Hermione woke up with a splitting headache. Groaning, she closed her eyes and pulled her pillow over her head.
Wait. Pillow? WhereamI?
She opened her eyes again and sat up, willing her head to stop pounding. She was in an unfamiliar, largish room that contained only the lumpy mattress she was sitting on and the pillow. She reached for her wand, grimacing when her fingers closed on air. As the ache in her head receded, she remembered walking out to the Quidditch pitch… and the shouted Stupefy from behind.
With the memories came a rush of dread, and she wrapped her arms around her knees and shivered. Slowly the adrenaline rush eased, and she calmed down. “So I’ve been kidnapped,” she said to herself, “and now the question is, what can I do about it?”
She rose and made a thorough inspection of the windowless room, starting with the door. It wasn’t the normal hinged affair one would expect. Instead, it was a sliding panel set in the middle of one wall that was currently quite firmly fastened. Hermione spent several minutes attempting to force it to move one way or the other, and finally gave up, turning her attention to the mattress and pillow. Both had all identifying marks removed; she could see the places where the tags had been clumsily cut off.
An odd smell tickled her nose, and it took her a moment to recognize the odors of new construction – paint, sawdust, cement, and glue. Muggle construction. She was probably in a Muggle house.
For lack of anything better to do, she inventoried her assets. Besides the pillow and mattress, she had her robes and the clothes she was wearing. Nothing else. As no immediate ideas for escape rose to mind, she tugged the heavy mattress into the corner furthest from the door, and sat down on it to wait. And think. Hard.
When Hermione hadn’t returned by eight o’ clock, Crookshanks began to fret. His pet’s outdoor walks rarely lasted more than fifteen minutes, and she’d been gone well over an hour. “If I’m running a false trail, so be it. This isn’t like her!” He rose and padded down to the Common Room. There were half a dozen of the younger Gryffindors there, but not his pet. As he headed for the portrait, it opened, and a disheveled, panting Harry Potter stepped through. Crookshanks twitched his tail and vanished before the boy realized he was there.
He hadn’t paid much attention to that human lately, not since Potter had begun behaving himself. But now… the ends of his whiskers twitched as he sensed wrongness. Potter was nervous and sweating, despite the coolness of the evening. He stopped in the corridor and took several deep breaths, obviously attempting to calm himself. Then he straightened his clothing and put on a cheerful grin before stepping into the Common Room. Crookshanks looked after him balefully. “He’s been up to something, and I’ll bet anything it has to do with my pet.” Two minutes later, he was in the dungeons, yowling outside Snape’s door.
Duster slipped outside a moment later. “Crooks! What’s wrong?”
“Hermione went out for a walk an hour ago and didn’t come back. Then that Potter human just came back into the Common Room, reeking of nerves and sweat. He’s done something, Duster, I know it!”
“You don’t think he’s… hurt her, do you?”
“I don’t know. We’ve got to find her.”
“Hmm.” Duster got a thoughtful look. “We need to arrange a distraction to get everyone out of the Gryffindor tower so we can get that map again.”
“A distraction…” Crookshanks’ eyes glowed green. “I’ll go up there and claw him silly!”
“That would distract Potter, but not everyone else,” Duster pointed out. “Perhaps… a fire?”
“Too dangerous. Someone might get hurt.”
“Let’s just go up there and make anyone there leave.”
Crookshanks considered. “One of us should probably stay in the Common Room to keep everyone there.”
“I’ll do that. You know how best to work that map.”
They tore up the stairs and through the halls, a black and ginger streak that terminated abruptly in the Gryffindor Common Room. There were three humans there, two playing chess while the third kibitzed. Duster made himself comfortable under the sofa and began a soft and subtle magic, luring the Gryffindors to the Common Room with thoughts that it would be a nice idea just to socialize.
Crookshanks twitched his tail and vanished, then ducked into the seventh-year boys’ room. Only the Potter human was there at the moment. Trusting Duster to keep anyone else from coming up, the half-kneazle flattened his ears and stared very hard at the Boy-Who-Should-Be-Smacked.
