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In Too Deep by the_real_mrs_potter

Format: Novel
Chapters: 19
Word Count: 86,575
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Mild Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Drama, Romance, Angst
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Snape, Draco, Ginny
Pairings: Harry/Hermione, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Draco/Hermione

First Published: 04/02/2009
Last Chapter: 08/31/2010
Last Updated: 08/31/2010

Summary:


Hermione Granger is the Dark Lord's most prized Deatheater, having been raised by him since the tender age of five monthes when her parents were murdered. Now seventeen and highly trained to kill, she is sent on a mission to befriend Lord Voldermort's enemy, Harry Potter, and lure him into his clutches. It was supposed to be her most important mission yet, but she never planned on falling in love with her target.


Chapter 1: February 28, 1981
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February 28, 1981
It was a cold February evening, the houses occupying Stratford Meadows on the outskirts of London all covered in a light blanket of snow with their lights still glowing through the kitchen and dining room windows. Stratford was a higher upper-class community, the residents being successful businessmen, doctors, and dentists, the houses reflecting their wealth quite fervently. But of all of the beautiful houses aligned along the black pavement, there was one that always succeeded in catching the attention of passers-by. It was a three-story Victorian brick house with beautiful maroon shutters and a forest green door. Everyone in Stratford envied the family who had recently purchased the house close to seven months ago, for it has just been finished and was clearly the most extravagant house in the neighborhood.

Although they lived in a community that most people would associate with snotty millionaires, the Grangers were anything but. Their kindness and compassion for others is what drew them apart from others of their ward. Dr. Edward Granger and his wife, Emily were the picture of a perfect couple, and now a perfect family, as Emily had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl a few months previous. Friends and family of the couple would always gush about the family, telling of how ecstatic they were about opening their own practice in downtown London a week ago and finally having the child they had always wanted. They were truly blessed.

Emily Granger had just finished putting her five month old daughter into her highchair, trying not to get any off the excess sugar still left on her fingers onto her. Baby Hermione giggled as she watched her mother fiddle with her white apron and straighten her hair into a bun at the base of her neck. Emily smiled down at her daughter and pinched her check playfully before going into the kitchen briefly to set the turkey she had just finished baking onto the table. Walking a few feet down the hallway, she knocked on the oak door that lead into the study and called out to her husband, who was typing away at his computer.

“Edward, dinner!”

He looked up briefly at his wife and sent her a charming smile. She smiled back and watched him approach and give her a chaste kiss on the lips. “And what has my little pumpkin cooked for us tonight?” he asked as they began the short walk back into the dining room.

“Turkey, baked potatoes, and peas” She replied as they arrived.

He inhaled the intoxicating scent of fresh-out-of-the-oven Turkey and felt his mouth water with anticipation. “Smells delicious, sweetheart.” He called out to his wife, as she walked into the kitchen.

“And for our little Hermione…” Emily reached into a cupboard and pulled out a can of baby food that she knew Hermione adored, “some strained carrots”

Hermione clapped her hands together and began to eat her food with her fingers as soon as Emily sat it down in front of her, both of her parents looking at her adoringly. They tore their eyes away from their daughter reluctantly and began their own meals, cutting each piece of the turkey accordingly and serving themselves.

“She’s growing up so fast, already eating her own food.” Emily said with a sniff. “It seems like only yesterday I was holding a newborn baby in my arms and wondering what her name was going to be.”

Edward looked adoringly at her, “We picked a good one though, didn’t we?”

She smiled, “Yes, we did. Who ever knew your obsession with Shakespeare would come in handy?”

“Certainly not you! I do recall you threatening to burn my copy of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ after I accidently call your mum Hermia.” He said with a chuckle at the memory.

“It was a well deserved threat. You know how I don’t care for reading and the constant references you make. The only good thing that came from your love of books was Hermione’s name.” She said teasingly, pointing her fork at him.

He feigned shock with an overly large intake of breath, “Well I didn’t hear you complaining when I used that new technique the other night from… oh what was it… A Woman’s Erotica?” Emily blushed crimson as she bent her head down, muttering something he couldn’t quite make out. “I just hope Hermione inherits my love of books and not your habit of biting your bottom lip.”

Although she knew he was kidding, she still had a smart retort at the tip of her sharp tongue. That response was never heard, for there was a loud noise that seemed to come from the front of the house. Neither could make out what the noise was, but they could hear the voices of what seemed like a few men yelling commands at each other coming from the entrance hall.

