Chapter beta: Dani
Chapter translator: Aivy
We were standing in front of the tapestry and the door was just disappearing in our backs as we saw a petite person with hectic red spots on her cheeks and a hand clapped over her mouth, running desperately through the corridor, sobbing.
Her long, light-brown hair wafted after her and when she saw us, her green eyes twitched fearfully and became wide. Her gaze fell on our clasped hands and her expression got a tad more hurt and sad. She quickened her pace even more, seeming very confused when she rushed towards the Astronomy Tower. It was strange that she was so far away from her territory, especially alone. I glanced carefully at Harry who wistfully followed the female student with his eyes.
“What is wrong with her?” he asked me worriedly and with a frown.
“Well, the Daily Prophet must have arrived and there probably is an article about Death Eaters getting arrested at the Ministry and as far as I know, her father was in the D-” I swallowed the rest, not wanting to remind Harry of Sirius, but he understood my allusion regardless.
“Yes, right. I heard Malfoy screaming ‘Greengrass’. But what’s the matter with her? She looked down,” he said cluelessly. Nice to see that not everything changed overnight, I thought slightly spiteful and I was sorry for myself.
“Well Harry, I don’t know what you would feel if your father's name is recognised as a Death Eater, plus everybody at school knowing it, and he's now rotting in Azkaban? Harry, not all are used to being the focus of everyone’s attention as much as you!” I explained matter-of-factly and his eyes grew big.
“Oh, the poor girl. Do you think she’s supporting… well, you know, Voldemort?” He looked at me in anxious anticipation of my assessment of Daphne because, as he said that night, he trusted my judgment. Well, I would be able to make him happy. Hopefully, this helped him a little to get over Sirius' loss.
“No, I don’t think so. She doesn’t appear to have the same stance as other Slytherins. Why don’t you ask her?” I advised him encouragingly, patting his cheek.
“Um, how?!” he asked with uncertainty and looked in the direction where she had disappeared.
“Well,” I visibly rolled my eyes, “there is no better moment than right now. Get your butt to the Astronomy Tower and hold a bloody handkerchief in front of her running nose. You'll be able to conjure one, right? And then you’ll tell her that you're sorry and that you know that Azkaban is horrible but she should be happy that he’s alive - after all, you lost someone yesterday and it would do you good to talk about it with some uninvolved who didn’t know Siri... who didn’t know him but is also struggling with a loss after that night. Maybe you will become closer. Be cool, Harry! Yesterday, when you faced the Dark Lord, you weren’t scared, and believe me, Fudge shit himself when he saw Him for a very short moment! So go for it!” I pushed him resolutely in her direction.
“No, I can’t do this; I don’t even know her!” he protested, running a hand desperately through his shaggy hair.
“Yeah, and if you don’t get a move on, you never will, Harry! We’ll meet at noon at the hospital wing. I’ll bring sandwiches. And now gather your lion courage and charge into battle! Comfort her, I'm serious. Ask her what she has to expect at home; others can also have difficult family situations! And there won’t be a better chance to get her alone, far away from the other snakes. Take your chance. You like her!” I continued to implore him.
“Oh-oh, Hermione, why does it feel like you once again know more than you are telling me? As if you are trying to steer me gently into a certain direction?” That suspicious glimmer reappeared in his green eyes.
“Because maybe I am? She is a nice girl and now go!” I admitted quite briskly but also readily, pushing him forcefully, and watched as he gave up, striding first slowly and then faster and faster towards the tower. He also straightened up before turning the corner. Finally! I crossed my fingers. They would be so cute together.
Phew, that took some doing. Hopefully, dear Harry won’t cock it up. I really hoped so; the little girl was genuinely likeable.
I walked on in high spirits. Due to the fact that I wanted the best for Harry, I realised that life had to go on, no matter how dramatic and difficult everything was, it always kept going.
I approached the noisy Great Hall and thanks to my very late arrival I saw myself once again, only this time I was alone in the centre of attention. At the very start of our table, I ripped the Prophet out of the hand of a little second year of my House and stared at the photo on the front page. How did Snape always phrase it so lovely? You wanted to vomit. Yes, that was the feeling I had to suppress heroically when I looked at the picture accompanying the headline.
