Disclaimer: Surprise! Bet you thought you've seen the last of me - but no, I am still a student, still broke from paying rent, and still very much do not own Harry Potter. I tried so hard to get this chapter out before the year ended, and hopefully I can share a little bit of happiness in the wake of shitty 2016. More nonsense in my author's note below as usual.
Chapter 29: A Great Hubris
The first thing Hermione planned after her rather ugly realization of Draco's task, was to speak to Dumbledore.
Or at least, attempt to speak to Dumbledore.
The Headmaster was admittedly difficult to catch and she noted he was often missing from the high table during meals. Even when she guessed the gargoyle password of the week after many attempts, his office was empty.
So she settled for the second best.
"Professor, I need your help."
Snape curled his mouth in distaste, glancing up from the essay he was undoubtedly marking down. "Whatever it is, I will probably say no."
"Your student has been tasked with first degree murder from a Dark Lord, sir," she said bluntly. "I think this needs your attention."
His shoulders stiffened, dark eyes looking at her with disbelief.
Of course he did. Which meant her first line of thinking was correct in that Dumbledore was also in the loop as well. He had deliberately questioned her that night while withholding his own answers.
After a great moment of silence, Snape finally seemed to make the connection.
"Who told you about this, Miss Granger?" He hissed.
"No one!" She said angrily, throwing her hands out. "Apparently, I was not considered to be of importance — and yes, Draco refused to say anything on the matter! I pieced it together myself after Katie Bell's incident."
There was another long stretch of silence as Snape regarded her.
"And what, pray tell, do you plan on doing with this information?" He inquired carefully. "Because this is far beyond anything we can change."
She clenched her hands in momentary rage, letting her mental shields lower. "Is that what you believe, sir? Is that why, even knowing all along of Draco's burden, there's nothing that's been done?"
His hand slammed on the desk with an echoing bang, snapping the quill and rattling the ink bottle precariously. Snape narrowed his eyes, looking outright livid.
"Do not presume to know what you speak of," he spat through his teeth. "I've been protecting the boy far longer than your pity-project has been going on—"
"Draco is not a pity-project, sir!" She cut in, stubbornly standing her ground. "So maybe you've got some disclosed plan to help him from the shadows now, but what then? Is he going to have any choice in where he can go afterwards, or is it straight back to Voldemort?"
The fact that Snape didn't berate her on the use of his name spoke volumes about her argument.
"Please, professor," she said quieter, meeting his eyes. "Help me, so I can help him. I just need information."
He gave a stiff sigh, tossing the broken quill into the bin. "I am not liable to speak on behalf of anyone, much less Mr. Malfoy. You will have to speak to the Headmaster about this."
"I've tried, sir," she groaned. "He's quite literally never in Hogwarts anymore."
"He has been indisposed," Snape replied darkly, eyebrows furrowed. "He will be returning to the castle this week."
Her mind whirled with anything that Dumbledore could have been so conveniently indisposed with, and concluded with only one possible answer. "His hand, isn't it? Harry mentioned he had injured it over the summer, and from the damage I saw from the beginning of the year, it looked like a curse — a dark one, I'll bet."
His lack of immediate response was enough to solidify her statement. Snape may have been a master Occlumens, but body language and social construct was one thing Hermione had over that particular skill.
"Leave me," he ordered at last, waving his hand. "And do not do anything foolish, Miss Granger. There are dark times ahead, and one misstep will be your downfall."
Taking the dismissal, she sighed, giving the potions professor a nod before turning on her heel and leaving.
So she had a Headmaster to track after all.
True to Snape's word, Dumbledore returned to the high table the following morning, appearing a little more exhausted than last.
Later in the evening, she stood outside his office, releasing a swift exhale in order to steady her nerves. She knew Dumbledore was inside for certain now, as Harry actually had one of his lessons within the hour. She promised herself that she would be in and out before Harry arrived for his lesson.
Raising a hand, she knocked on the large wooden door, hearing the Headmaster's approval for entry.
"Miss Granger," he turned, eyebrows rising slightly. There was no surprise in his tone, nor did he question her presence, so Hermione deduced that Snape had already informed him of their conversation.
