With Malice Aforethought

S. P. Smith

Chapter Nineteen: Home, and After

The Headmaster's office had never felt so tiny and crowded before.

Harry sat on a simple wooden chair, his right hand fairly heavily bandaged and his left drifting over to almost but not quite touch Hermione's hand. She of course was sitting to his left, and past her Ron, Luna, and Ginny. To Harry's right Seamus, Neville, Crabbe, and Goyle were all fidgeting in their respective straight backed chairs. All of their chairs were in a tight semicircle around the Headmaster's always imposing desk. Harry was fairly certain most of the other students were scared at the prospect of facing the wrath of their teachers. He was also pretty sure that Hermione at least was as overloaded and numb as he felt. He looked down and noticed that her trainers had pale pink laces. Harry wondered idly if they came that way, or if she bought them separately because she liked the colour.

Professor Dumbledore cleared his throat, and Harry brought his attention back to where his Headmaster sat calmly in his chair, Professors Snape and McGonagall glowering from over his shoulders. Harry looked around, and realized that it didn't help everyone's case of the crawling fidgets that arrayed behind them were all the Order members who'd charged Malfoy Manor that night. To Harry's unfocused eyes, it looked as though everyone was there.

Dumbledore put his hands flat on the desk, and addressed Harry directly. "Explain please, why you did this."

Harry answered, his voice starting out tremulous but growing stronger the longer he spoke. "I was... in my class with Professor Snape. I found out Draco Malfoy was a Death Eater, and he'd been the one to tell them where to find Hermione's family. To tell Voldemort, I mean."

"A couple of times now, I've fallen asleep away from my bed... away from the Mirror of Morgraine. Both times, I had the same vision; finding something important Draco had."

"That," Snape said with a snarl, "does not explain your unprovoked attack on my person. Did you, by some miracle of visual impairment, mistake me for Mister Malfoy? Or has your aim worsened to the point it can now compete with your academic skills for the title of 'Most Execrable in the Castle?'"

Several of the other students leaned forward in their chairs and craned their necks to stare at Harry. They hadn't known he'd attacked Snape, the single most feared teacher at Hogwarts. Seamus whistled silently. Harry cleared his throat before speaking. He just didn't have the energy left to even try to lie. "No sir. It was obvious they had some kind of a plan, and Draco was a part of it. I wanted to find out what it was, and I knew you wouldn't let me go unless... well, unless I knocked you cold first."

If anything, Snape's expression fell still further at this. Harry couldn't quite read all the emotions simmering in the Potion's Master's back eyes, but it was obvious he had been stricken speechless.

Dumbledore peered over his half moon spectacles at his wayward students. "You were thinking, unless I miss my guess, that the sooner you could face Tom, the safer everyone you loved would be?"

Harry nodded, then shivered. For just a moment, he could remember so clearly the sound of the stairwell collapsing. He wondered just what happened to Nott and Avery.

Harry's musings were interrupted by Snape's incredulous snort. "Just like that, you decide to toddle off the face the Dark Lord? You truly are as insufferably arrogant as your father, Potter! Did it not occur to you the most likely outcome would be your sticky demise?"

"Wouldn't matter much if I got him first." Harry shrugged. "And I had a pretty good plan."

Harry looked up to see Snape's disgusted glare, McGonagall's horrified look, and Dumbledore's penetrating bright gaze. He dropped his head. "Didn't work though."

Dumbledore swept to his feet, and came around the desk with as he spoke. "I think that is enough talking for one night. I should imagine that by this time there should be sufficient quantities of hot cocoa in your common rooms to allow you all a night to rest. This has been an eventful evening, and I see no point in belabouring it further."

Snape looked outraged. "Headmaster, you cannot be seriously entertaining the notion of packing these deranged miscreants off to bed with a cup of chocolate and a pat on the head? It's just as likely they'll have started a border war by morning!"

"I rather doubt it," Dumbledore replied with an indulgent smile. "I know we both have much to say Severus, and I know we both can wait a few hours."

Snape's lips thinned in a remarkable impression of Professor McGonagall's, but he nodded his acquiescence.

Dumbledore shooed the students toward the door, and they hastily got up and started filing out. Harry was amongst the last to make it to the door, and the elderly wizard stopped him with a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"It is insufficient, Harry, to find things worth dying for." Dumbledore focused his brilliantly blue stare upon the exhausted youth. "Reasons to fight and die are scattered liberally in every spot one cares to look. Far more difficult and more important is finding things to live for."