It only took a few minutes before Harry put down the parchment he was reading, and left the room, heading down the stairs. Crookshanks dove into his trunk, pawing through clothes and other sundries, and spitting viciously when he couldn’t find the map at first. Finally he located it and spread it out on the floor, using one of Neville’s shoes to keep it flat. Once it was activated, he scanned it quickly. Then again, more slowly. Finally he hissed in annoyance, rolled it up and returned it to its place. Hermione was not anywhere on the school grounds.
He made his way back down to the Common Room and told Duster what he’d found – or hadn’t found.
“So,” Duster said slowly, “what do you think?”
“I think that the Potter human knows something, but short of ripping his mind open, I don’t know how to figure out what it is.”
“It’s a pity that mind-ripping is strictly forbidden except in the direst situations. Until we can prove that your pet is in deadly peril, we’re going to have to find some other way.”
“I think we need to call an emergency meeting and get help. This is Friday night. Hermione won’t be missed by the other humans until her Monday classes at the earliest, unless we can convince them otherwise.”
“In other words, meddle,” Duster said with a certain smug satisfaction.
“Let’s see if the others have any ideas,” Crookshanks temporized. “Meddling still makes me twitchy.”
“Very well then. But we’ll need to wait for about three hours, until the humans have settled for the night.”
“I know, but I don’t like it.”
“Let’s meet at the front gates,” Duster suggested.
“Hermione isn’t on the school grounds. That means that she must’ve left through the gates – if she didn’t Apparate. It’s possible the dogs can track her.”
“And if she Apparated? Or was port-keyed?”
“Then we meddle.”
The Familiars were grim when they arrived at the front gates. Hermione had not returned, and thoughts of foul play were on every mind.
“But you don’t know that the Potter human had anything to do with it,” Fawkes repeated for the third time. “So we can’t assume anything.”
“I’m not assuming,” Crookshanks almost snarled. “I tell you, he was nervous and sweating – and it’s not particularly warm outside.”
“Perhaps he had just gone flying,” Erasmus put in.
“And perhaps he did actually have something to do with it,” Duster replied with some heat. “Swift, can you or Gambit get a track on her?”
The terrier nodded and began casting about in an ever-widening spiral, letting the smells of the earth tell their stories to his sensitive nose. For several minutes the other Familiars watched silently. Then Gambit yelped, “Got it!”
Swift was beside him in a bound as the terrier took off in the hunting lope of a dog on the scent. The others followed as fast as they could, Topper and Fawkes carrying the toads. The track led more or less straight to the Quidditch pitch, and then ended. Gambit cast around for several minutes and finally shook his head. “She came here, walking slowly. Then nothing. She Apparated.”
“Or was Apparated,” Duster reminded them. “Are there any signs of anyone else here at about the same time?”
“Aye, there was someone else all right.” He sat back on his haunches and said solemnly, “That Potter human was here too.”
“See, I told you!” Crookshanks burst out. “Now I’m going to claw his eyes out, and then rip his mind.”
“No!” Fawkes declared. “We know he was here, but we don’t know, beyond any doubt, that he did anything to her. They may have gone somewhere together.”
The sound of high pitched giggling shrilled behind them, and they whirled to see Moaning Myrtle floating about ten feet in the air. “Poor kitties, lost something?”
“Myrtle, what do you know about this?” Fawkes demanded.
“Why should I tell you? You let them flush me down the commode!”
“We needed privacy!” Macavity said. “We had things to discuss that we didn’t want anyone else overhearing.”
“That’s my bathroom,” Myrtle sniffed. “You came into my bathroom for your oh-so-secret meeting, and then you flushed me down the commode. Too bad for you now!”
“Now Myrtle,” Fawkes said soothingly, “I’m sure we can work this out. Why don’t you tell us what you know, and I’ll have Duster apologize.”
Myrtle’s eyes got bigger behind her glasses. “You’re fibbing! You’re fibbing! You just want to know what I know, and then you’ll go away and I’ll never get my apology!”
“She doesn’t know anything,” Chang stated flatly. “She’s just causing trouble!”
“Is that so, Mr Smarty-cat? I know plenty of things! I heard you tonight. You want to know about Harry.”
“So?” the Siamese put a world of boredom into his tone. “That doesn’t mean you know anything we don’t.”
“I’ll bet you don’t know that Harry stuffed a big roll of parchment down one of the commodes.”
