Ted stood outside the Leaky Cauldron preparing himself to give Tom the bad news. He met with the last of his contacts the previous night, and none of them could find anything useful about Evergreen. He couldn’t sit back and let Harry spend any more of his money on keeping up with the rent payments.
He took a deep breath before pushing open the door and stepping inside. “Tom, we need to talk,” he said, walking up to the bar.
Tom took one look at Ted’s face and knew that it wasn’t good news. “What’s happened?”
“I met with the last of my contacts. …I’m sorry Tom, they weren’t able to find anything about Evergreen,” Ted said sadly. “They aren’t even responding to my letters anymore.”
“I guess that’s it then,” Tom said, looking down, deep in thought. He knew it was a long shot, going along with Ted and Harry’s plan, and he thought he was prepared for this, but it still felt like a punch to the gut.
“I’m sorry Tom,” Ted repeated as he sat down at the bar.
“It’s ok Ted,” Tom said, placing his hand on the other man’s shoulder. “You did what you could, and I’m grateful for that.”
Ted nodded, but didn’t feel any better about it. It should have been a simple deal for him to get worked out, but it had been anything but. “I’ll look into finding another location for you, Tom,” he promised.
“You’re going to have run that one by me again Weasley,” Draco said as he looked at the smirking red head with a raised eyebrow.
“The transfiguration test next week,” Ron clarified. “The one that’s worth a third of our grade. We’re going to steal the answers, tonight.”
Hermione’s jaw dropped open. “Tonight?” she squeaked, “I thought we were just discussing it.”
“Tonight,” Harry nodded in agreement. “We can’t delay getting you two out of the study group any longer.”
“Does it have to be the transfiguration test?” Hermione asked, dreading how disappointed Professor McGonagall would be when she found out. “What about the potions quiz?” She asked.
“That’s not going to work, Granger,” Draco shook his head. “It isn’t until next month, and potions class is my strongest subject. Professor Snape isn’t going to buy it for a second.”
Hermione sighed, knowing Draco was right. The transfiguration tests was their best option. She just wished it didn’t count for so much of her grade.
“Alright, it’s already after curfew,” Harry said, checking his watch. “There won’t be any students to worry about, just Filch and his cat. Let’s go.”
Hermione, Ron, and Draco followed Harry out of the classroom and made their way to Professor McGonagall’s office, keeping a careful eye on their surroundings, especially after what happened in the forest, but luck was on their side this time.
The hallways were mostly deserted, aside for the odd prefect doing their rounds which they easily avoided.
Hermione gulped as she looked at the door to Professor McGonagall’s office. It had never looked more imposing to her than it did now. There would be no going back after they stepped through the door.
“It’s locked,” Ron said, after checking the door. “Keep an eye out,” he said, pulling out his wand and pointing it at the doorknob. “Alohomora.”
Hermione watched as the door opened with a soft click. She knew about the spell as well, having read about it in one of the books Beatrice let her borrow, but it came as a bit of a surprise that Ron knew about it as well. ‘Maybe he picked it up from the twins,’ she thought to herself.
She couldn’t cast the spell herself, not for a few days at least, according to Madame Pompfrey, but more than that, she didn’t feel the urge to prove herself quite as much as she used to. It was still there, but tempered by everything she had gone through since she found out the truth about the study group.
“Let’s go,” Ron whispered as he stepped inside, quickly followed by the others.
“Does it feel strange to anyone else that the Deputy Headmistress and transfiguration professor would have a lock on their door that could be easily bypassed by an unlocking charm?” Draco asked as he looked around the office.
“That’s a good point,” Harry agreed as he went to the professor’s desk. “Most third years already know this spell.”
‘She only used a simple lock for the door,’ Merlin said as he looked at the desk. ‘She has her desk warded. It’s not going to be quite as easy to get past.’
‘Can you get past it like last time?’ Harry thought. Just sneaking into the Professor’s office wasn’t enough. They needed the attention the missing test would bring.
‘I can,’ Merlin replied. ‘But if your plan is for the professor to find out that it was Draco and Hermione that broke in. It will complicate things.’
