A Coven of Prefects – Harmony Version
A/N: Here's an update to satisfy those who might not be following my focus on Muggle Summer. For those who have been following along, I've gone back and swapped out the previous chapters with revisions that contain some relatively minor edits, in response to some reviewer comments. Nothing major…just toned down some of the gratuitous one-off comments and made Hermione a little more reluctant to join Team Obliviation. But she still does, and so the story pushes forward…
Disclaimer: Not my characters, no money being made, etc., etc.
Chapter 7: So Now That You're A Camper... (part 3)
When the sun had risen on the fourth time-turned day, Hermione Granger had mentally wielded a vacuum hose against a memory of Cho Chang. Fourteen hours later, as that same sun set over the fort's walls, she pointed a "real" wand towards a "real" pig.
Hermione tried to keep this humorous comparison tamped down in her brain as she focused on intent and proper wand movement.
The pig's reaction caused Hermione to frown.
"What did I do wrong?" she asked.
Her obliviation instructor snorted.
"What...were you expecting him to squeal, or something?"
Not waiting for an answer, the older witch pointed her wand towards the porcine test subject.
After a few moments of silence, the instructor lowered her wand and turned towards Hermione.
"Congratulations...you just gave tomorrow's dinner a severe case of amnesia."
"So it was a complete wipe?"
"That's not always easy to say, but with the lack of any kind of images...you completely emptied out its short- and long-term memory."
"Didn't realize that there was a difference for farm animals."
"Yes, well lucky for us there is, else you'd be using each other as teaching aids."
"Not like that's any different in DADA," Hermione replied. "Except for this year, of course."
"Yes, I've heard about your new DADA instructor from the older prefects" said the instructor. "I'd like to hear about the Fifth-Year class, but later."
With that disclaimer stated, the older witch pointed her wand back at the pig and cast Finite Incantatem and Legimens in succession. Fifteen seconds later, she broke off the spell and smiled.
"Excellent work, Hermione...you got it right the first time!"
The Fifth-Year blushed. "How could you tell?"
"Because I was able to restore what you had taken," the Obliviator replied. "The proper total mind swipe can be countered by somebody with the right expertise. Had you overpowered the spell, the cancellation would have failed either in part or in whole."
The pig let out a loud squeal that almost seemed confirmatory.
"So now he remembers that he hasn't eaten since lunch and is hungry?" Hermione asked.
"Maybe," the older witch replied. "There's still a lot of instinct that's preserved...the stomach would send signals to the brain that would trigger a response to eat, even if the pig couldn't remember that that empty stomach feeling had been countered before by a good meal."
"Fascinating," said Hermione. "So why wouldn't the Finite have worked had I cast it?"
The instructor snorted. "Little Jack was right...you are an infinite fountain of questions."
Hermione looked down towards the grown. "I'm sorry, I can't help myself sometimes."
"No, no, it's quite alright," the older witch quickly countered. "Especially tonight, when you're my only student."
"But you could still be helping teach the others Occlumency," Hermione countered.
"No, they're close, and you've only just begun your memory charm training."
Hermione nodded. "Do you think I'll be able to complete it all?"
"No," the instructor replied with a smile. "That's too much to expect, even from someone who is reportedly the brightest in her generation."
"So how far..."
"At this pace, I'll be thrilled to see you finish up the time-dependent variations," the instructor replied. "But that depends on the others as well...have to get them up to this point by Tuesday night."
Hermione nodded, and readied herself for the next bit of practical instruction.
Hermione had covered the theory behind mind charms and the possible variations of the Obliviate spell earlier that day. The simplest (and crudest) version that she had performed produced a massive wipe that completely and indiscriminately scrubbed a victim's mind of its memories. All of the prefects needed to learn this basic version of the spell in cases of emergency…if they got into an untenable position, they would cast the spell, then bring the victim to one of the Coven mind charms experts at Hogwarts (Professor Vector was the go-to witch there). The expert would reverse the damage, then perform one of the more focused versions of the spell.
Over the next two days, Hermione mastered the next level, and gained competency with a range of time-dependent memory charms. At first, she learned to separate out short-term memories from long-term, and to only target the former. Once this refinement was mastered, the next step was to target short-term memories over a specific period of time. Most of the upper year prefects were at this level, as it was the most useful over the course of their duties at Hogwarts. Take, for example, a Coven prefect doing rounds with her male counterpart. If they were to catch two witches making out in a broom closet, the Coven member would cast a memory charm on the male prefect that removed any recollection of what happened after they opened the broom closet door.
