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SIYE Time:7:40 on 27th July 2021


An Unbreakable Bond
By Athea

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Category: Hogwarts Express Challenge (2006-3)
Characters:None
Genres: Drama
Warnings: Death
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 14
Summary: An explosion rocks the Hogwarts Express leaving a Death Eater dead and Hermione unconscious. Can Harry figure out what happened?
Hitcount: Story Total: 4280





Author's Notes:
Thanks to those of you who created this challenge. Wow, it was a tough one! Thanks, as always, to Ginger Snap for your terrific beta work. You're the best! And finally, after sitting through an afternoon long lecture on copyright infringement, a great big thanks to JK Rowling who lets us have so much fun with her terrific characters.




ChapterPrinter


Ron stepped out of the loo and looked for Hermione. He was surprised, and a little saddened, by the quiet and somber atmosphere of the Hogwarts Express. Dumbledore’s death had left the students more sedate than usual and the pranks and magical outbursts that were typical of the ride home were noticeably absent. Well, at least it should make our shift on patrol easier than usual.

He thought Hermione should be a few compartments ahead of him by now, so he turned away from the prefects’ compartment and headed down the train. Suddenly, he was thrown to the ground by the force of a tremendous explosion.

“Bloody hell,” he muttered as he staggered to his feet, turning to survey the damage. His eyes widened as he saw what was left of the prefects’ compartment.

While the carriage still appeared to be structurally sound enough to keep moving, its windows were gone, the walls were dented, and everything seemed to be shrouded in a cloud of smoke and dust.

Dazed, Ron forced himself to walk back to the nearly destroyed section of the train. As he forced the door open, he saw two bodies lying on the floor.

The first person he came to was obviously dead. Merlin, he’s just…gone, Ron thought. The person’s right arm, torso, and most of their head appeared to have been vaporized in the explosion.

He rushed to the second body and recognized the head of bushy brown hair. That was when Ron Weasley started screaming.

The next thing he remembered was Ginny. Ginny as she grabbed his face and forced him to look at her. Ginny as she placed shushing kisses on his forehead just like their mum had done when they were small. Ginny as she told him that Hermione was alive, that she was going to be fine.

“She’s okay?” he asked, his tears sounding in his voice.

“She will be, Ron.” Ginny put her hand on his shoulder as she stood and surveyed the wreckage. “Merlin, Ron, what happened here?”

Ron became aware of the others in the car when Ernie Macmillan spoke. “That’s what I’d like to know. I’d also like to know why you and Hermione were alone in this car with a Death Eater.”

Everyone in the compartment seemed to gasp in unison. “A…a Death Eater?” Ron asked.

Ernie pulled back the sleeve of the robe on the dead body revealing the Dark Mark.

The room once again fell into silence. Surprisingly, it was Neville who spoke first. “Well, then I guess he got what he deserved.”

Ernie continued, “Probably, but who was he? Or she? It’s kind of hard to identify…this.” He gestured at the headless corpse. “What were they doing here? How did they get on the train?”

Ginny turned toward him and said icily, “Those are things we need to find out, Ernie, but before we worry about a dead Death Eater, I think we need to take care of our injured friends.”

She bent down next to Ron who was sitting beside Hermione, carefully stroking her hair back from her blood covered face. “Ron?” Ginny asked softly. When he didn’t acknowledge her, she placed her hand gently on his forearm and tried again. “Ron, can you carry her?”

Dazedly, Ron looked up at Ginny and nodded.

“Ok, then. I think Ron should take Hermione to the next compartment. He can stay with her until she wakes up. Hannah? Can you go with them?”

Hannah looked up, clearly startled by Ginny’s request.

“Why Hannah?” Ernie asked suspiciously.

“Hannah, haven’t you been helping Madam Pomfrey in the hospital wing this year?”

Hannah nodded.

“Do you know anything that could help Hermione?”

“Of course,” Hannah replied confidently. “Ron, follow me.” When the boy didn’t move, she bent down and said quietly, “Come on, Ron. Let’s help Hermione.”

