Contrary to popular belief, Hermione Granger did not like to worry, thank you very much. It's just that, she was so good at it. And she always liked to be the best at everything, as Ron always liked to point out to her.
Hermione Granger was worrying.
Ron and Harry hadn't been back for a week and a half. It never took them this long to get a job done. Why was it taking so long now? She always stayed up waiting for them to come back, and she wasn't going to abandon that unspoken rule of hers just because they were late.
She didn't understand. Everything had been planned perfectly: the time, the place, even the exact things they'd say to make sure Ron would be able to kill their target without a hitch.
She was worrying, but she had a reason to, this time.
Voldemort wouldn't let anything happen to Harry, Ron or her. They were his most trusted people, he always said so. At parties, at events, even just random days, he liked to turn around and say, "What would I do without my most valuable soldiers?"
Hermione wanted to throw a vase at the wall. They said this would be an easy job. And she told them she would have come with them, but no, they decided to go and bring one of the new girls. She didn't miss the way that Ron's eyes ran all over her tiny body when she first came in their office, where all of Voldemort's kids and Voldemort himself were seated as they discussed their latest battle plan.
Hermione had been in the middle of a conversation with Ron, and she was hanging off his every word as he spoke passionately about—well, she couldn't really remember. She was looking at how his eyes were so bright when he got angry. Everybody was waiting for Voldemort to get out his files on their next target, and Hermione had no doubt in her mind that she was going on this job—whatever it was—with her boys. There had been a soft knock on the door. and everybody turned to look as a tall girl with black curly hair tied up in a high ponytail stepped into the room. She had straight bangs that grazed the bottom of her thick eyebrows, and she was wearing a white tank top with a black cardigan and regular blue jeans with sneakers. There was a brightly colored red scarf wrapped around her neck.
Voldemort had been going on and on about how he wanted a new person, someone new. And he decided to bring this in? She looked weak. Vulnerable. Nothing like a warrior should.
"Everybody, this is Romilda Vane. She's going to be our newest recruit. Don't fight me on this, I've already decided. And we know what happens to those who fight me on decisions I've promised myself to stick by."
Hermione inwardly nodded. She remembered the boy who tried to argue with Voldemort on the subject of whether or not Hermione should be allowed to go on missions even though she was girl. It didn't bother her—she was a good fighter and she knew how to take care of herself, and she knew it—but it infuriated Voldemort. She didn't see him ever again after that. She had no idea where he ended up, and to be honest, she couldn't care less.
"Now, onto our new case—Romilda, please, take a seat. Don't be shy." Voldemort waved his hand towards the long table in front of him, where he sat at the head. Everybody was there: On Voldemort's right side was Bellatrix Lestrange, his second-in-command, her husband, Rodolphus Lestrange, Narcissa Malfoy, her son Draco, Fleur Delacour, Neville Longbottom, Katie Bell, Angelina Johnson, and Cho Chang. On his left side was Severus Snape, Narcissa's husband Lucius, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Luna Lovegood, Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, and Cedric Diggory.
There were no more empty seats on his sides. Only the one at the other head of the table.
Romilda confidently walked to the other head and took a seat on the chair. Hermione and Luna exchanged a look, and they eyed Bellatrix carefully. The woman was glaring at Romilda openly. She had been trying to sit in that chair for years, but Voldemort never let her.
"Now, as I was saying." Voldemort opened his file. "Alicia Spinnet. Twenty years old, female, black hair, brown eyes, brown skin. Apparently, she works for The Daily Prophet, but I've heard whispers that she's a spy for the Order of the Phoenix. She's our next target. I want her dead within the next week and a half. And I want Harry and Ron on the case."
Hermione glanced up, shocked. Never before had Voldemort sent Harry and Ron on a mission without her. They always worked together, they were a trio. It was known.
"You can bring someone with you, if you wish, but I'd prefer if you worked this case yourselves."
Luna cocked her head and looked curiously at Hermione, silently asking if she had done anything wrong with her wide silver eyes. Hermione tapped Luna's foot with her shoe to say no.