After mastering time-dependent obliviation, the next level of complexity involved content-dependent memory charms...instead of removing in bulk all memories over a certain period of time, the spell caster would enter the target's mind, search for the specific memories that needed to be altered, and either remove them or swap them out with less dangerous alternatives. In the two witches in a broom closet example, the Coven prefect would invade her partner's mind, fish out images of the lesbian activity, and replace them with planted (or borrowed) images of that same broom closet, only empty.
The problem with this level of spell lay in the need for the spell caster to learn not only the Obliviate spell but Legimens, and learning to read minds was an art that required far more than a few days training, no matter how intensely it was taught, or how intently it was learned. This was especially true given that Hermione had only recently learned Occlumency, and needed to spend more time than she would otherwise need to maintain her shielding.
As the time-turned week reached an end, two opposing forces took hold over Coven Camp, especially amongst the Fifth-Years. On the one hand, they were working furiously on their training in the mental arts, both in class and on their own. But working counter to these intentions was the physical need for their brains to rest and recharge. The instructors began to force rest periods during the day, during which time the witches were told not to busy their brains with anything of consequence. And this was why Hermione Granger and Padma Patil were doing something a bit out-of-character (at least for the Ravenclaw) on the afternoon of their pentultimate day on Aldernay.
"Tell me again why we're lying about naked?" asked Padma, as she turned onto her side and dropped her head onto the chaise lounge.
"Because we were given a half-hour break and told not to think...at least not to think too much. And also because it will be too cold to do this once we return to Hogwarts."
"But what's the point?"
"Isn't this relaxing? Doesn't the sun's warmth feel good?"
"Doesn't the risk of sunburning your bits worry you?" asked Padma.
"Not after we backed up the sun block potions with muggle sunscreen."
"Sure that it wasn't an excuse for you to rub oil all over my body?"
"Hush…you did your own bits. Besides, it'll just get the gossip girls chattering."
"As if they aren't already?"
"Cho and her buddy," Padma replied, as she pointed towards the garden. "They're over there now, checking us out."
Hermione sat up and turned to look for herself.
"So what?" she decided, rolling over onto her own stomach. "It's not like they haven't walked around the hallways starkers."
"But it's not normal to just be lying about outdoors without clothes on."
"Of course it's normal," Hermione replied. "That's what millions of Muggles do on holiday."
"Erm, no, probably not millions...but they might, if they were able to do it behind privacy wards like we have here."
"Even still," Padma countered. "It's not something that witches and wizards do."
Hermione shook her head, before recalling that Puritanical attitudes towards public nudity existed in the muggle world as well.
"So what do you think they're saying about us?"
"That we've become lesbian lovers."
"Well...it's either you and me, or you and the inn owner."
"Oh, Merlin, Helene's old enough to be my granny!"
"Which is why the smart money is on me being your girl."
Hermione lifted up her head. "Do you want to go inside, then, Padma?"
"Why? So that we can return to our room and make mad, passionate love?"
The Ravenclaw smiled, and took a sip from her glass of iced muggle lemonade. "No, the gossip girls can sod off…this is rather nice, actually."
"Even if it fuels the rumors?"
Padma shrugged. "What do the rumors matter? We know the truth. And…there might even be advantageous."
"They take me off the market," Padma said with a smile.
Hermione snorted. "Were you really on the market for a female lover?"
"I didn't think so, but the Sixth-Year Puff had been awfully flirty with me until you and I became a hot item."
"Oh, so it's like I'm your cover girlfriend, then?"
"Should I be jealous that nobody has tried to get into my robes?"
"I don't know, Hermione...are you sure that Helene doesn't want to be more than just friends?"
"Of course I'm sure."
"Fine...then how about Pansy?"
"What? Go on!"
"No, no…can't you see it?" Padma asked with a teasing smile. "All of the bickering, and teasing…could be a massive dose of unresolved sexual tension."
"Well, if bickering means you fancy somebody, then I should have started shagging Ron ages ago."
"Oh, now there's a scary thought," Padma said with a shiver. "Yule Ball almost made me swear off wizards and really qualify for Coven membership."
"I said almost."
"Well," Hermione said, "anybody who falls for that unresolved sexual tension tripe is crazy."
Padma smiled. "You don't bicker with Harry, though, do you?"
"Stop, Padma," Hermione whined.
"Come on, give it up, Hermione," replied the Ravenclaw. "You know you fancy him. I know you fancy him…I've shared a room with you the past few nights, remember?"
