The Sugar Quill
Author: Paleologus (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Shadow Magic  Chapter: Default
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Shadow Magic beta

SHADOW MAGIC

 

 

Summary: Viktor Krum arrives with unexpected help for Harry and Ginny in their quest to revive Ron and Hermione, and Neville is drawn deeper into the the shadowy Order of the Phoenix. Fourth in a series.

 

 

Author’s note: This story follows from “Feather and Flame” and is the continuation of my series that I began a really long time ago- after Goblet of Fire, in fact, so many of the assumptions are anachronistic, especially about the nature of The Order of the Phoenix. I like to think that the books have confirmed that I’ve kept to the spirit of HP even if I have branched off of the continuity. If you haven’t read the series, cast your mind back to the aftermath of the Triwizard Tournament, start with “Owls Over Bulgaria” (a short prologue to the plotline), then “Drastic Measures”, “The Innocents”, “Feather and Flame”, then this. I promise romance and thrills a-plenty! If you have enjoyed the other episodes and can remember back to when you might have been curious what happened next… well, here it is.

 

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Hogsmeade was a different sort of place on a cloudy weekday morning. When Harry went there on weekends, it was bustling and busy and merry, like the seaside town he used to visit with the Dursleys on bank-holiday weekends, although with a different sort of clientele. On a grey and chilly Tuesday morning like this, however, Hogsmeade was a drowsy place. The specialty shops, like Zonko's and Honeyduke's, did a desultory business. Honeyduke's kept a skeleton staff on Tuesdays. The proprietor liked to enjoy a day off after the busy weekend, and the skeletons were sufficiently alarming to deter shoplifters. The shopowners who stayed open expected a quiet morning, interrupted by nothing more than one or two tourists dropping in to spend a load of Sickles and leave. 

 

They certainly did not expect the noisy approach of the entire Hogwarts student body that descended toward the town that morning like a storm front on a clear day.

 

In the midst of that storm front, Harry Potter walked side-by-side with Ginny Weasley. A second-year Slytherin carelessly bumped into Harry without so much as a by-your-leave as he and his friends bore down on the village. “I’m not worried,” the Slytherin declared to his knot of friends. Harry had seen this student before. He was a pinched-looking boy who was already reputed for terrorizing the first-years. “Not at all. My dad’s taught me a spell or two to deal with those Order of the Phoenix types.”

 

“Oh, bollocks,” his friend said with a laughing sneer, making no effort to keep his voice down. “Yer dad’s as good as a Squib! Bet you you’re the first one they get.” The assembled knot of second-year bullies all laughed.

 

“Well, they won’t get you, that’s for certain,” the bully answered. “Your mummy’s going to cart you away any day now.” This witticism really brought the house down. The bully’s friends oooohed appreciatively and the friend scowled. Harry and Ginny moved away from the gang as they all started noisily hitting each other with ill-willed jollity.

 

“Here, let’s move on over here,” Ginny said, tugging a sleeve of Harry’s robe. He picked up his pace to keep up with her, leaving behind a shapeless group of Gryffindors whose numbers were slowly shrinking as they passed between the rows of shops in the main street.

 

“We’re supposed to stay with our houses,” Harry protested weakly.

 

“Ooh,” Ginny said, grinning. “Teacher’s pet.”

 

Ginny stuck out her tongue as she walked ahead. In fact the teachers had given up on their efforts to keep the students in ordered groups, and after a few imprecations to the students to behave themselves, the staff seemed to be content simply to make sure they stayed within the town limits until this unexpected holiday was over. The students would not be able to do very much harm, in any case, as all their wands had been confiscated. The Magical Law Enforcement Squad had been called in to do a sweep of the school, and the students were told to clear out for the day. Wands were to be left in dormitories for tests, under pain of suspension. All classes were cancelled. After breakfast the teachers had busily herded the surprised students into groups and led them out toward Hogsmeade.

 

“Come on,” Ginny insisted. “I know you’re worried and all. Everyone is.”

 

“They don’t seem very worried,” Harry said, indicating the boisterous mob of students they were leaving behind.

 

“Of course they are,” Ginny said. “Listen to them all. It’s all they’re talking about.”

 

Ginny was right. Underneath all the clamourous cheer over the unexpected day off, Harry could tell there was tension. It seemed like a long time since there had been a normal day at Hogwarts, and every day that Dumbledore was gone things felt a little more dangerous. The sight of Percy and his dour Governing Committee at the head table in Dumbledore’s place every day did nothing to make Hogwarts feel like a welcoming place. For Harry, who knew better than most just how bad things were, it was worse. Every day Harry fended off questions about the “illness” that had kept Ron and Hermione out of classes for over a week, while at the same time trying to comfort a nervous Neville, who seemed to spend most of his time following Harry around like a shadow silently wringing his hands. Harry had finally persuaded Neville that there was safety in numbers, and that his cover was better kept by hanging around with Seamus and Dean and their crowd of friends. Only this way could Harry have managed to have a moment alone to corner Ginny on the way out of the Great Hall that morning and suggest, his voice a bit shaky, that they could maybe go to Hogsmeade together. Ginny looked like she had won a million Galleons.

 

“I’m worried too,” Ginny went on. “But maybe we can try to have a good day?”

 

Harry looked over and saw that as they walked Ginny had her bright brown eyes fixed on him. She’s always looking at me, Harry thought to himself. It’s so weird.  Lately Harry had taken to looking back. It wasn’t so bad.

 

“Erm,” Ginny said. “D’you want to go and do something?”

 

Immediately her face went beet-red and Harry imagined his must have too, because it felt hot like the sun had suddenly come out, and it definitely hadn’t. “Oh,” he said.

 

“You said that- you know, before, when we talked-”

 

“Yes, erm, right,” Harry said.

 

“Oh, well, never mind-”

 

“Perhaps, er, I’m sure there’s a better place to talk-”

 

“Yeah,” Ginny said nodding in agreement, and veered toward a small side street lined with cottages that intersected Hogsmeade’s main street. Harry followed her. The silence between them, if possible, seemed to increase in volume. Harry tried to think of things to say, but all of them seemed silly, and he began to feel foolish and terrified all at once. They walked some way along the street lined with cottages, each of which had a dozen or so people lined up at the windows to peer out at them, or that was how it seemed.

 

Ginny stopped walking, and turned to face Harry. “Er, I, really I just wanted to know, what you said the other day, did you mean it?”

 

Harry sort of felt his mouth open and shut. His throat had gone utterly dry.

 

“Hey, Harry!”

 

The sound of Colin Creevey’s voice pierced the air like a gunshot. Ginny started then backed away from Harry, looking at the ground. He realised they had been standing quite close.

 

“Hi Colin,” Harry finally managed after a difficult swallow.

 

“You’ll never guess!” Colin said breathlessly, stopping short. “Hi, Ginny,” he added.

 

“Hi.”

 

“What’s up, Colin?” Harry said. He felt almost relieved for the interruption, and yet… how he would regret it if he missed a chance…

 

“You’ll never guess!”

 

“No, you’re right,” Harry said.

 

“I was just coming out of the bookstore, when this big fellow in a cloak and hood stopped me and asked if I’d seen you. Do you know who it was? Eh?”

 

Harry felt his heart sink. Colin seemed to be under the impression that Harry would be glad to be looked for by strange people in cloaks and hoods. “Did you tell him where I was?”

 

Colin seemed to miss the point of the question. “I can’t be sure but I think it was Viktor Krum!”

 

“Krum?” Harry said. Colin had his interest now. “Here? Did you say where I was?” Harry added as Colin rocked excitedly on his heels.

 

“No! I mean, I only just found you now. Come on! I’ll show you!”

 

“Er, Colin, I’m not so sure Harry wants to be found right now…” Ginny said. Right, Harry thought. That’s exactly it.

 

Colin looked over at Ginny. His excitement paused in mid-fidget. “Oh,” he said, looking back to Harry. “I’m intruding, aren’t I?”

 

“No, really-” Harry said

 

“A bit, yes,” Ginny said, smiling widely.

 

“I’m so sorry!” Colin declared. To Harry’s amazement, he winked at Ginny. “So sorry! In your own time, then,” he said, turning and heading down the street, breaking into a run as he went.

 

“Colin’s all right, you know,” Ginny said. “He’s a little bit impressed with you, that’s all. I suppose we should go see if Krum is really-”

 

“Um, yes,” Harry said, startling himself. “I did mean it.”

 

“Oh,” Ginny said faintly. “All right then.”

 

“I’m really sorry… If Viktor is really here… we’d better…” Harry trailed off. Neither he nor Ginny moved right away. In a minute they would be back in the crowd of students. Harry took a breath and held it, then leaned in, eyes closed and quickly kissed Ginny’s cheek.

 

 

***

 

 

Viktor Krum, with his awkward gait, wasn't hard to recognize, if you knew you were looking for him. His face was hidden under his cloak and hood, and he walked by dozens of Hogwarts of students who would have clustered around him for autographs or Quidditch talk if they had only known. But Harry and Ginny spotted him right away, down the main street of Hogsmeade, walking with a mysterious companion, an old wizard whose grey, wiry beard emerged from under his hood.

 

Harry spotted Viktor tapping a young student on the shoulder, and asking "Haff you seen Harry Potter?" with his cloak pulled over his face like a bad cinema vampire. The student shook her head and veered away nervously.

 

"Let's go say hello," Harry said, taking pity on the awkward visitor. Harry and Ginny shouldered their way through the flowing and chaotic throng of students. Viktor's eyes rose to meet Harry's as he approached, and Harry spotted visible relief on Viktor's face.

 

"Hello," Viktor said somewhat stiffly. "Is there somewhere ve can talk in private?" Viktor's companion stood watching, remaining unnervingly still. "This is Sergios," Viktor explained, noticing Ginny's nervous glances at the older man. "He is... a very great wizard, where I am from."

