Chapter 74 – War Comes to Hogwarts
The only good thing about the whole situation was the fact that it was late and all the students who were not members of the club were in their dorms, supposedly asleep.
Of course, that was also a drawback, Daphne thought with some annoyance. But for Harry Potter's blasted adventures, she would even now be in her bed dreaming, rather than walking the halls several hours after midnight. And much like when the Death Eaters had attacked the Ministry, nothing had happened thus far at Hogwarts, and unless Daphne missed her guess, nothing would happen. Perhaps a dull night would be preferable to the alternative, but it would not make the pointlessness of the activity any less irritating.
"Do you think we'll find anything?" Tracey asked, as they walked down the hallways of Hogwarts toward the dungeons.
"Even the Slytherins of Malfoy's ilk aren't stupid enough to be up at this time of night," Daphne returned sourly. "I know why Dumbledore wants us to do this, but it's all so useless. This school is locked up tighter than Morgana's chastity belt, and no one is getting past the wards."
"I wouldn't be too sure of that," said Nigel said from just behind them. "You never know what Voldemort's up to."
Daphne turned an incredulous glare on the seventh year. "Do you really think something will happen?"
"I don't know," said Nigel, giving her a pointed look. "And neither do you."
"You had best focus on what we're doing," echoed Blaise from Nigel's side.
With an impatient wave of her hand, Daphne acknowledged their words and fell silent. She knew they were right, of course, but it was difficult, especially as she was up so late that night. The situation was only exacerbated by the fact that she really had not been sleeping well lately due to worry for her family. Ever since they had fled the Dark Lord's attack it had been thus, and though realistically she knew that they were safe inside the Fidelius charm, a part of her refused to stop worrying.
But her companions were right—it was time to focus on the task at hand, and that was an inspection of the Slytherin dorms, which was, of course, why there were four of them together, rather than simply the pairs as they normally patrolled. The Slytherin dorm was littered with Voldemort supporters, and even if Daphne and her companions were not expecting anything, none of them would put it past the Slytherins to take the opportunity to get a little "retribution" for the embarrassments they had suffered that year. Once this inspection was complete, McGonagall had agreed to scale back the patrols in order to allow the club members to get some sleep. They were only teenagers, after all.
"Okay then," Daphne said, her businesslike tone completely belying her earlier petulance, "let's get this done. Then maybe we can catch a little sleep."
"Yes sir!" Tracey said with a cheeky salute. The boys walking behind them snickered at her antics, while Daphne feigned ignorance. She just wanted to get this over with.
"Things are awfully quiet," Tracey remarked as they passed through the dungeons leading up to the common room.
"Professor Snape said that everyone was in bed a while ago," Nigel remarked.
"That's what you would expect," Tracey said. "It is after three."
"And that's why I want to finish this and get some sleep," said Daphne. "I just wonder why they didn't send Snape to inspect the dorms again."
"Because they don't really think anything will happen," Tracey observed, rather dryly. "That's why it's safe enough for us to do the job."
The only response Daphne could muster was a disgruntled snort, and she continued down that hall, wishing only for her bed. A moment later, they had arrived at their destination.
As a group, they trooped up to the entrance to the common room and they stopped, looking at the blank stone wall situated at the end of the corridor. Daphne eyed it with some distaste—regardless of Salazar Slytherin's opinions of the makeup of proper wizards, or who he wanted admitted to the school, he must have been a ghoul of a man. The dungeon had always been depressing, with its gothic décor and dimly-lit greenish glow. One would think that a room meant for students would be well lit so that they could study properly, but no, they were stuck with the dark, dank, hole of a common room! Most Slytherins who were at all serious about their education were in the habit of studying in the library or the Great hall.
"Well, let's do this," she muttered after a brief hesitation. She turned toward the wall and intoned, "Pedigree!" The password to the Slytherin dungeons was always something which tried to emphasize the supposed superiority of Purebloods, though, Daphne thought sardonically, that many could boast a long pedigree—it was not limited to a few Purebloods with their noses in the air.
