Chapter beta: Dani
Chapter translator: Aivy
The Twins had seen us off with great fanfare. It would be lonely for them until Christmas, although I was sure they would find ways to enjoy the alone time! The corners of my mouth curled into a dirty grin as I vividly imagined what they would be up to.
We already knew how we wanted to arrive at the platform: we Gryffindors would go together, as would the Slytherins. A delegation from the Order would greet us to see if Harry came back safe and sound and master of his senses, we were certain of that, and to make sure I kept my promise to bring him back in one piece. It was too funny that they had never stopped pestering us with their mail, so much so that even Ron had refrained from writing home anymore, feeling harassed and annoyed when they kept on sending us jinxed letters even after his petitions to stop. The disconnection from all of us, even from Ron, was total and very final, I had found. It was good, very good. We were a team and saw ourselves as such and I was so glad and grateful that they acknowledged everyone, including Draco, as belonging in our midst!
The lessons Draco had given Ron and Harry had been too delightful. They had accepted it with minimal grumbling when he had taught them to behave according to the rules. Of course, far-sighted as he was, he had adapted it to them. They were not to be smug, snobbish and arrogant like a Malfoy, no, not that, but confident and commanding, presenting themselves casually but also proudly. One of his favourite mantras:
"Keep your composure, act appropriately, You are the Chosen One, Potter, and you are a pureblood, Weasel. Oh, before I forget, the Potters were once pure too, before your mother, so be proud of your ancestors!"
You could really feel sorry for Ron and Harry, the way he tormented them. For Ron in particular, he put the knife to his chest when it came to table manners. Draco was worse than Molly and I put together; that Ron cracked under the pressure of those steel-grey eyes should come as no surprise to anyone, especially since Astoria and Daphne continued to harangue him about it when Draco disappeared with me, and he was getting really fed up with embarrassing himself over something like that. When he saw that Harry submitted to this doctrine without question, because he wanted to please his beloved Daphne and she was a well-bred pureblood... Well, let's put it this way, the two of them were no longer recognisable. Not only were their clothes better, but their behaviour and appearance were now impeccable. Added to this was their changed physique due to the long hours of training, as a result of which they were now young, strong, mature men. They looked good, very good; I would say they looked good enough to fall in love with, if I weren't very much taken... I hoped there wouldn't be too much trouble for Harry with other women who thought they were now discovering him for themselves. I would keep my eyes peeled.
I was wearing my brown dress from breakfast, which I would hide under my cloak for the feast tonight, and Draco was dressed in a white silk shirt like every year and over it he wore a fine black suit.
Yes, I know and here comes the shock: Ron and Harry were wearing trousers, but linen trousers. Dark grey linen trousers that looked fantastic on them and over them smart polo shirts. Harry's shirt reflected his eye colour and Ron's was a shade of grey to match the grey trousers. They looked smart but not too much, they held themselves straight and radiated an inner calm and equanimity that had probably been foreign to them until recently.
We attracted attention with our looks alone, but not only because of that.
As we walked through the wall of 9 ¾ and left the Muggles who had already been staring at us strangely behind us, Ron with Pig, Harry with his flashy white Hedwig and me with my sweet Orange, with the big wardrobe trunks on our carts, we didn't stand out at all, of course. But we couldn't use our wands without drawing attention to ourselves, so we were an attraction until we crossed the magical barrier, and then we were even more the focus of attention as the glorious Golden Trio.
There was already a bustle of activity in front of the steaming red and black locomotive, on such a beautiful, balmy summer day. The hustle and bustle of farewells washed over us, loud shouts rang out and everyone seemed quite excited to be giving away their children at such a troubled time, who would be safe at Hogwarts but still far away from their families. Some of the goodbye scenes were heartbreaking. How good it was that I no longer had such a burden, because let's face it, looking after the Malfoys and Snape, or even worrying, was not something I needed to do!
By that time we were seeing red too, and in more ways than one! Molly Weasley rushed towards us, her husband in tow, Bill, and to my surprise, the beautiful blonde Fleur, and Ginny! Accompanying them were Remus, Tonks, Moody, and Dedalus Diggel, whose purple top hat sat frighteningly askew on his head, wobbling back and forth at the pace they all rushed towards us. Before he could blink, Harry was yanked around by the shoulder by Remus and shaken effervescently, while Molly did almost the same to Ron, who would've been in danger of suffocating from her large bosom if he hadn't been much bigger than her by now.
