After his mysterious disappearance from Hogwarts, Harry and Ron had been convinced that Draco was dark and had been working for Voldemort, and the first few weeks after they'd left school only confirmed their theory. Twice within a month of them leaving Hogwarts they fought the Death Eaters and both times Draco was present. Both times he also fought without his mask and he was brutal in his destruction. Harry had come face to face with him on one occasion and even he'd been shocked at the lack of emotion in the blond wizard's eyes. It was as though he was dead inside, and in Harry's opinion that made him a dangerous enemy.
Aside from dealing with the Draco situation, Harry and Ron's attention had been on Hermione. They hadn't visited her since their first visit, but they knew from the others that she was still angry and unresponsive to reason. Both boys had hoped their friend would have calmed down and started to see reason before they saw her again, but necessity dictated that they didn't have time for her to cool down properly before paying their second visit to their friend.
Upon leaving Hogwarts, Dumbledore had confided in both Harry and Ron about the troubles he was having locating one of the Horcruxes. According to his reckoning he was two Horcruxes missing, and he was almost sure one of them was Voldemort's snake, Nagini. Nagini was going to be the hardest one to destroy, so Dumbledore had been focusing on the other missing Horcrux. However, while he'd managed to find out what the Horcrux was, he had no idea where it was currently located. He'd asked the boys to help him, but since neither of them were any good at tedious research they'd decided to ask Hermione for help. They were hoping that including her would help her see that she was still important to them. Unfortunately for Harry and Ron, Hermione didn't see it that way and she laughed in their faces when they asked for her help.
"You can't really be serious?" Hermione snorted. "You expect me to help you after everything you've done."
"We know you're still mad, Hermione, but you don't want Voldemort to win this war any more than we do," Harry said.
"Who says? I might think him winningly is preferable to you lot," Hermione replied with a shrug. "After all, I've learnt you're all as bad as each other."
"We are not like Voldemort and his Death Eaters," Harry hissed. "Everything we've done has been for you and your safety."
"You keep telling yourself that Harry, and maybe one day you might actually believe it," Hermione replied. "Because I refuse to believe the boy I've been friends with for seven years would honestly believe that what's happened to me isn't evil. If the dark had done this, you'd be calling them all sorts and trying to fix it."
"We know what we did was extreme," Harry said in a placating tone of voice.
"Extreme?" Hermione interrupted with a yell. "This is not extreme, Harry, it's downright cruel. You've faked my death and aside from a handful of people everyone thinks I'm dead. People are mourning me, and you don't seem to care."
"Of course we care," Ron said fiercely. "We don't want people to suffer, but it was the only way. And if you help us we can end this sooner rather than later. The second we defeat You-Know-Who you can return to your old life."
"Surely you don't believe it'll be that simple," Hermione scoffed with a shake of her head. "There is no going back now. You've made a huge mistake and there's going to be consequences to your actions. It doesn't matter if you defeat Voldemort, you're still going to have to explain why you faked my death and kept me a prisoner. Do you honestly think you'll still end up looking like heroes? Everyone will hate you, and the whole world will find out just what the Order is made of."
"We'll be able to explain," Ron offered weakly.
"Good luck with that," Hermione snorted. "How are you going to explain your actions to other people, when you can't even get me to forgive you? Who's going to support you when I'm leading the charge to have you arrested for your crimes?"
"Arrested?" Ron repeated, his eyes widening with shock as he turned to find Harry wearing a similar expression on his face.
"I warned you, I wasn't going to let you get away with this," Hermione said. "The second I get out of here, I'm going to make you all pay for what you've done to me and the people I love. I will not rest until everyone involved in this despicable plot is rotting in Azkaban."
"That will never happen unless you help us," Harry said shakily. He had no doubt that Hermione meant every word she said, and he was just hoping that they could get through to her before they released her or else winning was war would bring with it dark times for the Order. "We need your help Hermione. Until we defeat Voldemort you're stuck here, and we're at a loss as to how to do that. Please help us, Hermione."
"What do you want me to do?" Hermione asked, unable to hide her curiosity any more. It made her sick to even contemplate helping the Order, but if helping them was the only way to free herself then she would swallow her pride and do what was necessary to get her life back.
"We're trying to track down Voldemort's last hidden Horcrux," Harry explained, handing Hermione a thick file. "It's a silver cup that once belonged to Helga Hufflepuff. We're almost certain it's what we're looking for, but we have no idea where it is. Dumbledore had notes on everything he's found, but the trails cold. Until we can find it all we can do is fight and keep the Death Eaters at bay."
"How am I supposed to locate a cup while I'm stuck in this place?" Hermione asked, holding the file but refusing to look at it in Harry and Ron's presence.
"If anyone can do it, you can," Harry said encouragingly. "If you agree to help us, Dumbledore will have several boxes of documents and old papers shipped over to you. If you need anything else, all you have to do is ask."
"I take it my freedom isn't among the things I can ask for," Hermione muttered.
"Please Hermione, do this for all of our sakes," Harry begged, ignoring Hermione's last remark. "As much as you hate us right now, I know you hate Voldemort and everything he stands for more. Please do the right thing and help us."
