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Harry Potter and the Time of Second Chances by Neville James
Chapter 29 : Teaching Malfoy a Lesson
 
Rating: 12+Chapter Reviews: 18


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A/N: Hey guys! So sorry! I'd give ya a great excuse if I had one, but this time it was just finals ; D I'm done for another week before I start spring term (gah!) but I figure with just one course I should have no trouble keeping with my weekly updates. I'm going to estimate three-four more chaps until the end, and then I'm not sure if I'll start the next one right away or not. PLease3 review and let me know what you think, every little wrong detail will help as I'm about to start the first editing sweep. Thanks again, and please suggest if anything could be changed or modified. Kyle : D


Chapter 28: Teaching Malfoy a Lesson


Loud gasps of astonishment and a shriek or two of surprise filled the hall as the determined and clearly incensed form of Hermione Granger strode toward the Minister for Magic. Cornelius Fudge watched through saucer-shaped eyes, spluttering from his muted mouth as the dirty and bloodied sixth year witch rushed at him with her wand drawn and a scathing look pouring from her eyes.

‘Hermione?’

Ginny was the first person to call out the name, and as soon as she had, the rest of the hall burst into exclamations of what a miracle it was for the girl to have returned from the dead. Ginny ran across the room to throw herself at Hermione but before she could reach the bushy-haired girl, Mrs. Weasley grabbed hold of her daughter and held her back. The large woman had tears in her eyes as she looked upon the love of her son’s life, but said nothing and made no attempt to approach her lest it not be true. Ginny continued to struggle against her mother until her father held her back as well, reminding her that Ron was still in trouble.

Harry and Marc were still staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed at their friend, unsure whether or not to believe their own eyes, or perhaps wonder if they were in some outlandish dream where things would soon end and return to their usual state. Ron on the other hand had an unreadable expression on his face as he stared blankly at Hermione, who had walked straight passed everyone and sat herself in the tiny chair for questioning.

‘Miss Granger?’ Fudge finally managed to form words as he composed himself. ‘What is the meaning of this intru-’

‘Oh do shut up,’ Hermione’s voice sounded for the first time in the hall and every voice fell silent in surprise.

The girl’s usual strict tone and firmness were not conveyed by her now weary and extremely harsh voice.

‘You asked for a witness and now you’ve got one. Let’s get this over with though, because I’m very tired and have far more important things to do than convince you of the obvious.’

Fudge blinked awkwardly in astonishment at having been addressed so rudely by a student and said nothing. A hand rose to his shoulder and pulled him into his seat before he could splutter a response, allowing Amelia Bones to rise, replacing the monocle that had fallen from her eye in surprise when Hermione had arrived.

‘Miss Granger,’ came her guff voice in what Harry decided was a rather good play at her regular tone, considering what she had just witnessed. ‘While I am both surprised and delighted to see you alive, I must first test the validity of it all.’

Hermione nodded her head and placed her wand on the table in front of her with a sigh. Harry noticed that her left hand had a bit of torn material wrapped around it tightly as a makeshift bandage; spots of dried blood were clearly visible. Bones then withdrew her own wand and waved it in a complicated pattern, whispering ‘desaparidium,’ and finally nodding firmly toward the Wizengamot; confirmation that the girl truly was who she stated to be.

‘Very well, I am pleased to see that you are well,’ the older woman said with a small smile. ‘But I am afraid I must ask you how it is possible for you to still be alive when this entire hall has just finished hearing the testimonials of five others who were certain of your death.’

‘I cannot tell you why I am not dead for certain ma’am,’ Hermione said tiredly, throwing a glare in Fudge’s direction and prompting him to glower back. ‘Only that I am lucky to have escaped my captors and finally make it back to Hogwarts. Unfortunately I was not able to enjoy the reunion with my parents that I had so hoped for as I was prompted to attend a ludicrous trial.’

As she said this, voices around the hall began to abound once more, each person curious as to how she escaped where so many had failed.

‘I do not mean to contradict you Miss Granger, but I can hardly believe that both Aurors Tonks and Shacklebolt could have been mistaken in at least seeing you unconscious at the scene of the crime. Somehow they believed you to be dead, but now it is clear that you were under the influence of some curse. I need you to tell me what happened once you woke up.’

‘I would be more than happy to Madam Bones, however I must ask that you first pardon Ronald Weasley of his convictions. I am very much alive and therefore the allegations against him can no longer hold true. Minister Fudge said so himself,’ she added with a contemptuous stare at the short man, nearly hissing his name.

‘Of course dear,’ the woman said immediately as though it were obvious, ‘Mister Weasley is free to go.’

A burst of cheers filled the hall as these words were spoken, but the noise was once again snuffed by Fudge’s cry of outrage.

‘I don’t think so!’ he screamed, his face reaching a shade of purple that would have made Vernon Dursley look quite pallid. ‘So the girl’s alive. It makes no difference! Weasley used an Unforgivable when he believed the girl to be dead! She was unconscious and could in no way be a witness to the night’s events. This changes nothing!’ he finished spluttering.

‘I know exactly what happened that night, and were your mind not so intent on securing publicity you might have thought to ask me,’ Hermione snarled loudly, making several people jump as she slammed her hands hard on her table.

Harry looked from the increasingly infuriated Minister to the incredibly angered expression on Hermione’s face, still unable to believe what he was seeing. The girl’s hair was in more disarray than was usual, framing her entire face with thick curling strands, each doing a poor job of hiding the gashes and bruises on her usually clear face. Hermione looked as though she had been beaten badly and the bits of dried blood on her upper lip and staining her blue cardigan furthered Harry’s belief that she narrowly escaped her captors with her life.

‘Are you saying that you saw what happened the night of your attack?’ Madam Bones asked then in a sort of curiosity Harry had not heard before from the formal woman. The question worked to pacify the Minister and distract Hermione, as the woman had obviously noted just as Harry had, that Hermione had retaken her wand.

‘Mostly ma’am. I had just finished cleaning up the kitchen with my mother when I heard the noise of someone apparating in our front corridor. I knew instantly what was happening as none of my friends can apparate yet and they would not simply let themselves in without knocking first. I immediately told my parents to run out the back door, but they argued for a moment and then it was too late. The first curse shot through the doorway and nearly hit my father, so I had them both duck behind the table and I ran into the corridor where I knew I could try and hold my attacker off.’

