Author's Note: What in the world can I say to adequately convey my sincerest apologies for the insane amount of time that has passed since the last chapter? I really am very, very sorry it took four months. Real life, family problems and the dumbest amount of writer's block are all factors in the lack of posts. I am very, very sorry. I'm not entirely sure that this chapter has been worth the wait, but I assure you that it will NOT take four more freaking months for the next chapter. I've been reworking my original plot and setting up detailed outlines of the next four chapters. So hopefully, a new chapter will be up sooner rather than later. As for now, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for sticking with me and I truly hope that you will continue this journey with me while I continue to write. *Eli*
Chapter 16: Wrong Room
The next morning didn’t bring any new information on The Knight, much to Hermione’s dismay. The moment Hedwig delivered the Daily Prophet she snatched it nearly before the paper had been untied from Hedwig’s leg.
The only thing the paper held this morning were the descriptions of Walden’s previous murders. Copies of the Prophet lay cast aside, unread or crumpled up in disgust. Hermione, on the other hand, had set up the paper against the large pitcher of Pumpkin juice and ducked behind the pages as she ate.
“How can you continue to read that?” Susan asked Hermione as they left the Great Hall.
“There are important details amongst the blood and brutality, Susan,” said Hermione from behind the paper. “You just have to know where to look.”
“Like what?” asked Ron, annoyed as he pulled her—for the fifth time—out of the way of yet another group of Hufflepuffs.
“Sorry,” she muttered to Ron as the group shot her several odd looks.
“Can’t you give your Knight research a break while you walk?” asked Dean. “I don’t think Ron can keep you from falling down the stairs and I hardly think those first years would appreciate being used as a cushion. Even if you are the Head Girl,” he teased, snatching the paper the moment she rolled her eyes.
“Oh how very mature of you, Dean,” she scoffed as she tried to reach for the paper in his hand.
“Ah, ah, ah,” he tisked, laughing as he lifted the paper high and out of her reach, “You need to focus on our upcoming Defense class. After all,” he continued, playfully pushing her away as she continued to reach for the paper. “With two weeks of just writing essays, Amsel will probably hand us all an exam. You don’t want to have your head all full of the Knight guy when she asks a question about Ricine poisons.”
“Oh, all right,” she huffed, giving up with a smile and shoved him playfully against the banister as they started the climb up to the Defense class. “But you have to promise to give it back after—”
“What in the hell?” said Ron and Seamus as frightened shouts, spells and crashes ran out from the third floor landing. The six of them made quick time up the rest of the stairs, turned down the third floor corridor just in time to be engulfed in a cloud of dust and debris. Several large chunks of the wall had been blown away and renewed screams echoed through the halls.
“Is no one trying to stop this?” shouted Seamus over the din.
“They will in a moment,” Harry heard Hermione growl through her teeth. Several muttered words fell from her lips and the air was soon clear of the cloud of dust. Down the corridor a group of Slytherins were facing a mixed group of Gryffindors and Ravenclaws, their wands drawn.
“THAT’S ENOUGH!” Hermione shouted down the corridor, her own wand outstretched in front of her as she took long strides towards the group of students. “Drop your wands, now!”
Not a sound rose from either battling group, their narrowed eyes still trained on each other. Three small girls were hunched up against the opposite wall; a few small cuts dotted across their faces and hands.
“I said,” she repeated through clenched teeth. “Drop. Your. Wands.”
The eyes of several Ravenclaws and Gryffindors darted between Hermione and the unmoving Slytherins across the corridor to their fellow defenders before several arms slowly dropped to their sides.
“Are you hard of hearing?” snapped Ron at the young Slytherins who had yet to move. His own wand was out, fingers clenched tightly around the dark wood. “She said drop ‘em.”
A few did as he said, though their narrowed eyes shifted to focus on him with obvious disgust, while still others remained defiant.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the Mudblood, orphan boy and their lap dog Weasley. Come to save the ickle youngling?.”
Harry’s fingers tightened around his wand as Malfoy stepped through the parting crowd of Slytherins. His pale, pointed face set in his usual sneer as Crabbe and Goyle shoved away some of the younger Slytherins.
“Should’ve known he was behind all of this,” Ron muttered as Harry stepped up beside him.
“Behind it?” scoffed Malfoy. “Tisk, Weaselby. I didn’t start this little scene.” His wand twirled lazily between his fingers as his cold eyes surveyed Hermione, whose wand was still raised. “But do let’s start something, Weasel,” he continued. “After all, what are we seventh years for but to set the proper example for our inferiors—not that you three have any of course—but we’ll pretend just for this special occasion.”
“Don’t even think about it, Malfoy,” hissed Harry, his own wand upraised and pointed directly at Malfoy’s chest.
“Last time I checked, Potter, I didn’t take orders from you,” Malfoy spat, his grey eyes darting towards Harry.
A glint in those cold eyes was the only clue which prepared Harry for Malfoy’s next move. Four jets of red light accompanied by one oddly yellow spell crossed the corridor from different angles just before dissipating in an explosion so powerful and so loud it knocked everyone in the corridor to the ground.
“Hermione, are you all right?” Dean asked from a few feet away from Harry.
“I’m fine, Dean, what—”
“What a grand show of arrogance, Mr. Malfoy. Surely the best seen within these walls for twenty years at least.”
Through the disorienting after affects of the explosion—the air still crackling with diffused magic—Professor Amsel’s tall, stiff backed figure cut through the haze and into view towards the crumpled body of Malfoy who currently lay in a heap, with Crabb and Goyle serving as his cushion beneath him against the wall and floor. “One hundred and fifty points from each house that participated in that marvelous little stunt,” she snapped, roughly pulling Malfoy up by the back of his robes.
Harry pushed himself up from the cold floor, his eyes automatically seeking Hermione and Ron.
Ron, Susan and Seamus ended up in their own heap against the closed door of one of the empty classrooms. Hermione and Dean were a bit further away, helping several of the other students up from the floor.
Harry—like everyone else in the corridor—instantly looked towards Professor Amsel—who held a furious looking Malfoy in a vice like grip—before following her gaze down the corridor to where three small first year Hufflepuff girls were being helped to their feet by Katarina.
