Chapter Fifteen: Harry
"And you didn't see anyone else?"
I sighed in exasperation. "For the last time, the last thing I remember is walking into the room with Finnigan. No one else was there. Next thing I knew, the guards were forcing me to my feet and Finnigan was gone."
"And what was your reason for visiting Finnigan?"
"You know my reason, Blaise!"
He looked at me apologetically. "I need you to state it for the record."
I sighed again. "I suspected that someone close to me might have been involved in the break-in at the Emperor's palace, so I wanted to question him."
"Who was it you suspected?"
"Draco Malfoy," I said reluctantly.
"And who gave you permission to see the prisoner?"
Zabini sighed and set down his quill. "I hope I don't have to tell you how much trouble I'm in, Astoria—how much trouble we're both in."
"You think I don't know that?" I snapped. "I shouldn't have convinced you to let me question him alone. But you know me, Blaise! I swear to you, I had nothing to do with his escape!"
"I know, and I'll testify to that." He looked at me solemnly. "Best case scenario, I lose my job and am blacklisted from ever working for the Emperor again, in any capacity. I'll probably spend a few months in Azkaban on top of that."
I reached across the table to touch his face. "I am so sorry," I whispered.
"It's not your fault," he muttered. "I'm going to tell Yaxley to focus his investigation on Draco. Maybe he overheard something, or slipped through your occlumency—"
"Draco's not even in the country," I said, pouting. "He's invested in a charity in America of all places and went over there to see how his money was being spent."
"Still, even if he wasn't here, he could have helped orchestrate it." Zabini gathered his papers and stood. "Wait here for a few minutes, Love. Someone will tell you when you're free to go."
The moment he left, I was up, pacing around the room. I was incredibly restless, anxious to get out, find Ron and Ginny, and go to Harry. I also needed to warn Draco that he was the prime suspect.
Ages seemed to pass before the door opened again. This time, it was Yaxley. He asked me a few more questions, mostly about Zabini, but soon decided that I was innocent and could leave. I thanked him and tried not to appear in too much of a hurry as I walked to the nearest grate and returned to Malfoy Manor.
I'd already packed a small bag for our trip to California, and I grabbed it and hurried down the stairs. As I neared the main entry, I could hear a dog barking outside. A young maid stood in front of the main doors, seemingly not knowing what she should do. She jumped as I approached.
"Pardon me, Miss!" she stammered. "I wasn't sure if I should let him in, or—"
"I'm taking him out now anyway," I said with a small smile. "Master Malfoy and I will be gone for a few days. Tell everyone to continue to attend to their duties, but not to allow anyone inside the house, understood?"
She nodded, a confused expression on her face. I didn't offer her any more information, simply walked out the front door. Ron jumped on me and licked my face, but the reunion was short. We hurried to the gates and apparated.
The minute we were in the forest, he transformed. "Let's get Ginny," he said, reaching for my hand.
"First, what happened? Is everyone all right?"
Ron grinned. "Everyone's perfect. Luna took a nasty stinging curse, and Dennis Creevey managed to break a couple fingers, but other than that everyone's fine. Seamus says thank you."
"I'll tell him your welcome next time I see him," I said with a smile. "Where are we meeting Gin?"
Ron just took my hand and apparated. We appeared on the same seaside cliffs they'd been staying at before, but right in front of the cave. Ginny walked out of the shadows and approached us.
"Where's everyone else?" I asked.
"We decided it was best to move. We'll show you where when we come back," her smile widened, "hopefully with Harry."
I beamed at her. For the first time since I'd heard he was awake, I really started letting myself get excited. Seven years was a long time to be in a coma, but I wasn't worried where Harry was concerned. Whatever obstacles he might be facing, be it mental or physical, I knew he would overcome them. He was Harry Potter, after all.
I took both of my friends' hands in mine and apparated back to the forest. Draco had created new portkeys for us, and we quickly found them. Before we knew it, we were surrounded by huge redwood trees, and Ginny and Ron were staring up at them in awe.
Without even speaking to them, I took their hands again and apparated once more. The hospital appeared in front of us, just as I remembered it. We hurried inside, found the right lift, and climbed inside it. A few other people joined us, and it was torture waiting for them to get off. The minute we were alone, I pressed the combination Draco had told us, holding onto the railing preemptively.
The doors and passageways seemed to pass by in a blur. When we finally reached the dead end passageway, Draco was standing on the other side, grinning.
"He's been asking for you," he said. "All of you."
I ran, not waiting for someone to lead me to his room. Ron and Ginny followed, right on my heels. His door was open, and I burst in, shoving myself past an annoyed nurse. Harry slowly turned, his bright green eyes gazing up at us.
"Ron," he said weakly, "why does everyone here sound American?"
I let out a sound halfway between a laugh and a sob. Ginny ran past me, took his face in both her hands, and kissed him. Ron put an arm around me and squeezed. I looked up, and his eyes were filling with tears as well.