Edward looked worriedly at his wife and whispered to her, “Take Hermione and hide in the linen closet.”

Emily made no complaints as she picked up her daughter from her chair and carried her to the closet. She quickly locked the door behind them and crouched down on the floor, setting Hermione down on the floor in front of her. “It’s going to be alright, baby…” she whispered, stroking Hermione’s cheek lovingly. The baby smiled at her and Emily felt a pang in her chest. She had a bad feeling about this, but whatever would become of her, she knew she had to protect Hermione with her life.

Edward grabbed the gun he had hidden in one of the tables and made his way to where the voices were coming from. His wife had no idea that he possessed the weapon, but after having Hermione he wanted this house to be well protected, and if that meant a hidden gun, then he would buy one. It was only a medium-sized pistol, but it was fully loaded and had nice control. He wondered briefly if the men who had broken in had guns with them as well. Taking a large intake of breath, he hid behind the entryway and looked around the corner to where roughly five figures dressed in black robes were standing and holding a whispered conversation. His eyes glanced briefly at their hands and saw that they didn’t hold guns, but what looked to be thin sticks. He furrowed his brows in confusion, wondering why they would be carrying around sticks.

The whispered tones quickly turned to raising voices as the men seemed to get agitated with each other. Edward strained to listen as they began to argue.

“The Dark Lord said to pick a house and kill anyone in it, Wormtail, not chicken out and go home! He wants the Ministry to take him seriously, and what better way than killing those innocent little Muggles that they are so keen to protect?” The tallest of the men said to one that seemed to be shaking. Edward was beyond confused at the foreign words they seemed to be using. A Dark Lord? He had never heard of such thing. And what on earth were a Wormtail and a Muggle?

The shaking man spoke up with a cowering voice, “I-I know, Lucius… but why this house? We don’t know them, why should they die for no reason? They could be perfectly good people and—”

The tiny man was cut off by a voice that sounded like it belonged to someone with a nasal infection, “Muggles are not good people, Wormtail! They forced us to hide away in our own little community while they go on with their lives like everything is fine. We are forced to be in hiding and they are out enjoying the world, do you really think that is fair?”

“Well… n-no…”

“I see you still have Potter’s Muggle-loving thoughts implanted in that feeble brain of yours.” He snarled.

The taller man spoke up again, pulling down his hood to reveal a mane of long, platinum hair. “Right then, we must search the house for any occupants. Kill anyone you find, remember the Dark Lord’s order, no mercy. And Snape, it’s your responsibility to burn this house to the ground when we are finished while I cast the Dark Mark. Apperate straight to headquarters and we will tell him that the mission is done. Agreed?”

“Agreed” the men chorused.

As they began to separate, Edward knew this was his chance to strike. He saw one pass right by him and shot his gun, hitting their shoulder blade and causing a low groan to escape from their throat. Emily heard the gunshot from the closet and flinched at the loud noise, but kept her focus on keeping Hermione quiet. The wounded man that Edward shot turned around quickly to see him pointing the gun at him again.

“Get out of my house!” He snarled.

The man just smirked and waved his stick so that the gun flew out of Edward’s hand and onto the floor a good ten feet away from him. Edward stared shocked at the man as he chuckled. “Stupid Muggle” he muttered as he waved his wand a second time, knocking Edward against the china cabinet next to him and breaking the glass that contained the expensive china he and Emily had gotten as a wedding present. His vision blurred and he lifted his hand to rub the back of his head. He heard footsteps approach him and barely had time to register what was happening when a low voice shouted “Avada Kedavara!” A green light shot out of the man’s stick and struck him. Edward saw no more.

Back in the closet, Emily was doing her best to remain calm. She heard the sound of glass shattering shortly after the gun shot had been fired and had no idea if her husband was alive or not. Hermione seemed to nodding off and Emily grabbed a towel from above her to place behind Hermione’s head and rubbed her short mane of cinnamon hair that so closely resembled her own. It was at that tender moment when the door handle began to shake and her heart beat immediately quickened. She stared at the jiggling door handle and held her breath. The pursuer seemed to have stopped trying and she let out a relieved sigh. But as soon as she slumped against a shelf and closed her eyes, the clicking sound of a door being unlocked caused her eyes to shoot back open and watch in horror as the door opened to reveal a man in black robes looking down at her with a smirk.

“Hey, I found another one!” he shouted in amusement behind his shoulder.