 

"You're Bulgarian?" Harry asked the old wizard, who shifted his eyes to Harry but remained impassive and silent.

 

Viktor shook his head curtly. "Greek," he explained. "He speaks no English."

 

Viktor muttered a string of words to Sergios, out of which Harry recognized only his own name. He saw, in the background between Viktor and Sergios, something quite extraordinary. Lucius Malfoy was craning his head in their direction curiously. Harry knew Malfoy was in the area. He had seen him at the school several days before, trying to get his son out of school, where the Governing Committee was holding onto him as one of the intended victims of the Order of the Phoenix.

 

Harry had the impression that Lucius Malfoy was trying to get a good look at the visitors. It was too absurd to imagine that the elder Malfoy was a starstruck Quidditch fan working up the courage to ask Krum for an autograph. The picture did not fit.

 

Finally, Lucius Malfoy appeared to come to some sort of decision, and he strode up to the visitors, haughtily ignoring Harry and Ginny's presence.

 

"Excuse me," Malfoy drawled. "Are you, by any chance, Sergios of Adrianople?" Malfoy was smiling widely, his hand extended. "Lucius Malfoy," he added. Sergios stared at the hand with bemusement.

 

"Well, for Merlin's sake, translate, won't you, boy?" Malfoy said testily to Viktor. "It's what you're here for, isn't it?"

 

Viktor's face darkened, and he muttered another string of incomprehensible words to Sergios.

 

"Ne," the old wizard uttered laconically, and shook Malfoy's hand with due courtesy and no more.

 

"I beg your pardon," Harry intervened. "They're here for me, not you."

 

Malfoy looked down the line of his nose at Harry and Ginny. "Ah yes," he whispered icily. "Mr Potter. And if I'm not mistaken," he went on, turning his gaze on Ginny, "you're the little brat who caused me so much trouble a couple of years ago."

 

"I... caused you--?" Ginny spluttered, her face suddenly going very red. Harry grasped her hand tightly. Sergios raised one bushy eyebrow, watching what must have seemed to him an intensely dramatic dumb-show.

 

"I cannot imagine what kind of business Sergios would have with you," Malfoy said with a dismissive smile. "He is a great wizard! He is over seven hundred years old. He deserves your respect!"

 

"I respect him," Harry muttered. "It's you I want to sod bloody off."

 

Lucius Malfoy's smile fell for a moment, then reappeared, more condescending than ever.

 

"Yes. Well," Malfoy said, turning back toward Viktor. "Please tell Sergios I honour him, and I hope to have the privilege to discuss some matters with him while he is in Britain."

 

"Yes, I vill tell him," Viktor said. Lucius Malfoy walked away as Viktor translated Malfoy's words. Sergios watched Malfoy saunter away with one eyebrow remaining cocked in amusement.

 

"Please, can we go where it is quiet?" Viktor reiterated. "I do not vant to be recognised."

 

Harry and Ginny led the two visitors along the main street, then off and up the hill to where they had gone before in hopes of being inconspicuous. They walked in silence.

 

As soon as the village had disappeared behind a clump of trees, Viktor pulled off his hood, although Sergios chose to remain covered. Viktor reached under his cloak, and pulled out a sheet of parchment.

 

"Is this true?" he said gruffly, extending the parchment to Harry.

 

Harry took the sheet and examined it. Ginny peered over his shoulder. It was a letter, handwritten in a neat but hasty hand- Hermione's.

 

 

 

Viktor,

 

I wish I had more time to explain this.

 

I was in Azkaban, and was killed, no I'm not joking, by a Dark spell. An Auror used a sacrificial spell to revive me, and now it seems that I am in danger if anyone should be killed near me, so they are giving me a potion shortly to put me into a long sleep. Sorry, I do not altogether understand this myself. But I thought it was only fair to let you know since you may not hear from me for some time.

 

I am so sorry everything didn't work out. I am seeing somebody else, you’ve met him, Ron, my friend with the red hair. He is very kind to me, and we're happy, well, except for this, of course. I am sorry.

 

Love from

your Angleshka

 

 

 

Harry spoke with difficulty. "Yes."

 

Viktor nodded.

 

"Sergios knows about these things," Viktor explained, indicating his companion. "My uncle has known him. He will see Hermy-o...nee," he concluded.

 

Harry looked at Ginny then at Sergios, then back at Viktor.

 

Ginny asked the question. "Is he a... Dark wizard?"

 

Viktor looked uncomprehending. "Vot do you mean?"

 

"Lucius Malfoy knew of him," Harry said. "Seems to think the world of him."

 

Viktor looked puzzled. "The man in the village? I do not know about him."

 

"He's a mate of Voldemort's!" Harry said. At the mention of this name, all three listeners started. Sergios looked quickly to his right, then his left. "And he seems to think very highly of your friend," Harry concluded.

 

A light of understanding dawned on Viktor's face. "Ah! You want to know if he does what you call the Dark Arts."

 

"Yes," Harry nodded emphatically.

 

Viktor took a moment, and began speaking slowly. "Ve do not haff what you call Dark Arts. At Durmstrang it is called Death Magic-"

 

"Well that makes me feel loads better!" Harry exclaimed.

 

"Please listen!" Viktor said loudly and impatiently. "Where I am from, this is something you learn only when you are a very good person. Master Sergios is a very moral man! Death is a part of magic. It is only in the West that somebody learns this and becomes corrupt."

 

Harry narrowed his eyes. Viktor's words did not square with what Harry had heard about Durmstrang.

 

"He's from Durmstrang, then?" Harry asked.

 

"No!" Viktor said. "Sergios has studied many, many years by himself. He does not travel. Nobody at Durmstrang would know about this kind of thing."

 

Harry was confused. Viktor took a moment to bring Sergios, who had been watching all this patiently, up to speed. Sergios at one point seemed to become angry, and gesticulated wildly. Viktor made placating gestures, but the conversation was brisk.

 

Harry looked from one to the other. Viktor seemed to be as much as admitting that Sergios practiced the Dark Arts. Yet there were wizards like Snape, Moody, Hecate Durrell and the Aurors at Azkaban who seemed to live in very grey world between legal magic and the Dark Arts. Even Dumbledore, who eschewed Dark magic altogether, trusted and worked with some of these people. Maybe only this kind of wizard could really help Ron and Hermione.

 

Ginny, obviously thinking many parallel thoughts, leaned in and whispered to Harry.

 

"I think it's okay, Harry," she said. "Viktor would only do what he thought was right. Especially for Hermione."

 

Harry nodded. Viktor turned to Harry and spoke.

 

"Sergios is offended. It is a very, very great honour that Sergios has travelled here for her. He does not like Vestern vizards. He does not travel for any reason. It vas hard to convince him to come, and he is only here because he vants to see Deathlessness."

 

"I'm sorry," Harry said to Viktor. Then, turning to Sergios, he repeated: "I am sorry." Sergios nodded his head. He seemed to understand this. Harry turned back to Viktor. "Are you going to be here a while?" Harry asked Viktor. "It will be hard to be able to get in to see them. Ron is... asleep, too."

 

Viktor muttered a few words to Sergios, then turned back to Harry.

 

"Ve vill be at the inn. Ve cannot stay many days. Master Sergios will help Ron, too. If he can."

 

 

***

 

 

Breakfast-time the morning after Hogsmeade was noisy and undisciplined. Harry knew it was because Dumbledore was not there. Without his quiet, unspoken authority emanating from the head table, there was no way for the staff to enforce respect for the rules of conduct, laid down fruitlessly by the Governing Committee members. Percy Weasley looked day-to-day as if he was just barely managing to hold off a nervous breakdown.

 

Harry's own nerves were on edge, sitting among this riotous crowd of Gryffindors whose agitated playfulness was bordering on hysteria. All through the meal Harry dodged irritating teasing over his frequent absences the previous day.

 

"Couldn't see hide nor hair of you or Ginny yesterday," Seamus said with a wink. "You wouldn't happen to know where she was off to, would you?"

 

"Shut up," Harry said by way of explanation.

 

"I think it's marvellous," Lavender Brown said from a few seats away. "The poor girl's suffered long enough. Good for you, Harry!"

 

"We just talked, all right?" Harry said tetchily. Harry left the table, off to a morning of classes, preoccupied and distinctly annoyed by his companions.

 

Even the teachers were falling victim to the malaise. Professor Flitwick had lost all his zest, and most of his classes were simply quizzes and rehearsals of previously-learned charms. Herbology had degenerated into a clockwork feeding routine for the Bloodweeds. Madam Hooch announced that Quidditch trials were suspended "indefinitely", depriving Harry of one of his few pleasurable distractions. Only Professor Binns' lectures rolled on unchanged, ploughing forward with the dull, plodding inevitability of continental drift.

 

On the other hand, Professor Figg's Defense Against the Dark Arts class had suddenly gone into overdrive.  Her appearance had been a real surprise on the first day of classes. Professor Figg was Harry's old babysitter. He understood now that that was no coincidence. She had been there to watch Harry all those many years. It turned out that being taught by her was not unlike being babysat by her. She was amiable, meandering, and often distracted by her cats. Yet her insights were sound, and she would occasionally spring a curse on an unsuspecting student, who would then struggle to shake it off while she innocently poured milk into Mr Paws' dish. But after Dumbledore's dismissal, she had suddenly acquired the air of a disciplined Quidditch captain, running vigourous drills of curse-breaking for the full hour every day, as if she expected an attack at any moment. Harry understood that she probably in fact did, and he knew she was not wrong.