Ron said nothing, but stood and carefully cradled Hermione in his arms. Her head lolled limply against his chest as they exited the cabin.

After they left, Ginny continued. “Now, does anyone know what happened here?” Everyone looked around the cabin. No one said a word. “Does anyone have any idea what we should do?”

Again, Ernie Macmillan spoke up, his always pompous voice clearly agitated. “I think it’s obvious we need to treat this as a murder. I think we need to investigate and find the person or people responsible. And I think we need to begin our investigation with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.”

The wild fire that was an angry Ginny Weasley flew across the room and was inches from Ernie’s face in seconds. Hands on her hips, eyes blazing, she said, “You arrogant git! You can’t honestly believe they’re responsible for…for this!” She gestured at the devastation they were all facing.

Ernie seemed to puff himself up, meeting her challenge head on. “Well, they were the only ones here. I’m sure the Death Eater didn’t blow himself up!”

“He’s right.”

Everyone turned to find the owner of the voice. Jaws dropped as Harry Potter stepped forward.

“Harry?” Ginny asked, her look bewildered and betrayed. “You don’t believe they had anything to do with this?” When there was no immediate reply, she added softly, “Do you?”

“No, I don’t, but they were the only ones here and every investigation has to start somewhere. The question is, who’s going to do the investigating?”

The students that had heard the explosion were squeezed into the compartment and the corridor outside. They all had their eyes riveted on Harry Potter. No one, however, offered any ideas as to who should lead the investigation.

At last, the dreamy voice of Luna Lovegood broke the silence. “Well, I think it’s obvious who we need to choose.”

“It is?” A confused Ernie asked.

Luna’s radish earrings bobbed absurdly as she nodded. “It’s as plain as the nose on a Trimwitted Gleepa’s face.” Several tense chuckles could be heard throughout the cabin. “There is only one person here who has the experience to lead this investigation.” She turned her startling blue eyes to Harry.

“What do you want to do first, Harry?”

Several expressions of outrage with Luna’s choice could be heard, but these students appeared to be outnumbered as a surprising number of students, and not just Gryffindors, seemed to follow Luna’s logic.

Harry himself was stunned by Luna’s suggestion. “Me? I…I can’t…they’re my friends…”

Luna interrupted him, her voice calm. “We know they’re your friends, but you’re the only one of us that has the experience with an investigation like this. You found the Sorcerer’s Stone and the Chamber of Secrets. You’ve dueled with Death Eaters. You have the best idea how they think.”

Neville nodded in agreement and approached Harry. “She’s right, Harry. And you don’t have to do it alone. I’m sure anyone here would be willing to help you. I know I would.”

“Me too,” Ginny added.

“And me,” said Susan Bones. She seemed to speak for Hufflepuff house in its entirety, as they all offered their murmured support.

“Are you sure?” Harry asked the students, who were already starting to recover from the shock of the explosion. He scrutinized the eyes of every member of the compartment. When he saw no dissention, not even in the eyes of the assembled Slytherins, he agreed to lead the investigation.

“The first thing we need to do is question Ron,” he said heavily.

Ginny shot him another look of frustrated surprise. Harry offered her the briefest of smiles. This was going to be tougher than he thought.

“I know he’s in shock right now, but I think we need to question them separately. If we interview Ron when Hermione’s still unconscious he won’t have to leave her.

“I’ll need someone to come with me, preferably someone who’s not a Gryffindor.”

Michael Corner volunteered for the job.

“We’ll also need several pairs of DA members to search the rest of the train. If it turns out that Ron and Hermione weren’t responsible for this, we could have a killer loose on the train.” He once again surveyed the students in the compartment. “Any volunteers?”

Ginny was the first to speak up. “I’ll go. Neville, will you go with me?” He nodded.

Zacharias Smith and Ernie also agreed to search, as did Dean and Seamus.

“Thanks,” Harry said, relieved to have the search in such capable hands. He did secretly wish that Ginny wasn’t out searching for murderers in an all but deserted train, but kept that thought to himself.

