Chaprer 39 : Cabinets and Clubs

Hermione sat next to Draco in the carriage on the Hogwarts Express. They had boarded the train with a few hasty farewells to Narcissa. Theo sat in from of them alongside Blaise, who seemed to be the only one who did not mind the tension in the tiny carriage.

"How was your summer, Hermione?" Daphne asked obliviously, smiling at her best friend.

"It was … boring. There was not much to do, really." she lied.

"Oi, mate." Blaise said in Draco's direction, "shouldn't you be going around harassing first years by now?"

"I've decided I have better things to do with my time." he replied coldly. Hermione glanced at him worriedly, he really was acting quite like a angst ridden teenager. Before she could chide him for it though, the compartment door slid open again and a breathless third-year girl stepped inside.

"I'm supposed to deliver these to Blaise Zabini and Hermione Dagworth-Granger." she faltered, as her eyes met the glares the Slytherins were giving her for interrupting them. She was holding out two scrolls of parchment tied with violet ribbon. Hermione took the scrolls, handing Blaise his.

"You may leave." she said to the girl, who had remained rooted to the spot, seemingly stupefied.

"What is it?" Draco demanded as Hermione unrolled the scroll.

"An invitation." said Hermione, who passed it to him.

Miss Hermione Dagworth-Granger,

I would be delighted if you would join me for a bite of lunch in compartment C.

Sincerely, Professor H. E. F. Slughorn

"Who's Professor Slughorn?" asked Blaise, looking perplexedly at his own invitation.

"I think he might be Umbridge's replacement." Hermione said. "I suppose we'll have to go, won't we?" She glanced at Draco, who did not pay mind to the fact that she was leaving. Blaise led the way, speculating the reasons why they were being called upon along the way.

When they reached compartment C, they saw at once that they were not Slughorn's only invitees, two seventh year boys and Ginny Weasley were sitting in the compartment along with the professor. He was a portly man with balding hair and bright eyes, who looked quite excited at their arrival.

"Miss Dagworth-Granger and Mr Zabini, I presume?" he said, shaking their hands, "Sit, sit. Do you know everyone?" Blaise and Hermione slid into the compartment across Slughorn and the Weaslette. She took the seat between Blaise and a largy, wiry-haired seventh year, who smirked at her in greeting.

"This is Cormac McLaggen, Marcus Belby, and Ginevra Weasley." said Slughorn animatedly "Let's wait a few moments, the last members of our party should be arriving shortly.

At that moment, the compartment door slid open again, to reveal, of course, Harry Potter and Neville Longbottom. The professor jumped up in excitement as another round of introductions began.

"Well now, this is most pleasant," said Slughorn cozily. "A chance to get to know you all a little better. Here, take a napkin. I've packed my own lunch; the trolley, as I remember it, is heavy on licorice wands, and a poor old man's digestive system isn't quite up to such things. . . . Pheasant, Belby?" Belby started and accepted what looked like half a cold pheasant.

"I was just telling young Marcus here that I had the pleasure of teaching his Uncle Damocles," Slughorn told Potter and Longbottom, now passing around a basket of rolls. "Outstanding wizard, outstanding, and his Order of Merlin most well-deserved. Do you see much of your uncle, Marcus?"

"Not . . . not much of him, no," said Belby. Slughorn gave him a cold smile and turned to the boy next to him instead.

"Now, you, Cormac," said Slughorn, "I happen to know you see a lot of your Uncle Tiberius, because he has a rather splendid picture of the two of you hunting nogtails in, I think, Norfolk?"

"Ah, you know Bertie and Rufus too?" beamed Slughorn, now offering around a small tray of pies; somehow, Belby was missed out. "Now tell me . . ."

Hermione glanced at Blaise as this went on, looking incredulous at how things were proceeding. This man could not be anything but a Slytherin, he was pulling at strings of students, those he deemed promising, or who had parents or relatives in power, to gain power for himself.

"And you, Miss Dagworth-Granger, as a Potions Master myself, you could imagine my delight upon finding that I was to be teaching the daughter of Hector Dagworth-Granger himself! If I may, my dear, have you inherited any of your father's prowess in potion making?"