She took a deep breath here and let it out slowly before continuing. Harry could tell that she was fighting off exhaustion as her lids drooped heavily between her comments.

‘I of course knew there would be more than one attacker, as Death Eaters aren’t all that keen on fair fights, but I never expected three of them to be sent for me. I don’t even know how long I held them off for, but then one of them noticed my mother looking in from around the table and made a go for her. I tried to stop him, but the instant I lost my concentration, one of them caught me from the side and I fell. I remember falling and thinking it was the end, and that I had failed. I knew they would kill my parents and there was nothing I could do.’

Harry listened to this story, and watched Hermione’s battered face as she expressed her regrets at not saving her parents. He now understood why she had been so adamant about spending the holidays with them; had she not, they would surely have died that night. Several others in the hall must have agreed as a silent murmur ran through the crowd.

‘An odd thing happened then,’ Hermione said darkly, and more quietly, forcing many people to lean in to hear properly. ‘They did not kill me, or my parents. I heard one of them agree to meet the other two at the next house after they had dealt with me. I could not move, and I could see nothing but the floor, but I heard everything that happened after that.’

She looked across the room then and for the first time her gaze locked tightly with Ron’s. Harry heard his friend’s shallow intake of breath and looked over to see him staring back at her, an unidentifiable look in his eyes.

‘I heard everything,’ she repeated with a small smile on her lips, and Harry watched as both of his best friends shared a moment that had been long overdue.

‘And what did you hear Miss Granger?’ Madam Bones’ gruff voice prompted Hermione to continue, however her eyes did not break away from Ron’s.

‘I recognized the voice of one of my attackers: Macnair,’ she said as though the name left a foul taste in her mouth. ‘He was telling the other one to get me ready so that they could leave, but before either of them could do anything I heard the door burst open and then I heard Ron shoot his curse. I knew the instant I heard the thump of Macnair’s body what he had done, and I’m sorry Madam Bones,’ she now said with defiant tears in her eyes, ‘but I’m glad. I don’t know what those two could have done had Ron not been there, and if it makes me a bad person to be glad he saved my life, than I’m sorry.’

‘A new murmur rushed through the crowd as people discussed what they had just learned. Harry distinctly heard a man behind him call Ron a hero and noticed that Rita Skeeter’s quill was manic.

‘There is no need to be sorry Miss Granger. It appears that Mister Weasley did the right thing, and could very well have saved your life that evening,’ she announced loudly with a nod of approval in Ron’s direction. ‘What happened next?’

Harry knew what was coming next and looked over at his red-haired best friend, knowing how embarrassed he would feel that Hermione had heard everything he had said that night. Now it would be announced in court and then broadcast to the rest of the wizarding world by none other than Rita Skeeter. The bug-like woman appeared to be in raptures as her quill darted back and forth across her notepad, scribbling down hundreds of what would surely be falsified statements and details of Hermione’s account.

‘I felt Ron turn me over then, and that’s when I realized I must have looked dead because my eyes were actually open and I could see him looking at me, but I still couldn’t move. I couldn’t react as I heard all of my best friends react to my being dead, and that’s when Lupin, Tonks and Kingsley arrived to take me to St. Mungos. I could tell that from the look in their eyes that they also thought me dead, but still they didn’t give up.’

Harry saw the bit of relief in Ron’s face that Hermione had chosen to edit her tale, and found himself smiling as he noticed a bit of Ron’s life return to him. His eyes were already glistening from unshed tears for Hermione’s suffering, but behind the hurt and surprise of everything that had happened that morning, something had just reawoken in the Weasley boy.

‘Outside of St. Mungos I felt as Tonks was taken by surprise from behind and soon someone new gripped me in their arms. I knew of course by the harshness of the hold that it was a Death Eater. The sensation of a portkey landed us somewhere dark and cold. Somewhere with a smell like no other I’ve ever smelled.’

Harry was bothered when his friend fought back the urge to gag at her memory. Madam Bones remained silent, completely enthralled by Hermione’s account of the evening, and a quick glance around the room showed every other expectant face to be the same.


‘I was placed on the ground in this cave, I wish I could tell you more about it but I cannot. It was too dark. The Death Eater put manacles around my arms but forgot to take my wand, the git,’ she added with a roll of her eyes, making Harry smile inwardly at her ability to criticize even in the face of death. ‘I wish I’d heard what spell he used to reverse my paralysis, but either way I regained all mobility and was left alone for what seemed like hours before He came.’

Harry’s throat and chest tightened as she said this in her darkest and most grudging voice yet. He knew immediately what she meant when she said He, and was now very worried as to what He had done to her. Ron and Marc evidently understood her meaning as they had both leaned forward in their seats as well, Ron looking at her worriedly. Arthur and Moody were sharing a disturbed glance at this news as well, but Harry found that the Headmaster was looking as collected as ever from where he sat next to an outraged Minister.

‘I’m sorry Miss Granger,’ Madame Bones said in confusion. ‘Who came to see you?’

‘Voldemort,’ she said determinedly, a pointed look toward Fudge.

The instant the name left her lips, a pandemonium of shouts and calls filled the hall, this time unstopped by the glares and shouts of the Minister. Some people were yelling at one another about the absurdity of the statement while others discussed what a miracle it was for her to still be alive. It was nearly ten more minutes before things were placid enough for Hermione to continue.

‘Are you telling me, Miss Granger, that the Dark Lord himself spoke to you?’ the grey-haired woman asked with a tone that more conveyed a willingness to understand than doubt.

‘Yes,’ was her only reply.

‘This is ridiculous Amelia!’ Fudge was once again on his feet, waving his hands in the air vigorously. ‘The girl is obviously lying. Even if the Dark Lord kidnapped someone, and someone worth kidnapping I might add,’ he threw a glare Hermione’s way, ‘he would not be careless enough to let them escape. And especially not unscathed.’

‘Unscathed!’ came Hermione’s roar of protest. ‘Do I look unscathed Fudge?’ she shouted pulling back her hair to reveal the deep gashes and bruises marring the skin of her face and neck.

Several people gasped when they saw the extent of her wounds, and the Minister paled slightly.

‘Is this fake Minister?’ she asked more quietly, in a low rumble that dared him to question it.

Fudge looked around the room and seeing the disapproving looks he got from many of the gathered faces, sat back down in a huff.