Hermione's face paled.
"I haven't been talking in my sleep, have I?"
A thin smile formed on Padma's lips. "No worries, your wet dreams are safe with me."
Hermione moaned in embarrassment, and dropped onto her back and buried her face in the crook of her arm...thankful that the long, embarrassing, time-turned week was almost at an end.
More potential study time was taken up that evening by a bonfire ceremony.
The Inn's fire pit was located on the Fort's western battery, next to the temporary pigsty and opposite of the gardens. When Hermione, Hannah and Padma arrived fifteen minutes before sunset, as directed, they found Helene Brixton alone, stoking a large fire. A sharp cool breeze off of the channel whipped the flames, and encouraged the witches to stand close to the fire.
Pansy joined the small group a few minutes later, but chose to stand on the opposite side of the pit. Nobody bothered to go beyond a basic greeting for the Slytherin. Instead, the three prefects chatted with Helene about some of the Inn's famous guests, and watched the sun set behind the nearby lighthouse.
Just as the last bit of sun sank over the horizon, a gong sounded, and the other fifteen hooded Coven members walked out from the Inn's main entrance. When the procession reached the fire pit, the older Coven members stopped, while the others split up and flanked each of the Fifth-Year prefects. At the sound of a final gong crash, the lead witch threw back her hood and showed her face.
"Padma, Hannah, Pansy and Hermione," Flo intoned. "When you were born and joined the word, you were named by your parents. Now you have joined the Coven, it is time for you to be named by your sisters."
The camp leader then smirked, took a step forward, and announced, "My Coven name is Flo. This isn't a shortened form of Florence, but rather a refection of my tendency to, erm...squirt just a bit during sexual release."
"Only just a bit? Closer to a gallon, I think," snarked the Occlumency expert that stood to Flo's left. She then stepped forward and said, "My Coven name is Little Jack. As you've all seen in my pensieve, on the second night of my first visit to Aldernay, one of the older prefects caught me in the lav rubbing one off. Well, I wasn't rubbing so much as…"
"Fisting?" asked one of the other witches.
"Erm, right, so…sticking a thumb into my pie...just like Little Jack Horner."
"Oh crap!" Hermione thought. "First night, with Pansy catching me, or next morning with me squatting over the bidet…this is bad…this is very bad…"
Hannah's girlfriend, the seventh-year Puff, pulled her hood and stepped forward next.
"Hi, my nickname is 'Nojon'…my last name is Thomas, you see, and I was pretty open about being a witch's witch during Fifth Year camp, so the other girls decided that there would be 'No John Thomas' for me."
Hermione started to sweat. "If they know I'm hot for Harry, will they play off of that?"
Hannah was skipped over, as were the other new prefects as the explanations went full circle.
The sixth-year Puff was nicknamed "Tway" because she was bisexual, and went two ways. The seventh-year Slytherin "Itty" was next, explaining that she only had "itty-bitty titties" during her Fifth-Year. The nickname had grown ironic, of course, as she had grown huge ones the following summer.
The sixth-year Slytherin was "Hatty"…a play off of her last name Johnson and rumors of her fellatio skills (She allegedly "Had A Johnson" in her mouth). Michelle "Nibbles" Sachs, the sixth-year Gryffindor, was similarly victimized by her surname.
The seventh-year Gryffindor prefect claimed that her nickname, "Dicky" was given because it rhymed with "Vicky," and not because she owned a strap-on dildo. The Seventh-Year Ravenclaw whose first name was Francine also claimed that she was "Fanny" because it rhymed with "Franny."
Cho Chang rounded out the circle. She stepped forward, and spoke with a bit of sadness in her voice.
"Most all of you know that I was already playing seeker for Ravenclaw at the start of my fifth year. But for a nickname, it was decided that I was, erm…more of a chaser, like I was chasing after the other boy seekers, you know? So that's why I'm called Chase."
"Certainly couldn't call her 'Chaste,' after her antics with Diggory last year," the Sixth-Year Gryffindor muttered behind Hermione's back.
"Yeah, shame about Cedric...not that it's going to keep her from chasing our seeker," her Seventh-Year housemate whispered back.
Hermione, who had heard this exchange, narrowed her eyes. With all of her focus on the competition for Harry's attention, Hermione missed hearing the explanation provided by the Mind Charms expert. She was fuming, but not with so narrow a focus that she failed to hear Flo announce that it was time for the new nicknames to be given.
Cho and the Head Girl pushed a nervous-looking Padma forward.