Harry and I, both of us in the totally ruined atrium with the destroyed fountain and the completely demolished, once glorious hall. There wasn’t much left. Although we looked terrible too. My face was all scratched up, decorated with a lot of dried blood, while Harry looked even more desolate and our clothes were tattered rags. We knelt in front of each other and Harry held my hand in one of his and with the other, he gently touched and caressed my injured cheek with a spaced-out expression. It would be a poignant photo in itself because we knew what we had just overcome. It was also a very intimate photo as it revealed our solidarity in this trying situation and the Wizarding World had no bloody business intruding on that moment.
But I also knew it looked like more than it was, much like in our fourth year. However, now I understood Daphne's look when she saw me and Harry in the corridor. I was sure, though, that Harry could clear up this misunderstanding.
I was more worried about a certain fair-haired Highness who could misunderstand that and I wasn’t even talking about Harry and myself now, rather about the danger I had gotten myself into. I looked very battered and I knew he wouldn’t like that at all. I looked up quickly, casting a cautious glance at the Slytherins, but to my bewilderment, I saw no white-blond head. Hence, I moved my gaze down the line until I reached Blaise who gave me a look that said that Draco had yet to show his face today.
Since my brain was still a little foggy from lack of sleep and coffee and only slowly began to work properly, I just now got the brilliant thought that Lucius would have certainly summoned his son. Draco probably wouldn’t come back until later. So, unobtrusively, I signalled my understanding to Blaise with a nod who replied with a slight lifting of the corners of his mouth. Wasn’t it nice that our wordless communication worked so smoothly? I was still facing the staring crowd who didn’t take its eyes off my face and watched my every reaction while reading the article for I was the only one of us who had come to the Great Hall. The others who had gone on this adventure with us were still in the infirmary.
I watched as the students stared at the newspaper and then focused on me again, very incredulous that I had been to the Ministry in London last night and was now back here. The excited whispering was evident and I swiftly sat down, poured myself my essential cup of coffee and quickly ate a sandwich, all while everyone at my table watched me curiously. They didn’t actually dare to talk to me while I started to prepare sandwiches for Harry. I wanted to get out of here, the gawking was annoying and I felt uncomfortable. I wanted to get away, far away from this ignorant bunch.
The Prophet finally wrote that the Dark Lord was back and that this was officially confirmed by all sides and that we - therefore the dramatic photo - had successfully captured several Death Eaters in the Ministry. Then the list of prisoners followed, and I also noticed now the many hostile looks students were occasionally throwing at the Slytherin table since the prisoners had, if any, all their children in this House. Poor Daphne! I also felt sorry for Nott. Crabbe, however, had too thick a skin for him to care.
It was also widely proclaimed that Dumbledore was rehabilitated and reinstated in all his offices, thus he would also get officially re-appointed as Headmaster of Hogwarts.
“Hermione, is it true?” Dean had apparently taken a heart and asked me bravely, rising to his feet. Suddenly, there was a ghostly silence in the Great Hall and everyone looked at me with greed in their eyes, craving for sensation.
I looked up slowly and gazed into Dean's curious but also anxious-looking eyes which were almost threatening to jump out of his dark-skinned face. With a sigh, I brushed back a strand of my hair that bothered me, like so many things.
“Yeah, Dean, the Prophet writes the truth. It has been proven that he is back,” I said coldly and emotionlessly in a crazily bad mood.
“That’s not what I meant. Is it true that you captured Death Eaters? Here is written that one is dead! Was that one of you? I mean, you took Ginny, my girlfriend, along with you; I want to know more!” he demanded rather aggressively. If he knew he was talking to Jugson’s killer. The article said that only Jugson had died, that means Nott and Crabbe senior had survived. Unfortunately, the article didn’t elaborate what had happened to them all.
It started to seethe inside me. The events had left a mark on me as well. I had performed my first two murders with an Avada and then so shortly after each other. This wasn’t easy for me and then the misfortune of Sirius death... I, too, reached my limits and with one more person thinking they could spout stupidities at me, I struggled to hold onto my carefully maintained composure. Hence, I turned around very slowly, now sitting with my face to the aisle and had my elbows propped on the table behind me with provocative nonchalance. It was a challenging posture. He should really reconsider to make a go at me. I didn’t have to do anything! I hated to justify myself.