"Hello, professor," she greeted softly. "I apologize for the sudden intrusion, I… I just had to speak to you."
After a pause, Dumbledore folded his hands on the desk. "You've made quite the discovery, I heard; have a seat."
She fell onto the comfy red chair, mirroring his hand placement as she inwardly prepared herself.
"Sir, you didn't tell me," she said tentatively. "You asked me whether or not Draco Malfoy had the capacity to kill another, knowing he was tasked with that exact charge — and I know to you, I'm just a child, just a silly girl who's bossy and demanding, just Harry Potter's friend, and that I'm a student trying to play in a game of war — but professor, I swear that's not me, and that's not why I'm here. I understand that some things are meant to be kept a secret, but… but…"
The words felt suddenly heavy in her mouth, and Hermione swallowed thickly, trying to get past the sudden surge of emotions.
"You've grown to care for him greatly, have you not?" he asked gently.
"Yes," she admitted without pause. "He believes there's no other path left, no choice for him to make; and professor, you were one of the first to tell me that the choices in our lives had to created and taken by our own will. I — I just can't leave him behind… not like this."
Hermione stared at the tiny machine on the desk, watching it puff red smoke, as she felt unable to look at the Headmaster in the eye.
"Sometimes, Miss Granger, there are circumstances in life that cannot be changed in the very moment," said Dumbledore softly. "That by fate, we are just meant to live through it and grow."
She bit her tongue, trying to hold back her sudden exasperation. "But this is Voldemort we're speaking about! He might not even have the chance to live at the end of this! This is do-it-or-die."
Dumbledore seemed to think hard and carefully, eyes closed as he let the room fall silent.
"The girl has a point, Albus. Though, you've never been too overly fond of looking after my House in the first place."
Hermione darted her eyes left at the sudden voice, staring at the portrait that spoke for the first time in her presence. The Headmaster portrait of Sirius's great-great grandfather stared back, eyes darting between her and Dumbledore.
"Phineas, please," Dumbledore said rather warily, finally reopening his eyes. He looked like he aged twenty years in the span of a minute. "Now is not the time."
"There is never a time for Slytherins with you, Albus," the portrait snapped. "First with Severus, and now this boy."
Hermione felt the atmosphere suddenly dry, as she trying to place his words into context. "What are you talking about? What happened with Professor Snape?"
Phineas snorted ever so hauntingly, lifting his chin. "Weren't you supposed to be clever, girl? Think. Why do you think he is serving two different masters, eh?"
"That would be enough," Dumbledore said sternly.
"We will speak about this another time, mark my words," Phineas muttered. "You will learn to let go of that bias sooner or later."
With that, the portrait promptly left the frame.
A stark silence remained as Hermione tried to comprehend exactly what the late Headmaster was referring to. She always knew Snape was a bit misunderstood, but there was obviously something much deeper that was tying him to Dumbledore than she knew.
"I apologize for that, Miss Granger," said Dumbledore wearily. "Please do not let that old wizard's ramblings color your opinion of him — he has been a trusted advisor of mine for many years."
Hermione felt her heart pound against her chest, realizing that it was not Phineas Black that she was beginning to have a colored opinion of, but her own Headmaster. The trusted image of the wizard she admired so much since she knew magic was real, was falling apart before her eyes.
"It's all right, professor," she lied, feeling herself grow cold. "I just came here to ask if you could answer my question from before… I'm sure the Order can help Draco too. We could all figure this out."
"The course of it is all set," he said, a sense of seriousness in his voice. "There is nothing we can change now. Some people are meant to stay where they are."
It was exactly the answer that Snape had given her. There was definitely some sort of plan between them that neither were letting up.
"Even though he's clearly suffering where he is?" she challenged. "And not wanting to be there?"
Dumbledore looked down briefly, looking somber. "It is for the greater good."
It was then that Hermione felt something in her soul crack. As if everything in her brain suddenly aligned for one moment of clarity, and she felt utterly used.
She shouldn't have been surprised to understand something bigger behind his request in her third year, but she had been so blinded by loyalty, that she simply didn't question.