 

Then came Potions. This was to be the day the fifth-years were to be graded on their term project, a potion several weeks in the making, the class working in pairs. Neville had been paired off with Harry ever since it became clear that Ron (Harry’s partner) and Hermione (Neville’s partner) had stopped attending classes. For the first few days Snape had been content to let Neville slowly ruin the brew that he had so carefully prepared with Hermione’s help, and indeed he took no small pleasure tormenting Neville with snide, cutting criticism as Neville tried to work alone. However, the previous week it became clear that Professor Snape would have to take action, when Neville’s cauldron suddenly dissolved, and the contents ate quickly through the table and then began to etch a hole in the dungeon floor. The steaming glop had gone a good six feet down before Snape managed to throw a neutralizing potion down the hole after it. Snape paired him off with Harry for the remainder of the project.

 

Harry was afraid he would not have Hermione’s exceptional patience for Neville’s work. But Harry was surprised- as he drew Snape’s hostility toward himself and away from Neville, Neville really began to shine. He had a knack for handling herbal ingredients that he must have acquired in Herbology, his best subject, and the one place where Neville really excelled above all others. In Neville’s hands, Harry and Ron’s potion was actually coming along very well.

 

Professor Snape swooped from table to table, examining the sickly, pale yellow potions that roiled slowly in their cauldrons over the burners. Draco Malfoy and Goyle stood with hands behind their backs as Snape arrived at their table and bent over the cauldron. Harry could see that his potion had turned to a thick, green jelly. Snape shook his head slightly.

 

“This is unfortunate,” Snape pronounced, lifting his head. “It’s a delicate, volatile brew. Eight on ten, but I expect better next time.”

 

“Yes sir,” Malfoy nodded seriously.

 

All too soon, it was Harry and Neville’s turn.

 

“Mmm,” Snape grumbled as he hovered over the cauldron. His eyebrows were raised, his upper lip coiled into a sneer, as he prodded the surface of the liquid with the tip of his wand. “Yes,” he said finally. “You see how a skin has formed on the surface? That’s no good. And the colour is off. No. Three on ten.”

 

Snape began to walk away toward the next table. Harry couldn’t contain himself.

 

“What do you mean, no?” Harry said. Next to him, Neville gasped.

 

Snape turned, his glare ugly. “I beg your pardon, Potter?”

 

“Malfoy’s has gone all funny, and you’re failing ours?”

 

Professor Snape advanced on Harry, all but breathing fire. “Potter, it is abundantly clear that you are a long way from knowing a good potion from bad. Until you have an ounce of skill or understanding, you will kindly keep your mouth firmly shut. And we’ll make that a zero on ten, shall we?”

 

“It’s as you like,” Harry muttered under his breath. Snape turned away, his robes making a snapping sound as he whirled.

 

“No,” came a sharp voice suddenly. Harry turned, startled to see Neville with a determined look on his face. This was not the same determined look he had back in first year, when with characteristic bad timing he had tried to stop Harry from breaking curfew the night Voldemort tried to take the Philosopher’s Stone. This look was determination born of rage.

 

“It’s not as you like. What- what sort of teacher are you anyway,” Neville said. Eyes popped wide around the classroom. Hands flew up to faces. Draco Malfoy wore a stupid half-smile. “You think you’re clever, but you’re just a nasty brute! You- you’ll- how dare you- you’ll find out!” To Harry’s horror, Neville had produced a wand from within his robes. Snape was fast. Hardly had Neville stopped speaking when Snape’s wand-arm was extended, and a blue bolt flew across the room and knocked Neville’s wand up into the air, glancing off the ceiling and into the furthest corner. Neville’s hand snapped back. Harry had the impression he smelled smoke. But Snape was not finished. Another blue bolt shot out and propelled Neville backwards against the next row of tables, sending a cauldron onto the floor, its contents soaking Dean Thomas’ shoes.

 

“WHAT,” Snape bellowed. “WHAT. WHAT. WHAT WILL I FIND OUT, YOU STUPID BOY!” Neville was struck again and then again by the bolts from Snape’s wand. Harry leapt back and grabbed the shaking, shocked Neville’s arm. Snape’s wand came down, but Snape himself still came forward.

 

“Potter, escort that foolish boy to the hospital wing!” Snape commanded, his voice gone from fire to ice. “And neither of you need return to class. You will both repeat next term. Use the intervening time to acquire some sense. Yes, yes,” Snape went on, now addressing the entire room. “You all stay where you are. We are continuing with the grading.” The students down Harry’s row looked mortified- Snape had not yet graded them, and he was sure to be in a foul temper when he came to judge them.

 

Harry made no argument. He ran to the corner where Neville’s wand lay,  then caught up with Neville who was already staggering wordlessly out of the classroom. Harry took his robe by the sleeve and they scampered along the dungeon hallway, Neville half-stumbling on his weak legs until he angrily threw Harry’s hand off.

 

“Let go of me!” Neville snapped. “I’m coming, I’m coming.”

 

Harry could  not get away from Snape’s classroom fast enough. “What did you do that for?”

 

“They do deserve it, after all, don’t they?” Neville said. “They’re brutes! It’s true.”

 

“Shh!” Harry hissed, grabbing Neville’s sleeve once again and pulling Neville around a corner of the echoing, cavern-like corridor. “What are you talking about?”

 

“They’ve come to me,” Neville whispered. “They’ve told me I have to kill.”

 

“Who told you?”

 

Neville swallowed. He started to shake again, not from the shock of Snape’s spell this time, but from blind fear. Whatever fit of misguided courage had come over Neville seemed to melt away. “I got another message,” Neville began. “But this wasn’t just a letter, it was like a sort of- well, I fell into the letter, I…” Neville broke off.

 

“Yes,” Harry said. “Yes, I know what you mean. What did they show you?” Harry remembered the eerie dark spell that had enchanted Tom Riddle’s diary. Neville seemed relieved that Harry did not think he had gone mad.

 

Neville looked at Harry and nodded weakly. “My father’s memories!” Neville said, shuddering. “The torture. The Death Eaters torturing him. Snape was- I’m sure it was him! He was there! He was a Death Eater before! He was standing behind a man who-”

 

“Okay,” Harry said. “it’s okay. You don’t have to tell me that part. You said they told you to kill.”

 

Neville paused, then went on with a steadier voice. “If I kill one of the students,” Neville said, “one of the ones I named to them, they’ll take me away. They’ll protect me. They’ll initiate me. They’ll teach me. I’ll be able to fight the torturers.”

 

Harry did not like the way Neville was speaking. Was he under some sort of charm? “Neville, you won’t do that, though, will you.”

 

“What they’ll do, Harry, you have no idea-”

 

“Yes I do,” Harry interrupted. Neville’s words caused Harry almost physical pain. How many times had Harry thought, yes, to hurt them just once, that would be enough-

 

“We have to stop them, Harry! If we’re not against them, we might as well be with them! Or let them take over-”

 

“Listen to me!” Harry broke in again. “You won’t do that. Promise me. You won’t kill for them.”

 

Neville was silent a long time. His cheeks went red, and his eyes watered up. “I’ll have to!” he said, his voice cracking. “Or they’ll kill me. I have to do it by Saturday. They made that quite clear,” he said, shuddering again.

 

Harry did not press the point. “Come on,” Harry said. “Let’s go upstairs. We’ll think of something. We will,” he added insistently, before Neville could speak again.

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Late in the afternoon, Harry left his Divination class, which was one of the classes after which Harry was sure to run into Ginny on the landing, heading up from her Potions lesson. She grasped him by the elbow as they passed in the  bustling crowd, and with a couple of apologies to passing students, they found their way to a quiet side corridor.

 

"Neville's got to kill somebody," Harry said. These rendezvous were short, and it was necessary to get to the point quickly. "To prove his loyalty. Any of the ones who got the Phoenix Mark. Or they'll kill him."

 

Ginny's eyebrows rose in dismay. "Poor Neville!"

 

"Yeah," Harry agreed. "I've got no idea what to do. I don't dare ask anybody for help. Who knows who's working for them."

 

"Meet me back here just before lunch. I've got Divination next, so I've got loads of time to think.," Ginny said before disappearing back into the crowd.

 

An hour and a bit later, Harry, who, coming from Professor McGonagall’s Transfiguration lesson, had not had loads of time to think, went up the stairs toward Gryffindor Tower. Harry spotted the bright splash of orange above the heads of the bobbing mass of students heading up the stairs that indicated that Ginny was waiting at the top. Harry caught her eyes as she raised herself on tiptoes, looking out for him.

 

"Harry!" she called out, spotting him. "Come here!"

 

Harry reached the top of the flight of stairs, and Ginny grasped his elbow to pull him into the corridor. She seemed to be quite excited about something.

 

"Divination is a brilliant place to get barmy ideas," Ginny began. "It might work!"

 

"Yeah?" Harry said. He was desperate to hear any kind of idea at this point.

 

"Neville can kill Draco Malfoy!" Ginny said smartly.

 

Harry had to smile. "Sure. That would be satisfying, but I'm not sure Neville would go for it."

 

"Hush," Ginny said. "That's not all of it. Malfoy's innocent, but only we know that. We'll fake Malfoy's death. Then Neville will be initiated into the Order, and we can trap them. Nobody would suspect that Malfoy would help Neville!"

 

"I know I wouldn't," Harry smirked. "Exactly why would Malfoy help us?"

 

Harry could tell Ginny was saving the kicker for last. He hoped it was a good one, because so far he found the thought preposterous, and suspected Ginny still had Professor Trelawney's incense fumes clouding her head.

 

"We have something Lucius Malfoy wants," she said, winding up. "Sergios. If Sergios puts it to him, he might agree. Anyway, we'd be saving his son's life, to boot."

 

"You're right, it's barmy," Harry said. "Who says Sergios would agree?"