“Millicent? Goyle? I have a job for you if you’re willing.” The pair looked at each other, eyes wide with surprise at being chosen by Harry for anything.

“Would you two be willing to stand guard over the compartment where Ron and Hermione are? No one gets in or out without my approval.”

Goyle looked as though he wanted to be flattered, but he was in the habit of disagreeing with Harry, and old habits die hard. “I’m not a jailer,” he challenged.

“How come you have these handcuffs then?” Millicent quipped, reaching into the pocket of his robes and pulling out a pair of muggle handcuffs. Snickers broke out among the remaining occupants of the cabin.

“We’d be happy to help, Harry,” Millicent added. “No one in or out.” She grabbed Goyle and pulled him out into the corridor. Harry had always thought Millicent was an okay girl, despite the fact she was a Slytherin. He was glad to see he hadn’t misjudged her.

“Alright. We will also need a few people to search this compartment for clues. The people who do that should be as thorough as possible without disturbing the crime scene. If we don’t solve this mystery, the Aurors will want to see what this looks like.” Parvati and Padma, known for their attention to fashion detail, volunteered for the job. Harry was sure they would conduct a very detailed search of the compartment.

“Does anyone have any other ideas? Is there anything I’ve forgotten?”

No one said anything.

“Alright, then, let’s get to work.”

Harry and Michael left to interrogate Ron. Before they reached the compartment, Harry stopped and waited for Michael to join him. He said quietly, “Michael, if you have any questions for Ron, no matter how tough they seem, I want you to ask them. Okay?”

A strange look passed over the other boy’s face at this, but he said nothing. He simply nodded.

The two entered the compartment to find Ron sitting on the bench cradling Hermione’s head in his lap. He was still stroking her hair. His eyes were red from crying.

Hannah was busy cleaning the many cuts on Hermione’s face and arms.

“How is she?” Harry asked.

“She started to wake up a few minutes ago, but she was clearly uncomfortable. I cast a simple sleeping charm to help her rest until we get her cleaned up. She has a lot of debris imbedded in her skin. That should be easy to take care of. She also has a concussion and a nasty bump on her head. Nothing too serious.”

Harry nodded, too relieved to trust himself to speak for a moment.

He sat down on the bench across from Ron. “How are you doing, mate?”

Ron looked up at his friend, his expression haunted. “Why didn’t I tell her? I was going to right after…and then…Why didn’t I?” Ron put his head in his hands.

Harry looked at Michael, puzzled by his friend’s statement. Michael only nodded.

Harry cleared his throat and asked, “Ron, do you have any idea what happened?”

Ron spoke hesitantly, his eyes never leaving Hermione’s face. “I was walking down the corridor, trying to find her after the prefects’ meeting. The explosion…well…I went to the prefects’ compartment and saw that body and,” Ron swallowed and closed his eyes, “and Hermione.”

Harry asked, “So she was in the prefects’ compartment alone? Why weren’t you with her?”

Ron turned to stare at Harry, his eyes reflecting the hurt he was feeling. “Do you think I haven’t asked myself that same question a million times since we found her? If I’d been with her she might be okay!” Ron ran his hand through his hair, leaving it standing in odd peaks. “I can’t believe you think I’d leave her in danger.”

Harry reached across the compartment and placed his hand on his best friend’s shoulder. “Ron, I didn’t mean it like that. I just wondered where you were. Right now, you and Hermione are the prime suspects in that Death Eater’s murder. I’m just trying to figure out what happened here.”

Ron appraised his friend seriously, as if judging his sincerity. He gave a small nod and asked, “What was a Death Eater doing on the train?”

“We don’t know. That’s what we’re trying to find out.

“And we’re the suspects?” Ron finally seemed to be overcoming his shock.

Ron and Harry were surprised when Michael cleared his throat softly and spoke. “Well, actually, Hermione is a suspect. You have an alibi.”

The best friends turned, looked at each other in surprise, and looked back at Michael.

Ron spoke for both of them, “Hold on, what alibi? I was alone in the bathroom.”

