Chapter beta: Dani
Chapter translator: Aivy
Today was the day. It was 8pm; Draco was at a Ministry funeral service Fudge was holding especially for the highly respected Malfoy family and would not return until late.
It would be a celebratory dinner for one of the oldest and most respected families in magical society to commemorate a highly revered mother and wife, and to express the sympathy and condolences of the public for a steadfast man and his son who had lost this much beloved witch and who had only suffered this loss because they were so firmly behind the Ministry, justice, and the law.
When I read this article by Rita, I was on the verge of vomiting. In itself it was what I wanted, but this slimy, pathetic track was just sickening and I shook myself.
It was more likely that Fudge wanted to make the public forget the failure of the Aurors through this gesture. He wanted to cover up how much the Ministry was not in control and he wanted to secure Lucius' benevolence by making sure he didn't start berating the Ministry in the newspaper, so Fudge was really groveling hard.
I could very well imagine the satisfaction Lucius felt right now. He would savour to the very end that Fudge was eating out of his palm. Lucius was in his element, I thought to myself very cynically.
When I thought of Narcissa and the crazy way she had always looked at me, cold horror came over me and I knew I had done the right thing. However, the way she was just now worshipped in the press and praised to the skies by my beetle... It was simply too abstruse!
But all right, that's fine with me. The outcry and the sensation that Narcissa's murder had caused for Lucius was exactly as I had planned.
The public and the Ministry showed themselves utterly baffled and horrified that a member of the Malfoy family had been murdered, especially since it was common knowledge that Bellatrix, the sister of the victim, was a branded and convicted Death Eater.
Yet, this only reinforced the fact that the Malfoy family could not possibly belong to the Death Eaters, which was excellent for Lucius to consolidate his position, as it did daily after the heartwarming reports and moving photos that appeared in the Prophet.
These images of the two of them receiving the condolences of the entire Wizarding World were downright hilarious. Even Dumbledore and McGonagall had been at the Manor to express their sympathy, and Lucius had received these condolences benevolently like a king.
According to Draco, the Dark Lord was very pleased with the developments that were taking place and showed great interest in the one responsible for these deeds and was looking forward to the upcoming celebration in a few weeks and the revelation that would follow.
The Dark Lord had also tried to find out in different ways and considered the secret immensely exciting. Especially since no one else dared not give him information immediately, he found it entertaining. He would probably experience a surprise.
I tried not to think about it too much, because it caused me a stomach ache. It reminded me again and again how I had entered Harry's mind with Legilimency to experience the conversation with the Dark Lord and the way it had played out was not a pleasant memory for me, but well.
I wouldn't escape it. What was that saying? Grit your teeth and get to it! All one needed was a bit of luck and this I had undeniably in abundance.
Not pretty, but nothing I could do about it. That's what happened, when you get involved with family, I pondered slightly bitterly, but I would do it for Lucius, Severus, and Draco. I'd have to do it for them so they could save face, and with my vow, Harry was safe.
Since then, Draco had been trying hard to decide if this was an option for him, too, as he enable him to gallantly get out of the affair, should such an order be given. He was hilarious in this respect, but he knew I would never forgive him for killing Harry, so he seriously considered it and I highly appreciated it.
He speculated that he could pull it off in such a way that Dumbledore forced him to, or something. All very half-baked, but all the funnier, but also very touching that he thought so much about it on my account, because he clearly didn't do it for Harry.
Unfortunately, the other outstanding points lagged behind. The Twins had not met the Lovegoods, as they were away on a trip and would not return until a week before the end of the holidays. Until then, the sign and what it meant remained a mystery and our only hope of getting behind it through them remained unfulfilled.
Also the search for the name Peverell had brought nothing until now. My hope was set on the Black Library and so far we had not even been able to look at the locket, unfortunately!
Only thanks to Harry, who confirmed that my memory of our second year was not troubling me and that the Dark Lord's birth name was Tom Marvolo Riddle, I had been able to find out something here.