The cats looked at each other. Finally Duster said, “I’m sorry I flushed you.” It was said through gritted teeth.
Myrtle looked dubious. “You don’t mean it.”
“Come, now, Myrtle. You have your apology. Now tell us what you know about that parchment.”
“Which parchment?” She danced around them with some glee. “You didn’t even know that he’s been doing that for the last two weeks? Silly kitties!” She laughed shrilly. “You think I’m stupid! I’m not going to tell you anything!”
As the cats expostulated with the ghost, Topper scratched an ear thoughtfully. Snagging his claws in Swift’s collar, he muttered, “Let’s go to the Owlrey. I’ve got an idea.” No one noticed them leave.
Topper flew into one of the many open windows of the Owlrey and looked around. Sure enough, Hedwig was perched in her customary place near the door. The macaw noted that she looked thin and tired; Potter had been using her a lot lately. Well, that fit with what Myrtle said. He landed next to her.
She looked at him appraisingly with glowing golden eyes. “H’lo, Topper.”
“You’ve been working too hard,” he said bluntly. “What’s Potter doing? Writing to every member of Parliament?” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Swift enter the room, locate them, and simply sit down to listen.
She clacked her beak at him. “Letters, letters, and more letters.”
“That’s hard, yes. Especially in bad weather.”
“He hasn’t fed or watered me, or given me any special attention in two weeks,” she grumbled. “I’m having to eat out of the common feeders.” The white owl extended a disgusted wing in the direction of the long troughs that ran along one wall of the room.
“That’s not like him at all,” Topper observed.
“No, but who’s going to pay any heed to me? I’m an owl. It’s my job to carry his mail.”
“This has only been going on for two weeks, you said? Any idea what happened?”
“No, he won’t talk to me any more either. He just suddenly started writing letters to all kinds of Muggles and sending them drafts from Gringotts.”
“Muggles. Businesses, not people.” She yawned. “Sorry, I am a bit tired.”
Topper tilted his head to one side. “Are all these letters going to the same place?”
“Little town called Godric’s Hollow on the other bloody side of the bloody island. I’d never been there before two weeks ago, and now I know it better than I know Hogwarts.”
“One more question and then I’ll leave. Did he send any letters today?”
Hedwig looked at him thoughtfully. “No. And frankly, I was glad of it.” She yawned again, pointedly.
Topper nodded to the owl politely and flew out into the hallway, Swift following behind him. “Now what?” asked the big dog.
“Now, we go to Godric’s Hollow and see what we can find out.”
Hermione was beginning to get tired; once the initial adrenaline rush had faded, the waiting for something to happen was, well, boring. In the unlit windowless room, she had no way to mark the passage of time. Despite the situation, she found herself dozing off, each time waking up with a startled jerk.
Determined to stay awake and alert, she began reciting her lessons to herself. She’d mentally gotten halfway through Friday’s Transfiguration class when she heard the sound of footsteps outside the door. She got to her feet, ready for – she didn’t know what, but determined to attempt to escape.
There was a scrape of metal on metal, and the door panel slid open. In the dark, Hermione didn’t recognize the figure that entered. She didn’t really care. Instead she launched herself across the room in an all-or-nothing tackle.
Her attack took the figure by surprise, and they crashed to the floor with her on top. Only then did she get a good look at the person. “Harry!”
In her surprise her grip slackened, and he was able to roll away from her and get to his feet. “Thank God you found me! I’m sorry I hit you; I thought you were a kidnapper!”
“It’s fine, Hermione.” He smiled a bit ruefully and helped her rise. “Everything’s going to be all right.”
“Come on then! We need to leave before they come back! They took my wand!”
He shook his head. “No, Hermione. We’re not leaving. At least, you aren’t.”
“What?” She would’ve backed away except for his grip on her hands. “I don’t understand!”
“You’re obviously under some sort of spell or curse. So I’ve brought you here, and I’m going to keep you here until you’re better again.”
“Harry! I’m not cursed, and I’m not under any sort of spell!” Her eyes widened as the sense of what he’d said sunk in. “You’re the one who kidnapped me! You!”
“I didn’t kidnap you,” he protested, tightening his grip on her as she tried to pull away. “I’m taking care of you because no one else will!”
