Chapter beta: Dani
Chapter translator: Nik (& Aivy)
No questions were asked, and Harry only gave me a lenient but somehow sad look that reflected a deep knowledge and understanding. We all retired to our beds early.
I slept quite well, even though I had thought long and hard. My plans had been running through my brain, consuming my thoughts. It would soon become clear whether I had considered everything because tomorrow my parents would pick me up from the train for the last time. Afterwards... yes, soon after that there would be no more Granger family!
Oh man. So I cleared my mind and tried not to think of anything.
When the next morning came, I dressed in a loose red T-shirt and jeans. From now on, I always had to be fully operational because my schedule ran its course tightly. I tied my hair together to a practical ponytail.
Phew. An icy, inner cold came over me as I thought about the next two days. Was I really doing the right thing?
Good question, but I chastised myself for asking it. I knew that there was no turning back. If I didn't go through with my plans it would become blatantly dangerous for my parents in the coming weeks and months. It would be a risk to leave them in their current world.
One thing was clear: Lucius wouldn't give up, and since I belonged to his family because of Draco's branding he would certainly not accept my parents next to him. This was only the first problem, though. After the Dark Lord had reappeared, my parents weren't safe as defenceless Muggles. The signs of a storm beckoned; the attacks would get worse. Now was the time.
The second war was about to begin!
And I was ready. Where the magical society only now slowly awakened from its sleep and began to open its eyes, I was already executing my long prepared plans and planning new ones. I could deal with the fact that the war now began. The next few days would be so exciting as I would experiencing many firsts. I know I said these things before, a long time back, but there were still things I hadn't done yet, even if they were getting fewer. Well, I was really excited to see how I'd accomplish these things because it wouldn't be easy.
We all greeted each other and I was frightened when I saw Harry. He looked like an Inferius! Simply terrible! He had completely sunken cheeks. He seemed to have cried through the night because his eyes were red and puffy. His whole posture was reminiscent of a beaten dog; as it seemed all the revelations had visibly taken their toll on him. Also, his mourning for Sirius shouldn't be forgotten. As collected as he had pretended to be yesterday, he couldn't keep it up today. Even his hair was hanging somewhat limp into his face.
But as sorry as I was, I couldn't help him. He would have to find a way out himself. How he dealt with the new insights was his choice, yet I hoped very much that he would choose me.
We all went to breakfast in silence and in a melancholy mood. I hadn't been able to escape breakfast thanks to some particular hungry people and I suspected what was coming after the mail arrived. I was curious what Harry would say.
We talked about trivial stuff and watched Ginny cling to Dean. Since the events at the Ministry, she didn't look so longingly at Harry anymore. She seemed much more serious about Dean now than she had at the beginning of their relationship. This renewed confrontation with death, which she had already experienced in her second year, seemed to have shocked her and made her aware of the essentials of life again. I think Dean wasn't a bad catch. He looked very smart, hot-headed perhaps, but otherwise very sweet.
I thought it was good that she wanted to give this relationship a chance. Ron also said nothing about it and accepted it with amazing patience that Ginny seemed to be very happy with Dean. He, too, hadn't left the Department of Mysteries without gaining some inner maturity. Ron not only wore the visible scars on his arms; something had changed in him as well. He was astoundingly calm since he had awakened again and when he thought nobody was looking, he had his eyes fixed on Lav. Hence, I was excited for what the upcoming year would bring.
When the mail came and I read it, like everyone else, I couldn't stifle a blissful smile behind the rustling paper. I liked my beetle so much, she had performed wonderfully. How perfect!
Poor Fudge, I didn't feel sorry for him at all!
Rita was dangerously attacking him and boldly asked what bad deeds schoolchildren could possibly have committed in comparison to men marked with the Dark Mark. Those known murderers were now at large again thanks to the Ministry's incompetence. Should the students of Hogwarts now take over the work of the Aurors and search for the escaped convicts? After all, it was only thanks to children that members of this dangerous association had been incapacitated and taken prisoner for a short time. She also asked whether the Department of Magical Law Enforcement shouldn't feel humiliated and question why pupils and children performed better in this field than they had. As bad as it sounded, the slain aurors of Azkaban had apparently not been able to defend themselves successfully, while the group around Harry Potter was still whole. Oh so cruelly put. Only Rita could do that, the sarcasm dripping from every line.