Together with Harry's recollection of our fourth year, that his Muggle father was also named Tom, Tom Riddle, and that the family had lived in Little Hangleton in a large manor house, I had some more to go on and that was information I could work with.
With the Black and Malfoy library in my back, it should be possible to uncover the past of the Dark Lord and the information should be spread out before me soon.
Draco had also told us that the Order was looking more and more aggressively and desperately for Harry, which was confirmed by the Twins, and that this... oh-so-inconspicuous search for Harry was now attracting attention from the Death Eaters. They began to wonder what the Order was looking for so frantically, which in turn prompted me into action tonight.
That was just not done! They were simply too stupid. Did Dumbledore want to force the Dark Lord to notice that he had lost Harry, I wondered ironically, sarcastically and cynically at the same time. If he carried on his frenzied, headless search, he might as well place an ad in the newspaper with the headline: "Who has seen Harry Potter?"
So I left the comfort and the idyllic world of the cottage behind me, which had done me indescribably well, to face the rough wind and after three days in the quaint cottage I was looking forward to it. I didn't want to say that I was bored, because the peaceful atmosphere had done me good, but I was looking forward to cross blades again.
Draco had always crawled into my bed late at night, exhausted from the preparations he had to make. Narcissa was to be buried in two days in the family mausoleum with great pomp and ceremony and all the top dogs would attend. It dragged on endlessly, as he found.
As a result, I spent my time with the love birds. Since the Twins were very busy, thanks to their flourishing business and their work with the Order, I was left with only the couples and let's face it, that's not who I was!
Certainly not like Harry and Daphne, who were so gentle and loving, and certainly not like Astoria and Blaise, who were still tiptoeing around, which was amusing to watch, but after a while it led me to want to give Blaise a kick in the butt, as Astoria showed very well that she wanted him.
Instead, he suddenly showed an unprecedented shyness that would have astonished all the girls at Hogwarts. In fact, Astoria should be proud of herself, because it was not normal for him to be so honourable!
One day, he admitted to me while we were sitting in the garden that Astoria had already slept in his bed because she wanted to, but that he had not taken liberties, thanks to his respect and my warning. However, he was now completely confused, because he felt differently with Astoria than with all the witches that had come before her.
He had held her in his arms and kissed her but this alone had made him feel good, as he confessed to me one night later. Although he desired her, he didn't want to rush this time, because he knew that here, within our intimate circle, a failed relationship would be fatal.
Even though Astoria acted tough and much more self-confident than in school, it would still hurt her and certainly hurt him too. And I saw that after our conversation he seriously considered trying to make it work with Astoria.
The looks they gave each other were more than hot when the other wasn't looking. It was very amusing to watch this, as the two were certainly not such patient, tender lovers á la Harry and Daphne, but rather the passionate version. I was already curious about the bang.
Blaise had also assured me in the garden that he did not make the decision easy for himself and had taken my warning to heart. Because of his new priorities, his loyalty and faithfulness were ours anyway, as belonging to our group meant a lot to him. So, incredible as it sounded, nothing stood in the way of a relationship between Blaise and Astoria but the two of them.
Shaking my head in amusement, I stepped out of the alley well concealed in my black cloak and climbed the steps to the door of the Black House. I suppressed the brief, yearning pull in the region of my heart as I thought of Sirius as I placed my hand on the snake that represented the handle and opened the door quietly but firmly.
I saw the dark and dreary hallway with the whispering paintings, which had not changed at all, and went inside, closing the door quietly and breathing in deeply the musty air of the house.
Befitting my status as the Lady of House Malfoy, wore a tight, simple, short black dress. I no longer dared to even look at trousers, I thought sarcastically, but resigned to my fate. How quickly I got used to changing circumstances.