"Sir, you… you were never planning go far for Draco, were you?" she inquired, slowly shaking her head. "That all this time… even after everything… he'd be left with those wolves?"
"I expect he could serve a much bigger purpose there," said Dumbledore, looking absolutely firm in his opinion. "Especially as someone from the inside."
Hermione's jaw threatened to drop at the notion, unable to believe what she had just heard. A double agent. He had been trying to groom Draco as some sort of spy — through her. She clutched at her stomach, feeling suddenly sick, her insides twisting at the notion. If she hadn't had her occlumency shields in place, she knew her emotions would have come pouring with anger.
"He's a person," she said, barely a whisper of disbelief. "Not some sort of — of a pawn!"
"Yet, war is bigger than individuals," he replied gravely. "We cannot afford to think with that sort of compassion."
So if something were to preoccupy Snape, there was always Draco next — and then who else? She bit her tongue, letting the coppery taste of blood fill her mouth. "We are not dispensable, professor."
"It is not my intention to make you feel in such a way," said Dumbledore calmly. "I understand if this answer was not what you were hoping for, but in times of war, there must be sacrifices."
Who were they to the great Albus Dumbledore, anyway?
Pieces on the playing field.
She bowed her head, knowing that the anger and humiliation she felt was blazing in her eyes. "I'll consider your words, sir. Thank you for speaking to me — I'll excuse myself."
He regarded her with sad eyes; the old twinkle in his gaze long gone. "Have a good night, Miss Granger."
Rising from her seat, she swiftly spun on her heel and left the office, never once looking back.
The following morning found Hermione sitting out by the lake.
She had been unable to sleep, tossing and turning in bed while thinking on her conversation with the Headmaster. She left the Gryffindor tower at dawn's break, letting her feet do the guiding.
She had ultimately found herself out by the frozen lake, staring absentmindedly as the sun began to rise. It had stormed the night before, leaving the entire area covered in a soft blanket of snow, but the cold wasn't a bother. In fact, the numbness seemed to help.
"You look preoccupied by many thoughts. Have the Wrackspurts invaded your head?"
Hermione whirled around, startled by the familiar voice. She hadn't even heard anyone approach.
"Luna?" she blinked in bewilderment, making sure that the girl wasn't a figment of her sleep-deprived brain. "What are doing here? It's barely sunrise and — Merlin! Luna, where are your shoes?"
With a flick of her wand, Hermione cast a basic heating spell by her bare feet, watching the snow melt into a puddle where Luna stood.
"Yes, I can tell you've really got a lot of Wrackspurts in your head," the girl smiled airily. "Positive thoughts will chase them away, Hermione."
She blew the hair out of her face, unwilling to argue about the possible existence of magical creatures so early in the morning. She had gotten much closer to Luna after the whole Department of Mysteries fiasco, and Hermione learned to just let some things be.
"I've got a lot to think about, so I decided I needed some air," she shrugged, eyeing the blonde girl. "But you — what are you doing out here with no shoes?"
"I've come to see a friend but the Nargles took my shoes again," she replied. "I'll find them eventually though."
Hermione stared for a moment, not sure which part to comment on first. At last, she settled for the former. "A friend? At the break of dawn?"
"You should come too, Hermione. I feel like you need the socialization."
Feeling stunned and slightly offended, she got to her feet, sighing. "Yeah… Maybe I do."
"Lovely," Luna beamed, continuing to walk down the hill.
Hermione readjusted her scarf, falling into step with Luna's strides. "Who are we seeing? Hagrid?"
Luna was carrying a large makeshift pack, and the unmistakable smell of blood was coming from it — it had to be some sort of meat for creatures.
"Oh no, Hagrid isn't awake at this hour," said Luna. "This is for Tenebrus. Tristan and Mortim too if they're there."
Hermione racked her brain for the familiar names, finally recalling them from months prior. "You mean the Thestrals?"
Luna nodded, stepping into the first parts of the Forbidden Forest. Hermione hesitated for the briefest of moments before following her.
"You weren't kidding when you said you visit them regularly," she noted.