‘Are you absolutely certain that it was the Dark Lord?’ Madam Bones’ voice filled the hall once more.

Hermione gave an uncharacteristically dry laugh at this, and then nodded.

‘Of course I am ma’am. One does not confuse Lord Voldemort with any ordinary wizard. Just like he will not confuse you with anyone else.’

‘Very well. I believe that we might continue this conversation another time Miss Granger. One where privacy may be afforded us. I will contact you tomorrow evening. You are all dismissed,’ she said with such finality that even Fudge’s protests were ignored, and the Wizengamot began to clear the hall, whispering to one another as they did.

The instant Madam Bones declared the trial adjourned, Hermione was crushed under the pressure of a hug from her closest female friend. Ginny had managed to escape her parents’ grasps and was now clinging tightly to the brown-haired girl, tears streaming down her cheeks as she told her how happy she was to see her.

Mrs. Weasley had finally approached them to pull Ginny away and envelope Hermione in a tight embrace of her own, but quickly let go as others came close to say hello. The red-haired woman knew exactly where Hermione wanted to be and helped to hold people back from her as she started through the crowd.

Hermione smiled at many people but quickly and meaningfully made her way toward the table where both Harry and Ron were still standing. Neither of them had rushed to meet her, as both were still unsure of how to feel. Harry was ecstatic to see that she was alive, but did not know how to go about telling her. The past few weeks had been torturous knowing that she was gone, and now suddenly he was supposed to forget that it had ever happened; he was not sure he could do that.

Hermione stepped up to both boys, each standing about a foot away from one another and smiled at them. There was an awkward pause where it seemed they could not decide who should hug her first, but it was quickly abolished as she slung an arm around each of them and pulled them tightly toward her, neither of them objecting, but rather gripping her back tightly as well. The three friends stood there for a long while, each of them comfortable knowing they were together and would never again be separated. Harry smiled as he felt Hermione’s warm tears mix with his own on their cheeks and thought to himself how glad he was that the trio was together again.

*


Not ten minutes later, the close-knit group of Gryffindors, accompanied by Luna, was sitting on the four-posters of the sixth-year boys’ dormitory after having securely sealed the door with the imperturbable. Hermione had refused McGonagall’s suggestion that she go to the hospital wing and Harry had been surprised to see the Deputy Headmistress resign to arguing with her.

Even more of a surprise had appeared as Professor Dursley walked down the main staircase to the Entrance Hall, finishing what appeared to be a tour of the castle for Mrs. and Mr. Granger. Hermione explained that she had been reunited with her parents that morning and that they would be staying at Hogwarts for the next week or so until a safer location could be arranged.

Everyone had hugged and welcomed Hermione back with open arms and thanks to Merlin once back in the dormitory, however, Harry’s happiness had quickly evaporated when his thoughts turned to his best friend being held captive by the Dark Lord.

‘What did Riddle want, Hermione?’ Harry asked bluntly, scolding himself inwardly when he saw Ginny flinch at the name of her previous possessor. ‘You have to tell me exactly what he did to you. I promise I’ll kill him for,’ but he did not get the chance to finish his threat before Hermione interrupted.

‘I never saw him Harry.’

Everyone stared at the bushy-haired girl blankly for a moment, each of them trying to register what she had just said.

‘What? But you just said that you could not mistake Lord Voldemort,’ Harry asked plainly, fairly certain that whatever her next response would be, it could not be good.

‘I lied,’ she replied just as plainly, glancing around the room to appraise the expressions on everyone’s face before continuing. ‘I couldn’t very well tell the world what really happened so I went with a more suitable story.’

‘Suitable!’ Ron cried suddenly, one of his first outbursts in weeks. ‘You, Hermione Granger, rule abiding Hogwarts Prefect, just lied to the Minister for Magic, the head of the Magical Law Enforcement Department, and the entire Wizengamot. What could possibly have made you do that?’ he asked with a mixture of disbelief and curiosity written all over his weary features.

‘Snape,’ came her reply, wiping all curious looks blank and replacing them with surprise. ‘Let me explain before you all go off,’ she added then with a sigh. ‘You all have to promise that you won’t repeat this to a soul.’ She looked mostly toward Luna as she said this, making certain that the girl would not repeat anything she learned about Snape’s Death Eater membership.

‘The night I supposedly died, I really should have. Voldemort had me listed as one of those who were to die along with the others that sadly did. For some reason,’ she said with a bitterness Harry could not place, ‘Snape chose to join the group of attackers that came to my home.’

‘HE WHAT!’ Ron shouted and flew to his feet as she said this, his face colouring instantly.

‘He saved me Ron,’ Hermione interjected quickly, getting to her feet and placing a calming hand on the redhead’s shoulder. ‘Because of him the others though me dead and did not kill me. If he hadn’t been there they surely would have done away with me.’

‘How did he fool the others,’ Harry asked tersely, remembering how very dead he had thought she looked that night and shaking his head to free his mind of the ghastly image.

‘Potions Master, Harry,’ Neville answered the question for her, a look on his face that emulated respect toward the man that he had feared for so long.

Hermione nodded solemnly then.

‘He stunned me and then gave me the Draft of the Living Dead once I had fallen. He gave me quite a bit of it too, probably to ensure I looked the part,’ she added with interest. ‘Either way, it was Snape who stole me away from Tonks, and he’s had me safe since then. It was six days before I could even move again so he kept me asleep until the draft wore off.’

‘And no one felt the need to inform us that you were still alive?’ Harry interrupted at this point, thoroughly angered at being left in the dark yet again. ‘Our best friend dies, and everyone lets us think it’s true! Just lets us hurt!’ he shouted now, his voice reaching the famous Harry temper level.

‘I didn’t know either!’ Hermione shouted back at him, and then surprised everyone by standing and punching him hard in the arm. ‘How do you think it was for me Harry?’ she asked, angry tears forming in her eyes. ‘I had to sleep for six days and then wake to find that I was dead to the outside world and that Voldemort tried to kill me. Then I had to read that some of my friends were dead and that Ron was in St. Mungos and would be put on trial if he ever got out.’

She looked up at Ron and Harry could tell exactly what she was thinking. She had been forced to stare into his eyes while he spoke to her that night, and watched silently while he confessed his love, unable to respond in any way.