Over this I wore my long cloak, the hood pulled far into my face. Since the Dark Lord had returned, few people still showed their faces openly, which was understandable. One scurried from shadow to shadow, trying to avoid attention and what did I love more than the darkness of the shadows?
My hair was set into soft, gently falling curls. I wanted to appear controlled and thoughtful and not like a crazed fury. Therefore, I had put a lot of attention on my appearance and put on attractive yet discreet make-up. Additionally, I was armed from top to bottom as usual.
If one wanted to say so, this was the baptism of fire!
The trial run before my meeting with the Dark Lord. If I managed to stand my ground here, I could do the same in front of the Dark Lord. Silently I scurried down the hall towards the kitchen door. I wasn't underestimating Dumbledore; facing him and his abilities was a test.
Since Fred and George had received a surprising call that another extraordinary meeting would take place today, I knew that the Order would convene today.
Hoping for my luck to hold, I opened the door behind which I could hear angry voices and looked into the crowded kitchen. Unfortunately, as was so often the case, Lady Luck was not on my side, for at his regular place in the dark, back corner sat Severus, who had apparently also answered the call, as could hardly be expected otherwise.
I had got the slightest hope that he might not always attend every stupid meeting. It would have made it easier for me to manoeuvre, but well, luck or no luck, I would know how to deal with that too.
Becoming aware of the silence that my appearance in the open door had triggered, I looked into Severus' gleaming, inexpressive black eyes for a moment, then turned my hooded face away from him and let my gaze wander over the large, seemingly restless crowd.
I spotted Dung, Shacklebolt, McGonagall and all the adult Weasleys currently in the Order. Molly, Arthur, and Bill sat up front with Moody, while the Twins had made themselves comfortable next to Severus, thus taking refuge at the opposite end of the table, which clearly showed the divisions within the Weasley family. Both the Twins and Severus seemed to be happy with this arrangement.
Remus and Tonks, Vance, Mrs. Figg and many, many more sat in between. Had the room not been magically enlarged, not all the members would have found room at all, and all looked to me, the black-robed person. The suspicious, distrustful looks seemed to want to undress me.
"Who are they?" Dumbledore now asked with great authority. His voice sounded unusually deep and commanding. As I looked at him, I could see the mischievous twinkle had faded from his expressive blue eyes.
That would prove to be fun, was the last thought I allowed myself before I imagined nothing but a strong, massive wall that stood impenetrable. Then I wiped the hood off my head and revealed my face.
"Ahh," came some relieved cries and an especially loud "Dear," from Molly. Even the Twins had a hard time not showing their astonishment. I hadn't told them about my planned appearance today and so they were really surprised to see me here.
"Thank Merlin! Miss Granger, we were desperately looking for you," McGonagall now said loudly, drowning everyone else out. I ventured a glance into the dark corner where my family member was sitting. He had leaned far back in his chair so that his face lay in the dark, his arms crossed deliberately in front of his chest. As it seemed to me, his brightly shimmering eyes were watching me from the darkness, waiting.
It made me swallow heavily for a moment. That meant that he would let me proceed freely until he would intervene. Good, that was good. Thus, I turned my attention back to the excited round and saw Dumbledore measuring me carefully. I met the emotional crowd with composure.
"You were looking for me?" I enquired without emotion when the door was ripped open noisily and two red-heads were rushing towards me.
It was Ginny and Ron. Each of them grabbed one of my hands. I looked slightly surprised and, very much influenced by my new family, raised my eyebrow indignantly and was aware of the knowing looks of the Twins and Severus.
"Hermione, good to see you!"
"Yes, we were really worried," it bubbled out of them quickly.
"Even... if I am still not happy about Sirius... it's good that you are here," Ron put it in a nutshell. If I was honest, I was pleased with his words, as they showed that we definitely had a basis for the friendship we had had for years, even though we had developed differently.
I looked into his honest face, which had changed in the short time that had passed. It seemed to have become a little more angular.
