map his father and his friends had used while they had been in attendance at Hogwarts. The people that Harry was going to be searching out would have equated it with carbon paper in their world. Whatever the logic, he had a very real, albeit blotchy copy of the page that had the Portkey on it. He'd have to find a way to locate it on a real map, but that was a matter for another day. Right now, they had to regroup and get out of the Ministry.
He looked around for Ron for several moments before he saw the Magical Maintenance Man whose identity Ron had assumed, soaking wet. "Where the hell were you?" Harry whispered.
"They called me into someone's office. Some bloody fool cast a raining spell in it, and I had to clean it up." Harry just looked at his friend. "I wasn't exactly in a position to say no."
"Let's just get Hermione and get out of here," Harry whispered.
Ron nodded, and the two of stepped into a lift. Ron was about to ask Harry something when he blinked several times, and nearly did a double take.
When Harry saw who it was, he could hardly blame him. Ron's father was standing there. Now they were in for it. Even though the plan was proceeding with Arthur’s help, Remus had taken care to only communicate with him via owl, and in ciphers at that. Arthur knew something was going on in the Ministry, but he didn't know who, and certainly not that his own son was involved. Now Harry was beginning to wonder if this omission could end up costing them everything.
Mr. Weasley didn't see through either glamour, but he did focus his attention on Ron. "Hello, Reg," he said slowly. "Isn't your wife in here for questioning?" Before Ron could respond, he asked why 'Reg' was soaked. Harry wasn't sure, but given the look of an intense dislike that Ron's father had fixed him with, he was certain that Arthur bore a grudge against his disguise.
Ron didn't dare say anything (he was certain that if he looked into his father's eyes, his cover would be blown), so he just talked about meteorological spells until the lift got to the next level, and quickly departed. Harry tried to get off as well, but Mr. Weasley blocked his path. "A moment, Runcorn," he said frostily.
Harry had managed to make it this far without having his disguise challenged; he didn't want to blow it now. He nodded.
"You're the one who ratted out Dirk Creswell, didn't you?"
This could go very badly. Denial seemed pointless, so he just replied., "So what if I did?"
"Creswell's ten times the wizard you'll ever be." Ron's father's voice was barely louder than a whisper; nevertheless, Harry would have to be deaf to not notice the anger within it. "If he survives Azkaban, you'll have to answer to him, not to mention his wife, his sons, and his friends---"
Harry wasn't going to get off this elevator without a dressing-down, but the idea of this bringing down their plans was an even greater concern. "You read Skeeter's latest article?" he said quickly.
"I never believed half the garbage she put into print," Mr. Weasley sounded even angrier at this.
"Neither did I," By now, they were at the bottom floor. "Don't judge a book by its cover."
This actually shut Ron's father up; Harry hoped he hadn't given away too much at this. They reached the Atrium in relative silence. Harry got off, hoping like hell Hermione had managed to get through her exposure to Umbridge intact.
Hermione was being torn by two impulses --- she needed to get the locket away from Umbridge, and maneuver a safe exit, but she wanted to find a way to get the accused out of here in one piece. She had spent the last five minutes realizing this probably wouldn't be possible and convincing herself that allowing this woman to be a casualty in the war against Voldemort was the only thing that she could do.
"All right, Mrs. Cattermole, we are finished," Umbridge gave a smile that wouldn't have been out of place on a lion. "Give us a few moments before we render our verdict."
Never had the phrase witch hunt had more meaning. This woman had been doomed the second she’d walked in the door.
Then an idea occurred to Hermione. It was terrible. It was cruel. But it was a lesser evil to be committed to stop a much worse one. That's what Hermione told herself later, but it still didn't help her sleep later on. The memory of the expression on Mrs. Cattermole's face would prevent that.
She turned to Umbridge, holding on to her control with everything she had. "I should probably get these notes to the Minister," she told her.
"Go right ahead," Dolores told her. "We just need to decide the appropriate sentence."
Hermione wondered if Umbridge knew she was directly following a well-known Muggle writer's twisted idea of justice. She decided that she would settle for doing anything that would momentarily wipe that ghastly grin off her old instructors face. "Yes, Dolores," she said, pausing to drop a small object in the wastebasket by her feet.
Hermione walked as swiftly as she dared, not sure how much time she had. She had just gotten through the door when the Decoy Detonator went off.
The Dementors started moving in their collective fashion. Hermione reached the door, where the wretched Mary Cattermole stood, looking up. "Run," she whispered in her ear.
She then ducked back inside. The explosion had caused more damage in the confined space, but the worst it had done was smudge Umbridge's makeup. It had also torn the chain off her locket. She walked as close as she dared, and, while Yaxley and Umbridge were assessing their damage, she took it.
As she exited, she saw several guards approaching: "Someone tried to attack the Commission!" she shouted. "Make sure they're all safe!