"What a load of tripe!" Daphne told herself. Not only was Potter, as a Halfblood, by leaps and bounds the most powerful student in the school, but Granger was the most intelligent in years, and the Purebloods disdained her as nothing more than an uppity Mudblood. Though she had never really associated with Muggleborns before that year—mostly due to her membership in Slytherin and the repercussions it would have prompted before Potter had begun to assert himself—she had never exactly shunned them either. But even so, this year had been an eye opener for her, and she had been exposed to just exactly how ridiculous the Pureblood supremacist way of thought actually was.
The wall glowed for a moment before the door appeared and swung open for them to enter, which they did, albeit cautiously. They might not have bothered. The common room was dim and ghoulish in appearance—the same as it always was—and it was clearly empty of any students.
"It looks good," Tracey said, as she and the rest fanned out to check all the nooks and crannies of the room.
"We better make sure," added Nigel, as he moved toward a corner of the room which was a little out of sight from most of the rest. Blaise, as was his wont, merely grunted as he moved to another side.
"I think the first thing that should happen once Voldemort is defeated," Daphne began, as she inspected another corner of the room, "is that this room should receive a complete makeover. This décor is so depressing."
No one responded, though she could tell they agreed from the chuckles and nodded heads. The inspection took only a moment before they had determined that no one was in the room—it was devoid of any student life as they had initially thought.
"The dorms?" Blaise queried, in his typical brief manner. The others shook their heads—anyone who had spent time around Blaise learned to decipher his somewhat cryptic statements very quickly.
Though she would have preferred to simply return to the Great Hall, Daphne nodded. It did not hurt to take a few moments and make sure the Slytherins were not up to anything.
With Tracey, she moved to the stairs leading to the dorms, while the two boys moved to approach the stairs to the dorms. Another piece of questionable Slytherin architecture was the placement of the dorms and the common room. The common room was partially located underneath Black Lake, and from the windows at the other side of the room, one could actually see into the gloom under the murky water. At this end, however, the common room was actually under the outer edge of the castle, and the dorms rose up along the outer wall. Daphne had heard that the seventh year dorms actually had windows which looked out over the lake, though she had never been up to that level herself.
The trip up the stairs was completed in silence between the two girls, and they paused at each dorm, opening the door slightly to peer inside. Each year had their own small corridor leading to the various rooms, one for each student, and though they did not open every room, it was evident that no one was about, as there were no lights underneath the doors to indicate that anyone was actually awake. As expected, there was nothing to report.
Once they had reached the top and had looked into the seventh years' corridor—noting with some sardonic amusement that the seventh years would undoubtedly be perturbed by fifth years poking their noses into their business—Daphne turned and began to make her way down the stairs.
"See, nothing to worry about," Daphne said to her companion.
Tracey elbowed her as they worked their way back down the stairs. "I didn't expect to find anything. But you know what Potter said—it can't hurt to be vigilant."
Grunting, Daphne merely concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and not tumbling down the stairs in her fatigue. Within a few moments, they had entered the common room once again, finding it empty. Blaise and Nigel had not yet returned.
As tired as she was, Daphne approached one of the armchairs and sat down heavily in it. Chuckling, Tracey moved to a nearby chair and sat down to wait herself.
"I don't know why you're having trouble sleeping," Tracey said. "My parents had to leave our house too, but I know they're safe where they are, so it doesn't bother me."
"Mmm . . ." Daphne said as she drifted in her fatigue.
"You know they're safe. Why do you worry?"
Shaking her head, Daphne replied, "I don't know. But I just have this . . . I don't know. A sense that something dreadful is going to happen to them."
Tracey snorted. "They're behind a Fidelius. Stop worrying."
Daphne did not respond. The chair was feeling so comfortable—though under normal circumstances Daphne was well aware of the fact that the furnishings in the dungeon were anything but comfortable—that she found herself drifting. If she had not needed to return to the Great Hall to report, she could imagine falling asleep right there.
And that was when they heard a commotion coming from the stairwell to the boys' dorms. Daphne's eyes snapped open and she peered toward the stairs, noting Tracey's matching scrutiny.
"What was that?" Daphne asked as she rose to her feet, wand held warily in front of her.
"Sounded like spellfire," Tracey replied, as she moved out into the middle of the room to give herself more room to maneuver.
It sounded again—the noise of rushing feet and a muffled shout, coupled with the sound of a spell impacting against a wall. Or a person.
