“You WHAT!!?” “Oh Harry, no!” exclaimed Ron and Hermione together.
Harry glanced at his watch and sighed. One hour out of Hogsmeade, the train wouldn’t arrive in London for another five. “This is going to be a far longer train ride than I thought,” Harry muttered to himself. The passenger coaches were eerily quiet, maybe a third of the usual number of students were riding back to London. Students from three of the houses were scattered throughout the train. Those Slytherin students taking the Express were all forward, in the compartments just behind those reserved for the prefects. Pansy Parkinson, as the sole Slytherin prefect, had taken charge of them. Theodore Nott, with a leaderless Crabbe and Goyle, helped as best he could. Harry sat with Ron and Hermione, in a compartment to themselves, at the front of the train’s last coach. Several fourth-year Hufflepuff girls were in a compartment halfway down the coach. Despite Harry’s earlier resolve to finish his task, the lack of a mentor to rely upon for advice weighed heavily upon him. And now, in reply to Hermione’s question about Ginny’s absence, he told his two friends he had ended his relationship with her. Everything was such a mess.
“It’s for her safety; as my girlfriend, she would be as much a target as I am,” he said ruefully.
“Is that why she was so sad when she Flooed to the Burrow with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley?” Hermione asked gently. Harry sat and stared out the window a moment, watching the scenery roll by. He sighed deeply and turned to look at his friends.
“Ron, she’s your little sister. How can you even think of bringing her with us? Ginny doesn’t know about the prophecy, she doesn’t know about the Horcruxes. She might not even want to know. Why should I burden her with that? Because she isn’t involved, she won’t be in danger. I didn’t want you two to come either, but I‘ve been overruled on that.” Harry gave them a brief smile. “It will be bad enough with you two. I can’t afford anyone else to worry about.”
Ron and Hermione started to speak simultaneously again. They stopped and looked at each other for a moment. Harry noted Ron’s nearly imperceptible head nod to Hermione. She turned her head back to him.
“Harry, are you sure breaking up is the best thing for her, and for you? You were happy, truly happy for the first time since,” she shrugged, “since I don’t know when. And she was, too. Remember what McGonagall said about Dumbledore wanting more love in the world? Instead of pushing her away, you ought to… to bring her closer.” His friends glanced at each other, and then back to him; Hermione worried, Ron expectant. “Maybe,” Hermione continued cautiously, as if facing a dangerous animal, “maybe keeping her in the dark about things isn’t what’s best for her. Or you.
“Don’t you remember after Cedric’s death, Dumbledore said we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided; that we can only fight those divisions by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. You hated not knowing things last year, you hated that no one trusted you. Despite everything she has done, Ginny knows we are keeping things from her now; that she isn’t trusted. You, of all people, ought to understand how that makes her feel.”
“Mate, the hands on our Mum’s clock have been at ‘Mortal Peril’ since you brought Diggory back from that graveyard. That’s two years ago, Harry, two years. Ginny has been your girlfriend for what, one month? Ginny is a Weasley. Our whole family are looked upon as blood-traitors. And we’re proud of that. We’ve always been targets, every one of us, regardless of how close we are to you.” Harry turned back to the window, once again watching the trees glide by. Ron and Hermione let him sit in silence. He knew they would wait until he had something to say.
Eventually he faced them again. They looked at him, Ron concerned, Hermione as if he was an experiment coming to a head. Harry opened his mouth, but closed it as he saw them share another look. Stalling to sort his thoughts for a moment longer, Harry wondered where that look came from. He first noticed it last summer, the morning after Dumbledore took him to the Burrow; the morning he told them about the prophecy. A corner of his mind repeated the term ‘that look’ and chuckled. They shared ‘that look’ only between themselves. Harry never saw it with anyone else. Not even him. "So”, he said slowly, “you think I am being a right prat about this.” It was a statement, not a question.
They shared ‘that look’ again, and then Ron said, “Well, yeah. That pretty much sums it up… ”
“…it's not that we don’t respect your concerns… ” interjected Hermione.
“…but if something was to happen to my family, and Ginny wasn’t at your side, how would you feel?” Ron finished.
How would I feel? thought Harry. “So what do I do now? I mean, I guess an apology is in order. And maybe some grovelling.”
“I suppose that would be a start,” said Hermione uncertainly, “but it is better if you do this in person”.
“What if I write to Ginny? To come and join us at the Dursleys'.”
Ron snorted. “Oh yeah, that will put you back in Mum’s good graces. Break her only daughter’s heart then offer to make her a ‘Scarlet Woman’? When she got through with you there wouldn’t be a single piece left big enough for You-Know-Who to bother with!”
“But, if I wrote to her and told your Mum, and Ginny, that you two are staying with me, as chaperones, how’s that?”
Hermione coughed nervously. “Harry, um… we… I um… there’s been no chance to break this news to my parents… ”
“…this won’t go over too well with Mum either. At least I… I mean we,” he nodded to Hermione, “are of age, but… ”
“…I seriously doubt Mrs. Weasley would consider us as… um… as appropriate chaperones,” ended Hermione, her cheeks pink.
Harry paused to consider this. “Ah. Yes. Right.” He paused again, and then continued in a rush. “Should I still write to Ginny? Not to invite her to the Dursleys', but… but write to her and ask her about plans for the wedding. Should I do it right now? Or at least when we get…”
A blood-curdling scream tore through the coach. All three were immediately on their feet, wands drawn, and looking down the passageway at one of the Hufflepuff girls. She was shrieking, staring at the rearmost lavatory, its door slightly ajar. She stopped screaming when she saw Harry and his friends running towards her. She pointed, and stared, at a large dark stain slowly spreading on the carpet. “Stay back” Harry ordered. “We don’t what that is.”
Ron flicked his wand and the stain flashed blue. “It's blood, Harry. Human blood.”
“What? Are you sure? What did you just do?”
“It’s the Sanguilum spell, something the twins taught me. Some of their um… more dodgy creations require blood as an ingredient. To make sure it is the right kind of blood, they use that spell. Human blood will glow blue.”
“Ron, that’s something you have to teach us. It will probably be rather useful,” said Hermione grimly. She turned and spoke gently to the shaking Hufflepuff girl, “Come on, I’ll take you back to your compartment and make sure you and your friends are safe. Harry, I’ll see if I can find a professor onboard and have them come here.”