"Hermione, I want to know all about Sirius! I still can't believe it... you mystery-monger," it came excitedly from Ginny and she gave me a suggestive wink.
I didn't get a chance to say anything, just managed a grateful smile to Ron before McGonagall started talking.
"Children, we have questions! Miss Granger, we heard about your parents' death and we've been trying to find you. Your home has disappeared and so the Order has gone in search of you," she continued and I saw Molly nodding her approval with an emotional expression. Even if she did not approve of what I had had with Sirius, she had been worried about me. These people were too good for me, was my insight, for I would disappoint them again today, which pained me, but could not be changed.
"Thank you for your concern for me, although it was probably unnecessary," I replied coldly. I detached myself definitely, but apologetically from Ron and Ginny, went to the corner where I would feel most comfortable and now sank down on a chair opposite Severus, as Sirius's seat remained vacant. Next to me sat an unknown, male, elderly Order member who eyed me curiously.
"What are you trying to say, Miss Granger?" came the, I thought, painstakingly polite voice of Dumbledore, who had tried hard without eye contact to penetrate my thoughts, which he had not succeeded in doing so far. With effort, I suppressed a smile and, hidden under his full, white beard, he angrily pressed his lips together.
"What I said! My house has not disappeared for no reason and neither have I, so it rather shows me that I did it right when you can't find me despite great efforts," I remarked very calmly and thoughtfully. My statement immediately led to a small commotion.
With big eyes and quite speechless, Ron and Ginny let themselves plop down on their places next to their parents and looked slightly dumbstruck at me. I laid my hands, as if in prayer, on the bare, old wooden table and waited until peace was restored. I myself was calmness personified.
"Or do YOU think I disappeared for no reason?" I asked indignantly. Damn it, Draco and Lucius definitely rubbed off on me! I sounded both cold and quite arrogant. Meanwhile, I let my gaze roam.
"Miss Granger, you can't just say that! You are a minor; you need the protection and supervision of adults, especially at this dangerous time. You should leave all that to us," McGonagall lectured to me with her lips pinched to a thin line of disapproval.
I felt sorry for the poor woman. She really always cared about us children. Even though everyone thought I was this woman's favourite - which I guess I was in her eyes - those who knew me were aware that if she saw my true self, she would demonise me.
Now, for the first time, I would also take a stand in front of her; would also have to lift the mask I had been wearing a little bit, to my dismay, but I recognized the absolute necessity of this.
Hence, I rolled my eyes dismissively at her statement. At that moment, the headmaster also raised his voice and I saw how many members of the Order looked at me sceptically.
"Miss Granger, even though you always surprise me, and lately more and more often, I must say that I am very puzzled! Your parents have died. How are you coping with that? You are not alone; we are here for you," Dumbledore's concerned, urgent voice now resounded through the old kitchen and silenced every last sound when he addressed the death of my parents. The theatrical intensity made me roll my metaphorical eyeballs like crazy. Gee, what or how would he react if he knew that this was all planned by me?
I would not make the mistake of underestimating this seemingly gentle grandfather. No, that would be fatal. It was not for nothing that the Dark Lord and Gellert Grindelwald considered him an equal opponent. Everything Dumbledore performed for us here was a facade, an illusion, I was sure of that after learning his history.
Even if I knew and could do more than anyone thought, I would have to be very careful when I opened up this playing field and snubbed Dumbledore in front of his Order.
I dared a quick glance at Severus and saw how, at Dumbledore's words, the corners of his mouth had lifted minimally, since he knew that I was in good hands, despite the danger circling over my head in the form of the Dark Lord as my three snakes would never, ever allow anything to happen to me. They really and truly had the power, thank the Goddess, to make sure that this was so, without any ifs and buts.
But I knew that my next words would also wipe the emerging smile off Severus' face, because he, like all of them, didn't know everything about me.