"Come on, let's check it out," Daphne said, approaching the stairs cautiously.
But before they could take more than a couple of steps forward, the sound of hurried footsteps echoed down the stairs, coupled with the shouts of spells being fired, and all at once, someone hurtled down the stairs, tumbling down the last few in order to dodge a spell which hit the wall where his head had been only a few moments before. It was Nigel.
Rising to his feet, painfully favoring a knee which he had apparently banged during his descent, Nigel turned and point his wand back at the stairs.
"What's happening?" Daphne demanded.
"Malfoy!" Nigel gasped out through heaving breaths. "We were ambushed!"
In shock, Daphne turned back to the stairs, where a smirking Malfoy had emerged, twirling his wand lazily in one hand. Behind him strode Parkinson, Bulstrode, and several others of his clique, known Voldemort supporters all.
"Hello Greengrass," Malfoy said with a smirk. "What, you weren't expecting to see me?"
"I should have guessed you were here from the smell, Malfoy," Daphne snarled. "The odor you emanate is rather particular."
Whereas in the past Malfoy would have colored and begun to hurl insults, this time he only smirked at her as his fellows moved out to either side of him. Daphne took all this in grimly—without Blaise, who was a rather powerful fighter, they were outnumbered more than three to one by the array of wands which faced them. She began easing back toward the entrance to the dungeon, knowing that even with Potter's training they could not hope to win against such odds.
"You always did have a mouth on you, Greengrass," Malfoy said, though his amused expression did not waver for an instant. "When the Dark Lord has disposed of Potter and Dumbledore and all the riffraff, I will enjoy cleaning your mouth out thoroughly."
"In your dreams, twit," Daphne spat back.
"We shall just have to see," said Malfoy. "In the meantime, you're looking rather outnumbered. I suggest that you surrender now before anyone gets hurt. And besides—I've learned a thing or two from the Dark Lord. You couldn't hope to stand against me now."
"As deluded as ever," Tracey jibed. "You'll never be more than a wannabe."
"Why are we even talking to them?" Parkinson demanded from Malfoy's side. "The Dark Lord wants them taken to him. Let's grab them now!"
"Of course, my dear," said Malfoy, before his arm rose and he pointed it at Daphne.
Before she was able to think on the strangeness of Malfoy calling Pansy "my dear," Daphne was forced to duck to the side when Malfoy sent a stunner her way, and the Slytherins facing them opened fire on the outnumbered club members.
"Let's get out of here!" Nigel yelled as the three ducked behind the dubious protections of a sofa and an armchair. The upholstery on the furniture exploded in a rain of stuffing and wood splinters, as the combined spells of the Slytherins reduced it to so much kindling and garbage.
Though Daphne scowled at the thought of actually running from a confrontation with the little toe rag, it was clear that they would need reinforcements to take the Slytherin dorms back from the Voldemort supporters. As such, she did the only thing she could do—she fired off a couple of spells toward the attacking students, forcing them to scatter for cover, and backed away, reaching the door within a few moments.
The three students almost dove out the door, running to the side once they had reached the relatively safe confines of the corridor beyond.
"Let's get out of here!" Nigel yelled, and he began to sprint down the hall.
"Wait, Nigel!" Daphne called after him, exasperated.
The seventh year seemed to remember himself and he stopped short. "We will need to tell Granger and Delacour what's happened here."
"I know," said Daphne as she jogged up. Tracey was following behind, her wand trained back on the entrance to the common room. "But they will also need to know what is going on and what they're doing. Who knows what they're up to?"
"Reducto!" Tracey yelled, and Daphne turned to see a shower of rocks spray out from the side of the wall where the spell impacted. "They're coming through!" Tracey cried.
As one the three club members turned and retreated down the hall, turning a corner just as their Slytherin pursuers began to emerge into the hall.
"We can't take them alone," Nigel insisted. "We'd best get back to the Great Hall and get some reinforcements."
"But what can they be they doing?" Tracey asked as they retreated, firing curses every so often to discourage pursuit. "Malfoy wouldn't come back here unless something major was happening."
"He didn't look like he was fleeing anything," Daphne added. "Though Harry wouldn't tell us anything, my bet is that they were attacking Voldemort's hideout tonight."