"They're quite gentle, really, if you give them the chance," said Luna, walking through the thick snow covered roots as if she made the trek every day. "I think they're more misunderstood than most."
"I see," she nodded slowly, taking a good measure of their surroundings. "How long have you been seeing them?"
Luna took a sharp right and Hermione hurried on after her. "I've been able to see them since my first year, but I only started to come see them in my third."
"Oh — um, I'm sorry," she said lamely, unsure of how to respond. Ginny had told her how Luna's mother died in some sort of accident when she was young.
"It's nothing to be sorry for," she shrugged. "You certainly didn't do anything wrong, Hermione. I will see my mother again someday, and I'm happy enough to live with that."
"Yes, I'd expect so," she murmured, for once, wholeheartedly agreeing with her.
Luna pushed through some branches before slowing down at a wide-open clearing. "Here we are."
Blinking away the sudden bright sunlight that filtered through the trees, Hermione stared at the large glade, noting that it was indeed, occupied by a few Thestrals. She momentarily stopped in her tracks, taking in a view she hadn't seen since the carriage ride in September. They were certainly beautiful in an unorthodox way — their colors contrasting greatly with the dark hues of the forest.
She watched as Luna approached one closest to her, gently running her fingers through its black mane, and lifting a slab of raw meat with her other hand. With a sharp, bird-like cry, the Thestral caught the meal between its skeletal jaws, swallowing the entire thing whole in a matter of moments.
"Feed one, Hermione?" Luna called, not looking over at her.
She shifted slightly from where she stood, unsure. "Er, I don't know about that. I'm not quite acquainted with them as you are."
"If your heart is pure then they will come," said Luna easily, feeding another.
Hermione had no idea how Thestrals could even sense a pure heart, or if it was one of the many strange beliefs Luna had, but she walked over to the bag of meat and sighed, lifting up a strip. The blood pooled on her palm and slowly began to trail down her wrist.
She darted her gaze around for a wayward Thestral, finding one right in front of her as she turned around. She gave a startled yelp, meeting its pupil-less white eyes. It was a smaller Thestral than the rest, its head on line with her own.
"Hagrid named that one Mira," Luna supplied. "Her birth was both a gift and a miracle."
Swallowing any sense of fear that her arm may get eaten off, Hermione slowly reached over with her empty hand, petting Mira's mane. She cooed gently, walking closer as Hermione raised the bloody slab of meat to her mouth. It was eaten off in chunks, and a long, rough tongue licked the remaining blood off her hand. She giggled slightly at the feeling, letting a smile tug her lips.
It was surprisingly a soothing experience.
"Thank you, Luna," she said suddenly, turning to look at the girl. "For bringing me over. I think I did need this."
"Oh, but you haven't even socialized yet," she tilted her head.
A moment of confusion made her frown. "But I… did? Didn't I?"
The wind suddenly picked up around the clearing, and Hermione felt her hair whip about. A great shadow covered the sun as a silhouette of a large winged creature seemed to appear in the expanse of the sky. She backed up on instinct as a Thestral landed in the open end of the clearing, its wings shaking off the adrenaline before folding back to its sides.
It was then she noticed that there was a person occupying the Thestral — someone she recognized, yet, was the last person she expected to see. His sandy hair was a mess from flying, robes in disarray, and cheeks pink from the cold.
"Hello, Theodore," Luna greeted. "You look like you've got a few Gulping Plimpies holding up your hair."
He made a face, running a hand through it as he slid off the back of the Thestral. "Shut it. It's the short hair struggle you'll never have to experience, so be thankfu—" He stopped mid-word, finally noticing her presence since landing. Sharp hazel eyes met her own, and he blinked.
She regarded him in return. "Nott."
"Lovegood," Luna added, pointing to herself.
Nott rolled his eyes, turning to her. "Don't be dotty, Luna, I already know you."
"Oh, but I thought we were calling surnames."
"Not quite," he muttered, looking back to her. "Didn't expect to see you here, Granger. Though, I suppose it was only a matter of time."