“Yes, Professor?” she replied, meeting the Amsel’s steely gaze, her expression impassive.
The confusion written on Katarina’s face atched everyone else’s at the next words out of the professor’s mouth. Though something told Harry that her confusion did not come from not understanding the German Amsel spoke.
Katarina responded. An answer which didn’t seem to go over well with Amsel.
She roughly jerked Malfoy’s head to the side, exposing a pink, shiny looking patch of skin which was spreading across his neck. “Haben Sie das getan?”
“Anyone have an idea what they’re saying?” whispered Susan from behind Harry.
Katarina’s face drained of blood as she stared at the injury on Malfoy’s neck. She didn’t reply.
“That’s what I thought,” Amsel snapped. “Fifty additional points from Gryffindor for such a display.”
“Fünfzig!” exclaimed Katarina, her face still void of color. “Aber Professorin, Ich habe versucht zu verhindern, dass er—”
“What you meant to happen,” Professor Amsel cut in sharply, “I haven’t the slightest care. You will never do it again.”
Katarina fell silent; a slight blush flushed her otherwise pale face as the three slightly injured Hufflepuff girls backed away from her. No one in the corridor may have understood much beyond the loss of fifty points, but it was clear that Katarina had just made a huge error. An error which was now rapidly crawling across Malfoy’s neck.
“Don’t look so smug,” snapped Professor Amsel, her grip noticeably tightening on Malfoy’s shoulder. “Slytherin is also losing an additional fifty points for provoking your house mates into dueling.”
Malfoy glowered at the professor, the smirk wiped from his face.
Her jaw set tight at his look and muscle twitched in her neck. “You will also serve a week’s worth of detention with me for insulting and attacking the Head Girl,” she hissed leaning closer to him. Her lips moved once more, and—if it were possible—Malfoy went even more pale, his narrowed eyes near slits at whatever she was saying. “The Hospital Wing with you, Malfoy,” she said louder after releasing him. “I will make sure that Miss Engel brings you today’s Defense assignment.”
Harry couldn’t tell who looked more disgusted, Katarina, or Malfoy. They both held an expression of pure loathing as they looked at each other for a brief moment before Malfoy stalked off down the corridor, shoving his way passed several fellow Slytherins.
“Well? What are you all standing around for?” Professor Amsel said sharply. “You all have some place to go, I suggest you get there. Now.”
A few lingering dirty looks were exchanged before the corridor began to disperse, the fourth and fifth year Gryffindor’s hanging back, their narrowed eyes focused on the retreating Slytherins.
“Seventh years, I expect you all to be in my class on time,” said Professor Amsel from her place by the three Hufflepuff girls who had been hurt in the scuffle. “You have ten minutes.”
“Right mess Engel got us into,” Ron muttered as he pushed through the other students towards Harry and Hermione with Dean right behind him. “Fifty additional points! And for what?” he spat. “Some ruddy dark spell!”
“Shut up, Ron,” Susan snapped from behind Harry.
“Why?” Ron retorted, hardly betraying his surprise at Susan’s defense of the German girl. “She lost us fifty more points because of some dark spell, Susan, probably one her dear mum and dad taught her or—”
“I said shut-up, Ronald,” she hissed through clenched teeth, her blue eyes narrowed. “You don’t know anything about her, so don’t even start to pass judgment!” With one last lingering glare, Susan pushed passed Ron and stalked down the corridor towards the stair case.
“What in the world was that?” asked Dean as he stared after Susan’s stiff retreating figure.
“That was another person who’s been sucked into the Engel ‘spell’,” Ron said, glaring down the now empty corridor. “Honestly, she acts like Engel is her friend. As if—”
“Miss Granger, would you please come back here for a moment.” The five Gryffindors turned around as Professor Amsel’s voice interrupted yet another of Ron’s rants about Katarina.
“Yes, Professor,” said Hermione, meeting Harry’s questioning look with one of her own as she walked back up the corridor to where Professor Amsel still stood with the three young Hufflepuff girls.
“What do you think they’re saying?” asked Ron.
“I have no idea,” answered Harry. Hermione’s eyes widened slightly for a moment before she nodded her head, the three Hufflepuff girls stepping closer to her.
Professor Amsel motioned the four girls back down towards Harry and Ron and Hermione lead the small students back down the corridor towards the stairs as Professor Amsel left in the opposite direction.
“What did she want?”
“Nothing, Ron,” she said dismissively. “I’m taking these three to the Hospital Wing, I’ll meet up with you two in a bit.”
“Hermione—” Harry began, but Hermione’s glance to the three girls who stood just beside her stopped him.
“Just get to class,” she hissed as she pushed the three girls ahead of her. “Professor Amsel isn’t exactly in the greatest mood at the moment, so just go and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Any plans for this weekend, Harry?” Hermione asked, turning the page in the copy of Insidiously Dark Creatures You Don’t Ever Want To See. “For Hogsmeade, I mean.” It was the first time she had spoken the whole evening. In fact, it was the first time she had spoken since after she left the Defense class to go to Arithmancy. Aside from the ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ at lunch, a small smile at Charms and requesting some more armadillo bile from Susan in Potions, she hadn’t really spoken to anyone.
The scratching from across the table ceased as Harry stilled his hand in the middle of a word and he looked up over the top of his scribbled introduction to the Defense essay. The only reason why he had even started the essay the same day Amsel had set it was because he knew that Hermione would do it and something told him that she probably shouldn’t be alone after such a class.
But this question was just slightly random.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “Probably go to the Three Broomsticks with you and Ron like we always do. Why? Did you have other plans?”
“No, not really,” she shrugged her quill still scratching across the parchment even as they spoke. A silence descended between them once more, save for the scratching and occasional turn of the page in Hermione’s book.
Harry did not continue his essay, but instead set his quill down on the table and folded his arms across his chest. Sitting back in the chair, his green eyes surveyed her studious form as she stubbornly continued to write out the essay for Professor Amsel.
“What is going on?” he asked softly. She didn’t look up or even stop her work. Leaning across the table, Harry stopped her hand with his. Her eyes fluttered shut as she took a shuddering breath.