"Thank you, Professor Dumbledore, for your concern, but as I said, it is unnecessary. Of course, I am saddened by the loss of my parents, but it cannot be helped! However, you need not worry about me or think you need to supervise me," I said determinedly, sweeping across the table top with a dismissive gesture, which earned me many angry looks and made the Weasleys react with excited whispers, over my unkind, cold refusal.
"Miss Granger, what are you talking about? You are alone; you are a CHILD!" it came from McGonagall, and, in reaction, I uttered a deeply cynical laugh that silenced everyone. Honestly, if there's one thing I haven't been in a long time, it's a CHILD!
When did I stop being a child? When I had committed the first burglary? When I had dived deep into black magic for the first time? When I had had sex for the first time or when I let Severus buy me for the first time? The first time I murdered? Or when I had been hurt so badly that I almost died? Or when Severus had... Well, I guess by then, I hadn't been a child for a long time. So I shook my head at that naive statement.
"Professor McGonagall, everything is perfectly all right! I have protection, better than you could give me. Nor do I need a guardian, I have one already," I announced pompously and proudly saw Severus raising an eyebrow in disbelief.
"Who?" cried Ron his question and I really couldn't help a small smile when he looked at me with his big, curious, blue eyes.
"Gringotts," I replied, knowing that Severus had not counted on that answer.
He sat there like an immovable marble statue, but his piercing eyes told me that he might even have thought that I would bring the Malfoys into the conversation, but he never, ever assumed that I still had a back door to hide behind. That again was something he would not have expected; I took a mischievous pleasure in it.
The incredulous cries came now from more than one person in the room and I saw and felt Dumbledore’s suddenly very cold and penetrating gaze on me. The old man seemed worried about the turns, clearly showing this by now bending forward.
"Gringotts doesn't do that," Bill protested loudly. The bold looking young man with his long, red hair, which he wore tied together in a ponytail and with a dragon tooth as an earring - which I suspected he had gotten from his brother Charlie who was sitting at the source after all - proclaimed his knowledge about the goblins very convincingly and reaped approving nods from the audience.
I shook my head at their limitedness. The goblins liked me even before I became a Malfoy. All you had to do was understand how they tick and take the trouble to play by their rules and you could get anything from them for the right price.
"On the contrary, Bill, Gringotts does do that, you just have to understand how to negotiate with the goblins. You can do a lot with money, but also by showing them respect. The necessary documents are all signed and officially approved by the Ministry. Ask Rangok if you don't believe me, he's my advisor," I said smugly. Then I brought my hand to my chest, bowed my head and uttered the Gobbledegook sounds that I had learned with difficulty and saw how he looked at me more than astonished.
"That's the unofficial greeting," he gasped, shaken, and I looked at his shocked face, laughing scornfully and not at all kindly. Everyone else wore an uncomprehending face.
"I told you Rangok likes me. Grophock is also a very nice guy. Believe me, Gringotts has done me the favour I respectfully asked of them," it came coldly from me and I saw and felt the unbelieving eyes of everyone on me and heard the horrified whispers.
"That was not cheap then," Bill told me and looked at me disapprovingly.
"Please, I was not poor even before Sirius' inheritance, and even without his bequest I would not have been left impoverished. My family provided well for me. And I paid a good price," I ended the discussion from my point of view.
"Amazing, truly amazing," Dumbledore now let himself be heard quietly, thoughtfully stroking his long white beard and studying me while I thought intensely of a grey very, very thick wall. "You planned this, Miss Granger?" he now asked, demanding an answer with a gesture. The most exciting thing was that when he spoke, everyone fell silent. I took my time before answering his question, carefully weighing my options while I tilted my head from side to side.
"Yes and no, sir! The death of my parents... No... How could I?" I lied right, left and centre, but, I would like to add, very convincingly. With a deep, sad sigh, I closed my eyes as if resigned to the loss. "I had been worried for some time that this might happen, but I had not expected an accident! And let's face it, sir, I stood very much alone, fending for myself-" I was rudely interrupted, by Remus as well as the Weasleys.