"Let's get to the Great Hall," Nigel said a little testily. "Then we can get someone out to capture him and get him to tell us what he's doing here."
Daphne was a little taken aback at Nigel's shortness with them, but she figured that being ambushed and dumped down a set of stairs would be enough to upset anyone.
She was not given any more time to think on the matter, however, as the pursuing Slytherins turned a corner and began shooting spells off at them.
"They're trying to cut us off from the Great Hall!" Nigel said, pointing in another direction where another corridor intersected the one they were currently travelling in. "If they corner us here, then we'll never get back. We need to go!"
Daphne acknowledged his words with a grim nod and as one the three turned and sprinted down the hall in an effort to escape before the Slytherins could trap them. They passed the side corridor at full tilt, half expecting to have the enemy emerge, spitting spells at them and cutting them down, but instead the sounds of friendly voices almost made Daphne almost faint with relief.
Out from the side passage, Susan Bones stepped out, with Justin Finch-Fletchley trailing behind. "What's going on?"
"Malfoy!" Daphne gasped.
"What?" Justin demanded.
"We ran into Malfoy in the dungeons," Tracey replied, panting heavily.
"We need to get word to the Great Hall," Susan said.
She then ducked to the side as a curse came screaming down, the corridor. The club members, now swelled to five, took cover behind the corners and returned fire. They were rewarded by a cry of pain and the scuttling of the remaining Slytherins behind cover.
While the rest of them concentrated on keeping the Slytherins at bay, Susan pointed her wand away from the group and shouted, "Expecto Patronum!"
"Go to Hermione!" she commanded when the silvery animal issued forth from her wand. "Malfoy spotted in the Slytherin dorms. Send reinforcements!"
The club members hunkered down and exchanged spellfire with the Slytherins, and as the spells flew, Daphne thought of how the night had suddenly turned interesting. What the presence of Malfoy in the school meant she was not sure, but she knew it could not be good. But as he was not supposed to have been able to get past the wards, his presence suggested something nefarious at work. Whatever it was, she longed for the return of the boring evening. The rest of the evening would almost certainly be anything but tedious.
"It's been a quiet night," said Hermione in a tired tone.
"I think we can all do with a little quiet," said Fleur, looking at her friend with affection. "I don't think we would enjoy the alternative."
Smiling, Hermione stretched her arms high into the air, and she let out a great groan of pleasure.
"What do you say about rolling back the patrols?" she asked when she had worked out the kinks. "I'd love to be able to nap in shifts since nothing's happening."
Fleur gave her a pointed look. "We'll do that when Daphne and her team report back. You know the plan."
"I do," said Hermione with a grin.
"Do your wishing a little quieter."
Grinning, the twins stepped forward, apparently having just entered the hall. Spread out behind them were several others who had entered with them, presumably to report back after their patrols.
"Yeah, the rest of us are trying to work here," said the other twin with an identical grin. "Personally, I'm surprised that you of all people are complaining."
"You're practically indefatigable when studying. I would have thought that little character trait would have served you well in this instance."
The first twin turned to the other and with an appreciative look said, "'Indefatigable.' Nice word, brother of mine."
The second buffed his fingernails on his shirt. "I do try."
"Report?" Hermione prompted, knowing that the twins could go on for hours if she let them."
"Well, we were indefatigable in making our rounds."
"But we have nothing to report."
"It seems like the school is almost absurdly quiet tonight."
"Go figure," said the second twin with a wry smile. "Who would have thought that a school would be quiet after curfew?"
"In that case, I think you may stand down for the moment," said Professor McGonagall, inserting herself into the conversation.
"Yes, professor," the twins replied as one.
But before they could move away, the ghostly form of a patronus—Susan's, given the fact that it was a small squirrel—bounded into the room and stopped in front of them. It stopped and sat up on its haunches, before it delivered its message.
"Malfoy spotted in the dungeons. Send reinforcements!"
"Malfoy?" asked Fleur, looking over at Hermione with some consternation.
To Hermione's credit, she was focused on the report, vague as it was, and not on the fact that the boy who had tried to deliver her to Voldemort was back in the school. If he was, Fleur amended. Dumbledore had said that Malfoy was now denied entrance in through the wards, so unless McGonagall had invited him back in, Fleur did not understand how he could be there.