I cocked my head and was aware that everyone was watching us. Even the teachers seemed to watch eagerly from their dais. Only Professor Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape were missing. We all eyed each other, everyone curious about how I would react, what I would say.
“What do you want to know? Doesn’t the photo say enough already? We fought and... hm ... Can we say ‘won’ if two people lost their lives? I don’t think so. Ginny is fine; I sent her away. And now stop bothering me, my mood hasn’t been the best since yesterday!” I demanded in a controlled but icy voice and looked around coldly.
“Why? Because you thought you had to shove your weights around again? There are Aurors for that, but you had to get back into the press!” he asked angrily and I was close to a mental blackout and there was no one there who usually grounded me.
No Harry, Ron, Ginny, the Twins, nor Draco! Especially Draco, or even Snape.
So I got up like a feline predator with a blank expression on my face and I could see everyone moving away with their bodies and drawing back, the professors also getting restless as I moved so threateningly, dangerously slowly towards Dean. I was about to pounce on him.
“You should be careful what you say, Dean! Just a well-intended piece of advice, maybe you're just now talking to the one who performed the murders!” I breathed icily into the oh-so-quiet Hall. For the first time, I spoke the truth and heard hectic gasping in reply. I watched Dean’s eyes grow wide when I provoked him like that.
Suddenly, I heard a loud noise. Someone had banged on the table and pulled me out of my trance. It was Blaise who looked at me with a furious face and proclaimed:
“Granger, don’t be ridiculous. You, the perfect Mudblood, as if you could bring another spell than Stupefy over your law-abiding lips. Don’t make yourself out to be more important than you are. The press is going to your head!” He imitated Draco’s manner of speaking.
I was positively dumbfounded and understood only later that he had tried to ground me, to anchor me. To be the anchor that the others used to be for me, but they were absent right then. I think he had felt that I was about to do some ill-considered action and though he glared at me evilly, I could see his concern for me in the depths of his dark eyes.
Blaise was the best. It was nice to see that he knew me so well by now and I him; that we had become such good friends in the time between Christmas and now.
“Oh, you are one to speak, Zabini, because you know me so well? I don’t care about the press!” I hissed. Everyone stared at us and, covertly, I gave him a grateful look for having me brought back from my tunnel vision.
His Slytherins, too, stared at him in bewilderment. They didn’t know Blaise to behave like that, who was mostly calm and prudent, and rather had a take-it-easy attitude, hence the snakes were more than surprised even if they would never say anything to him. Thanks to Draco, he had an undisputed position within their hierarchy as the right hand of my fair-haired beau. As the latter was far away from Hogwarts at the moment, Draco's right hand led the house, and in this case, that was Blaise.
“How dare you use that foul word, Mr Zabini?!” Professor Sprout snapped, interrupting our drama.
“I apologise, Professor!” we replied in unison. We didn’t get any further, because at that moment the three missing professors stepped through the wide-open doors of the Great Hall with very pale, tired faces and looked around the room. McGonagall still didn’t look fully recovered from the stunners she'd been on the receiving end on. Her cheeks seemed downright gaunt.
Dean and I were still in the aisle, and Blaise standing upright at his House table when Dumbledore first showed himself to the students as the re-appointed headmaster. He stopped, lifting his white brow deliberately, and looked at us quizzically as our attitude to each other was still aggressive. Outwardly, I didn’t do anything, just returned his gaze, but I fortified my Occlumency shields while I stared back, recalling yesterday's scenes when he had wept so openly in front of Harry and me.
Dumbledore had returned, as it seemed, to his former strength and confidence as he controlled the Great Hall with his aura. However, I was not afraid of his assessing gaze and remained quite relaxed in the face of it. Then I could feel Snape's searching and scrutinizing look on me, which gave me a slight case of goosebumps, and I suppressed the tremor of my body as I knew those dark observant eyes on me.
A storm of voices erupted as Dumbledore stopped in the middle of the Hall, flanked by McGonagall and Snape, until he raised both his hands and asked for silence.
“Dear students, as you are bound to have read in today's newspaper, yesterday events came thick and fast and I have been reinstated as Headmaster of Hogwarts,” he let this information, which everybody already knew on the basis of the article, sink in. Then he cleared his throat to continue.
