She could do tricks. She was really good.
She was also sort of hot, whoever she was. Tall and smoke-voiced and corkscrew-curled dark hair that fell across her forehead like waves so that she had perpetually to use whichever hand was free of cards or wand or rings to brush it out of her eyes.
He guessed that was part of the secret of the tricks.
He'd done some magic when he was young; it was one of the things they had all been into at that school.
But that was a time of his life he did not want to think about, because it made something deep inside him ache with loss.
For the longest time, he did not move from the door. There was a card game going on in the other bar and maybe he could get some of his losses back if he sat back down before he got too drunk.
He had never had much luck with cards, even when he could do tricks.
He felt a waiter's eyes on him and, shamed, moved to one of the empty tables near the stage.
She was familiar, but he did not know her, even when she caught his eye and gave him a wink, as if they were both playing against everyone else in the room.
Later, she came and sat with him, bought him more drinks.
'Ronald,' she said.
'That's my name,' he said. 'But how did you know it?'
She waved behind her at the equipment she had left behind on the now unlighted stage.
'I can do magic,' she said.
She sipped her pink cocktail and smiled in a way that made him uncomfortable; he knocked his brandy back in a quick slug and she waved her hand over his glass and it was full again.
Nervously he stared across at her; she caught his eye again and he looked down abashed, only to find himself staring at the sequinned net that only partly covered her breasts.
' And they,' she said with a giggle,' they were my best trick.'
Much later, and he found himself confused about the sequence of events, they were in his room, and his tongue was in her mouth and she was holding him in one firm hand while the other pinched delicately at the firm flesh behind his ear.
'You can call me Hermione,' she said, as he felt himself burning and swollen and then gushed with pleasure and relief.
Later still, as the room span around him, he felt her cock delicate but steely between the cheeks of his arse and groaned with pleasure and relief as she plunged into him.
Some things you make yourself forget, he thought, and there was nothing to be afraid of, nothing at all.
'Magic,' Ron said.
'When you are older,' Father Severus said, ' if you choose the right path, this is a transformation you will be able to do for yourself.'
He opened the small round box and checked that the cup was full.
'But for now,' he said, ' all you are worthy to do is ring the bell at the appropriate moment.'
Harry blushed with pride at being part of this, the most important thing in the world.
Saving the world from Darkness. Bringing back salvation.
'He's lying to you again,' said a voice in his ear that might be Hermione or might be just his own thoughts. 'You are better than what he wants of you.'
So much of the time, their voices were telling him the same things, only one to help him and the other to make him bleed inside.
It made it hard to tell them apart, because whatever they said, it was always painful. He was no longer sure that there was such a thing as a good pain.
He fought to concentrate.
If he faltered, Severus would punish him. If he was good, Severus would be kind, afterwards.
But everything seemed to go well.
Later, Harry slipped out of his own robe, and then aided Severus in the slow delicate ritual of undressing and kissing some garments before they were folded and put away.
It was all part of the same ritual, part of what happened between them every day and every evening.
'You don't have to do anything you don't want to,' a voice said in his ear that was definitely Hermione.
Under the rich robes, Severus was wearing his ordinary black one. He took the folded lace from Harry and walked across the room to lock it away. The lace, he had once said, was even more valuable than the cup.
'Why can't I see you?' Harry said, his words covered by the creak of the ornate key in the unoiled lock.
' I am invisible,' said Hermione in his head. ' And I can be in two places at once.'
Her whisper came from now his left ear and now his right.
'I am here to save more than one innocent,' she said. 'Back across time.'
Harry decided that she was a liar too; he had not been an innocent for months.
Severus stalked back to the centre of the room, smiling in a way that hid all but the hint of teeth Harry knew to be sharp.
' And now after I have shown you the greatest of transformations,' he said, 'it's time for you to work your own small charm. Or shall I talk to the headmaster again about the bad influence of your friends?'
He was such a liar, Harry thought.
Harry had done whatever he said, and Ron had still had to leave after Father Severus saw them out of bounds in the village.
The priest looked down at him with an owner's glee.
'After all,' he said, ' I am your instructor and father and friend. I am all you will ever need.'
And there would always be the mark on Harry's forehead.
'I will always be here for you,' said Hermione in Harry's head.