 

"All right, then, let's hear your better idea," Ginny said crossly, folding her arms.

 

Harry stayed silent, looking at her. There were, of course, a dozen things that could go wrong with Ginny's plan.

 

But there were no things that could go right with anything else he thought of.

 

"Barmy," Harry said, nodding slowly. "But I never said it wasn't brilliant. I can go find Viktor and Sergios tonight."

 

Ginny smiled proudly.

 

 

***

 

 

Hogsmeade seemed deserted, as Harry carefully emerged from the Shrieking Shack into the October cold. He held his cloak tight around him as much for warmth as for invisibility, as he made his way down the hill and into the village. A lamplighter walked along, pointing his wand at the lanterns that hung on the walls of the stone buildings that lined the main street. The lamplighter was whistling merrily.

 

Harry sneaked quietly past, heading in the opposite direction.

 

"Evening, mate," the lamplighter said jauntily as he passed Harry. Harry jumped and whirled around. There was nobody else there. The lamplighter continued moving down the street. Harry made a small gap in his cloak and looked down at himself. Sure enough, he was quite invisible.

 

Harry continued along, decidedly unnerved. He waited outside the door of the Three Broomsticks and let a couple of patrons emerge and pass him by before persuading himself that it would be safe to go in.

 

The Three Broomsticks was warm, cozy and inviting in the light of the great fire that burned in the hearth. The pub was not crowded on this Wednesday evening, but Harry still had to maneuver carefully to avoid any collisions with other patrons or with furniture. He narrowly avoided knocking a tray out of Madam Rosmerta's hand as she ran past him toward the kitchens.

 

Viktor and Sergios were in a corner of the pub, hunched over their evening meal. Lucius Malfoy was there, too, talking animatedly while the others ate. Harry found a spot not far from their table, conveniently at a corner of the hearth where he could savour the warmth of the fire while overhearing the conversation.

 

"Your writings are banned in Britain," Malfoy explained. "Our blinkered Ministry considers them dangerous!"

 

Viktor muttered a translation. Sergios' eyebrows were knotted in irritation as he spoke curtly. Viktor turned to Lucius Malfoy.

 

"He says they are dangerous," Viktor explained patiently. "They are not meant for everybody."

 

Malfoy laughed knowingly. "Well, absolutely, of course they are not for just anybody! The simple-minded will often fail to understand them. Your thinking's much too advanced for most. Now, you see, I was fortunate enough to obtain through my contacts a copy of your Hesychasion, and I had always wanted to ask about the seventh scroll, where you discuss the 'shadow paradox'. I was wondering if I could trouble you for a demonstration."

 

Harry watched Viktor translate this, obviously hesitating over the technical words. Sergios' eyebrows rose, revealing bright blue eyes beneath his craggy features.

 

"Ah!" Sergios exclaimed, and uttered a few words in Greek. Harry leaned in and watched closely.

 

"He vill demonstrate right away," Viktor explained. "You must sit very still."

 

"Of course!" Malfoy said, failing to conceal his eager excitement. He sat up in his chair. Harry watched fascinated as Sergios began to chant softly, raising his right hand, and staring intently into Malfoy's face. Sergios' eyes were round and chilling. Harry wondered what sort of strange Dark spell he could be uttering. Lucius Malfoy stared in rapt silence.

 

Suddenly Sergios' fingers, raised level to Malfoy's left ear, snapped loudly. Malfoy started. Sergios moved his hand to a spot between Malfoy's eyes, where he showed off a shiny new silver Sickle coin that had materialized between his fingers.

 

Harry had to cover his mouth. He thought he might be sick, trying to suppress the laugh that was bubbling inside. A grin had broken through Sergios' thick beard. Viktor snickered and coughed.

 

The expression on Lucius Malfoy's face as he sat staring dumbly at the coin, left far, far behind, was better than the best Riddikulus charm Harry had ever cast.

 

"Oh ha ha, that's quite funny," Malfoy said, trying to appear in on the joke. "You had me quite convinced there, I must admit. Well, I suppose I won't keep you from your meal any further."

 

Lucius Malfoy stood, a bit wobbly, and pushed his chair in before walking away.

 

Sergios took a bite of his meat, and chewed, a very satisfied expression on his face. He muttered a few words to Viktor, who looked startled.

 

"Ah... Harry..." Viktor said to the air in front of him. Harry sat up in surprise. "Sergios says to go vait at room four."

 

 

***

 

 

The Gryffindor common room was buzzing, as it was most evenings after dinner, especially with the restless atmosphere that prevailed in the school. Ginny had spent a half an hour waiting in a wing chair, her knees drawn up and a piece of parchment on her lap. She tried to appear absorbed thoughtfully in thinking and writing, as if composing some class essay or love letter, the better to be left alone. In reality she was waiting  for Neville to descend the stairs to the boys’ dormitory. She began to despair of it, and tried to think of some plausible reason why she could go up to the boys’ rooms herself, when Neville finally did make a nervous and unassuming appearance at the bottom of the staircase.

 

“Neville!” Ginny called out, surprising herself with the force of her utterance.

 

Neville’s head swung around in some surprise. Ginny saw that she had genuinely startled him. “Come here,” she continued. “I need your help.”

 

As Ginny had hoped, nobody in the common room took any notice as Neville walked over towards her.

 

“Er, yeah?” Neville said, puzzled.

 

“Can you have a look at my Herbology notes here?” Ginny said, extending the sheaf of parchment pages toward Neville.

 

As Neville took the pages from Ginny, Ginny whispered sharply, “I know Harry’s helping you. I know all about it.”

 

Neville raised his eyes from the random scribbles on the sheet, wide with surprise.

 

“We’ve got an idea,” Ginny went on. “Act like we’re talking about something herbal.”

 

“No, no, it’s the one with the sort of spiky red leaves,” Neville began, a bit stagy for Ginny’s comfort. “What sort of idea?” Neville squatted next to the wing chair.

 

“Draco Malfoy is going to pretend to be dead. Is this the one that’s good for ear-tubers?”

 

“No. That’s absolutely cracked. Why would he help us?”

 

“Best not to explain. We think he’ll do it. He’s got to protect himself, too, after all.”

 

“What happens then? They’ll still want me.”

 

“Yes,” Ginny said, now looking straight at him. “That’s when they’ll show themselves. That’s when we’ll find out who they are. It’s- it’s not much. All I can say is you’ll need to be very brave.”

 

“That’s not my strong point, obviously,” Neville said, surprising Ginny with an ironic smile.

 

“You have friends,” Ginny said. “There are people trying to help you. But I mustn’t tell you too much.”

 

“If it’s Harry’s idea, it’s probably good,” Neville said, with a resigned shrug. Ginny decided not to tell him that it was in fact her idea. Best he should believe whatever made him feel safest.

 

 

***

 

 

Harry waited, silent and invisible in the narrow corridor on the upper floor of the inn. There was a low ceiling, crisscrossed by wooden beams, and rows of doors made of dark wood. Harry heard sounds of chattering and clinking pewter drifting up from the pub downstairs.

 

There were delicate and tentative steps up the staircase Harry had climbed minutes before. Harry watched down the corridor, ready to pull himself out of the way if the new arrival were to walk past him. A surprised voice, Viktor's, interrupted the steps.

 

"Hermio-ne!" came Viktor's voice. Harry was startled. Hermione, here?

 

"I'm sorry?" a soft, well-spoken woman's voice said.

 

"Excuse me," Viktor said. "You look like-"

 

"I'm Hermione's mother," the voice said. Harry, intrigued, slowly moved down the hall, the better to hear the voices around the corner.

 

"Ah!" Viktor said. "I am happy to meet you. I am Viktor."

 

"Oh!" came Mrs Granger's voice. "Look, Rupert," she said as new pair of feet was heard coming up the steps. "It's that chap Viktor, from Bulgaria."

 

A man's voice. "How extraordinary! Viktor, I am so happy to meet you. Hermione's told us so much about you. What on earth brings you to Britain?"

 

"Darling, I’m sure he's here about Hermione, of course," Mrs Granger said quietly.

 

"Ah well, that's most touching..." Mr Granger said. "Can you tell us exactly what's wrong with her?"

 

Harry heard Viktor introduce Sergios, and there was a round of translations and greetings. "Ve hope ve can help. Sergios is very glad you are here. It vill be much easier with her parents here."

 

"Oh well, of course we want to help in any way," Mr Granger said.

 

"You vill come with us?" Viktor asked.

 

"Certainly," Mr Granger said. "We're just waiting for our friends. They drove us up here, just as soon as we got Hermione's letter. Where did Arthur and Molly get to, Pats?"

 

"Checking us in, I expect," Mrs Granger said. The Weasleys! Harry thought. He was delighted they were here, and yet... things would be very complicated to explain...

 

There was now a new set of feet tromping up the stairway.

 

"Here they are," Mr Granger said.

 

"Sorry," came Mr Weasley's voice. "Saw someone downstairs, that I, er... never mind. Merlin's beard! Are you Viktor Krum?"

 

"Yes," came Viktor's voice.

 

"Delighted to meet you! You're- you're here about Hermione, of course?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Our son told us all about you," Mrs Weasley explained. "I understand you and Hermione have become quite close."

 

"Yes," said Mr and Mrs Granger in unison.

 

"No!" said Viktor. There was a pause which allowed time for Viktor’s face to redden deeply.

 

"No?" said Mr Weasley and Mrs Granger.

 

Viktor was clearly flustered to have his love life discussed by strangers. "She... she has told me she is with somebody named Ron."

 

There was a silence the length of two blinks.

 

"She did?" said Mrs Weasley and Mr Granger.

 

"Oh, Arthur, I told you-" Mrs Weasley said breathlessly, then clammed up.