“And that brings me to the next tragic event: Today, our colleague, Dolores Jane Umbridge, was retrieved dead from the Forbidden Forest by me and my two colleagues here. The circumstances of her death will have to be investigated. I ask you to rise and commemorate her at this minute with the respect that is her due!” he requested solemnly and when he explained that there was another fatality here on Hogwarts grounds, many of the students jumped in shock and some girls clapped their hands over their mouths in surprise.
Another death. Just last year Cedric, now a professor, even if it was the hated toad. Everyone acted duly shocked and appalled, even the professors at the table had screamed in outrage.
Not with me!
I would do nothing for the tart that had deserved to die, and as her killer, I would have found it more macabre to behave as if I were mourning or paying her the final respect. What respect?
She had had none for us, so I had none left for her even in death. I had already paid her tribute by sending her gently to the afterlife, so completely without revenge or pain. That's why my eyes became very hard when I saw Dumbledore play-acting so good-naturedly in his forgiveness. I quietly turned to my prepared sandwiches, grabbed them, and started walking. I didn’t care that my footsteps sounded twice as loud on the floor in the dead silence. I was nearing the next explosion and thus I kept walking. Many looked at me with open mouths, gasping for air in the face of my impiety.
“Miss Granger!” an angry Snape hissed and I raised my eyebrow. What did he want? Oh ... I forgot. Always maintain the mask, right?
“Miss Granger, we wanted to spend a minute in reverence!” Dumbledore reprimanded me with a benevolent look and I looked at him with severe scepticism, like yesterday in his office.
“Practice your remembrance, but without me, Sir,” I told him as cold as yesterday, walking past him, leaving him behind me, and sensed McGonagall turning around quickly.
“Miss Granger, what do you allow yourself to talk to the headmaster like that?! How do you actually allow yourself to behave? What is your justification?” she raged and pressed her thin lips together angrily, and I stopped with the sandwiches in my hand. She stared at me, outraged. Professor Dumbledore gave me a despondent look and said nothing.
“Professor, you should always consider carefully whether you want to hold me accountable in front of the public. Things could come up that you never wanted to hear, and because of this knowledge, I will silently retire and leave you all to your grief... Grant me mine, too, for people that deserve it!” I insisted firmly and rather venomously. Also, I kept very straight and refused to acknowledge the horrified faces all around me.
I fixed my stare at the old man when I pronounced my warning. My Head of House wanted to start giving me an earful when Dumbledore deeply shocked and surprised everyone - the entire Great Hall - when he put his hand on the arm of McGonagall who was trembling with anger and shook his white, old head in defeat. Something that made the professor look appalled and disbelieving as it said that he left me my opinion. Everyone could see how he lowered his head slightly, thus dismissing me and I simply took note of this without showing any trace of surprise, as I did not feel any.
I had known that I was holding all the aces and started moving to leave the hall and all the curious gossipers behind me. I could feel Snape's indifferent look right between my shoulder blades until I turned the corner and headed for the hospital wing.
I knew Dumbledore had understood my threat. However, I would like to assume that he didn’t even begin to suspect a fraction of the blackmail that I had against him. Hence, I showed a profoundly malicious smile while I walked down the corridors as what he thought I knew was enough to have a hold over him. With all the knowledge that I truly possessed he belonged to me lock, stock, and barrel.
He seemed to think only of the things that had slipped from his grasp in front of Harry and the fight, but never, ever, that I knew his past. It was a pleasure to hold the reins in my hands, I thought happily. Even if my latest performance would provide fodder for conversation for the whole school, although I was well-used to it now. However, I was no longer a child who swallowed everything. And to commemorate the toad? Seriously, I didn’t need to do that. I could act when it was necessary. Tears, dismay, joy, just about everything, but why should I do that here?
When I turned into the corridor with access to the hospital wing, I spotted Harry standing with Daphne at the white door to the infirmary and watched as he conversed with her in a whisper. He held her hand and she beamed at him - for heaven's sake - like he had hung the moon and stars. As it seemed, the two were getting a bit carried away as Harry didn’t look really bright either. It was too sweet and distracted me, thank the goddess, from the hypocrisy happening in the Great Hall. Everybody would rather have seen Umbridge dead when she still lived and now to pretend it was the other way around was simply weak in character.
