She was more miserable than she had ever been in
her whole life. How could she have let this happen? Who had done this
A loud knock on the door shook her out of her thoughts and she wiped her eyes hastily. Whoever it was didn't need to know she had been crying. She opened the door hesitantly.
"May I have a word with you, madam?"
She sighed. "Of course, Mr. Potter. I'd say 'come in' but I guess we'll be short of space, won't we?"
The boy came in anyway, barely managing to close the door, as if he wanted to contradict her. He was now standing against it, barely avoiding touching her legs, since she had retreated into the cubicle and sat down on the toilet with the lid down.
The boy spoke then. "Well, it seems like that won't be a problem, Ms…?"
She smiled sadly. After all these years, someone had finally bothered to ask her name. How ironic. "It's Susan. Susan Austin."
The boy looked at her for a moment. "Would you mind waiting here for a moment, please?" She shook her head. "Good. I'll be right back."
Indeed, less than two minutes later, he was back, closing the door after him. "I guess we can talk safely now, Ms. Austin. Everyone's inside their own compartments and I'm fairly sure no one saw me. Would you mind giving me your wand now, please? Safety measures, you know."
She did so, handing it over hesitantly. "What do you want from me, Mr. Potter?" she demanded.
He seemed to hesitate. She was feeling very uneasy now. That boy was a lot smarter than she had initially given him credit for, which was good in a way, but if the murderer wasn't discovered… well, she could sense he would place the blame on her in the blink of an eye. "I just need information." He looked her in the eye. "Where did you board the train?"
The question caught her by surprise, but she answered it nonetheless. "In London. Mathias and I come from London every year to get the students home…"
Harry frowned. "May I assume Mathias is the machinist…?" he said, eyeing her oddly.
Susan nodded. Harry, however, was apparently far from done with her.
"So, when did you arrive in Hogsmeade, madam?" he asked.
It was her turn to frown. She had to be very cautious now. "Two nights ago. We usually stay at the Leaky Cauldron, you know, in London, one more day, but we wanted to pay our last respects to Professor Dumbledore and so stayed at the Hog's Head for a night instead," she said sadly.
This seemed to spark Harry's curiosity, judging from the way his eyes shone. "Then how long has that man been in the compartment, Ms Austin?"
Harry prayed she wouldn't realise he actually knew nothing and was acting upon a mere conjecture. He did have her wand, but there was no guarantee she wouldn't attack him all the same, and the space was pretty cramped. He would have to be attentive. Still, judging by the look on her face, he'd hit the target.
Susan looked at him, shocked. "Do you intend to say I murdered him and put him there? I didn't!" she whispered.
"Well, as a matter of fact, I didn't, but that's a possibility, you have to admit it. I hadn't thought of preserving the body with magic, but that's an interesting concept – and if he had been murdered before the train departed that would certainly have been needed. But I meant something slightly different, actually." He struggled not to shiver at the look on her face. "Why did you hide a Death Eater in there? Why did you keep students away from that particular compartment?"
Susan Austin cringed. "I did not…"
Harry put all his effort into keeping an emotionless façade, as if he hadn't heard her faint complaint. "Then how did you know it was a man? Because you had seen him alive! You always referred to the victim as 'him', but we both know it's impossible to recognise him in that state! Once and for all, Ms. Austin−" He was struggling to look at least intimidating now, and he was succeeding, judging from the look on her face. "What was this man doing on the Hogwarts Express?!"
Susan could not keep her tears any longer, and Harry knew then that she could act no more.
"You say you didn't kill him; what proof do I have of that?" Harry insisted with the crying woman, though he felt like beating himself into a pulp. He did not believe the witch could have killed that Death Eater, but he had to make sure. "You and the machinist were submitted to the same security measures as the students, I know that much. Was there anything else?"
Susan sent him a frightened glance. "Veritaserum. They wanted to confirm none of us meant harm to any of the students in the train, had done or would do something that could possibly endanger them. And we passed that test. The Aurors trusted us with the train. Why shouldn't they? Very few people are resistant to it, and our names sure aren't on that list!"
Harry bit his lower lip. That sounded as if she had evaded the question. "Yes, all right. But they would have searched the train anyway, so how did you get that man in here?"
Susan Austin's breath hitched. "Mr. Potter, I fail to see..."
"Would you just answer the question, damn it?!"
It was like something had exploded inside Susan and she could not hold her words in anymore. "He wasn't here when they searched the train, he smuggled himself in when we were told to come in!" she exclaimed, her voice cracked with emotion. "He was with us on the platform the whole time, invisible." Her body sagged in what Harry assumed must be defeat, but her breathing was so laboured and erratic that the boy knew she was still holding back on the truth.
Harry snorted in disbelief. He didn't know what to believe anymore.
"So let me see if I got it... you helped a Death Eater into the train and still told the Aurors you meant no harm to the students?!"
"He would never harm the students! He was my son!" Susan cried out, allowing the tears to spill more violently than before with a sob.
Silence ensued. Harry let out a shaky breath. This promised to be a very long story.
Harry nodded. "Yeah! Sounds crazy, doesn't it? But it does make sense!"
Ginny had been listening to Harry's explanation for a quarter of an hour now and it was obvious to Harry that she still couldn't believe the situation could get more complicated than it already was. "So, let me get this straight. This man…" She pointed to the door of the compartment. "…is the witch's son?"
"Yep," Harry answered. "We'll have to check this story with someone in the Order, though."
"Why?" Ginny's tone betrayed a mix of impatience and curiosity.