Today's article led to the fact, that our little group was being scrutinised again. Since the others only received more detailed information today about what exactly happened during the fight in the Ministry, we got some dumbfounded but also respectful looks. Luckily, so too did our comrades-in-arms. Since we were all still alive, the others probably hadn't thought that it had been such a perilous affair where it had been touch-and-go whether we came out alive or not.
Well, if they thought we were doing these things for fun or because we wanted to throw our weight around, they had been on the wrong track for years because we had always been running for our lives and nothing less! But they all lived on cloud nine anyway. The article seemed to touch some of them for they eyed us very reverently.
Which, it appeared, seemed to dismay Neville very much. Such adoring attention was clearly too much for him as he was whispering with Harry and appeared very insecure. He usually attracted attention only because of his incompetence and clumsiness.
Harry patted him on the shoulder with encouragement and whispered something to him. And when Neville bit into his muffin, reassured, Harry turned to me with a mischievous glow in his emerald eyes and mouthed:
"Is this your doing?" He leaned even closer to me, his breath brushing against my ear. I nodded in confirmation.
"Yes, of course, I wrote a long letter yesterday when you were in the infirmary," I openly admitted.
"Wicked. Did she add anything, or was it all from you?" he enquired curiously and drank a sip of his coffee. Yes, since he had started running with me daily some time ago, he had also found his salvation in coffee. In Snape's rooms, he had tried it carefully but as expected after his initial disgust he had also fallen for caffeine and was now a coffee junkie as well. Yes, Harry was growing up, no doubt.
"She adopted a lot of things from me, but implemented it well, as usual," I explained in a positive mood because he had asked me level-headedly.
"Why? Why did you want such an article? I would like to understand your thoughts. You know, I don't like the attention and you even less", he questioned with open curiosity.
"All correct, Harry. However, the only means we have at the moment is to manipulate the public and unfortunately this is the only way to do it... if we don't show the people out there how incompetent the Ministry is, they will run into the clutches of the Dark Lord with their eyes closed and we don't want that. We should throw a few spanners in his works! Because I have yet to see the way Dumbledore and his order are educating the masses." I snorted disparagingly as my grim look grazed the professor's table.
"Ah, I understand. You're playing strategy games. Not really my thing, but I understand your explanation under that consideration. Well done. You seem to have Skeeter very well... how am I supposed to put it..." He waved his hand vaguely through the air.
"Harry, Rita will do everything I tell her. She belongs to me! But you knew that since the interview for the Quibbler," I stuck to my new openness towards Harry. He deserved the truth.
"What? Oh no, I know, I know, but when you talk like that I get a stomach ache again; it sounds so cold," Harry's previous self peeked through again which actually disappeared more and more, running his hands through his limp hair with a groan.
"It is, but calm down, nothing will happen to her," I assured him.
"Yes, but only as long as she behaves, or am I mistaken?" he asked knowingly, and sounded very unhappy.
"Mhm... maybe, but she is behaving very good." I shrugged my shoulders and took a quick sip of my coffee. Rita's fate didn't really interest me, only as far as she was useful to me.
"Oh, Hermione...!" He shook his head helplessly and sadly. I looked at the Slytherin table and met Draco's ice-grey eyes who signalled me that he hadn't forgotten yesterday's humiliation when I left him standing. And I noticed Daphne's cheerful, relieved look, which astonished me for a moment but then I realised that Blaise had probably managed to have her stay with him for the holidays despite her father's break from prison. Considering how happy she looked and how satisfied the handsome Slytherin appeared, he had clearly been successful.
"Harry, do you trust me?" I asked solemnly and kept eye contact with him and he looked at me appraisingly.
"Always!" He gave me a great gift with his reply and I showed a happy smile.
"That's good. I'll try to never disappoint you because I trust you too-" I was interrupted when the bells called for departure. Everyone jumped up nervously and hectically to hurry out to the carriages.
As we stepped out of the front gates, the carriages were already in a line, waiting to take us to the Hogwarts Express. The thestrals threw their dragonheads back into their necks and chomped at the bit restlessly. They were gruesomely beautiful. As I passed one of the horse-like creatures, it buried its snout in my hair with pleasure. These animals were developing an ever greater affinity for me. That probably had something to do with my deeds and I reluctantly pulled at the corners of my mouth.