After they heard my footsteps clattering on the stone and broke apart, she quickly said goodbye to him with a slight smile and a bashful wave. When she came up to me and looked at me boldly, her eyes were still slightly misty with tears, but you could see a spark of happiness as well. I gave her an encouraging smile which seemed to astound her. She acknowledged my gesture with a visibly relieved, grateful grin as we passed each other wordlessly.
I stepped up to Harry, who followed her progress with a slightly dreamy expression. When he finally focussed his gaze on me, a beaming smile appeared on his face.
“And, did it go well? Have your fears been-” I started to ask as he interrupted me with a laugh.
“Nah! She is such a poor, strong girl. I like her, Hermione,” he announced. Oh, really, I thought cynically, I didn’t notice that at all.
“You don’t say? Does she feel similarly?” I enquired, amused.
“Yeah, I think so, too. It was so beautiful! Come along,” he pulled me to the window niche. We sat down on the windowsill and I handed him his sandwiches, which he eagerly took.
“Now, tell me,” I urged him expectantly.
“Well, you were right. I approached her cautiously; the idea with the handkerchief was good. She was quite dismissive at first and said, I should go to you, my girlfriend! So I thought, I should first explain my... um, our game. She listened to me with wide eyes and then asked - quite incredulously that we‘re not a couple - if only I saw it that way or if you did, too!” a hungrily chewing Harry reported quick as a wand shot.
“That's good that she asks after me. And what did you say? I hope you were not mean to me and said that I was completely unattractive to you,” I said jokingly.
“Eh, are you mad? No, I told her what I would tell everyone that asks: That you are the sister of my heart and will forever be, so every woman that I’ll find will know that you will always be around. I also tried to hint to her in this way that you sent me to her, which she must have understood because she asked me, exactly that, very incredulously.”
I found his manner dangerously touching and I patted his thigh.
“She’s a Slytherin, Harry, they are very quick in the uptake,” I passed on my experiences generously.
“Yeah, she is, isn’t she? In any case, she told me about the Prophet, about our photo. So I told her that Vol... that He was inside me. That wasn’t easy, I was really scared that she would flee from me at once. Who wants a boyfriend who shares that,” here he tapped his forehead less than gently with his knuckles, “with someone else. But she only took my hand and said that defending my mind against him had to be a great achievement! Really, I thought, I’d fall over. At that time, she was clear-eyed again.
“And then I said that I felt sorry for her father... She suddenly looked angry and said that I shouldn’t, that he was old enough to make his own decisions and if they brought him to Azkaban, it was his own fault! He would only think of himself and her stepmother, but wouldn’t care for her or Astoria for a millisecond. She was really upset! After she got so worked up, she smiled shyly and apologised; I didn’t quite understand that,” he explained slightly confused.
“Pureblood upbringing. Show no emotions, especially in front of others,” was my simple answer.
“Where did you learn all that? She said that too!” he eyed me in astonishment, bearing a remarkable resemblance to an owl.
“Mostly from books, beyond other things,” I informed misleadingly.
“Of course. Where was I? ... Oh well, she said the Great Hall had been bad with all the vicious gossip-mongers. As a Slytherin, it would be hard enough, but now, in the focus of the contemptuous interest, she had a small nervous breakdown. She is also scared to spend the holidays at home with only her crazy Death Eater-slut of a stepmother and is afraid of the characters that will be coming and going,” he told me very much affected and I thought about it. The little girl was not wrong, if the stepmother put so little value on her daughters by marriage, they were certainly not safe in this environment.
I pondered and pulled my lower lip through my teeth, as the gears rattled quite nicely in my head. The Dark Lord wouldn’t be out of sorts with the failures of the venture either... I would think of something.
“She's scared, terrified, about herself and her sister... You know, I never thought that a snake might be worried about someone else, but she means that seriously, honestly, I feel that!” It gleamed suspiciously in his eyes.
“I’ll think of something,” I reassured him.
“Sometimes, you can be scary,” he admitted quickly and pushed the last slice of bread into his mouth.
“Why?” I asked, perplexed.
“You never say ‘No, that’s impossible’, you always say ‘I’ll think of something’ or ‘I’ll take care of that.’ Did you ever notice?” he wanted to know curiously, and a smile crossed my face.
“Well, Harry. Every problem has a solution, I firmly believe that. Just let me take care of it. You trust me, don’t you?” I assured myself, grinning slyly.