“Ron and I will get whoever it is in there out, and try some healing.” With a worried tone, Harry continued, “But there is a lot of blood here; I don’t know if we can do any good.”
“Right,” Ron replied, his attention on Hermione and the other girl as they walked toward the Hufflepuff compartment.
“A little help here, Ron,” Harry grunted as he tried to push the door open. With Ron’s weight behind him he gave another shove. The result was the same. The person in the lavatory was apparently blocking the door’s swing and it wouldn’t open any further. Several more hard shoves failed to move the door an inch. Hermione returned to find the boys discussing ways to force the door open. She stopped well before the slowly expanding blood stain. “Honestly, Ronald. Are you a Wizard, or what?”
Ron turned and looked at her, not comprehending.
“If you want to remove something, what do you do?” she prodded.
“Reducto?” interjected Harry. Hermione rolled her eyes.
Ron pointed his wand toward the door and said, “Evanseco.” The door disappeared and a body fell sideways into the passageway. Hermione leapt backwards and gave a frightened yelp. They all looked at the person, stunned at the apparent injuries and blood still seeping from them. Harry and Ron hesitated, and then struggled to pull his body clear of the lavatory. Hermione, too repulsed to touch him, pointed her wand and floated his body into the nearest compartment, settling it on a bench. Sounding like she wanted to say something, anything, rather than acknowledge what they were seeing, Hermione chided, “Ron, you ought to be working harder on your non-verbal spells. Just because we are no long in school doesn’t mean we can get lazy. It is more important than ever to master the skill.” Harry knew Ron was as disturbed as he was, and waited for the angry retort. Instead, Ron looked over his shoulder at the lavatory and flicked his wand, the door reappearing. He wore a Happy now? expression as he looked at Hermione. He was rewarded with a smile and a quiet, “Thank you.”
Harry refocused his attention to the person… body, still dripping blood on the bench in the compartment. “Hermione, do you still have your Galleon?” he asked. “This bloke isn’t breathing, but he is still dripping blood. He can’t have been dead for long. His killer may still be on the train. Alert the DA and let’s see who shows up. We are going to need a lot of help to search the train and guard the students onboard.”
Five minutes later almost a dozen DA members gathered in the passageway outside the body’s compartment. Ernie Macmillan nodded his greetings to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Harry began an explanation of what had been found. Several of the DA members looked faintly sick as they realized what had made the large stain on the carpet outside the lavatory.
“Do you know who that is?” Neville asked nervously, peering into the compartment.
“Lets turn him over and see” Harry remarked, twisting his wand. A collective gasp escaped the DA as they looked at the body’s savagely slashed chest and robe. The man’s face was also badly beaten and slashed. Susan Bones dashed into the next compartment and was sick.
“A Carpet Mandrel doesn’t attack like that,” Luna whispered in horror as she gazed from the body to the bloody carpet down the passageway, and back.
“Does that…” gulped Ron, “that look like anyone we know?”
“Those injuries are pretty extensive. I think it will be impossible to make an identification of who this is… ah… was just from looking at him,” said Terry Boot who appeared to be fighting back his own nausea.
“Is he carrying any sort of papers or identification?” shuddered Hermione.
Harry reached over and lifted up the man’s shredded robe. A damaged Death Eater mask fell to the floor. He quickly pulled back the left robe sleeve, revealing a Dark Mark tattoo on the left forearm. A second collective gasp rose from the group. “I don’t think I’m too fussed over a dead Death Eater,” Harry said grimly.
“What should we do?” Ernie asked, his voice shaky. “Only six of us have any experience facing Death Eaters.”
“Five,” replied Ron. “Ginny Flooed home with my parents. You have the most experience with Death Eaters,” he said, nodding to Harry. “What do you want us to do?” The other DA members nodded in agreement.
“Everyone’s scattered throughout the train. What if we have the prefects get everyone together? It will be easier to protect us all that way,” Hermione suggested.
“Yeah,” agreed Harry, “do that. Take them as far forward as you can, get them away from this end of the train. Next, we need to know why there is a dead Death Eater on this train, and if he is alone? Neville, get the DA to search the train. Be vigilant, go in pairs! If you find anything, use your Galleon to let us know. Has anyone seen a professor onboard?” Harry was met with blank stares and shaking heads. “What about the prefects?” he frowned to shrugged shoulders. “I‘m going to talk to the guard. I haven’t seen a teacher either, not since we left Hogsmeade.”
The search for a guard led Harry to the very front of the train. The roar and clatter of the steam engine assaulted Harry’s ears as he stepped through the forward-most coach door and over the coupling onto the train’s engine. He moved into the engine’s cab and shouted to be heard above the din. “EXCUSE ME! ARE THERE ANY PROFESSORS ON BOARD?”
The driver scowled at Harry for a moment then shouted back, “STUDENTS ARE NOT ALLOWED IN THE CAB! YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE! THOUGH, I SUPPOSE YOU ARE LOOKING FOR THIS?” He handed Harry a wand.
Harry took it and asked in surprise, “WHAT’S THIS?”
“IT’S A WAND, YOUNG MAN. DON’T THEY TEACH ANYTHING AT THAT SCHOOL ANYMORE?”
“I MEAN, WHY ARE YOU GIVING ME A WAND?”
“YOU’RE THE ONE WHO LOST YOURS, RIGHT?”
“NO!” Harry replied indignantly. Wait, What? “SOMEONE LOST A WAND? HOW DO YOU KNOW?”
“THE STATION GUARD FOUND IT IN THE GRASS NEAR THE BACK OF THE TRAIN. VERY CARELESS TO LOSE ONE’S WAND. ESPECIALLY THESE DAYS.”
Harry determined to check with the prefects about a missing wand when he returned to the passenger coaches. “THANK YOU. I WILL MAKE SURE THIS GETS BACK TO ITS OWNER. BUT DO YOU KNOW IF THERE ARE ANY PROFESSORS ONBOARD?”
Err… “NO? NO, AS IN NO PROFESSOR’S OR NO, AS IN YOU DON’T KNOW.”