I, on the other hand, stood relatively relaxed, leaning against my cart, watching the spectacle, only too aware of the eyes of the Order and our fellow students, plus their siblings, as the welcoming spectacle was rather conspicuous.
"RON, my dear boy," Molly's voice rang out loudly, "you are healthy! How do you look, anyway? Bill at least got his hair cut and now look at you, like you're from the jungle! And do you know that the clock indicates that all of us are now in mortal danger at all times?" Her shrieks could be heard at a deafening volume across the platform.
Many stopped to watch the show with curiosity and interest. Already Lav, Pav, and Padma had stopped, as well as Dean and Seamus, but I also saw some Hufflepuffs and even some Ravenclaws, who were probably a little too curious.
"And do you know that your father is now working in the newly established Ministry office with ten colleagues, searching for many dangerous magical objects sold as protection against black magic attacks," she chattered without taking a breath. "Oh Merlin, the times are so uncertain. Are you also performing the ministerially mandated identification rituals introduced by the new minister?" She didn't even take a breath as Ron resolutely broke away from her and shook his father's hand, giving Bill a friendly pat on the back.
"Is... this, little Ron...?" asked Fleur and he no longer blushed from the top of his head to his toes. What killing a spider could do for one's self-esteem, I mused to myself, while he gave her a look with a raised eyebrow, and I had to say, the snakes were so rubbing off.
"You look so different, so classy," Ginny's incredulous voice now rang out, alluding to the new, perfectly fitting, well-tailored clothes and she rubbed the fabric of Ron's shirt through her fingers. Bill was also eyeing Ron critically, but I was sure he was more taking in Ron and Harry's physical change. "Where did you get the money, Ron?" Ginny inquired curiously, at which point all the members of the Order raised their eyes and watched the boys closely.
"Yes, that's right, where did you get those clothes?" Molly started as she looked at her son, who rolled his eyes until you could see the white.
"Well, if that isn't a meeting of the losers?" a cold voice buzzed at my back. Everyone turned to look at the group of Slytherins that had by now been joined by Crabbe, Goyle, Nott, and Pansy who stood there, dressed in their usual elegant attire, and Draco, as their leader, grinned at us cynically and measured us contemptuously. Did I ever mention how incredibly talented actors we were? Because Blaise also glared disdainfully at the adults, Astoria, who was hanging on Blaise's arm, wore a snobbish sneer on her face and even Daphne managed expertly to give everyone an imperious look.
Yet Harry and Ron's reaction was different from what everyone had expected. Where they would have gone ballistic earlier in the year, they could now only smile mildly at Draco's well-meaning, or maybe even ill-meaning, provocation, knowing that he was thinking quite differently, while the adults froze.
"Well, so be it... But make sure your mummy doesn't crush you, Weasel... or you, Potter, the wolf," he suggested snobbishly as he strutted off like a proud peacock with its tail spread wide, with his chin up, dragging an obedient gaggle of Slytherins behind him as they measured us with scornful glances. I hoped it hadn't been noticeable that he had left me out. Surely he wanted to avoid actually discrediting me as a member of his family.
In fact, his words were meant kindly, even Ron seemed to see it that way. First of all, Ron knew how Draco felt about mothers in general, and Harry knew that Draco had developed a strong aversion to werewolves ever since he had had the honour of leaving the Greyback camp alive. He harboured it, no matter who the wolf was, because he thought they gave in to their instincts far too much and the camp had been disgusting, nauseating, filthy and repulsive and so his warning to Harry had probably been quite serious on his part. Therefore, Harry now rolled his eyes because he had understood Draco's insinuation. I suppressed a smirk. How much of a sworn community we were, that an exchange of blows, which to any outsider seemed like an insult, actually contained a warning and an expression of understanding.
"Harry, boy! How are you? Hermione's got you... well, she..." stuttered Remus, worry lines even deeper in his features than before. At least, it seemed, he had invested some of Sirius' inheritance in new clothes as well, as he stood before us in decent, non-patched trousers and wizard's robes. He had silenced Molly with that. The mention of my name had earned me a few looks again.
"Thanks, Remus, I'm fine and it's good to see you again. How are you? You look well." There was a real look of shock in most of their eyes after Harry's perfectly polite brush-off.