“Nothing’s wrong, Harry,” she said quietly, finally looking up at him. “I’m just trying to finish this essay so I can move on to Professor McGonagall’s assignment. You should do the same.”
She could tell by the look in his eyes that he didn’t believe her and she really couldn’t blame him. But after that class, Hermione just wanted to get through the assignment and never think about the creature again.
I should have just followed Professor Amsel’s instructions, she thought bitterly. After a moment more of Harry’s concerned, questioning gaze, Hermione smiled softly at him before returning to the essay on Chien du Meurtrier .
Her smile did nothing to relieve Harry’s concern. After everything that had happened to her this summer, the developments of these dreams and this forbidden language that she kept seeing—it was all more than even Hermione could handle and now today, to top it all off, she had been reminded of the one thing she had tried to forget above all others.
“So you’ll be up for Hogsmeade, then?” he asked. Pressing the issue wasn’t going to do any good at this point, he decided. Best leave that for later. A smile curled her lips and she nodded.
Saturday morning finally arrived. The third and fourth years were like a plague on the senior students. Thrusting money and lists of candy and Zonko’s products they wanted into the hands of their older friends, it took three times as long to load up two thirds as many students. Filch was in a particularly nasty mood as he leered at the lists some of the lower years had written out.
Mutterings of and cursing of Weasley Weazes and trouble makers were clearly audible as she shut the doors to the carriages on the damp October morning.
“Where do you two want to go first?” asked Harry after the carriage jerked forward.
“Zonko’s and Honeydukes for sure,” answered Ron who was counting out the money several third and fourth years had given him. “Have to get the ickle younglings their candies and jokes. And with the commission money, I can treat you two to butterbeers at the Three Broomsticks.”
“Commission money?” Tone skeptical and Hermione’s eyes set in that usual ‘are-you-doing-something-shady’ glint, Harry kept his mouth shut as Ron went merrily on his way counting money. “What do you mean commission money?”
“My five percent,” he answered, dropping a few galleons and sickles into his won money bag. “The fee for spending my Hogsmeade weekend picking up their stuff.”
“Your fee,” she repeated dryly, eyes narrowed as Ron separated the small money bags into his jacket pocket.
“Don’t look at me like that, Hermione,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. “They all agreed to it. The kids just want their stuff and since they can’t go they’re willing to pay for it. Heck, I didn’t even bring it up! Nigel did. Dean and Seamus are doing the same thing. Besides, it’s not as if I’m charging thirty percent like Malfoy.”
“Oh, so that makes it okay, then? Because you’re not charging as much as Malfoy, you should be allowed to take money from third years?”
“Come on, Hermione! I already told you, Nigel was the one who brought it up. The blokes insisted.”
“That still doesn’t make it right,” snapped Hermione. “Harry, don’t you think this is wrong? Don’t you—”
“If they offered,” he cut in, holding up a hands and shaking his head, “I don’t see a problem. Nigel was really insistent that Ron take the money.”
“But—” Her eyes darted between Ron and Harry, her expression clearly showing how torn she was as she fought with the moral implications. For heaven’s sake, they didn’t need to take commissions, but if Nigel had been so insistent… “Oh fine,” she huffed, sitting back against the seat and crossed her arms over her chest. “I still don’t like it,” they heard her mutter as she stared darkly out onto the passing view of the grounds.
As could only be expected, Hogsmeade was rather deserted. Since the attack last year most businesses had closed up, moving to Diagon Alley or shut down entirely. The few that were left only remained with the promise of student business: Zonko’s, Honeydukes, Three Broomsticks and the Post Office which Hogwarts used for official business.
It was dreary. The damp and cold hung in the air like a curtain that had to be pushed through at every step. There were no excited shouts of the students or energetic chatter of the every day customer carried through the air. Only the sound of splashing puddles and doors opening and closing as people moved from one destination to the other. Hogsmeade hours were limited. They only had four hours in the town before the carriages would return to the castle, the gates only unlocked for the duration of the passages of the carriages.
Harry’s attention was caught by a man coming around the corner of Zonko’s. He looked familiar somehow.
“Ouch, Harry! What—” Harry jerked his head towards the man who was now crossing the street.
“Does he look familiar to you?” he muttered keeping his eyes trained on the man.
“I don’t know, should he?” she asked. Hermione’s eyes narrowed as she focused on the face. The man’s walk had seemed vaguely familiar, but she just couldn’t place the face at the current distance. “Hey, Ron,” she hissed, speaking to him for the first time since the discussion in the carriage. Ron tore his eyes away from the display in the window of Honeyduke’s and followed Hermione’s pointed finger to the man on the street, now bending over a paper sitting on a bench. “Does he look familiar?”
“Sort of,” he answered, squinting as he too tried to place the man’s face. “Looks like Dawlish? Maybe? I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. Why?”
Hermione shrugged, looking to Harry as if asking the same question. Why did it matter?
“Just curious,” said Harry. “Come on, let’s go into Honeyduke’s before Nigel’s money burns a hole in your pocket, Ron.”
While Ron pulled out his lists and went around the shop picking out the various sweets that the other students had asked him to get, Hermione went over to the counter to read a notice that had been put up. Harry spotted Neville and Dean by the display of Mammal Lollies (Trick your friends and watch them act like animals!). Different sets were available: The full Zoo collection, Cat Family, Dog Family, and Marsupials. Individual animals were for sale as well.
“Wonder what you’d do as a Marsupial,” said Dean. “Hop around trying to stuff things in the front of your trousers?”
“Or a giraffe,” Neville added. “Do you think your neck would elongate?”
“It’s possible, though I suppose you should buy them now if you want to know. Honeyduke’s is closing after this weekend.”
Hermione came up from behind them, eying the display with a curious expression. Both Dean and Neville held the usual ‘how did you know that’ look on their face as they stared between her and Harry.
“I read it on the notice,” she said, waving her hand in the direction of the front counter. “To tell you the truth I’m not surprised. Hardly any customers at all and with Zonko’s leaving at the end of the week, I can’t really blame them.”