The driver rolled his eyes and Harry was sure he heard him grumble about students being thick between the ears. “NO PROFESSORS ARE ONBOARD TODAY. THEY ARE WATCHING THE TRAIN AND WILL BE AT KING’S CROSS WHEN WE ARRIVE. MY INSTRUCTIONS ARE NOT TO STOP FOR ANYONE OR ANYTHING UNTIL LONDON. NOW THEN, IF YOU PLEASE, I HAVE AN ENGINE TO ATTEND, AND YOU BELONG BACK IN THE COACHES!” With that, he made a shooing motion with his hand and turned away.
Harry remained standing there. No professors? When had he ever seen a professor on board anyway? Twice, the voice in his head replied. But what about the Trolley Witch? Where was she? Harry shook his head. No, she was unlikely to be any help. They were on their own until London. He had to talk with the DA again. Maybe they could send an owl back to Hogwarts or on to London. But what then? In case something else happened they needed to keep some owls with them…
“WELL?” His thoughts were interrupted by the now angry driver. “DID YOU THINK I WAS TALKING MERELY FOR MY OWN HEALTH? GET – BACK – TO – THE - COACHES!”
“WHAT? OH, RIGHT! SORRY, AND THANKS FOR… ER… RETURNING THE WAND!” Sensing rather than hearing the driver’s snort of disgust over the noise of the machinery, Harry made his way back to the quiet of the passenger coaches. Passing compartment C he noticed a smear of blood on the door handle and drops of blood on the carpet leading to the door. Harry put his ear to the door and heard sounds of someone ransacking the compartment. Figuring he couldn’t wait for help to arrive, tapping the handle with his wand, he whispered, “Alohamora,” then burst in shouting, “STUPEFY!” A boy not much older than Harry fell on to the bench, dropping a vial of disinfectant and trailing a stream of medical gauze from two bloody fingers. Harry bent over to look at the boy and saw he wore a Slytherin emblem. He pondered this for a moment then heard someone approaching the compartment. A voice called out, “Marley, you idiot, smashed fingers are hardly a mortal wound! What is…? ” Theodore Nott walked into the compartment to face Harry’s wand.
He looked at Harry then at the boy, stiff on the bench. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the compartment wall. “Well, well,” Nott sneered, “Saint Potter has taken to attacking random students, yeah? No teachers, so you thought you could get away with it?”
“A dead Death Eater is lying in a compartment at the other end of the train. He hasn’t been dead long and this bloke has blood all over his hand. What am I supposed to think?”
Nott stared at Harry for a long moment. He opened his mouth to say something, and then apparently thought the better of it. Instead he reached over and pushed up the boy’s left robe sleeve, displaying a bare arm. He looked at Harry as if to say well? Harry snorted, “I am to believe the son of a Death Eater?”
Nott pulled back his own sleeve and snarled, “My Father is a Death Eater, but that doesn’t mean I buy into the Dark Lord’s codswallop. This idiot,” and he kicked the Stunned boy “thought he would prank a compartment full of second years. Instead he managed to smash his fingers in the compartment door. I sent him here because I knew there were some healing supplies kept here.” Nott slowly reached into his robe pocket and drew his wand. “And now, if you’ll get out of my way, I will make sure this fool doesn’t bleed on anymore of the train and get him back to his compartment. Finite.”
“I don’t think so,” replied Harry coolly. “I want to question him about where he was and what he was doing earlier.”
Nott slowly shook his head. “You really are that thick, aren’t you! I just explained his alibi to you.”
“Yeah? Well… Hold on, what alibi?”
Heaving an exasperated sigh, Nott continued, “The alibi about his smashing his fingers? All Slytherin house students are in the forward part of the train. We have stayed there, too. You can check with the prefects, even those in your precious DA, and they will vouch for us.”
Harry stared at him, and then said, “Fine. Go.”
“Come on, Marley; let’s leave before the stupid begins to wear off on us.”
“Wait! Do all the Slytherins have their wands?”
“They should,” replied Nott slowly. “Why?”
“The guard found a wand near the back of the train before we left Hogsmeade. The driver handed it to me to give back to whoever lost it.”
“Let me see the wand. If it is from someone in Slytherin, I’ll probably recognize it.”
“You know all the wands in your house?”
“I don’t know all the first- and second-years' but certainly third-year and above.” He stopped and began to laugh at Harry. “You can’t recognize Gryffindor wands? God, Potter, you really are every bit as observant as Snape says,” he snickered.
Harry pulled the stray wand from his back pocket and held it up. Nott gasped slightly and his expression became guarded. “What? Do you recognize it?” demanded Harry.
“That wand does not belong to any Slytherin student on this train,” Nott said tersely. “Parkinson and I will check to make absolutely sure and get word back to Macmillan or Boot. Come on, Marley. Move!” With one last concerned look at the wand, he left the compartment.
Harry strode down the passageways toward the rear of the train and found all the non-Slytherin students settling in after being collected by their prefects. He saw Ernie and Susan, and showed them the unclaimed wand. They both said it wasn’t a Hufflepuff students' wand; they would check with the Ravenclaws, and Ron and Hermione.
“You know all your house’s wands by sight?” asked Harry incredulously.
“Of course,” Ernie said. “Surely you recognize those of your housemates.”
“Uh… well… not all of them. Especially not the first- and second-years'…” Harry trailed off, turning red.
“Ah, yes,” nodded Ernie, clapping Harry on the shoulder. “You do have other things on your mind now, don’t you?”
“Right. Well, I am going to search the dead Death Eater more carefully. Maybe there is more to him that just a mask.” Susan visibly paled and Harry swore he heard Ernie mumble “Better you than me, old chap.” It was very disconcerting to pass empty compartment after empty compartment, and Harry was quite relieved when he came to Ron standing guard outside the one containing the corpse. He had just begun to recount his conversation with the train driver when Hermione walked up to them.
“Everyone’s all settled up forward,” she said. “Nothing else out of the ordinary has been found so far. DA Prefects are guarding the students, and the rest of the DA is searching the train.”
“Thanks, Hermione. Harry, start over for Hermione’s sake, won’t you?”
Harry told them of the lost wand, the absence of teachers, and his run-in with Nott and Marley.
“Let’s see the wand,” Ron said. He and Hermione exchanges glances and then she said, “Definitely not a Gryffindor wand.”
“You know all the Gryffindor wands?” said Harry slowly. “By sight?” They nodded.
“You don’t, do you?” replied Hermione eyeing him shrewdly. “You don’t sense the individual traces of magic each person leaves in their wand?”