 

"That's your boy!" Mr Granger exclaimed. "Well, you think you know what your children- er, Viktor, I'm frightfully sorry. It's quite sporting of you to have come."

 

Viktor made an indistinct grunt.

 

"Well, I must say, this staircase is becoming a bit cramped," Mrs Weasley said with forced cheerfulness. "Shall we go on up?"

 

"It seems Viktor and his friend can clear things up for us," Mr Granger said. "Shall we all hear him out?"

 

Harry decided there was nothing for it, and unwound the cloak, waiting at the top of the steps, as twelve feet tromped up.

 

"Harry!" Mrs Weasley called out, dropping her case and scooping Harry up in an embrace. "My goodness, what a lot of surprises in one day! I'm so happy to see you!"

 

"Come," Viktor said curtly. "Ve vill talk."

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

It was a group Harry could not have expected to see gathered in one little inn-room. Mr Weasley, unnerved by the presence of Lucius Malfoy in the pub downstairs, charmed the door with a Silencing spell. The Grangers were intimidated by the surroundings, and darted glances around the cramped room. All turned to Harry to explain the reason for their being assembled in the first place. Harry felt sick and uncomfortable, recounting once again the story of the day in Azkaban.

 

"It was Ginny that got sent-?" Mr Weasley interrupted in shock. Harry winced. Dumbledore had enlisted Mr Weasley's help, but had never told him exactly which students had vanished into Azkaban. Harry decided that there was nothing for it but to plough on with the story, no excuses.  He went on, explaining how he, Ron and Hermione had voluntarily gone after Ginny. The Grangers' and Weasleys' faces contorted in alternating expressions of confusion, rage and desperation as Harry described the horrible chain of events. Viktor softly mumbled a translation to Sergios, sitting quietly with arms folded in a corner.

 

It was difficult, under the pressure of their horrified gazes, to tailor the story for the two pairs of parents. The Weasleys understood with sick horror all the implications of what Harry was saying, whereas the Grangers were bewildered and confused, knowing none of the history or the names Harry drew in, and only understanding the terrible and obvious wrongness of it all. Harry explained the circumstances of their return, and what little he had been told about Deathlessness.

 

"Harry. Harry. It is unforgivable that none of you told us," Mrs Weasley whispered harshly. "We found out from the Grangers. I am shocked that even Dumbledore would hide..." She trailed off.

 

"So much happened so fast, Mrs Weasley," Harry said. "Dumbledore is gone now. We didn't want to worry you."

 

Mrs Weasley just shook her head, her cheeks red.

 

Mr Granger had stood, and was pacing in a tight circle. "Unbelievable. Unbelievable. I had no inkling. We told Hermione to stay away from anything, anything even remotely dangerous... we had an understanding... Viktor, will Sergios here be able to save Hermione?"

 

"Ve think so, yes."

 

"Good enough. Pats, let's go."

 

"Excuse me," Mr Weasley said, an uncharacteristic hardness in his voice. "Excuse me. Is this Sergios, Sergios of Adrianople?"

 

Viktor and Harry nodded.

 

Mr Weasley laughed hollowly. "I don't believe this! I was worried about Lucius Malfoy, and we have one of the most powerful Dark wizards in Europe right here in this room!"

 

"What are you talking about?" Mr Granger said. "What do you mean, Dark wizard?"

 

Harry inhaled, suppressing a growing anger. He could not permit everybody's emotions to run away with them. He had to speak up. "Mr Weasley, Viktor and Sergios have come to help!"

 

Mr Weasley started to shake his head, his own face reddening. "Harry, I-" He stopped, gathered himself, and began again, gritting his teeth. "Harry, you have been through a great deal. But there are some things you simply do not understand yet. If Dumbledore was able, he would have seen to it that Sergios didn't come within a hundred miles of Hogwarts. His work is illegal in Britain!"

 

Viktor spoke up, almost shouting. "Sergios is good! He never vorked for You-Know-Who! Only British vizards follow him!"

 

"Oh, that's sanctimonious Durmstrang rubbish. How about Karkaroff?" Mr Weasley spat back acidly.

 

"I trust Viktor!" Harry shouted.

 

"QUIET. ALL OF YOU!" Mr Granger shouted suddenly, causing everybody to jump. "If this man can save my daughter, that is my one and only concern, and to blazes with all of your foolishness! Patty, let's go," he reiterated with finality.

 

Mr Granger and Mrs Granger picked up their cases and exited the room without another word. The tension in the air diminished not one bit, however.

 

"Harry," Mr Weasley said. "I, unfortunately, can't speak for the Grangers. But you are to keep this man as far from Ron as possible. I must insist on this. I am going to see to it he does not enter the Hogwarts grounds. We must wait for a word from Dumbledore.”

 

“But there is no Dumbledore-“ Harry interrupted.

 

And think carefully before you allow anything to happen to Hermione," Mr Weasley persisted, louder and angrier than Harry had ever heard him.

 

Harry was silent, his mind full of thoughts, and of anger at the position everyone seemed always to put him into. Mr Weasley left the room. Mrs Weasley stood, and kissed Harry on the forehead wordlessly before following her husband out the door, closing it firmly behind her.

 

Harry turned to Viktor and Sergios, who remained silent. Viktor looked a bit winded from the effort of explaining all these events to Sergios.

 

"You could see me before? In the pub?" Harry asked.

 

Sergios sat up in his chair, listening to Viktor's translation, then answering.

 

"He does not need to see you," Viktor explained. "Sergios feels all people everywhere always. He says they are like smoke to him. He sees breathing. It is his magic."

 

Harry saw that he would have no chance of understanding what Sergios' magic was, even if he asked a thousand questions.

 

"Vot vill you do?" Viktor asked. "Sergios vants to know."

 

Harry snorted and shook his head. "I have no idea," he said.

 

"Sergios vill not wait forever," Viktor explained.

 

"I know. I know," Harry said. "Please, give me a day. It's not just up to me now. I have something else I need to talk to you about."

 

Harry explained Neville's situation, leaving out names, and their hope of getting the Malfoys involved. Viktor's eyebrows knitted in annoyance.

 

"Ve cannot do everything!" he said, throwing his hands up. "I am here to help Hermo-i-one only. Sergios vill never agree. He cannot be concerned with these things."

 

"Please, Viktor," Harry said, "ask him for me. He just needs to talk to Malfoy, nothing else."

 

Viktor sighed heavily, and spoke to Sergios. His explanation was accompanied by many apologetic hand gestures. Sergios watched Viktor impassively, then he turned and addressed Harry.

 

"He vants to know, these Death Eaters want to kill people so they can live forever. These Order of the Phoenix vants to kill them. You don't like the silly man Malfoy downstairs, but you want to save his son. What do you vant? Sergios is confused," Viktor said.

 

Harry looked from Viktor to Sergios. "I just want people to stop killing, period," Harry said.

 

There was another exchange of Greek. Sergios nodded as Viktor spoke.

 

"Sergios says," Viktor explained, "that if you have fought You-Know-Who four times, you vill be a very interesting vizard. He is a bad vizard, but very strong."

 

"Thanks," Harry said, with some exasperation. He had already cottoned on to the fact that Voldemort was bad. "Is that a yes or no?"

 

"It is a yes," Viktor said. "But Sergios thinks you are all crazy."

 

 

***

 

 

Harry wound his way carefully down the stairs and through the pub. To cap off his annoyance and distress, he saw Lucius Malfoy seated at a table where the Grangers, still looking shaken, nursed glasses of white wine. Unable to resist, he edged over, and heard a few words over the hub-bub.

 

"Really? Your daughter called you Muggles to your faces?" Malfoy laughed and shook his head sympathetically. "Pardon my surprise. I don't expect you'd have any reason to know about these things, but that is something of a term of abuse among our kind. Hogwarts under Dumbledore isn't known for teaching... the best manners. I am quite sure she meant no disrespect by it- of course not!"

 

There was a swell of noise and laughter from a nearby table that obliterated the sound of their conversation. Harry moved in as close as he dared.

 

"Well, of course, I understand perfectly," Malfoy was saying. "We wizards are not like everybody else. We went into hiding for a reason, after all. Some irresponsible folk of our kind don't think twice about raiding Mu-, er, non-wizarding families to increase our dwindling numbers. A blemish on our race, I've always felt. I sympathise utterly."

 

Harry moved away quickly. Another second of listening to Lucius Malfoy's poisonous comfort and Harry was liable to throw off the cloak and stun him. More excitement was bound to unnerve the poor Grangers even further, however. Harry left the pub as quickly as he could manage.

 

 

***

 

 

As classes let out for the midday meal, the corridors filled up with students. Ginny trotted down the stairs, adjusting the ribbon that tied her hair back. Ginny wondered what colour it was flashing now. She had much cause to use it lately. It was an enchanted item she had seen advertised in a silly witches' magazine ages ago, promising that it made the wearer appear astonishingly, irresistibly beautiful, and Ginny, in a low moment, had guiltily sent away for it with her handful of Sickles. It had, of course, turned out to be a fraud. Fred and George saw it and teased her about it for weeks. "Oldest trick in the world," they said. All it contained was some twinkly fabric, and an Emboldening charm that would induce the wearer to say or do things they were normally too shy to indulge. But Ginny had discovered that, used creatively and with discretion, it could be very handy.

 

Draco Malfoy was a few feet away, emerging from the archway that led to the Slytherins' dungeon compound. She was looking forward to this moment. Earlier that morning, during her brief appointment in the quiet corridor, she had asked Harry if she could make the arrangement with Malfoy. It made sense to involve Harry as little as possible. Harry had agreed, reluctantly. Ginny, far from feeling shy, was almost shivering with the excitement of performing this conspiratorial errand.