“Great. So there really isn’t going to be a point in having anymore Hogsmeade weekends then,” said Dean irritably. “Here Neville, get me a load of stuff, I’ll be in Zonko’s.” Handing over a handful of money to Neville, Dean gave a nod to both Hermione and Harry before walking out of the shop and into the cold damp of the outside. The man that Harry had spotted on the road earlier nearly ran into Dean, keeping his head down and towards the ground even as Dean apologized for walking straight into him.
“Ron was right,” said Hermione, following the man with her eyes as he passed the front window. “That is Dawlish. After all those run ins with him last year…” Hermione trailed off, walking the remaining few steps between the display and the front window to look further down the street. Harry agreed. It was the same man who had come to collect Dumbledore from his office two years ago, the same who had trailed him during the summer after Sirius died, the same who had spent several tense days at the Burrow over the Christmas holidays to work with Mr. Weasley on odd ministry projects.
“He does look odd, doesn’t he?” Neville had stepped forward, pushing through a hanging display of packs of chewing gum cards. “Sort of like he doesn’t want to be seen or something.”
“I thought Dumbledore said that the Aurors wouldn’t be out in force this year like they were last.” Burdened with a large bag full of candy, Ron came up from behind, he too looking down the street.
“But that doesn’t mean some of them aren’t here,” said Hermione, turning from her spot and stepping over a marked down display of Acid Pops. “They’re probably just down playing their presence. You find everything, Ron?” she asked, eying the bulging bag that hung from his arm.
“Yeah, got it all, and for a lot less than normal. Everything is marked down. They’re practically giving all of it away.”
Obviously Ron hadn’t spotted the notice near the counter and Harry and Hermione exchanged a look. Ron wasn’t going to be pleased when he found out that the candy shop was going to close. Harry wasn’t exactly fond of the idea either. He was running out of sugar quills, Bertie Bott’s and Chocolate Frogs. The sweet shop had always been the one place you could really feel like a kid—a feeling that no one got to experience at all anymore.
Ducking out of the middle of a budding argument about all the extra money which Ron now had and Hermione telling him that he couldn’t keep it, Harry collected more than his usual helping of sweets with Neville. They could still hear the sharp back and forth between them even on the other side of the shop.
“Just like old times, ay Harry?” said Neville as he picked out a few bags of Chocoballs. Harry shrugged, trying to block out the argument as he picked up a large box of Bertie Bott’s. “You think they’ll get back together?”
Attributing the twisting feeling in his stomach and subsequent drop of the box of Chocolate Frogs to the harsh breeze that blew through the shop when the door opened, Harry only shrugged and bent down to pick it up and set it back on the counter.
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” he said simply. “But if they do, I’ll be in my usual place holed up in the empty classroom on the fifth floor.” Harshly stacking the sugar quills and boxes of various candies on the purchase counter, Harry glanced back and Ron and Hermione who were still going at it. Neville was right. It was just like ‘old times’. He even half expected them to end their tirade in some sort of apologetic snog.
“I’ll make sure to send you an owl when their rows are over,” Neville quipped back, setting the large amounts of candy on the counter aside of Harry’s. “Merlin knows I’ll probably be joining you if they go along the same as they did last year. I don’t know how you managed it,” he finished with a shake of his head.
Harry just shrugged, making a bit of a show of counting out the exact amount of money owed.
Either the two of them had reached some sort of compromise or they had simply come to a stand off (which was more likely), Ron and Hermione weren’t talking by the time Harry reached them. Mentioning the need to go to Zonko’s (which garnered a disapproving scowl from Hermione), Ron told Harry he’d meet up with him in the Three Broomsticks and quickly left, crossing the street huddled against the cold breeze.
“I almost don’t even want to leave,” said Hermione who was tugging her heavy jacket tighter around her. “It’s simply dreadful outside.”
“It’s just a short way,” Harry replied. “Come on. I’ll buy you some chips and a butterbeer to warm you up again.” Eyes darting out to the damp and dreary looking street before returning to Harry, Hermione grinned, nodding her head and pushed the door open. The damp, cold air blew into the store and Harry grabbed Hermione’s arm, pulling her out with him as a crowd of fifth years pushed in.
“You’d think this drizzle was a blizzard the way they’re acting,” huffed Hermione straightening her jacket again. “Honestly.”
“This coming from the girl who just said that she didn’t want to go outside?” he quipped, raising an eyebrow.
“That’s different,” she retorted sharply, though the corners of her mouth twitched upwards.
“Yes,” she said simply. Hermione wrapped her arm around his and shuffled in closer as water dripped from the awnings of the buildings. “I did my complaining quietly and with dignity. Those girls were whining at the higher end of the vocal scale and were rude about it.” Grinning, Hermione turned to Harry and added, “Besides, the way those boys looked, they weren’t about to get an offer of chips and butterbeer.”
Laughing lightly, the two of them walked the short way down the street to the Three Broomsticks. The one good thing about Ron being off on his own was I would give Harry an opportunity to find out just what was going on between them. She and Ron might have broken up for still yet unknown reasons at the end of last year, but Harry knew for a fact that Ron still fancied her. Neville’s observation of it being ‘like old times’ was not lost him. If there was indeed a chance that his two best friends were going to try at the whole dating thing once more, Harry needed to set his role early on, namely that of a neutral stance. He was not going to be stuck behind the eight ball like he was the last time.
Warmth enveloped them the moment Hermione pushed open the door to the pub. Scents of hot chocolate, an odd oak smell that always seemed to hang in the air mixed with the general, overall smell of hot food being cooked took over Harry and Hermione for a moment and they relished the dry warmth that so contrasted with the weather outside.
“Oh, I forgot they were going to come over here.”
Hermione’s voice brought Harry out of his pleasant trance. Following her gaze to the bar he found Professors McGonagall and Flitwick speaking in hushed tones to Rosemerta. The pretty older pub owner spotted Hermione and Harry at the entrance and straightened up from leaning over the bar. What could only be a quick excusal from McGonagall and Flitwick, Rosemerta walked down the bar a ways and called over the full, but not crowded din of the pub.
“Anything off the top I can get you?”
“Two butterbeers and a large basket of chips,” said Hermione. “And have a third butterbeer on ice as Ron should be getting here soon.” Rosemerta gave a wave of understanding, repeated the order to the cook in the back and returned to her conversation with the professors.