Hermione smiled at the professor, "Not wanting to brag, Professor," she said, "I think I may have learned a thing or two from my father, yes."

Blaise snorted next to her, drawing the attention of Slughorn to him. "Have you anything to say against that, Mr Zabini?"

"She's lying, sir." Blaise said, ignoring the look she was sending his way.

"Oh?" Slughorn asked, eyebrows raised.

"She's top of our class, sir." Blaise said proudly, "Ten Oustandings in our OWLs, and she takes Advanced Potions with Professor Snape."

Hermione glared at her friend angrily, though he did not seem to care one bit.

"Ho, ho!" Slughorn cried, "It seems we have a prodigy on our hands!"

"I'm just very diligent, sir." she said, in between gritted teeth.

"Now, Harry Potter!" For once, Hermione was relieved to have the attention on Potter instead of her. The afternoon wore on with more anecdotes about illustrious wizards Slughorn had taught, all of whom had been delighted to join what he called the "Slug Club" at Hogwarts. Finally the train emerged from yet another long misty stretch into a red sunset, and Slughorn looked around, blinking in the twilight.

"Good gracious, it's getting dark already! I didn't notice that they'd lit the lamps! You'd better go and change into your robes, all of you. McLaggen, you must drop by and borrow that book on nogtails. Harry, Blaise, Hermione — any time you're passing. Same goes for you, miss," he twinkled at Ginny. "Well, off you go, off you go!"

Hermione and Blaise were out of the carriage first, the two shooting dark looks at Potter and his friends as they turned to leave.

"That was the most horrible thing I've ever experienced in my life." she groaned as she returned to the Slytherin carriage, to take her seat next to Draco. He looked just as he did when they had left, still contemplating something or another.

"If I had to hear one more thing about The Chosen One, I'll chop my ears off." said Blaise in agreement, he was having quite a bit of trouble closing the carriage door, which seemed to be jammed. Finally, the door slammed shut. This seemed to bring Draco out of his reverie.

"Potter was there?" he asked, suddenly alert.

Something overhead thudded, making Hermione and Draco look up

"Yeah," said Blaise, "apparently, Slughorn's got a club where he invites students he likes and who're from well known families to join."

"Who else did he invite?" Draco yawned sleepily. She smirked at him in amusement, patting her lap for him to lie his head on. He looked at her in surprise, as if asking whether she was sure, she nodded, smiling. Draco stretched out on the carriage seat, resting his head on her lap. Hermione looked up to find Theo staring at the too of them in interest, Blaise, as always, was oblivious, finding nothing out of the ordinary.

"McLaggen from Gryffindor." said Blaise.

"Oh yeah, his uncle's big in the Ministry," said Malfoy.

"— someone else called Belby, from Ravenclaw and Longbottom, Potter, and that Weasley girl," finished Zabini.

"He invited Longbottom?" Draco said, laughing coldly. "What's Longbottom got to interest Slughorn?"

"His parents were high ranking Aurors back in the day," Hermione said softly, "before, you know."

Draco seemed quiet at the sound of her voice. He took her hand, guiding it to his hair, as if wanting her to run her fingers through it. She obliged, thinking that he reminds her much of Crookshanks, who was looking at them from the floor angrily, as if he were jealous.

"Potter, precious Potter, obviously he wanted a look at 'the Chosen One,' " sneered Malfoy, "but that Weasley girl! What's so special about her?"

"A lot of boys like her, I heard." Hermione said absently. "Even you think she's goodlooking, don't you, Blaise?"

"I wouldn't touch a filthy little blood traitor like her whatever she looked like," said Blaise coldly.

"Oh, posh." she said, "It's not like you'll marry her." Blaise just shrugged in reply.

"Well, I pity Slughorn's taste. Maybe he's going a bit senile. Shame, my father always said he was a good wizard in his day. My father used to be a bit of a favorite of his. Slughorn probably hasn't heard I'm on the train, or —"

"I wouldn't bank on an invitation," said Blaise. "He asked me about Theo's father when we first arrived. They used to be old friends, apparently, but when he heard he'd been caught at the Ministry he didn't look happy, and Nott didn't get an invitation, did he? I don't think Slughorn's interested in Death Eaters."