 

"Well," Draco Malfoy said, smiling. "If it's not the Baby Weasel. Got herself a boyfriend, I hear. Are we expecting another great litter of little Weasels soon?"

 

"Stuff it, Malfoy," Ginny said with great satisfaction. "Have you heard from your father lately?"

 

Malfoy nodded and narrowed his eyes. "Yes, I did, just this morning, in fact. Tells me Potter actually crawled up to him on hands and knees begging us for his help. Funny world, eh?"

 

"I don't think that's exactly how it happened," Ginny said. "But yes, it is funny."

 

"Well, he's got a message you can bring to Potter," Draco drawled. "He's agreed but he has one condition. Sergios has already agreed to it. He wants to watch your Weasel brother and the Mudblood being revived. It's a shame that Sergios is bothering but Father's professionally curious."

 

"Oh I see, saving your useless neck wasn't reason enough," Ginny said, and felt a joyous thrill.

 

Draco's face darkened. He had exhausted his quiver of sneering wit.

 

"You tell Potter this," Draco said, lowering his voice. "I've got a potion from Father. At four-thirty today, I will be found cut down in the bloom of youth on the far side of the lake, my own wand lying uselessly by my side, last used to cast a Phoenix Mark. Potter can make his arrangements. Father will take me away tomorrow. The rest is your problem."

 

"That suits me fine," Ginny said. Draco disappeared up the stairs.

 

 

***

 

 

"Marzipan," Harry whispered harshly. "Marzipan. Marzipan!"

 

The gargoyle did not so much as crack a smile. The entrance to Dumbledore's office remained shut. Harry cursed, wrapping the cloak tightly around himself. Had they discovered that Dumbledore had been visited, and changed the password?

 

Harry moved down the corridor, the way he had come. Suddenly the great door of the Governing Committee's office swung open, nearly smacking Harry in the face, and he hoped that nobody heard the breathy exclamation of surprise he uttered.

 

The Committee members were talking too fast and loudly to hear, however. Ekers was in a storming rage, his face red, his silver whiskers standing out like an angry hedgehog. Harry padded behind the three wizards, following them down the corridor.

 

"What are you playing at, Weasley, keeping a thing like that from us!" Ekers shouted. "There's no way we can stop the girl's parents, if they want her."

 

"We're keeping Draco Malfoy-" Percy said pleadingly.

 

"That's different. We're protecting him," Throng pointed out, starting to huff and puff from the effort of keeping pace with Ekers.

 

Ekers was unstoppable. "Weasley, it's unconscionable that you concealed their condition from us. I'm dismissing Madam Pomfrey effective immediately. And I'm calling a vote. All in favour of dismissing Weasley from the Committee, say 'aye'."

 

"Aye," Throng said.

 

"Nay!" Percy shouted. "I brought you this information in good faith, sir!"

 

"Yes, once you couldn't hide it any longer! The girl's parents are at the gate right now. Weasley, if you aim higher than scrubbing the Ministry owlery floor from now on, you'll bring the girl to her parents forthwith."

 

"Sir-"

 

"GO." Ekers was hearing no more of it. They had nearly reached the Entrance Hall. Percy's pace flagged and he fell behind his now-former Committee colleagues. Harry ran ahead, ducked behind a corner and unwound his cloak. Across the Entrance Hall, he spotted Ginny.

 

"Percy!" Ginny called out.

 

Percy started, staring at Ginny as if unable to recognise her. Harry caught up.

 

"Hi," Harry puffed, stopping short where Percy and Ginny stood.

 

"They sacked me!" Percy said to nobody.

 

"Percy, you did the right thing," Harry said breathlessly.

 

"I attained a position of trust and I violated it!" Percy said, a panicked edge in his voice.

 

"What's going on?" Ginny asked, eyes going from one to the other in confusion.

 

"Hermione's parents are outside. They're taking her away," Percy explained, still not looking at either of them. "Father told me I mustn't allow her to be taken out, that the Grangers have been hoodwinked by a Dark wizard. So I had to own up to the Committee. It's no good! I've been sacked! I have a frightful headache..."

 

"Percy, get a grip on yourself!" Ginny urged.

 

Percy seemed to snap back to the here and now. "Thanks to all of you!" he yelled at Ginny. She clamped her eyes shut as Percy shouted into her face.

 

"Percy!" Harry said, grasping Percy's arm. Percy wheeled around, eyes wide. "You did the right thing," Harry said slowly. "Your father got it wrong. There's a wizard in Hogsmeade who's come to help Hermione and Ron."

 

"What am I going to do!" Percy said.

 

Harry blew out an exasperated breath. "Percy, do what Ekers said. Bring Hermione out. It will be all right."

 

Percy stared at Harry for a few seconds.

 

"But Dad said not to," Percy said.

 

"For Merlin's sake, Percy!" Ginny shouted. "Listen for a moment, can't you? Hermione will be fine." Ginny grabbed Percy's arms and turned him bodily toward the main staircase. "Go up and get her," she enunciated. Percy started to climb the stairs.

 

"Sacked!" they heard him mutter as he walked up.

 

"I've spoken to Malfoy," Ginny whispered to Harry. She hastily explained Draco Malfoy's message, and Harry nodded. Good. The plan was in place.

 

“I’ll follow Percy,” Harry said. “Tell Neville what’s happening- he’ll have to go look suspicious. It won’t do any good if Malfoy’s killed while Neville’s hanging about in sight of two dozen people.”

 

“Right!” Ginny said, and hurried away. Harry thought she almost seemed to be enjoying herself.

 

Harry decided it would be best to follow Percy at a safe distance. The plan he and Ginny had concocted depended on too many people behaving correctly, and Harry didn’t want to count on that. He wasn’t sure what he could do to help, but it seemed best to watch what became of Hermione. After the story Harry told them the previous night, he could easily- easily- imagine the Grangers would simply take her away, never to let her be seen at Hogwarts again.

 

He found a discreet corner where he could put his cloak back on, and hurried down toward the hospital wing just in time to find Percy levitating Hermione’s inert body out a discreet exit at the back of the ward.

 

Percy held his wand out in front of him, pointed at Hermione, who floated in a drooping, helter-skelter sleeping pose, robes loose and tangled, above the stone staircase in a rarely-used stairwell that led to a back exit of the castle. Harry had never gone this way, despite all of his experience exploring the strange nooks of Hogwarts. There was nothing remotely mysterious or interesting about this exit- no magic statues concealing secret levers, portraits or gargoyles who demanded passwords. It led out to a yard with patchy grass then out a gate that led into a small wood that was not particularly dark, overgrown or eerie.

 

Nevertheless, Harry had to step carefully to avoid giving himself away. The ground was littered with twigs and once or twice Harry had to carefully unsnag his cloak from a branch. A light rain started, and this helped Harry stay unnoticed as the trees started to rustle and whisper.

 

Percy stopped, and Hermione drifted to a stop, and her fuzzy mop of hair, getting heavier in the rain, flopped over. Harry froze. “Can’t have you looking like that for your mum and dad,” Percy said. Harry was startled to hear Percy speak.

 

Percy knelt beside Hermione’s suspended body and took her right hand, which had been dragging on the ground, and rested it on her stomach, then took her other hand and put it on top of the right. Her pose was much more dignified, if disconcertingly funereal.  

 

Harry felt a stab of guilt at skulking behind Percy, who, annoying and self-absorbed as he could be, was after all a Weasley. Percy and Hermione, Harry now remembered, had always seemed to have an understanding. Maybe there was more to it than the common interests of two fussy overachievers. “You and Ron will be all right, won’t you?” Percy said, and stood watching her as if to wait as if for an answer. “I’m certain of it,” he added. Harry felt himself blushing slightly with shame for spying on this moment.

 

Percy stood, and assumed his businesslike composure again. The wood came to an end, and there was a grassy slope that led down toward the Hogsmeade main road.

 

The Grangers were there, clearly unsure of what exactly they were waiting for. Mr Granger glanced around furtively like he was living in an incomprehensible hallucination, while Mrs Granger simply stood still with her arms folded, in a posture eerily like an angry, disapproving Hermione. Harry saw the Grangers turn their heads and spot Percy shepherding Hermione down the slope toward where they stood.

 

Harry had been told once that if a Muggle came near Hogwarts, all they would see was ruins. He pictured how this scene must have looked to the Grangers, two dentists from Milton Keynes: a grey autumn afternoon spitting rain in front of a ring of tumbled ancient stone  Their daughter, lifeless and drifting out of a wood followed by a man in blue robes pointing an oaken wand at her head. For a moment Harry had an inkling, just an inkling, of how the Dursleys could come to hate wizards with such ferocity. Mr Granger inhaled deeply, and Mrs Granger began fussing with her hands as Percy arrived before them.

 

“Mr and Mrs Granger, what an hon-“ Percy began, but he was not allowed to finish.

 

“Will you stop doing that, please,” Mr Granger said.

 

Percy looked lost. “I’m sorry, pardon?”

 

“WILL YOU PLEASE PUT HER DOWN. ON THE GROUND! SHOW SOME RESPECT.”

 

“Respect? I…”

 

“This madness is over now. You just leave her be,” Mr Granger practically spat. Percy looked like he had been struck. Harry felt fiercely sorry for Percy now. He was trying to do his idea of the right thing, and he met rejection and anger at every turn. Percy was silenced by the look the Grangers gave him, and obeyed. He guided the hovering Hermione down to the ground with his wand, until the levitation spell broke and she went limp. The Grangers bent over to pick her up, Mr Granger delicately lifting her from the shoulders while Mrs Granger took her by the ankles.

 

“She’s so much bigger, Rupert…” Mrs Granger puffed, with a momentary sad smile, as she struggled to lift her daughter.

 

They struggled to carry her down the hill toward the village road.

