Chapter Twenty-Six: The Horse and The Otter
No, no, no, Ron thought, staring at Harry. He felt as if he’d just had the breath knocked out of him. Like someone had just punched him in the stomach. This can’t be happening. It can’t be.
There was a part of him, a very large part of him, that was waiting for Harry to start laughing, for it to be a joke. A cruel joke, perhaps, but at least it wouldn’t be true. But he knew, by the look on his best friend’s face, that it was true.
‘How?’ Even to his own ears, his voice sounded broken.
Harry looked like he was struggling for words, as if he was trying to find a way to explain that wouldn’t hurt Ron even more. ‘I don’t know, really,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t tell you how it happened. She’s been spending quite a bit of time with Malfoy, you know, since they’re Head Boy and Girl this year. I’m not quite sure how she fell in love with him, especially so quickly, but she did.’
‘And Malfoy?’ Ron asked. He couldn’t avoid the question—he had to know, even if it broke him to hear the answer. ‘Do you know how… how Malfoy feels?’
‘Malfoy… He’s changed,’ Harry said carefully. ‘I don’t know how much, but he’s changed. Most of it is Hermione’s doing, I think. She brings out the good in him. He’s not at all like he was before.’
‘That’s not what I asked,’ Ron said irritably. ‘Does he love her or not?’
Harry took a deep breath. He looked pained, as if he didn’t want to answer. ‘Yes,’ he said reluctantly. ‘He loves her. That much was obvious, at least.’
Ron couldn’t take it anymore. His heart felt like it was shattering, exploding inside of his chest. He sank down to his knees, onto the cold bathroom floor. He wanted to break down, but he couldn’t. He wouldn’t be weak.
My fault, he thought. It’s my fault.
He wanted to blame Lavender, but he couldn’t. If he’d been strong enough, he might’ve fought through her spell. But she had taken control of him, and he couldn’t even fight her. He wasn’t strong enough to fight it. Not right away, anyway. Maybe if he had broken through in the beginning, none of this would have happened. Hermione wouldn’t have fallen in love with Malfoy. They would still be together.
‘Stupid,’ he whispered, half to himself. ‘I was so stupid. How could I have let this happen? How?’
‘It wasn’t your fault, Ron,’ Harry said from somewhere close by. ‘Lavender’s Imperius was strong. I have no idea how she, of all people, could’ve managed a spell so strong. It’s not your fault you couldn’t break through.’
He opened his eyes, and looked up. Harry had moved closer now, and he was almost leaning over him. Suddenly, he had an idea. ‘Do you think you could cover for me? It’s almost curfew, I know, but I… I think I need to see my Mum,’ he said. ‘I’ll use the passage to get to Honeydukes, and apparate home from there. I just… I really have to see her.’
‘Do you think that’s a good idea?’ Harry asked worriedly. ‘To tell your Mum about this, I mean? She might not take it very well.’
‘I know,’ he said. ‘In fact, she’ll probably freak out, especially when I apparate in the living room out of nowhere. But still… I can’t wait.’
Harry bit his lip, and then sighed, handing over the invisibility cloak. ‘Go,’ he said. ‘But if you’re not in class tomorrow morning, you better have a really good explanation.’
‘Thanks, mate,’ said Ron, relieved. ‘What are you going to do? To get back to the common room, I mean?’
‘I’ll use the invisibility spell,’ said Harry. ‘Just go, Ron. Don’t forget to say hello to your Mum for me.’
‘Of course,’ said Ron, grinning. ‘See you tomorrow.’
Harry nodded, and Ron threw the invisibility cloak on. He walked to the door, tucking his wand in his pocket, and headed down the corridor.
He was about halfway to the Honeydukes passage when he came across two figures standing in the corridor, whispering. It was a good thing he was invisible, because they would’ve seen him. Because Ron was curious, he leaned against the corridor wall, and listened.
‘…don’t know how much longer I can keep this up, Professor,’ a female voice hissed. ‘I think they’re beginning to suspect me.’
‘You must not be found out,’ another female whispered. Ron was surprised when he recognised McGonagall’s voice. ‘Miss Greengrass, this is of utmost importance. The Order needs you.’
‘I know, Professor. I’m doing my best,’ the girl said. ‘It’s bad enough that Draco knows what’s going on. If Astoria finds out, and Hermione, we’re done for.’
What? Ron was utterly shocked, so much that his mouth fell open. Daphne Greengrass, Slytherin, best friend of Pansy Parkinson, working for the Order? Undercover, at that? He couldn’t fathom why she would do such a thing..
‘Draco suspects you may be working with Nott, thanks to Professor Dumbledore, but nothing more than that,’ McGonagall said. ‘Speaking of Mr Nott, have you any word of his plans?’
‘No, Professor. Only, the Brown girl has had a recent development. You’ve noticed how sick she’s been this year, I assume?’ Daphne asked.