Harry pulled his eyes away from the Headmaster's knowing gaze, and looked down the spiral staircase where the top of Hermione's head was just disappearing from view. He looked back at the old teacher, and smiled. "Thank you, sir."

Dumbledore patted his shoulder. "Off with you then. We can deal with the consequences in the morning."

Harry trudged down the spiral staircase, bone weary. He looked at his good left hand, rotating it in front of his face. He'd just been struck with the Avada Kedavra for the second time in his life. It seemed he should feel different, more like the legendary Harry Potter everyone talked about. Instead he really wanted to eat something sweet, hug all of his friends, and maybe sleep for a day or two.

Nope, he thought to himself as he headed off down the corridor to catch up with the others at the far end, I don't feel at all different.

Harry caught up to the others just outside the Gryffindor portrait hole. It seemed, as he approached, that Crabbe, Goyle, and Luna were making their goodbyes. Harry shook his head. "Wait a second! You should come inside like the rest of us if you want. You don't have to head off."

"Yeah, but we want to," Goyle said earnestly, and Crabbe nodded vehemently to punctuate his friend's words. "I mean, we had us an arse-all pagga tonight, and didn't get nicked by the panda cars! We're going to be bloody important in the ol' snake pit!"

Harry shook his head. "The junior Death Eater's are going to hate you."

"Nah, they're no cop." Goyle shrugged. "They'll throw a benny alright, but I reckon they'll be afraid of us for a change. We plan on bein' cocks o' the walk for our last year."

Luna stared at Harry owlishly. "I just don't want to upset my house mates. If I stayed in your tower another night, I think my Prefects might explode. I've heard that can happen, you know. One moment a wizard could be talking, and the next- boom. Just like a Skrewt. But you're all welcome to come to Ravenclaw tower, if you like."

Goyle shrugged. "Yer not welcome in Slytherin. Sorry, but with tha' whole blasting doors down when you're throwing a wobbly, I don't think the birds'd appreciate your colourful presence."

"Oh, okay." Harry nodded slowly. Crabbe and Goyle stomped off, and after an extended spot of staring with Ron, Luna left in the opposite direction.

Looking down the staircase after the two Slytherin's, Seamus leaned in close and whispered to Harry. "Those two aren't all ropey, but it's like they can't speak Queen's English ta' save their lives!"

Harry turned slightly to stare at the earnest looking Irishman. After a moment, he shook his head and trudged into the Gryffindor common room. The moment the portrait swung inwards, Harry was gripped by the pandemonium of those Gryffindors left behind. It looked as if no one in the tower had tried going to sleep yet; they were all clustered around the gathering room. And as his friends filed in, it seemed everyone had at least twenty questions to ask, all at once, and quite loudly.

Harry managed to push his way through the crowd, and headed for his dorm room. It looked like Ron and Seamus were doing a fine job of answering everyone's questions and spinning quite a story about how the night had progressed. They were engrossing enough that Harry made it to his door almost unmolested.

Harry sat down on his bed awkwardly before deciding to struggle out of his torn and stained robes. He was trying to work out how to get his shirt off over his bandaged hand when the door behind him opened and closed quietly.

Tie off, Harry turned abruptly, eyes wide. He relaxed when he saw it was Hermione, and he put his wand back down. He smiled. "Hullo."

Hermione walked in quietly, sat primly upon Ron's bed opposite him, and tried to brush the soot stains unsuccessfully from the knees of her dungarees. She spoke quietly, not looking him full in the face. "I am furious with you! You promised us, promised me you weren't going to go racing out after Voldemort on your own, that you wouldn't push your friends away, and that you wouldn't keep secrets from us. You promised you wouldn't, and here you are, doing it anyway!"

Harry frowned. "When did I say all that?"

"On the carriage ride to Hogwarts, when we had you petrified so we could talk to you!" Hermione pressed her lips together firmly. "At the start of term, when I figured out why you were taking all these ridiculous courses! When I was crying and you were there! Every day for months, Harry! Being someone's friend means not abandoning them!"

Harry shook his head, feeling completely baffled. "I didn't mean to abandon anyone. I just wanted everyone to be safe."

"You can't promise things like safety, Harry." Hermione looked near tears. "You can't. You can only promise to do what you said you would. And running off didn't make anyone safer; we all came after you anyway."

"Hang on," Harry interrupted. "How did you come after me in the first place. I know the rest of you can't Apparate yet!"

Hermione nibbled on her lower lip. "We used Malfoy's portkey."

"Malfoy's portkey," Harry repeated in a daze. "Wait a second, the Death Eater TRAP Portkey? You used that?"