‘I tried to leave but Snape said that I couldn’t. I tried to tell him that mum and dad had to know I was alright but I wasn’t allowed to leave.’

Several tears dropped down onto her cheeks as the thought of her parents misery reached her, and Harry felt ashamed for having yelled at her. While it was not her choice to be involved, he could surely think of someone who had orchestrated everything. He was about to comment on how little he was beginning to trust the Headmaster, but Ron beat him to it.

‘I’ve had about enough of Dumbledore!’ the youngest Weasley boy ground out. ‘Who does he think he is, toying with people’s lives like this? I’m through with him.’

‘But he didn’t know until today Ron,’ Hermione said quickly, a pleading tone in her voice. ‘You have to believe the Headmaster wouldn’t do something like this. He’s on our side Ron.’

‘Wouldn’t he?’ Harry said darkly, doubtful that the Headmaster could be blind to something as important as a student’s faked death, and miraculous return to thwart the Minister. ‘It’s not like he hasn’t kept secrets before.’

Harry exchanged significant glances with Neville and Luna, and Hermione gave him an oddly calculating glance. He thought for a moment that she was about to say something but she apparently changed her mind and remained silent, satisfied in just watching him.

‘So what now?’ Ron asked irritably. ‘You stayed hidden so that Voldemort thought you were dead, and now he’ll know you’re not. Why’d you come out of hiding Hermione? He’ll only come after you again and more fiercely than ever.’

Everyone gaped at Ron, not able to believe that he was voicing this concern. While they had all entertained that particular thought, Ron was the last person Harry would have thought to be upset at her return. Hermione looked up at him for a moment before putting on a defiant front and stating plainly that she had not wanted to leave, and that it had been Snape who had requested she do it. The statement was once again met by surprised looks, and this time Ron did not know exactly what to say.

‘He said that if I didn’t show up to the trial it was likely you’d go to Azkaban.’

‘How did he know what Ron did if he was hiding with you?’ Ginny asked with concern, unsure of what side of this battle she should be on.

‘Because I could very well have hit him with my curse,’ Ron said then, his eyes taking on a guilty quality Harry had seen a few times in the past. ‘I can’t believe I almost killed him,’ he whispered.

‘Yes, well, he was far from impressed to say the least,’ Hermione said quietly and her remark was followed by an awkward silence.

‘I dare say Voldemort will be far from pleased with poor Professor Snape.’

It was the first time Luna had spoken since the group had entered the room, and the simplicity of her comment had everyone realise exactly what Snape had sacrificed. They all knew that the Dark Lord had killed for far less and that a task as great as murdering Harry Potter’s best friend would not be a failure Riddle could ignore.

‘He’s as good as dead,’ Harry said bleakly, deeply bothered that someone would pay the price for saving him heartache yet again; worst of all people it had to be Severus Snape.

‘He said he’s made a plan but that’s all he’d tell me. Please everyone, just trust that he knows what he’s doing. Even if you don’t like him Ron, you have to admit that he must know what he’s doing or he wouldn’t still be around after all this time.’

Everyone in the room gave her a doubtful glance but she chose to ignore it, sighing lightly and plastering an obviously contrived smile to her face.

‘Now, if you could all please indulge me, I would like for things to go back to normal. I know it’s a lot to ask, but please just try. Maybe just tell me about what’s happened this term so far, and what assignments I’ve missed. I really should get started on those soon; I don’t want to end up working somewhere with Crabbe and Goyle,’ she added with a roll of her eyes; a clear indication that things were not going to change any time soon.

Ginny gave a small giggle and despite Harry and Ron’s reluctance to forget the day’s events, the group began to discuss lesson plans, assignments, and what turned out to be the most interesting topic to Hermione: the dueling club.

‘That was a wonderful idea Harry,’ she praised him for his work at splitting up the houses into mixed teams. ‘I can’t believe Dumbledore didn’t do that on his own though. He’s always going on about house unity and how we need to get along,’ she added more to herself than to anybody else.

Harry heard Ron mumble something about the Headmaster being an old coot, but did not quite catch it all before Hermione bombarded him with more questions about the club. The way things were going, it appeared that Hermione was going to do everything in her power to act as though her dying had not occurred. Whether or not this was a good thing, Harry was not yet confident, but one thing was for certain: Hermione was back, and that felt great.

*


Conversation had stolen far into the wee hours and the morning rays of sunlight were far from welcomed when they crept into the dormitory and onto the haplessly tangled trio. Harry had felt the sunlight hit him in the eyes and rolled over in an attempt to pull his hangings closed, only to find that he could not. Cracking open one eye he grinned to see Ron’s lightly snoring face happily cuddling into a socked foot, which upon closer inspection to the end of the bed, belonged to Hermione.

Harry decided to just lay there for a moment longer, happy to not be worried for the first few minutes of a new day, and simply disappointed that he did not have a camera to capture what would surely be a brilliant moment the instant Ron woke up. The red head did not disappoint, as barely three minutes later he opened his eyes to find just what had nudged its way into his mouth, and nearly hit his head when he threw himself off the edge of the bed with a shout.

‘Blimey, Hermione! You’d better have washed those socks,’ he said, red in the face and trying to suppress his own laughter as the rest of their dorm mates chuckled whole-heartedly at the scene before them.

‘You three make quite the perfect picture don’t you?’ Marc said with a grin from his bed next to theirs, causing Ron to gesture rudely before getting up and going to his own four-poster rather red in the face.

Harry and Hermione both gave small laughs but Harry was preoccupied by the distant look in his roommate’s eyes. He had noticed it the night before as well, wondering why Marc had not spoken more throughout the evening, rather than sit back and listen. He had caught the boy staring absently off at the wall several times, in an almost Luna-like way.

The Gryffindors began to head down to breakfast, but Harry hung back momentarily, hoping to get a word in with his far-off friend. Marc remained seated on his bed, mid-way through putting his socks on and staring off at the floor again. Harry was getting quite worried about him; he had not been the same since their return from the past.

‘Hey Marc,’ he called out, pulling the curly-haired boy out of his musing to look up at him. ‘Are you feeling alright?’

‘Uh, yeah, of course. Why do you ask?’ Marc answered swiftly, and Harry recognized the answer to be one of the many he supplied on a daily basis.

‘You seem a little bit withdrawn lately,’ Harry ventured to say, not wanting to offend his friend, but at least trying to be honest after all they had been through recently. ‘Is something bothering you?’