‘What do you mean?’ Harry thought back.
‘Your professor may believe a first-year student could get past the door to her office, but she’s going to have a hard time believing a couple of first years broke her ward. She’s going to suspect they had help.’
‘Oh,’ Harry thought, realizing the dilemma as well. ‘Is there some way to bypass the wards instead?’
‘…Not bypass,’ Merlin said, studying the wards carefully. ‘But there- NO! Stop him. If he touches the desk, it will set off the detection wards.’
Harry looked up sharply as Draco’s hand was just inches away from touching the desk drawer. “NO!” He said a little louder than he intended.
Draco quickly pulled his hand back, like it was on fire. “What?!” He demanded.
“The desk, it’s warded,” Harry explained. “If you so much as touch the drawer, it will go off,” he warned, coming to the side of the desk.
“Well, what’s your idea, then?” Draco demanded, forgetting for the moment that Potter could somehow detect wards.
‘It’s a little tricky, but some transfiguration will work,’ Merlin said after studying the wards for another moment. ‘You need to transfigure a hole into the side of the desk, where it’s not warded. After you finish, all you have to do is transfigure it back.’
Harry pulled out his wand, following Merlin’s instructions as he concentrated on pulling apart the side wall of the desk as he transfigured a hole large enough to reach inside.
After he finished, he reached inside, pulling out the test, and placed it on the desk.
“This is it,” Ron nodded as he flipped through the pages.
“Ok Ron, this was your idea. What next?” Harry asked.
“We need to make it look like someone was here, but we have to be subtle,” Ron said as he looked around. He picked up the neat stack of essays sitting on the desk, mussing them up before placing them back on the desk.
Draco nodded, getting the idea, and pulled out the Professor’s chair, making it look like someone sat there, and neglected to put it back afterwards.
Hermione looked back and forth, as Ron and Draco rearranged the Professor’s office. She knew they needed to do this. It was the only way to get away from the study group, but it was still a difficult step for her to take. She had never done anything like this before.
Harry cast a duplication spell on the test before raising his wand again, ready to close the hole he created in the desk.
“Wait Harry,” Hermione stopped him. She knew she couldn’t just sit on the sidelines and let the boys do all the work. She was a part of this whether she liked it or not.
She reached into the desk, pulling out one of the sheets so the edge would stick out of the wood. “Ok Harry, close it now.”
Harry nodded, sealing the hole around the tip of the parchment. It was subtle, but combined with everything else, he was confident Professor McGonagall would put it all together.
“I think we’re good,” Ron said as he looked around the office. At first glance, nothing seemed out of place, but when the professor picked up on one thing, he knew she would notice everything else.
Harry made a second copy of the test, handing the sets to Draco and Hermione. “Alright, you need to memorize the test. You’ll need a-” he stopped immediately, his eyes widening as he felt someone approaching.
“What is it?” Hermione asked, noticing the panicked look on Harry’s face.
“Someone’s coming,” Harry whispered urgently. “Move to the far wall now.”
Draco, Ron, and Hermione quickly followed Harry’s instructions, panic setting in as they realized there was nowhere for them to hide in the office.
Harry aimed his wand at them, quickly casting the spell he learned from Merlin’s memories. “Don’t move, don’t make a sound,” he instructed before casting the spell on himself just in time.
A moment later, the door opened, and they watched with bated breath as both Professor McGonagall and Flitwick walked in.
Harry slowly moved to the wall, careful not to make any noises and risk breaking the spell as he joined the others.
“This will only take a second Filius,” Minerva said as she stepped inside, making her way to her desk, intent on getting the essays she still needed to grade.
“Of course,” Filius said as he stepped inside as well. “I’m sure the other professor’s won’t mind if we’re a little late.”
“…That’s odd,” Minerva said as she immediately noticed the essays on her desk were not in the neat pile she left them in.
“What is it?” Filius asked curiously.
“…It’s nothing,” Minerva dismissed with a shake of her head. “The house elves probably moved the essays when they were cleaning.”
