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The man from the Ministry looked upwards in awe.

Mere moments before, he had been admiring the vastness of a lake crowned by mountains, actively breathing in the freshness of the place, almost failing to note how near he must have been to him…

All he had been able to make out on top of the highest peak were the ruins of a Medieval castle. These were now so scarce and scattered that it had become apparent that not even archaeologists bothered with the place anymore. He had, however, realised what it was; a concealed fortress that was not just out of reach for Muggles, but for wizards as well. Without further ado, he had waved up his wand, forming with it the Arithmancy sign for infinite. The password had, at that point, been given, straight to his mind. He pronounced it slowly and decisively without allowing himself neither to convey nor to feel any emotion. He waited.

He had Apparated to secret co-ordinates and had truly no idea where he was geographically, but Scotland or Cumbria could have been a good guess. All of a sudden, a mist from out of nowhere swallowed his surroundings, an impenetrable fog that chilled his every bone and brought about a dramatic change in temperature.

He looked up and, in front of his eyes, was this amazing frozen structure, in the style of the highest possible Gothic, with its pointed arches and vaults, flying buttresses and narrow spires, all of which appeared completely carved in ice. Encircling it was a ditch so deep that it could very well connect with the entrails of the Earth.

He knew at this moment that he had to fly to its highest turret. How the sign had come, he wasn’t really sure. He just knew it was the only way in. The wind was blowing a gale, even if it was theoretically August. He took hold of his broom and braced himself for the trip. His goal was so high up in the sky that the sensation of vertigo almost threw him off balance. He flew as rapidly as he could possibly muster, never looking down, never tempting fate. He knew the Dark Lord well enough to gather that falling into the ditch would not be a good idea.

Finally, he arrived. A podgy little man was there to greet him, his small malicious eyes observing his every facial move.

“My Lord expects you,” he said somewhat importantly.

The newcomer simply nodded and followed him.

“Descendo!” shouted Pettigrew and, before the Ministry official had the chance to even look around him, both men were swirling at great speed, enveloped in a force greater than the fiercest hurricane. Within minutes, they arrived in what appeared to be the Great Hall.

Impressively enough, everything in the room seemed also made of ice, save for the open fire positioned in the centre, which, predictably, did not have the effect to melt, nor to damage the castle or its contents. Ice! Ice was after all a natural preservative; it maintained things intact, even if not immortal.

Voldemort was there waiting, sitting by the fire. His slit eyes glared at his guest implacably and disdainfully. The visitor could not maintain his gaze but tried to remain calm, to cast away his fear.

“Mr. Weasley, you have finally arrived!” started the vaguely human wizard in what struck the other fellow as a slightly mocking tone.

“My Lord?” replied the Ministry envoy adjusting his horn-rimmed spectacles.

“So the Ministry is paying its respects at last, I take it?” commented Voldemort with a twisted smile. “Does Umbridge know you are here?”

“Yes, my Lord,” Percy answered in an almost military fashion.

“Aren’t you a bit too young for this kind of mission? And coming from a family with such fine credentials as yours…” continued Voldemort casually caressing his famous pet snake, which was coiled at his feet.

At that point, Bellatrix Lestrange almost chuckled with laughter.

“My relatives, my Lord, may very well be blood-traitors. I am not. As you may very well be aware, it was some time ago that I cut all ties with them,” he explained confidently.

“Well, well… what have we here, an ambitious Weasley!”

Bellatrix then snorted.

“And what about your little sister? Have I been misinformed? Is it not true that she’s become Potter’s whore?”

“At this moment in time, I can assure you that I have no idea,” retorted the young man dispassionately.

“Well, you better find out then,” Voldemort said sarcastically. “You may prove, after all, to be useful,” he went on, looking as if thinking things through. Am I to assume that you are aware of the address of the Order’s Headquarters?”

“Yes, my Lord, but… but," he said in a low voice, "I’m not Secret Keeper. I cannot reveal that…”

“That much I understand,” the Dark Lord replied irritated, feeling patronised. “However,” he paused, looking at Percy intently, trying to instill some fear into him, “you can yourself go there, can you not?”