“I know,” Michael said, “I was in the girls’ bathroom right next to you. I…I heard you.”

Ron and Harry spoke at the same time.

“You were in the girls’ bathroom?” Harry asked.

“You heard me?” Ron asked, his voice cracking.

“Well,” Michael continued, “I had to go. You know how it is, when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go.” Michael smiled sheepishly as Ron and Harry snorted in sympathy. “Someone was in the boys’ bathroom, so, after looking around to make sure no one was watching, I used the girls’.

“I could hear someone talking in the boys’ bathroom. The voice was carrying through the vent, so…I listened.”

“You listened?” Ron asked. Harry noticed that Ron had grown very pale, except for his ears which were bright red.

Michael continued, “Yeah, sorry, but I thought there might be more than one person in there. I thought I might get a good story for the way home.”

“How did you know it was Ron?” Harry asked.

“Well,” Michael said as he shot Ron a questioning look.

“He probably heard me practicing,” Ron said as he covered his face with his hands. His voice was barely more than a whisper and he sounded more embarrassed than Harry had ever heard him. “I was going to talk with Hermione.”

For a brief moment, Harry wondered why Ron would need to practice for a conversation with one of his best friends. Then, he really looked at Ron. He took in his red ears, his distraught expression, and the way he was tenderly touching Hermione and he realized the conversation Ron intended to have. “Really?” Harry asked, as he smiled at his friend. “That’s brilliant!”

Michael continued, “After he left the loo, I heard him move down the hall, away from the prefects’ compartment.”

“Well, that gives Ron an alibi, but it doesn’t tell us what Hermione was doing in the same room as a Death Eater.”

The three sat in contemplative silence for a few minutes, watching Hannah care for their injured friend. Michael, suddenly sat up straighter and cleared his throat. “Did either of you notice that Hermione is still holding her wand?”

Sure enough, Hermione’s wand was in her right hand.

“Do you think it’s possible that she blew up that compartment?” Ron asked.

“Anything’s possible, I suppose,” Harry said, “But I can’t believe she caused that explosion without a good reason. Unfortunately, the fact that her wand was out at all doesn’t help us prove her innocence.

“Hannah?” Harry asked. “Do you think Hermione will be awake soon? It would really help if we could ask her some questions.”

“I can lift the sleeping charm as soon as I’m done removing the glass and metal. Give me an hour or so, okay?”

“Thanks, Hannah,” Harry said as he stood to leave. “Ron, take care of Hermione. We’re going to go see if the others have found anything yet.”

When they left the compartment, Millicent told them the search of the train was finished and the DA members that conducted the search were gathered in the compartment next door.

“Thanks, Millicent. No one goes in, okay?” As she saluted, Harry and Michael turned and went down the hall to hear what the others had to say.

The second they entered the compartment, Ginny rushed over to meet them. “How’s Hermione?” she asked.

“Hannah says she’ll be fine,” he announced to everyone in the compartment. He leaned forward and whispered so only Ginny could hear, “Ron is in a right state.” He winked at her and she chuckled softly.

“Since you’re all sitting here so calmly, I assume there was no one else on the train.” All heads in the cabin shook in the negative. “Did anyone find anything? Ginny? Neville?”

“Nothing,” Ginny said, obviously disappointed. Zaccharias and Ernie shook their heads. When Harry looked to Dean and Seamus, however, he found them trying to keep from grinning.

“I take it you guys found something,” Harry asked smiling.

“Well,” Seamus said, “We actually found two things, but I’m not sure they’re clues.”

Dean pulled out a chocolate frog wrapper in a plastic bag. “We found this in the supply closet by the bathrooms. Someone must have been in there, and since it was a little early for a snogging session, we thought it might have been our Death Eater. We used Wingardium Leviosa to bag it in case we need to look for fingerprints.” Those in the compartment from pure-blood wizarding families were obviously confused by the fingerprint statement, but chose not to comment.

“What else did you find?” Harry asked.

Seamus continued, “It isn’t something we could bring here, but we thought it was strange. There was a footprint on the seat of the girls’ toilet.”