Draco looked angry, and Theo seemed a bit surprised at the mention of his father.

"Well, who cares what he's interested in? What is he, when you come down to it? Just some stupid teacher." Draco yawned ostentatiously. "I mean, I might not even be at Hogwarts next year, what's it matter to me if some fat old has-been likes me or not?"

"What do you mean, you might not be at Hogwarts next year?" asked Blaise, eyes narrowing at the boy.

"Well, you never know," said Draco with the ghost of a smirk. "I might have — er — moved on to bigger and better things."

"Do you mean — Him?" Theo, Hermione shared a look as Draco went on.

"Mother wants me to complete my education, but personally, I don't see it as that important these days. I mean, think about it. . . . When the Dark Lord takes over, is he going to care how many O.W.L.s or N.E.W.T.s anyone's got? Of course he isn't. . . . It'll be all about the kind of service he received, the level of devotion he was shown."

"And you think you'll be able to do something for him?" asked Blaise. "Sixteen years old and not even fully qualified yet?"

"I've just said, haven't I? Maybe he doesn't care if I'm qualified. Maybe the job he wants me to do isn't something that you need to be qualified for," said Draco quietly. Hermione pulled on his hair vehemently, trying to get him to shut up.

"I can see Hogwarts," said Draco, clearly relishing the effect he had created on Blaise's face as he pointed out of the blackened window. "We'd better get our robes on."

They moved to get their luggage, and something sounded, like a rush of air from over head. Both she and Draco had heard it. They looked up curiously, frowns appearing on their faces. They both shrugged, pulling on the robes instead. As the train slowed to a jerky stop, they fastened their traveling cloaks around their necks.

At last, with a final lurch, the train came to a complete halt. Greg threw the door open and muscled his way out into a crowd of second years, punching them aside; Vince and Blaise followed.

"You go on," Hermione told Theo, after sharing a look with Draco, "I just want to check something."

Draco nodded to his friend. "I'll stay with her." Theo left hesitantly, shutting the door behind him.

"Petrificus Totalus!" Draco shouted, pointing his wand at the luggage rack above them. As though in slow motion, he toppled out of the luggage rack and fell, with an agonizing, floor-shaking crash, at Draco's feet, his Invisibility Cloak trapped beneath him, his whole body revealed with his legs still curled absurdly into the cramped kneeling position. Draco smiled broadly next to her.

"I thought so," he said jubilantly. "I heard Greg's trunk hit you. And I thought I saw something white flash through the air after Blaise came back. . . ."

"You really need to learn to mind your own business, Potter." Hermione said, glaring at the boy.

"You didn't hear anything I care about, Potter. But while I've got you here . . ."

And he stamped, hard, on Potter's face. She was sure she heard his nose break; blood spurted everywhere. As Draco moved to repeat the action, Hermione held him back.

"We don't have time." she whispered. Draco nodded begrudgingly, dragged the cloak out from under Potter's immobilized body and threw it over him.

"I don't reckon they'll find you till the train's back in London," he said quietly. "See you around, Potter . . . or not."

"You really seem quite prone to violence these days." she muttered under her breath as the two walked briskly out of the train to where the carriages were waiting for them.

Draco raised a brow at her, "You expect me to retain a calm facade with everything going on?"

"No," she said, rolling her eyes, "but I expect you to be more cautious. No one ishould suspect we've been inducted. We're supposed to be the eyes and ears of the Dark Lord as long as we're in the castle, you know this."

"That's what you're supposed to be doing." Draco said darkly as he helped her board an empty carriage, "My task is to pay for my father's mistakes."

"Draco … " Hermione said, sensing the anguish in his voice, "it doesn't have to be your task alone, we've talked about this."

"I know." he said, as the carriage began pulling itself, "I just don't want you risking anything to help me, you should know better."

"You can be so thick sometimes." Hermione said, "I'll always be here to help, Draco."

"You have to admit, though, it felt good to watch Potter bleed just a bit."

Hermione laughed, the sound echoing through the night.