Harry suddenly remembered Dumbledore searching the cave with his fingers. “Magic leaves traces,” he murmured mostly to himself. Of course those traces would be in the wand too. How could I have been so stupid? “Well,” he stammered, “I do know yours and Ron’s, obviously. And,” he sighed quietly, “Dumbledore’s. But I never paid that much attention to anyone else’s magic. I didn’t think it was important.”
“That’s neither here nor there for now,” said Ron, slightly exasperated. “How are we going to contact the Order about this mess?” -- gesturing towards the body in the compartment -- “Normally I’d say let’s send an owl, but… ”
“…it would probably be intercepted,” finished Hermione, nodding.
“We need to have Professor Lupin, or Tonks, teach us the Patronus message charm,” responded Harry. “We could really use that now. Well, let’s see what else our dead friend has on him, shall we?” and he pointed to the compartment door. Hermione blanched and Ron pursed his lips then said, “Let’s.”
They stepped inside and Ron immediately wrinkled his nose. With a strained, higher than usual voice, Hermione admonished Ron. “Honestly! A body will not begin to smell so soon. It takes at least 24 hours at room temperature before putrification begins to create an odour.”
“I am not even going to ask how you know that,” grimaced Harry.
“No, it’s not that. I know that smell!” Ron said, ignoring Harry. “I just don’t know from where.”
Harry gave Ron a strange look. “Okay, um… we need search this uh… chap. I guess we ought to start with his robes. Ron and I will go through any clothes pockets, and then you,” he gestured to Hermione, “can give his clothes a more thorough examination.”
“Should we take that off him first?” asked Ron pointing at the man’s robes.
“I suppose,” Harry said, hesitant to actually touch the body. “It would be nice if there was a spell, or something, that could remove clothing,” he mused. A pink tinge on Hermione’s cheeks, and a nervous cough from Ron, made him decide not to pursue that topic any further. “Okay, Hermione,” he sighed, “why don’t you levitate him, and Ron and I will pull the robe over his head.”
Quickly feeling over the robe, the boys passed it to Hermione for a closer inspection. They began to pat down the rest of the man’s clothing.
“Ron, have you found the bod… his wand yet?” Hermione asked. “It isn’t in a robe pocket or sleeve.”
Ron glanced at Harry, who finished patting down the man’s trousers and then shook his head. “He doesn’t have a wand on his person, Hermione,” Ron replied.
“I’ll go search the loo,” said Harry moving toward the door.
“Wait!” Hermione said sharply. “We haven’t searched that part of the train yet. I don’t think it is safe for you to go by yourself.”
“Ron, come with me,” ordered Harry, opening the door.
“Ron?” Hermione panicked. “I am not staying in here by myself with…with that,” pointing at the slashed body.
“Nobody will be alone at this end of the train” said Ron firmly. “Hermione, alert Luna and Neville on their Galleons. They can watch this compartment while we search the back of the train. You are not going to be left alone in any of this,” he assured her, and gently squeezed her hand.
“Okay,” said Hermione trying to sound clinical despite the tightness in her voice, “these are the blood stains from when we brought the body out of the lavatory and into the compartment. That is the blood pool from the lavatory itself… ” Ron flicked his wand and the door disappeared again.
Harry said, “Accio wand.” Nothing happened. “Huh,” he grunted and called out, “Accio Death Eater’s wand!” Again, nothing happened.
Ron leaned over the blood pool and peered into the lavatory. He spent several moments gazing around the tiny room, and then pulled himself back into the passageway. “If there is a wand in there it is cleverly hidden. Somehow I doubt that bloke was in any condition to be clever.”
As Ron rematerialized the door, Harry noted, “There are blood stains from the rear door to here. Let’s see what is on the other side of that end door.” He leapt over the blood pool and Ron followed. Harry turned to see Hermione still on the forward side of the pool, looking pale and panicked. “Just take a running start and give it a go.” Hermione shook her head slightly.
In the same assuring tone Harry heard in the body’s compartment, Ron said, “Come on, luv, you can do it. I’ll catch you.” Hermione visibly shuddered. Then, not taking her eyes off Ron, she backed up several steps, rushed the pool and jumped. She clung to Ron, shaking, with her eyes closed. Ron gently stroked her hair, as he had done at Dumbledore’s funeral.
“So,” Harry broke the moment, “blood on the carpet here, but less than when we levitated him into the compartment. Those slashes are big; if he had more blood in him then, shouldn’t there be more blood here?”
“And, if someone was that badly hurt would he pause to shut a door behind him?” asked Ron.
“I don’t think so,” Hermione looked at the blood smears on the door to the rear coach platform and shuddered again. She used her wand to open the door, careful not to physically touch it. The door led to the coach’s rear platform. Looking at the exterior side of the door, they saw blood smears on the outer handle and upper half of the door. Stepping on to the rear platform Harry pointed out blood stains on the steps and smears on the step’s railing on their right.
“THAT IS THE SIDE OF THE CAR THAT WAS AWAY FROM THE PLATFORM. AND THE STATION GUARD FOUND A WAND BEHIND THE TRAIN BEFORE WE LEFT. I THINK WE HAVE SEEN ENOUGH” Harry shouted over the clatter of the coach wheels. They stepped back into the passageway and Hermione waved the door closed. In another moment they leapt over the blood pool on the carpet and were back at the door to the body’s compartment.
“Wait,” cried Ron, “did we ever see the inside of the loo door?” They looked at each other, Hermione shaking her head. “Mobiliportus,” said Ron, and the door moved toward them. Hermione tutted and Ron snapped, “I don’t see you trying a spell for the first time and doing it non-verbally!” He twirled his wand, as Hermione angrily huffed, and the door spun to show them the inner side. A large amount of blood had dripped down the inside; there were smears at the top of the drips where the body had rested against the door.
Her face ashen again, Hermione said quietly, “I don’t know what is more disturbing, the fact that there is no blood on the inside door handle, or that I am becoming used to seeing this much blood.”
Harry opened the door to the body’s compartment, “Let’s look at this chap again.”
Ron saw Neville staring intently at the corpse. “Neville, has this bloke said anything yet?”
“What!?” squeaked Neville, backing away from the body.
“How could we perform a Frankensteinal reanimation without a Bohemian Heliopath present?” Luna said in exasperation.