Harry stared at his friend and what he saw in his eyes unnerved him more than anything he had seen in a while. The withdrawn and sunken look in his eyes was nearly identical to the one he had seen in Sirius’ after he had been released from Azkaban. He had only ever seen that tormented gaze one other time, and that had been while glaring into the maniacal eyes of Bellatrix Lestrange. Marc must have noticed the piercing stare Harry had fixed on him because he chose to blink then and tear his grey-blue eyes away from him, mumbling something about feeling under the weather before heading toward the door.

Harry definitely did not believe him, but at the same time was unsure of how to approach helping him. How do you help someone who does not want to be helped? This reminded him of the many times Ron and Hermione had tried to help him, and suddenly he was taken back to thoughts of the heirs and the prophecy. It had been days since he had thought of either properly, and now with Hermione back perhaps he would stand a chance at deciphering the riddle.

First he would have to tell her somehow. Harry wrinkled his brow and pulled a hand through his mangled mane before sighing loudly. This was not going to be a simple day.

Breakfast was an exciting affair; owls swept in from every rafter to deposit some sort of package or letter for the girl who had miraculously survived an encounter with the Dark Lord. Hermione seemed quite unimpressed with all the attention, and Harry was quite certain that there had not been that many people at the trial. It was not until they untied the copy of the Daily Prophet that they understood how everyone knew about her return. Staring up from the front cover of the journal was Hermione’s battered form, teary-eyed as she told her tale in the witness stand. Above her read the caption: Hermione Granger returns from the dead!

‘This should be good,’ Hermione muttered darkly as she leaned over the paper, with her friends leaning over her shoulders closely, and began to read aloud.

Last night at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the Wizengamot convened to pass judgment on one of the school’s attendants, Ronald Bilius Weasley. The boy was found guilty of using an unforgivable curse with malicious intentions, leading the crowd to a near riot. In an interesting turn of events, Hermione Granger, thought to be dead in the Dark Lord’s most recent attack, appeared to speak on the boy’s behalf, instantly freeing him of all charges.
While the girl’s survival is indeed a wonderful surprise, the circumstances behind that survival are at best sketchy. She claims to have spoken with the Dark Lord himself, narrowly escaping while his back was turned. Though her appearance was slightly convincing, it is highly unlikely that those events came to pass.
Her closeness to the boy-who-lived, Harry Potter, and the perfect timing of her arrival, seem only to indicate that it was in fact all a ploy set forth by Albus Dumbledore to discredit the Minister for Magic. For further details on the trial, see pages three, five, and six.
Rita Skeeter

‘That cow!’ Ron’s voice yelled across the hall, getting several curious glances from other students, and a couple of disapproving glares from the staff table. ‘How dare she insinuate that this was all set up?’ the redhead allowed his temper to flare in spite of the onlookers.

‘Well, it sort of was,’ Hermione whispered to him offhandedly as she re-read the contents of the article, biting her lip in consternation. ‘Besides, I don’t think Skeeter had much choice in writing this. The Minister’s trying to get back at me for yesterday,’ she added with a roll of her eyes.

‘What are people going to say?’ Ginny asked quietly of the other students in the school, but before she could continue the thought, Cho Chang walked across the hall and tapped Hermione on the shoulder.

‘Oh, hello Cho,’ Hermione said calmly, but with an edge of surprise in her voice.

‘Hello Hermione,’ the raven-haired girl said congenially with a wide smile. ‘I just wanted to tell you how happy I am that you’re alright, and that I for one don’t believe that load in the Prophet. Most of Ravenclaw is behind me on that one as well, so don’t even think on it.’

Hermione smiled back up at the girl and gave a small laugh.

‘Thanks Cho. It means a lot.’

‘No problem. Also, I spoke with Professor Flitwick this morning and he asked me if perhaps I’d be willing to help you with what you’ve missed this past week. If you’re up for it, I’ll be in the library this evening after dinner and I’d be more than happy to give you a hand,’ she smiled.

‘Oh, absolutely,’ Hermione nearly squealed in delight. ‘I’ll see you there right after dinner then.’

Cho gave a wave and smiled at Harry before walking back to sit at her own table. Harry watched her go, and could not help but wonder why she was being so nice to Hermione; the pair had never gotten along famously, except for the one time they had been seen sitting together at the ball. Seeing Cho also reminded him that he was to have lunch with her some time soon, and then that he was also to work with her during their next dueling club meeting.

As though Snape had read his mind, and for all Harry knew he had, the Potions professor stood behind the staff table to make an announcement. The moment he stood, all eyes fell onto him and noise instantly vanished from the hall.

‘There will be a formal meeting for the Dueling club this evening after dinner, and all students who intend to be a part of this endeavor will be present. After tonight’s gathering I shall arrange the teams accordingly, and though I have already practically decided who shall be on which teams, tonight shall be everyone’s opportunity to vie for captaincy.’

He finished this with a typical Snape sneer and sat back down, allowing the students to whisper amongst themselves about this new development. As far as they knew, the captains spots would already have been taken; or at least one of them.

Harry narrowed his eyes at this, wondering how fiercely he would have to compete for one of the captain’s spots; one would surely go to Malfoy, but other than him, it was difficult to say who Snape would allow. To be completely honest, Harry was rather surprised that the greasy-haired man had even agreed to head the club at all, figuring he would most likely have had potions to brew or brooding to accomplish somewhere alone in the dark.

The sounding of the warning bell had most students packing their things and heading toward their first lessons of the day. Over the clamour of feet and laughing voices, Harry and Ron barely heard Hermione explain that she would meet them in class; she had to speak to Cho about changing the time of their meeting, so not to miss her first dueling club gathering.

Harry barely heard Ron’s reply as he was busy watching Marc and Ginny head off toward their lesson, the redhead rambling to him excitedly about something while he stared back at the head table forlornly. When Harry looked back to the staff table, the only professors he saw were Lupin and Black, engaged in one of their regular heated arguments. Resolving to speak with Remus about it later, he made his way through the throng of students to catch up with Ron and Neville, both of whom had gotten away from him.

The beginning of Charms class was rather bleak, neither Ron nor Harry paying much attention to the considerably dry curriculum. Professor Flitwick simply reviewed many of the new Charms they had learned this term, with hopes that his students might apply this knowledge during their club meeting later that evening. The boys talked and joked amongst themselves, occasionally looking up to see if their Professor was on to them, or perhaps if Hermione was trying to get them to pay attention as per usual.