Harry and Ron looked at each other. She saw Harry nod toward her, but Ron shook his head. "We want to take Romilda. It would be best to let her get right into the game, you know? Let her see what she's doing."
Hermione's eyes widened and she had to keep herself from gasping out loud. Luna kicked her ankle and Hermione ran her foot along Luna's shin. It was their way of communicating with each other at meetings without getting caught or getting into trouble.
Romilda looked pleasantly surprised. "I would love to go. I think it would be best if I get right into it, as well."
Hermione glared at the back of Ron's head. Harry gave her wide, pleading eyes, and Hermione nodded curtly once before turning right look straight ahead at Fleur's pretty face. She was giving her a sympathetic look, and at the same time, she was giving Ron a dirty look, as well.
Now, Hermione was waiting anxiously as she stayed up way past midnight. Today was their last day to get the job done, and if they weren't back by tomorrow's meeting, then they were going to have a serious problem.
I swear to God, Hermione thought, if they're in a hotel room having some weird, fucked-up threesome, I will kill all three of them for making me worry like this.
Suddenly, the door burst open and Harry and Ron stumbled inside, nearly falling over each other to get into the room that the three of them shared in Voldemort's mansion a few blocks from the illegal casino he ran.
Hermione forgot all about being mad at the two of them and rushed over to hug them. "Where the fuck were you boys? It has never taken this long to track someone down and get rid of them before, what the hell happened that you were gone until you're last day. It's three in the morning, actually, so you're technically way past your due date."
Harry was shaking, but it wasn't cold out. Ron was pale and his eyes were wide. Hermione looked the two of them up and down. "Are you guys all right? What happened? Did you get Spinnet?"
They shook their heads no simultaneously.
Hermione slammed their door closed and threw the two of them on the couch in their living room. Since they shared a room, they were given the suite, on the top floor of the mansion. There was a small, private sitting room, with a door that led to the actual bedroom with three beds and two walk-in closets (one for Ron and Harry, one for her) and another door that led to a grand bathroom with private shower stalls, baths, and toilets.
"What do you mean, you didn't get her? She's not dead? Where the hell is Romilda?"
Ron let out a little choked noise.
"Ron?" Hermione knelt down in front of him and took his hands in hers. They were freezing. "Where's Romilda? Is she okay?"
Another small, wounded animal noise. Ron Weasley did not make those noises.
"Is she . . . hurt?"
He shook his head. Harry was still shaking on his bed, arms wrapped around his knees.
"Is she . . . dead?"
He nodded. Hermione blinked once. "She left this," Ron said, his voice trembling. He handed her a small piece of paper. It was ripped, like it was teared hastily out of a notebook. She unfolded the paper and looked at the words scrawled messily as if Romilda had been in a hurry.
Save yourself. Get out of his house and go to 12 Grim
The note stopped there.
"We came into the hotel room and we found her writing it. We asked what she was doing, and she just threw the note at us and then . . . she shot herself. Right in the mouth." Ron buried his face in his hands. "She put the fucking barrel down her throat and just fucking pulled the motherfucking trigger. We came back as fast as we could."
"I don't understand."
"We had found Spinnet. And we were going to get her, we were. But it was to in the morning, and we were tired. So we told Romilda to get to bed and we'd see her in the morning. Me and Harry came up with a strategy to get her tomorrow and we went to Romilda's room to go over it. She had left her door open and then we found her. And then. . . ."
Hermione didn't need to hear the story again.
"God, this is all my fault. If only I hadn't taken Romilda with us and took you. We always go together. I just wanted—"
Hermione walked away from him. "I don't want to know what you wanted, Ron." She said, slightly disgusted with him. She knew he blamed himself for Romilda's suicide, but she knew it wasn't true. She was going to do it whenever she could, just as long as she got that note to them. And finished. She was just upset that Ron had chosen the new girl over her.
Harry looked up from his knees. "We can't tell anybody. Not Draco, not Bella, not even Voldemort. Nobody. We tell them she was shot on the job and we got Spinnet. That's what happened."
"What about the note?"