"You're lucky I'm such a good person, Harry," Hermione said as she rose to her feet. "I will do the right thing, and I will help you find the cup. But don't think this changes anything. I still hate you all with a burning passion, and I will get you all back for what you've done to me if it's the last thing I do."
Before Harry or Ron had a chance to reply, Hermione swept from the room and headed back to her bedroom. Leaving Harry and Ron to sort out the rest of the things she would need for her research, and to worry about what she had in store for them, Hermione settled down on her bed and opened the file she'd received off Harry.
It really did make her blood boil to think she was even considering helping the people who had imprisoned her, but she was smart enough to know it might very well be her only way out of the hell she was trapped in. By Hermione's reckoning she'd been trapped for going on six months, and she was still no nearer to escaping than the day she arrived. Try as she might, Hermione was at a loss as to how to escape, so as unpleasant as the thought of working with the Order was she would do it if it helped her regain her freedom. Of course the Order might just end up regretting asking her for help, as when she'd finished helping them bring Voldemort down, she would turn her attention to them and she would make them pay for what they'd done to her.
Several miles away from where Hermione was being held prisoner, Lucius was sitting in the dark corner of a dingy pub named The Half-Giant. After Draco had ended up becoming a Death Eater the Malfoys neutral stance had been abandoned and Lucius had thrown himself back in with The Dark Lord. Voldemort had been thrilled to have the Malfoys back on board and he'd immediately asked Lucius to see if he could find a contact within the Order. Of course they already had Severus Snape acting as a spy, but as both Lucius and Voldemort were aware, he wasn't totally trusted by the majority of the Order. As such, people were careful what they said around him, and Voldemort was convinced that they were missing potentially vital information because of it.
Lucius had instantly set about fulfilling the task Voldemort had set him, and within weeks of re-pledging his allegiance to the dark he had Mundungus Fletcher in his pocket. Mundungus wasn't the most prolific member of the Order, but he was a natural eavesdropper and liked to lurk, meaning he often saw and heard things he wasn't meant to. It made him perfect for Lucius's purposes, and his devious nature meant he wasn't opposed to betraying the Order when Lucius had turned the thumbscrews. Of course it helped that Lucius was also paying Mundungus, and if the petty thief was careful with his money he would build himself a decent nest egg for the future.
The only down side was that so far Mundungus hadn't been of much help to Lucius. He'd passed on plenty of juicy titbits, but it was either something they already knew from Severus or something that didn't really do them any good. Lucius was hoping this meeting would be better, and he was just hoping that Mundungus wasn't going to be too late when a familiar figure entered the pub through the side door. Lucius remained seated as Mundungus looked around warily, before scurrying over to him and sliding into the booth opposite the blond wizard.
"You're late," Lucius stated sharply.
"It's not easy getting away," Mundungus retorted.
"We both know you can slip away as easy as you like," Lucius remarked. "Rats like you tend to scuttle about unnoticed."
"There's no need for insults," Mundungus grumbled.
"What do you have for me?" Lucius asked, ignoring Mundungus's complaints.
"Not a lot," Mundungus said with a shrug, before sharing a few titbits with the Death Eater, including some tension he'd picked up on between Molly and Arthur Weasley.
"I am not interested in Arthur Weasley's marital woes," Lucius snarled, annoyed that yet again Mundungus wasn't giving him anything useful. "Please say you've got something more interesting than Weasley's marital strife to report."
"There was one other thing, something strange," Mundungus admitted as a slow, devious smirk crept over his face.
"Spit it out Fletcher," Lucius snarled when the other wizard stopped talking. Instinct told him Mundungus was finally going to deliver him something useful, but he didn't appreciate the dramatics. "I haven't got all day."
"I overheard Sirius Black and Remus Lupin talking the other day, and they were talking about a prisoner."
"A prisoner?" Lucius frowned, not recalling any missing Death Eaters. "Are you sure they said prisoner?"
"No, they never actually said the word prisoner," Mundungus admitted. "But they were talking about guard duty and how hard they were finding it."
"That's it?" Lucius questioned, feeling slightly deflated as Mundungus's news hadn't been as good as he'd hoped.
"Is that not enough?" Mundungus questioned with a frown. "Personally, I find it rather intriguing that Sirius and Remus have a prisoner. And it's clearly a secret as it's never been mentioned at a full Order meeting. Nor have I heard anyone else gossiping about it. It's either just the two of them up to something, or there's a small group involved."
"I guess it is a bit fishy," Lucius admitted. "See what else you can find out, Fletcher. I want to know more about this prisoner and who else knows about them."
"Will do Lucius," Mundungus replied. "Although all this sneaking around is thirsty work."
Rolling his eyes at the other wizard, Lucius threw a bag of coins down on the table. "Buy yourself a bottle of firewhisky, Fletcher."
Arranging a meeting for the following week, Lucius stalked from the pub and headed home. He decided not to tell Voldemort about Mundungus's information until he had more to tell. Right now all he knew was that two members of the Order seemed to be guarding someone. It might prove useful to the dark, but then again it could be nothing. Lucius wanted more information before he went to Voldemort, but he had no idea that when he did go to The Dark Lord he would set in motion a chain of events that would change everything and rock the entire wizarding world to its foundations.