Harry and Michael exchanged a look. “That was mine,” Michael said, looking at his feet as he spoke, coughing slightly to cover his embarrassment. The DA members in the compartment exchanged questioning looks.

“It’s a long story,” Harry interjected, attempting to head off the inevitable questions. “It does help verify Ron’s alibi though. Thanks for searching the train.”

Dean asked the question on everyone’s mind. “Do you know what happened, Harry?”

“Not yet. Hermione is still our prime suspect, but I just have a hard time believing she’d do this without a good reason. Unfortunately, she’s still unconscious, so we can’t get her side of the story.” He sighed. This investigation was already taking a toll on him.

He looked up into Ginny’s blazing eyes as he felt her fingers lace through his. He offered her a weak smile.

“Harry,” she suggested, “let’s go see what Parvati, Padma, and Luna found.” She led Harry out of the compartment.

He looked over at Ginny as they walked. How does she always know just what I need?

He knew at Dumbledore’s funeral that she had understood his reasons for leaving her behind. He knew they still loved each other. What he hadn’t known, was if they could stand to be together in situations like this. He was relieved to see that they were going to be okay.

He smiled at her and squeezed her hand a little tighter. “Ginny?”

She turned and met his gaze. “Hmm?”

“You were really amazing when we first found the body. You were so calm and in control.”

“Thanks, but I was just trying to help Ron.”

“Well, you did a great job.” Harry took a deep breath and said what he really wanted to say. “Thanks for being here for me today. Thanks for helping.”

She offered him a sad smile. “Harry, I’ll always be there to help. All you have to do is ask.” He had a feeling she wasn’t only talking about today.

He squeezed her hand again before changing the discussion to safer topics. “So, Luna’s helping too, huh?”

Ginny giggled. “Oh, Harry, you should see her. She’s taking her job very seriously.”

They reached the prefects’ compartment. Glass still covered the hallway, but the Death Eater’s body was now covered with a cloak. Parvati and Padma were inspecting the exterior windows of the compartment. Luna, however, was nowhere to be found.

Ginny and Harry looked into the compartment through the shattered window. Suddenly, the face of Luna Lovegood, magnified by an enormous magnifying glass, appeared in the window.

“Harry! Ginny!”

“Hi, Luna,” Ginny said, smirking. “How’s the clue-hunting going?”

“Oh, there’s so much to see, it’s really very fascinating.” She inclined her head to the Patil twins and whispered, “They aren’t finding nearly as much as I am.”

At this, Parvati and Padma turned from the window and rolled their eyes. Parvati snapped, “Will you put that magnifying glass away? We’re not finding anything because there’s nothing to find. Sorry, Harry, but there’s just nothing here.”

“They’re just not looking hard enough,” said Luna as she resumed her magnifying glass-aided search of the cabin floor.

Harry and Ginny exchanged a bemused look. Harry cleared his throat, trying to be serious, and asked, “And what are you finding, Luna?”

Luna lowered her magnifying glass. “Well, the explosion was obviously created in the compartment. The glass in the interior windows was blown out into the hall. Most of the glass from the exterior windows was forced out of the train, except for that which was blown back in by the wind. The ceiling material,” she walked to a place near the body of the Death Eater and pointed up, “here, appears to have been vaporized. And all of the walls are dented outward.”

The Patil sisters were staring at Luna with a look of mingled surprise and respect.

“That’s great, Luna,” Harry said, “Did you find anything else?”

“Well, the carpet appears to be infested with Japaloons, but that’s not really important to our investigation.”

Ginny spoke quickly, trying to cover Parvati’s and Padma’s giggles. “Did anyone check…the body?”

The three girls shook their heads. “We just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it,” Parvati said with a shudder.

“I think we should,” Ginny said. “Maybe there is something that will tell us who this person is and why they were here. What do you think, Harry?”

Harry nodded glumly, not relishing the idea of touching the mutilated Death Eater’s body.