"But, Harry, you know, I hope, that that wasn't right, that you... Well, that-" Remus was trying, it seemed, to make Harry see the wrongness of his leaving.
"What? Are you saying, Remus, that it wasn't right to leave? Since you and the rest don't know everything about me, I can't agree with you on that point. I am deeply grateful to have such a formidable partner as Hermione by my side," Harry said, now stepping back, ending the physical contact. "And anyone who denigrates or attacks her is doing the same to me," he stood behind me unreservedly, earning me all the looks, most of which were rather less kind, since it seemed to confirm the assumptions that we were a couple. We had agreed, we would continue to promote and uphold this assumption, then at least no one would get the idea to speculate about who was actually together with whom.
"Why haven't you answered our letters?" Moody demanded to know aggressively.
"Do you think I'm stupid enough to allow them to open the jinxed letters you wrote to us?" I now interjected coldly, well aware that our classmates surrounded us, but not wanting Harry or Ron to receive the displeasure of the Order members. It didn't matter with me anyway. The way Tonks and Molly gasped in open-mouthed horror and indignation only confirmed that for me.
Ginny, of all people, let air out of the pent up situation by saying:
"Ron, Ron, do you know the news yet? Bill wants to marry her there, he's engaged," she pointed disdainfully at the beautiful Fleur with a pained expression.
"Bill, brother, well done! Congratulations," Ron was all gentlemanly and I got to see Arthur frown in amazement and then quickly shift his gaze to me. I didn't know what was going on in his head, but he seemed very taken with Ron's change. Remus, too, kept looking at the three of us, pondering, while Bill smiled goofily at being congratulated so much, because Harry was now politely congratulating him, too, and so was I.
"I too wish you luck, Bill, Fleur! When are you getting married?" I asked, openly curious.
"Thank you, Harry," said Bill, now looking at me seriously, "Next summer... And, Hermione, I am to give you the most exquisitely courteous and friendly greetings from Rangok. I am also to greet you reverently from Mr Rundok, the Director of Gringotts," he replied distinctly sceptically, saying the end of the sentence more than incredulously and with great disbelief in his voice, for it was extraordinary enough that Rangok would have me greeted so kindly, but by his boss that was also Bill's boss? That was truly unusual to the point of impossibility, certainly in Bill's eyes.
I had already earned the respect of the goblins. However, as a Malfoy, that was heightened exponentially. I was lucky to be allowed to keep Rangok and not be passed on to the boss-in-chief. I knew Rangok was delighted that I favoured him. I just nodded kindly in response to Bill's words and didn't let on what they meant to me.
Remus and also Tonks, who didn't look well - she had her real, light brown hair colouring and looked slightly hollow-cheeked - eyed us carefully. Their gazes kept going back and forth between all of us, though I noticed that Remus' lingered longer and more deliberately on Harry in the interim, who was standing very straight, confident and with his head held high next to me, also soaking it all in, but still looking very unconcerned. Harry was no longer acting like a little boy, but like a confident young man.
Remus now spoke up again:
"But Harry, you can't just turn your back on us all like that! Dumbledore, he has always protected you, we have all protected you," he wrung his hands pleadingly. The grumbling from us as he uttered such an implication spread like wildfire across the platform. I groaned inwardly, they were all nitwits after all.
I saw the very brief, angry glint in Harry's eyes when Remus said Dumbledore had protected him. I noticed him clench his hands into fists, but he caught himself in seconds and replied calmly and level-headedly.
"How much protection did you have that even SHE could single-handedly get me out of the house without you noticing?!" He eyed not only Remus as he said this, but Tonks as well, knowing that she had been one of those who had been supposed to be looking out for him at the time. She seemed to understand his reproach, as she was pinching her heart-shaped face a little guiltily at that moment. Remus seemed to think about Harry's words, but did not respond to his rebuke and only replied matter-of-factly and very quietly:
"Harry, it's dangerous out there, you're only safe with us. You can't just put yourself in Hermione's hands, you don't even know how she behaved at the Order meeting! Do you think you're safer with her than with us, with Dumbledore? You don't know how dangerous it is at the moment, you're not in the Order," he whispered now and I understood Remus what he was trying to say on one hand, but on the other hand I couldn't understand him. Didn't he see that this was only driving Harry further away from him, worry or not? But he was right, I was a Death Eater after all. What an outcry it would be if they found out what I was!