To Emily’s horror, another cloaked figure approached and stood beside the smirking one and looked down at her with a disgusted look on his features. “Look, she’s got a kid, too.”

Emily cast a fleeting glance to her daughter before she growled at the men, “Don’t touch Hermione.”

“Oh we won’t be touching her… or you for that matter.” The smirking man replied in a clipped tone.

Emily must have looked confused, for the other man spoke up, “Don’t worry, you won’t feel a thing.”

She sat, looking at the two men for a second before making any effort to speak. “Where’s my husband?” She asked with a quiver in her voice, scared to hear their answer.

They both laughed as the second one replied, “Dead of course.”

The color washed out of her face as she felt tears spring up in her eyes. She saw no pity in their faces, no regret. How could someone speak of their killing someone with amusement in their voices? Was this some sort of game to them?

“I think we should put her out of her misery, don’t you, Goyle?”

“Yes, yes I do.”

Emily barely had time to cower or take a last breath of precious air before a bright green light hit her square in the chest. Both men laughed and directed their eyes to the baby who had just begun to cry at the limp form of her mother. There was no hesitation as the one called Goyle pointed his stick at her and shouted the same two words that had killed her parents. “Avada Kedavara!” But no sooner had the spell been cast, a blue opaque dome of some sort formed around the baby and reflected the curse straight back at Goyle and sent him flying into the wall.

The other man’s eyes widened in shock as he turned to see groaning form of Goyle massaging his head against the stove. Seeing that he was still alive, he turned back to the baby, whose dome had gone down and was looking at him with wide eyes. He did the only thing he thought he could do, he shot another curse at her. The dome re-appeared instantly and repelled the curse yet again, but he dodged it quickly and it shattered against a jar of flour. His eyes were glued to the baby as a third figure appeared, the one with the long blonde hair.

“What is going on here?!” he screamed.

“The baby… s-she won’t die.” He explained feebly.

“What is this nonsense, MacNair?” the blonde yelled him.

MacNair turned to him and replied as calmly as he could through his still-present shock, “She’ reflecting every curse we throw at her… with some sort of shield.”

“A shield?” he asked. When MacNair nodded, he turned to the baby and shot a simple disarming curse at her. The red light bounced off of the re-appearing shield just like the others and both men ducked to avoid it. It instead hit the lamp and caused it to crash down beside Goyle’s feet, who whimpered at the loud noise. “Dear Lord” Was his only reaction.

“What should we do, Lucius?” MacNair asked.

He looked to be in thought for a moment, until he spoke softly, “We’ll bring the child to the Dark Lord, and he can decide what her fate will be.”

MacNair nodded and went off to tell the others. Lucius grimaced as he picked up the squirming child in his arms, her cries wailing in his ears. He yelled at Goyle to get up before returning to the main foyer where the others were awaiting him. They all looked at the child with mixed expressions on their faces, from wonderment to disgust.

“Alright, back to headquarters. Snape, cast the Dark Mark while I take the child to the Dark Lord.” Lucius demanded. Snape nodded in agreement and turned to exit out of the front door. Lucius turned over to Wormtail, who seemed to be staring off into space, “Wormtail!” he yelled, shocking the man out of his reverie, “dispose of the house.” He nodded shortly and Lucius dissaparated.

~*~

The Riddle Mansion was settled on a piece of property a few miles away from the town of Little Hangleton, right next to a small graveyard. It was the perfect location to set up headquarters for the rising Dark Lord and his followers. It used to belong to him and his deceased relatives until they passed, or rather, were disposed of. The only worry they had was the old caretaker, who was so old in his age that he had no care to check on the house at regular intervals. But when he did, the nearest Deatheater would cast a simple charm to lure him away.

The dark halls were full of floating dim candles and portraits of Salazar Slytherin and his many conquests. Each room was ornately decorated with dark, foreboding furnishings and long black drapery to secure privacy. No one really knew why the Dark Lord was being so discreet in his movements, however. It seemed that he was silently planning something without informing them, sending them out on missions when they had no idea what they were for. They didn’t like this setup, but no one said that aloud, for fear of the consequences that would ensue if he found out that they weren’t being trusting.

Lucius apparated into the main hall and was relieved to see that it was empty. Who knows what carrying a screaming baby would do to his reputation? He silently made his way through the wide hallways and at fast past, eager to get the squirming child out of his arms. He arrived at his destination quickly and knocked at the door, balancing the baby on his left hip. He heard a muffled “Enter” and pushed the door open. The Dark Lord was studying something at his desk and looked up, his expression changing to one of deep confusion when his eyes landed on the baby in Lucius’s arms.