"Welcome back, mate," he said. "It's good to see you."
Ginny pulled away, and Harry rested his eyes on me. "Who are you?" he asked.
"It's me, Hermione," I said with a smile.
He blinked. "I remember you looking different."
We all laughed, taking him a bit off guard. "Good!" I said.
Ginny, Ron, and I couldn't stop smiling—we were too overcome with joy. Harry was happy to see us as well, but I could tell he was very confused.
"What happened?" he finally said after a few minutes. We had all calmed down enough to sit around the bed.
"What's the last thing you remember?" Ginny asked.
He looked at her with a painful smile. "I remember you. You were talking to someone, but you didn't see me. I was under the invisibility cloak headed to the forest—" He cut himself off, his expression turning to confusion. "I remember my parents, and Sirius, and Lupin—and a green light—"
He sat up straight, groaning as he did so.
Ginny gently forced him to lie back down. I reached out and took his hand.
"You died, Harry," I said quietly. "Or at least, you should have. You went to the Dark Lord, gave yourself up, didn't even fight when he cast the killing curse at you." Something caught in my throat. "Do you remember why?"
Harry stared at me a moment before slowly shaking his head. "No. I—I remember knowing I had to die, but I don't remember the reason—" His frown deepened. "Why am I alive?"
"Your guess is as good as ours, mate," said Ron. "We all thought you were dead until a few weeks ago."
"Did you kill the snake?" he asked suddenly. "Nagini? And Riddle—who killed Riddle?"
"Neville killed Nagini," said Ginny, her voice somber. "And Riddle—"
She cut herself off. Harry's face fell when he realized the truth.
"He won, didn't he?"
"He calls himself the Emperor now," I said. "And he's not just ruling the wizarding world—he's trying to take over the muggle world as well."
Harry tried to get out of the bed. We all voice our objections, forced him to lie down.
"I need to get out of here," he said, frustrated. "We need to stop him—"
"You need to rest first," I said sternly. "You've been in a coma. We're not sure if you have any lasting brain damage, and you'll need physical therapy—"
He looked at the three of us again, narrowing his eyes. I could tell he was noticing, for the first time, how much older we all looked. He stared at the scars on Ron's face, obviously old but new to him.
"How long?" he breathed.
Ginny, Ron, and I looked at each other. We all knew it wasn't Harry's fault, that the past seven years were no one's fault but Voldemort's, but we also knew he wouldn't take it that way. He would hold himself responsible for all the death, all the pain. He had been willing to die for all of us, but that wasn't enough for him. He would still blame himself for everything that happened.
"How long?" he asked again.
We all turned. Draco had entered the room, standing silently just inside the doorway.
"What are you doing here?" said Harry, a mix of anger and confusion in his voice.
Draco smirked. "I'm the whole reason you're alive, Potter."
The others were very quiet as Draco and I explained what happened—how Narcissa Malfoy had a change of heart, decided to keep Harry alive, and how Lucius went along with it. We went on to explain how Voldemort had gotten suspicious of them, killed Lucius, imprisoned Narcissa—and how Draco then took over. Neither Ginny nor Ron said a word—I could tell they still weren't entirely convinced by the story, but they trusted me enough to go along with it. Harry just listened, his expression unreadable. When we'd finished, he was quiet a moment before speaking.
"Thank you, Draco."
Draco raised his eyebrows slightly. "I wasn't really expecting you to believe me."
"I know more than most that who you are is a choice, not a destiny," he said with a weak smile, "despite how it might seem."
Draco returned his smile, and the conversation changed course. Harry wanted to know everything that had been going on in the past seven years, but we decided it was best to keep the bad to ourselves as much as possible for the moment. Because of that, I didn't really have much room to talk, since I'd been in solitary confinement in Azkaban for almost the entire time.
I didn't plan on telling him that any time soon.
While Ginny and Ron told him about Fred Junior and Teddy (he was living with Bill and Fleur and their daughter, Victoire, somewhere in the middle east) I stood and joined Draco at the back of the room. Even though he was obviously not part of the group, he was still smiling as he watched them.
"What's the smile for?" I asked as I leaned against the wall next to him.
He glanced at me. "It's just good to see you all together again."
I raised an eyebrow. "Draco Malfoy is sentimental?"
He chuckled. "Believe it or not, yes. I was always secretly jealous of what you all had together."
"From a distance, you seemed pretty happy with your cronies," I said with a small smirk. Almost immediately, my smirk faded. "But you never were, were you?"
"With those troll-brains? No." He shook his head. "They were only friends with me because of our parents. And I was only friends with them because—well, they were the only ones who weren't afraid of me, or my father I should say. I acted the way I thought I should, how I thought a 'leader' should act, but it never really felt—right."
He glanced at me again. "Every second I've spent with you has felt right."
I averted my gaze. We both turned our attention back on the others.