“All right then,” Ginny said as she bent down, pulled off the cloak, and tried not to gag. She reached into the pocket of the robe and felt around. In a matter of seconds, her eyes lit up and she withdrew her hand. It held a folded piece of parchment and handed it to Harry.

His respect for her shone in his eyes. Is there anything this girl can’t do? He unfolded it and began to read, his eyes widening as they scrolled down the page. “This is a list of Voldemort’s projected targets. It outlines his plans for the next month.” Harry gasped. “Oh, Merlin.”

“What?” Ginny asked, alarmed by the look on Harry’s face. “What is it?”

“Ginny, your name is on here.”

She rushed to his side and read over his shoulder. “Oh, Harry. This is not good. Mum and Dad are going to lose it.”

“Ginny, this is really serious. We’ve got to tell Dumbled…” Harry broke off, realizing, for about the millionth time since Dumbledore’s murder, that they could no longer look to the headmaster for help. He could feel the same sense of loss radiating from the other members of the compartment.

“Harry,” Ginny said as she placed her hand tenderly on his arm.

Harry shook his head slightly. “I know,” he said with a sigh. “It’s going to take a while to get used to him being gone.” He paused for a moment, then said, “But we need to tell someone. Maybe Auror Marple? She was supposed to be meeting the train.”

“Isn’t she,” Ginny began.

“Head of the Auror Investigative Unit?” Harry interrupted.

“I was going to say ‘A bit old’,” Ginny said with a smile.

“Yeah, that too,” Harry replied, returning her smile. “But we need to tell someone.”

Ginny could tell that Harry’s overprotective nature and misplaced sense of guilt were kicking into high gear and she wasn’t going to have it. “We’ll have time to worry about that later. Right now we need to concentrate on solving this murder. Why would a Death Eater be carrying a list like that?”

Harry agreed to follow Ginny’s lead and ignore the fact that her name was on the list…for now. “I can’t believe Voldemort would want information like that written down. Its’…”

Harry was interrupted by shouts coming from Millicent and Goyle. He looked at Ginny and the two of them ran to see what had the Slytherins so upset.

“Harry! Hannah needs you!” Millicent yelled as soon as he left the Prefects’ Compartment. “She seems really upset!”

Harry and Ginny rushed in to see what was the matter. Both of them secretly feared that something terrible had happened to their friend.

Ron jumped up when he saw Harry and Ginny. He started to tell them what happened, barely able to speak as his agitation made it difficult for him to breathe. “I can’t believe that bastard…he…he… he hurt her! I’m glad she blew him to bits! He…look what he did to her!” He gestured to Hermione.

Harry and Ginny looked questioningly at Hannah. She was bent over Hermione’s prone form and beckoned Harry and Ginny to join her. “As I was removing the shrapnel from her face I noticed this. Look at the bruising around her mouth.”

They noticed the pattern of the bruise as Ron spoke. “It’s a handprint! He had his hand over her mouth so she couldn’t scream. He pushed so hard he bruised her face!”

There was no mistaking the hand-shaped bruise on Hermione’s face. It was clear that, at some point during their encounter, the Death Eater had, in fact, covered her mouth with his hand. Ginny kissed her fingers and pressed them to Hermione’s temple. “Poor thing,” she said quietly.

Harry looked down at the floor and the room lapsed into silence. His friends were being attacked and, if the list they found was to be believed, Ginny’s day was coming. He had tried to protect them, he really had. He had failed.

Ron finally asked, “Why would a Death Eater go through all the work to sneak onto the train and grab Hermione? Why not just go for you, Harry? You would be virtually alone while we were in the Prefects’ meeting.”

Harry stood, lost in concentration. Slowly he said, “Unless I wasn’t the one he wanted. Maybe it was Hermione he was after all along.” He looked down and closed his eyes, trying to put together the pieces of this puzzle. He had the feeling he was on to something, but it was just out of reach.

As Harry looked at his friends, their trust and concern evident on their very freckly faces, he had a revelation of sorts, not about this case, but about his life. He needed his friends in his life. He was much better, much braver, much smarter when they were together. They were his greatest strength: Ron, Hermione…and Ginny. His friends were the love of which Dumbledore spoke.