Their first class of the year was Defense Against the Dark Arts with Snape, which she found was almost exactly like her private lessons, except on a larger scale, and with less accomplished partners. Her classmates all struggled with the first task assigned to them — nonverbal spells. Hermione feigned interest in trying to cast a few spells, miscasting them on purpose one or few times, and allowing Daphne to get a few whispered spells in. It was generally an average class, considering the fact that she should have been bored out of her mind.

After her break in between classes was Arithmancy, which she still took with Theo. Professor Vector had assigned them with an armful of homework for the week, which she planned out haphazardly, there were honestly more things to worry about than homework. Draco, who had less subjects than her, had already spent his breaks searching for the Vanishing Cabinet. Throughout Vector's lecture, she wondered whether Draco had found the cabinet or not.

She got her answer in a small nod of the head from the blonde boy once she and Theo had entered the Potions ccorridor. Her chest filled with nervousness at the thought that he was going to begin the first steps of the plan.

Of all the Slythherins, only the four of them had chosen and were qualified enough to take Potions for their sixth year. It seemed that the class consisted of them, four Ravenclaws, one Hufflepuff, and a three of Gryffindors, which sadly included Potter and Weasley.

Before she could say anything to Theo about how Potter had managed to get into Potions with his abysmal work the year before, the dungeon door opened and Slughorn's belly preceded him out of the door. He greeted Hermione, Blaise and Potter more enthusiastically than the rest of his students as they filed inside. Hermione took a seat at the workplace at the very front of the class, with Draco taking the seat next to her, Blaise and Theo claimed the workspace on the opposite side of theirs.

Unusually, the dungeon was already full of vapors and odd smells coming from a set of cauldrons of varying sizes and metals at the teacher's desk.

"Now then, now then, now then," said Slughorn, whose massive outline was quivering through the many shimmering vapors. "Scales out, everyone, and potion kits, and don't forget your copies of Advanced Potion-Making. . . ."

After Potter's interruption of the class, Slughorn continued, waiting for him and Weasley to return to their seats from the supply cabinet.

"Now then," said Slughorn, returning to the front of the class and inflating his already bulging chest so that the buttons on his waistcoat threatened to burst off, "I've prepared a few potions for you to have a look at, just out of interest, you know. These are the kind of thing you ought to be able to make after completing your N.E.W.T.s. You ought to have heard of 'em, even if you haven't made 'em yet. Anyone tell me what this one is?"

Hermione's hand rose in the air before anyone even dared trying to answer. She had a perfect view of the cauldron from where she was seated, and its crystal clear coloring told her exactly what it was in an instant.

"It's Veritaserum, sir, directly translating to Truth serum. It's colorless, odorless, and forces the drinker to tell the truth."

"Very good, very good!" said Slughorn happily. "Now," he continued, pointing at the cauldron nearest the Ravenclaw table, "this one here is pretty well known. . . . Who can — ?"

Once again, her hand rose up lazily, making the professor smile widely at her.

"It's Polyjuice Potion, sir." she said, glancing at the mud-like substance in the second cauldron.

"Excellent, excellent! Now, this one here . . . yes, my dear?" said Slughorn, looking expectantly at her.

"Amortentia, Professor," she said, "the most powerful love potion in the word." A few Ravenclaw girls drew nearer to the third cauldron at her words.

"Quite right! You recognized it, I suppose, by its distinctive mother-of-pearl sheen?"

"And the steam rising in characteristic spirals," said Hermione knowingly, "it's supposed to smell differently to each of us, according to what attracts us, I smell old books, roses, and sandal—"

She turned her head away abruptly, feeling the blood rush to her face. Why had she said that?

"Brilliant, brilliant!" chortled Slughorn, as if he had not noticed Hermione's sudden silence, "It isn't a wonder why Mr Zabini sings such high praises of you, Hermione, though it's to be expected from the daughter of Hector Dagworth-Granger himself! Take twenty points to Slytherin, child"

Draco leaned over the table to whisper something to Blaise, both of them sharing a snigger, no doubt at her expense.

"Amortentia doesn't really create love, of course. It is impossible to manufacture or imitate love. No, this will simply cause a powerful infatuation or obsession. It is probably the most dangerous and powerful potion in this room — oh yes," he said, nodding gravely at Draco and Theo, who were smirking skeptically.