“What did you mean about forgetting that they were going to come here?” asked Harry after finding a table large enough to hold three people against the wall.
“At last night’s meeting Dumbledore talked about the need for more professors for the few hours that the students would be here,” Hermione answered as she shrugged off her jacket and hung it over the back of the chair. “Professor McGonagall, Snape, Flitwick, Vector and Amsel all said they would stop in to each shop and patrol the streets.”
“You mean in addition to the Aurors?”
Hermione shook her head. “Professor Dumbledore never mentioned Aurors at all. He just gave a few pointed looks at the professors that seemed to tell them more than it did to Ernie and I. I swear half the communication that goes on in those meetings is nonverbal. He and Professor McGonagall seem to be able to literally read each other’s mind as he hardly starts a sentence to her before she finishes it.” Hermione shrugged, running her fingers lightly through her hair. “If there is one thing Ernie and I have learned at those meetings it is that nothing said can be taken at face value. Perhaps it is because we are present, but Professor Sprout can say something as innocuous as needing more soil for Venomous Tentacula to Professor Dumbledore while shooting Professor Amsel a look that clearly tells her something that neither Ernie nor I can understand.”
“Why have you at these meetings at all if they practically speak in code?” asked Harry. He too had shed his jacket in the warmth of pub and was now picking at a carving of intitials enclosed in a jagged heart outline while listening to Hermione.
“They don’t do it all the time,” she said quickly. “You know how talking about one thing sometimes triggers something else in your mind and you just have to convey it to someone at that one moment?” Harry nodded. “It’s the same thing there. I’m sure that if Ernie and I weren’t there then there would be no need to be so subtle. It just happens occasionally. Usually right after Ernie and I get there; they try to finish the previous conversation before moving on to those subjects that concern the students. Professor Snape does it often too. Oh don’t scowl like that, Harry,” she sighed. “He’s usually speaking to Professor Dumbledore or McGonagall, and he always makes things sound so cryptic. Though I must say that in both meetings since Professor Amsel returned, he’s been shooting her the oddest looks and her expression is always dark whenever she catches his eye.”
Harry smirked. He’d seen that dark look as well and not just at the head table the morning after she came back to Hogwarts either. It seemed like at every meal Amsel would catch Snape looking at her and it was like the very air around her darkened. At least there was someone else who seemed to hate Snape as much as Harry.
“Speaking of Professor Amsel…” Her eyes darted towards the door. Harry’s eyes followed hers just as the sound of the bell above the door rang again as it closed.
Professor Amsel had just walked in, wearing a liquid like silver-blue over cloak and made a bee line for the other two Professors. Over the noise of the other people in the pub, neither Harry nor Hermione could hear what she started to whisper to Professor McGonagall and the image was blocked entirely when Madame Rosemerta brought the basket of chips and bottles of butterbeer over to their table.
“There you are dears,” she said brightly. Obviously the full pub was lifting her spirits. “Give me a shout when Weasley shows up.”
“Right,” said Harry not really paying attention to what she was saying as he leaned back in his chair, craning his neck to see the exchange between McGonagall and Amsel.
Rosemerta’s figure blocked his view again as she left and he tipped his chair forward to the table again. The conversation was already over and Amsel gave Flitwick a weak smile before heading off to the back of the pub.
“The usual, Verena?” Rosemerta called. Professor Amsel only gave a wave over her shoulder and continued towards a corner of the pub before disappearing behind a large group of tall fifth year boys that had gathered around one small table.
“Go on, Harry,” Hermione encouraged. “I’ll wait for Ron and get him his butterbeer if you aren’t back yet. Just go! You may not get another chance at this without resorting to stealing up to the Defense Wing and eavesdrop on her piano playing again.” Grabbing the bottle out of his hand, Hermione pushed on his shoulder lightly, shooing him out of his chair. “Go on, Harry.”
The pub suddenly seemed a lot smaller as his feet carried him around the various parties of students and adults. What had he planned on saying again? Hadn’t he spent the two weeks she was gone mulling over every detail of that night so he could pull out every confusing part of that night when he did get the chance to talk to her?
Apparently all that thought had stayed at the table with Hermione as at the moment Harry couldn’t remember one single thing he had previously wanted to say.
Professor Amsel was sitting in a booth all to herself next to a window that faced the short divide between the back of the pub and the stone wall that bordered the grounds of Hogwarts. She was staring blankly out the window, the slight furrow of her brow being in the only bit of expression on her face. The long thin scar along her cheek bone had still not healed and the brief question of why she had not had Madame Pomfrey heal it in the last few days flitted across his mind before he dismissed it.
“Excuse me, Professor,” he started. The reflection of her face in the window focused on him, his eyes locked with hers in the reflection before she turned and actually faced him. “May I join you?”
Her eyes briefly darted across the room and Harry was half tempted to look behind him but kept himself in place. He’d ask Hermione later if she what the Professor had looked at.
“You may,” she said curtly, motioning with her hand for him to sit opposite her. Madame Rosemerta came over just as Harry sat down, setting the oddest looking drink on the table in front of the Professor. A deep amber color in the pub owner’s hand, it swirled into a dark tie-dye like mixture when it sat unheld on the table.
“Thank you, Rosemerta,” said Professor Amsel, giving the older woman a brief smile before taking the glass in her own hands and pulling it nearer. Harry watched utterly transfixed as the colors in the drink swirled together before turning a very dull shade of orange.
“I do hope you did not come over here just to stare at my drink,” said Professor Amsel sharply. “Time wasting is not an admirable quality and I don’t have the patience for it.”
“I’m not here to waste your time, Professor,” he replied evenly. Already the frustration at her attitude was bubbling up from his gut. “I merely came over here to talk to you about the detention.”
The glass lifted from the table and she took a long sip, the dull orange drink clashing greatly with her pale skin and dark, violet eyes that surveyed him over the edge of the glass.
“Any particular detail or were you hoping that a broad statement such as that would induce me to just spout out every moment until I reached the right place?”
Under the table Harry’s fist clenched so hard it was painful.