Ignoring her comment, Harry noticed she and Neville had removed the body’s shirt, trousers, shoes, and socks. “How did you do that?” he pointed. “The body wasn’t moved.”
“There’s a charm that removes clothing one piece at a time,” Luna replied. “Very useful when a Midlands Buzzsplatz flies up your sleeve.”
“Really,” drawled Harry. He looked pointedly at Ron and Hermione, who were studiously avoiding his gaze. “Pity I didn’t know about that sooner,” he said sarcastically.
“It’s a simple charm,” said Luna brightly, “I can teach it to you, if you wish.”
“I don’t think now is a good time, Luna. After we get to the Burrow, why don’t you teach it to Hermione and Ron?” Harry smirked. “I am sure they would be very diligent students.”
Looking puzzled, Luna asked, “Why would they do that…” her voice slowly trailing off. Suddenly her eyes grew larger that usual. “Oh… OH!!” she exclaimed, and stared at Ron and Hermione.
Now blushing furiously, Hermione stuttered in an overly cheerful voice, “Right! Well then! Uh… let’s get back to um… our um… dead Death Eater, shall we?”
“Do you know this man isn’t carrying a wand” Luna interjected. Harry turned to face Luna. “We searched his robe, shirt, socks, and trousers, but it isn’t on him,” she continued.
“Do all the Ravenclaws on the train have their wands?” Harry asked her.
“Oh yes!” she replied earnestly. “It would be very foolish not to carry your wand in these times!”
“So… the only person onboard without a wand is… him?” Harry pointed at the body. “Hermione, can you do the Priori Incantatem spell?”
Her face and neck still red, she replied, “I’ve never done it before, but I think so. Why?”
Harry pulled the unclaimed wand from his back pocket. “If he was a Death Eater, I imagine his wand would have evidence of Unforgivable Curses. Let’s see what we have.” Hermione looked at the wand very uncertainly. “I know you don’t want to hold it, I’ll do that. But you have to try, its important.”
She gripped her own wand tightly and told Harry to point the unclaimed wand at the compartment window. “Just in case,” Hermione said nervously. “Ron! Quit sniffing!” she snapped. “It’s not him, at least not yet.”
Ron frowned at Hermione. “I know that! But I know this smell, except I can’t place it!”
Hermione touched her wand at the unclaimed wand’s tip and stared intently for a moment. “Priorus… no wait. That’s not it.” She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “Prior Incantato!" A mist began to emerge from the wand tip. A series of bangs and pops sounded from within the mist. These were fading when a guttural anguished scream emerged. Frightened, Hermione dropped her wand, which clattered on the floor of the suddenly quiet compartment. Ron, Hermione, and Luna were staring at the dead Death Eater. Neville stared at Harry, his face wan, eyes wide.
“Harry,” he said into the quiet, “that scream? It sounded like you!” The other three snapped their heads to Harry.
“Somebody used the Cruciatus Curse on me, right before Snape and Malfoy escaped.” Harry’s eyes roamed over the man’s slashed face.
“So, the good news is we now know who owns this wand. The bad news is, it’s his. And the worst news is it tells us nothing about why he’s here, or why he’s dead,” summarized Ron tersely.
“Well, I can prove that a Carpet Mandrel didn’t do this. If you look at his robe you will see hairs or something on the front. Carpet Mandrels have scales!” declared Luna.
“Thank you Luna,” Ron replied. “We appreciate anything that narrows our search for this bloke’s killer.” Harry was impressed Ron kept a straight face while saying that.
“Um… yeah. Good job. What do we have here?” Harry peered closely at the robe. He squinted for a moment then picked one of the man’s shoes and muttered, “Silica Convexi.” He pulled a hair off the robe and looked at it under the transfigured magnifying glass.
“Put that magnifying glass away, Harry. I can tell you if these are hairs or fur,” Hermione said, her voice sounding certain for the first time since the discovery of the body. She waved her wand, most of the hairs turned green and a few turned blue. “Huh!” she frowned, “That’s not supposed to happen.” She tried the spell again, with the same results.
“What do the colours mean?” Neville asked.
“Well,” said Hermione slowly “if the hairs are human they turn blue, if they are animal fur they turn red. I don’t know green is supposed to mean. The spell’s description in the book only mentioned red and blue.”
“When did you learn that?” he asked in amazement.
“Um… it was uh… something I taught myself. In the hospital, during winter of our second year.”
“Yeah, what happened then? Did it have anything to do with you being Petrified, later?”
“No!” she said quickly. “That was, um… something different, a mistake I made.”
Ron moved behind Hermione and gazed down her back side. “Even in second year, there was no mistaking you had a nice tail,” he said softly over her shoulder.
Hermione blushed, nudged him with her shoulder, and muttered, “Tosser.”
Neville burst into a coughing fit and Harry blurted out, “Did you just - ?”
Luna, who had been staring out the compartment window, looked at Hermione. “That was quite rude. I had hoped you would have a mature influence on Ronald since you became a couple.” Turning back toward the window she said, “Obviously, I was mistaken.”
Harry looked at Neville and they began to laugh. Sitting on the bench across from the dead Death Eater, Harry took a breath, “I am sorry. I shouldn’t laugh, but this is too bizarre to handle! We have a mangled dead Death Eater, no idea how it got here, or if the killer is still onboard, Ron is flirting with Hermione, and Luna is taking her to task over bad language!” He started to laugh again.
His ears bright red, Ron had gone back to the robe stuck on the wall. He wore a puzzled frown as he ran his hands over the front of the robe; he occasionally stopped to sniff his hands, then the robe proper. “Something doesn’t feel right. This is too thick to be a seam. What the bloody hell… ”
“Ron, language!” Hermione chided, with a glance to Luna.
“ …our nasty dead git has a hidden pocket. There is a piece of parchment in here! Let me try to get it out.” He worried at a small opening in the robe’s seam and slowly drew out a folded slip of parchment. He unfolded it and muttered, “Bloody hell!” again. “Look at this!” He showed the parchment to the others. It was a list of names.
The blood drained from Hermione’s face; she began murmuring, “Oh no, oh no, oh no,” repeatedly, and started to physically shake. Ron wrapped her in a close embrace to keep her from collapsing and whispered soothing words to her.
