June 30th 1997
The Hogwarts Express traditionally made just two journeys a year, one to Kings Cross at the end of June and one to Hogsmeade at the beginning of September.
The previous Christmas had been different, since Umbridge had the floo system in the castle closed down, as it had been a few times during the first war, but now, as term ended once more, things were back on track.
Usually the train rides were accompanied with laughter and jokes, but not this time.
Not even after the tragic end of the Triwizard Tournament in 1996 had the train been this subdued.
The eight students who had fought at the Ministry had taken up residence in the last compartment in the train, activating the enchantments Jen had told them about over Christmas. This had turned out to be a good idea, since what seemed to be every Muggle-born in the lower four years had turned up in the hope of sitting near them, apparently for the security they felt around Harry. The older children seemed content with simply taking the nearby compartments, but the first and second years had taken the opportunity to sit in theirs, even if it meant sitting on the floor – the compartment may have been expanded, but even magic has its limits.
A few had been understandably nervous when they saw Draco, but the arm he kept firmly around Ginny’s waist swiftly dispelled any worries.
Draco and Ginny had not spoken about their bond, at least not that Hermione had heard. They weren’t dating, not yet, but physical contact was increasingly common between them. Currently, Ginny’s head was resting on his shoulder, her eyes closed, but her body was poised to act if something should happen.
Neville and Ron were playing a chess game by the window and Susan and Luna were curled up on the bench next to Ron, half-watching the game, half-chatting to each other.
Unlike Luna, Susan had quite a few friends in her house, but she had found that Hannah, Ernie and Justin didn’t understand what she was going through in the wake of the Department of Mysteries, not like the other seven could, and she and Luna had become very close.
Harry was seated in one of the corners near the door – opposite Draco, who occupied the other corner – and Hermione had situated herself on his lap to make more room for the first years – at least, that was her excuse.
The last Hermione had heard, Harry was still going back to the Dursleys for the first day at least, but Harry didn’t seem too concerned by this, and she had the feeling Jen had changed her mind about not tipping her hand.
She still didn’t know what Jen had planned and hadn’t bothered asking Harry or Draco what she had talked about over the mirror that evening in the Room of Requirement.
Right now, she was more concerned about the children sharing their compartment and how quiet they all were. “It’s unnerving.” She murmured.
“I’m not sure which is worse.” Harry said quietly, not needing to ask what she meant. “The fact that these kids need to worry about the war or the fact that they don’t feel safe traveling on their own.”
“You can blame Pansy for that.” Draco said from the opposite bench without opening his eyes. “The girl’s psycho. I think she’s planning on giving Aunt Bella a run for her money.”
Hermione flinched. “That’s all we need.”
Ron made a strange whining noise and Neville clucked triumphantly. “Check!”
“Neville, why?!” Ron whined. “Why would you do this to me, why?!”
The first years giggled among themselves, which was the reason for Ron’s overreaction in the first place … mostly – he did have a five year winning streak to defend.
At that moment, however, the connecting door into the carriage flew open, bringing with it the sounds of spell-fire, followed by a scream of pain and terror.
Everything seemed to happen at once. The chessboard overturned, the pieces scattering across the floor, as Neville and Ron jumped into action. Susan and Luna darted around Crookshanks, who was chasing the chess figures, to the first years, who had formed a huddle, placing themselves in front of them, wands in hand. At the same time, Draco and Ginny raced out of the compartment, wands drawn, and Harry sprang to his feet, causing Hermione to slide to the ground with a startled squeak.
Harry paused just long enough to pull her back to her feet and kiss her cheek in apology before sprinting out into the corridor behind Ron and Neville.
Hermione hesitated, listening intently. It sounded as though the fracas outside was caused by an ongoing problem, rather than an attack on the Muggle-born students, but she slipped out of the compartment anyway, her eyes scanning the rest of the carriage. The other compartment doors were tightly shut, despite the presence of Pansy, Theodore Nott, Millicent Bulstrode, Crabbe, Goyle and several sixth and seventh year Slytherins that Hermione knew by sight but not by name.
A whimpered sob near her feet caught her attention and Hermione looked down to see a figure huddled against the wall of the carriage. Erecting a Shield Charm around them, she knelt beside the terrified girl, recognising her instantly as Slytherin “Ice Queen” Daphne Greengrass.