"We wanted to commemorate Padma's rather distinctive response to manual stimulation."
"First-hand experience, then?" asked one of the other students.
"Not yet," the Head Girl said with a smile and mock-sigh. She handed Padma a small card and encouraged her to read it out loud. The brown-skinned beauty looked down at the card with wide eyes, and swallowed.
"Sisters," she began to read, "My name Padma Patil, but my Coven nickname is 'Shivers,' because shivering is what I do when I give myself an orgasm."
Padma flushed bright-red with embarrassment as the other witches applauded.
Hannah Abbot yelped as a hand that had been wrapped around her waist dropped down and gave her bum a squeeze.
"Your turn, luv," the Seventh-Year Puff said with a smile. She pulled Hannah forward and said, "I've had all sorts of suggestions from the other witches about what name I should give Hannah. Most of them are too smutty even for this lot," she added with a laugh. "And I've heard all sorts of whining by those who are afraid that the nickname would be fluffy and endearing, but…."
"Hey…'butt' was my suggestion," one of the Slytherins called out cheekily.
"Anyway," Becky said loudly, "It was Tway that came up with something that I thought was rather brilliant, and we've gone with that. Hannah Abbott, your new Coven nickname is…Bubbles."
"Bubbles?" snarked the other snake. "What were you saying about it not being fluffy or endearing?"
The sixth-year Hufflepuff prefect whispered something into Hannah's ear that made her break out into a blush that stretched from her cheekbones half-way down into her nardy (which, thankfully they had not been forced to remove).
Hannah was pushed forward a step, and given a card to read.
"Go on, then," hissed Tway.
Hannah nodded, let out a deep sigh, and said, "My Coven nickname is Bubbles, because of all of the time that I spent in the Prefect's Bath last year."
"But you weren't a prefect last year," noted Fanny.
The Sixth-Year Puff smiled. "No, but her lover was."
Hannah was allowed to step back during the ensuing laughter, and it was Pansy Parkinson's turn.
"Right," said Bitty, the Slytherin seventh-year. "Pansy here made our job easy…had her nickname picked out on the first night we were here."
Pansy's eyes bulged when she read the card placed into her hand, and required a good deal of prodding before she stepped forward and quietly read the written words.
"My name is Pansy Parkinson. My Coven nickname is 'Mermaid,' because if I had been a mermaid last week, then I wouldn't have needed a Gryffindor to save me from drowning."
Amidst the applause and jeering, the Seventh-Year prefect caught Hermione's eye and gave her a wink.
"A wink!" Hermione thought to herself. "Maybe this thing about sisterhood crossing house boundaries really meant something!"
Further musing was stifled when Hermione felt herself being pulled forward.
"Oh no…here it comes," she thought.
"So what can we say about the new Gryffindor prefect?" Dicky asked. "Like Hannah, we had many, many suggestions to help us out. Some we didn't quite understand...maybe Hermione can tell us why somebody suggested 'Smurf'?"
Hermione cringed, but only the few muggleborn witches caught the joke.
"Bookworm, was an obvious choice," Dicky continued. "But our Hermione loves books so much that it'd have to be something far larger than a worm, and 'Booksnake' doesn't easily roll of the tongue. Couldn't really play off of her name, so we were left with her bits and body parts."
Hermione flinched, thankful that her teeth had been resized the year previous.
"Now Hermione does have a cute little bum, as I'm sure you've all noticed by now, but...I'll let her take it from here."
Dicky placed a card in Hermione's hand. Hermione read its contents, then snapped her head towards the Seventh Year. It was embarrassing...but it could have been a lot worse.
"How am I going to explain this to Ron or Harry should they learn of it?" she hissed.
"Just read the card," the older prefect instructed.
Hermione let out a deep sigh, and then announced, "My Coven nickname is Hooters."
There was some laughter and snickering around the fire in response.
"Keep going...tell them why," said Nibbles.
"Right...erm...because when I'm aroused or cold, my nipples are as hard as an owl's beak. And because I'm always up late at night studying. And because I'm Harry Potter's other bird."
"Am I right or what?" Dicky shouted out, as she pointed towards the points on Hermione's robe front.
Cheers and laughter rang out at the naming. Hermione was embarrassed, and not at all happy about her new nickname, until she happened to glance towards Cho Chang. The Sixth-Year obviously wasn't happy either, although that probably had to do more with the explanation than the nickname itself.
Hooters's spirits lifted, and she decided that it might not be such a bad nickname after all.