Harry got up and, suddenly very energetic, he took the note and walked to his laptop set up on his desk. He opened it and typed in '12 Grim', and shut the top. "We check it tomorrow. Hermione, I'm going to need you to hack into everybody's files on their computers. Ron, you and me are going to question everybody to see if we can find something about whatever the hell this place is. If it even is a place."
He ripped off his shirt and jeans, removing his boxers as well, not even caring that Hermione was in the room anymore. "Remember, we don't say a thing to anybody." He tugged on a pair of pajama pants and fell onto the bed. "And close the goddamn light, for crying out loud."
Hermione ran a hand through her long brown curls once again, trying to find a way to break into Lucius's files on his computer. He was almost as good as she was when it came to protecting her stuff. She had broken into Narcissa's just fine, and there was nothing about 12 Grim. And she broke through into Lucius's computer, but now she needed a password. And she couldn't think of anything he might use. Apparently, the computer didn't allow for letters or any symbols, so it was obviously a string of numbers. Great. That was even worse.
She plucked a cherry off a pile she'd put in a container on her bed and popped it in her mouth, stem and all, and ate it. She twisted the stem around in her mouth, and tied it into a knot. She spit it out into her garbage can next to her bed.
"How's it going over there?" Harry asked as he came into the room. He was still so robotic after last night. She didn't know how to handle Harry when he was like this.
"I can't get into Lucius's files. He's got a password on his computer, and it's only numbers. I'm going to need to break into his office and try to find out if he's written it down somewhere."
Harry nodded. "I'll come with you."
Hermione looked over at him. "Excuse me?"
"I said I'm coming with you."
"You know I normally just do this stuff alone, Harry."
"Well, not tonight, you're not. It's bad enough we pissed Voldemort off today when we told him Romilda got killed. I don't need you trying to explain why you were in Lucius's office after dark because you didn't have a lookout."
Hermione nodded and slid the laptop off her lap. She sat up and folded her legs underneath her so she was sitting on her haunches with her hands beside her. "Harry. . . ." she whispered. "Do you ever think that maybe . . . I don't know . . . Voldemort never told us the complete truth?"
He looked up at her sharply. "What do you mean? Of course he did. Our parents worked with him, all of them, and they trusted him more than anybody. And they were killed. So he took us in. You know this, Hermione."
"Yeah, but . . . I mean, if it's this easy to lie to Voldemort about something this huge, then what do you think the chances are one of the most famous mobmen in the world isn't capable of lying to you? Or me? Or Ron? Or any of us—Luna, Cho, Fleur—all of them."
"You think it's easy? Lying to Voldemort? It's not. I respect him like no other, he raised me as his own son! And he raised you as his daughter! How can you say that?"
"Well, why do you think Romilda told us to go save ourselves? I mean, it's possible, isn't it? Everybody is capable of lying. Even to their own family."
"Are you saying you've lied to me? Or Ron?"
"God, Harry, no! I would never. You guys are my brothers, for God's sake!"
"And Voldemort is our father. Or the closest thing we'll ever get to one. All of us."
Hermione looked at Harry's closed laptop. It hadn't moved since last night. "Have you checked out 12 Grim? We should try to find something on Google just in case we don't waste our time trying to break into Lucius's office."
Harry nodded and walked to his laptop. He opened it and typed in his password. The same page was still there on the screen. "Okay. 12 Grim, 12 Grim, 12 Grim—Hermione?"
"Yeah, Harry?" Hermione was getting out a hairbrush from her dresser.
"You ever heard of 12 Grimmauld Place?"
Hermione gasped. "Oh, dear God! Why didn't I realize it before?" She got up and shoved Harry away. "If you ever payed attention to anything Voldemort and Bella taught us as kids, you would remember that 12 Grimmauld Place was the Order's old meeting place. It belonged to Bella's old family, but her cousin took it over."
Harry eyed her carefully. "Hermione . . . what are you trying to say?"
Hermione looked at him with sad eyes. "Harry. I think Romilda Vane was a spy. For the Order of the Phoenix."