The usually poised and put-together fifth year was trembling so violently that Hermione feared she may have been having some kind of seizure. Her robes were torn, her make-up smeared, a small amount of blood trickling down her cheek and mixing with her tears.
Hermione touched her shoulder and the girl flinched violently, so she pulled back. “Daphne?” She called softly. “Daphne, can you look at me please?”
Terrified blue eyes flitted towards her, settling on her face.
“Do you know who I am?” Hermione asked, keeping her voice gentle.
Daphne nodded jerkily.
“I’d like to help you into our compartment and away from the idiots with wands.” Hermione said. “Is that alright?”
Only once Daphne nodded again did Hermione try once more to touch her. This time, Daphne allowed her to take her arm and help her to her feet.
Susan let out a sharp gasp at their entrance, stepping forwards automatically before catching herself. “What happened?”
“Death Eaters in training.” Hermione said grimly, sitting Daphne down and wrapping her in her cloak. “Do you have any chocolate?”
“I have a few chocolate frogs left over from lunch.” Susan said, pulling them from her pocket and offering them to Daphne. “Here, eat these. It’ll make you feel better.”
A few minutes later, the rest of their party returned, looking incredibly pleased with themselves.
“That was quick.” Susan commented, rhythmically stroking Daphne’s back. Whether there was any rhyme or reason to her actions, Hermione didn’t know, but it did seem to be helping; Daphne was relaxing ever so slowly.
“The rest of the DA showed up to help.” Neville explained. “They followed them here, apparently. Most of them got hit in the crossfire.”
“They took the Slytherins back to the next carriage.” Harry continued, smirking. “Shoved them in one of the empty compartments. Goyle looks like some kind of slug.”
“His mother’ll be happy.” Ron said gleefully. “He’s loads better looking now.”
Daphne let out a reluctant giggle and Draco knelt in front of her, deliberately positioning himself lower than her in a non-threatening pose. “Are you alright?”
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to a you that’s this human.” Daphne remarked quietly.
“Join the club.” Ron muttered.
Ginny gave her brother a scolding look and touched Daphne’s hand gently. “That didn’t answer the question. Are you alright?”
“Physically, I’m alright.” Daphne said slowly. “It’s just …”
“It’s scary.” Harry finished. “People you thought you could depend on turning on you.”
Daphne snorted. “I never depended on them, Potter. We’re Slytherins. We don’t depend on anybody.”
“We can learn how to.” Draco said wisely. “As long as they’re the right people. I was going to try to contact you during the summer – rumour has it your family’s come down on our side of the fence.”
Daphne smiled wryly. “I have. They haven’t. Part of the reason behind that little display.”
Draco caught Ginny’s eye and she turned to Hermione. “Can we?”
Hermione blinked. “Can we what?”
“Well, she’s in it as deep as we are now, right?” Ginny pointed out. “And she’s got nowhere to go. We can’t just throw her in the deep end and expect her to tread water until the war’s over.”
“Interesting analogy.” Harry noted. “But she’s got a point.”
Hermione nodded in agreement. “Okay. Let me just set up a privacy bubble so the kids can’t hear us and we’ll explain everything.”
As the train pulled in to Platform 9¾, the students began gathering their things together, ready to meet their families, but Harry caught Hermione’s arm before she could open the compartment door. “Hey, I want to talk to Draco and Daphne before we leave – go on without us?”
Hermione gave him a questioning look, but agreed, giving him a quick kiss. “I’ll see you in a few minutes.” She, Ron and Ginny gathered the Muggle-borns together and escorted them off the train, seeing them through the barrier before stepping through themselves.
Jen was waiting with Mrs Weasley and, while Molly busied herself fussing over her youngest children, Jen swept Hermione into a tight hug, murmuring apologies into her hair.
Hermione relaxed for what felt like the first time since the Department of Mysteries, her forehead dropping to Jen’s shoulder. “I’m alright.”
Jen pulled back to grip her arms. “Hermione, I am so sorry. We should never have assumed we had the mirror, we should have double-checked. And I shouldn’t have believed Albus when he said that you were too swamped to be contacted.”
“I’m alright.” Hermione repeated. “We both are. Harry’s just having a word with Draco and Daphne – that’s Daphne Greengrass; she’s come down on our side of the fence and her parents have come down on the other.”