"I could say the same," she replied carefully. Hermione, frankly, never had a conversation with Nott in their six years of school together, and didn't know the boy at all. "And you two know each other?"
He shrugged nonchalantly. "I'd say I've known Luna longer than you've known her."
Luna smiled, confirming his words.
Hermione let his words settle in, realization widening her eyes. Had she really been that blind to her surroundings?
"Don't look so surprised, Granger," he raised an eyebrow. "You're not the only one with out-of-House friends."
She stopped breathing momentarily, keeping her face as neutral as possible. "I don't know what you're talking about."
He gave a barking laugh, running another hand through his wind swept hair. "Oh? Would Draco then?"
Hermione didn't move. How had a boy she never exchanged two words with prior, learned about her relationship with Draco? "...What?"
"Hermione doesn't like being teased," said Luna softly, no surprise in her tone either.
"Fine, fine," Nott raised his hands in a mock sign of surrender. "Really, it all comes down to two things: I am an extremely light sleeper, and Draco mumbles in his sleep. The fact that we both share the west wing of the room doesn't help either."
She pushed down her sudden sense of embarrassment, slipping on a brave face. "Yes, and what does that have to do with me?"
Nott shot her a sly smile, one that definitely didn't look like good news to her. "Right, well, it was all simple. I was used to Draco's nightly muttering since our first year, and he never said much beyond 'father' and 'Malfoy honor', that is, until the end of our fourth year. Then… something changed."
"Do tell," she said impatiently.
The smile dropped from his face, suddenly looking far more serious. "His father had come to visit Hogwarts — actually, the entire Board of Governors was here after whole mess of Diggory's death. I don't know what happened during their talk, but when he came back later in the night, he said something new." He paused to stare at her, gaze unrelenting. "He said 'Granger'."
Hermione bit her lip, knowing exactly what day he was referring to. The tightly clamped emotions that regarded Draco were slowly starting to slip past her shields. "And you assumed what?"
"Oh, I didn't assume anything," he said simply, feeding one of the Thestrals close to him. "Slytherins don't usually assume without facts and evidence, so that's what I found. I may not know you, Granger, but I've known Draco since childhood, and when you're looking for something in particular, it's easy to find. It wasn't until the end of last year though, when he called you by name, and it all solidified for me."
The early morning birds filled the silence as Nott finished his explanation, pleasantly turning to feed another Thestral.
Eventually, Hermione ran a hand down her face, inwardly groaning. She was rather hoping this entire scenario was just a great dream, or a hallucination of her exhausted mind, but the image of Nott and Luna refused to disappear.
"Right," she said slowly. "So now you both know."
Luna gave a wistful smile. "I think it's lovely, Hermione. He's been the subject of your deep thoughts."
She blushed red, forgetting how blunt Luna could be. "What — no? It's not that — I mean him — it's not him!"
"Then what deep thought did I interrupt this morning?" she asked.
"I…" she hesitated, not even knowing where to start. It seemed like there was no point in hiding anything from these two anyway; they knew it all already. "I guess… I learned the hard way that adults are also imperfect, and that they can be more far-sighted than I thought."
Nott scoffed, lifting another slab of meat. "Oh yes, must have been a hard pill for know-it-all extraordinaire, Hermione Granger, to swallow."
Luna smacked him in the head, softly claiming she was ridding of any Wrackspurts at his grumble.
"I was wrong," Hermione admitted, ignoring the look of surprise from Nott. "I came into the magical world as a muggle-born, not knowing much except for the books I read, so it was easy to idolize those that are just as human. I'm at a bit of a loss now."
"So what?" Nott asked, shooting a glare at Luna. "The people you depended on are not as dependable as you first thought. I'd expect you of all people would just do something about it."
She sent him a blank stare. "Allow me a moment to mourn my loss of innocence, Nott."
There was a few seconds of silence.
"Okay, done," he clapped, splattering flecks of blood on his uniform. "Moment over. Time for action."
Hermione stared thoughtfully at him, taking in facial features she never bothered to observe before. Theodore Nott was rather lanky, looking as if he grew too many inches a bit too fast. He had sandy blonde hair that was peppered with streaks of brown, thick eyebrows above a set of sharp hazel eyes and a broad nose. She knew she had never bothered to talk to him before, but much like Blaise, his character was not what she had expected.