Later that evening, Padma and Hermione decided to practice Occlumency in their room. Padma sat on her bed and meditated, while Hermione stood and watched. "Hooters" was aiming for the more difficult task of hoovering memories on the fly, without a formal meditation exercise. At the same time, she dealt with any stray memories that were triggered by what she was observing.
...Padma sitting in a lotus position, with her nardy riding high enough on her thighs to reveal her pubes....hoover.
...Grabbing hold of Narcissa Malfoy's pubes in the Coven's Dining Room...savor for a moment, then hoover.
...Ron clearing the Gryffindor Table during dinner with a fart worthy of his brother's dung bombs...Worthy of self-obliviation, but barring that...released.
...Padma concentrating with her eyes closed, and her tongue peeking out so that she can lick her lips....hoover.
...Harry licking his chapped but extremely kissable lips as he comes in from the cold at Hogwarts...released.
...Padma sneaking a hand underneath the hem of her robes and dragging her fingers up her inner thigh...
"Padma!" Hermione chided.
The Fifth-Year Ravenclaw's eyes flew open almost as quickly as her fingers withdrew from her lap.
"You know what," Hermione said with a grin. "What I want to know is who."
"Who was causing your bits to itch?"
"Never you mind."
"Terry Boot?" Hermione teased.
"Oh, please," Padma whined, as she stretched out her legs and adjusted the hem of her robes. "He'd be the last one to show up in one of my racy memories."
"Even behind Crabbe and Goyle?"
"Ugh! Thank you for planting that disgusting image in my mind."
"At least you won't have to shield it," Hermione quipped. "So Michael Corner, then?"
"Yuck!" spat Padma. "And no, it's not Goldstein, either."
"Another House, then?"
"Hermione!" Padma said with exasperation. "If you must know..."
"Yes, I must...it's only fair...you don't talk in your sleep like I do."
"Right," the Ravenclaw sighed. "Eddie Carmichael."
"Oh, an older man, then," Hermione said with a smile. "Still, a whole lot better than a Crabbe and Goyle sandwich."
"Okay, I'll stop," the Gryffidor promised.
A rapping on the window was distracting enough to help Hermione keep that promise, especially once she opened the window.
"Hedwig!" Hermione exclaimed, as the white snowy owl swooped into the room and landed on the bed next to her.
"What are you doing here?" she then asked. "Did you bring me a message?"
The owl cocked its head, and then looked down towards its feet, as if to say "You don't see any letters tied to me, do you?"
"Oh, of course you didn't," Hermione said with a chuckle. She then turned serious and asked, "Is Harry in danger...does he need my help?"
Another "Are you daft?" look from the owl caused Hermione to process her own question.
"Of course he isn't, is he?" she asked. "He was just fine tomorrow morning, especially after Lavender and Parvati grabbed hold of him."
Padma ignored the time-turned verb tenses and asked, "Who's your friend?"
"This is Hedwig. Hedwig, meet my good friend Padma Patil."
The white owl stared at the Ravenclaw for a few moments, then bobbed its head up and down.
"Oh good, you pass inspection," Hermione said with a smile. "I'm afraid that your sister hasn't done as well."
"What…Hermione, you know what she's thinking?"
"Oh, not really," Hermione replied. "At least, not as good as Harry can, right girl?"
Hedwig nodded her head up and down.
"Fascinating," Padma said. "And Hedwig is Harry's familiar, not yours?"
"That's right, I've got Crookshanks."
"I see," Padma said. "But you've spent time with her?"
"Mostly when Harry is around," Hermione replied. "But she has spent some time with me over the summer...always seems to know when I need to send a letter, don't you girl?"
Hedwig gave Hermione something close to a glare.
"Oh, right...I'm sorry about the other day," Hermione replied. "But it needed immediate attention, and you would have been recognized."
Padma shook her head in disbelief.
Hermione bit her lower lip. "But now you're here because I need to send another letter?"
Hedwig stared at Hermione…and would have arched an eyebrow if she had any.
"Yes, well, I guess I would know that already, wouldn't I?" Hermione asked. "But you've flown in from Hogwarts, haven't you?"
Head bob up and down.
Hermione frowned. "You must be tired, then…let's go see if Helene has a spare perch, and maybe some owl treats?"
Hedwig's response was to fly up onto Hermione's nardy-covered shoulder.
"Want to come along with us, Shivers?" the young witch asked, as she stood up.
"Erm...no thanks, Hooters," she replied. "I wouldn't want to get in the way of you bonding with your boyfriend's familiar."
