Hermione regretted her choice of shoes now. She'd picked "sensible heels," as Ginny would call them. "Sensible" only meant that they were not too high as to topple her. And that they were ugly. She realized this when she discovered that her shoes matched perfectly with the stale, dusty floors of the underground Ministry halls.
She looked up from her shoes to see Harry walking toward her.
"Harry. How was it? Did they – Do you think -?"
"It's hard to tell." He pushed his hair away from his forehead, looking down the hall at the oaken doors he came from. "They have a lot of evidence, obviously. They asked a lot of questions about fifth year and Umbridge, but I tried to give them the details about – about –"
Harry stuttered, and Hermione watched his eyes glaze as he looked away from her. It had only been a year and a half, so she understood his hesitance.
"Malfoy Manor," she finished for him.
"Yeah." Harry swallowed, and Hermione saw him holding Dobby on the beach as if it were yesterday. "But they wouldn't let me say much," he continued. "They had my testimony about the night Dumbledore died –" Harry blinked again, almost a twitch she realized "—but I tried to amend it to include him more. They wouldn't let me. Said it was already 'in the file.'"
Hermione nodded, looking behind him at the double doors. She could feel her heartbeat in her ears.
"He's in there," Harry said.
Hermione snapped her eyes to his green ones. Harry's drilled into hers, searching for… something.
"Right. I mean, of course he is. It's his trial." She held her breath.
"He's not making it easy on them, I don't think."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, he doesn't.… He doesn't seem like he's fighting it very hard. He looks bored almost."
Hermione looked back to the doors behind Harry, nodding.
"And he looks…" Harry stopped himself. "I guess you'll see."
Hermione felt the pounding in her ears again. She would see. She would see him for the first time since the Great Hall, gaunt and stricken at the Slytherin table with his mother clutching his arm. She hadn't meant to look for him. Not in the corridors, not beneath the white sheets of the fallen, not on the way to the Chamber of Secrets with Ron, but she was a stupid girl.
"I'll be here for you when you come out."
Hermione looked at Harry again. "Oh, Harry, no. You've done enough. I know you have to get back upstairs."
"Are you sure?" And there he was again, searching for something.
"Yes, absolutely." She pasted a smile on her face and squeezed his arm. "I'll come find you upstairs when I'm done. Maybe we can go to lunch?"
"That would be great." He smiled at her.
Harry turned and began the long walk back to the lifts. Hermione called after him, "Harry!" He turned to her. "Thank you," she said. "I know you were… hesitant –"
"No, you were right, Hermione," he said. "It's the right thing to do." He turned and continued.
Hermione listened to his footsteps retreat down the hall. A different echo than his trainers used to make. Hermione smiled, thinking of the change. Dragon leather dress shoes were expected in certain situations she supposed, namely a Wizengamot trial, but she'd seen Harry wear these and other fancier shoes more and more often. That could be expected from The-Boy-Who-Lived-and-Died-and-Lived-Again, as Rita Skeeter so artfully, and concisely, named Harry in her articles. The requests for his public appearances were increasing, and his celebrity was doing anything but decreasing. He attended galas, organized remembrances for past Order members, opened orphanages for those children who had lost their families. Hermione had her own fair share of galas and public events, but she was only requested if Harry could attend, and sometimes only if Ron could round out the trio, which was made more difficult these days while Ron was off playing Quidditch for the Irish.
The oak door opened. A small, round man squeezed out. He would have reminded her of Umbridge if he hadn't been smiling at her. An odd thing to do during a trial.
"Miss Hermione Granger?" He made a little show of looking around the empty hallway before his eyes landed on her. "Miss Granger, they are ready for you."
Hermione nodded her head, smoothed out her robes, and began her very sensible walk to the doors. She nervously pushed her hair back behind her ears, something she never did. So she pulled it back over her ears. As she reached the small man he smiled at her and began the speech that she had heard at least four times over the past eighteen months for different trials she had been summoned for. No contact with the accused. Confiscation of wand. Wandless magic subject to imprisonment. Her eyes flittered over his shoulder, past the door that he held open, but all she could see at this angle was the rows of purple robes. She handed over her wand to him, and he escorted her in.
Even though she had been in the Wizengamot dungeons several times since, it still surprised her to not feel the cold of the Dementors that she expected ever since their Ministry break-in last year. The Dementors had been excused of their service after the fall of Voldemort. No, she felt a different kind of cold.
She rounded the entrance and did her best not to look in the direction of the cage she knew would be fifteen feet to her right. She stepped up to the small platform and placed her hands on the rail in front of her.
"State your name." A voice rang from somewhere in the sea of purple.
"Hermione Jean Granger." She felt, more than heard, a movement to her right. It was him. She focused on the grey-haired individuals in purple.
"Hermione Jean Granger. You are here of your own free will. You have not been summoned in defense of the accused. Is this correct?"
Her breath caught in her throat. "Yes. That is correct."
Another voice from the purple: "You are here to offer information that you hope will assist the Wizengamot in determining the sentencing of Draco Lucius Malfoy. Is that correct?"
"Yes." Her voice was softer than before. She would need to start breathing soon, she supposed.
"Please proceed Miss Granger."
Breathing in, gripping the railing, she let the practiced story flow through her.
"On March 30, 1998, Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley and I were caught by Snatchers and taken to Malfoy Manor. I was able to cast a Stinging Jinx on Harry Potter just before capture, in the hopes that his face would be unrecognizable. No enchantments were placed on Ron Weasley or myself.