And perhaps, Harry thought, all of this is necessary. The world has to be saved, and it is rituals that hold it in place.
The sign etched into the glass of the door said 'Bad Faith Investigations.'
Neville hesitated outside for a moment, then checked his shoelaces and that his shirt was tucked in. It was impressive, Ron thought, that the actor managed to convey the way his character always felt like a clumsy schoolboy.
The detective had bleached blond hair and a twist to his upper lip that might have been a scar or just a sneer.
'So,' he said bitterly, ' why are you back again?'
' I can't remember school,' Neville said. ' And I have never been here before.'
'Few of us can remember,' the detective said. ' And that is a good thing. '
'I remember things that fought and tore.' Neville said. 'And there was a boy.'
'There is always a boy,' the detective said. ' I get so tired of the fact that you all remember a boy. Just the one. It was a whole school of boys, and they never believed any of us.'
'What don't I remember?' Neville said.
'Nothing you would want to know, believe me,' the detective said. ' It's all in my files, otherwise I would try to forget it too.'
Even after he left the cinema, the scene played over in Ron's head. He had never seen the movie before and yet it was familiar as the taste of brandy and cigarette smoke on a lover's lips.
The elderly businessman who had once been known as Severus was waiting in the street in pouring rain that shone like neon needles in the bright darkness.
'It is done,' he said.
'I've betrayed her to you,' Ron said. 'And it feels as if I should feel guilty about it.'
'We all have too much to lose' said the older man. ' He would never have let any of us alone.'
In the background, a saxophone snarled and then sobbed. Perhaps, Ron thought, that is soundtrack and not just random noise.
The only way to be innocent again is not to be real.
That, he supposed, was the most valuable of all the lessons she had taught him.
'I want millions ', she said.
'Be reasonable,' said the elderly publisher.
He was a seedy middle-aged man who had been so beautiful as a sinister young priest.
Some of us get to be less beautiful with time, and some of us become more so.
Hermione put her cigarette to her lips and drew in a long dazzling puff of smoke.
She worried, but only for a moment, that the smooth fluid gesture with which she pulled it away from her mouth and jabbed it towards his baffled eyes was a little too fluid.
And then she reached up, pulled off her beret and tossed her mane of blonde hair just for the sake of the moment of feeling it swish about her.
I am magnificent, she thought. I deserve all of this and more.
'Your old friends won't protect you,' she said. 'The world has changed since the one we don't mention went to his reward
He looked at her in hatred as she mentioned the Dead One; she hadn't ever quite appreciated before just how much that was where his loyalties lay.
'I can't just give you millions,' he said. 'I don't have a budget for blackmail.'
' It's not blackmail,' she said. 'I've written a story about what you did to me when I was innocent and thought I was helping you save the world. You are going to buy it from me and you can publish it or not.'
She smiled a slow witchy smile, with poison on her breath. She had practiced for years, doing tricks and striking poses, and all for this moment.
This was what her life had been for, and that small terrified boy's before her.
' You and I know it's the truth,' she said. 'But you are just as clever a publisher as you were a terrible priest. I am sure by the time you have edited it, it will seem like a fabulous fairy tale.'
He sighed with resignation, opened a drawer and passed her a thick stack of notes.
'See what I mean,' Hermione said,'There's a happy ending already.'
In the end, Harry could not bear it any longer.
He left in the middle of the night, creeping through the haunted corridors of the school.
Something terrible had happened in every room he passed - a friend betrayed or an innocence lost.
'Cheer up,' Hermione said to him.' You won't have to worry much longer.'
He went home, but the police were already in a van at the door.
'They don't love me anyway,' he said as he ran, dropping the plastic bag of his clothes.
'You don't need them any more,' Hermione said.
He found a derelict house to live in and she told him it was really a palace and after a while he saw it through her eyes.
'Glamour is what you make of life,' she said.
He jumped at shadows still and when he heard distant sirens.
'It's over,' she said. 'You're not in their game any more. We have games of our own. They won't like them.'
Every day, he felt that there was less and less of him and her voice grew louder in his ears.
'I still can't see you' he said.
'You'll see me before you go, I promise.'
' You told me you were a time traveller,' he said.
'I promise,' she said. 'I am all the future you need.'