“Oh, alright,” Filius said. “We should be on our way, then.”
“Right, of course,” Minerva said as she turned to leave, but stopped and turned around. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but something just seemed off.
Ron watched as the professors continued to talk, silently willing them to leave, but it seemed they had done their job too well. McGonagall had already picked up on one of the clues they’d left.
“Is something wrong, Minerva?” Filius said as he walked up to her desk.
Minerva looked around her office, trying to spot anything else that was out of place with a small frown on her face.
Hermione held her hand over her mouth, not trusting herself to remain quiet as she watched her head of house search the office. She felt a bead of sweat roll down her forehead as McGonagall moved around her office, coming to a stop a few inches in front of her.
‘She’s going to find us,’ Hermione thought fearfully.
Draco was thinking along the same lines as Hermione as he stared between Flitwick and McGonagall, surprised that Potter knew such an advanced spell. When Potter cast it, it felt like he’d dumped a bucket of ice over his head, and it seemed to be far more versatile than the disillusionment charm.
He couldn’t tell if they were actually invisible or if Potter’s spell just made it so the Professors didn’t notice them, but the effect was impressive.
“Look at this,” Flitwick said as he walked to the side of the desk. “There’s a piece of parchment stuck here,” he reached out, intent on removing it.
Harry held his breath as Flitwick tugged on the parchment. ‘We were supposed to be gone before they found out,’ he thought. He didn’t know how long the spell would hold out with them, actively searching the office.
“That’s odd,” Filius said.
“What is?” Minerva asked, coming to his side of the desk.
Harry looked at the open door across the room. If they were careful, they could sneak out without them noticing. He waved his hand to get the other’s attention, then pointed at the open door.
Harry carefully moved along the wall as the others followed after him. If they could just get outside the door, they would be home free.
Minerva’s eyes widened as she realized the parchment wasn’t stuck to her desk at all. “It’s embedded in the wood.” She realized as she hurried around to the front of her desk and pulled open the drawer, pulling out the test.
As soon as she did, she heard the unmistakable sound of parchment tearing, confirming her suspicions.
“Oh no,” Minerva said as she looked down at the torn edge of the test paper, realizing how bad it really was.
“What’s going on Minerva?” Filius asked, seeing how worried his fellow professor looked.
Minerva held up the test. “Someone’s broken into my office and stolen the test.”
“You don’t mean…” Filius trailed off as he saw what test it was.
Minerva nodded. “The standardized transfiguration test,” she said, feeling faint. “What am I going to do?”
Filius went to the door, shutting it quickly before turning to face Minerva. “Are you sure it was stolen?” He asked intently.
Harry watched Flitwick with wide eyes. He had barely moved back in time before the Professor bumped into him. Now they were trapped. They had to wait until the professor’s left.
“They must have,” Minerva said, showing him the tear in the parchment.
“How?” Filius asked, knowing Minerva had warded her desk just to prevent this kind of thing.
“Like this,” Minerva said, realizing her mistake as she transfigured a hole into her desk and watched as the piece of parchment fluttered to the floor. “How could I have been so foolish?”
Filius looked between the parchment and the hole in the desk as he put it all together. “It could have been anyone.” The spell was so simple, even a first year could have managed it.
“Twenty years. No one even came close to circumvent my wards, and now they’ve done it with a bloody first year spell,” Minerva said, sitting down heavily in her chair. “And of all the tests, it had to be the Ministry’s standardized test,” she said.
“I’ll have to report it,” Minerva said, realizing the trouble she was in.
“You can’t do that,” Filius said, shaking his head. “This will put a black mark on your record. They’ll never let you become headmistress if they find out.”
“What choice do I have?” Minerva asked. “The ranking will be compromised, and if the Ministry finds out I covered this up, it’ll be much worse.”
Hermione listed in from across the room, a fresh wave of guilt washing over her as she realized the trouble she had caused her head of house.
“We still have a week before the students take the test,” Filius pointed out. “We can find them before that. They’ll get an automatic fail on their test. That way, the ranking won’t be compromised.”
