Ginny said a quick "thank you" to Michael as
she left the compartment, eyes intent on the raven-haired boy walking
fast in front of her. Her head was reeling. Could it be that Marietta
Edgecombe was the killer they were looking for?
After briefly searching his pockets, most likely to make sure he had his wand and all the evidence they posessed with him, Harry slid open the door to the back right compartment. He seemed satisfied when he faced the occupants of the compartment, so Ginny assumed everything was exactly where it was supposed to be.
"Hello, guys. Which one of you was the first to enter this compartment?" he asked, ignoring Pansy Parkinson's imitation of his words in a terribly annoying baby voice that reminded Ginny of Bellatrix Lestrange.
Cho Chang smiled brightly at him. "I was."
Harry nodded at her. "Could you please tell me the order in which each one of you came in, Cho?"
"Yes, of course. First me, obviously, then Lavender, Marietta, Dean, Pansy and Gregory."
"Who gave you permission to call me by my given name, scumbag? It's Miss Parkinson to you!" Pansy spat from her seat beside the window. To her credit, Cho acted as if she hadn't heard her. The rest of them didn't contest what Cho had said, so Ginny assumed what she had said was true.
Harry looked at them shrewdly. "But that wasn't the order in which you came into the train, was it?"
"Marietta was the first to be called, but when I came in here she was coming back from the toilets. Couldn't hold it in, heh, Mari?" Lavender said in one breath, looking extremely pleased with herself.
Harry nodded and took McLaggen's dark blue handkerchief out of his pocket, wrapped around, Ginny knew, the murder weapon.
"Oooo, everyone step aside, big bad Potty's going to bring us to justice! Will you arrest us with your magical handcuffs, Potty, you naughty boy? Oh, I forgot – you probably have none, poor dear!" Pansy cackled. Ginny was incredulous. Only Pansy could stoop so low as to make sexual innuendo in such a delicate situation. She opened her mouth to tell the Slytherin to shut up, but Harry gently restrained her.
"Let the bitch bark, Ginny," he said calmly, causing her and the rest of the non-Slytherin occupants of the compartment to burst into fits of giggles. However, even through her mirth, Ginny could tell that at least one of them was extremely uncomfortable. Marietta Edgecombe had her hand politely placed in front of her mouth as if to restrain her laughter, but her eyes were darting from side to side as if seeking an escape. Suddenly, Ginny didn't feel like laughing anymore.
"So," Harry said while everyone was still coming down from their fits of laughter, "does anyone here recognise this?" He held up the bloodied letter opener. Immediately, Cho let out a high-pitched shriek.
"Mari, isn't that your letter opener? The one your mum gave you last Christmas?" she asked, eyeing her friend with surprise. Marietta said nothing.
"Could you come outside with us for a moment, Marietta?" Harry asked gently, in a silky voice very much unlike his own. The older girl nodded and made to follow them out of the compartment. Ginny noticed she was still barefoot.
"And bring your shoes, please? The ones with the high heels you were using earlier today?" The girl said nothing, but fetched a bundle from underneath her seat before following them.
Once outside, Harry cast Muffliato and turned to face Marietta. "Why did you take your shoes off, Marietta?"
The girl answered in an expressionless voice. "They were hurting my feet."
"Really? Let me see your feet," he demanded. Marietta scowled but lifted one foot at a time, letting Harry examine them. Neither foot presented signs of soreness, calluses or even redness. "They seem fine to me," he stated, staring at her with narrowed eyes. "Why did you not settle down in a compartment first and then go to the toilet? That bag underneath your seat and your trunk were with you, weren't they? Why didn't you leave them in a compartment first and then do what you had to do?"
Marietta looked at him with an expression close to disdain in her face. "I did, of course. I left them in my compartment," she said, gesturing towards the one they had just left. Harry eyed her curiously and then turned to face Ginny.