The bushy-haired Prefect was not paying them any mind in fact, but was rather watching their tiny Professor with such interest that Harry found odd even for her. Granted she had missed a week of classes, but that was nothing compared to their second year when she had been petrified. Today she watched their professor closely, mouthing the incantations silently and waving her hand under the table as to learn the new Charms intimately.

It was midway through the lesson that Harry learned of the reason behind his best friend’s peculiar fascination. He happened to be looking over in her direction, and suddenly noticed that despite her keen interest for the past half hour, her notebook was completely empty. He was about to comment when, out of nowhere, just as Professor Flitwick shifted his weight from one leg to the next, he noticed a gleam in Hermione’s eyes that would not have looked out of place in the Weasley twins’. A split second later, she had flicked her wand and shouted out a string of the new charms, waving her wand incredibly quickly, barely pausing between each motion. Every head in the room watched as the barrage of charms shot toward their tiny Professor, who Harry noted did look rather taken aback as he jabbed his wand into the air in defense.

Susan Bones gasped as Hermione’s advanced hovering charm clipped Flitwick’s right leg, throwing him off balance and beginning to lift him into the air. Luckily the old wizard was truly qualified for his position and readily ended the charm before throwing his own string of charms at his pupil with a delightful gleam in his own eyes.

Hermione seemed prepared for this though, and despite her brief look of disappointment at not fully catching him with her first attack, she leapt out of the way of an awful engorgement charm and more than adequately shielded herself from the rest. The class continued to sit silently with wide eyes as one of the cleverest witches in their year, and their Charms Professor dueled fiercely back and forth. It seemed that neither was going to give up until they felled the other.

The exchange of magical incantations continued for several more minutes before the classroom door opened to reveal a sneering Professor Sharpbane. Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown both shuddered under her glare, but the other students did not seem to mind her presence, as they were still occupied by the duel that did not end when the door opened.

‘May. I. Help you. Professor?’ Flitwick grunted as he ducked under Hermione’s disarming charm, shooting off his own Tarantallegra before hopping back onto his desk to avoid her retaliation.

‘I would like a word with Potter,’ she said crisply, no indication of concern or surprise on her face to what she was witness.

Taking the tiny man’s squeal of laughter, and ‘Good shot, Miss Granger!’ as a pass, Harry got to his feet and followed the severe woman out into the corridor, wishing he could watch the rest of Hermione’s show rather than speak with Sharpbane. Once in the hall though, thoughts of the duel disappeared when Harry saw several packed trunks next to her.

‘Are you leaving Professor?’ he asked in mild surprise.

‘There can’t very well be two Potions professors now can their Potter?’ she said as though the answer were obvious. ‘Severus is more than capable of handling his classroom, but that is not the reason I have come to speak to you. I hoped that perhaps you would discuss our training with the Headmaster, and if it suits the both of you, you might continue it,’ she said with what Harry interpreted as hope.

‘But I’m not entirely certain of what you were doing?’ he began to explain to the dark-haired woman, shrinking slightly under the exasperated look she showered upon him.

‘Honestly Potter, did you learn nothing? You are different from most people. I don’t know why. And I don’t intend to ever understand it, but for some reason Occlumency has worked best for you when you use your emotions entirely. Anger and pride seem to fuel your blocking the best, and if I’m correct in my assumptions, your feelings will aid you in the art of Legilimency.’

Harry’s eyes widened at her last bit, doubtful that he could ever perform such intricate magic when he could barely block her from his mind..

‘Don’t question me,’ she added at seeing the doubt in his eyes. ‘Discuss it with the Headmaster and take it from there.’

She peered into his eyes once more, giving Harry the sense that she was not trying to infiltrate his mind but rather memorize something about them.

‘I’ll tell you Harry,’ she caught him off guard with his first name, ‘you may be special and the rules may not always apply to you, but don’t for a second think that it is all by chance. You did not survive when you were a year old for nothing. Those eyes are special, and you best remember it.’

‘What do you mean?’ Harry asked incredulous; how dare she bring that up? ‘How are my eyes special?’

Professor Sharpbane closed her eyes and took in a steadying breath to calm herself. Were Harry not interested in what she had to say, he would have found her irritation rather amusing. His thoughts sobered as she leaned in closer to speak something more quietly to him, as though afraid someone in the empty corridor might overhear them.

‘Besides Severus, I only ever taught one other student the arts of Occlumency and Legilimency. A rather bright minded and bright-eyed Gryffindor girl. Suffice it to say that she did everything for a reason and that she too was guided by her emotions. Until the very end.’

Having finished her last comment in a whisper, Morganna Sharpbane drew her lips into a thin line and nodded firmly to the boy standing dazed in front of her, before flicking her wand and walking away down the silent corridor, her trunks floating noiselessly behind her.

Harry stood silently in the corridor; his back slumped against the cold stone wall as he thought of what he had just learned. Lily had known Occlumency. Why would his mother have needed such a thing, and why on earth were his eyes special? Did Professor Sharpbane know something about his mother’s sacrifice that Dumbledore did not?

Harry allowed himself to sink to the ground while these thoughts sifted through his mind, every one of them raising new questions and leaving the old ones unanswered. He was not sure how long he had been sitting on the floor, when the door flung open beside him to emit Justin and Ernie, both discussing how brilliant class had been. They were closely followed by the rest of the class, and as Harry stood to enter the room he found that Flitwick had dismissed them early once the duel had ended.

Listening to the exciting accounts from Neville and Ron, Harry learned that Hermione had eventually been struck down, but not for another whole ten minutes of spell casting. He looked over at his flushed friend, and found her grinning widely despite her loss several moments before.

‘What exactly were you doing in there, if you don’t mind me asking?’ he said plainly, pushing his other thoughts to the back of his mind. ‘Attacking a Professor? I think we should take you to see Madam Pomfrey,’ he added with a small laugh.

The others laughed as well, and Hermione swatted at the hand Dean placed on her forehead for effect.

‘Well, I needed the practice, and I wouldn’t mind one of the captains spots on the dueling team,’ Hermione said straightforwardly. ‘I suppose it was an audition.’

The boys walking with her all began to laugh louder at hearing her reasoning, and soon Ron and Seamus were being chased down the hallway toward their next class of the day.