"We were taken to Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy." Hermione's hands tightened on the rails. "They wanted to be sure they had Harry Potter before contacting Voldemort." She heard a small intake of breath, no doubt from some purple robe who still would not say the name out loud. "Mrs. Malfoy called for her son, a schoolmate of Harry Potter's, to identify him. Draco Malfoy refused to make a positive identification, thereby buying us time to escape. If he had identified Harry Potter, I believe that Voldemort would have been summoned, and Harry Potter would have died that night, thus ending the Second Wizarding War. By choosing not to identify Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy saved us all."
A silence fell over the wide room. Hermione wondered if maybe she should go on.
"Miss Granger," a redheaded woman in the second row called to her. "You say Draco Malfoy chose not to identify Mr. Potter. What grounds do you have on that?"
Hermione furrowed her brows before proceeding. "Like I said, he was presented with Harry Potter and said he could not identify him –"
"Did you not place a Stinging Jinx on Mr. Potter?" The redhead cut her off. "For the direct purpose of making him unidentifiable?"
Hermione could feel heat rising in her cheeks. "Even if Malfoy could not identify Harry Potter, a schoolmate that he'd known for more than six years, he could see that the person's companions were Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger. He did not positively identify either of us."
"Do you think Mr. Malfoy would be able to identify yourself and Mr. Weasley?" A gray-haired man in the front asked.
"Yes. We went to school with him for six years as well." Hermione thought her answer might have been a bit swotty….
"Did you have a relationship with Mr. Malfoy at Hogwarts?" The redhead.
Her cheeks burned at the insinuation that was probably not an insinuation at all. She responded, "We were classmates."
"You were not friends, though?" The redhead prodded.
"In fact," the redhead continued, "was he not somewhat antagonistic to you at school, due to your blood status?"
Hermione almost snorted, but guessed that it would not help the situation. "'Somewhat,' I suppose. But I hardly think schoolyard bullying should be examined in this sort of situation."
"What do you think should be examined, Miss Granger?" A blonde woman from the fourth row asked. She smiled with a warmth that reminded Hermione of Molly Weasley.
"I think his character should be examined. I believe his mother, Narcissa Malfoy, was given a full pardon a year ago due to her 'assistance with the Battle of Hogwarts.' I believe I have just presented a moment that his assistance was necessary. I think I could give you several other citations and moments where his actions spoke not of a Death Eater, but of a son and a child. I think Mr. Malfoy's crimes should be expunged and a full pardon given."
And with that final dot at the end of the sentence, she heard tuttering from the stands, an indignant gasp from the corner, and a chuckle to her right. She knew that chuckle. She'd heard it growing up. She couldn't stop herself in that moment. She looked at him.
He was pale. Unusually pale. His hair hadn't been cut, and if she thought about it, his hair had been long at the battle, curling behind his ears. Now it was growing to the nape of his neck, shaggy, and less pristinely blonde than usual. His eyes drilled into hers. He was leaning back against the bars of the cage. No chair or stool were provided for the accused in the cage, but instead of standing and grasping the bars like so many had before him, he leaned back, crossing his legs and arms. Waiting to be entertained. And she had entertained him. Her heart beat faster and her cheeks warmed.
"Miss Granger." Hermione regained her focus on the blonde Molly Weasley. "After years of prejudice and 'schoolyard bullying,' as you say. After being tortured by his aunt on his drawing room floor, do you feel you are best suited to speak on behalf of his character?"
Hermione glanced at all the faces staring at her, except for one. The redhead wore a smug grin.
"You're right," Hermione said. "Those aspects don't qualify me. What qualifies me is that I am human and I see room for forgiveness. I am Hermione Granger, war heroine, brightest witch of our age, and one-third of your Golden Trio. And these facts alone should exclude me from being questioned about my qualifications, just as I assume Harry Potter's qualifications were not questioned."
The room went still. She had never been more arrogant in her life, she realized, but her blood pressure was rising.
"And as Hermione Granger, I request that the actions of a 17-year-old wizard, raised in a blood purity household, whose parents, family, and friends all supported the Dark Lord, and whose life was being threatened daily, be excused of his actions." Hermione tried to stop herself but couldn't. "Draco Malfoy did not kill Albus Dumbledore. He did not kill anyone. So, I do not see why he is being tried in full Wizengamot as if he is a murderer and a staunch supporter of the Dark Lord. Just because his name is Malfoy does not mean you can place the sins of the war on his shoulders."
The redhead pursed her lips and looked away. The blonde Molly Weasley gave the floor a sheepish smile. The gray-haired man in the front stood.
"Miss Granger," he said, "Thank you for coming in today. We will examine your testimony and the testimony of others." He had kind eyes, but Hermione still felt like she'd overstayed her welcome.
"Thank you to the honored members of the Wizengamot for letting me speak." Hermione released the railings in front of her, letting blood flow to her fingers for the first time in ten minutes. As she turned to leave she couldn't help herself. She glanced at him again.
The slightly amused smirk was gone. He was glaring at her. Examining her like she was a flobberworm found under his shoe. Like she hadn't just tried to save his life. Hermione found her breath and continued out of the room, blood pounding.
Her ridiculous heels clicked against the stones as she made her way out, passing the door guard, continuing to the lifts and ignoring him as he called after her to give her back her wand.