"You see them too, don't you?" Harry approached me confidentially.
"Yes, Harry, since this summer," I confessed with my new-found openness, still answering him honestly.
"What...? Oh, you weren't surprised on the first day of school? I remember. But, but what... who did you see die during summer break?!" The words fell from his mouth wide open with astonishment.
"No, Harry, because I read the textbook and knew about these beings. Good, I didn't know that they pull the carriages until then, but I didn't question my state of mind because of their sight and to get to your other question, I'll answer it for you in private during the holidays!"
"It was so obvious that you would say something like that," he replied very resignedly and didn't push further. Ron captivated him with a question about Quidditch and, apparently, he welcomed the change in conversation.
The ride to the train was as bumpy as ever and we were allowed to watch Ginny extensively exchange saliva with Dean and Ron discussed the expected game results with Harry. Eventually, we arrived at the train station and spotted the red locomotive with the many wagons that would now house us for nine hours.
We, the entire group that had fought in the Ministry, looked for a joint compartment.
Due to our experiences, we were all very subdued. We had all fought and we had all gone to our limits; we six were not the same as a few days ago and so there was no holiday mood.
All of us followed our melancholic thoughts, even Ron was calm and let the landscape pass him by and Luna wasn't merely dreaming; the expression in her eyes was simply too serious. Ginny left us halfway through the trip as she was looking for oblivion in Dean's arms, which I didn't begrudge her in the least. I would have loved to cuddle up in Draco's strong arms myself because I knew that as soon as I stepped off this train a really exhausting time would begin for me.
Harry also seemed restless as he played with his lip all the time. It appeared thoroughly chewed, and that was driving me crazy. I noticed Draco, Blaise and Daphne passing our compartment and Harry giving a start at this picture. Then I realised that he was concerned for Daphne because he didn't have the faintest idea of my plan. Well, I'd buy her a minute to tell him the good news of her being safe with Blaise.
"Harry, do you want to come with me? We will get some candy from the trolley for everyone," I asked casually and gave him a meaningful look.
"Um, sure, I'm coming." Luckily, it clicked for him immediately.
"Should I come with you?" Ron asked sluggishly.
"No, don't worry about it, we'll be back in five minutes," Harry said and waved him off.
We went out together and when the compartment door closed Harry looked at me demandingly.
"I saw your look when the snakes passed by. You must want to talk to her briefly, right? I'll distract the two male specimens," I quickly offered.
"But it's Malfoy," Harry objected, dismayed.
"So what? He's a Prefect, like me. I'll make him patrol the train with me. You better take the chance to talk to her," I decided rigorously.
"Okay, thank you for making such an effort," he, fortunately, didn't pry further.
"Gladly, Harry, always gladly!" We walked along the train and saw the three Slytherins lining up at the candy trolley. I was happy to do it as I would also get a few more moments with Draco out of it.
"Thank you again, Blaise, I don't know how to thank you," we heard Daphne say and I noticed and felt Harry tense up next to me and so I stepped in.
"Oh, Malfoy, I have something to discuss with you, and your friend here will certainly be able to help you with the matter," I drew attention to us in a loud voice and all heads turned to me, looking at me as if I was crazy.
"What do you want from me?" The words came wonderfully bitingly from Draco. He was a born actor because nobody would guess the fact that we regularly shared a bed with the cold and gloating way he greeted me.
"What do you think? You're a Prefect, just like me, and your friend here can join, so if you don't mind please!" The other curious people turned away again since this wasn't turning out as exciting as the sensationalists had hoped with me bringing in the boring, official duties.
"And Potter is probably too stupid to help you... but well, nobody should say that we Malfoys don't do our job. Blaise, come with me. You, Daphne, buy the things! Lead the way, Granger," he growled arrogantly, threw his head back in a stately manner and followed me pompously with Blaise obediently a step behind him. I winked at the two lovebirds.
We stopped in an empty compartment.
"What was that all about?" Blaise asked quietly.
"What do you think? Harry is worried and I wanted to give him the opportunity to talk to Daphne. How did you accomplish it?," I asked curiously.