An uncomfortable feeling settled into the pit of Draco’s stomach as he realized that his father may not be able to sweep this under the rug like he had originally planned.
“Alright,” Minerva agreed, sagging into her chair as she realized it was the only option she had.
“Let’s go,” Filius suggested. “We’ll figure out what to do tonight and start looking for them in the morning.”
“Thank you, Filius,” Minerva replied gratefully as they left her office.
It was a long moment before anyone spoke. They stared at each other silently, waiting to make sure the Professors were gone.
“…They’re gone,” Harry confirmed when he could no longer sense them.
“Oh god,” Hermione said. “I feel terrible. I didn’t know the professor would get into this kind of trouble. We have to tell her the truth before this gets any worse.”
“We can’t,” Draco denied. “Nothing has changed. This is still the best chance we have to get away from the study group.”
“He’s right,” Ron agreed. “If you confess now, the professors will give you a few detentions, then sweep it under the rug. This needs to be public for the study group to drop you.”
“It’s going to be ok,” Harry said. “The important thing right now is getting you both away from the study group. We’ll find a way to help the professor after that,” he promised. “Let’s get back to the common rooms before someone notices.”
He handed Draco and Hermione the copies of the test. “You’ll need to memorize these before you take the test.”
Draco and Hermione nodded, taking their copies of the test as they made the trip back to their common rooms.
Hermione picked at her breakfast, not feeling very hungry. She spent the night tossing and turning, feeling guilty about what they’d done. She didn’t dare look up at the teacher’s table, afraid that Professor McGonagall would see the guilt written all over her face.
“You need to get it together Hermione,” Ron whispered, leaning in so that he wouldn’t be overheard. “She can’t find out about this until after the test.”
Hermione huffed in frustration. It was easy for Ron to say. He wasn’t the one that was going to disappoint Professor McGonagall, or get stuck with the reputation of being a cheater.
“I know it’s tough, Hermione,” Harry whispered from her other side. “But it’s the only way. You’ll get through this, I promise.”
Hermione nodded, taking a deep breath, and trying her best to act normal. ‘Its only another week,’ she thought to herself. ‘I can get through this.’
“May I have your attention please,” Professor McGonagall stood up with a serious expression on her face as she used a sonorus charm to amplify her voice.
Hermione’s eyes widened as she heard the professor’s voice and quickly looked down at her food, knowing exactly what she was going to say.
“There was an incident last night,” Minerva said, scanning the faces of the students carefully. “The perpetrators know who they are and what they’ve done. I am giving you one opportunity to step forward and confess, and I will consider leniency. You have until the end of the day to make your decision.”
“If you chose not to step forward, rest assured, I will find you, and the punishment you receive will be quite severe.”
Minerva locked eyes with the Weasley twins, looking for any signs of guilt on their faces, but all she found were confused looks. The same could be said for the rest of the normal trouble makers.
She was still kicking herself for allowing this to happen in the first place. The students hadn’t just made off with a regular quiz, but a standardized test written by the Ministry. Something like this had never happened in the history of Hogwarts.
The only silver lining was how sloppy the thieves had been. If they had been a little more careful about cleaning up after themselves, she would have never found out about it.
‘It could have been an older student,’ Minerva thought to herself as she scanned the faces of the older students. ‘Selling copies of the test to the first years would earn them quite a few galleons.’
She remembered crafting her ward over two decades ago, and it had never once failed her. There had been more than a few attempts over the years, but no one had so much as detected her ward let alone knew enough to bypass it.
That part that was the most infuriating and humbling was how easily they had done it. A simple transfiguration spell that most first years were capable of had completely circumvented her carefully crafted ward scheme.
She had spent a good portion of the night talking with Filius, trying to come up with a list of students that would have the most to gain, but in the end it was just speculation. She checked her office in the morning, hoping to find some other clue that would give away the culprit, but couldn’t find anything.
She looked out at the students again, trying to find anyone with a look of guilt on their faces, but just like before none of them stood out.
It had been two days since they stole the test, and Hermione was racked with even more guilt than before. The only thing stopping her from breaking down and confessing was the study group.