"Where was Susan patrolling?" Hermione asked, more to herself than anyone else, Fleur suspected. She consulted her notes and the map of the school spread out on the table. "Just down from the Slytherin common room, between there and the Hufflepuff dorms."
"But Daphne, Tracey, Blaise, and Nigel were just sent to the Slytherin common room to see if there was any activity there."
"Have they reported back yet?" McGonagall asked.
"Not yet," replied Hermione, biting her lip slightly. "I had expected them to be back here soon."
"We need to investigate," one of the twins spoke up. All of his previous playfulness was forgotten in the wake of this news.
"George and I can take a team down there and find out what is going on."
McGonagall nodded. "Take a patrol and see what you can find. But be careful—there is no telling what is going on down there."
The twins flashed the professor matching cheeky smiles. "You don't need to worry about a thing, professor," said one.
"We'll handle everything!" chimed in the other.
To her credit, the Transfiguration professor managed to avoid rolling her eyes. Instead, she ignored their byplay and turned to where Professor Snape stood to the side, watching the proceedings with a hawk-like gaze. "What do you think, Severus?"
Snape shrugged. "I can't imagine how Mr. Malfoy could have managed to gain entrance to the school. But it is possible that the report was garbled, and that other members of the house are causing some trouble. It would not be the first time a student thought they saw something that was not actually there."
McGonagall nodded. "Though I am not certain why Miss Bones would make such a mistake, it is possible."
"It would suggest that Voldemort knows that the Headmaster will be away from the school tonight," said Hermione. I'm not sure how he would know, much less be able to create a plan to insert Malfoy into the school. And why? It isn't like Malfoy is a threat by himself."
McGonagall looked at Hermione and nodded. "Still, it doesn't hurt to check it out as obviously something has happened. Whether it is some Slytherin student who is glamored to appear like Mr. Malfoy or it is the boy himself, we must respond."
She turned to the twins and gave them a pointed look. "You had best take two patrols. Remember—if Mr. Malfoy is in the school he needs to be returned so that we can find out how he entered and what his purpose is. It will be difficult to do that if you've turned him into a big chicken. Subdue the Slytherins and bring him here."
Though the twins sported the same injured expression, they actually said nothing in response. Instead, they exchanged a glance riddled with studied innocence and then turned away to gather their team.
Professor McGonagall then turned to Professor Flitwick. "Filius, if you would accompany them? If there is a problem with Slytherin house, then I believe it would be better if Severus was not involved."
"Of course, Minerva," the diminutive professor replied.
Within a few moments, amid admonitions to keep them informed, the twins and the professor led their team out toward the Slytherin dungeon. The team was comprised of a hodgepodge of different house members who had been in the Great Hall at the time, but Hermione was not concerned about their ability to work effectively together—they had been training for months now to react to just such a situation. Now, Hermione and Fleur were left with primarily the younger members of the club, those who they had tried to include as much as possible, but who would be excluded from a potential firefight with the Voldemort-supporting elements of Slytherin house.
Fleur studied Hermione as she frowned down at the map of Hogwarts spread out in front of them. Though her friend had not shown any sign of concern over the supposed appearance of the Malfoy brat in Hogwarts, Fleur could not help but think that she was affected. She had to be, after what the boy had put her through ever since she had arrived in Hogwarts. But she also knew that Hermione was not one to dwell on things needlessly, and had a tendency to focus on other matters to busy her mind when she was upset or concerned about something. She also was not one to admit to any sort of nervousness when it came to such an ineffectual bully as young Malfoy.
Therefore, Fleur decided to take a different tack than simply asking her if she was worried about the boy. "So what do you think is happening?" she asked.
"It's hard to say," Hermione said without raising her eyes from the map, where Malfoy's name was prominently displayed, though it was nearer to the Slytherin and Hufflepuff defenders than Fleur would have expected. "If the map is correct then it's certainly him."
"Have you ever known the map to be wrong?"
Hermione shook her head. "It tracked Pettigrew even when he was in his animagus form."
"Could it be confunded?"
"Why would someone confund the map to show someone who isn't there?"