Hermione shrugged. "Well, they probably wouldn't have been ready to deal with eight students instead of just one."

"Probably?" Harry flushed. "You risked your life on a 'probably,' and you're reading me the riot act for being reckless?"

Hermione flushed too. "Well, I wouldn't have had to if you hadn't gone haring off on your own!"

Harry took a deep breath, rubbing his hands over his face. He felt overloaded, shaky, and more that a little mad. But he also knew she was right, and moreover didn't want to have a row with her ever. "Fine. I promise I won't run off without everyone if you promise you won't put yourself in danger like that again."

Hermione blinked, some of the angry flush leaving her cheeks. "That's it?"

Harry threw up his hands. "What more do you want? An essay?"

"No," Hermione said with a frown. "I meant, you're not going to argue with me about this?"

"Why," Harry said tiredly. "You're right, and I don't want to go running off anywhere. I just also don't want you getting curses thrown at you any more."

Hermione smiled slightly. "I don't want any more curses thrown at you, either."

Harry rubbed his eyes with his good hand. "Here's to that, then. No more curses."

Hermione smiled and sobbed at the same time, surging off the bed to crush him with another hug. Harry hugged her back, wondering what all her hugging meant, exactly. He stroked her bushy, dusty hair, and Hermione held the hug longer than she normally did.

Harry cleared his throat. "Um, Hermione? About that kiss earlier-?"

Hermione struggled to her feet quickly at this, straightening her hair and wiping her eyes as she did so. She backed away, leaving Harry utterly confused. "It's late," she said. "I should let you get some sleep."

"I don't really want to sleep," Harry said plaintively.

Hermione backed to the door, flushed again. "I should go. Goodnight, Harry!"

"Goodnight," he said as the door to the dormitory swung closed. Harry gave up on trying to struggle out of his demolished clothes, and sank back into his bed as he was. Despite what Harry had just said, he was desperately tired, and sleep claimed him quickly.

Even without the Mirror of Morgraine over his bed, Harry's dreams were tumultuous.

The next morning Harry awoke early to run as was his habit. He moved to push his blanket off, but the sharp pain in his hand stopped him. Blinking, Harry woke up just a little bit more and looked around. His dorm mates were sleeping soundly, and Harry himself was sprawled sideways across his bed, lying atop his covers and wearing his stained and smelly clothes from yesterday. He looked down at his bandaged hand, then up at the bare hook over his bed where the Mirror used to hang.

Oh yes, Harry thought, this is the morning after.

Harry rolled over into a marginally more comfortable position and stuffed his uninjured left hand under his cheek. He fell back to a fitful sleep quickly.

It seemed his eyes had no more closed than Ron was prodding him awake. "Mate! You're going to be late if you don't wake up!"

"Fine." Harry jambed his pillow over his face, leaving a smear of soot on the formerly crisp white pillow case. "I'll be late."

Ron pulled his well-worn robe on over his school uniform. "Hermione'll miss you at breakfast."

Harry snorted and pushed the pillow off onto the floor. "I doubt it."

Ron stopped as he was fighting to tie his House tie. "What are you babbling about?"

"I kissed her. Last night." Harry rubbed sleep from his eyes, slowly realizing Ron wasn't going to let him stay in bed where he wanted to be. "I don't think she likes me."

"Huh," Ron said, sounding genuinely perplexed. "Maybe you really are a terrible kisser."

Harry glared at him through slitted green eyes. "You're not helping, Ron."

"Wasn't really trying to, actually." Ron actually smirked a little. "I'm just trying to get you up."

Harry staggered to his feet, heading for the lavatory. "Arse."

Ron put the finishing touches on his tie. "Prat!"

A few minutes later, Harry staggered out of the lav, and found some clothes to wear. He held out the burnt and stained school robe, realizing it was the only one he had. Harry shrugged and tossed his old robe into his school trunk. He figured he'd just have to go without for a while. The dorm was empty by this time, so Harry left and headed down the steps and into the deserted Common Room.

Hermione was sitting in one of the armchairs, waiting for him.

"Er, hello," Harry said, blinking owlishly. It seemed odd to him, her sitting there waiting for him. She'd been quite keen on fleeing from him the night before, yet here she was, just sitting there in broad daylight, waiting for him. Harry cleared his throat. "Morning?"

"Yes, morning," she answered, seeming oddly flustered. "Breakfast?"

Harry nodded with a smile. At least she seemed not to be avoiding him, so Harry decided to consider that a plus.