“Are Finnigan and McDonald Muggle-born or pure-blood?” asked Luna, peering at the parchment as if it were merely a shopping list.
“Neither,” replied Neville, his voice unsteady. “Seamus and Natalie are half-bloods. Right, Harry?” He glanced at Harry who was now staring daggers at the dead Death Eater from the opposite bench. “Why do you ask?”
“Odd,” Luna said, her eyes staring into the distance, her voice calm. “Four Muggle-born, four pure-blood, and two half-blood; all Gryffindors.” Her eyes focused on Harry. “You are not on this list.”
“I imagine not,” remarked Harry dryly. “Voldemort’s marked me as his and his alone. No mere Death Eater is going to try to kill me.”
“Ginny’s not onboard,” Luna continued, as if Harry hadn’t spoken. “Are Finnigan and Brown onboard? I haven’t seen them.”
“No, they’re not,” Ron answered, looking up from comforting Hermione. “They left with their parents immediately after the funeral.”
“So this list does not reflect who is actually on board. Was he to kill you now, or at his leisure?” she muttered to herself.
Harry exploded, “THIS IS WHY SHE CAN’T BE WITH ME! DID YOU SEE HER NAME ON THE LIST? HER NAME. NOT MINE, HERS! VOLDEMORT WILL KILL HER TO GET TO ME.” He stared right at Ron and Hermione, his eyes blazing.
“She isn’t the only name on the list,” Ron said quietly. “We’re all Gryffindors, all DA members, and all the pure-bloods are considered blood traitors. Ginny’s name isn’t here because she fancies you. It is because she is everything those people despise.”
“Perhaps You-Know-Who reads the Daily Prophet,” Luna opined.
“What makes you say that?” asked Neville, sounding like he was afraid to hear the answer.
“He might think Hermione still fancies Harry. The paper was full of those stories in my third year. Poor Lavender!” she suddenly gasped. Luna took Hermione’s hand, looked her in the eye and loudly whispered, “If Ginny finds out Lavender fancies Harry… well, she isn’t as forgiving as you are, Hermione.” Hermione made a sound that was half sob, half laugh.
“Are you going to be okay?” Ron asked.
Hermione shook her head and sniffled. Wiping her eyes she said, “Maybe… no… I don’t know,” and smiled weakly.
Harry watched this exchange from the opposite side of the compartment, still simmering from his previous outburst. Abruptly, he stood over the Death Eater and began to punch his face. The attack was so sudden and violent, that he had landed three blows before Hermione cried out, “Ron, stop him, do something!” Ron was thrown off balance grabbing at Harry’s arm and put his hand out to catch his fall onto the body.
Harry was panting heavily from the rapid exertion. Looking at the four others, he snarled, “This will stop! I will have Voldemort’s head on a pike! I am so bloody sick of that bastard!”
Ron was still balancing himself with a hand on the dead man’s chest. “Eww, yuck! Tergeo.”
“Ron, wait,” Hermione said, in horror. “Put your hand on the slashes in his chest again.”
“Are you daft? Why would I want to do that?”
“Just humour me, please? Look at the pattern of the gashes in his chest. Now, look at the spread of your fingers.” Ron shuddered as he looked down at his hand. “They are about the same distance apart. A hand did this!”
“Or a claw,” added Neville.
“Definitely not a Carpet Mandrel then, they don’t have…”
“STOP IT, LUNA, JUST STOP IT” Hermione suddenly shrieked, then she began to cry.
In the stunned silence of that outburst, Ron cleaned his hand again. He squeezed Hermione’s hand for a moment, and then moved over to the robe on the wall. He sniffed again and put his spread fingers over the rips in the robe, pulling his hand across the material. “Greyback,” he muttered to himself, and then turned to face the others. “That smell, I knew I knew it. It was on Bill’s clothes in the hospital ward! It is Greyback’s smell!”
“Death Eaters killing each other doesn’t make sense,” puzzled Luna. “Clearly he was to kill the lot of you on the train ride home. Why would You-Know-Who send an assassin after his assassin?”
“This doesn’t make sense at all. Neville, you and Luna go forward and tell Ernie what we have discovered. Use Ernie’s owl to send a note to McGonagall telling her the same thing, including the names on list. Ron, send Pig to your dad, tell him likewise. Also tell them we don’t think Greyback is still onboard, but we are not completely sure.”
“But, Harry, they will probably be intercepted,” Hermione sniffled.
“Maybe,” he replied slowly, “but if Death Eaters are attacking each other maybe they don’t know what is going on, either. They might not be looking for owls. It is worth the risk, and doesn’t tell them anything they don’t already know, or would hurt us.”
As Neville and Luna walked towards the occupied coaches, Harry turned to Ron and Hermione. “Are you alright? I know that list upset you, Hermione.”
“I’m alright. It was a huge shock to see my name on that foul list. I’m fine.”
“No ,you’re not, but you will be,” said Harry with a faint smile. “What about you, Ron?”
“With my clock hand constantly on ‘Mortal Peril’? That list was nothing new,” he shrugged. “Mum and Dad will do what they have to with Ginny. What are we going to do with this… This?” pointing at the body.
“It’s evidence. We must keep it for the Magical Law Enforcement Squad. Or at least the Order,” said Hermione.
Ron nodded his head slowly. “I see, yeah. But what are we going to do with it until the authorities arrive? I mean, do we need it for anything else? Can we just disguise it until the end of the trip? I think we are better off staying with everyone else up front. We still don’t know for sure Greyback isn’t on board.”
Harry pondered Ron’s advice for a moment. What else was there to do with it? Then he snorted and flexed his sore right fist. “What?” Hermione asked.
Harry smiled ruefully, “Let’s get this thing to a different compartment and put a concealment charm on it. Can you take care of that while I clean up the mess here?” Ron was already levitating the body while Hermione transfigured the magnifying glass back into a shoe. “Keep that list with you, though. I’ll keep the wand with me.”
Harry stood at the door of the compartment. He saw the bloody carpet and lavatory to his right. He focused intently on the Scourgify spell and flicked his wand. Opening his eyes he saw not much had changed. He sighed in frustration wishing he had more Felix, non-verbal magic was easy with Felix. The voice in his head responded, Felix can’t make you do anything you couldn’t do already, it just helps you along. Harry remembered how confident he felt refilling the wine bottles in Hagrid’s hut. Using that memory he flicked his wand again as he thought, “Scourgify”. He was satisfied to see the stains on the compartment bench were gone. He cast the spell several more times until the entire compartment and passageway before him were spotless. He turned and headed forward to catch up to Ron and Hermione.