"To distract us?"
"But from what?"
The two stood silently for several moments, pondering the question, but Fleur could not imagine what anyone stood to gain from doing such a thing, and apparently neither could Hermione.
"Besides, no one actually knows about the map," Hermione pointed out. "Other than you and I, and Ron and the twins, and a few teachers, no one knows about it."
Shrugging, Hermione turned and gave some instructions to one of the younger members of the club. When she turned back to Fleur, she must have seen something in Fleur's expression, for she sighed in an exasperated fashion, and fixed her with a stern glare.
"You can stop giving me that look, Fleur," she chided.
But Fleur's studied nonchalance was obviously an abysmal failure, as Hermione's glare became even flintier, if that was even possible. "I'm not worried about Malfoy, if that's what you're thinking. He won't catch me by surprise this time, even if he does make it here. And we both know that I can take him in a fight."
"I'm not disputing that, Hermione," Fleur replied with a gentle smile toward her friend. "But he did assault you and attempt to hand you over to Voldemort. An experience like that has to affect a person."
"And he won't get the chance to do it again," was Hermione's firm reply. "Even if he does make it here, a twit like him could not do much damage against all of us."
"Then we'll have to give him a warm welcome if he does make it."
At this point Hermione's smile became positively medieval. "If it's warm you want, then I know just the spell to greet him with."
Shaking her head and laughing, Fleur said, "Ron was right—you are scary."
"As Malfoy will find out if he dares to poke his head into this room."
Fleur's answer was forestalled by a commotion at the entrance to the Great Hall. They looked up and saw the doors open and a disheveled form stagger into the room. They started forward along the aisles between the tables to see who it was, as a few of the younger students who were nearer to the door helped him to the end of the Slytherin table. As they approached, Fleur was able to make out the person's features—it was Nigel.
"What happened?" Hermione said as they approached the Slytherin seventh year.
Nigel looked up as they approached, and for a moment Hermione was surprised to be looking in a pair of glittering eyes—it was almost as if she was seeing the seventh year for the first time. The moment passed quickly, however, and Nigel shifted painfully on his seat and rubbed one knee.
"Blaise and I checked the boys' dorms while Daphne and Tracey checked the girls' dorms," he said shortly. "We got up to the fifth year dorms and we were ambushed by Malfoy and his cronies—Parkinson, Nott, and Bulstrode were there, along with some of the other years."
"Were Crabbe or Goyle there?" Hermione pressed.
Nigel's answering shake of his head was a little curt. "No. I'm guessing the Dark Lord knows they're pretty useless. I doubt he'd send them into the school with someone like Malfoy."
"Someone like Malfoy?" Fleur asked, confused.
Nigel just waved her off. "Crabbe and Goyle are both a couple of buffoons. I doubt the Dark Lord would trust an important mission to them."
Now Hermione was even more confused. She agreed with his assertion about Crabbe and Goyle, but Malfoy was little better—and worse in some ways. At least his two bodyguards did not possess the mouth that Malfoy continually spewed through. Besides, this talk of an important mission did not make any sense. They had no idea why Malfoy was there.
"What do you mean, 'important mission?'" Hermione echoed.
"Did Malfoy say anything that suggested his purpose for being here?" Fleur added.
Nigel rolled his eyes and fixed her with an implacable glare. "I'm assuming that Malfoy was sent here for a reason, otherwise why would he be here?"
"Did he say anything?" prompted Professor McGonagall, who had stepped close to hear their conversation.
"Nothing other than the usual," Nigel replied, turning a more respectful eye on the Transfiguration professor. "He certainly didn't tell us why he was here."
"What happened to Blaise?" Hermione said, changing the subject slightly.
"We were separated when we got ambushed," Nigel again replied shortly. "I had to get out while I could. I'm not sure what happened to him."
As he appeared as though he wanted to be left alone, Hermione nodded and turned away, but she did not return to the table where they had set up. Instead she walked a little distance from where Nigel sat and turned to give some instructions to one of the younger club members who were standing nearby. But in reality, her attention never left the Slytherin seventh year, and she stood there puzzling over his behavior, while trying to appear as if she was not. Nigel did not seem to notice—he gave her no more attention, though his eyes darted around the room.