“Yeah, and even more when you finally tell me everything. But I think that will happen in the right time. That situation with Daphne has upset me some more. On the one hand, I'm so sad because of Sirius and on the other... I almost feel guilty about what I'm feeling in my gut,” he was torn and uneasily kneaded the hands in his lap.
“Oh, Harry! Sirius never would’ve wanted that. He would rather have said: search and find oblivion between the willing legs of a woman,” I shamelessly spouted. I was sure though, that Sirius would truly think that!
“What? Now you make me speechless. So frivolous, Hermione!” Harry shouted aghast and his jaw dropped in indignation about me.
“Well, but I'm right, that's what he would’ve said... However, now I have another question: ‘Daphne’?” I deflected him skillfully. He got slightly red around the ears, very sweet.
“Um, yeah, we… So, I offered her to call me, well, Harry…” he stuttered, embarrassed.
“So you are on first-name terms,” I helped him out. “Did you tell her about Sirius?”
“Mhmhm, yes, I have, and then the unbelievable happened! One tear escaped me, just one and she gently dabbed it away and then kissed me, very tenderly and lightly. It was beautiful. She then said that I had every right to be sad. At least her father would still be alive. Even if he was an idiot, but he would still be there and that she was sorry that I lost my godfather. Then she simply held me, without shyness. That was nice!”
Great girl, I thought, that comforts Harry.
“That’s good; she seems to like you.”
“Yes, we have an appointment in front of the tapestry tonight. We want to talk... to get to know each other in the Room of Requirement; I want to show it to her, so she can retire there next year, too, if everything gets too much for her!” he explained, proud of his idea.
“Wow, what a pace, Harry!” I teased him and wiggled my eyebrows cockily while he grinned at me cheekily.
“Yeah, I realised that I should pick up the pace. I want to give her a chance and she seems to want to give me one in return, despite Gryffindor and Slytherin,” he elaborated. He seemed quite collected and I was astonished how grown-up he acted.
“That's a good thing. You shouldn’t let that stop you, that would be childish,” I admonished. He got up and held out his hand to me.
“Shall we?” He pointed towards the infirmary.
“Wait a second. There was trouble-” I began, but he interrupted me immediately.
“Isn’t there always?” The rhetorical question came very worldly-wise from Harry.
“Where you are right, you are right. So, the Prophet, the article, the picture… I hope you can vividly imagine what the Great Hall was like when I entered,” I let out annoyed and he nodded deliberately. Yes, he could imagine that. “So ... Dean turned on me because we allegedly endangered Ginny and I’m sensationalist and there was a dead Death Eater! ... Don’t go spare, Harry, let me finish. I lost it and said he could be talking to the killer right then…”
Disconcerted, he closed his mouth he had already opened to protest and looked at me very calculatingly. As yesterday with Dumbledore, he decided to say nothing at all, just listened quietly and attentively.
“The argument would have continued, but Dumbledore arrived with McGonagall and Snape. He announced...” At this point, I swallowed hard. If Harry was as far-sighted as he had presented himself yesterday, he would only have to put two and two together, and would then know a big, important and dangerous secret of mine. I swallowed the uneasy feeling forcefully and continued. “They had found Umbridge in the forest... dead... and that we should all commemorate her! I had had enough at that point and just left.
“I know, you think that maybe I shouldn’t have done that, but honestly, Harry, I cannot act so hypocritical. I'm glad she's dead! She would’ve always been a danger to you but also to everyone else who didn’t think like she did,” I justified myself after all, while Harry still looked at me intently and I continued to talk quickly. “Then McGonagall came onto me, asking what I would think what I was doing and I fired Dumbledore up for a bit. I warned that one should always think twice about interrogating me publicly as it may be that one wouldn’t like what I had to say. He stopped her from detaining me, touching her arm, letting me leave unhindered after my threat.”
I started when Harry broke into laughter. It sounded slightly hysterical, but he laughed heartily.
“And... and... you pull off such a show when I'm not there... Brilliant! I would have liked to see the faces of them all,” he admitted breathlessly, holding his stitching side and I just stared at him in surprise.
“Uhm, nice that it amuses you,” I whispered, completely flabbergasted.