He found them two coaches forward. They watched closely as Harry tried in vain to find the body in any of the compartments. “I give up, where is it?”
Ron laughed as Hermione huffed. “It’s in the seventh compartment of the seventh coach,” he said. “I figure forcing a little good luck couldn’t hurt.”
“There is no such thing as ‘luck,’” Hermione muttered sourly.
“Spoken like a true Muggle,” Ron smiled. “By the way, did you know there is no such thing as magic, either?”
“Honestly, Ron,” Hermione huffed again, but she wore a genuine smile this time.
“Let’s get the DA and prefects together and figure out what we should do next,” and Harry prodded them forward toward the rest of the students.
“Wait, wait, wait,” stuttered Dean, as he looked down the list, a note of panic in his voice. “Let me get this straight. There is a dead Death Eater onboard the train, you think he was killed by Fenrir Greyback and he had on him this list of Gryffindors to kill?”
Harry looked over the prefects and DA members crowding the passageway of the coach. Nodding, he said, “Yeah, that is pretty much it. That is why you pulled the students together at the front of the train. We don’t know why Greyback killed this guy, but we are pretty sure he dumped the body in the rear-most lavatory just before we left Hogsmeade. Since you searched the train, we are also pretty sure he is not onboard. We have sent owls,” he gestured to Ernie, “to alert the professors and Aurors at Hogwarts and London.”
“What should we do?” continued Dean, his voice still shaky.
“We are doing the best we can, given the situation,” responded Neville. “Stay together, keep a constant guard, be ready for anything,” he shrugged.
“Dean, as an elder member of the DA, Neville needs your help,” said Harry. “Can we count on you?”
Dean looked at Harry for a moment, his face unreadable; he nodded yes. “I’ll send a post owl to Seamus and Lavender, warning them myself, as soon as I can.” He turned away from Harry and spoke to Ron, “I expect Ginny’s been warned?”
“Yeah, the same with Seamus and uh… Lavender, too. But Aurors will probably tell them only the bare minimum. An owl from you will better explain this to them.”
“Alright then,” said Harry, ignoring Dean’s slight. “If I find out anything more, I’ll let you know. Let’s get back to the rest of the students and hope the rest of the trip is quiet and safe.” As the group broke up and went forward, Harry caught Ernie’s attention and motioned for him to stay. “Ernie, are there any Slytherin prefects on board?”
“Just Parkinson. Nott is helping her.”
“Why was no one from Slytherin here when we called the meeting?”
“Ah. Yes. Well… Parkinson is refusing to speak to me. Nott said they had their house in safer hands than you could keep them. They are almost barricaded in the front-most compartments. It is a bit odd since that chap was found at the opposite end of the train from them.”
“It isn’t odd, Ernie, it is very suspicious. They know something, or Nott does at least, and they’re not telling us,” Harry snarled. He frowned as he caught Ron and Hermione exchanging looks again. Turning on them he snapped, “It’s true and you know it! I think you ought to have more faith in me after this past year.” They blanched under his fierce gaze.
Ernie coughed nervously. “Right. What do you think we should do?”
“I want to talk to Nott. Parkinson is useless. Earlier I ran across Nott in compartment C. I think he knows a lot more than he’s letting on. This isn’t some stupid school prank. We need to know. I don’t think anyone from Gryffindor can approach him, but you might.”
“Where do you want to meet him? I’ll get him there.” Harry raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Harry, this is serious. I’ll get him there, I just won’t tell him who he will be meeting,” Ernie said with a grim smile.
“Why do you think he will listen to you?"
“Well, Harry,” Ernie said, purposely sounding very pompous, “when I, as future Head Boy, order him to report…” Hermione rolled her eyes and Ron coughed while saying something that sounded very rude. Ernie smirked at them. “Ah yes, flattery will get you everywhere.” He turned back to Harry, his demeanour serious again. “I’ll get him there.” Harry nodded in acknowledgement. “Just tell me what you can when you’re done, alright? I need to know something about what is going on,” and he left the compartment.
“Smarmy git,” Ron muttered, the ghost of a smile on his face. “I don’t know how you would have put up with him while Head Girl, Hermione.”
“Ron! You can’t say that! Ernie’s a shoo-in, but there are others with better standings than me.” Ron snorted a laugh. “Well, that’s water under the bridge anyway,” she sighed. “Harry, what are you going to say to him? Ron and I ought to be there, too. I don’t think it is safe for you to be alone with him.”
“No. He would refuse to talk at all if anyone else was with me. Nott may not be a Death Eater-in-training, but he knows whose wand this is. I am sure of it. He knows more, and I want to hear it.”
“You are not going to go into a trap alone! He is a Slytherin and as you said, they are not to be trusted.” Hermione glanced up at Ron, nodding her head fervently in agreement.
“I won’t walk in on him. I will be there before he is. You do have your extendable ears on you, right? Listen in, and at the first sigh of trouble get in there. I will use the Muffliato charm, so run the ears under the bench inside the compartment. Hermione, use the Galleon to let Ernie know I will be in the first compartment of the sixth coach. You two can cover me from the second compartment.”
“Why there?” asked Hermione, puzzled at Harry’s choice for a meeting place.
“You’re the first child, Ron’s the sixth. Let’s make some luck!” He smiled and walked down the passageway toward the sixth coach.
Sitting facing the front of the train, Harry felt the Galleon in his pocket grow warm. Ernie was coming with Nott. When they entered the coach, Nott saw Harry and immediately moved to leave. Ernie stopped him and a fierce whispering argument took place. It ended as Ernie opened the compartment door and shoved Nott inside. He hissed, “This isn’t a game Nott; we need to know what is happening.”
“I’m caught with Saint Potter here, and I might end up like your friend in the last coach,” Nott hissed back.
“Ernie isn’t going to announce this to anyone and neither am I,” Harry said firmly. “Ernie, would you guard the door to the coach?”
“Where are your sidekicks, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee?” Nott sneered.
“Ron and Hermione are not your concern. They are working on something for me that you don’t need to know about.” Harry hoped Ron didn’t burst into the compartment that instant. “We won’t be overheard, Muffliato.”