‘Yes,’ McGonagall said. ‘I have half a mind to send her to Madam Pomfrey’s, but she’s been skipping nearly all her classes. What is this recent development?’
‘Well, I’ve been watching her carefully, as you asked me to, and I have reason to believe that her spell on the Weasley boy has finally broken,’ said Daphne.
‘The Imperius Curse, you mean?’ McGonagall said, lowering her voice so much that he had to strain to hear her. ‘I don’t like that she was using a Forbidden Spell in my school, but I couldn’t expel her, else I would risk Mr Nott realising he’d been discovered.’
Ron was confused. Nott and Lavender, working together? What was going on? And why did McGonagall know about the Imperius Curse? And if she knew, why hadn’t she taken it off him?
Unless… But no. That was impossible.
Or was it?
Malfoy couldn’t have been the only one to be made a Death Eater, right? There had to have been others. Voldemort would’ve wanted to have spies in Hogwarts, and who better to choose than the sons of his original followers?
Theodore Nott was a Death Eater. And so, he was almost certain, was Pansy Parkinson. She had something to do with this, this plan McGonagall and Daphne were speaking of. And if Daphne was working undercover with the Order of Phoenix, she was also somehow working with Nott, too. But what could he possibly be doing that was causing McGonagall to go to such measures? What could cause McGonagall to allow a student to be Imperiused under her roof, for almost six months?
‘Yes. I agree. It would be dangerous, not just for the Horse, but also for the Otter, if Nott was found out,’ Daphne said.
The horse and the otter?Ron felt sick to his stomach. He knew exactly what—or rather who—she was talking about.
His sister’s Patronus was a horse; he’d only a seen it a few times, but he remembered what it was. And of course he knew that Hermione’s Patronus was an otter.
He didn’t know what it meant that Daphne had used their patronuses as codenames, but he knew it wasn’t good. And he got enough to know that they—Hermione and Ginny—were in danger.
He backed up from the corridor. McGonagall was saying something now, but he’d heard enough. His mother forgotten, Ron turned around, and headed back to Gryffindor tower, a plan forming in his mind.
It was dark by the time they Flooed back to Hogwarts, and it was definitely past curfew, but it didn’t matter. Hermione had never been happier.
They clearly hadn’t been missed, because no one was waiting for them outside of the Head’s dorm, but Snape looked a bit surprised to see them.
‘I have half a mind to report you, Mr Malfoy,’ he said. ‘It is half past one in the morning. And you, Miss Granger. I thought you knew better than to miss curfew.’
‘Sorry, Professor,’ she said, her cheeks reddening with shame. ‘It won’t happen again, I swear.’
‘Good. If it does happen again, you can be sure that I’ll report you to the Headmistress,’ said Snape.
She nodded. ‘Yes, Professor,’ she said. Beside her, Draco said nothing. His mouth was set in a thin line. For a moment, she stood there, feeling rather silly. ‘Oh, right.The password’s Parseltongue, please.’
Snape’s portrait swung in, and they walked into their common room. She had to look behind her to check that Draco was still there, though, he was being so quiet.
‘Are you going to bed?’ He asked. His voice was barely a whisper, and she turned to look at him.
She couldn’t read the expression on his face. There was an emotion in his eyes that she didn’t quite recognize. ‘No,’ she said, just as quietly. ‘I won’t sleep.’
‘We could play wizard’s chess for a bit,’ he suggested.
She shook her head. ‘I’m no good at that game. But… we can sit up, and talk. I can get the House Elves to bring us some hot chocolate.’
‘OK,’ he said. ‘I’m going to change, though. I’ll be right back.’
He kissed her forehead as he passed her, and Hermione bit her lip, walking over to the sofa. She couldn’t remember it ever being this awkward between them before, but she supposed this evening hadn’t been exactly normal.
But she wouldn’t admit to him that she was afraid. She was afraid of what would happen now. Would he break up with her, too? Would his feelings change? What if he went back to Astoria? He said they’d broken up, but…
Stop it, she scolded herself. You’re being silly. It’s fine.
She picked up her wand, waved it, and half a minute later, Winky was standing in front of her.
‘Miss called?’ Winky squeaked.
Hermione smiled. ‘Yes, I did. I’m sorry to bother you, Winky, I know it’s late. But I was wondering if you could bring two mugs of hot chocolate with lots of whipped cream and a plate of chocolate chip cookies, please?’ She asked.
‘Of course, Miss,’ Winky said. ‘Winky will make them herself, Miss. Would Miss like a plate of pastries also?’
‘That would be wonderful, Winky. I’m sorry to bother you,’ she said. ‘Thank you so much.’
Winky nodded and curtsied, and then she was gone, just as Draco came out of his bedroom, buttoning his silk pajama top. ‘Who were you talking to?’ He asked. ‘It sounded like that house elf, the one who brought me food when I was in the hospital wing.’