"She claims he was a spy for the Order, a Death Eater that could give information on the attacks planned easily, because he was not a recent addition but was also not too close to Voldemort – he was allegedly on the outer part of the inner circle, so to speak. In fact, he played around with some of the inner circle's memories a bit, according to his mother. Knew information that only those strict few Death Eaters knew, and by manipulating their memories to his liking he managed to raise suspicion towards them, not him. Well, at least he should have. His current state doesn't speak much of his abilities as a spy, does it?"
Ginny sighed, putting her head in her hands. "I don't get it, Harry! What is a spy for the Order doing in here?" She shook her head. "It doesn't make sense!"
Harry's nose twitched in impatience. "I'm not finished yet, Ginny. Susan Austin says her son, Marius she said his name was, refused to kill a child a fortnight ago up in Glasgow and had to flee the Death Eaters after he lost the chance to either kill them or modify their memories. Apparently, he had had enough and wanted to seek refuge within the Order. That's the reason he boarded the train, to go unnoticed…"
"… but someone found out he was coming and killed him. This is getting more confusing by the moment. For example, how did his mother prevent any students from coming inside the compartment?" Ginny was obviously in denial over the exposed theory. Harry couldn't blame her, but he still thought it was worth acting on that new perspective.
"I also asked her about that. What she told me was that that compartment was the one where she travelled and kept her sweets. Apparently, she always chooses one right in the centre of the train. She first works her way from the front to the back of the train selling her sweets and then settles down in there for the rest of the journey unless she's called. It must have been during that first round that she found her son dead in the compartment she'd left him in." Harry shrugged.
Ginny cringed. "Look, why don't we levitate the body into a toilet? I feels bad, leaving someone just lying there, Death Eater or not!"
Harry shook his head vehemently. "That'd be destroying the crime scene – I wouldn't want to meet an Auror ever again if we did that!"
"All right, you've got a point," Ginny said with a grimace. "Okay…I think we should take one last look at the compartment." The girl was pale, but Harry could see that, despite her comprehensible horror when confronted with the murder scene, she was itching to get her hands on whoever had dared commit murder on the Hogwarts Express. Harry wanted to get to the bottom of what had happened too, so he nodded and they headed towards the compartment where the dead man lay.
Before they had time to reach it, however, the train made such a brusque movement that Ginny, who was standing right in front of Harry, got thrown against the wall, whimpering when her arm made contact with it. In less than a second, Harry was next to her, checking it concernedly. "Are you all right? Did you get hurt?"
Ginny gave him a fierce look that shut him up at once. "I'm fine. I just hit the wall with the bruised part of my arm, that's all." She showed him the bruise. Harry frowned.
"Did you get that with Romilda?"
"Yeah, she threw me to the floor. Why?" Ginny asked in a disgruntled tone.
"Honestly, you needn't fight over me, Gin. I'd never be with Romilda, not while I can maintain my sanity, at least. And if I ever do lose it, you've got my permission to put me out of my misery before such a terrible fate befalls me."
Ginny stared at him intensely, as if trying to judge just how serious he was being in telling her Romilda did not interest him in any way. Harry knew he was a pretty bad liar, and hoped she couldn't detect falsity in his words.
"Anyway, how did she plan to approach me? We're not even friends!" Harry smirked, and immediately kicked himself mentally over how blasé he had sounded. Ginny's eyes, on the other hand, had just widened, as if she had remembered something very important.
"Harry… I forgot! She showed us the cloak in the compartment, your Invisibility Cloak!"
Harry's smirk disappeared almost instantly. "Ginny, how many people saw that cloak?"
Ginny's mouth fell open in shock. "Oh, my! Everyone in the compartment, I think! Romilda, obviously, me, Mariah, Michael and Zabini… Natalie saw it too, but she's already cleared. Whatever they did to him, curse or not, requires either power or force, and she possesses none." Harry stared at her for a moment, his forehead furrowing, then filed the matter away in his memory and entered the compartment.
He fully took in the scene for the first time. The man was sprawled on the floor, near the window, his face and chest to the floor. The enormous amount of blood came from both the smack he had taken to the head caused by the windowsill, probably when he had fallen, and a massive, hideous wound he sustained on his back. The wound on his back seemed to have been caused by an attack from upwards, but he couldn't be sure. He also recognised the wounds that disfigured the man's face as a product of multiple Diffindo curses.
He knelt down next to the body. The sight and smell of blood was as sickening as ever, but he managed to spot something he hadn't before: the man had something in his hand. Mustering all his presence of spirit, Harry took the corpse's hand in his and gently pulled some dark blue hairs out of it.
He turned to Ginny, who was standing behind him. "Well, he was attacked from behind, in the back. I daresay whoever did this is not short."
Ginny made a strange noise with her mouth. "Well, I'm off the list, then! Where're you going?" she inquired, for Harry had made it past her and was already at the door.
"I'm going to claim what's mine," he offered, and sprinted towards his intended compartment.
"Will you or will you not give it to me?"
Harry was becoming increasingly more impatient, for Romilda hadn't shown any signs of wanting to give him his Cloak. He finally reached his boiling point. Pointing his wand at her, he asked for it once again. Romilda hesitantly went over to her trunk and opened it.
The cloak was gone, just like he had expected. Nevertheless, this story didn't end here.
"Well, who picked it up, then?" At the sight of the baffled people in the compartment, he felt a sudden urge to growl, but managed to restrain himself from doing it. "Open your trunks, please, all of you. I'm not leaving without my cloak."
Reluctantly, everyone obeyed, after waiting for Mariah to get back from the loo. The result did not surprise Harry.
His cloak was in none other than Mariah Montgomery's trunk.