“What did you expect? I agree with you and why should we continue to put up with anyone? The students are always hiding behind somebody. Sometimes I'm the hero, sometimes the anti-hero. Pah! And Dumbledore... What you're telling me about the commemoration for the death of the toad - which I'm actually not sorry about - I'm about to have another tantrum right now. Since it all really gets too much and much too emotional for me, let's visit our injured friends instead. Come on!” he declared decidedly and grabbed my hand.
We entered and I had to think about Harry for a moment. I thought he guessed and suspected that I was the killer and he hadn’t wanted to hear it. Presumably, he just wanted to hear it outside of Hogwarts but from the look in his eyes and his behaviour, I surmised that he was speculating about it. At least with the dead wizard in the Ministry; considering Umbridge he seemed to be certain, otherwise he wouldn’t have assured me at once so firmly that he didn’t think her death was bad.
“Harry, Hermione, here you are, finally!” Ginny shouted in relief, appearing pleased. She looked pretty good if you ignored the dark circles under her eyes.
“How is your ankle?” I asked immediately and we hurried towards the group.
“It is going to be alright. They magically smashed it, but it’ll work. I managed to get everyone out, taking refuge with them in dad's office,” she explained visibly proud of her achievement.
“You did well, Ginny!” Harry praised, making Ginny beam. “How are the others?”
“Luna has a minor concussion from the fall, that’s why she’s still sleeping,” she reported. We all looked at Luna and saw her blond hair spilling over her pillow while she slept blissfully.
Then Ginny’s voice turned very quiet and hold a note of sadness.
“Ron isn’t well. The curse that made him so crazy wasn’t easy to break, so he is asleep, too. The tentacle brains left scars on his arms that’ll never go away,” she explained, eyeing Ron's bed which was beside her own and where he was lying very pale on the white sheet. She added affirmatively as if this was the most important aspect: “But he will recover!”
Harry stepped to Ron's bed, grabbed his shoulder and squeezed it, breathing hard.
“And I'm fine if anyone is interested,” Neville let himself be heard, showing a scratched face but otherwise well.
“Neville, how are you feeling after experiencing the Cruciatus?” I asked with concern.
“Quite well, only my nerve endings are still twitching... But it’s okay, I'll be fine again,” he cheerfully announced.
“Oh, Neville, don’t lie to them! You’ll also keep the scar on your throat,” Ginny declared hotly and we looked perplexed from one to the other.
“Um, yeah, the cut that Lestrange gave me will stay. But please, did you see the cuts on Ron's arms? This here is nothing against that... A clean cut,” he waved it off. Harry and I looked at each other, then shrugged. We all could be happy to have come out alive.
“What else happened? We only got the Prophet; the atrium looked like a mess,” Ginny enquired curiously.
“A lot, unfortunately. The atrium got smashed to pieces by Dumbledore and Voldemort. It was terrifying to watch,” Harry replied hoarsely.
“Really hard, what happened to Sirius… We are s-” Ginny wanted to start when Harry raised a hand and interrupted her.
“It's okay, Ginny, there's nothing you can do…” Harry's voice cracked and I looked around with clenched lips. Ginny nodded guiltily and now also pressed her lips together.
“Guys, we’ll be back. Hopefully, you will all be doing well enough so that you can be discharged because we all have to pack tomorrow evening.”
“Pomfrey said we'll be out tomorrow afternoon, more precisely when it's time for dinner,” Neville informed us quickly.
“That's good. We’ll go now, we had a short night,” I said and pushed Harry to the door, who apparently had a mood swing after his high with Daphne and was sinking into the deep hole of depression. Good thing he had a meeting with her tonight because I had to go to a very specific place.
Later, as I repeatedly walked along the dark, damp dungeon corridors, I remembered how elated Harry had been when he said goodbye to me. He had introduced me to Daphne. She might have looked dumbfounded when she arrived and a beaming Harry introduced her to me, Hermione. Harry was really delightsome in that regard.
After his mourning all afternoon, I was so pleased with his relaxed behaviour that I had said nothing and winked at Daphne, wishing her a pleasant long night. I could see her breathe a sigh of relief that Harry hadn’t lied to her and we were just friends and not what we showed the school.
I took the shortcut, pulled up my hood in the short secret passage, and flitted to the entrance of the snake pit.