“What is this?” He asked, pointing his finger at the child.

“It’s a baby, sir.” Lucius replied at once.

“I know what it is!” He yelled agitatedly at him.

“Right… I mean, of course, my Lord.” He fumbled. “What I meant to say is that this baby repelled three curses me, MacNair, and Goyle shot at it.”

The Dark Lord’s scarlet eyes narrowed, “What do you mean, Malfoy?”

“I mean, sir, that I think this child is magical.” Lucius stated, finding a spare chair from against the wall and placing the baby in it. She curled up into a ball against the soft cushion, relishing in the softness and shutting her eyes.

“I told you to go to a Muggle house, Lucius!” The Dark Lord scorned, pushing his chair back and standing up for the first time, intent on destroying the child himself.

Lucius flinched at the movement, but recovered himself, “We did, my Lord… she’s Muggleborn.”

“But it is unheard of for a Muggleborn to acquire powers so early.” He mused to himself. Lucius did not answer, but watched as he circled around his desk and stood in front of the baby, whispering things to her that Lucius didn’t recognize. The shield that he witnessed before once again sprang up over the sleeping baby and seemed to be repelling soft particles of smoke. Lucius assumed the Dark Lord was using ancient Dark Magic to try and break through the shield, so he remained silent and observed.

For close to an hour, he stood over her, mumbles ancient curses into her blue dome with the same result. Finally, too frustrated to continue, he stood up and paced the room. Lucius followed his slow movements, the flowing of his cloak, the concentration of his features, until he looked back at the baby with a flash of decision in his eyes. Turning to Lucius he spoke, “She obviously demonstrates some sort of powerful magic that even I cannot break. So, the solution is simple… I will raise her as my own. She will make a powerful fighter for our side. Besides, we are going to need all of the help we can get.”

“Sir?” Lucius asked.

He just smirked, “Take her to the bedchamber next to mine. I would like to monitor her every move and development.” Lucius nodded and picked up the child in his arms once again, holding back a grimace. Before he was out the door, he was stopped, “Do you know the child’s name?”

“Yes sir, Hermione.” He replied.

“Find out any additional information on her and report straight back to me, understood?”

He received a nod and Lucius left with baby Hermione in his arms. The Dark Lord sat down in the chair she was sleeping in and closed his eyes. It was not an easy decision, to take her under his wing. She was a Mudblood, after all. But there was something about her, and it was obvious he could not dispose of her without dumping her off at the local orphanage. Shivering a bit at the repressed memories, he sat more straightened in his chair. No, he had big plans for her in the future, and if they planned out, she could be the single greatest Deatheater to walk beside him.

Welcome to the Deatheater Elite, Hermione.

~*~


A/N: Sooo I've had this idea of a story for a loonnnggg time and figured i should start writing it during one of my infamous writer's blockades. And thus, it came to life! Please tell me what you thing! Apperently, there are many stories like this out there and I want to know if I'm being semi-original? Oh, and don't worry about In Fair Hogwarts, I'll update that one about as often as this one and will most likely finish it before this one is a few chapters in. In other words... it comes first :)

-Shar


Chapter 2: Mission Possible
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Mission Possible
They were in a closed off room within the Riddle Mansion, no sound but the ragged breathing both of their tired bodies were emitting. Scattered around them were broken chairs and torn tapestries, in result of the curses being flown back and forth from their breathy voices. They had been at it for a good half-an-hour; an early-morning training session they had begun since they were fourteen. It was obvious who would come out victories, but still they continued with their ritual. Both were scarcely out of breath and close to calling it a draw, but they knew that neither would be satisfied until a victor was named.

EXPELIARMOUS!” She shouted at the slightly sweating face of her opponent.
The disarming charm was easily deflected, causing his blonde hair to blow away from his face and his eyes to shut at the small gust of wind that came with the spell, relishing in the cool breeze against his hot face. She took his moment of weakness as an advantage to shout a second spell at him and catch him off guard. This got the best of him and knocked him on his back, his wand falling out of his limp hand. She smirked at her conquest, looking over at him and waiting for him to shout his usual slur of curses at her excellence.

“What the hell, Hermione?!” his voice moaned from the floor.