"Then tell me, Nott, what would you do?" she inquired. "The help I hoped to receive isn't coming, and the person I'd like to help doesn't want anything to do with me. Go on, shoot."
"First, let's not delude ourselves into thinking that he doesn't want anything to do with you," said Nott, waving a dismissive hand. "Draco's a lone wolf, more so when the Dark Lord himself is supposedly in the picture."
She eyed him closely. "And how much do you know about that?"
"Not much," he said honestly, shrugging. "He spoke about it briefly in the train, but that's all. What he's really up to, no one knows for sure."
She sighed, rubbing the back of her neck. "I just… don't know why he chose him."
Nott bristled. "Why would you think he chose the Dark Lord?"
"Then what?" she asked, frustration building in her chest.
"Granger, you reckon if the Dark Lord gave you an order, you'd have the gall to say 'no thanks, give the job to the next bloke'?"
She made a face. "Well, I suppose not."
He tapped his temple with his finger. "It's real easy, actually. You just need to think like a Dark Lord — an angry one."
Hermione crouched in defeat, sliding a slab of meat to the nearest Thestral. There were plenty of factors that made this scenario complex, so what wasn't she seeing that was so easy for Nott?
He must have replaced his father as a Death Eater.
Harry's words rang between her ears as Hermione blinked, trying to fit the mental puzzle into place. "You think Draco was threatened."
Nott pursed his lips, shrugging. "Possibly."
"Because his father failed during the Department of Mysteries," she muttered. "Got them all sent to Azkaban."
"Yes," Nott said softly. "You sent my father to Azkaban as well."
The air between them suddenly turned cold, and Hermione glanced up at his serious voice, meeting blank eyes. She felt the need to defend herself, but clamped her jaw.
Every person you antagonize is someone's son, brother, friend — can you possibly take responsibility for it all?
"I'm sorry about your father," she murmured at last, unsure of what else to say. A blood purist, and possible murderer or no, he was still Nott's father. She didn't know them.
It wasn't until Luna placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, that the ice in his eyes seemed to break. "I sent your father to Azkaban too."
He sighed, lips cracking into a half smile. "And he'll rot there, I expect. A fitting end for him."
"I wouldn't say that," said Luna, dropping her hand. "You'll make amends with your father one day, Theodore, don't let the Dabberblimps distract you."
He rolled his eyes again. "Wouldn't dream of it."
"Lovely, because it's time for breakfast," she replied cheerily, picking up the now empty meat bag. "You think they'd have pickle soup? I asked the kitchen elves this morning for it."
"That's disgusting, Luna."
She simply smiled. "Hermione? Are you coming?"
"Oh, yes, sorry!" she jolted out of her daze, jogging towards them.
The air was slightly warmer as the three of them trekked back to the castle, and Hermione stared at the once frozen lake, noticing that there was a large crack through it, shattering the surface of the ice.
Breakfast that morning was served with a side of pickle soup.
The walk to Herbology was filled with Harry's lesson the night before. The stories of Voldemort's past was all so fascinating to Hermione, she couldn't help her mind from trailing off in thought.
Nott was right.
She had to think like Voldemort if they ever wanted to outsmart him, and learning about his past was a crucial point.
As Harry and Ron left for Quidditch practice that night, Hermione sauntered off to the library, keen on getting ahead with her homework. It felt like she suddenly had double the amount of work on her plate. Slughorn's Christmas Party was fast approaching, Ron was being strangely aggressive with everyone including Harry, and Katie Bell still had not returned from St. Mungo's.
There was also the matter of the Half-Blood Prince — a name so familiar; she wondered why she couldn't find anything on the matter.
Determined to rid of the niggling feeling once in for all, Hermione dropped all her textbooks at her usual desk and stomped right on over to the Hogwarts' archives. There were volumes upon volumes of yearbooks; she wondered why she hadn't started there first.
Running her fingers along the spines, Hermione searched the yearbooks dating around a decade or two back. The textbook seemed old, but nothing ancient, merely weathered from constant use.