There was something off about the whole situation, but Hermione could not quite put her finger on what it was. On the one hand, she could not claim to know Nigel to any great extent, and as a result, she could not claim to know how he behaved in stressful situations. But Harry had repeatedly emphasized the need to work as a team, and part of that was watching each other's backs and sticking up for each other. Nigel had not given much in the way of details, but it seemed to Hermione that he had abandoned Blaise rather easily, and though Slytherin was the house of ambition, which sometimes indicated an "every man for himself" mentality, she would have thought that Harry's instructions would have tempered that trait to a certain extent.
And beyond that, Hermione noticed as she watched him that he was watching the hall surreptitiously and with a calculating gaze. And furthermore she felt his gaze alight upon her several times, and she was chilled all over again. Nigel had always seemed like such a mild-mannered person before, though he was undoubtedly intelligent and could exhibit cunning, if the situation demanded it. He had always been friendly, though not particularly warm, and he had certainly never provoked this kind of reaction in her any of the other times they had interacted.
"What are you thinking, Hermione?" Fleur said, startling her from her thoughts.
"Nigel," Hermione replied shortly. "Something odd is going on."
Fleur turned her attention to the Slytherin. "With Nigel?"
Hermione nodded but she did not reply, as her mind was too busy trying to work out the puzzle.
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"Something's off, but I can't quite make out what it is."
Fleur appeared to be somewhat surprised, though Hermione did not truly give her friend much attention.
"Come on," Fleur said, changing the subject. "We need to see what's happening with Malfoy and the patrols."
The name of the Slytherin jogged Hermione's memory and she was suddenly assaulted by images—Malfoy sitting in the Great Hall, supposedly eating breakfast, Hermione herself walking down the halls, being attacked from behind, finding herself helpless in the Slytherin's control, and the terror of knowing that she was to be handed over to those who considered her to be little more than an animal. And suddenly Hermione was certain she knew what was wrong.
"Sure, let's go," Hermione responded.
Fleur appeared a little taken aback that she had so quickly agreed, but she just smiled at her friend and began to walk back toward their command position. It would not do to tip the boy off if what she suspected was true.
"Are you okay, Hermione?" Fleur asked quietly as they began to walk. "Do you need to take a nap?"
"I'm fine, Fleur," Hermione said, determined to solve the mystery and figure out what Malfoy was up to.
They stepped to the table where the Marauder's Map was situated, at this point without anyone watching it. Hermione stepped toward it and touched the map with her wand, murmuring, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
The spidery lines crawled out over the map, illuminating the corridors and inhabitants of the castle in its lines. A quick glance at the area about the Slytherin dungeons showed that the combatants were still locked in positions facing each other, though now that Fred and George's team had arrived it was only a matter of time before the Slytherin position was overrun. But nowhere in the mass of students could she see the name of her nemesis.
Taking a deep breath, Hermione turned her attention to the names in the Great Hall, by now knowing who she would find there, but still strangely reluctant nonetheless. And there, she found was she was looking for, sitting where "Nigel" was sitting at the Slytherin table.
"Fleur," she said, turning to her closest friend. "Look here."
The French witch followed her pointed finger before she recoiled in shock and her eyes darted up to where "Nigel" sat at the end of the table. Luckily, the boy was looking in the other direction and he did not see Fleur's reaction, otherwise the game would have been up at that point.
"Don't give us away, Fleur," Hermione hissed.
Fleur turned to her and regarded her with upraised eyebrows. "Polyjuice?"
Shrugging, Hermione replied, "Either that or a glamour. I suspect polyjuice, but it's hard to say. He's been known to use it, and he's not really intelligent enough to come up with an original plan. It seems to be a failing that everyone following Voldemort suffers from—seems to go along with the lack of imagination which afflicts most Purebloods."
Ignoring that last comment, "How did you know?"
"A number of little things," replied Hermione. Malfoy was still watching the room carefully, but he appeared as though he had not noticed that they were on to him. "He called Voldemort 'the Dark Lord,' whereas most of us call him by his stupid made up name, or that silly 'You-Know-Who' nonsense. I've noticed that though sometimes people will refer to him as a dark lord, generally only his followers call him that. And when he entered the hall, he looked at me like I was an insect—distinctly Malfoy-esque. And finally, he's been watching the hall carefully, almost like he doesn't trust the rest of us."