I felt Harry take another small step closer to me and loosely put his arm around my waist as he looked calmly at Remus and then replied in a controlled manner:
"I trust Hermione completely, and believe me, I am nowhere safer than with her! The Order can't protect me and I won't let Dumbledore protect me any longer!" I snuggled into his side, it was too good to watch the faces of the Order members fall. "Besides, I don't need anyone to protect me! I'm not a child anymore, truly I'm not, the question should be whether I ever was," those words stabbed me in the heart as I kept seeing that cupboard flash before my inner eyes from Harry's description, the one I had sneaked past that day. Then I put my hand to Harry's cheek in a comforting and very tender way, stroking it reassuringly, which Ginny commented on with a snort, as she was still upset that I had had something with Sirius and now, allegedly, with Harry.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that our Slytherins had gathered a little further down the platform and kept glancing over at us. Draco was also watching us intently, but showed no reaction whatsoever. When our eyes met, he only very slightly, almost imperceptibly, raised one of his beautifully curved, pale brows. I answered him by looking briefly and demonstratively at Remus. When I looked back at Draco, he had turned away, probably understanding that everything was okay, but Remus was annoying.
Molly had watched the conversation between Harry and Remus with a snort of disbelief, while a pinched expression had appeared on Tonks' features, clearly showing how she disliked it all. Reproachfully, the Weasley matriarch now interjected:
"Hermione, what has become of you? You're so different!"
"I'm the same as I've always been. We live in difficult times! What's the matter with you? What's bothering you that you're so drab?" I countered right away, and seeing her and Remus visibly stiffen, the three of us immediately raised our eyebrows in interest. This was exciting. What had we missed? I was probably not the only one wondering.
I wasn't going to say anything else that would have been important, but I hadn't finished when Molly interrupted me and came up to me with a threatening index finger:
"How dare you, young lady? You behaved so badly last time, you've become so vulgar and now you're being stroppy and cheeky again!"
I just looked at her unimpressed, I was not at all frightened by Molly's fits of forceful lecturing. Just as I was about to answer calmly, Arthur, who had been watching the whole thing and all of us attentively, approached his fury of a wife from behind. He grabbed her gently by the shoulder and said surprisingly authoritatively and commandingly:
"Molly, leave her. Just look at all three of them!" Molly wheeled around and looked at her husband, perplexed. She looked back and forth between her husband and the three of us in disbelief, but didn't really seem to calm down and was just totally surprised that her husband intervened so vehemently when he continued: "They all look hale and hearty. Ron is fine, Harry is obviously fine and Hermione, as you can see, is fine. I don't like what you did, Hermione, but obviously it didn't harm you, it did you good! I don't know what you see, Molly, but no matter what or how SHE acts, she seems to be doing a good job with the boys. I believe in her, and I hope my trust will not be betrayed," he said in a voice that commanded respect, the likes of which I had never heard from him before. The new post seemed to do his authority good.
He let a deliberative glance pass over his son, who now towered over him by a head's length and was the burliest of the family, who had really changed in the few weeks, and then added:
"And where Harry or Hermione got the money for new clothes, I don't suppose we need to ask. Probably not where our son got it either then, right, Harry?"
He was wrong about that, because his sons had done a good deed for their brother, but that helped our cover, because no one needed or should know how close the Twins were to us. Let them believe that, because we needed our spies in the Order. Harry just nodded.
"But that's far too expensive! You can't do that; you don't.... We'll pay you back, won't we, Arthur," Molly began to clamour again.
"No, Molly, you don't have to," Harry said with a jovial smile, firm and a little patronising. Wow, Draco's practice sessions were really having an effect. Ron swallowed, he didn't seem to like any of this. I saw him wisely clasp his hands behind his back again, which was a good sign, but at the same time a bad one, as it meant he was boiling inside.
"Mum, I really don't need you to show gratitude for things that are given to me, or rather presented to me as gifts! I'm not a FREELOADER," he roared in a surprisingly low voice, panting heavily as he tried to calm himself down. His mother just looked at him in absolute horror as he snapped at her like that and many others also looked at the quarrelling scene in amazement.