“You know what, never mind. It was nothing.” Harry was out of the booth and half a step away before she finally spoke—or more like ordered him to sit back down. Reluctantly he did so, sitting on the very edge of the seat, clear to leave quickly if it came to it again.
“What did you want to say?” she asked firmly, though somewhere in that seemingly unchanging expression there hid a touch of softness that had not existed only a moment before.
“I wanted to apologize,” he blurted without the slightest idea where it came from. The professor seemed rather surprised as well—or stunned, if the fact that her hand had stopped mid air, holding her glass half way to her mouth. Taking her lack of remark as a sign to continue, Harry didn’t seem to notice how far up her eyebrows had risen into her hair line or the distinct flush of color to her cheeks. “I wanted to apologize for attacking the foal. You were right. I should never have attacked the foal. I should have followed your lead and I’m sorry. It was rash and stupid.
“If I hadn’t attacked the foal the centaurs never would have been so furious when they caught up with us. You might have been able to talk your way out of fight. If I hadn’t—”
“And here you were doing so well.” She was staring out the window again and the statement—masked within a sigh—was hardly noticed until Harry was halfway through his next sentence.
“Did you believe that the Headmaster had not informed me of the conversation he had with you the same night I returned from my…absence—” She said the word so bitterly and the drink within her grasp darkened considerably before starting to swirl around as it did when Rosemerta set on the table. “—and that he had not told me of the subject of that conversation?”
“No, I didn’t,” he replied instantly, sliding further into the booth to better face her. “I figured he would mention something.” Which was the truth. Ron may have been the one to verbally bring up the possibility, but Harry had already been thinking about it. Perhaps not in full detail—as Harry knew that Dumbledore did not wish to give away his eavesdropping as well—but somehow it just struck Harry as a very Dumbledore thing to do to give the professor a quick mention of their conversation.
“Then why,” she began, her cheeks now slightly flushed again, “Are you simply repeating what you said to the Headmaster?” Her eyes dug sharply into his own and Harry was oddly reminded of the piercing gaze Professor Dumbledore had given him on far too many occasions. “I do believe he strongly suggested—as he phrased it to me—that you consider what he had told you before speaking with me.”
Why was he suddenly getting the feeling that this was all just a mistake? What was the point of even talking to her when Amsel just threw everything back in his face?
“Look,” Harry began slowly. “Professor Dumbledore told me about your previous excursions and run ins with the centaurs. I know that the centaurs would have caught up with us anyway, but—”
“But nothing, Potter,” she interjected sharply. Pushing her glass aside (the liquid slopping down the glass to the table at the harsh movement) Professor Amsel leaned over the table slightly. “If you understand that the centaurs would have caught up with us, why do you continue to blame yourself for everything that happened?”
“Because I attacked the foal!” he hissed back, not wanting to bring attention to this increasingly frustrating conversation. “Because I’m the one who pissed them off and made them come after us even sooner! You yourself said—”
“I know very well what I said, Potter. But you don’t seem to be listening to what you are saying at this very moment! You blame yourself for everything even when you say you believe what the Headmaster told you four days ago. Don’t contradict yourself, it only lets your ignorance show,” she snapped, leaning back into the cushioned back of the booth. “What you did was stupid, pure and simple. A reaction. Thoughtless and naive. Yes, you did anger the Centaurs,” she continued, “Attacking an innocent foal is a grave crime in their eyes. Even they do not attack children when they wonder too far into their forest. But unless you left your brain entirely in the castle, then I’m sure you noticed that not only did the centaurs have no proof or solid confidence in your very existence as a second person, but I insulted them. Insulted, Potter. There is a very big difference between angering and insulting and you have no idea how deeply I provoked Magorian and especially Bane.”
Her tone was touched with something like regret as she spoke. Harry was struck by the feeling that Professor Amsel’s previous sharpness at the beginning of the conversation was more a small insight into her own frustration at herself father than at him.
“You also seem to conveniently forget that had you not been there I would have died at their hand, but what’s done is done, Harry,” she pressed, her eyes now trained on his. “There is no use beating yourself over the head with events buried in the past where they remain unchanged. The journey into the forest was successful, that is enough for me and it should be enough for you.”
She took another sip from her glass, the liquid now back to the dull orange color, and Harry wished he had his bottle of butterbeer with him.
“A success in the fact that you lived and obtained the sap,” he said. “But I still fail to see how you seemed to believe that I learned something.”
She sighed again and took another drink before responding. “I seem to recall that you did learn something. At least for as long as it took you to get to the center and return. If there is one thing you should know about education, it is the fact that you never really know what you learn until you use it. And you did.” Smirking lightly, the glass twirled between her fingers as she gazed at him. “I never told you how to get to the sap,” she said simply. “I never told you what to do with the knife nor did I tell you about the protection you would find.”
“And that was the point of the detention?”
“I told you the point of the detention before we even left the castle, Potter.” She took another drink from the glass, the liquid of which had just changed to a dull red. Whether it was the way she grasped the glass or the expression held in her eyes, he couldn’t tell, but Amsel’s statement ended that part of the discussion, and again Harry found himself frustrated at her lack of information. Did she ever directly answer a question?
“There is something else I was wondering about,” he began just as she set down her drink. A raised eyebrow seemed to be Amsel’s way of saying a reluctant ‘go on’ as she said nothing, but looked at him. “About Firenze. Magorian said that the place where we were going was sacred and forbidden, so...”
“How did he get there?” she finished for him. Her eyes darted out to the window again. “I asked him that question when we returned, but he did not answer.” Twisting the glass in her hand, she sighed stiffly. “I have not been able to find him since I returned and Hagrid did not see or hear anything from or about him while I was absent.” The liquid in the glass turned extremely dark on that last word before returning to the dull red. Was this drink some sort of potion which registered the mood of its drinker?
Something crossed in front of the window and Harry had to do a double take to make sure what he saw was what he had first thought.
Looked like Dawlish was patrolling more than just the main street.
Professor Amsel also spotted him and her brow furrowed curiously as she watched him disappear behind another boarded up shop.
“Something wrong, Professor?” No response at first, her eyes narrowed briefly before she turned back around and stared at her half empty glass.