"Oh, Ron, you haven't told him your big secret yet!" Ginny said with a grin.
Harry furrowed his eyebrows. "What secret?"
Ron smirked and transformed. Harry's jaw dropped. Ginny laughed at his expression as Ron changed back.
"You are teaching me," he said in awe. "Merlin, Ron, how did you—?"
"Let's get you back to handling this body, first," Ron said with another smirk.
"That reminds me," Draco said, turning to face me again, "your time's running out, Astoria Greengrass. You have two, maybe three days left in that body. There's more Polyjuice potion already with Astoria's DNA in it back at the manor. I'll go get in and be back by tonight."
"Wait!" I grabbed his arm as he turned to leave. "You can't go back there! You're the main suspect in Seamus's escape."
"Of course I am," he said nonchalantly. "It'll be fine, I'll just pop in and out—"
"But what if they're at the house? I told the servants not to let anyone in, but I don't think that'll make much difference—"
"I'll be fine, Hermione," he said with a smile. "No need to worry."
I bit my lip as he turned again.
"Let me go."
"They still trust me," I said, almost pleading with him now. "I won't be interrogated if I go back there—they may ask me where you are, but I'll just say I'm not sure, somewhere in America."
"Just tell me where it is, and I'll get it."
"Why are you so worried?"
"Because I—I care about you," I stammered. "I don't want anything to happen to you."
He seemed surprised to hear me say those words, but not surprised enough to consent. "I care about you too."
"Well, it's safer for me than it is for you, so it's only logical I should go."
He was quiet for a minute before sighing. "Fine. Straight there, straight back."
"Straight there, straight back," I repeated with a smile.
I approached the others again and told them what was happening. None of them were happy about it, least of all Ron, but I assured them I would be fine. I gave Harry an awkward hug before hugging Ginny and kissing Ron. When I opened my eyes after the kiss, Draco had left the room.
It was easy to find my way back to the portkeys, back to England. When I arrived at Malfoy Manor, there didn't seem to be anyone there. As soon as I walked through the front door, however, the young maid from earlier jumped.
"Miss," she said, panic in her voice. "I know you said not to open the house to anyone, but I thought you'd want me to make an exception—"
"I'm sure Miss Greengrass doesn't mind me visiting. Do you, Astoria?"
I looked up at the grand staircase. Voldemort was descending it, his red eyes peering into my soul. I felt a flash of panic, but hid it away and bowed.
"My Liege," I said with a steady voice. "To what do I owe the honor?"
"Walk with me."
Reluctantly, I followed him into the study.
"Close the door," he ordered with his back to me.
I obeyed, my heartbeat quickening. When I turned back around, he was staring at me again, and his gaze was less than friendly.
"As you know, a very dangerous criminal escaped custody this morning."
"Yes," I breathed.
"What," he said sternly, "were you doing there?"
"I apologize, my Liege," I said quickly. "I should have counseled with you first—I suspected Draco might be involved in the break-in at your palace, but I feared you were losing faith in me so I wanted to find out for myself—"
"So you told my security," he said, raising a hand to silence me. "So Mr. Zabini testified to me before I sent him to Azkaban. And so, I was willing to believe it."
He crossed the study to where there was a small television in the corner. "Do you know why I've brought these muggle devices into the wizarding world?" he said after a moment.
"To garner loyalty?"
"That," his long fingers touched the television set, "and they're incredibly useful. I can make an announcement, organize a funeral, and the event is seen throughout the globe simply by the flip of a switch. Rather ingenious, wouldn't you say?"
My breathing was quickening. "Yes, my Liege."
"A similar invention of the muggles that I've found particular useful is the security camera," he said, his voice turning harsher. "I had one installed in every room at my headquarters."
"Then you know I had nothing to do with it," I stammered. "You must have seen what happened—someone knocked me unconscious, took the prisoner while I was out—"
"Yes, it did appear that way," he said. Suddenly, in three large strides he was directly in front of me, his face inches away from mine.
"But he recognized you."
My heart stopped. "He—he did?"
"'Merlin, am I glad,'" he hissed. "I'm assuming he was going to say, 'to see you'? Those were the words that came out of his mouth when you entered the room. Now tell me, Miss Greengrass, why would a member of the rebels be glad to see you?"
I was silent. I thought about reaching for Astoria's wand, but I knew it would do me no good. There was nothing I could do but stand there like a statue, staring into those evil red eyes, fear overcoming me.
He pulled out the elder wand and pointed it at me. I tried to take a step away, but he grabbed my face with his free hand, holding me there.
The assault was so strong, so merciless, that I started convulsing and fell to the ground. In thirty seconds, it was all over. He knew who I was, knew what Draco had been up to, knew Harry was alive—
His eyes were bulging. He let out a scream of frustration and anger, the most horrible sound I'd ever heard. I curled into a ball and shut my eyes, preparing myself for the inevitable—
A/N: ...yeah. Review!
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