"What do you allow yourself-"
"Mum, I am daring to talk to you like that because you don't need to try to pay for something for me that I have already handled myself. I ask you to refrain from interfering in my private affairs like this... A-and as you can see, we are late. We still have to find a compartment, and besides, the most beautiful and I still have to fulfil our Prefect duties. Father, I'm glad you have a new position. Fleur, welcome to the family. Bill, enjoy your work... Are you coming?" An extremely controlled Ron strode towards the train, leaving a terrible silence as he surprised everyone, including Harry and me. Harry gave me a mischievous wink, hugged me tightly and whispered:
"Now, most beautiful, off to battle! ... Remus, I must say goodbye. It's a shame we never find the time to really talk now that you're the last one alive. I know you don't understand about Hermione and Sirius, or about me and Hermione now. But believe me, there's so much you don't know and probably never knew... I hope we can both answer and clear up all the questions someday, but now I don't have the time! I just hope you can trust me a little. Remus, Molly, Bill, Fleur, Arthur," he waved to the crowd and I gave them just one long goodbye look before we started moving, leaving all those speechless people behind. This was all going better than I had dared to hope.
We were aware that not only the eyes of the small circle we had just spoken to were following us. At the same time, our Slytherins started to move as well, probably having followed our conversation with interest after all. As I climbed the short ladder into the train and looked around once more, I caught Draco's gaze, who was also just entering a door further on and flashed me a satisfied expression, but then quickly disappeared into the train. I got on too and followed Harry and Ron who were already waiting.
When we had claimed a compartment, all we could do was throw ourselves into our seats and take a deep breath. We didn't speak, but each of us hung on to our thoughts. It was understandable that Ron was annoyed, as his mother made him look as if he was receiving charity from Harry or me. It humiliated the proud Ron. He had only barely accepted his brothers' money after they said it would make them happy and that they would cancel every present for this year, whether it was for Christmas or his birthday, name day, Easter and so on, if he then accepted their generosity. You shouldn't start a conversation like that with the Twins, you could only lose, because when they set their minds to something, they were very convincing.
Harry was still hung up on Remus, the last of the Marauders. And me? Well, I had enjoyed myself and was now wallowing in the fear of what would happen at Hogwarts... How long would I manage to keep up the façade of a relatively well-behaved, respectable Hermione? It was clear that McGonagall would have it in for me after the Order meeting... But as the saying goes: Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Just then the door opened and Ginny arrived with Neville and Luna in tow, bringing us out of our silence. Thus, I gave up on those thoughts for the time being as well. Today I would need a lot of time to think, I was sure of it, after all last evening and the morning had been eventful, I would say. They all stopped in the doorway, perplexed, when they became aware of the silence. Up to now, Harry and Ron had always been very loud, though we had changed a lot in the meantime. Nevertheless, the three of us looked up invitingly, since together with them we were the group that had defied the Death Eaters in the Ministry.
We greeted Neville warmly, who seemed refreshed and also somehow more mature. He had become slimmer and had a more serious expression around his mouth; the dorkiness seemed to have fallen off him like a cocoon.
"Have you read the Prophet yet?" he asked excitedly. We had all been so busy in the morning that none of us had had time to read today's paper. "You haven't? Then you don't know yet... Igor Karkaroff is dead, his body was found in a hut in the far north, with the Dark Mark hovering over it."
Neville's cheeks flushed as he told the story; he also had a deeper voice now. The Ministry was still having an effect on him too, and the fact that he was now greeting us with another dead person we all had known made him grow up too. Wasn't it bad that we all left childhood behind so early?
I just nodded in affirmation at this news. So Antonin Dolohov had finally succeeded. Avery would be pleased, because Dolohov was reporting to him in the hierarchy as his direct second-in-command. Yes, Severus and Lucius provided a strict regime in our sinister ranks. Ron and Harry looked at me questioningly and my expression showed them that I knew who, how, what, why and both signalled to me with a minimal closing of their eyelids that they understood but were curious as to who had done the deed. Glorious, our communication, just glorious.
"Well, that's... horri-" Ginny was about to say when Harry interrupted her gruffly:
"It's to be expected." He crossed his arms in annoyance.