 

“Really,” Percy said. “Allow me to help-”

 

“Thank you,” Mr Granger said curtly. The Grangers struggled down the slope while Percy stood, watching them struggle their way along the path. Finally Percy turned away, back toward the wood and the castle beyond it. Harry watched Percy go away alone, then he went on, following the Grangers toward the village.

 

Viktor Krum waited along the road, a discreet distance from the school where he would be sure to be recognized. He stepped forward, then shuffled an awkward step away from Hermione.

 

“I vill… help? To carry her?” he said uncertainly, and Harry noticed that he blushed slightly.

 

“That would be very kind, Viktor, thank you,” Mrs Granger said, and Viktor stepped up and propped up Hermione’s sagging back. The three of them together made much easier work of bearing Hermione into the village.

 

Harry followed the procession through a back lane, expecting to be led toward the Three Broomsticks. However, they were met along the lane by Sergios and Lucius Malfoy. Malfoy beckoned to them.

 

“I’ve taken rooms at a much better inn,” Malfoy explained. “That Arthur Weasley’s hanging about the Three Broomsticks, and he is liable to be… well, he can be tiresome. Come with me,” he went on, leading the group down the quiet lane. “We’ll get this sad mess taken care of, then we can get you all on the next train to London,” Malfoy said to Mrs Granger, with a smile that Harry found as attractive and winning as sour milk. Mrs Granger looked at her husband, puzzled. Malfoy certainly seemed to believe he had made great friends with the Grangers by now. The Grangers did not seem so sure.

 

Harry felt distinctly uneasy watching Hermione’s parents putting any kind of trust in Malfoy. He followed close behind, hoping to nip in behind the party and witness Hermione’s revival- and ensure, in whatever way he could, Malfoy’s good faith. It was unfortunate that though he was invisible, Harry was still solid, and it would be difficult to follow them into the room.

 

Malfoy certainly did not cut corners on his lodgings. The Hotel Tintagel was the only stone building in Hogsmeade other than the Scottish and Northern Office Ministry building. It was as different from the Three Broomsticks as could be, all gold and brass and marble inside. Harry had never met anyone who had stayed there, except perhaps for some dignitaries who had been there for the Triwizard Tournament the previous year. It was mostly used by high Ministry officials and wealthier parents of Hogwarts students. Harry followed the group into the hotel, which they entered by a side door. They were greeted by a house-elf, clad in a dirty red cloth potato-sack with solid gold buttons sloppily sewn down the front. The elf bowed deeply and stayed stooped, eyes down, as he followed the group toward the hotel’s lobby.

 

“See that the way to the lift is clear, won’t you?” Malfoy said curtly to the elf.  “We don’t want attention.” Mrs Granger shook her head unconsciously watching the strange little creature run ahead. Harry knew as he followed that things were about to get more difficult. The door to the lift was tiny. There was no way he could possibly squeeze himself into the lift with the others.

 

Sergios muttered something in Greek, which prompted a momentary look of puzzlement on Viktor’s face. Harry saw Sergios wave at Viktor in a ‘go on, then’ gesture.

 

“Sergios does not vant to take the lift,” Viktor translated.

 

Malfoy looked at the old wizard, who uttered another string of words in Greek. “He is very old,” Viktor explained. “He does not trust those machines.”

 

Malfoy smiled. “I’m sure they are quite reliable,” he said. “But I bow to your wishes, master,” he added to Sergios, smiling his aren’t-we-great-friends smile again.

 

A thought struck Harry so forcefully it stopped him in his tracks. Sergios can see me! His heart jumped into his mouth for a moment, imagining that Sergios would give him away… in front of Malfoy… imagine the trouble… but then he took a breath and settled himself down. He knows I’ve been following ever since they met along the road. He dared to hope that Sergios’ newly-confessed fear of lifts was contrived to allow Harry to keep following.

 

The group made their way to the third floor of the hotel up a marble staircase. A couple of frescoes gazed curiously at Hermione as she floated past.The party emerged at the end of a white-and-gold hallway, curlicued with mouldings and accented with candelabras. The stooping, obsequious house-elf magicked a door open, and the others entered one by one.  Harry made his way toward the room, desperate to make a breaking run but held back by caution. Sergios held the door open while Viktor relayed a request for water to the house-elf. With a plink sound, a jug of water on a silver tray appeared in the house-elf’s hand, and Harry stepped ever-so-gingerly over the threshold as the elf walked in and set the water down. Harry did not even dare to breathe a sigh of relief as Sergios closed the door.

 

The Grangers settled their daughter on the bed and carefully untangled her robes, which had become wrapped around her like a strange shroud. Viktor nervously sat down, watching Mr Malfoy looking intently at Hermione. Mr Granger kept casting uneasy glances at Lucius Malfoy, and Malfoy suddenly seemed to notice this.

 

“Excuse me,” Malfoy said, his voice at its most honeylike. “I have something of a professional interest in your daughter’s condition. Sergios has invited me to observe. I do hope you don’t mind.”

 

Mr Granger made a less-than-heartfelt grunt of assent. But Mrs Granger spoke up. “We’re grateful for your help, Mr Malfoy, but if it’s all the same to you we’d rather not. It’s something of a family-”

 

“Surely it’s a little thing to ask,” Lucius Malfoy added, still smiling but starting to blink.

 

“We’re grateful for your help, Mr Malfoy,” Patty Granger went on, a little steel in her tone. “This is a private matter now-”

 

Malfoy’s courtesy seemed to have reached the breaking point. “Mrs Granger, it is not all the same to me,” he said testily. “I would rather you did not compel me to insist.”

 

Mrs Granger looked like she had been slapped.

 

“Oh, bother,” Mr Granger said. “Let’s have it over and done with!”

 

Sergios spoke, and Viktor stood up. Viktor walked over to Hermione and, obviously following instructions from the old wizard, he reached over and opened her eyelids. Harry saw that his hand shook. The Grangers stepped back, as if to stay out of the way of their daughter’s blank, lifeless stare. Mr Granger made a choking sound. Sergios stepped in and peered into Hermione’s face, and Malfoy leaned in as if to see what it was that Sergios was looking for.

 

Malfoy asked Sergios a question, but his words sounded to Harry like nonsense. He was asking about something like “gates of hod” and the moon and “emanations” and all sorts of words Harry did not know. Viktor was slow to translate, but Sergios nodded and began speaking before Viktor had finished, clearly understanding what Malfoy’s confusion was.

 

“Then my master- then I had been wrong all along!” Malfoy whispered. “But surely it’s different with Mudbloods?”

 

A burst of translations. Harry wondered what strange information Malfoy was gleaning. He hoped fervently it was nothing of use to Voldemort. Harry tried to think of what Memory Charms he had learned. Just in case.

 

“There is no difference with Muggles,” Viktor expained. “They just have no… paralda, but that is not important.”

 

“Er, excuse me, is all this going all right?” Mr Granger interjected from the background.

 

“Yes,” Viktor said. “But ve are not finished for a long time.”

 

 

***

 

 

Harry was almost falling asleep crouched in his discreet corner of the room, where Sergios’ soft voice uttered chanted spells, occasionally interrupted by an excited Lucius Malfoy, for whom this excruciating ritual seemed to be better than Christmas morning.

 

“Here it comes,” Viktor said. He beckoned to the Grangers. “Please come here. You vill be able to help Sergios. You vill have to not be frightened.”

 

The Grangers clearly did not like the sound of that, but they obeyed, stepping forward as if invited to examine a ticking parcel. Sergios looked over and addressed Lucius Malfoy directly, his voice severe. Viktor was not forthcoming with the translation. His eyes grew wide as he listened to Sergios’ words. Harry could not tell if he was frightened, puzzled or annoyed. Perhaps he was all three at once. But Sergios then turned to Viktor with an expectant look.

 

Lucius Malfoy’s eyebrows were raised toward Viktor, who inhaled and spoke. “You do not love this girl,” he said. “Her parents, me and the other do.” Harry nearly choked at the mention of “the other”, and Malfoy instinctively turned his head, but the next words clearly won back his attention. “Sergios says that you must not interfere, and if you do cause her harm Sergios will completely destroy you. This is what he said,” Viktor concluded, as if in apology. 

 

Mr Granger had had enough. “This is mad,” he said. “Can any of you explain to us what is going on? It’s been over two hours and she’s still just lying there!”

 

“She is not just lying there, you fool,” Lucius Malfoy interrupted suddenly. His voice was eerily even and calm. “She is banging her fist on the edge of the universe, pleading to be allowed in. I can hear her infantile shrieking. Sergios has performed a spell that has banished her soul from her body. He is trying to repair her.” Harry saw a cruel, cold smile break Malfoy’s lips apart. “I’m aching to see how you will take it when you see it. I expect you won’t have the courage. I’ve pledged to Sergios not to interfere or I would show you hatred, not an idea of hatred but the real thing. But love should be enough to destroy a couple of silly Muggles’ minds. Yes, I’m sure it will do.”

 

“Shut up!” Viktor shouted to Malfoy. Sergios’ head momentarily turned in annoyance, but then he resumed his chanting. “I vill tell Sergios what you say, and then you will see what he vill do!” Mr Granger stared at Malfoy with a look of wild confusion. Mrs Granger covered her face.

 

Sergios’ chant briefly rose in volume, betraying annoyance. Malfoy appeared to have had enough of baiting the Grangers, and went back to watching Sergios work. Viktor watched Malfoy a few seconds more, then turned back and continued to watch Hermione, who looked quite serene now that her eyes, accusing in their blankness, were closed. Harry tried to quietly straighten himself up so he could see better.

 

Hermione suddenly took in a deep sharp breath. An explosion could not have startled the people in the room more. Only Sergios did not jump back. Hermione expelled the breath in a sustained low, throaty cry. The Grangers stumbled, as if pushed, against the wall. Hermione crumpled into a foetal ball and rolled over on her side.