“Let go of me!” She began to struggle in earnest. Unfortunately, Harry was stronger than she was. He pulled her across the room and threw her onto the mattress – relatively gently. Before she could recover, he’d hit her with Petrificus Totalus.
“I’m sorry I have to do this, Hermione. But you’ll understand when you’re better. Really. Then we’ll get married and we can put this behind us.” He waved his wand again, and a tray appeared. “Here’s some breakfast for you. I’ve got to go back to Hogwarts now, but I’ll come back later.” As he stepped through the door, he released the hex.
“Harry! I’ll piss myself if you don’t let me go to the loo at least!”
He didn’t open the door again, but there was a clank and a thud, and a chamberpot appeared in a corner.
“Damn you, Harry!” she screamed, “Let me out of here!”
There was no answer but the sound of his footsteps fading.
An hour of cajoling, threatening, and expostulating later, Myrtle suddenly announced, “I’m tired. I’m leaving.” With that, she vanished.
Crookshanks flattened his ears and faced the phoenix. “Fawkes, if you do not produce an intelligent plan of action within 30 seconds, I am going to find Potter and do what I need to do.”
“Maybe Fawkes doesn’t have an idea,” Cassandra said, “but I do.”
“Trevor and I are small enough to get into the pipes. We can find it.”
“We should probably start in her bathroom,” Trevor agreed.
Erasmus shuddered. “Crawling around in slimy pipes? Ugh!”
“It’s more productive than committing mayhem,” Chang said slowly. “Crooks, if you are wrong about Potter, it will cause a lot of problems for all of us.”
“Let us return there immediately,” Fawkes suggested. “We can wait in the hallway while Trevor and Cassandra see what they can find.”
Gambit looked around. “Where did Topper and Swift go?”
“No idea,” Macavity said dismissively. “But we’ve enough on our plate without worrying about them. Come on!”
They dashed back to the school, and up to Myrtle’s bathroom, halting once to let the huffing and puffing toads catch up, and once for Duster to distract his pet who was wandering the halls. Fortunately, when they got there, the ghost was nowhere to be seen. The toads hopped in and dove down the commodes, and then there was silence.
Familiars are possessed of considerably greater speed and endurance than their non-magical brethren. Still it took Topper and Swift several hours to make their way from Hogwarts to the small town of Godric’s Hollow. The sun was well up when they halted in the woods nearby.
“So now what?”
“Reconnaissance, of course,” Swift answered. “You fly around and see if you find anything. I’ll run around and do the same. Meet back here in an hour.”
“Hrrm, we’d better go invisible. Don’t want the Muggles thinking you’re a stray and I’m an escapee from a pet store.”
“Right.” The borzoi sneezed once and vanished. Topper clacked his beak and did the same. The two Familiars headed toward the houses below, Swift being careful not to bump into the few Muggles who were already out and about.
It didn’t take them long to perform a cursory search of the town. It also didn’t take either of them terribly long to find the traces of Apparation magic just in front of one house. Swift’s lips pulled back from his teeth as the smells of fresh paint and sawdust and cement assailed his nostrils. He padded up to the front door and tried it. Locked. Not to be discouraged, he circled the house, trying every window he could reach, and keeping a wary eye out for any sign of habitation. The house was apparently empty. Finally, a tiny cellar level pane gave way under his shoves. It was far too small for him, but Topper could get in.
The macaw twisted himself under the pane, and secured a grip on the rough concrete walls with his claws. “I’ll see if I can get one of the doors open for you,” he said. “And make sure there’s no humans around.” He crab-walked down the wall to the floor and looked around.
He was in a small square room. There were some large white boxy things on the wall he’d descended, and a big white cylinder in the near corner. On the next wall was a stairwell leading up, with empty storage shelves on either side. The macaw nodded to himself in satisfaction and went up to the first floor of the house. It was a matter of moments for him to throw the deadbolt on the back door and let Swift inside.
“I smell Potter,” the borzoi said. “I’m a sight-hound, and even I can smell him here.”
“Good. Do you smell Crookshanks’ pet at all?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean anything. Let’s look around.”
“Did you notice?” Topper asked from the living room.
“What?” Swift was poking around in the kitchen.
“The house. Look at it.”
Swift stared at the exterior walls of the house for a long moment. “Anti-Apparation wards, and Unplottable. Potter’s doing.”