"Er... Marietta, give us a moment, will you?" he asked, his tone of voice making him seem embarassed, but his eyebrows shooting up furiously at Ginny, obviously trying to signal something was up and the other girl could not hear about it. However, when Marietta stepped away from them, dispelling the Muffliato charm around them, and stood leaning against the door to the next carriage, he only turned his back on her and faced Ginny full on with a pained expression. "I don't like this, she's way too calm," he hissed so low Ginny almost didn't catch it. "Wand."
"What?" she asked, befuddled.
"Lend me your wand, Gin. Please. Don't let her see, though," he said in the same tone as before.
Ginny, as inconspicously as she could, withdrew her wand from her pocket and deposited it in Harry's hand, which he had placed in front of his belly in an attempt to hide it from Marietta's view. Judging from the other girl's expression, either she had noticed nothing or she was a very good actress. "You realise you'd better think up an excuse for asking her for privacy, right?" she asked him quietly. "And why are we whispering when we could cast a Muffliato over ourselves?"
Harry shook his head almost imperceptibly. "No, it would make her even more suspicious if she realised we were obstructing the sound from her. Let her think we don't know much about this stuff or Merlin knows she might become nervous and do something unperdictable. I'm pretty sure it was her, Ginny. I just don't know if that's a good or a bad thing."
In front of him, Ginny clasped his hand. "Don't worry too much, that will not help us."
Harry nodded, grateful. "Say, will you check what she said about her stuff with the people in her compartment, just to avoid her becoming too suspicious? I don't like the idea of you being here without a wand. If she decides to attack, I have to be alone."
Ginny eyed him uneasily. "I'm not leaving you with a potential murderer. You'll not be serving as bait to get her to confess, Harry."
"I have two wands, she has only one and is not that great a witch. What's the worst that could happen?" Harry asked with a grimace Ginny supposed he must have thought was a radiant and confident smile. "Don't worry, I'm no defenceless eleven-year-old. Go talk to them, I'll call you if I need anything. Just don't stay too close to the door, please."
Ginny nodded and stepped toward the compartment in question, leaving Harry to walk in Marietta Edgecombe's direction. Ginny slid open the door, trying to conceal her unease as much as possible. "Cho, I need to ask you something."
The other girl nodded readily. "Of course, ask away."
"When you came in here, were Marietta's things already in this compartment?"
Cho stared at the redhead wide-eyed. "No, of course not. She carried them in later, when she joined us," she said as if it were obvious. Ginny silently thanked Merlin that Harry had split up with this girl. Not only would they have had no chance together, but Cho was also impossibly smug when it came to giving information, as if everything was crystal clear and the asker was just plain dumb.
Cho was saved from a rather angry retort by the sound of shouting outside, which made everyone jump to their feet and run out into the corridor.
On the other end, Harry and Marietta stood close together, wands pointed at each other's heads. Marietta was shouting like a woman possessed.
"...YOU SHOULD BE THANKING ME! I GOT RID OF A FUCKING DEATH EATER, AN ENEMY, POTTER, AND THIS IS THE REWARD I GET, BEING ASKED TO HAND OVER MY WAND TO YOU? HELL WILL FREEZE OVER BEFORE I EVEN CONSIDER DOING THAT! YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME, CHOSEN ONE OR NOT, YOU HEAR ME? YOU HEAR ME?!" she yelled.
Harry just shook his head sadly. "The Aurors know what I'm doing, Marietta, and they will conduct a real investigation, you know that. You stand no chance!"
"Oh yeah? You mean like when I stood no chance when I told Umbridge about you and your Dumb Army? When you betrayed me and I got these... things on my face without ever being warned it would happen? I shouldn't have even done this for you, but I did, 'cause I somehow thought everything would be all right if I proved my allegiance to you, Potter! I'd hoped I'd come back to normal! Do you know what it's like to be stared at all the time, ridiculed, laughed at? THE HELL YOU DO!" Marietta had started to cry in her rage and her wand hand shook vehemently, but she did not lower it.
"As a matter of fact," Harry said calmly, "I do."
Harry's sentence managed to shock the seventh-year Ravenclaw so much that she stopped crying. "What...?"