‘It was,’ she said. ‘Her name is Winky, and she’ll be bringing us some snacks and hot chocolate in a few minutes.’
‘I thought you didn’t like making them work,’ he said, plopping down next to her. ‘Isn’t that why you invented… what’s it called? Spew?’
‘It’s S.P.E.W,’ she said, rolling her eyes. ‘And I can’t stop them from working. I’m giving Winky a new hat anyway, when she comes back.’
Now it was Draco’s turn to roll his eyes, but he was smiling. ‘I was furious when my mother told me that Potter had set Dobby free,’ he said. ‘He was the closest thing I ever had to a best friend. When I was younger, anyway.’
‘Really?’ She asked, surprised. ‘But what about Blaise, and Crabbe and Goyle? You were always hanging out with them. Even Pansy was with you most of the time.’
He flinched when she mentioned Crabbe. ‘I never had any real friends. Crabbe and Goyle would’ve turned on me if they had the chance. Blaise… Blaise was different. I liked him the most. And Pansy… well, Pansy was only after my family’s money,’ he said. ‘I didn’t have a Potter and Weasel to befriend, you know.’
She almost smiled. ‘I suppose you’re right,’ she said. ‘Where is Goyle, anyway? I’d forgotten all about him until now.’
‘Goyle decided not to come back. He was traveling, I think,’ he said. ‘I think his father wanted him to disappear for a while, after the war.’
‘That was smart, considering his father was a death eater. He probably wanted to keep Goyle out of Azkaban,’ she said.
‘He never had a lot to do with Death Eaters, though. I heard Lucius talking about it, once. He said Goyle was too stupid to get the Mark. Unworthy,’ Draco said sourly. ‘He was good enough that the Carrow’s used him as a tool to torture people, though.’
‘I don’t think so,’ she said. ‘Maybe he thought if Voldemort couldn’t put the Dark Mark on him, then he wouldn’t be killed, and he wouldn’t go to Azkaban. Maybe he was really trying to save his own life.’
‘It’s a bit far-fetched, but it’s possible,’ he admitted. ‘I never really thought about it before.’
‘I know what you’re thinking, and it wouldn’t have happened,’ she said. ‘You’re wishing Voldemort had thought you were unworthy of receiving the Mark. But he wouldn’t have. He probably thought he was doing you a favor, when he gave it to you. He thought you could restore your family’s honor.’
Draco looked away from her, a dark expression on his face. ‘You’re probably right,’ he said softly. ‘I don’t think my ancestor’s would’ve been very proud ofme, though. I may have ruined the family’s reputation.’
She nearly smiled. ‘I think it’s a good thing,’ she said. ‘Besides, I don’t think your reputation was very good to begin with.’
He laughed, meeting her eyes. He was still laughing when Winky appeared in front of them, holding a tray with steaming mugs, and a plate of cookies and assorted cakes. Hermione smiled at her, and pulled out her wand. She muttered ‘Accio’, and a moment later, a red hat appeared in her hand. But it was Draco who spoke.
‘Thank you, Winky,’ he said.
The house elf put the tray on the coffee table. ‘You is welcome, Sir and Miss,’ she squeaked.
‘Here,’ Hermione said, handing her the hat. ‘I hope you like it.’
Winky accepted the hat happily. ‘Oh, thank you, Miss. Winky likes red, miss,’ she said. She tucked the hat into the pocket of her apron. ‘Will Miss be needing anything else?’
‘No, that will be all. Thank you, Winky,’ said Hermione.
Winky nodded, curtsied, and disappeared. Draco was looking at her, a smile forming on his lips. ‘I have a feeling Winky would follow you anywhere, if you asked her too,’ he said.
‘She is loyal, that’s for sure. She was just as loyal to her previous master, even though he was a horrible man,’ she said. ‘But having a house elf of my own would go against everything I stand for.’
He smiled, and they both grabbed a cookie. Draco pulled her close, and they leaned back against the sofa. They were happy just to be near each other.
Far away, in the cold prison cells of Azkaban, a bright, white light illuminated the shadows. Pleased, its conjurer gave a small, cold smile, and whispered, in a voice barely audible, a single message. And then the conjurer sent the Patronus out to his enemies, and Lucius Malfoy began to laugh.
Oh, dear. I'm terribly sorry for that cliffhanger there. Honestly, it was neccesary. So, one question I'm going to ask you is: Do you have any ideas about how the imposter Ginny could be? I'll give you a hint-- it's someone we hardly ever hear about except in a particular book featuring a potion that starts with A. See if you can figure it out, and if not, that's alright! I'd love to hear your theories anyway. Also, what do you think will happen in the following chapters? And I know some people probably have forgotten abot the mysterious A.D, and I'm going to give you all a hint. It's not who you think it is, and in fact, it's the person most unlikely. I'd love to hear all of your theories, so please review! I hope you all enjoyed this chapter! Thanks for reading!