Nott lifted an eyebrow in surprise. “Interesting, Potter. I hope you don’t mind if I don’t completely trust you.”
“At least we see eye to eye on something.”
“Then you won’t mind if I put an Imperturbable charm on the door?” Nott pointed his wand at the compartment door. “Let’s get this over with,” he snapped. “What – Do - You – Want?”
Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out the dead man’s wand. “You know who’s this is, don’t you?” Nott looked from Harry to the wand and back, his expression guarded. “Remember the missing wand? I guess it really doesn’t belong to any current Slytherin student, does it?” Nott remained guarded. “Why did Greyback kill this man?” Harry demanded. “He was after a number of us. Why stop that?” Nott shook his head slowly in disgust, but said nothing. “Your pal, Voldemort,” Nott gasped, “doesn’t really go much for free-lancers does he? It is not in his best interest to have people make it up as they go along, is it?”
“What would you know of the Dark Lord’s best interests, Potter?”
Harry laughed out loud. “You have no idea!”
“And it is in my best interests to keep it that way,” Nott said earnestly. “You don’t get it, do you, Potter? You don’t stand in the Dark Lord’s way. And you don’t ignore his orders!”
“What orders?” snapped Harry.
“You, Potter, are being saved for the Dark Lord himself to kill,” Nott said in a low conspiratorial tone.
Harry laughed again. “That is the secret you are guarding? Bloody hell, Nott! The bastard told me that in the graveyard two years ago.”
“Never defame the Dark Lord!” Nott shouted.
“Voldemort defames himself,” Harry spat back as Nott hissed.
Nott glanced nervously up and down the passageway. Seeing only Macmillan, who wasn’t within earshot, he whispered hoarsely, “Claybourne was supposed to follow up on Dumbledore’s death. A bunch of Gryffindors killed on the train would cause immediate panic, and ensure Hogwarts is closed. There is no Dumbledore to save the world now.”
Harry felt bile rise in this throat; Ginny dead merely for a senseless act of violence? “How do you know this? I thought you said you weren’t a Death Eater!”
“I am not one of those fools,” Nott growled, “but I have ears. I hear rumours and some things that are more than rumours,” he added darkly.
Harry held back a retort; he wanted this discussion over with. “Get to the point, Nott. Why is he dead and not my friends?”
“Merlin’s Blood, Potter. Are you really that stupid? Put two and two together for once. The Dark Lord is very angry that some of his followers don’t listen. Claybourne attacked you during their escape out the school gates.”
“Yeah? Already knew that. Thanks,” drawled Harry.
Nott growled again in frustration. “The Dark Lord gave Claybourne the assignment to kill your little friends on the train. In the meantime he was told of Claybourne’s attack on you… ”
“Snape, I’ll bet.”
“…Do you want to hear this or not, you ponce? The Dark Lord sent Greyback to kill Claybourne. The point had to be made to the others that no one defies the Dark Lord’s wishes. And no one wants to deal with Greyback either.”
“You knew all this?” Harry asked incredulously. “That is why you drew the Slytherins together like the WI? Is he, Greyback, still on the train?”
“I doubt it. But he is a bit unpredictable, even when doing the Dark Lord’s bidding. We didn’t know if he would take on Claybourne’s assignment, and possibly do more that that. So, yeah, I did what I could to get my housemates away from him.”
“And the rest of the students be damned?!”
“There is a war on, Potter. Stay out of the Dark Lord’s way and we, although not you,” he smirked, “we will be safe.”
“And that’s it?” asked Harry, astonished. “The entire train load of students in danger and frightened to death because Voldemort wanted to prove a point to his band of merry men? What about the list of students to murder? My housemates, my friends. Are they still in danger?”
Nott shrugged, but said nothing.
Harry pointed his wand towards the door. “Finite. You are pathetic. Your whole pure-blood cult is pathetic. Get out,” and the door slammed open. “You had best hope our paths never cross again. GET OUT!”
Nott swaggered out and called to Ernie, “:et’s go, Macmillan. I feel the need for a good bath after sullying myself like this.”
“You heard it all, I hope,” Harry snarled moments later as Ron and Hermione entered. Hermione looked as shaken as when she had read the death list. Ron’s expression was angry and grim. “We ought to be in London in an hour or so. I need to send Hedwig with this information immediately, interception risk or not. I’ll send it to McGonagall; she needs to know the danger to the school and everyone involved. Maybe there is something that can be done for all those on the murder list.”
“What are you going to tell Ernie?” Hermione asked in a weak voice.
“The truth. Or enough of it that he needs to know. Voldemort sent a Death Eater to murder students on the train, the killer and Greyback fought about it and Greyback killed the Death Eater. He wasn’t able to stay on the train as it left the station.”
“What are we going to do?” asked Ron, his voice tight.
Harry ruffled his hair and sighed. “What we talked about earlier. Stay at the Dursleys' one last time, go to the Burrow for Bill and Fleur’s wedding.” Harry scratched his head absently “I think I ought to try apologizing to Ginny.”
“What then, Harry, how are you, we, going to do this?” Hermione questioned, her tone worried and uncertain. “Everything seemed so sure this morning. But now with… with… How will we do this?” She wrung her hands.
“All this changes nothing. We still have four Horcruxes to find. I haven’t a clue how to go about finding those, let alone destroy them. But, we start at Godric’s Hollow. I think we will need to do some research too,” Harry smiled, and patted her on the shoulder. “And then, to quote a wise and beautiful witch, I am going to hunt Voldemort.”
A/N 1: My beta, Bronte, clued me in to the WI. According to the WI web site “The Women’s Institute (WI) was originally based exclusively in rural areas, but now exist wherever there is a need. The WI is an educational, social, non-party political and non-sectarian organisation, offering women the opportunity of learning, campaigning, friendship and sharing - not just in traditional interests such as arts and crafts but also in the latest developments in IT, health and fitness and science.” It sounded like the perfectly normal organisation for Petunia Dursley to hear the latest gossip and maintain her perfectly normal appearances.
A/N 2: This was originally written in response to the SIYE summer challenge, inspired by Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” I did not have it finished anywhere near the deadline, but continued to hack at it over the summer and fall. This is my first attempt at a “murder mystery.” I hope it makes sense!