"Yes, but the worst is yet to come," Neville continued to explain. "Digby, the owner of the junk shop in Diagon Alley, has been robbed and has disappeared without a trace since yesterday!" He was all out of breath and I saw the looks, but I didn't know anything about that. I guess that was just a bit of 'fun', as Bellatrix would say. Since I had told everyone in the cottage about the story with Vance and Bones, my shrugging shoulders showed what I suspected. Someone had been looking for a bit of a diversion and, much to Fortescues' chagrin, had found it.
"That's awful," Ginny clapped a hand over her mouth and Luna just nodded thoughtfully as she disappeared behind her Quibbler. With her long, slightly wavy blonde hair, she looked like an angel who had dressed very colourfully. She looked refreshed and was, it seemed to the outside world, her old self and it was as if she wanted to block out reality.
That's when Ginny piped up and started to get on our nerves:
"Now tell me, where have you been? Why did you do that? What was that all about? I don't understand... Why did you leave me behind? Do you know how bad it was with mother and Phlegm? Phlegm, that's Fleur. She's so annoying with her French, it's unbearable! Mum agrees, how could Bill choose such a girl? It's not nice of you to leave without me. What were you doing there? And did Hermione tell you what happened with Sirius? Ron, really, Harry gave you new clothes? How noble of you Harry, but you look great too!"
During the tirade, Ron and Harry stoically looked out the window with their arms crossed, which wasn't nice, I thought. But I knew the two of them were afraid of revealing things they wanted to keep secret and so they had agreed to keep quiet before that. Oh yes, much like Ron's folded arms were new, it was now new that there were no more big words between Ron, Harry or me. Much had been built on our understanding of each other, since talking too much was now becoming too dangerous for us.
"Do you think you are something better now? Am I not worth any more words from you? Just because you're not wearing the hand-me-down clothes now, you're still a Weasley! RON, say something," she continued to nag loudly.
"Ginny, don't ask so many questions. If you let them be, they will talk to you," I now leaned forward and tried to explain to her kindly. Meanwhile, Neville and Luna shifted uncomfortably in their seats as Ginny looked at me coldly.
"This is all your fault! When did you, Hermione, become such a bitch?" she hissed angrily at me, her long, sleek red mane whipping from side to side.
I didn't want everything to tip over, five minutes after the train had left. I saw Ron clenching his teeth and Harry giving her the evil eye, which wasn't good at all, and the mood was already threatening to plunge into the abyss, great. I knew that since Harry had accepted everything I did and had done, I was a saint to him which I didn't think I was and he would put himself in front of me even now without reservation. But I didn't want it to go like that and so I put my hands on each of their knees and looked at them reassuringly. If the words bounced off me emotionlessly, it had to do the same to them. What would happen if anyone found out what I had become, a member of the Malfoy family and a Death Eater of the Inner Circle? I didn't even want to imagine the comments that would follow.
"Ginny, sweetie, who's to say I haven't always been a bitch?" I cold-heartedly chose to provoke her. I saw her mouth snap shut noisily and she looked at me incredulously. Neville and Luna just sat there in shock, looking at us out of wide eyes. Then the door of the dead silent compartment opened and Romilda Vane, a fourth year, now more or less pushed her way into the compartment with her stupidly giggling entourage.
The girl had long black curls and was quite perky. She was a leader and a wee bit precocious, the dear, as she got going and the other girls fawned over her:
"Harry... You, tell me, did you have a nice holiday? Don't you want to get out a bit? It's boring here! What do you want with that oaf Longbottom and that stupid weird Ravenclaw? And you always have those two Prefects around, don't you?" she murmured seductively, as she probably thought, and wrapped a lock of her long black hair around her index finger. Amused, I averted my eyes from this laughable situation.
And yes, I loved it when Harry went all Draco on someone, he did it so well!
"Kid, sorry, but I have to tell you, I don't think it's appropriate for you to insult my friends! Believe me, Neville and Luna could hex you into the hospital wing in no time! And you, little girl, wouldn't even have drawn your wand. Now go play with someone your own age," he drawled, his voice bored, and he casually dismissed her with a gesture. For that, I silently applauded Harry and saw everyone, really everyone, even Neville, Ginny and Luna blinking incredulously at Harry, who had presented his view of things in a firm but unusually arrogant and insulting manner.
We were allowed to watch as Romilda's mouth dropped open and she stammered:
"But... but... H... ," she tried to defend herself.