"He's not my boyfriend," Hermione insisted.
Padma shook her head dismissively, closed her eyes and sighed.
"Okay, fine," she replied. "Hey Hedwig, what do you think...is Hermione Harry's girl?"
The owl cocked her head, but neither nodded nor shook it.
"There you see?" Hermione asked. "Hedwig is Harry's girl, aren't you?"
A feather-covered head bobbed up and down.
"See I told you," said Hermione.
Padma snorted, and decided that it would be pointless to point out the obvious.
Hedwig's arrival at Coven Camp caused quite a stir on that last day of camp, and not just from those who saw it as another good reason to double down on the their bets in the "Hooters vs. Chase" pool. Some of the other campers complained about the fact that they hadn't been allowed to bring their familiars along. These concerns were addressed when, after congratulating each other on their choice of nicknames, they confirmed that Hedwig was Harry's familiar, rather than Hermione's.
The Camp leaders worried about the time-paradox issues until Hermione told them that she hadn't seen Hedwig at all during her first two days at Hogwarts. She also made a simple suggestion that Hedwig stay at the Inn with Helene Brixton until after the group returned to Hogwarts.
Hermione had gone as far as she could with her Obliviate training, and her instructors were busy working the other three Fifth-years hard to get them to the same point. She therefore had most of the day free, and used the time to pester Nibbles, the Sixth-year Gryffindor prefect, with all kinds of questions about O.W.L.s.
The two older Coven members who had served as instructors that week said their goodbyes at dinnertime, telling the group that they would be traveling separately back to Britain using muggle methods. Flo, their tour group leader, then instructed the female Prefects to pack what little they had brought with them and to head down to the beach, where they would be ferried back out to the sloop for the trip back across the Channel.
Hermione and Padma found Helene Brixton waiting outside of their room.
"Mind if I walk with you down to the beach?" she asked.
Padma snorted. "Go on, you two…I'll make sure that Hannah and Nojon aren't straggling under their sheets."
Hermione was about to protest before Helene touched her elbow.
"That's a good idea, Shivers," the older witch said with a smile. "Wouldn't want them to miss the boat."
Once the Ravenclaw headed down the hallway, Helene hooked her arm in Hermione's elbow and began to lead her down different passage.
"I hope that you have enjoyed this past week, Hermione," the older witch said.
"It was brilliant," Hermione replied with a smile. "Thanks for all of your help with…well, with everything...especially with Hedwig."
"It was my pleasure, ma cherie," the inn owner replied. "I will have your friend in the air with her messages to your parents and Monsieur Snuffles as soon as you set sail."
"Are you certain I am not allowed any more clues as to the identify of the latter?" Helene asked with a smile.
Hermione snorted and shook her head slightly. "Yes, Helene, I am certain."
"He is not some secret lover who will fight with your beau for your affections?"
Hermione smiled. "Harry isn't my beau, Helene."
The older witch snorted. "I could point out that I said nothing of Monsieur Potter, and that it was you who made the connection, but I will not."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Well, that's kind of you."
As the reached the stairs that led down to the beach, Helene said, "I would ask you to stay out of danger, but as you will be by your beau's side I know that to be impossible. So instead, I will tell you to stay safe."
Hermione squeezed the older witch's arm.
"Thank you…I'll try."
"You have the petit souvenir?"
The younger witch nodded. "Yes, Helene, I have it. Would it be ill-mannered for me to hope that we won't need it?"
"But of course you will have need for the portkey," the inn owner replied. "If not in an emergency, then over Christmas holidays."
"Thank you for the offer, but you really don't have to…."
"Of course I do," the older witch said with a grin. "Christmas would be a wonderful time for you and your family to visit us…and Beauxbatons, if you like…I have already held two rooms for your use."
Hermione frowned. "There's no need for two rooms…one would do, actually. I've shared a room with my parents on other hols."
"Perhaps, but have they shared a room with your Harry?" the older witch said with a grin.
Hermione blushed. "Helene…"
"Hermione…one last thing," Helene asked. "Please remember that the split muggle/magical jurisdiction of Aldernay and the other Channel Islands offer certain opportunities for those British citizens who are…shall we say…not popular within your Ministry of Magic. The French Magical Ministry is far more tolerant, especially in cases of extreme injustice."
The Fifth-Year's eyes narrowed in thought. "Aren't there extradition treaties in place?"
A hint of a smile crossed Helene's lips.