They stepped up the pressure even more on both her and Draco, hinting that the ritual was a way to increase their standing in the rankings.
On top of that, Professor McGonagall was suspicious of everyone now, behaving more like Professor Snape than her normal self, and getting worse with each passing day.
Yesterday she had a one on one meeting with all the first years, asking them where they were, and if they had anything they wanted to confess. It took everything Hermione had to stay calm during her meeting and not give herself away.
Even though it was freezing out, she continued her training with Harry, Ron, Sally, and Neville. After what happened in the forbidden forest, she knew she wasn’t ready to face the study group and needed every advantage she could get.
Draco seemed to have come to the same conclusion because he joined in on their training the following morning.
She couldn’t put her finger on it, but something had changed about the study group as well. All of them weren’t attending the meetings at the same time anymore. One or two of the members were always absent. She asked Beatrice what was going on, but she had brushed her off, saying they were doing some individual study and not to worry about it.
The only good thing to happen was her magic returning to normal, but even that was tainted by Ron’s next suggestion. She and Draco were slowly letting their grades drop to make it seem more believable that they would steal the test.
She hadn’t realized how difficult it was to pretend not to have the answer, or how to cast the spell correctly until she was put in this position. She just hoped that it would be over soon.
The next morning Harry, Ron, and Hermione were just about to leave the castle for their morning exercises when they heard a voice.
“Mr. Potter,” Albus called out from the other end of the hallway.
Harry stopped, looking back at the Headmaster wondering what he was playing at this time.
“I’m glad I caught you, Mr. Potter. There’s something I’d like to discuss with you,” Albus said, plastering a jovial smile on his face as he walked up.
Harry turned to face Ron and Hermione. “I’ll just be a few minutes. I’ll meet you outside,” he said, not wanting his friends to get caught up in whatever Dumbledore was up to.
“Sure, see you outside,” Ron said as he and Hermione left through the main entrance.
“What did you want to talk to me about, Headmaster?” Harry asked, hoping to get this over with quickly.
“I wanted to give you the good news personally,” Albus smiled.
“Good news?” Harry asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes, our discussion about Tom and the Leaky Cauldron. I couldn’t in good conscience sit back and wait while Tom lost his pub, so I reached out to some of my contacts, and had them make some inquiries,” Albus explained. “They were able to get in touch with the owners of the property.”
“What happened?” Harry asked, setting aside his animosity with the Headmaster for the moment. Ted had been working on this non-stop, and it wasn’t looking good.
“It turns out it was all an accounting error,” Albus said, sticking to his plan. “It was only supposed to be a three percent increase to keep up with inflation, but was entered incorrectly in their books.”
“The property management company not only re-reimbursed Tom, but they also sent him an apology letter for the mix up,” Albus finished.
“So Tom doesn’t have to move?” Harry asked, unable to keep the relieved smile off his face.
“He does not,” Albus said with a grandfatherly smile on his face. “He can stay at his current location for as long as he likes.”
“Thank you professor,” Harry said politely. “If you’ll excuse me I’d like to join my friends outside.”
Albus frowned, he had been hoping for a much better reaction from the boy, especially after everything he had done to undermine his barrister, and how he had swooped in to save the day. He would have to push a little further to get the boy on side.
“I know you don’t trust me, Mr. Potter,” Albus said, getting to the point he really wanted to discuss. “I certainly haven’t given you any reason to, but I hope this allows us to at least build some trust,” he said, turning to leave.
Harry watched as the headmaster walked away, not sure what to think. Tom always spoke highly of the man, but he doubted the Headmaster helped Tom out of the goodness of his heart. There was another reason he did what he did. He just didn’t know what it was.
He made a mental note to send a letter to Ted tonight to make sure he was telling the truth.
Hi, sorry about the late update on this chapter. I spent some more time editing it. I wasn’t really happy with the way the chapter turned out. It covered what I wanted for the chapter, but I still think it can be improved on, and will probably make a couple more edits to it later.
Please let me know what you think, and thank you for supporting me,