“What the devil is he doing here?” The question was directed more towards herself than Harry but he shook his head and shrugged just the same.
“Patrolling the village, no doubt,” he replied, thinking of what Hermione had said in Honeyduke’s.
But his answer only seemed to make her frown even more and again the drink darkened considerably within her grasp.
“You recognized him then?”
“Dawlish is hard to miss,” he replied.
“That’s what I thought too, and yet…” Her expression was rather odd as she turned back towards the direction in which Dawlish and disappeared. “He is not supposed to be here,” she said darkly. Again it seemed like she was speaking more to herself than him. Turning back around, the professor looked at him briefly before looking over towards the bar. Harry followed her eyes, and spotted Professors McGonagall and Flitwick leaving their seats. Standing and halfway to the departing Professor before Harry could even slide out of the booth, Professor Amsel called to McGonagall, pulling her aside.
“…not supposed to be any Aurors here this weekend?” Harry reached the professors and lagged somewhat behind them.
“Yes, Albus told me before he left,” replied Professor McGonagall eying Harry dubiously. “Is there a problem?”
“Then can you tell me why Potter and I just saw Dawlish walking behind the pub?”
“Dawlish?” chimed in Flitwick’s high voice. “He of all should not be here.”
“I saw him earlier too,” Harry put in. “Ron, Hermione, Neville and I all saw him walk across the street and in front of Honeyduke’s a half an hour ago. Dean practically ran into him on his way to Zonko’s.”
Amsel and McGonagall exchanged a long look and Harry was reminded of Hermione’s comments about the staff meetings. Professor Amsel nodded sharply to McGonagall and quickly left, not bothering to worry about the people she ran into on the way out.
“I will alert Severus and Victoria,” piped Flitwick and he too disappeared into throng of people.
“Potter, I want you to find the other students and tell them that the carriages have arrived to take them back to Hogwarts,” said McGonagall. “Spread it casually, but get them back to the school. If they argue tell them they can take it up with me when they return.” Her eyes darted behind his shoulder to the back of the pub. “Have Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley spread the word as well. The sooner the students can be rounded up the better. The carriages will be waiting for them at the gates in ten minutes.”
Harry gave her a quick nod of understanding and turned back towards the rest of the pub. Pushing passed a group of Ravenclaws, Ron’s red hair stood out over the crowd. Both he and Hermione seemed to have gotten over their latest tiff.
“See you’ve survived your talk with Amsel,” said Ron upon his arrival. “There’s some chips left if you…hey, what’s up? She didn’t give you another detention did she?”
“No,” he said quickly and bent down over the table. “Look, we’ve got to get the students out of Hogsmeade. Spread it around that the carriages are here to take everyone back.”
“But we’ve got an hour and a half left!” Ron protested.
Looking over his shoulder quickly before leaning in further to Ron and Hermione, he told them about McGonagall’s instructions and the brief conversation between the professors that he managed to hear.
“So they think he’s a Death Eater?” asked Hermione.
Harry shook his head. “Don’t know, but it’s a good guess at least by the way they were acting. But we’ve got ten minutes until the carriages are there and McGonagall wants everyone out.”
“Right, I’ll get this lot in here,” Ron said, finishing off his butterbeer with one last gulp and stood up. “I do love telling those poncy sixth year Ravenclaws what do to.”
Hermione groaned, rolling her eyes at Ron’s back and pulled on her jacket. “Malfoy’s not going to come willingly,” she said walking around the table and heading for the door.
“Who cares?” said Harry darkly. “If Death Eaters are here, then I don’t see a point in telling him. He probably already knows.”
“There’s Ginny and Seamus,” he cut in, not wanting to hear another lecture. “See you back at the castle.”
“Right,” she muttered as he walked away. “Shrieking shack it is then.” And she hurried up the road.
“It certainly would be decent of you to explain why you, Potter and Weasley had rounded us up like a bunch of cattle.” It must have the fifteenth time that Ernie had said something to that effect. Because, obviously, saying that McGonagall ordered the early departure wasn’t a good enough explanation for Head Boy Ernie Macmillan. No, he demanded to know every detail, affronted that Hermione (or at least he thought) knew more than he did. Nothing she said, or anyone said for that matter, placated him.
“And here I thought you had told Professor McGonagall that you had no questions and fully understood the situation,” she replied acidly. “Are you now admitting to lying to the Deputy Headmistress?” This boy was really starting to get on her nerves.
“She had enough on her plate to deal with, Hermione,” he replied curtly. “And I thought you would be forthcoming with any additional information.” Ernie jammed his quill onto the piece of parchment so hard the tip broke, sending a spray of ink across the top half of the report he was writing.
“I already told you everything that Harry told me when Professor McGonagall asked him to have all the students out of Hogsmeade. So stop getting after me for doing exactly what you wanted. I’m sorry if your cozy little date with Hannah got cut short, but you weren’t the only one who had their day disrupted. You’re the Head Boy, Ernie,” she snapped just as he glared at her, pointing the feather end of his quill towards her with his mouth open about to argue. “Start acting like it.”
Ernie shut his mouth, but he continued to glower at her, mutterings of ‘the perfect Trio’ reaching her ears every once in a while. Why did they have to do these write ups on the students who didn’t cooperate tonight?
Right hand tingling for the fifth time that day, her fingers found the ring, tight around her finger and invisible just as always. It had been doing that all week. Always tingling, it felt like her hand and occasionally her arm was submerged in a bucket of ice.
“I’m going to finish these in my room,” she said abruptly. “I’ll see you in the morning.” Not at all surprised when Ernie didn’t respond, Hermione gathered up her finished write-ups, slid them into her bag and went up the stairs to her room. The bag she set on her bed before crossing to the door that lead to the stairs of the girls’ dormitories. Down these stairs and up the boys’, Hermione found the door to the seventh year boys’ dormitory slightly open. Enough to see that the curtains around Harry’s bed were open, revealing an empty bed. Hopefully they were only in the Common Room. She wished, more than believed it though.
But instead of finding Ron and Harry sitting by the fire discussing the day’s events or even doing their homework (though that was highly unlikely), Hermione found Ginny and Seamus in rather serious lip lock.