The group of friends gave up their laughter upon turning the last bend before the Defense classroom. They all quieted as soon as they heard the shouts from behind the door. Harry could not be one hundred percent certain, but he had a fairly good idea to whom the voices belonged. The youths waited awkwardly outside the closed door as others arrived for class, and the shouts continued back and forth. Just as Ron voiced his opinion on skiving the lesson, the door was forcefully pulled open to reveal a red-faced Remus Lupin, anger flashing in his usually placid eyes.

The incensed werewolf scanned the crowd in front of him briefly before scowling something fierce and storming off down the corridor toward the entrance hall. Several people commented of course, but Harry ignored them as he entered the room and took his seat as far away from the front as was possible. If Remus had been sending a hostile signal, it was nothing compared to that of Professor Black’s.

The irate Blonde woman paced the front of her classroom; her cheeks flushed an unflattering shade of pink and her hair having tumbled out of its regular secure twist gave her the air of a woman on edge. She turned her gaze to the class, and every person dropped quickly into their seats, each trying their best to avoid her wrath if possible.

‘Mister Potter,’ she managed to say in a half decent manner, beckoning he come to the front of the room with an agitated wave of her hand.

The air was tense as everyone held their breath, and Harry found himself holding his own along with them a he trotted to the front of the room where he could receive his daily punishment. He walked purposefully toward the blonde woman and noticed for the first time, the frantic look in her eyes as collected things from her desk and threw them haphazardly into a small carrying case.

‘I take it you are familiar with the homorphus charm?’ she asked frigidly, nodding in response to her own question. ‘Alright, and the Arania Exeme?’ she nodded to herself again without even looking at him.

‘Yes ma’am,’ he answered carefully.

‘Good. I want you to write me a foot on how it felt when you were placed under the Morsus Minoris curse,’ she said flippantly, eliciting several gasps from the students who recalled witnessing the horrid spell.

Harry fumed inwardly when he saw the smirk spread across Malfoy’s face, wanting nothing more than to run across the room and connect his fist with the pale aristocratic features he so hated. These thoughts were soon wiped clear along with Malfoy’s signature sneer, the moment Professor Black’s next rushed words were uttered.

‘I must take care of some urgent business, so Mister Potter here will be teaching today’s lesson.’

The words rang clear in the silent classroom as every student’s mouth fell open in either surprise or disgust.

‘There will be a test on these curses next class, and I expect a foot next lesson on whatever topic Mister Potter might elect. Do remember I will hear if anything goes wrong,’ she added with a hasty glare around the room before grabbing her carrying case and walking rapidly from the room, leaving a stunned Harry in her wake.

The instant the door closed, Harry found himself at the front of the noisiest classroom he had ever been in. Every student had turned to their partner to discuss what had just transpired, and no one, especially not Harry, could believe it. Harry assumed it was some sort of cruel joke or test on his professor’s part, but after five minutes of waiting for her return, he realised that this was truly happening; he was not sure what to do. It took an encouraging look from a rather baffled Hermione before he made an attempt to silence the class.

‘Err, excuse me,’ he said loudly, but still everyone went on talking even louder. ‘Excuse me!’

He shot a helpless look at Hermione now, who gave him another encouraging nod and prompted him to try again. Thinking of what might silence them all, he grinned suddenly and shouted as loud as he could, ‘Professor Snape!’ If a pin were dropped, it would have been heard in the silence that ensued. Every face whipped around in search of the feared man, only to land at the front with a questioning glance when they did not find him.

‘Alright then,’ Harry cleared his throat, ‘the Homorphus charm is called a charm, but is actually classified as a curse, seeing as how it was thought to be a dark art-’

‘You can’t be serious Potter,’ Malfoy interrupted, leering wider than Harry had thought possible. ‘If you think we’re going to listen to you ramble on about rubbish for the next hour you’re dimmer than even I thought. C’mon Crabbe, Goyle, let’s get out of here.’

‘Sit back down Malfoy,’ Harry said firmly, surprised by his sudden want to take charge of the class; he figured it was more of his desire to irritate Malfoy. ‘Unless you want me to tell Professor Black that you disrupted the entire class?’ he threatened, and watched as the Slytherin’s face contorted.

‘Is that the best you’ve got Potter?’ he recovered and gave a raucous laugh before continuing toward the door, both his cronies following.

‘Why don’t you just shut it Malfoy!’ Padma Patil shouted at him from the back of the room. ‘Sit back down and shut your mouth for one hour. I’m sure even you can do that.’

Several people snickered as she rolled her eyes, and watched as Malfoy reddened in rage.

‘How dare you talk to me, you filthy half blood,’ he snarled in response, and reached for his wand.

‘Expelliarmus!’ Harry shouted and caught Malfoy’s wand neatly in his hand before crossing his arms in a glare.

‘You give me back my wand!’ the silver blond shouted furiously, beginning to cross the room toward Harry.

‘Sit down now Malfoy! You’ll get it back at the end of class,’ Harry bellowed. ‘Twenty points from Slytherin,’ he added, with a barely hidden smile. ‘Check for yourself if they came off at the end of class,’ he added before the outraged Slytherin could question it. ‘I’ll have Professor Black speak to Snape if that’s what it’ll take.’

That was apparently all it took, as each of the Slytherins sat back down, and though they glared venomously at him, Harry was able to go on speaking.

‘As I was saying, the Homorphus charm was considered a dark art due to its relationship with the werewolf.’

*


An hour later, Harry sat at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall for lunch, feeling both embarrassed by all the attention he was getting, and rather proud of himself for having just taught a Defense class all on his own; not to mention keeping the Slytherins in line.

News had spread quickly about the strange occurrence, and now most students were watching as Harry and his friends ate, many of them openly pointing in his direction; it was not everyday a student was allowed to teach the class. Harry looked up to the staff table and found that Professor Snape in particular did not look pleased about this new turn of events. Harry could not decide whether the glare directed at him was because it had reached the Potion Master’s ears that Harry had used his name to silence the class, or because he had removed twenty points from his house; Harry had been pleasantly surprised to find the green stones for Slytherin at a lower level upon crossing the entrance hall after class.