Together they could do this. They could solve this crime. They could beat Voldemort.

For the first time since his third year when he had helped Sirius escape, a look of pure hope appeared on the face of Harry Potter.

He looked up at Ron and Ginny. “I think we can actually do this,” he said with a smile. “I don’t quite have it yet, but the solution is right there. I think, if we work together, we can figure this out.”

He met Ginny’s eyes and said meaningfully, “Will you help me?”

Tears sparkled in her eyes as she heard her earlier words in his statement and saw his love reflected in his eyes. She didn’t trust herself to speak, but she rushed forward and gave Harry one of the greatest kisses in the history of their relationship.

“Oi!” Ron said, “There are other people present.”

When Ginny reluctantly broke the kiss, Harry was able to stutter, “What was that for?”

Ginny smiled at him and said, “For realizing that you don’t have to do this alone. For realizing you need us…that you need me.”

“I do, Ginny. I was just so scared. That schedule the Death Eater was carrying made me realize that they could attack you whether you were with me or not. I was an idiot for trying to think I could keep you out of this war. By denying us this,” he gestured between them, “I was helping Voldemort win. Well, I’m not going to help him anymore.”

This time Harry initiated the kiss.

“Hey! I haven’t gone anywhere you know.”

Harry tried to pull away, but Ginny just pressed him to her and waved Ron away. After several moments of bliss, Ginny pushed him away again. “Alright, Mr. Potter. There will be time enough for all of that later. We’ve got a murder to solve, and if I’m not mistaken, you have some idea what happened.”

“Well,” Harry began, “What clues do we have so far?” He looked to Ron.

“Well, we know Hermione was holding her wand and that the Death Eater held his hand over her mouth to stop her from screaming,” Ron answered.

“Right,” said Harry. “What clues did we find in the train?” He directed this question at Ginny.

“We have the chocolate frog wrapper in the closet, Michael’s footprint in the bathroom, and Luna’s description of the explosion.”

“Okay. And we have the list of Voldemort’s targets. That’s the one that really gets me. Why would a Death Eater have a list of future targets? Knowing Voldemort’s all-too-forgiving nature, that seems like a pretty risky thing to do.”

The friends sat quietly for a while, each deep in thought. At last, Ginny said, “Let’s come back to that. Maybe it would help to think about the events in the order that they happened.”

“Okay,” said Ron, “The Death Eater gets on the train and hides in the supply closet eating chocolate frogs, waiting. Waiting for what?”

Harry picked up the story, “Let’s assume his purpose for coming on the train was to get to Hermione. Maybe he was waiting in that particular supply closet because it’s outside the prefects’ compartment. Maybe he thought that was his best chance to find Hermione alone.”

“So, he waited in the closet until he heard us come out of the prefects’ meeting and heard me go into the bathroom,” Ron continued, his face red with fury at the thought of someone stalking Hermione. “He knew Hermione was alone, so he left the closet and…grabbed her.”

“Right,” said Ginny. “He dragged her into the now empty prefects’ compartment. Why would he do that? And why did she have her wand?”

Again, the trio lapsed into silence. “Maybe he wasn’t here to hurt Hermione,” Harry offered. “Maybe he came here to help her.”

Ron jumped up from the bench, shouting, “Oh, yeah. He wanted to help her, so he grabbed her so hard he bruised her face. If that wasn’t enough, he then did something so terrible that it made her blow up the whole bloody train!”

Harry shook his head slightly. “I don’t think she blew up the train, Ron. Remember, the walls were all dented out and the ceiling was scorched right above the victim. If Hermione had cast any of the spells we know that could cause an explosion like that, it would have been directed at the Death Eater. Wouldn’t the wall behind him have been the only one damaged?

“I think the Death Eater did the very thing that I first said was impossible. I think he blew himself up. That would explain the scorch marks on the ceiling and the uniform damage to the walls.”

Ginny was excited as she began to follow this train of thought. “And, remember, his right arm was blown off, as was the right side of his body and head. If the spell came from his own wand, that’s exactly what would happen!”

