"You are not going alone," Hermione said with a stubborn touch of finality in her voice.
Harry was struggling to keep up as she stormed down the corridor and retrieved the flying carpet.
"Get on," she said, and gave Harry a leg up onto the carpet. She was distinctly snappish.
"Hermione," Harry said, "I think I can look after myself for an hour or two."
Hermione glared at him and hopped up on the carpet alongside him. "I want to talk this over with Professor Snape. He's got vastly more experience in this sort of thing than you. And no, you can't look after yourself for an hour or two. What if someone tries to kill you? None of us can look after ourselves for an hour or two, it's much too dangerous! This is no time for bravado, we need to stick together and do this intelligently."
"Snape?" Harry sputtered, "vastly more experience? Who got eaten by a snake?"
"Professor Snape has an advantage in this situation," Hermione said, "if you haven't noticed."
Hermione just looked at him and rolled her eyes. "Honestly, take care of yourself, can you?"
Harry frowned and developed a distinctly bad mood. Who did Hermione think she was, stepping in and running the entire show. As if she was less vulnerable to an attack than he was. Who defeated Voldemort? Who fought off a hundred dementors? Well it wasn't Ronald Weasley.
Or his girlfriend.
The carpet skidded to a stop in front of Harry's room.
"Why don't we meet in your room for once?" Harry said.
"Because Professor Snape is haunting your room." Hermione said, and flounced by him and through the door. "I want to talk to him."
The room was empty. No ghostly figure staring moonily out the window.
"See, he's not here," Harry said. "Look, give it a rest. Madame Maxime's not going to kill me. She's innocent."
"How do you know that?" Hermione challenged.
Harry shrugged. "I have this feeling."
"It's not good enough."
"It should be."
Hermione set her jaw and regarded him carefully. "I hope you know what you're doing," she said, "and I want you to take extra precautions. Do you still have the DADA medallion I gave you?"
"Um," Harry fished in his pockets, "yeah, here it is." He held it up.
"If you're in danger, just put your hand in your pocket and hold it. It'll heat up in your hand," Hermione said. She pulled a similar medallion from around her neck and showed it to him. "and I'll feel it here. I wish we could have a reliable way of summoning Snape."
"Well," Harry said, "While I'm in with Madame Maxime, you'll have some time to look up haint summoning in the library."
"Nonsense," Hermione said, "I'm going to go find Hagrid."
"He's been gone for almost an entire day! We already know that there are murderers and blackmailers about," Hermione said, "I think he's been kidnapped."
Harry laughed. "We'll then they'd have to find some place to hide him, and Hagrid isn't exactly easy to hide."
"Get on with you," Hermione said, "I'm just going to find him, that's all."
"Not alone, not without me." Harry said, "weren't you just talking about how it was too dangerous and we all needed to stick together?"
"Oh I'm not going to go alone," Hermione said archly.
"Snape doesn't count anymore." Harry said, "he can't protect you becasue he's dead."
"No indeed," Hermione said, "I'm going with Fleuris Umbridge Fortescue Smythe, although she doesn't know it yet."
Harry knocked on the door to Madame Maxime's arbor-boudoir. After a moment of silence, the handle turned, and Madame Maxime herself ushered him in in complete silence.
She led him across the grass and over a stream to another canopy tent very like the one that he'd visited before. This time, however, once they were inside, she untied the tassels and let the heavy brocade tapestries fall across the doorways. Then she drew her wand and cast a spell in French. Harry thought he recognized a silencing charm, as if they were inside an impenetrable bubble.
"'Arry," Madame Maxime said, "Ai receved a letter zis morning, before all ze trouble. Ai'd like for you to read it."
She took off one of her shoes, and pulled a folded up scrap of parchment from under one of the soles.
"It was zo eemportant," she said, "Ai did not dare let it out of my sight." She unfolded the parchment and handed it to Harry.
He squelched the desire to hold his nose. The paper was slightly damp, and very squished, with a tear in one corner. It was written in brilliant red ink.
"Aloud, please," Madame Maxime said, "Ai must 'ear it again. I don't know what eet means."
"To Headmistress Maxime of Beauxbaton Academy," Harry began, "Cheerio from merry old England and Bonjour. Doubtless you have heard of the three major trials taking place in our country, and such trials! I daresay that the course of magical history, well, everyone's history really, is about to be inevitably changed. We are in a period of redefining the nature of law and justice, good and evil, wizard and muggle, reality and evidence. The first trial, as everyone always suspected, is the pending case of The1980RiddleFamilyRevocableTrustv.H.Potter, seeking monetary and punitive damages from the alleged reckless destruction of seven valuable Riddle Family Artifacts by the defendant, in which the prosecution and Trustee Lucius Malfoy is also the lead defendant in the much reported criminal proceeding UnitedKingdomv.Malfoy;Greyback;Carrow;Carrowet.al.which has been the subject of much tabloid speculation in recent weeks. Well everything was proceeding very decorously in these two cases, all parties had been served, etc.,"
"I have not been served!" Harry interjected.
Madame Maxime shrugged and waved her hands, "go on, zere is much more."