The first floor of the house held no surprises, nor anything of interest. The second floor, though… There were only three rooms there – one a perfectly boring bathroom. One of the other rooms was an ordinary bedroom. But in the third room, they were shocked to find one wall absolutely covered with pictures of Hermione.
“The cellar then,” Topper said when they finished shaking their heads. They went down the stairs and stopped dead. Directly across from them was a locked sliding panel. “You don’t think…?”
Swift loped over and examined the locks. “Deadbolts. Easy to open from this side.” He twisted the bolts and then they jointly pulled the panel open.
Trevor emerged from the commode and flopped down on the moldy tile floor of Myrtle’s bathroom, doing an excellent imitation of roadkill. “We found it,” he panted. “Cass is trying to dislodge it now; it’s wedged in there awfully good.”
“What is it?” Duster asked. “Any idea?” He and Crookshanks were actually in the bathroom also. Most of the other Familiars were in the hall outside. Shadow was off looking for Topper and Swift.
“It’s a whole mess of parchment all wadded up,” Trevor replied. “I’m betting that a lot of the ink has run – it’s probably soaked through.”
“Oh that’s easily fixed,” Gambit said.
“Once the toads get it out of there, that is,” Chang added.
“Hssst!” Erasmus hissed. “Duster, your pet’s out again! Just around the corner.”
“Damn!” The black tomcat bolted down the hall to intercept Severus before he could see the gathering of Familiars. Just before he reached the intersection he slowed down and assumed a stalking pace as if he were hunting some unfortunate rodent.
“There you are, Duster.” Severus picked up his straying cat. “You’re out past curfew, Mr.. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Mrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrow!” Duster shoved his head into his pet’s neck and began purring.
“Well, if you put it that way…” The Potions Master began retracing his steps towards his quarters. “I’m pleased with the progress Miss Granger is making on that potion. We’ll be ready to start the experimenting soon. The first stage, if successful, will let an Animagus speak to humans while transformed. That by itself will be useful.” He negotiated a moving staircase and continued, “Once we complete that stage, we will work on modifying it to allow us to speak to and understand other animals as well. That’s going to be much harder.”
Severus carried his Familiar into his rooms and set him down on the floor. “I wouldn’t admit this to anyone else, Duster, but I’m tired.” He sat down on the sofa and took off his boots.
“Yes, I know it’s late. Minerva traded hall patrol shifts with me. She wanted the early one this week.” He moved into his bedroom and began pulling off his clothing, Duster following. “You wouldn’t happen to know why nearly everyone at this school has suddenly decided to act like lovestruck adolescents, would you?” Severus had his robe half over his head when he said that, and completely missed Duster’s stricken look. “Ah, never mind.” He threw himself onto his bed. “Ever since that dance two weeks ago, the place has gone mad. Slytherins dating Gryffindors! The world may come to an end now!”
Hermione sat in stunned silence for a long time before finally rising and going over to the chamberpot, which relieved the increased nagging of her bladder. She considered throwing the now-full pot at Harry next time she saw him, but decided that would probably escalate into a confrontation she couldn’t win.
“If I can actually overpower him and take his wand, I might be able to get out of here,” she said to herself. “But I’ll have to knock him out with the first shot I get. In the meantime…” She turned her attention to the tray. Scrambled eggs and ham. Wheat toast. Pumpkin juice. Her absolute favorite breakfast. A few careful sniffs failed to detect any tampering, and she decided to go ahead and eat.
While she ate, she let her mind chew on the problem of Harry. She couldn’t really stay angry with him. Her long-time friend had obviously gone over the edge, and needed help. When she got out of her current situation, she’d make sure he was sent to St. Mungo’s – or wherever they treated mental issues in the wizarding world. That brought her back to attempting to escape. Now that she knew who her captor was, she considered the problem from other angles.
“If I pretend to go along with him,” she mused, “he might let me out of this room. That would be an improvement. I need more information. I need to know where I am.” She drummed her fingers on the tray. “But I can’t appear to capitulate too fast, or he’ll get suspicious. Maybe I should start by pretending to be asleep the next time he comes in. I don’t think he wants to hurt me, so that should be safe.” Decision made, she curled up on the mattress and yawned. “Perhaps I really should get some sleep before he comes back.”