"You are not alone, you have us," they shouted in chorus and I fixed my sights firmly on Professor Dumbledore, silencing them with a harsh gesture.
"Oh, yes, I was and I am... because Professor Dumbledore never once wasted a single thought on the safety of such unimportant pawns as my Muggle parents had been. Don't deny it, Professor Dumbledore, and you all better not say a word either. It's the truth, none of you ever spared a thought about them, and... well, it doesn't matter any longer...
"And the idea with Gringotts, should such a thing happen, yes, I've had it for some time. But this has only to do with me and that I like to plan everything and also try to be prepared for all eventualities," I defended myself and my actions. In doing so, I must have exposed one or two of them, the way they all looked caught and turned away in shame. Even Dumbledore cleared his throat guiltily when he recovered.
"Very farsighted," he said. His praise sounded more like an accusation but, nonetheless, I bowed my head gracefully. Yet, he skipped my criticism skilfully: "You will understand that we have to check this? Bill, surely you can arrange that," he wrapped his order in a request and did not respond to my hidden accusation and I saw Bill nodding eagerly.
"Of course, Professor," I replied, adding decidedly: "But please understand that I will not be able to wait for this verification here. More on that later." It didn't bother me that he had not cared for me and my family; I could do that very well on my own, as I had proven many times, but others would be lost and abandoned if they put their lives in his hands. He was quite indifferent towards less important actors.
Not only did Dumbledore get angry looks after I exposed him and held the truth so relentlessly in front of the others, but also some growls and some more than astonished looks from the two professors and the Weasleys. The only one who had been sitting there frozen and without a visible reaction... No, this was not Severus, but Remus, who just stared at me.
"You won't?" Dumbledore enquired indignantly, ignoring everyone else in the room. I stood up, walked firmly towards the door while I answered, my cloak billowing widely.
"Exactly. I'm just here to tell you: stop the search for Harry! As incompetent as you are doing this, you'll get the Dark Lord to notice that you've lost Harry! Or has S...Professor Snape not yet informed you that your search is attracting more and more attention?" I now asked coldly.
"Miss Granger, what are you trying to say?" McGonagall yelled at me. The gaunt woman almost jumped out of her seat in consternation, while Dumbledore measured me in a pensive way and I returned his ice-blue stare. It was as if all the sounds faded into the background.
"Hermione, do you want to leave Harry to the monster? Are you nuts?!" Ron shouted furiously and slapped a hand on the table. The surging commotion in the kitchen increased from minute to minute.
"The poor boy! We have to find him. Why did he run away?" Mrs. Weasley wailed.
"Ask our all-important and all-knowing Professor Dumbledore," I exclaimed in anger, as I still found it horrible that he had sent Harry back to the Dursleys time and time again. That was not caring for me, that was torment.
However, I would keep Harry's privacy and tell nothing about his humiliating childhood or his terrible holidays in this very large circle.
After many agitated and loud interjections from the angry crowd, Dumbledore lifted his arms like a preacher and the silence he had requested descended upon the room.
"You have him? Harry is with you?" he now asked very calmly and again ignored my reproach, which did not surprise me. The astonished and surprised gasps from the others present could be heard very loudly as I returned his gaze unmoved and now bared my teeth at him in scorn.
"Good, sir, you're good, though I thought you'd find out sooner! He there," I now pointed accusingly with my finger at Severus, who tolerated this without any emotion, "HE suspected it from the first second," I laughed, knowing that Severus liked the show. Dumbledore turned his piercing gaze on Severus.
"Is this so?" he asked sternly. Severus nodded firmly but curtly in the headmaster's direction and everyone was following our interactions with their glances like in a tennis match. "Is he safe?" Dumbledore asked imploringly. The old man must want to know what the Death Eaters knew and I saw and heard Severus' pitiful moans. So I was right.