“I suppose, my Lord, but… but they just wouldn’t trust me. They are aware of my loyalty to the Ministry…” Percy did now feel deeply uncomfortable.

“So? Voldemort replied arrogantly. “Your own father also works for the Ministry, I believe.”

“Yes, but I know from good sources that he wasn’t too impressed with Dolores’ appointment,” he reasoned.

“And why would that be?” 

“Because he suspects the Minister’s loyalty to your cause, to our cause…my Lord,” he quickly rectified. “In her year at Hogwarts she also seemed to manage to gain Potter’s mistrust, which doesn’t really help.”

“Speaking ill of your superiors also, Weasley? Well, well, I can see that your desire for glory knows no boundaries.” 

“I wasn’t speaking ill, my Lord,” replied Percy apprehensively. “I, however, believe that there were some mistakes, that she became too exposed,” he explained.

“And you claim you can do better?”

“I will certainly try, my Lord.”

“How exactly are you going to make me trust you when you are clearly willing to betray your own family and go against your employers? Why should I assume your loyalty to me? "

Percy thought for a split second. He had known from the beginning that that question would be posed and, yet, a satisfactory answer still eluded him.

“Because I admire your greatness, my Lord, and despise weakness, and because I share your feelings with regards to blood purity,” he finally replied.

The Dark Lord now smiled scornfully.

“Come on, Weasley, anybody could claim that.” 

“Also, my Lord, I did never divulge that Crouch Senior was under your command,” Percy timidly added.

“Very well, would you come to my ranks, if I chose to accept you? Will you take the Dark Mark?” Voldemort tried to test him.

“I would, gladly,” Percy told him at once. “However, would this be wise if I am to spy for you? It isn’t always something easy to hide.”

“You are clever, after all. Very good copping off strategy, interesting…Yes, Weasley, you have guessed correctly. I want you to report back to me who I can and cannot count upon at the Ministry and, of course, I want you to make up with your family,” Voldemort coldly announced.

“Most of them will not trust me, my Lord. I have already…” Percy Weasley mumbled in protest.

“Let's start with the weakest, shall we?  Who would that be, young fellow?” The Dark Lord’s expression was now one of mild amusement. “Would that not be your mother?”

Percy suddenly went pale and he could hardly conceal it. Making his mother suffer had been the hardest part. Yes, he had to concede that she would be prepared to welcome him with open arms. Still he hesitated.

“Potter has got her wrapped around his little finger, though, you know, the poor little orphan boy thing,” mocked Percy, attempting but failing to avoid sounding as if he was in fact trying to make excuses, to find loopholes.

“Yes, the poor little orphan boy who is sleeping with her daughter! She will not be happy with him when she finds out!” exclaimed Voldemort smiling malevolently.

“Are you sure about that, my Lord, that they are actually lovers?” enquired Percy trying, once again, to sound indifferent.

“Well, if they are not at the moment, it is only a small matter of time but, no worries, this suits me fine, in fact. Potter is just pathetic, he is so weak!” the Dark Lord continued, “unable to control the demands of the flesh!”

On hearing that comment, Bellatrix Lestrange glanced at the Dark Lord timidly, almost as if she were begging his approval. He, however, appeared to ignore her.

Percy agreed with his Master’s comments but didn’t dare enquire into the matter further.

“So, your orders for me are, My Lord?” Percy asked hoping to conclude the meeting, wishing to get away as rapidly as he could.

“Must I repeat myself over and over, Weasley? I was under the impression that you do have a brain!” mocked Voldemort.

“So, apart from keeping an open eye at the Ministry, I’m to contact my mother?” Percy summarised, holding down his gaze.

“Yes, Weasley, indeed, it has taken you long enough to arrive at this conclusion! Ah, and before you go, the Ministry, I believe, is in possession of Lily Potter’s wand. I want that brought to me, as a matter of urgency!” The Dark Lord now felt rather agitated. “Do not give me a reason to punish you!”

This being agreed, Percy was escorted back to the point to which he had originally Apparated.