She pulled out ten volumes and staggered over to the table with a grunt.
For the next hour, she poured over the index, running through name after name that could have had any relation to the Half-Blood Prince. There was a moment of wonder as she spotted the names of Harry's parents, along with Sirius, Remus and even Snape.
It wasn't until she had gone back another twenty years did she find something.
Eileen Prince — a student from nearly forty years past.
Her heart soared in triumph and she finally recalled the familiarity of the name. She had read about the Prince line, a pure-blood family that had been mentioned in the book Draco had lent her, Purest of the Pure.
Except, the title suggested the old owner was a half-blood. Hermione couldn't imagine someone calling themselves a half-blood when they were pure.
Deciding to trash the thought for now as the mystery was partly solved, Hermione waved her wand, sending all the yearbooks back to their rightful place.
Now it was time for homework.
As the days got closer to the Quidditch match, Hermione found herself receiving an unwarranted cold shoulder from Ron. After unrelenting prodding on her part, Ron just muttered angrily and left the hall.
If Hermione wasn't raised to be proper, she would have razed his mind with Legilimency to see what had him so upset — being far more careful and in control this time, of course.
She turned on Harry so fast he jumped. "What on earth is wrong with him? Tell me now."
Harry simply stammered for a moment before sighing. "I — well — it's not your fault or anything — Ron and I accidently walked in on, um, Ginny and Dean snogging last week, and well, Ginny had mentioned something that made Ron a bit upset—"
"A bit?" she repeated in disbelief. "He was about to bite my hand off! Let me guess, Ron being Ron, decided that he didn't want to see Ginny snogging anyone, and she made some comeback about how he had no experience in the department, bringing up you and I in the process."
Harry dropped his jaw, amazement in his expression. "How did you guess? That's, er, I mean, yes, that's exactly what she said."
She grumbled, spearing a sausage. "So he's mad about Viktor again? Even though I told him off last time?"
"Merlin, Hermione, you really need to write a book about this or something," Harry muttered. "I don't get how you figured all of that out."
She gave him a flat look. "Common sense, Harry — something I realized the male population is sorely lacking."
"Right, well, you know Ron," he mumbled. "He can get a bit testy under pressure…"
She glared at her plate of breakfast before sighing. "It's insecurity, Harry, and you know it is. Ron's got some issues with his self-esteem flying from low to high based on circumstances — and he'll lash out at anyone in the process."
Harry winced. "I… yeah…"
She would know that well. She had struggled under the same idea in her early years of Hogwarts, always trying to prove herself and reacting poorly to criticism.
"I'm sure he'll get over it," she replied slowly, stabbing at her eggs. "If not, I'll make him see sense myself."
Harry smiled. "That'd be more like it."
The morning of the Quidditch match had the entire Great Hall in a mess of shouts. The sky was clear and bright, she had finished up her Charms essay, and Hermione was determined not to let a certain redhead ruin her spirits.
Except, she wasn't counting on her other best friend to start something.
Harry had slipped something in Ron's drink.
She didn't see it happen per say, but the telltale flash of molten gold was enough to alarm her into action. She had shouted but Ron hadn't listened. He downed the goblet like a dying man, giving it back to Harry who was wearing a smile.
A part of her felt betrayed at Harry's blatant and illegal use of Felix Felicis. All for a single game of Quidditch nonetheless! It seemed unreal.
As Harry glanced back at her, she sent a sliver of Legilimency against his mind, knowing he wouldn't feel the intrusion, or chalk it up to his strange connection with Voldemort again — because if he was going to play this game unfairly then so was she.
A flash of a memory flew by her. The hold on the goblet. Tilting a small vial of Felix Felicis, the cork and wax still firmly in place. Slipping the vial back into his robes.
Nothing had fallen into the goblet.
Hermione blinked, breaking their connection as she looked towards Ron. Harry shook his head, muttering something about deja vu before smiling again.
Harry was a genius.
He had taken her comment of Ron's self-esteem to heart, and what better way was there than to boost confidence with Felix Felicis? Or at least, the idea of liquid luck?