"If you mean Albus, if he is safe from the Dark Lord, then YES! If you mean his general safety, then YES. The Death Eaters have no idea Potter got away from you! But if you talk about him being safe from her, then NO," he said sneeringly and probably spoke in riddles for many.
I, on the other hand, burst into a cold but truly exhilarated laugh. Severus was too funny! His serious look on top of that, yes, very amusing. Many looked at me now as if I were insane.
"And I agree with her, the Dark Lord and Lucius are slowly but surely becoming aware of the increased activity of the Order," his spiteful voice announced. That was the last thing he said before he leaned back, disappearing even further into the shadows.
Severus' mood seemed to be foul. What Draco had told me also sounded as if he hadn't liked the development and what I was now facing and what would await me. It warmed my heart. Really, that he could get so upset about the situation that his already bad mood got even worse was really nice. It touched me and meant a lot to me.
I had said everything I wanted to say, so I turned away and started to leave, when I heard a chair creaking loudly as it was pushed across the floor.
"Hermione, I don't recognize you," sounded the empathetic but horrified voice of Remus, who had risen and was now leaning heavily on the kitchen table with both arms, intensely mustering me. I slowly turned to him again and looked at him in astonishment, gazing at his face, marked with worry and looking emaciated.
"Did we ever know each other, Remus?" I asked. In that sense, almost no-one knew me. I gave him a cynical look and I was only too aware of the immediate silence that fell.
"Hermione, you were - as hard as it is for me to accept - the last girlfriend of my best friend! And you achieved something that no woman ever, truly never, accomplished: he confessed that he loved you," it came from a visibly moved Remus. I closed my eyes, anguished, and was already afraid of falling into Severus' clutches next time. He would not appreciate this in front of all the people here, he who had hated Sirius so much, even though I still did not know why.
Remus was unconsciously about to cause me hell on earth, for Severus had freaked out every time Sirius came up. But here sat Dumbledore and he had to be fooled.
He was not allowed to know any weakness of mine, so I would once again accept my fate devotedly, face my destiny and thank my luck on my knees that Remus wanted to talk right now!
"Remus, Remus... What do you want me to say? He was a good fuck," I despised myself for my hard, so harshly spoken words and saw the horror on their faces when I became so crude and vulgar. Even Professor Dumbledore's already very frosty expression slipped when he was startled by the callous coldness in my words.
But how else could I make my position clear? I had put my hand on my hip and looked at him unmoved. There was no other way and I would certainly not get involved in a long discussion or a rambling explanation of why and what had happened between me and Sirius. I would not explain that to anyone here.
The ladies at the table like Molly, McGonagall, Tonks and two or three other women whom I didn't know by name, the men, including Dung and Moody, drew in indignant gasps or hisses. I saw Ron and Ginny turn white.
Severus did not even twitch a muscle, which was as expected. I casually brushed a cheeky curl out of my face as I was being examined.
"Hermione, don't pretend to me... to us! You're not as tough as you act! Sirius would never have felt this way about you otherwise, I know that. And another thing: he would never have hit a woman he loved. There must have been more, Hermione!" he insisted vehemently and I gritted my teeth tightly with rage. Who did he think he was, playing the psychologist?
"Remus, I'll tell you once! Just once! That was Sirius' mistake. I always told him from my side there would never be more and I would never be able to give him more than a few pleasant hours! And the other is private. It was no big deal; did I ever say anything? He was upset, rightly so, I would like to emphasise," I defended Sirius as always, as I had defended him to Harry, as I really felt that I had irritated Sirius a lot and was sorry that he had fallen in love with me. "Remember him well, Remus. Don't condemn him just because we had a fight-" There I was brusquely interrupted.
"Hermione, what is this? You defend my cousin even though he beat you? You don't hit a woman," Tonks hissed angrily and changed her hair colour at a sensational speed.