Not at all prepared for this scene at near one in the morning, Hermione backed up straight into a chair, knocking it over with a fairly loud crash.
Cursing under her breath, Hermione paid far more attention to righting the overturned chair than was probably needed and hoped to Merlin that neighter Ginny or Seamus recognized her.
“I’m so sorry, Ginny.” Hermione diverted her eyes, trying to push down the heat of embarrassment that had so quickly spread across her face. “I was just looking for Harry and Ron.”
Hair tossled and shirt halfway unbuttoned, Seamus was rather bleary eyed as he tried to form a few coherent words. “They left twenty minutes ago.”
“Left? What do you mean, left?”
Ginny only gave her a look that clearly spoke what Hermione already knew: When you aren’t around to stop them, they go off in a rush of action and no thought.
“Are you sure this can’t wait until tomorrow morning?” Ron asked as they neared the Staff Lounge.
“If you’re so nervous, why did you insist upon coming with?” Harry hissed back. They paused at the corner and Harry glanced down at the map. So far the coast was clear.
“I’m not nervous,” he said. “I’m just covering my bases so I won’t be lying when Hermione asks why I didn’t try to stop you.” Ron flashed him a smile and nodded towards the corridor. “I’m all for getting Malfoy another step closer to being thrown out on his arse. Let’s go.”
They hadn’t gone half way down before the echoed voices of several professors filtered through the empty halls. Harry wiped the map and shoved it into the pocket of his pullover, crouching a bit lower until they reached turn in the corridor just before they reached the staff lounge. One long wedge of light flooded across the floor, and those muffled voices became clear.
“You flatter me, Victoria,” they heard Amsel say. “But I really must insist that my capabilities are far below what you perceive them to be. After so much time away recently, I really would rather keep my movements restricted to the castle, grounds and Hogsmeade.”
“I quite agree,” said Snape. “The ministry has become too interested in the Professor as it stands now, any further wandering outside will only make things worse.”
“More too for my own personal reasons,” Amsel added. “Really, Victoria, while I share your concern for the developments in the ministry and those events which transpired today, I cannot take the risk.”
Several voices spoke at once, garbled and unintelligible the volume rose quite sharply before halting abruptly.
“If there is to be any travelling to the Ministry, it will be done by me,” came Dumbledore’s voice. “We all share your concern, Professor. Dawlish’s appearance today when he was last reported to be near Dover investigating the latest sighting of Walden is most worrisome. But our focus must remain on the school and the safety of the students.”
“Are you hearing what I’m hearing?” The disbelief resounding in Ron’s voice reflected Harry’s own thoughts. Since when did Snape take Amsel’s side in anything? Or anyone’s side for that matter?
“Come on, Harry,” Ron whispered. “You can tell Professor McGonagall in the morning.”
“No, Ron. Tomorrow could be too late. Just…stay here.” Checking down the corridor one last time, Harry slipped out from beneath the cloak and walked silently to the slightly ajar door.
“Rosemerta is waiting.” Harry froze at the sound of Professor Amsel’s voice, footsteps crossing the stone floor neared the door. “I will return in one hour.”
Harry backed away and out of sight of the remaining occupants in the lounge, standing stiffly as Amsel turned around and stopped abruptly at spotting him.
“Professor—” Her hand went up sharply, cutting him off. The door snapped shut behind her with a flick of her wrist.
“Professor, please, I need to talk to McGonagall.” But it was like pleading with a brick wall that had the ability to raise an eyebrow to reflect every emotion.
Arms crossed over her chest, Professor Amsel stared at him for a moment before asking, “What could possibly be so urgent that you had to break curfew?”
“Dawlish was talking to someone before he crossed the street to Honeyduke’s. In the alley between Dervish & Bangs.” Again, all she did was raise and eyebrow and tilt her head. It was really getting on his nerves. “Malfoy. He was talking to Malfoy,”
“I know what I saw!”
“All right,” she said quietly after a moment or two. “I will let her know. Now turn around and go back to your dormitory.” Her eyes darted behind Harry, where Ron was standing under the invisibility cloak. “You will get no excuse to be out of bed at this time of night from me if you are caught.”
There were no empty rooms in this corridor. Snape’s labeled dot was nearing and there was no way he had missed Harry’s arm groping outside the cloak to find his fallen glasses or Ron’s more than whispered swearing when they only barely avoided Filch.
“In here,” hissed Ron and he pulled sharply on Harry’s arm. The two of them tumbled into the half opened portrait and landed sprawled on the soft, carpeted floor of a dimly lit room.
“That was close,” muttered Harry as he pushed himself up from the floor and took the cloak off of the both of them. “Way too close.” The map was half covered by something that looked like the bottom of a curtain. The moment he reached out and grasped it, he knew there was something wrong. The room they were in was not marked on the map, and the curtain was too short. It was in fact merely a bed skirt, connected to a four-poster bed that would have better belonged in the Gryffindor dormitories.
“What in the world—” began Ron as he stood up and stared at the back of the portrait door they had just come through. “What’s with the extra room?”
Harry only shrugged walking over to the desk that sat in the corner. There was a robe draped across the back of the chair, and the Charms and Transfiguration textbooks stacked up under a lamp. A neat pile of a few sheets of parchment were laid inside a dictionary…
An English-German dictionary.
“What’s wrong?” Ron asked. He took one step and then froze. Harry spun around just as another door opened next to him.
Toothbrush in hand, Katarina stood in the doorway to a private loo, looking rather torn between being surprised or furious.
“And just vat do you think you are doing?”
Of all the rooms to jump into, this was definitely the wrong one.
Post Note: A big thanks to MSKent at HPFF for the German help.
Translations: Haben Sie das getan?--Did you do this? Fünfzig!--Fifty! Aber Professorin, Ich habe versucht zu verhindern, dass er-----But Professor, I didn't mean to do that...
Again, I sincerely apologize for the insane amount of time that passed between the last chapter and this one. I really, really hope it never happens again. For any of you Harmony shippers out there who have read Deathly Hallows...no worries...this remains AU both for the pre-HBP publication and the ships that are involved. I hope to hear from all of you who give my story a read. *Eli*
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