Turning his gaze away from Snape, Harry’s eyes fell upon the empty seats of Dumbledore and both Professors Black, who had yet to return from whatever her urgent business, and Dursley. Silently wondering where his aunt was, Harry started to find that the Deputy Headmistress was staring at him as well. McGonagall’s gaze connected with his own, and after a brief moment she signalled to the left with her eyes. Harry looked up to where she was indicating and was surprised to see several post owls swooping down from the rafters above, a snowy white bird among them.

‘Hedwig!’ he cried happily as his snowy owl landed on the table in front of him and nipped happily at his ear. ‘How are you?’ he inquired, genuinely interested in how his familiar had fared in his absence; he felt guilty for not having gone to see her sooner. ‘Have you been keeping out of trouble I hope?’ he added with a smile, and offered the owl some sausage from his plate.

‘We’ve been keeping her busy mate,’ Ron piped in, smirking at his friend and reaching over to stroke an appreciative Hedwig.

Looking up Harry saw that Hermione had also received a delivery, though hers came from a formal looking black owl, and her letter had the Ministry’s seal on it. Assuming it would be the promised letter from Madam Bones, Harry turned back to Hedwig, set on ignoring the previous day’s events as Hermione had asked.

‘Have you got a letter for me?’ Harry asked then, noticing the bit of parchment wrapped around her talon.

She stuck her leg out in confirmation, and he soon had it untied and unrolled. He held it closer to himself as he recognized the familiar green scrawl and realised what the note would concern.

Harry,
It has been quite a while now since we last met for your training. I think it may be prudent to resume your lessons as soon as possible, and more frequently as we have lost quite some time. Meet me in the Transfiguration classroom this evening after the dueling meeting, and we shall see if you have maintained your progress. Eight o’clock sharp.
Minerva McGonagall

Harry rolled up his note and tucked it into his robes pocket discreetly, commenting dismissively about Lupin wanting to meet with him later to satisfy Ron and Hermione’s expectant stares. Once they had gone back to eating, Harry let out a sigh and continued to stroke Hedwig, feeding her bits of food from his plate as she made contented noises. It had been a while since he had thought about his Animagus training, and even longer since he had actually performed the transformation; the last time being when he was bitten by a werewolf.

Harry’s thoughts were disrupted then as Lavender and Parvati entered the hall. Parvati sat down on the bench next to Ron and scooted over so she could lean in to him. Harry could tell that he was uncomfortable as Hermione looked across the table at them and did her best not to make eye contact with anyone.

‘When’s the next practice Ron?’ she asked sweetly, pecking him softly on the cheek and making him go rather red. ‘We’re up against Ravenclaw for the final match, and I saw them practicing yesterday; they’re out to win,’ she said seriously.

‘I could probably use the practice,’ Harry threw in, liking the idea of flying to clear his mind. It had been so long since he had done that now as well. His last match had been amazing in the past, but it was far from mind clearing.

‘I’ve booked the pitch for tomorrow after dinner if that’s all right,’ Ron said with a nod, looking to the other members of the team for approval. ‘Has anyone seen Marc?’ he added then, craning his neck to look farther down the table for their fifth year roommate.

Harry looked for his friend now as well, only to find that the distant boy had become more distant than ever: he was gone.

‘Was he in class today Gin?’ Ron asked his sister, and they were all confused as she shook her head sadly in affirmation.

‘He just left after History of Magic,’ she went on to explain, twisting her plait through her fingers. ‘He looked really sad though all through class, and not just because of Binns. He said he had to go and visit his aunt again at St. Mungos, and apparently she’s not doing to well lately,’ she ended quietly.

‘He told you that?’ Harry asked wistfully, wondering why Marc had not confided the same news in him when he had asked how he was that morning.

‘Yeah, I felt real badly,’ Ginny confirmed as she filled her goblet with tea.

‘Maybe we should all do something to cheer him up?’ Parvati suggested then, and several of the others agreed.

‘How about a party or something in the common room?’ Dean’s suggestion was also met with nods and words of accordance.

Parvati started to suggest some decorations and snack items they could use when Malfoy stormed past the table, glaring coldly at Harry and then over at her as well.

‘I see you’re still dating the other half of the filthy half-blood sisters. I guess it’s better than that Mudblood Granger,’ he sneered. ‘To bad she came back,’ he added with a pointed look of disgust in Hermione’s direction.

Ron, Harry and Neville jumped to their feet, ready to beat Malfoy’s face to a pulp, but apparently Parvati’s wand arm was quicker as she shot the body bind curse at him. Everyone watched as Malfoy froze and fell forward to the hard floor with a thud. Several people in the hall laughed, and for a moment no one made any attempt to end the spell, leaving Malfoy face down on the ground while they ate. Unfortunately that moment was not long enough, and two voices from the head of the hall chorused loudly.

‘Miss Patil!’ both Snape and McGonagall shouted, looking at each other for a moment as to decide who would punish the girl.

‘What are you thinking cursing another student?’ McGonagall continued, having won the battle of glares with her rival head of house. ‘Twenty points from Gryffindor and you will serve a detention with Professor Snape whenever he decides is a good time.’

Snape appeared taken aback by the gesture for a moment, but his cool mask of indifference quickly drifted back into place and he confirmed that she could join him in the dungeons after the dueling club meeting that night. Both professors retook their seats, and as an afterthought, ended the spell on the fallen Slytherin. Malfoy got to his feet and dramatically dusted the front of his robes, glaring hard at the Gryffindor table as he stalked out of the hall mumbling to himself about filthy blood.

‘That was a great shot,’ Hermione surprised them all by congratulating Parvati.

‘Too bad you have to spend the evening with Snape now, though,’ Ron added sympathetically, still having little love for the man he had grown to hate over the past six years.

Parvati just shrugged.

‘It was worth it. He insulted my sister, and nobody gets away with that,’ she said matter-of-factly.

‘After hearing her have a go at Malfoy today, I’m beginning to wonder if the Sorting Hat made a mistake in splitting you two up,’ Neville laughed.

‘Oh, there’s no mistake there. Very different personalities,’ Parvati confirmed. ‘But when it comes down to it, Padma will always be my equal.’

Harry’s head whipped up as her last word rung in his ears. She had called her sister her equal. Looking up at his aunt’s vacant spot at the head table, Harry’s face filled with panic and he jumped to his feet.

‘I’ve got to see Dumbledore,’ he hissed, frantically rushing out of the hall and leaving his friends baffled.



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