Shortly after Ginny’s birthday, Hermione had returned to her father’s house in Kent. There were certainly enough puzzles she could help her friends with. Still, her father needed company, she had reasoned. She couldn’t help but feel that it had been her involvement in the wizarding world that had caused her mother’s death in the first place. Yet, she could not allow herself, nor Harry or anyone else, to take the blame. It was Voldemort’s fault and the Death Eaters’. No-one else’s!

Will Granger had gone back to work almost immediately after his wife had died. It had been hard, very hard, to go back to the practice which they had run as partners, but sulking at home alone hadn’t seemed to him a better prospect either.

They lived in a smart house in the Sevenoak suburbs. It wasn’t exactly grand but wasn’t small either. Jane Granger had always kept the place in good order, even though she had worked full-time. She had always had an eye for interiors and the furnishings were tasteful. The garden had always been Hermione’s favourite retreat. It was large and fairly private, with a nice patio area where she remembered having enjoyed many informal dinners with her parents and their friends. She was fond of those memories but she couldn’t help but feel quite sad.

Her father had welcomed her with a hug, a big smile, a home made Greek salad and a chilled glass of wine. There were now sitting outdoors and the mood looked relaxed. However, there were, not surprisingly, underground currents and unexplored feelings. The grass had grown quite considerably and was beginning to look slightly unkept. She knew, only too well, the reason why.

Mr. Granger wasn’t a particularly talkative person, more of an introvert. He was not one to wear his heart on his sleeve, however, he transmitted a certain sense of warmth and, despite this, his sadness was also showing through.

Hermione’s first piece of news to her father was that Hogwarts was not to re-open that term. Will Granger expressed disappointment on her behalf and, although he wondered very much what his daughter’s plans were, he didn’t feel it was right for him to push the issue. Hermione knew what she had to eventually say that she wouldn’t be staying home for long, that they were on a mission and a dangerous one! But that could wait until later. She would just have to deal with this topic with care.

“Dad, I was wondering,” she started, taking a small sip of wine. “I was wondering if I could ask for your advice, on Harry’s behalf.”

“Sure, sweetheart, well, of course, although, I’m not sure how I can help, without knowing about magic,” he replied slightly surprised.

“It’s not about magic. In fact, it’s about Muggle finances,” she said not knowing where to begin. “He doesn’t actually want me to trouble you, but I think that he could do with suggestions. Well, the thing is that he did actually inherit a vast amount of money, a shocking sum, in fact. It would appear that his parents and godfather were, well, millionaires. Now, I’m very worried about him on various levels. Firstly, he seems to disregard the value of money, like if it’s not important,” she paused for a moment.

“I imagine that after what the poor chap has lived through, he is probably just glad to be alive, to have good friends. Also,” Mr. Granger reflected, “he has learned the hard way that no amount of wealth will bring his loved ones back,” he concluded.

“Sure…” Hermione assented in a taciturn mode.

“But also,” Hermione continued now almost a little angry, “he’s taking the word generosity almost to an extreme! I mean, goodness, he bought his girlfriend jewellery from Aspreys, although I must confess, I’m being a hypocrite because I took him there. Honestly, Dad, I don’t know what got into me!”

Mr. Granger did now practically laugh out loud. “You took the kid to Aspreys? They are the most exclusive jewellers in London! Goodness!

“Well, I thought he needed cheering up. He had been hurting Ginny by going hot and cold, by denying his feelings even to himself, and he felt guilty about it,” Hermione blushed a bit and looked apologetic.

Her father grinned again very widely.

“Also, you remember me telling you about that awful teacher we had in fifth year? Well, listen to this, she is now Minister of Magic and has actually frozen his assets!”

Mr. Granger frowned not following completely. “But, how can she do a thing like that? I’m sure the Magical world has rules, safeguards to prevent such a travesty from happening?”

“The thing is, our world is in such disarray! She is basically a dictator, and of the worse possible kind! She had passed through obscure legislation which, although it will affect others and not just Harry, touches him very directly. Even Mr. Weasley thinks that this is no coincidence. Harry is very famous and really influential, you see. I reckon she expects him to follow in Dumbledore’s footsteps. We gather she is afraid that he will use his money to raise an army.