"Sir, you haven't told us what's in this one," said Ernie Macmillan, pointing at a small black cauldron standing on Slughorn's desk. The potion inside was the color of molten gold, large drops jumped out of it, breaking the surface every once in a while.

"Yes. That. Well, that one, ladies and gentlemen, is a most curious little potion called Felix Felicis. I take it," he turned, smiling, "that you know what Felix Felicis does, Miss Dagworth-Granger?"

"It's also called Liquid Luck." she said, trying to get a better look at the potion, "It's possible one of the most difficult potions to brew in existence, even my father says so himself. If brewed correctly, the drinker will find that all their endeavors will succeed, at least until the potion wears off."

"I couldn't have said it any better myself!" Slughorn said merrily, "Another ten points to Slytherin!"

"Have you ever taken it, sir?" asked Michael Corner with great interest.

"Twice in my life," said Slughorn. "Once when I was twentyfour, once when I was fifty-seven. Two tablespoonfuls taken with breakfast. Two perfect days."

Hermione saw Draco inch forward to the table where the Felix Felicia was out of the corner of her eye, staring at the cauldron greedily.

"And that," said Slughorn, "is what I shall be offering as a prize in this lesson."

The silence in the room was palpable, every bubble and gurgle of the surrounding potions were maximized tenfold.

"One tiny bottle of Felix Felicis," said Slughorn, taking a minuscule glass bottle with a cork in it out of his pocket and showing it to them all. "Enough for twelve hours' luck. From dawn till dusk, you will be lucky in everything you attempt.

"So," said Slughorn, suddenly brisk, "how are you to win my fabulous prize? Well, by turning to page ten of Advanced PotionMaking. We have a little over an hour left to us, which should be time for you to make a decent attempt at the Draught of Living Death. I know it is more complex than anything you have attempted before, and I do not expect a perfect potion from anybody. The person who does best, however, will win little Felix here. Off you go!"

"We need to win." Draco whispered urgently to her as the rest of the class scrambled to begin their potions. She nodded in agreement.

"We're the best in our class," she said confidently, "between the two of us, one of us has to get the Draught perfectly."

"Have you ever brewed it before?"

"No," she said, frowning, "but I've watched my father do it. I think I might be able to remember a few tips to make things easier."

Draco nodded, his eyes blazing in intensity as they went to work.

The concentration within the room was almost tangible. She set her copy of Advanced Potions on the book stand, opened to the instructions of the Draught of Living Death. All she could remember from her father were his own tricks to prepare the ingredients. nothing more.

She laboriously cut up her valerian roots diagonally, careful to have the portions sliced evenly. The infusion of Wormwood was simmering in her cauldron above a fire that had been measured to the exact height, and its flames the preferred color of blue. As soon as she added the powdered asphodel root, the potion bubbled, turning into a smooth, black-currant colored liquid, much to her delight.

The sophorous bean, just like the rest of Hogwarts supplies, were dried out and shriveled, making them difficult to slice. Her father had told her exactly what to do when ingredients weren't as fresh as they could be. She took out her silver knife, crushing the beans under the flat of the blade until they oozed out their green juices. She measured the juice by the teaspoon, watching as her concoction changed into a light lilac color.

She stirred the potion several times counterclockwise, just as the book stated, until her arm began to cramp up in her effort to achieve the colorless look that was written on the instructions. However, as Slughorn called for the class to stop, she could not get the lilac potion to lose its color. Her potion still had a faint lavender tinge to it as Slughoorn came to inspect her cauldron.

"Promising, Miss Dagworth-Granger!" Slughorn said with a smile, "It looks like you were just a few steps shy of achieving the perfect potion."

He then went on to peer into several other students cauldrons, none of them quite coming up to par with her own. Hope began building in her chest as the professor reached the last row of students. She was going to win — there was no possible chance that Weasley or Potter could have done better than she had.

But the look of incredulous delight that spread over Slughorn;s face as he peered into Potter's cauldron was not what she had expected.