 

A burst of words came from Sergios as he kept his eyes locked on Hermione, his hands held over her. Viktor knelt down beside the bed, and he made a beckoning motion toward the Grangers.

 

“Come now! Ve must make sure she does not hurt herself!”

 

Hermione began to thrash about madly, her eyes shut tight. Before he knew what he was doing, Harry stood up and moved to the bed, then remembered himself and stopped dead in his tracks. Everybody was too focused on Hermione’s anguishing throes to notice him. The Grangers bustled up to the bedside and held their hands out, not daring to touch their daughter but restraining her from rolling off the bed or whanging into the furniture. Mrs Granger’s face was contorted in a pained mask, as if she was unsure whether she should simply go mad and start running right now.

 

Hermione settled down gradually until she simply lay, breathing hard. Sergios held up a hand to all present, indicating silence. He then beckoned to the Grangers and stepped away, whispering.

 

Viktor whispered his translation. “You stay near. It is better for her to see you first.”

 

Harry could not resist stepping closer, and he saw Hermione’s face gradually become calm and… human. His heart rose. He had butterflies in his stomach- could she really be all right? Could it be over finally?

 

The butterflies seemed to settle and become leaden. Something, something was not right. The Grangers must have seen it, too. Harry perceived them receding away from Hermione, just by an inch, as they caught her eye. Hermione looked at her mother and father in turn but said nothing. Her eyebrows rose. She looked confused, watchful.

 

“Pet?” Mr Granger whispered.

 

“Pe-” Hermione pronounced. “Bloody hell!” she called out suddenly. The Grangers jumped back. Harry blinked. Never in her life, Harry was sure, had Hermione said either “bloody” or “hell”. Even Viktor’s eyebrows went up. Harry’s heart sank into the floor. He remembered the sneering tone, from Azkaban. Hecate Durrell had not saved Hermione and Ron after all, she had used-

 

“You,” Harry said dully. The way everybody (other than Sergios) jumped would have been comical in any other setting. Harry dropped the cloak and walked up to the bed. Mr Granger’s eyes were practically protruding from his head, for the rage and confusion that must have been filling it.

 

“Oh! You’re Harry Potter, aren’t you?” Hermione said, lifting herself onto her elbows. “You’re a lucky one! Good friends, you’ve got.”

 

“Pet?” Mr Granger whispered again, lower this time. His daughter ignored him.

 

Spots danced in Harry’s eyes as he fought down a swell of anger. “What have you done?” he asked weakly.

 

“I’ve survived,” Hermione said, a smile breaking on her lips. “I’ve survived! I can’t bloody believe it. I’ve been waiting for the girl to get out of my way.”

 

“Hecate,” Harry said slowly. “Where is Hermione?”

 

“Is that what she was called? Funny sort of name. Off to my rotting corpse in Azkaban, I’ll wager,” she said and started to giggle. “Sorry, really! This is quite a moment for me, you understand.”

 

Mrs Granger grasped Hermione’s arm. “Darling- what are you playing at? Hermione?” Hermione shook off her mother’s hand.

 

“Mad!” Mrs Granger hissed, eyes clenched shut.

 

Lucius Malfoy, on the other hand, was beaming. “Am I to assume something has not gone according to plan?”

 

For the first time Hermione noticed Malfoy, and her morbid mirth vanished.

 

“A trap!” Hermione cried out. She began to kick out again. “Bastards!” There was a bright flash that momentarily blinded Harry. There was a series of thumps. When his eyes recovered he saw a faltering Malfoy gripping the wall, a dancing electric glow fading around him. Malfoy was pawing his robes.

 

“Don’t!” Harry cried out at both of them, and jumped between Lucius Malfoy and Hermione.

 

“Finish him off, for Merlin’s sake,” Hermione hissed, her voice clearly drained of all energy by the effort of the spell.

 

“This is Hecate Durell! Is this your joke, Potter!” Malfoy shouted. “Treacherous imp!”

 

Malfoy brandished his wand. Sergios, too, raised a hand high above all the others in the room. Harry guessed he needed no wand. Harry stood between Malfoy and Hermione, reaching into the pocket of his own robes. Hermione’s face was twisted in a panic. “He’s a murderer!” Hermione shrieked. “You must-“

 

“Out of the way, Potter. You’d best not tempt me,” Malfoy hissed as Harry held his wand out toward him.

 

“No!” Viktor cried out. “Remember what Sergios said!”

 

“Do you want the Mudblood alive or not! Sergios knows perfectly well what it will take to bring her back. Tell Potter to get out of my way!”

 

Harry’s eyes darted from Malfoy to the Grangers, to Malfoy then to Sergios, to Malfoy then Viktor. The Grangers stood, backs to the wall, shaking, eyes shut against the scene. There was a fast burble of Greek words. Sergios was nodding, and Harry saw Sergios’ raised arm slacken as he stepped away from the melee. Viktor’s grim face looked away. How could you all let this- Harry thought, but then he thought of Hermione, as the voice so unlike hers began to utter indistinct pleas, and she clawed the walls like a cat wanting to climb to safety.

 

Let me kill her,” Malfoy hissed with cold relish. Only Harry stood in the way of the execution of an Auror by Voldemort’s lieutenant.

 

Malfoy’s eyes travelled down to Harry’s wand-hand. Did Harry feel his hand slacken? Harry did not flinch. He simply watched his wand clatter on the floor as the bright green bolt arced harmlessly over his shoulder.

 

Silence, then a deep intake of breath. “The water - I- Dad?” came a weak whisper from behind Harry. Lucius Malfoy’s eyes met Harry’s. A slight smile. Harry was startled to hear Malfoy’s voice, close and intimate, but his lips did not move.

 

You did marvelously, the voice said. Don’t worry. You have your friend back, and everyone will pat you on the shoulder and convince you that you did the right thing. Cheer up.

 

“Go,” Harry hissed. “You saw what you wanted. Go.”

 

Lucius Malfoy’s smile widened. “I beg your pardon, these are my rooms, as a matter of fact. Nevertheless, as you wish. You have five minutes to get out.” With that, Malfoy strode over to the door and left the puzzled and exhausted group.

 

“Pet,” Mr Granger whispered. “You’re all right. She is all right isn’t she?” he added, looking up at Sergios. Sergios nodded vaguely.

 

 

***

 

 

“There was cold water - I was sure I was going to drown…” Hermione whispered. Harry walked a few feet ahead as Hermione followed, Mr and Mrs Granger close on either side of her. Viktor and Sergios hung back a little ways. Viktor’s walk seemed even more awkward than usual. Harry observed him occasionally shuffling forward to catch up with Hermione and the Grangers, then suddenly stopping and dropping back to where Sergios walked. They walked along the track that led uphill to the gates of the school. Hermione had spoken very little on the walk back, and Harry suspected she was still in shock.  Mrs Granger kept repeating “You’re all right, it’s all right,” as much to herself as to her daughter.

 

Harry spotted Ginny up ahead, appearing at the grand entrance gate and running along the track toward them. The Grangers started suddenly. Harry realized that they would not have seen her coming. She would have simply materialized in front of the gate, which to Muggles appeared as a ruined stone farm wall.

 

“Harry! Hermione!” Ginny called out. “You’re… you’re back!” Hermione seemed to snap into the present at the sound of Ginny’s voice.

 

“Ginny!” Hermione uttered as Ginny fairly collided with her, throwing her arms around her. Hermione hugged her back, and the group stood still for a few seconds. Harry stared at his feet.

 

“You’ve got to come quickly, Harry,” Ginny said, out of breath, turning toward Harry. “Something’s happened.”

 

Harry was puzzled for a moment at Ginny seemed to be staring at him significantly. “Oh!” he said.

 

“Draco’s been…” Ginny looked over at the Grangers. “All the students have got to get back to their towers right away! If they don’t find you there, there could be trouble.”

 

“Right,” Harry said. “Er, Mr and Mrs Granger, I don’t think you can come with us,” Harry said uneasily.

 

“Why not?” Mrs Granger said.

 

“I don’t think, er, non-wizards can get into the school grounds.”

 

Mr Granger’s face darkened. “Really,” he finally said. “Pet, I think you’d better come with us.”

 

Hermione looked at her father. “Dad, I’ve got to go back to school, I’ve missed days –”

 

“We’ll have to talk about your schooling back at home,” Mr Granger said, cutting Hermione’s words short. “Come along.”

 

“No, Dad! I’ve got to go back! There’s… there’s work to do… R- Ron’s…  I’ll come back later, I promise!”

 

“Darling,” Mrs Granger said, stepping forward. “I think your father’s right. Come back with us. You need to be away from this for a while.”

 

“No! Mum, I absolutely have to stay here!”

 

“We’ll talk about this back at the inn, dear. Come on,” Mrs Granger said.

 

Hermione looked over at Harry, silent. She brushed back some hair that had blown into her face, then she turned and started to walk, toward the gate.

 

“Sorry, Mum,” she said, marching determinedly up the path. “I’ll call, soon.”

 

“Hermione!” Mr Granger called. “You come back here right away!” He followed her, then broke into a jog as Hermione moved toward the gate. Harry and Ginny started to follow.

 

“Viktor!” Harry called back over his shoulder. “Don’t go yet! Stay in Hogsmeade!” He saw Viktor nod and wave them off wordlessly.

 

“Darling, this isn’t like you at all!” Mrs Granger called out. Harry, Ginny and Hermione passed through the gate. Glancing over his shoulder, Harry could see the Grangers stop dead in their tracks as the three vanished from their sight. Hermione was not looking back, though.

 

 

 

 

THE END for now.

//
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