Jen grimaced. “Ouch. Poor girl. I’ll think of something.” She raised a hand and waved to Neville and Susan, who were loitering nearby, beckoning them over.
“Your aunt and your grandmother asked if I’d mind collecting you from the station.” She explained when they were within earshot. “We’re just waiting for Harry.”
“Thank you.” Susan said with a smile. “How is everyone?”
“Everyone is just fine.” Jen said, including all three students in her answer. “They’re all at home, waiting for you.”
Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness.” She turned to the Weasleys, just as Ron was released from his mother’s grip. “Hello Mrs Weasley.”
“Hello Hermione.” Mrs Weasley greeted politely. “How are you?”
“I’m … better, thank you.” Hermione answered, stumbling slightly over the response.
Ginny frowned. Hermione had nearly died in the Department of Mysteries, it was unlike her mother to be so formal all of a sudden. “Mum,” she said slowly, “you’re not upset Hermione and Harry are dating, are you?”
“Of course not, dear.” Her mother said.
“Because Harry’s like my brother.” Ginny continued. “That was never going to …”
She broke off, her blood freezing in her veins, as the quiet presence at the back of her head vanished.
Bonded they may have been, but she and Draco had been careful to give each other space in their shared mind. Nevertheless, his sudden absence struck fear into her heart and she turned back towards the barrier. “Something’s wrong.”
“Ginny?” Hermione asked, but Ginny ignored her, running back through the barrier to Platform 9¾. She scrambled back on to the train and burst into the compartment, but it was empty. Nothing but sweet wrappers remained.
“Ginny!” Her mother scolded, but Hermione swore before she could continue.
“Where are they?!” Hermione demanded.
“I don’t know!” Ginny said frantically. “He’s not there, Hermione – he’s disappeared and they’re not here either and …”
“Ginny, calm down.” Susan said softly. “Let’s search the train and then figure out what to do.”
Twenty minutes later, they stepped back on to the platform, forced to admit that the train was empty. By now, Molly was even more hysterical than Ginny was, and all set to floo straight to Hogwarts, but Jen stopped her.
“We’ll go to the Burrow.”
“But Albus …” Molly began.
“We will go to the Burrow.” Jen said firmly. “We’re not going to be of any help when you’re this worried, Molly. We’ll floo there, come on.”
Ron went through first, followed by Susan and Neville. As soon as Molly had disappeared into the flames, Hermione, still gripping Ginny’s hand tightly, turned to Jen and said, “I didn’t see the Dursleys outside.”
Jen gave her the tiniest wink. “Off you go.”
Hermione smiled, taking Ginny through the fireplace with her.
Molly had collapsed at the kitchen table and Ron was patting her shoulder, a look of frozen terror on his face. Susan had found the kettle and was busying herself making a pot of tea, gnawing anxiously on her bottom lip. Neville was staring out of the kitchen window pensively, his hands in his pockets.
“Where’s the sugar, Ginny?” Susan asked quietly.
Ginny fetched it, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. “Do you think they’re alright?”
“Jen’s not worried.” Hermione said quietly. “And if anyone should be, it’s her.”
“Why can’t I hear him?” Ginny asked.
“I don’t know.” Hermione said, tucking the younger girl under her chin.
Jen took two of the cups from Susan and pushed one of them into Molly’s hands. “Here, Molly, drink this. Take some deep breaths for me. That’s it.”
“The poor boy …” Molly lamented, taking a shaky gulp of tea. “Oh, how did they get him again?!”
“Molly, calm down.” Jen said firmly. “Everything is going to be alright.” She stood and made her way over to Hermione and Ginny. “Ginny, am I right in thinking that there’s a soul bond between you and Draco?”
“Yes.” Ginny said, shooting a covert look at her mother, who didn’t seem to have heard. “Can you sense it?”
Jen smiled at her. “No, but you said that he’d disappeared, not they, and you just asked Hermione why you couldn’t hear him. Suggests a soul bond, and it’s definitely not with Harry. Can you get him a message?”
“I can try.” Ginny said. “The link’s blocked.”
“Tell them it’s all clear and we’ll be with them in the next thirty minutes.”
Hermione sighed loudly, catching the attention of the others in the kitchen. “Jen, where are they?”
“Potter Manor.” Jen answered innocently. “Where else would they be?”