“Sorry, let me follow this. How come? Well, how could he spend so much if he is virtually dispossessed?” asked Mr Granger feeling rather confused.

“Well, the goblins at the bank gave him a Muggle credit card, and a practically unlimited one,” Hermione at that stage relied to her father what Garbhan had suggested, that he uses the card in breach of the terms of engagement.

“But by doing that,” Will Granger said concerned, “he is virtually becoming an outlaw,”

“Well, for him it is either that or losing the whole lot altogether,” Hermione replied shaking her head. “He needs to act and fast. That’s why I’m asking you! He needs to take what he can and invest it somehow!”

“How old is he exactly?” enquired Mr. Granger still thinking things through.

“Seventeen, Dad, he’s just of age.”

“Of age in your world, not in ours, not for another year. This could be a problem, love. He is not technically allowed… Well, I was going to suggest that he buys property, in London perhaps, as valuable as possible. He could always rent it out, but then, again, I don’t think he needs the hassle of getting entangled in that kind of thing. Now, does he intend to live at Grimmauld Place permanently?” Mr. Granger asked wondering, “because if not, he could always buy a place for himself to live in. The thing is, though, he is a minor still; he is not allowed to enter into this kind of legal contract yet. Could his legal guardians do this on his behalf?”

“Dad, he is not speaking to them, but that is a long story.” 

“Umm… there has to be a way,” reflected Hermione’s father. “We could do it for him, of course, but then again, he would have to trust us, to give us the money for us to buy the property. Strictly speaking, he would lose the legal right to that money…” Will Granger said as he pondered.

“Well, could we make some kind of contract whereas the property reverts back to him upon his coming of age, in the Muggle world, I mean?” asked Hermione.

“I see no reason against it but then again, say, if I buy it and I were to die… ok, I would have to change my will to make him the beneficiary of that particular asset. I don’t see why not, though. Or, even better, you do it! You will be 18 on 19th September. Put it this way, he hardly knows me, but he probably trusts you.” Mr. Granger now felt that perhaps they were getting somewhere.

Hermione hugged her Dad in real appreciation. “Yes, of course, Harry will go for this. He’s got a heart of gold; he only mistrusts people who have treated him badly. He’ll go for this, I’m sure! Also, this would keep the place in someone else’ name. I still think your name is better. Since the Ministry hasn’t got a record of you, it will not show up, so the address can remain unknown to them. Brilliant, Dad, really brilliant!” exclaimed Hermione feeling now rather positive, throwing herself into her father’s arms.

It was now nearly midnight and it was getting chilly, so they went back indoors, into the living room.

“Phone him or whatever is that you do tomorrow, invite him over, I want to talk to him. Your boyfriend can come as well, and Harry’s girl,” said Mr. Granger again broadly smiling.

Hermione blushed strongly but didn’t elaborate. He had, for the first time made reference to the fact that it must had been obvious at the wedding that she was going out with Ron.

“I shall send them an owl,” she replied, almost speechless.

“Now, the issue with Harry,” continued Mr. Granger, “is a tough one, love, but we will try to help him. I do have lawyer friends”.

With this provisionally sorted out, father and daughter proceeded to watch a film and left it there for the night. One step at a time, Hermione thought. 

A week or so later, after she had, as promised, owled her friends regarding her father’s invitation, she could not, for her life, get Snape out of her mind, and whatever Petunia might had meant. 

She had to act, to do something, even if it was behind Harry’s back! He would never consent to her contacting his aunt, yet, Petunia knew something important; Hermione just knew this. Whilst her father was at work, she looked in her old diary for Harry’s number, the number that had caused Ron to make a fool of himself in the Dursley’s eyes, when he had shouted so loud! She smiled at the thought.

She had to admit to herself that she felt rather nervous. Despite all that had happened, Petunia had never been one for trusting anybody in the wizarding world. This was going to be tough.

Extremely uncharacteristically, especially considering this was just before midday, Hermione proceeded towards her father’s drink cabinet and took a shot of brandy. She didn’t like the taste; she just threw it down at once. Dutch courage, as they called it! Now, she had no further excuse to prolong this any longer. It was now or never!

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