"Oh, quite simply. Step-mother was very excited not to have to take care of the brats and even now that Greengrass is free, both of them were happy to have the children out of the way because of the tense situation for the family. They wrote to Daphne just this morning that it would be better if they didn't come home this holiday and stay with me instead! Mission accomplished, most beautiful. I hope you are satisfied." He showed his most charming grin.
"Oh yes! I could kiss you!" I showed myself very pleased and beamed teasingly at him when a cutting voice interrupted us.
"Certainly not! You have no one to kiss but me; understood, Mudblood?" Draco pulled me possessively away from Blaise by my waist.
"In a bad mood since yesterday, huh, Draco?" I provocatively raised an eyebrow and examined his crotch pointedly.
"Bloody tease," Draco croaked and came threateningly close to me.
"Always with pleasure. I like how you get... Don't worry, I'll eventually apologise for yesterday," I promised, licking my lips sensually which seemed to attract Draco's eyes like magic.
I had also raised a finger and ran it over his chest playfully. Such games with him were great fun and I heard Blaise take a sharp breath.
"Stop it, guys, otherwise I'll have to jerk off in the toilet. Sparks are flying dangerously between you right now. You can't get down to business here!" Blaise complained. Draco looked at him coolly and then grabbed my hand, capturing it in his, and breathed a wonderful kiss on the back of my hand.
"Unfortunately, to my regret, Blaise is right. So, tell me what you were trying to do with the article today. It was very amusing. I think the beetle had the information from you!"
"As always, perfectly correct, Draco. Why? Fudge! You didn't think I'd forget and forgive him for yesterday's farce of an investigation, did you? This was my revenge, and then something in Umbridge's office upset me... that's all," I took my hand from him and waved it off as if I were chasing away a troublesome fly.
"I enjoy it when you get so worked up, darling," smirked Draco smugly.
"Come on, guys, we have to go back," Blaise threw in worriedly.
"Unfortunately, he's right, but if you need my help, message me via the coin. I'll always appear immediately," Draco spoke with care and now held my face in his hands, looked briefly right and left and then bent down quickly, kissing my forehead sentimentally, whereupon I sighed in delight.
The three of us strolled back to Harry and Daphne who were already standing in the narrow passageway with their hands full of treats, talking and whispering. When they noticed us they jumped apart as if caught. We three overlooked it, generous as we were.
"Harry, come on, I'm all done," I proclaimed, taking some of his load off him and Blaise did the same with Daphne; only Draco wouldn't condescend to such an act, after all, he was a Malfoy, I thought mischievously.
But Blaise got a deadly jealous look from Harry for his helpfulness which almost cost Draco his composure, I noticed, so much did it amuse him. But it was too hilarious. Blaise would never go for Daphne, first of all, she was too precarious for him, meaning too serious because she was looking for a real relationship and he certainly wasn't. I think he liked her too much for that. And secondly, he knew that she was in love and who she was in love with and that I would probably kill him if he tried to come between Harry and Daphne. And third, I think he had so many love affairs running at the same time that I was afraid he wasn't even able to tell what fair maidens he had something running with and whom he had just dumped.
"What are you staring at so stupidly, Malfoy? It's a pity that your father isn't rotting in Azkaban," a bad-tempered, jealous Harry spat into a disparagingly grinning Draco's face and my breath caught. This was not good at all!
"Potter, how dare you talk to me like that," Draco remained calm but he drew his wand as did Harry.
"How dare I? You're just too priggish, you Death Eaters...!" Harry continued to shout. I was about to intervene when I heard Draco's reply and what he said made my heart stop:
"Potter, you shouldn't judge anyone by the actions of their parents but only by the actions they commit themselves and I assure you... I'm not yet one!"
Daphne, too, stared shocked at the suspenseful scene and Blaise also had a bemused expression.
I couldn't believe Draco had just used Harry's own words against him. When Harry reconciled Draco's words with his words about his father in Snape's office, he blinked flabbergasted from me to Draco and back.
Wow. Had Draco done this on purpose? I had never told him about Harry's memory, only about the improved relationship with Snape and that it was based on this just repeated realisation. I was sure that Harry had understood part of that message, for whatever reason Draco had uttered it.
"Hermione, come..." Harry turned his back abruptly on Draco and Daphne gave Harry a clear, pointed look that there was nothing there, and he nodded tightly.