"I am certain that there are books in the Hogwarts library that cover the ICW and international wizarding law," the inn owner said with a smile. "And on the off chance that there are no such books…"
Helene reached into her pocket and withdrew a small package wrapped in ribbon.
"Another going away gift," she explained. "You can reverse shrinking and featherlight charms, n'est pas?"
Hermione smiled, and pulled the older witch into a bear hug.
"Thanks again, Helene…for everything."
The older witch smiled and patted Hermione on the back.
"You are very welcome…now go, before the other witches see us and start to gossip."
"Let them gossip," Hermione said.
"No…save this hug for your beau tonight," Helene replied, as she pushed the younger witch away. "And say hello to Minnie for me as well."
Hermione smiled. "I will." She then turned, and ran down to the waiting elf-piloted Zodiak.
As she waved back, Helene silently apologized to her young friend for her many omissions of fact, and prayed that there would never come a time when her duties as an agent of the magical branch of the French DGSE would put her at odds with what she thought was best for her young friend…and her young friend's beau.
The return trip to Britain was uneventful, save for the opportunities taken by the older prefects to test the Occlumency barriers of the Fifth-Years. Hermione's shield clamped down hard on those few times when she thought that Cho might be fishing around in her brain, and offered no apologies for doing so.
It was dark by the time that the sloop sailed within sight of the English coastline. They were dropped off at a cove nearby the one where Hermione had rescued Pansy, where the beach was deeper and not completely submerged at high tide. Their guide enlarged a ring-sized portkey into a hoop large enough for all to grab (this time while they were all clothed), and they were transported back to Hogsmeade Village.
The portkey delivered the group into the upper level of the house that stood over the basement that they had used to turn back time and portkey to the coast. They waited there until a clock-watching Flo gave the all clear, and then climbed back down the trap door in the cellar into the secret passage that led them back to Hogwarts and the Coven's Lair.
A wizarding picture was waiting for the group, taken when Hermione hadn't been watching a week earlier. The witches used that picture to check their appearances, and ensure that there weren't any continuity lapses between how they looked then, versus how they looked either an hour or a week previous (depending on perspective).
Hermione had been very quiet during the trip, and spent most of the time worrying about any number of things…what she would do as a member of the Coven, what she would do with Helene's cryptic comments and offers of help, what she'd do with her newfound knowledge of house elves, what she'd do about Umbridge, and last (but certainly not least) what she would do about Harry. As she got closer and closer to returning to Gryffindor Tower, her thoughts naturally gravitated towards the last of these concerns.
The older Gryffindor prefects stopped Hermione just before they reached the Fat Lady's painting.
"So, Hooters, if there's anything we can do to help, let us know," offered Nibbles.
"Thanks," Hermione said. "I'm caught up with my assignments."
"Oh no, we weren't talking about homework," replied Dicky, the Seventh-Year. "We were talking about Harry."
Hermione snorted. "I suppose your galleons are placed on me, rather than Cho?"
"Got to support the home team, don't we?" said Nibbles.
"Yes, well…don't do anything drastic," Hermione advised. "He's been in a right state given all of the stares and snarky comments he's gotten, not to mention his detention with Umbridge."
"Professor Umbridge," the Seventh-Year corrected automatically.
"Yeah, right," Hermione fumed, as she barked the password to the portrait, and climbed through the passageway.
Hermione didn't think that the Common Room was nearly as crowded as when the three female prefects had left it a week ago. "Or an hour and a half ago," she corrected herself. The Weasley Twins were in a corner with Lee Jordan, hovering over a clipboard and firing questions towards some First Years. Ron had made good on his intentions to go to bed early, leaving Harry sitting alone as he stared into the fire.
The Seventh-Year Prefect rolled her eyes when she glanced over at Fred and George.
"I'll take care of these guys," she said.
Hermione nodded, and made her way towards Harry.
"Go team, go!" chirped Michelle, as she passed Hermione on the way to the dormitory stairs.
"Hush!" Hermione hissed, as she sat on the couch by Harry's side.
Harry looked up from the fire and smiled.
"Hey, how was the nude frolicking?" he asked.
"You know…the hot oil treatment and bubbles down in the Prefect's Bath."
"Oh…right," Hermione replied, once she remembered the context of Harry's question. "It was fine, but I wouldn't recommend you sitting in when it's Ron's turn."
"No worries there."
"So what are you still doing up?" Hermione asked.
"Doing my homework."
"Looks more like your being mesmerized by the flames."
"Oh, well…actually, I was waiting for you to get back."