"I know what it's like to be stared at, ridiculed and laughed at, Marietta, and I'm still here, still doing what feels right to me, as are many others," Harry continued, evidently trying to get her to see sense. "Now please tell me, did you at least do this in self-defence? How did you know he was a Death Eater?"
Marietta seemed taken aback by the question. "He fanned himself and the sleeve of his robe fell to his elbow. Said it was hot inside the compartment, asked me to open the window while he got some juice for us both. I saw him draw his wand, I actually thought he was going to kill me, but he shot an Obliviate at me. It didn't work, and do you know what the guy did? He laughed and told me to sit down while he went to fetch something for us to drink. Can you imagine that? That guy was insane, and I told him so, and you know what he did? He fed me some bullshit story about being a spy for the Order of the Phoenix! Of course I killed him first chance I got, anyone would have done the same in my place!"
Ginny didn't want to believe what she was hearing. "You're the one who's insane here! Any normal person would have Stunned him and contacted the authorities! Did you not consider for a second that he might be telling the truth? Why would he even keep you alive, why not go on a killing spree if he was really a Death Eater?"
Marietta turned her head slightly to look at her and Ginny knew at that moment that the girl really was insane. "How would I know? Don't ask me to think like a criminal, Weasley!"
"You are a criminal, Edgecombe. Who walks around with a fucking letter opener in their handbag, for Merlin's sake? In denial much?" drawled Zabini, seemingly highly amused by the whole situation. He was probably trying to unnerve her to the point of blowing herself and Harry up, Ginny realised. Bastard.
To her dismay, Zabini's apparent plan was partially successful, as Marietta got so unnerved that her wand shot sparks from its tip and struck Harry, making him press both hands to his face in pain. No longer under threat, given that Harry's wand was no longer pointed at her, Marietta wasted no time in snatching the boy's wand from his momentarily unresisting fingers and pointing it at her audience while keeping her own pointed at him.
"I hate you, Harry Potter. You are nothing but a farce! Diffi... ARGH!"
From behind her, the door to one of the toilet stalls had slid open, revealing Susan Austin, who slammed into the insane girl, making her lose her balance and fail to complete the charm. It was more than enough time for Harry to recompose himself, Ginny realised. As if in slow motion, she saw Marietta and the witch fall clumsily to the floor, while Harry shook Ginny's wand down his sleeve and into his hand and fired a Stupefy at the duo, who fell limp, followed by the Disarming Charm.
"Expelliarmus!" he roared, retrieving both their wands as well as his own and separating them according to the owner. Meanwhile, Natalie, Anne, Liam, Leanne and Mariah levitated Susan into one of their compartments, seemingly agreeing that she actually needed the rest. The others, with the exception of the three Slytherin students and Romilda Vane, who was allegedly in need of Harry-applied CPR, hurried to move Marietta into another one of the compartments, Justin, Corner and McLaggen offering to watch her for the rest of the trip, which was almost at an end, anyway.
After assuring Edgecombe wouldn't run away with an Incarcerous, Harry walked over to Ginny, her wand in his extended hand.
"Thanks a lot, Gin. I had a feeling it would help. Sorry for... you know..." Harry scratched his head absently and looked at the floor as if ashamed, though Ginny knew he really wasn't. If there was something about Harry she liked, it was that he refused to be ashamed of what he thought was right.
"What, leaving me wandless in the presence of a murderer but saving everyone in the process? You're forgiven, Harry. I'm glad I could help. Just please don't pull a repeat performance anytime soon." She winked at him, feeling extremely glad he had managed to figure everything out without anyone else getting hurt.
Harry looked up at her with a small smile. "I'm not going to be able to stay away from you, am I?" he murmured quietly.
Ginny smiled. "Not a chance in the world, Mr. Potter." She said.
From behind them, Dean called out, breaking their intimate moment much too gleefully in her opinion. "Oy! You lovey-doveys there! Fancy playing Exploding Snap with us mortals?"
Ginny was stricken, having forgotten they were not alone. From beside her, Harry let out a deep, sincere bout of laughter, taking her hand and leading her towards the circle of students sitting on the corridor floor. She sighed contentedly.
All would be well.
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