"Miss Dagworth-Granger, I believe you've met your match in Harry!" Slughorn exclaimed, "It was a difference made by just one step, but it's clear that Harry here surpassed your potion! Excellent, excellent, Harry! Good lord, it's clear you've inherited your mother's talent. She was a dab hand at Potions, Lily was! Here you are, then, here you are — one bottle of Felix Felicis, as promised, and use it well!" "

Hermione watched in horror as Slughorn passed the vial to Potter, who was looking at her tauntingly. Around her, her friends looked on with equal looks of shock and anger.

"He couldn't have!" Hermione said, still dumbfounded at how she had been bested by Potter, "He's an absolute dunce at Potions! He couldn't have possibly gotten better just like that! I've had years of training!"

Her mashed potatoes were becoming increasingly more mashed under her angry poking. Her friends nodded in agreement as the sounds of lunchtime in the Great Hall filled their ears.

"Do you think he cheated?" asked Blaise, glancing over at the Gryffindor table curiously.

"Of course he cheated." snapped Draco, beating her to it.

"How?" asked Blaise logically.

"I don't know." muttered Draco in frustration.

Hermione reported to Snape on Friday night, answering the professor's summons she had received earlier that evening. She rapped her knuckles on the door as it swung open to allow her in. The professor was in his usual seat, scribbling away at one thing or another behind his desk.

"Good evening, Professor." she said, expecting the silence that followed. She waited patiently until the man was done with his writing. Once he set his quill down, he twined his fingers together.

"Any progress with the task?" Snape asked, his voice low.

"Draco found the cabinet today, I still haven't seen it. I'm not sure how he's going to use the necklace that he bought, he seems reluctant to have me involved in handling it, but I'll try to get him to tell me more. Other than that, nothing else."

"I see." Snape said. "What of your stay at Malfoy Manor? Does anyone suspect?"

"Bellatrix seems keen on getting to know me." she said, "But no one suspects that I was there for any other reason."

The man nodded in understanding. "Professor Dumbledore is quite pleased with your integration into the ranks."

She remained quiet, not sure what her reply should be.

"We will not have any lessons today, although you may want to start reading on windless magic."

"Yes, sir." she said, "Oh, also sir, I'm not sure if it's of any relevance, but today in Potions, Slughorn assigned us to brew a Draught of Living Death … and Potter did his perfectly … even better than mine."

This information seemed to surprise Snape the most, causing his brow to twitch, "Potter? Are you quite sure we are talking about the same boy, Miss Dagworth-Granger?"

"Yes, sir. I couldn't believe it myself." she said, "Do you think something's out of the ordinary?"

"Most definitely," muttered Snape, "but it will need to be looked up on. I shall be sure to keep an eye on Potter, as should you."

"Yes, sir" she said.

"You may leave."

For the rest of the week's Potions lessons, Potter and Hermione were neck and neck through the class, both receiving praises from Slughorn, who had claimed that he had never had two more promising students in his class before. What irked Hermione was the fact that Potter's sudden brilliance in Potions went on the days Potter had a slightly better brew than hers, she sulked for hours on end, snapping at anyone who tried to talk to her.

The only thing that could take her mind off Potions was the other, more important thing that needed her attending to. Draco had showed her where he had hidden the Vanishing cabinet curing break between classes on Friday, surprising her when suddenly, a door appeared out of nowhere on the seventh floor corridor.

"It's called the Room of Hidden Things." Draco said, leading the way. All the things in the room seemed to look like accumulated piles of junk, a pile of clothes here, a statue there, various trinkets covered in years of dust.

Draco uncovered the cabinet, sending a cloud of dust flying, and her into a coughing fit, which elicited an apology from the boy. The cabinet looked exactly like the one in Borgin and Burke, except that it wasn't in the same condition. The door was crooked, hanging on one of its hinges, it was tipping to the right, and several of its cabinets were in need of serious work.

"Circe," she said, running a hand over the splintered wooden surface, "are you sure we can fix this?"

"Borgin said that it could be repaired as long as its main structure was intact." said Draco, "He's sending a few instructions once I'm able to send a detailed description of all its deficiencies."

"This might just work." Hermione thought aloud.

"Let's hope it does." muttered Draco.