Harry pulled the portrait open for her, and let her duck through ahead of him. He stepped through, surprised to find her loitering around waiting for him rather that walking ahead as usual. She fell in step alongside Harry as they descended the stairs. "I reread your note last, Harry."

His brow furrowed. "Note?"

"You left me a note when you took off last night."

"Oh!" Harry looked over at her startled. He'd forgotten all about it in light of everything that had happened since. "Yeah, I did."

"Harry," Hermione said casually. "In your note, you said you had a lot you wanted to say to me. What was it, exactly?"

"Never mind it," Harry answered dully. The way she had run away from him last night, he didn't really fancy telling her anything of what he'd been thinking the night before.

Hermione looked a little worried. "But I want to know!"

He sighed; there was very little Hermione didn't want to know about. Voraciously curious was how he'd have described her, right after beautiful, and caring, and... Harry shook that train of thought off. "Trust me, Hermione, you don't really want to know. It's not important."

She stopped him on the landing, hand at his chest. "Please? Just tell me what things."

Harry swallowed hard, looking down at her delicate fingers on his white shirt. It seemed a lot easier to write that note when he was fairly sure he'd never have a chance to put anything into words. And a lot easier before he found out she didn't feel anything for him. "Er, a lot of things, I suppose."

"That much was obvious," she said wryly. "Could you be more specific?"

"Alright, but stop me if I annoy you or anything." Harry straightened up as best he could, and fought to look her in the eye. It was harder than he would have thought. "Last night I was talking with Ron and Neville, and you dating people came up, and I don't know. I think I got jealous. Of the idea, really."

Hermione's eyes widened, but she didn't say anything so Harry continued. "So I thought about it and... Damn, I'm saying this all wrong! I guess I feel more for you than I should. I mean, I know you don't feel like that, so I'll stop now."

Hermione cleared her throat, and looked him straight in the eye. "Harry, I think you should know that I'm in love."

"Oh," The bottom fell out of Harry's world. "With who?"

Her nose wrinkled as if he was being oddly thick. "What do you mean, 'who?' You of course!"

Harry blinked slowly. He didn't think the bump on his head was making him hear things. He spoke tentatively. "Didn't you run away when I kissed you last night?"

Hermione rolled her eyes at him. "You were in shock, Harry. You might very well have kissed Ron if I planted him in front of you. I wanted to know if you genuinely liked me, or were just happy everything was over."

"Oh." Harry peered at her intently. "But you ran off again later, too."

"You were tired." Hermione pinked. "People act oddly when they're tired, or stressed. Some people don't handle stress very well."

"Some people?" Harry tipped his head a little

"Yes." She drew the word out as if daring him to say anything further on the subject.

Harry just smiled "Does that mean I can kiss you? And you won't run away?"

Hermione lit up in a bright smile. "I promise Harry!"

He leaned in and kissed her delicately. Oh, he thought, this is what all the fuss is about. Then she tipped her head a bit more to deepen the kiss, and Harry forgot all about thinking.

Eventually, Harry pulled back, red in the face. "Wow!"

"Hmm," Hermione said, deep eyes half lidded. "Yes, indeed."

Harry laced his fingers into hers. "We should keep going."

Hermione looked startled. "What, here? Now?"

"Yeah," Harry answered. "If we don't, we'll be too late for breakfast."

"Oh," She said, and tugged Harry down the stairs. "Yes, off to breakfast."

Harry smiled in sudden comprehension. "Did you think I meant-"

"Finish that sentence, Mister Potter," Hermione said as she blushed brightly, "and you'll be wearing your cereal instead of eating it."

"Well, yes Miss Granger!" Harry smiled and tugged at her hand. She held on to him, and he smiled wider just knowing she wanted to. "Ready to face everyone?"

"Of course," Hermione tutted. "I'm sure we'll be in terrible trouble for leaving school grounds, I only hope that the Ministry isn't vindictive. Even if they were Death Eaters, we must have broken a dozen laws, even if we are underage, they'll be sure to be-"

"Hermione!" Harry laughed a little, and shook her hand. "I meant, ready to face everyone, you know, holding my hand and all?"

Hermione looked down at their hands, suddenly silenced. She looked thoughtful. Finally she looked up at Harry. "I think so."

"Good," Harry said as the two of them crossed tot he doors of the Great Hall.

"I don't know," Hermione said, worrying her lip. "I imagine Lavender and Parvati will be insufferable. I can't stand a know-it-all I-told-you-so, let alone two of them! In my dormitory, no less!"

Harry kissed her again, happy to know he could. "You'll live." He threw open the doors to the Hall, and they walked inside.

FINIS