"Really?" Hermione asked with a smile. "You aren't just waiting for that wanker Seamus to fall asleep so that you don't have to deal with him?"
"What is right! What language!" Harry replied with a smile.
"What…am I wrong?" Hermione asked.
"No, but…but Hermione!"
Harry snorted, and shook his head.
"I really was waiting for you, you know."
"Aw, Harry…that's so sweet," Hermione replied, as she "casually" reached an arm around his waist. Harry stiffened his back at first, but relaxed a little once she leaned her head on his shoulder.
It was a position not unfamiliar for the two during the past year…in a completely platonic way, of course. But somebody else in the room obviously didn't think so.
"Good night, Hooters," the Seventh-Year Prefect said with a wink, as she finished up with the Twins and headed up into the girl's dormitories.
Harry's gaze jerked away from the fire at the comment.
"Hooters?" he asked, with a look of confusion on his face. "Did she just call you Hooters?"
"Damn her," Hermione thought to herself. She immediately wondered whether this would be an appropriate first Hogwarts test of her Obliviation skills, but then thought better.
She looked down towards the floor as her ears tinged red with embarrassment.
"I'm afraid, so, Harry."
Hermione snorted, and tried to make light of the situation.
"Why Harry, isn't it obvious?" she asked, waving a hand in front of her chest.
Harry shook his head. "What isn't obvious is why I shouldn't hex Ludhaven next time I see her."
"Oh, Harry," Hermione said with a sigh. She reached over and grabbed his hand. "It's just a joke."
"At your expense, though," Harry noted.
"What, you don't think the nickname is appropriate?" Hermione asked.
"Merlin, Hermione…how am I supposed to answer that?"
"Well…the truth usually works."
"Hermione!" Harry hissed. "Are these Prefects corrupting you?"
"You make it sound like that would be a bad thing."
Harry gave her a funny look.
"Who are you and where have you stashed my Hermione Granger?"
"You know what I mean," Harry replied with a chuckle.
Hermione nodded. There was a preplanned explanation, even if it was a bit embarrassing.
"Relax, Harry…there's a tradition that the older witches give the Ickle Fifth-Year Prefects slightly…off-color…nicknames. Haven't you ever wondered why Sachs and Ludhaven are nicknamed Nibbles and Dicky?"
Harry shook his head. "I've tried not to think of those two much at all, after last year."
"Oh, of course," Hermione replied. "I'm sorry for being so thoughtless."
"Oh, no, no, no…." Harry said, waving a finger in front of his smile. "I'm not letting you off that easy about this Hooters business."
"You would if you were a friend," Hermione replied.
The comment caught Harry off-guard, and he leaned back from her sharply.
"Sorry I said anything," he muttered, turning back towards the fire.
"Bollocks!" Hermione thought to herself. Trying to fix the mess, she pulled Harry back in.
"No, I'm sorry if I snapped," she replied, as she once again "casually" leaned her head onto his shoulder. "It could have been worse."
Harry shook his head and muttered (presumably without thinking), "It doesn't make sense, though…they're just the right size."
Hermione's eyes went wide. So did Harry's once he realized what he'd said…and more importantly, what she'd heard.
"Erm, well…geez, getting late, isn't it?" he stammered, adding in a yawn for good measure.
Hermione let out a chuckle that covered her musing. Things were getting a bit awkward, and she decided that they might both benefit from a bit of time. Deciding to let Harry off the hook, she stood and said, "Yeah…it is."
Harry smiled, relieved that Hermione was letting him get away with the comment. He gathered his books, gave a nod to the Twins and Lee, then turned to Hermione.
"You know that I'm going to hold you personally responsible if I dream about Ron, hot oil and bubbles tonight," he said with a smile.
Hermione raised an eyebrow, and took a calculated risk.
"Well if it helps, feel free to dream about me instead."
Harry laughed, and decided to take his own leap.
"Mind if I insert myself into that dream bath, instead of Nibbles and Dicky?"
An eyebrow arched up towards a bushy brown hairline as Hermione gave a "casual" glance over her shoulder. As she predicted, Lee, Fred and George were shamelessly listening in on the banter. She therefore pulled Harry close, and whispered into his ear.
"If the choice is me sharing a bath with either them or you, I'd be disappointed if you didn't."
Harry choked on a bit of spit.
Hermione patted his back and let out a very un-Hermione-ish giggle.
"Sweet dreams, Harry," she said.
Harry shook his head in disbelief as they broke towards their separate stairwells. Just before Hermione disappeared for the night, Harry smiled, and called out, "You too, Hooters."