"Then what do we do?" Fleur asked.
"I'm not sure," said Hermione. "We can watch him and try to find out what he's doing, or we could capture him and pump him full of Veritaserum. Maybe that way is better."
"I think McGonagall should be told," replied Fleur.
"Definitely," Hermione said with feeling.
The problem, of course, was attracting the Transfiguration professor's attention without attracting Malfoy's. It would have been easy if the professor had been close by, but she was currently across the hall—not far from where Malfoy still sat watching the room—speaking with Professor Snape.
Deciding that they could not wait for her to make her way to them, Hermione crossed the room, trying to appear unconcerned as Malfoy watched her progress toward the still talking teachers.
"Professor McGonagall," Hermione greeted her as she strode up to them.
The professor turned with a smile, though Snape's expression was as blank as ever. "Yes Miss Granger?"
"Fleur and I would like your opinion on the situation with the Slytherins. Could you join us for a moment?"
"Of course." She turned to Snape and nodded, which he returned impassively, before she followed Hermione toward the head of the hall.
"What is it?" she asked as they walked.
"Please don't react," Hermione said when she judged that they were far enough away from Malfoy that they would not be overheard, "but we've discovered something rather surprising."
McGonagall favored her with a questioning look, but she said nothing further. Soon they had arrived in front of the map, which Fleur was still watching closely. A quick glance at it showed that the Slytherins were still in the halls, though it appeared that they were giving up ground toward the dungeon.
Pointing at the Great Hall, Hermione said, "It looks like we've got an unwelcome visitor."
Eyes following Hermione's finger, McGonagall read the name written on the parchment and she looked sharply up at them.
"Can the map be wrong?" she asked.
"Not that I've ever known," replied Hermione.
"And where is Mr. Johnson?"
This time Fleur replied. "Looks like he's in the boys' dorms along with Blaise. I can't tell what kind of shape they're in, but at least they're alive."
They were the only names on the map in that area of the Slytherin dorms, so Hermione decided that the Slytherins had to have trussed them up or left them unconscious. Or both. But that was a problem for another time—they could be rescued after the Slytherins and Malfoy were dealt with.
"And how did we not notice this before?" McGonagall asked.
"That's the problem with the map," Hermione replied. "You have to be looking for something, or you might just miss it, and unfortunately it doesn't call your attention to things you should know. I did notice that Malfoy was closer to Daphne and Susan than I had expected, but I just thought that he was trying to flank them or something, and it never even occurred to me to look for Nigel. Malfoy must have snuck away and made his way here when we were speaking with Fred and George."
"The question is, what do we do about him?" Fleur asked.
McGonagall pursed her lips. "I don't think we have any choice but to take him into custody and question him. This suggests a much more involved plan than just Malfoy working his way in. Voldemort must be involved somehow."
"And if Voldemort's involved, the entire school could be in significant danger," Fleur added.
"Then we'd best get to it," Hermione said, surprising herself with her own bleak tone of voice. She could not with any certainty speak as to her own feelings as they were indecipherable at the moment—and she readily acknowledged that she had put up a front when Fleur had asked her questions before—but she felt a burning desire to be the one who captured the boy who had tormented her with glee and tried to see that she was killed in a most horrifying way.
Holding her wand loosely in her hand, she made her way down the table, feeling rather than seeing that both the professor and Fleur were following close behind. Perhaps she was being slightly impetuous, but she knew very well that Malfoy could not beat her, and with all the support she had in the room, that confidence made her bold.
She stopped a few feet from the pompous little twit and glared down at him. Malfoy was admittedly cooler than she would have expected. The way they had approached him could only mean that they suspected his charade, and his lack of reaction meant that either he had received some training during his sojourn in Voldemort's presence, or he was so determined that it overrode his natural tendency to bluster.
Hermione stopped and looked at him with hard, accusing eyes, but before she could open her mouth, the ghostly image of a patronus—a Jack Russel Terrier, indicating that it was Ron's—bounded into the hall and stopped in front of Hermione.
Death Eaters in Hogwarts.