She followed the pair down to the Quidditch pitch, glancing between the two of them.
"Pretty lucky the weather's this good eh?" Harry asked, nudging Ron's arm.
He would have done well in Slytherin, indeed.
"Yeah," Ron nodded.
Ginny greeted them at the changing room with a smile, noticeably ignoring Ron. "Conditions look ideal. And guess what? That Slytherin Chaser Vaisey — he took a bludger to the head yesterday during their practice and he's too sore to play. And even better than that — Malfoy's gone off sick too!"
"What?" both she and Harry turned.
Hermione forced a cough, unable to believe she had reacted so easily.
"He's ill?" asked Harry, having not noticed her retreat. "What's wrong with him?"
"No idea, but it's great for us," Ginny grinned, slipping on her cloak. "They're playing Harper instead. He's in my year and he's an idiot."
Hermione took the chance to excuse herself, patting everyone for good luck. She quickly left the Gryffindor changing room, following the crowd towards the stands.
Idiot, she mentally berated herself, lightly hitting her head repeatedly.
She had promised him that she wouldn't interfere with what he did, homicidal mission or not.
Hermione squeezed through the crowd, easily finding Luna's roaring lion-topped hat, and sat down next to her.
"Oh, hello, Hermione," she greeted. "Are you well?"
She nodded. "Better than the last time you saw me."
"I'd hope so."
There was a shrill echo of a whistle, and the match began before Hermione could get in another reply. The crowd roared as players took off into the sky, and she couldn't help scanning the Slytherin team, even knowing that Draco wasn't there.
Hermione had half her mind on the game and the other half on Draco's whereabouts. Ron was playing spectacularly, and she was getting a good idea on what was happening with Draco.
Nott had been right again. Draco's task from Voldemort wasn't normal by any means — it was punishment. The fact that it was basically a suicide mission led her to one important conclusion: the person he was ordered to kill was beyond his league; he was expected to fail. This narrowed down the suspects to a select few on the High Table and one wizard in particular.
The only wizard Voldemort was said to fear; it would be a joke for a student to try and kill such a powerful man.
The crowd erupted into cheers as Ron blocked another attempt, and Hermione quickly shouted and clapped along with the rest of them.
A punishment and a threat.
Which could only be his life if he were to fail — that definitely sounded like Voldemort. Yet, as cowardly as Draco could be at times, there had to be something greater that was holding him down.
His father was no longer around to direct him, so — oh. Oh, Merlin.
How could she have forgotten about her? Living by herself in the manor with no husband and no son, she was certainly an easy hostage figure.
Could it be?
Mrs. Malfoy was never noted to be a Death Eater, unlike her elder sister Bellatrix, and Hermione couldn't imagine the woman she met at a hill of the muggle skiing resort to be any less than a witch who seemed to love her family.
If she was not his soldier, Voldemort surely wouldn't have any hesitations in killing her off should the need arise, especially after the Department of Mysteries disaster.
The stadium exploded with cheers once more as Hermione glanced up to see Harry holding his fist up in the air. He must have caught the snitch.
Grinning, Hermione jumped to her feet, clapping her hands with the rest of the crowd as the game came to a close.
She would set the matter of Narcissa Malfoy aside for now.
There was a party to attend.
A/N: Other than requests for updates, I've gotten quite a lot of PMs over the last couple months inquiring if I had died a most mysterious death - which you can see, I have not.
As promised, I've brought both Blaise and Theodore into the story, and they'll be making their marks as the chapters progress. Theodore barely had any presence in the books so I'm whipping up a backstory for him that will explain his current personality. And yes, Draco will be making a reappearance quite soon. Another thing I wanted to explore a little with this story was Dumbledore's Machiavellian side, as well as his schemes. It was never quite expressed in the books within Harry's point of view, as he is, as stated, "Dumbledore's man through and through", so I thought I'd show a little bit of it through Hermione.
My 1k celebratory one-shot will be up soon so keep an eye out, and thank you to everyone who has reviewed in the meantime! All your love and encouragements and even criticism for me to do better fuels me on. Until next time,