“Great,” Ron huffed, “Now we only need to find a right-handed Death Eater who was willing to turn traitor by passing secrets to Hermione in the middle of the Hogwarts Express and we’ve got our man.” He rolled his eyes.

He completely missed the look that passed between Harry and Ginny as he said this. As she read the unspoken question in Harry’s eyes, Ginny nodded her head and said softly, “Draco Malfoy.”

“What?” Ron whispered as his shock seemed to take all the volume from his voice.

“You didn’t see him the night Dumbledore died, Ron. He couldn’t kill Dumbledore. Snape had to do it. Maybe he was sorry and was trying to make up for what he did.”

“Oh, come off it, Harry. When did Malfoy ever feel sorry for anything?”

Harry refused to be sidetracked. “If Malfoy was trying to make up for his part in Dumbledore’s death, what would he do? Where would he go? He’d need to find someone with the connections to actually use his information, but he couldn’t just walk into the Ministry of Magic. Who does he know that is accessible, connected to the Order, and logical enough to give him a chance to explain?”

A look of comprehension dawned on Ron’s face, “Hermione. She would be the only one of us that would ever give him a chance.”

They all looked to their still-unconscious friend.

“There’s still something I don’t understand,” Ron said, “If he was there to help us, why did he blow himself up?”

“I think that might be a question we have to ask Hermione,” Harry said. “Hannah? Can you wake her up yet?”

The blonde Hufflepuff just nodded, her eyes still wide with surprise at the theory the three friends had developed. She raised her wand and whispered the incantation to remove the sleeping charm.

Hermione moaned as she restlessly turned her head from side to side. Ron bent down, brushed her hair from her face, and whispered her name, urging her to wake up.

Her eyes opened and gradually focused on Ron’s face. “Ron?” she questioned.

“It’s alright, Hermione. I’m here. You’re going to be okay.”

“Where’s Malfoy?” she asked as she tried to sit up and look around the compartment.

“Take it easy, Hermione,” Ron said, easing her back down onto the seat. “You’ve been unconscious for an hour or so. You need to rest.”

“But…but Malfoy was here, Ron. On the train.”

Harry spoke quietly to his friend. “That’s what we thought.” He took a deep breath. “Hermione, there’s something you need to know.” He wouldn’t have believed it possible, but he was actually having a hard time telling Hermione that Malfoy was dead. “There was an explosion, Hermione. Malfoy…well, he didn’t make it.”

Her eyes widened in horror. “But…Harry…he was here to help! He was so sorry. You should have seen him.”

“We guessed that, too,” Ginny said. “Can you tell us exactly what happened?”

“Well, after Ron went in the bathroom, someone grabbed me. He covered my mouth and forced me into the prefects’ compartment. Then he…he reached inside my robes and I thought,” Hermione closed her eyes and shivered at the memory. “Well, I was terrified. I tried to scream, but I couldn’t. And then, he pulled out my wand and handed it to me.”

“It was Malfoy. He wanted to make up for what he’d done. He wanted to help us beat Voldemort. He was going to give me information about Voldemort’s plans, but he didn’t think I’d believe him. He started to make an Unbreakable Vow promising to help us…and…that’s all I remember.”

Hermione looked up at her friends, her eyes filled with tears.

Harry asked, “Hermione? Do you know of a spell that could kill a person who was disloyal?”

Hermione emitted a shocked gasp, but it was Hannah that spoke. “The Fealty Charm. It’s very dark magic and it takes a lot of power, but it is used to bind servants to their masters. If a servant tries to use their wand to betray their master…”

“It will explode.” Hermione concluded.

“So, Voldemort is responsible for another death,” Ginny said.

Harry responded with the words that would mark the beginning of the last leg of their quest. “And he’ll keep on killing…until we figure out a way to stop him.”

As Harry looked around the cabin, he saw the determined looks on the faces of his friends. He again felt a strong feeling of hope, hope that together they could accomplish anything.

He almost pitied Lord Voldemort.
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