"...until today when a dreadfully unusual thing happened. We have been holding the defendants in the criminal proceeding in maximum security, surrounded by Aurors and two dementor guards who had been released into our custody for the duration of the remodeling work at Azkaban Prison. Well, Malfoy was visiting his lawyer, and I happened to be standing in the hall, waiting to speak with Ginny Weasley, when the two dementor guards suddenly gave a frightful screech and flew into the sky, into the broad daylight. We sent an Auror out to recover them, but they had long gone. Thinking quickly, however, and this was my idea, we called in the RAF and had them track the dementors on radar. They headed straight to Paris. I talked to Kingsley and he thought that there might be something strange going on, like the dementors had been summoned to Paris. Well so long as Voldemort's not back again, there's not much that the Parisians do that worries me. I was wondering if you wouldn't look into it. There's something strange going on with the dementors, but I for one always thought they were strange creatures to begin with, makes one's flesh creep if you know what I mean, but useful, devilish useful. We've gotten a tip from MI-6 recently that there was talk that an ex-Parisian Centroid operative, Francesca Pouf, was staying at Beauxbaton Palace for the famous Summer Incantation of Health. She's a known Bond-Girl, if you know what I mean, so keep an eye out. Let me know if anyone dies. Tata, cheerio, and oh P.s. I forgot to mention the third trial, MinistryofMagicBritainv.G.Weasley for the invasion and destruction of an invaluable private collection of prophecies. Dear Ginny's a nice girl, I've made sure the warden gives her extra portions. Say Hello to Harry for me, T. Blair, Prime Minister of England etc."
Harry stared at the words on the page and blinked.
As he had read the letter, a hundred things had sprung into his mind. Centroid! that word again, Malfoy, did he escape when the dementors did? Destruction of Riddle Family Artifacts, well I should bloody well say so! But it had all fled from his mind as he'd read the last few sentences.
"Ginny's in jail?" he croaked.
Madame Maxime did not appear to hear him, "Ai still don't know what it means! 'ere 'e is talking about 'Centroid' again, and Paris, and ze dementors. Zere eez no communications to Beauxbaton in or out while your freind 'ermione's wards are in place. Ai cannot zummon 'elp! Ai cannot contact Minister Chiraq to find out what eez going on! For all we know ze dementors are descending upon ze students at zis very instant!" Madame Maxime bent down and seized Harry by the shoulders.
"Zis is why Ai need you!" she said emphatically, "you must convince 'ermione zat ze murder 'as been solved. She must lift ze wards and we must call for 'elp! Zis is much bigger zan two children can 'andle! You are so young! We need more information and zere is a killer on ze loose!"
Harry imagined a dank, dripping cell, icicles forming and Ginny in the corner, knees crouched to her chest for warmth. The warden opened a hatch and slid in food, extra portions, on a tray on the floor.
"I've got to go back to Britain." he said, "I can't stay here anymore."
"You see! Exactly what Ai've been saying!"
"Ginny's in danger," he said, "I can't believe Kingsley Shacklebolt would let them throw her in jail! It was a war! Don't they see that, what are those stupid prophecies compared to everyone's lives!"
Madame Maxime reeled back as Harry kept shouting, louder and louder. She looked at him dazed, the ten foot tall 'large boned' half-giant gazing at a small and scrawny eighteen year old.
"Ginny didn't do anything, there were lots of us there! It was as much my fault as anyone's we wouldn't have gone unless it was for me. The death eaters were looking for a prophecy about me! Ginny saved hundreds, no thousands of people's lives that day! She helped defeat the strongest dark wizard the world has ever known! And they throw her in jail for a few prophecies from moon-eyed professors of divination!"
Harry stopped, realizing that he was screaming, and frantic. His mouth felt dry, but his head was burning hot.
Madame Maxime stared at him for a long time.
"Ai do believe," she said finally, "zat you are attracted to Miss Weasley. Ai thought you took after zat Cho girl. Miss Weasley 'ad anozzer man." She looked down at Harry steadily, "eez it unrequited feelings?"
Harry's blood went from pounding on his temples to frozen solid ice in his veins.
"I don't know," he said softly.
Madame Maxime smiled. "I 'ope not."
Harry knew all at once that he wanted to get out of France as quickly as possible. He'd post bail for Ginny. No, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley would have already done that if bail had been set. He knew! He'd coordinate a jail break! Just a few puking pastilles from the Joke Shop, a flying car, a chapel...
He staggered back, "I'm sorry," he told Madame Maxime, "I don't know what's gotten into me."
"Sit down!" she said, "of course, eet has been a long day! Do not be afraid to show strong passionate feelings! Eet is ze French way! You are becoming quite ze native, no? But 'Arry," Madame Maxime continued, "we must talk about what to do wiz ze Poufs. Zis eez why I so strongly accuse 'im earlier today. Ai believe eet was 'is wife 'oo took a shot at us earlier. 'ow can we 'ave proof? We must not let zem kill again!"
"But why would the Poufs want to kill anyone?" Harry asked, "people just don't go out and start killing. They must have a motive."
"Ai don't know." Madame Maxime said, "But we can always figure out ze motive aftair ze are in protective custody. You see why we must convince 'ermione to lower ze wards?"
"Yes," Harry said, "and I'll do it. I'll persuade her. I'm sure she'll listen to me, or at least listen to reason."
"Zat's ze spirit."