I followed him quickly. As we hurried along the compartments, leaving the Slytherins behind, I noticed Cho and her friend Marietta, the sneak, in a compartment full of Ravenclaws. Just then, I remembered that the girl still couldn't speak and that I had resolved to lift the curse as soon as we were on the train. I saw Cho talking to the other girls while the sneak was leafing through a book.
"Uh, Harry, go on ahead, I'll be right there," I said and he braked jerkily and looked at me sceptically.
"Why?" The question came very suspiciously.
"Because," I made excuses, at least I tried.
"Hermione...!" he replied threateningly.
"Well, wait, then," I hissed quietly, only minimally annoyed by his mistrust and pulled my white wand inconspicuously which made him raise his eyebrows and he saw how I began to recite something. Who had said that the Curse of Silence was a white spell? Exactly, nobody!
I saw a white sphere leave the tip of my wand, and watched it grow. Now Harry stepped curiously close to me and we could both observe that white floating ball enter the compartment and face Marietta.
When some of the girls noticed this, they started screaming, yes, screaming! Hey, please, that was just a white shimmering, transparent sphere, not a dementor.
But well, that made Marietta, whose attention had still been bound by the book, look up in horror and she opened her mouth out of instinct and at that moment the sphere picked up speed and dashed purposefully towards her, and bam, gone it was. It all happened so fast. Marietta and her friends looked at her in panic as that bright little ball vanished into her mouth, never to be seen again.
Marietta dropped the book and grabbed her throat in panic. Smiling, I winked at Harry with a sideways glance and rolled my eyes on account of the theatrics going on and he looked at me questioningly.
I pointed again through the glass and he turned his attention to the inner hustle and bustle. Suddenly, a long-winded scream came out of Marietta's throat. She opened her eyes wide and - for the first time after a long, long time - she began to speak again. Her sudden onset of happiness for having found her voice again went straight to one's heart. Tears flooded her eyes and now ran unhindered over her cheeks. Then she parted her bangs and her disfigured forehead became visible. But that souvenir of her betrayal would remain. I was just about to turn away when I noticed that we had been discovered at the door and it was already ripped open.
"You were the ones...weren't you?" Cho shouted emotionally.
"What, my dearest?" I asked very uninvolved; Harry remained silent next to me.
"You've given her her voice back. Why only now?" Cho hissed furiously and all the other Ravenclaws in the compartment stared anxiously at us. Marietta looked at me in fear as I was now looking at her with my head cocked.
"I thought she would be happy," I explained neutrally. The girl swallowed heavily.
"Why only now? Remove that on her forehead, too," Cho demanded angrily and I gave her a very long look.
"Cho, don't talk to me like that! She should be happy to have her voice again. I didn't have to, this was a great, good-natured act of mine! Don't forget that, Cho! And as for the other curse, well, there's nothing I can do. There's, unfortunately, no counter-curse for the spell... I'm sorry, but with the decision she made at that time, she'll have to live her whole life... Unless... Unless, of course..." I left my answer provocatively open-ended.
"What? Don't make it so exciting," Cho snapped at me indignantly.
"Now, now, I don't know if I like your tone! But fine, if she develops a great talent in inventing spells, then maybe she'll succeed in casting a counter-curse one day," I taunted viciously. "And if you keep yapping at me like that, Cho, I can test the Curse of Silence on you too. At least Marietta seems to be thinking thrice now about what she says before she speaks," I explained spitefully. It seemed to seethe in her when I revealed it so gloatingly and now she turned to Harry trembling with fury. Meanwhile, the snakes had caught up with us and crept past us. Daphne watched the exchange of blows between Harry, myself and Cho closely.
"And you, Harry, do you have nothing at all to say about what your girlfriend is up to?" she snarled angrily at Harry and he lifted both hands placatingly.
"Woah, Cho, hang on a minute! Your friend only has herself to blame," the good guy took my side and I didn't let my happiness show when I watched Marietta put her hand on Cho's arm and quietly ask:
"Chrmm... let it be, it was nice of her to give - chrmm - my voice back to me," she whispered hoarsely, trying to reassure her friend who, however, wanted to object:
"No, don't! Chrmm... She might make it worse. Please, Cho!" Fear was clearly evident in her raw voice. Oh well, now I've already been met with open fear, what would the sweetie here think if she knew that I was aware of what Umbridge had been blackmailing her with. I'd have a new best friend named Marietta before the end of the hour but I'd rather keep that leverage up my sleeve.
