Hogwarts seemed changed to Hermione. She wasn’t sure if perhaps it was she that changed. Whispers of actions in the impending war were becoming louder. Apparently over the Christmas holiday, the Weasley patriarch was attacked. Naturally the Gryffindor’s were up in arms and the rumors of Dumbledore’s Army were overtaking normal schoolyard gossip. Draco and his friends were selected members of the Inquisitorial Squad by the High Inquisitor herself, Professor Umbridge. The invitation had been extended to Hermione as well, but at the Dark Lord’s instructions she turned it down. He made it clear that her only job for the remainder of the year was to learn as much as she could and keep her head down. She and Bellatrix were to be the secret weapon to champion his cause. Her staunch mediocrity at Hogwarts would largely convince Dumbledore and the Order that either the prophecy was wrong or she was not the right witch.
Hermione heard from Draco when the Inquisitorial Squad proudly caught Dumbledore’s Army practicing in the room of requirement. He recounted how the ridiculous pink witch blew a tremendous hole in the wall to drag the students out. With the Order entirely out of power within the walls of the school, the High Inquisitor became more and more controlling of the student body. The pureblooded students invited to the Malfoy’s New Year’s Ball gave her wider berth than before. Bella’s “warning” to the boys seemed to have made its way through the entire Slytherin house. Those close to Draco were protective but respectful of her space. The squad gave Hermione and Draco the ability to have more frequent private tutoring sessions with Snape. Together they covered occulmency, healing spells and the Unforgivable Curses. Much to the professor’s delight Hermione’s occulmency was nearly perfect. She became a passable healer for battlefield injuries. Like her lover, she took to the Unforgivables like she’d been casting them her entire life. Privately she wondered if she could produce them against another human being. Practice was one thing. She felt nothing for the practice creatures Snape conjured for them to learn on, but she remained torn. In the back of her mind, she recognized that situationally if she believed someone threatened Bellatrix’s well being she would curse first and ask questions later.
Very few of the changes affected Hermione’s everyday life. She’d never invested in extracurricular activities and didn’t notice their absence for several weeks. A quiet descended over the school that she found conducive to studying. Umbridge didn’t dare subject the young witch to the same corrective measures as the rest of the student body, though Hermione never stepped a toe out of line. Also off the table were visits to Hogsmeade. While Umbridge’s intent was only to control the DA, Hermione was heartbroken not to be able to see Bellatrix during the spring. The letters that they sent back and forth were certainly better than nothing, but the Dark Lord had the older witch on constant missions. Hermione knew it was part of being with the beautiful witch, but she felt isolation more sharply than she had before. On the handful of nights she was nearly inconsolable, she caught snippets in her dreams of what Bella was doing which calmed her some.
The lockdown of the student body was so severe that in the weeks leading up to the O.W.L.s Hermione and Draco were unable to sneak away to have time with Professor Snape. The young witch noticed a shift in his behavior. He seemed more tense than usual. He’d been acting as the go between the Dark Lord and herself, though the messages weren’t frequent she had the distinct feeling that he needed to tell her something. For a week he tried subtle means to be able to have a private conversation with her, but a moment that wouldn't draw attention never presented itself. Uncharacteristically he detoured from his normal topics of education into a rant about the importance of prophecies. During the end of his short tirade he couldn’t break his stare away from her. As the students walked quietly out of the classroom at the end of the period, Hermione made her way to Draco’s side, guiding him by the elbow away from the crowd of students. They walked silently to the library, where they found a secluded corner and cast silencing spells. It was a risky move, but the witch was certain that it was the proper moment.
“What’s going on, Hermione?”
“Don’t you think it was odd that Professor Snape was going on about prophecies?”
“I mean I suppose, but did you have to drag me to the library to ask if Snape was acting strangely?”
“He stared at me the entire time, Draco. I am certain he was communicating with me. What do you know about prophecies? Are there other books like Bella’s?”
“One question at a time. I know some, not a lot. My mother tried to cram as much in my head as she could before we came back to school. No there aren’t many books in existence like the Black family book. But most are stored in the Ministry of Magic.”
“They keep them all in the same place. Has the Inquisitorial Squad heard anything about them?”
“No. Nothing about prophecies, but my Mum did say that there is a prophecy about Potter. Though I doubt he even knows about it. She said that the Dark Lord wanted it. That it contained vital information.”
“So why does he not simply acquire it himself or send someone else to do it for him?”
“Prophecies can only be retrieved by those about whom they are made.”
“But after it’s been gathered, can it be taken?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Very good. I think it is time we made a plan. I think that things are about to move very quickly and we need to be ready. Snape’s rant this afternoon makes me think that there may be a confrontation planned wherever in the Ministry prophecies are held. And I think he wants us to intervene.”
“Why would he need us when there is an entire army of Death Eaters?”
“Perhaps he thinks fighting like with like is more practical. Potter and Company are teenagers. They think and act like teenagers. They will be unpredictable in ways the trained fighters have a hard time of combatting. I think our teacher was trying to tell us that it is time to put our fighting skills to the test.”
“I can practically see the wheels turning, Miss McCarthy. I suggest you spill.”
“From what we know. The so called Golden Trio has always been on the sloppier side in terms of planning. If they do intend to retrieve a prophecy and the Death Eaters interrupt them, there is likely to be chaos. What if someone terribly clever were to find a way to swap prophecies during the scuffle.”
“Whose would we replace it with?”
“I think we do one better than that, my friend. I think we make a fake prophecy and make sure it ends up in the hands of the Order.”
Hermione slept little in the week leading up to the end of term exams. She didn’t once crack a book for her subjects. She could achieve a passing grade in her sleep for the 5th year exams. She dedicated her time to researching the syntax and magical properties of prophecies. At first glance it was the simplicity of her plan that she believed would work. And the execution would be simple. They only had to discover where and when to show up and count on a bit of luck. Creating the prophecy was challenging. The witch subsided primarily on research and invigoration draught. Being the favorite of the potions professor had its privileges. Though she hadn’t had recent access to his store rooms, he had happily allowed her to make her own modest store just for such circumstances.
The day of the administration of the O.W.L.s, Hermione followed her classmates into the large hall of desks to take her exam. Unlike her peers, she walked in with a distinct sense of victory. In the middle of the night she had a breakthrough. She finally managed to insert the prophecy she wrote into the glowing ball. She could feel the need for sleep tugging at her edges and hoped that she would quickly finish her exam and be able to put her head down for just a few minutes and rest. She finished as planned. There was nothing unusual about the exam. She even intentionally answered a few questions wrong to ensure her score wouldn’t be perfect. Just as she began to relax and drift away she heard a loud banging on the door. She watched groggily as two of the Weasley’s set off magical fireworks and flew their brooms through the hall, tormenting the pink witch. She went with her classmates as they streamed out of the hall and into the sunlight. She stood passively at the back of the crowd, watching the gleeful celebrations. She saw when the Potter boy fell.
She knew at that moment that it was beginning. Whatever storm was coming, this would be the catalyst.