The scraping of metal on metal roused her some time later; she wasn’t sure how long. She feigned sleep and waited to see what he’d do. Unfortunately, she’d turned so she was no longer facing the door. So she listened as hard as she could.
Instead of Harry’s footsteps, she heard the sound of claws ticking on the floor, and then a low canine whine followed by a distinctly avian whistle. That was enough to cause her to abandon her plan, and she turned around and sat up. A large dog and a macaw regarded her from about halfway across the floor. It took only a second for her to recognize them as belonging to Professor Flitwick and Madame Pomfrey respectively.
“Well, hello there,” she said. “How on earth did you find me, and… never mind that now!” She got to her feet. “Do you have any idea where my wand is?”
The dog – a borzoi, she remembered – whined and shook his head. Then he ran over to the door and looked back at her.
“Yes, you’re right. Let’s get out of here!”
She followed the dog out of the room, the macaw choosing to perch on her forearm. When she got into the cellar proper, she looked around half-hoping to find her wand nearby. Wandless magic wasn’t her forte, but… “Accio wand!” She wasn’t surprised when there was no response. “Wait a sec,” she told the Familiars. She turned back to the panel and pulled it closed again, throwing the deadbolts. “That’ll keep Harry from noticing anything right off.”
Some part of her mind was still wondering how the Familiars had managed to locate her, and why these two in particular. But she was more interested in making good her escape. She followed the borzoi up the stairs and out the back door. Once it closed behind her, she looked at the dog again. “Now what? I can’t Apparate without my wand.”
Swift looked up at Topper. This was an unforeseen complication. “We’ll have to find some place on the Floo network. It’s too far for her to walk.”
“Right,” agreed the macaw. “Let’s get her out of sight in the woods and then I’ll see if I can find any wizarding houses nearby.”
It was relatively easy to get Hermione to follow them out of the village and into the woods. They settled her in a grove near a stream, and Topper took off flying in a looping spiral.
Hermione was a bit startled when the macaw suddenly flexed his wings without warning and rose into the air. “Where’s he off to?” She wasn’t really expecting an answer.
“Looking for a Floo connection.” The voice was a deep and gravely bass.
Hermione yelped and looked around, but saw no one except Professor Flitwick’s Familiar. “Did you say something?”
Swift made no reply. Stupid, stupid, to have slipped like that! I haven’t done that since I was a pup!
She looked at the dog for a long moment. “I must’ve imagined it. Dogs can’t talk. Not even wizard dogs. Anyway,” she sighed, “I need to figure out where I am and then how to get back to Hogwarts. I can’t just stay here.” She rose and began making her way to the road. The big dog followed her closely, for which she was actually grateful.
It didn’t take her long to find a signpost. “Godric’s Hollow? Oh, Harry!”
Swift made a mental note that the place must’ve had some significance for the Potter human.
Hermione considered the situation. It was Saturday, so Harry’s schedule would be unpredictable. In that case, it would be unwise to return to the house and search it for her wand. She did not want to run into him again. She also had no money of either wizard or Muggle variety.
Harry had mentioned once that Godric’s Hollow was in southern England. She took another look at the sign, hoping for some inspiration. Finally she looked down at the dog. “Got any ideas?”
The borzoi turned and began walking down the road, away from Godric’s Hollow. With nothing better to do, Hermione followed him. At least it was putting some distance between herself and Harry.
By mid-morning Saturday, Fawkes found himself with a near-rebellion on his talons. Neither Crookshanks nor Duster were in any mood to “let Albus take care of it." Indeed, both tomcats were becoming increasingly bloody-minded, and that blood belonged to Harry Potter.
Also, he had no idea where Topper and Swift had gone. Shadow had been unable to find any trace of them. He wasn’t concerned about them as much as the distress it would cause their pets. So far, the two Familiars hadn’t been missed.
The phoenix was currently in his pet’s office, doing his best to convince Albus to do something. The problem was that Albus’ mind was fixed entirely on Gambit’s pet – to the exclusion of anything else. Fawkes was about to try a more direct approach, when there was a commotion outside and the office door burst open without warning.
Standing in the doorway were Professor Flitwick, Swift, Topper, and – Hermione Granger.