"My dear Cho, listen to your friend who has become so wise. Don't annoy me!" My advice was uttered very quietly and very spitefully. This girl was not held in high esteem as far as I was concerned, so I turned my back to her pointedly and Harry did the same. We walked away in silence. When we were out of sight Harry started:
"You didn't forget?" he was a little surprised.
"I never forget anything, Harry," I stated matter-of-factly.
"I thought it was good that you gave her voice back. Why did you want to send me away?"
"Because I didn't want you to be involved. Unfortunately, you are now. If I'm the bad guy it doesn't matter but I shouldn't drag you into this," I explained to him carefully and once again showed him my concern for him.
"Hermione, when will you learn that you cannot get rid of me? I'm rather proud of you that you had the courage to undo it. Not everyone would have done that... and I think Marietta is aware of that fact! ... That wasn't white magic, was it?" he asked gingerly.
"I don't think this is the right place for such conversations, Harry," I interrupted him worriedly.
"You're right, as always. Come, Ron will be starving!"
We had arrived at our compartment, where our return was longingly awaited. I was astonished that Harry didn't insist on questioning me about Draco but I was also grateful because I would soon face my parents.
Thus, we spent some affable hours until we slowly entered the station. On the crowded way out, I took the opportunity to ask him about his conversation with Daphne and he relayed to me that she had told him everything in an abridged version.
What she told him, Harry didn't like at all. With his new foresight, he questioned the motives for Blaise's selfless action not without reason. That it had been my wish I couldn't reveal to him yet and so Harry tried to make sense of it without success. He said to me that Daphne had meant that he shouldn't be jealous, that there would never be anything going on with Blaise. He didn't look happy and seemed to have doubts, but now we had no more time and had to get out.
The platform was full to bursting like every time. There was a huge crowd and I found it as always inspiring to see so many wizards and witches at once. We were greeted exuberantly by the Weasleys. I saved myself from their overbearing nature by saying goodbye to Neville and Luna first. When I finally turned towards all the red, I spotted HIM in the crowd.
I could literally feel his eyes drilling into me. His beautiful wife stood beside him with her fine nose arrogantly turned up as if the stench of the mob was bothering her.
I knew that I was dressed very casually today and with my hair tied back I looked very youthful and sporty. Nonetheless, it was as if Lucius was undressing me when he gave me a very fiery look from his slate grey eyes.
As always, he looked fantastic with his long, open hair and dark green frock coat. He really stood out from the crowd. When he noticed how I reciprocated his gaze, an eager but also confused expression blazed in his eyes. When Draco joined his family and greeted his mother perfectly with a bow and a kiss on the hand, and then also paid homage and expressed his respect to his father by bowing his head, the eye contact broke off.
A fantastic idea came to me and when Lucius turned his attention back to me after Draco's greeting, I curtseyed slightly and bowed my head as I had at the Ministry Ball. I had to present a terrific picture with my jeans and the crowd all around me. However, when I looked up and noticed how Draco's eyes sparkled with amusement, I showed a tiny smile because Lucius seemed absolutely stunned.
Even through the mask he had built and honed for years, I could see this. Then, Draco grabbed Lucius' arm and indicated they should leave. The platinum blonde family disappeared in their noble fashion. Before they left, I saw Draco rolling his eyes. I believed I could actually drive Lucius mad. It would be fun. This man always excited me immensely.
Since everyone was so busy with their reunion, my little exchange had gone unseen. I joined the big Weasley bunch and saw that Tonks, Remus and Moody were also on the reception committee. What were they doing here?
We all left the barrier to the Muggle part of the station behind us and I could spot my parents on the platform behind, as well as the plague that was Harry's relatives.
There was a far too fat, older man with a moustache whom Harry, after saying goodbye to me with a hug and a kiss, approached as if awaiting his execution. Probably, he would have approached even the Dark Lord himself with more enthusiasm than he did his uncle.
I watched the group around Arthur, Remus, Tonks and Moody talk to Vernon and hoped that they wouldn't make it any worse for Harry than it already was. I quickly hugged Ron, waved to everyone else and ran to Mum and Dad. I greeted them happily and for the last time in my life.