"Vane, get out," Ron's deep voice now boomed through the compartment and some flinched. The little girls in their leader's slipstream immediately stumbled out, caught off guard, and Ginny rose somewhat perplexed, looked back and forth between the three of us, upset, grabbed Romilda's arm and pulled her out. She merely said to us:
"Since you're in such an excellent mood today, and so talkative to boot, I'm going to see my BOYFRIEND... Dean!"
The door slammed loudly into the lock as a "FINALLY" burst out from Harry and Ron at the same time and we started laughing. Even Neville and Luna managed a slight smile then.
"Thank you, Harry... ," Neville whispered his appreciation and Luna nodded in acknowledgement.
"You don't have to thank me. I see you and Luna as my friends who were - and maybe are - willing to help me, so you don't need to listen to such snotty brats," he said seriously, after which silence fell over the room again for a few minutes.
"I wanted to thank you again for accompanying me to the Ministry," Harry bowed his head in thanks, earning surprised looks.
"Always, Harry, always," Luna chirped and Neville nodded.
"You want to hear something great? You remember I broke my wand at the Ministry, it was my father's... Now Grandmother bought me a new one at Ollivander's during the holidays, look... cherry wood with unicorn hair!" He proudly held the beautiful new piece in his hand and we were impressed, and like that time passed.
However, we didn't talk about what had happened at the station, it wasn't necessary yet. We were all lost in our thoughts about what had happened and where it was leading. Our compartment was very quiet; Luna was reading the Quibbler, Neville was immersed in an herb book, Ron, Harry and I were silently looking out of the train, gazing blankly over the landscape rushing past us and indulging our thoughts.
Ron was torn that his father was so far-sighted and his mother so pig-headed. He was happy for Bill and Fleur - unlike Ginny - and terribly annoyed that everyone was acting up because he had new things for once.
And Harry, well he didn't know what to make of Remus' behaviour, because he thought he should have checked on how he, Harry, was doing during the past sixteen years. Now to pretend that they were quite close and that there was such a tight bond between them was very difficult for the increasingly secretive Harry. He had had the realisation in a moment of reflection, as he reviewed his third year, that Remus could have told him so much about his father, his mother, about everything and everyone, and yet, for some unknown reason, he had not. Harry was afraid to ask, already seeing the all-excusing words in front of him, that Dumbledore had thought it better not to, or something like that. Then he would be annoyed again that Remus was so obtuse as to do and obey everything the old man said, submitting to his doctrine wholesale without any opinion of his own. That's why he was sceptical about Remus' behaviour.
Well, and I, I thought about everything that had gone wrong yesterday and continued to go wrong this morning. What had happened? Why had I taken refuge in Lucius' bed, as if the Manor didn't have countless bedrooms? Argh, it was too annoying, but I had been so upset and hadn't wanted to be alone. Sharing a bed with Lucius under those circumstances had probably not been such a glorious idea, but it had felt good, much to my chagrin, I had to admit, since I was always honest with myself. Too good. His strong body that held me so securely had undeniably felt more than good and as for self-control, well, he could easily compete with Severus, I had to give him that.
And if I continued to be honest, I had needed it that night to see that I was desired, that HE wanted me, me, my body, but also my mind, as he had put it. So the fact that he wanted everything from me, that had validated me.
Draco had hurt me, or rather my vanity, yes, by letting himself go like that. But I magnanimously conceded to him that if Alice had looked like Alice, he wouldn't have been tempted. Nevertheless, it did not excuse his behaviour in the least! I didn't even try to justify what he almost did, or rather let himself do. I just found it hard to hold on to my self-righteous anger when I thought of all the things Severus did to me when the opportunity presented itself. The intimate kisses, the embraces as he stroked my bare skin fervently... In fact,I had gone as far and more with Severus as Draco had gone with that little whore. How then could I build myself up in front of him and accuse him of - what? - almost cheating on me? Because then what was I doing?
And it wasn't as if he had it easy. My revenge, which had driven me straight into Lucius' bed, where I had been more than welcome, went absolutely into spitful territory. I was just a mean, naughty girl. Not to mention being in the terrible position of being spoilt for choice. I had to be careful because it could all tip over very easily; Severus on the one side, Lucius on the other, and a never-jealous Draco right in the middle.
These were our thoughts in the rather melancholy compartment as I reminisced about this disastrous holiday and knew that tonight a raging Severus would surely put me through the wringer... Weren't those great prospects?