At that moment, some of the other prisoners had taken notice of what was happenng and were trying to run away. Hermione saw Harry's disguise walk in, looking a little perplexed.
"Where's Ron?" she whispered.
"Second floor," Harry replied.
"We need to leave. Now."
Harry needed no second bidding. Unfortunately, she hadn't gotten ten feet when she muttered: "Damn it."
She took out the locket and uttered "Geminio!" A likeness of the locket appeared. Hermione tossed it towards the open door.
Then she saw something that made her heart hurt ---- Mrs. Cattermole was paralyzed by the aura of the Dementors. She had no idea how long Harry had been standing there, but he got the message, and shouted: "Expecto Patronum!"
The silver stag soared from Harry's wand and leaped towards the Dementor.
If anything, Mrs. Cattermole seemed even more frightened. "I don't understand," she whispered.
"You're leaving with us," Hermione replied. "You saw what was going on in there. Go home, get your children, and start running as fast, as far as you can. There's no hope for justice here."
"But--- my husband--- the others---?"
"There's no time," Harry replied. "We have to go now."
Hermione cast the spell for her Patronus, and the remaining Dementors began to fall back. Suddenly, she realized that while this the gallant thing to do, it would draw all the wrong time of attention to them.
Just to make things worse, at that moment, the elevator clanked to a halt in front of them. "Reg!" Mrs. Cattermole yelled, and threw herself into Ron's arms. "We have to get out of here. Get the children, get out of the country. I think we have to do it, Reg --- why are you soaking wet?"
With a sudden horror, Hermione realized whose identity Ron had taken to get into the Ministry. That, however, seemed about to be the least of their problems. "Harry, the last couple of Decoys we set off have attracted the Ministry's attention. They're about to lock the place down. I think we have maybe five minutes before---"
Hemione's Patronus vanished so quickly it might have been comic under other circumstances. "Harry, if we're trapped here---"
"We won't be,." Harry was undergoing the same mental torment too. Then he recalled who he was supposed to be, and that subtlety probably wasn't the best tactic. "Get on the elevator. Now! We have to move fast. " What the hell. "Everybody who has a wand needs to go with someone who doesn't. Come on."
Everybody who was being held prisoner began making a beeline for the elevators. Somehow, they all managed to cram themselves into two lifts, and they started heading for the Atrium. Harry lowered his voice as much as Runcorn could. "Get yourself to the front as fast as you can."
As soon as they were on the eighth level, they realized things were as bad as they’d thought. All the wizards were sealing the fireplaces one by one.
"STOP!" The powerful voice of Runcorn echoed through the Atrium:, and the wizards stopped their actions. "The Minister has charged us with getting this lot out before you seal the exits," Harry said with all the authority he could muster.
Now the wizards looked nervous. "We've been told to seal all exits and not let anyone----"
"Are you contradicting me?!" Harry bellowed. "Or should I have the Commission examine your family tree, like I did Creswell?!"
The wizard backed away in apology . "I'm sorry, Albert, it 's just I thought--- you brought them in for questioning--- I merely?"
"Their blood is pure," Harry said in a voice, daring contradiction. "Purer than many of yours, I dare say. Go!" The Ministry wizards hung back.
"Harry," Ron said. "Next lift'll be here any second---"
"Go!" Harry demanded.
Ron jumped into the fireplace, dragging 'his ‘wife' in after him. "You know what we talked about?"
"Harry, I don't know if I can," Hermione seemed almost frantic now.
"We don't have a choice,." He grabbed her hand, and they jumped into the fireplace. They spun for a few seconds before shooting up out of the toilet into a cubicle. Ron was struggling with Mrs. Cattermole, frantically telling her he wasn't her husband. "DO IT!"
He grabbed Ron by the hand, and Hermione by the arm. As they began to disapparate, Hermione shouted:
Darkness engulfed them, along with the sensation of compression. Harry thought for a moment his head was going to explode; he couldn't breathe, and everything was slipping away.
The Ministry was in uproar over the breach. The place was full of theories and everyone knew that someone's head--- possibly Albert Runcorn's--- was going to roll. The major theory was that someone from the order of the Phoenix had led some kind of assault to protest the anti-Muggle policies. Maisie Cattermole had an automatic execution order over her head now.
Dolores Umbridge was quick to argue this was impossible, saying that none of the students at Hogwarts--- not even Undesirable Number One -- was capable of this kind of magic. Polyjuice Potion was an amateur trick, but every spell that Harry did left some kind of trace, and whatever Disapparation spells they had used left absolutely no trace --- spells that not even a Hogwarts graduate was capable of casting.
The spell used to escape the Ministry had many people concerned, Rumors had spread that someone had used temporal magic, but this was quickly quashed. Rumors of just this kind of magical power had been the kind of thing the Ministry was trying to avoid.
It was bad enough that these violators could now be anywhere. They could be anywhen, too.