"Oh, Tonks, please. He's dead, and even if he wasn't, it was settled between us and it doesn't matter here! I could and did fight back," I protested with a tone of finality. Then I looked at a pale Remus who stared at me in dismay and mumbled to himself:
"No, he wasn't like that, he wouldn't have done that," and there I felt sorry for him, the last of the great Marauders who was still alive - apart from the traitor - and I became soft, dropped my sculpted, emotionless mask a bit and looked pityingly at Remus.
"Remus, Sirius was a sweet, kind man-" I was interrupted by an angry growl and didn't have to look away to know who was providing this sugar-sweet remark. I suppressed the goose bumps that were about to cover me as I thought about what consequences my words might have and instead answered firmly and forcefully: "... He was! And I will say this only once: I was not innocent in regard to the escalation, absolutely not! And rest assured, we made up. Sirius died knowing that I had forgiven him. I never held a grudge against him, never, and so neither should you. Nor was it him who started the... affair, but me," I gave him an honest look and now wanted to turn away.
"Miss Granger, I can't let you go like this," my raised hand was already close to the door when I was addressed.
"Don't threaten me, sir," it now came softly threatening from me, too angry was I about the self-righteous voice that had just spoken. It was so quiet in the room that you could hear the slightest noise.
"'Miss Granger," he repeated in a tone as if I were intellectually challenged and so I whirled around on my heel.
"No 'Miss Granger'! I will march through that door and you will think twice before trying to stop me, SIR. Do you really want to continue the discussion that started weeks ago in your destroyed office and hasn't been finished yet in front of all these people, sir? Really?!" I hissed softly, knowing that one could accomplish a lot with the pitch of their voice and so mine was much more intense and threatening than it would be if I were yelling. "I always give the opportunity to choose, because I never and I emphasize, NEVER, have nothing up my sleeve. Always remember that, Professor Dumbledore, sir! Would I be here otherwise? Without knowing you'd give a lot to see me walk out of here without talking? And I think you'll be grateful if I leave without saying a word! Believe me, Professor Dumbledore, I make threats for a reason. Will you take the chance...?"
There are so many things I could have said that Dumbledore certainly didn't want anyone to know, but I tried my blackmail with the least important thing. I would need my other knowledge later, so I didn't want to play my trump cards prematurely. I wanted to see how easy or hard I had to play Dumbledore to get what I wanted. That would be exciting.
Even Severus had bent over and the Twins, too, looked at me questioningly, for no one but Harry and I knew about the conversation and the shocking revelations in Dumbledore's office when he, Harry, had reduced it to rubble in his anger and despair. And I saw how many questioning, absolutely horrified and shocked people were frowning and waiting, their gaze wandering to a stunned Dumbledore.
Everything waited with anticipation to see how he would react. I hoped Dumbledore understood my allusions in more ways than one. Harry had left without a word, and there had been no conversation between them since.
There were still many unresolved questions and missing answers, including why he had left Harry with the Dursleys without ever checking or monitoring them. Oh, I hoped for his sake that he would admit defeat, otherwise I would have to reveal secrets of Harry's that he never wanted to be made public. After a deep, heavy sigh, the headmaster regained his composure and answered.
"Swear to me that you will bring him safely to the Hogwarts Express on the first of September," he demanded coldly. I just nodded, but inwardly I cheered for my victory. It had been almost too easy, I thought.
"Shall I swear it magically or is my word enough?" I raised my right hand and Dumbledore seemed to ponder it seriously.
"Your word is enough for me, Miss Granger," he offered slowly, generously.
Thinking, Such an idiot, I scoffed. Severus did the same thing at the same moment, which was too funny. I wanted to turn away again, when the first Order members regained their senses and protested loudly. In the midst of it, I heard a loud scream and the banging of a chair hitting the floor, which made me stop.
"I'm coming with you," I heard in disbelief and twisted around in shock. Ron had jumped up and I was speechless.