Ahh, success, Hermione thought to herself as she walked over to him, a slight bounce in her step. When his still unmoving form came into view, she knelt beside him and spoke with her usual ‘I-just-totally-kicked-your-ass-and-now-I’m-going-to-rub-it-in-your-face’ voice, “Man up, Malfoy, It’s not my fault I always succeed in humiliating you.”

Draco leaned his head upwards to look at her with an amused look on his face, “Yeah, but it’s not my fault you’re the Dark Lords number one hit man and totally advanced in spells that I haven’t even learned yet because of Saint Dumbledore and his petty obsession with turning us into his clones.”

She narrowed her eyes slightly, “At least you get to go to school, I’m cooped up hear twenty-four-seven.”

Rolling his eyes, he sat himself on his elbows and looked her in the eyes, “Not the school speech again, Mia? You’re the lucky one, staying here, having access to all of these dark materials to do with as you please.”

“It gets drab after a while, Draco, I’ve told you that. I’ve read every book in here at least twice and mastered every spell known in Dark Magic’s extended history.” By this time, she was sitting cross-legged and looking at him with a bored expression, for they have had this conversation numerous times before.

“Well all of that drabness will definitely pay off in helping out with the conquest of Potter, eh?” He said jokingly, fully leaning up and giving her a playful shove on the shoulder.

A dark look overcame her features as she felt a heat rise up in her face. He backed off, knowing that he had made a mistake in mentioning his name. If there was one more person who hated Potter more than he did, it was Hermione. “I told you never to mention his name in my presence, Malfoy.”

“I-I know… sorry I… wasn’t thinking.” He supplied feebly.“Obviously!” she said hotly, “He’s responsible for my parent’s death, do you expect me to be happy about that?!”

“Well no…”

“Then don’t bring it up again!” Hermione yelled as she got up and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

Through the halls she went, steam blowing out of her ears (in the figurative sense, of course). Her loud footsteps shook the wall hangings around her, each threatening to fall and possibly shatter. She didn’t care, of course. How dare Draco mention his name when he knew what effect it had on her? She had told him a thousand times, if not more, that the sole mention of his name would result in her hexing his boxers off. Of course, she never ended up coming through with her threats with him, since they grew up together and all. A soft spot always lingered towards him in that sense, for him and no one else. Most of the others acquaintances of hers each were too afraid of her to even try to test her patience. But none of them knew how to do it more than him… the git.She slammed the door to her bedroom loudly and collapsed onto her bed, trying to vent her frustrations into her pillow. She felt a small sense of relief as she rolled on her back and closed her eyes, thinking of the things that always seemed to calm her; the beach, mastering a new spell, the look of surprise on her victim’s face when she finished them off… Ahh, that’s better, she thought as her body relaxed into her cushions. But before she could nod off into a peaceful state, there was a knock at her door. Groaning quietly without lifting her head, she called to the door, “Come in.”

The rat-like face of Wormtail, the Dark Lord’s scrawny assistant, popped into her room. She didn’t even need to look to see that it was him, for his stench immediately wiggled its way into her nostrils and made her flinch. “Sorry to disturb you, Miss… but my Lord has requested that you meet him in his office.”

“Very well, Wormtail, you may leave.” She replied, waving her hand dismissively. But before he could leave, she added, “Oh, and Wormtail, next time before you come into my room… take a shower!”

She heard the door close quietly behind him as she sat up and rubbed her temples. Knowing that the Dark Lord’s patience was anything but high, she forced herself out of the comforts of her bed and walked the short distance from her bed chamber into his office a few doors down. He never called her into his office unless it was something urgent, a mission more likely than not, for her to complete. Knocking softly, she heard a muffled “Enter” after only a moment, and opened the door into the dark room. He was sitting at his desk, scribbling something onto a sheet of parchment. She lingered by the door, waiting for him to acknowledge her before she took the seat before his desk. He looked up at her, none to her surprise, and motioned to the plush chair seated in front of him. Rolling her eyes slightly at her keen knowledge, she took her seat and waited for him to finish whatever he was working on. He set down his quill into its brass holder next to him and looked at her pointedly.

“What do I have to do this time, lead another raid on a Muggle’s home perhaps?” She said dryly.

He chuckled softly, “You always knew when you had a duty to fulfill.” She only raised her brows and continued to stare at him, waiting for the answer to her question. “The mission I have selected for you this time is much more important than a silly little raid; I can assure you of that.”

“Oh? Do I have to assist Snape in the labs again to come up with another—”

“No, Hermione.” He said softly, interrupting her. She tilted her head to the side, gaining curiosity. “This mission is something that I’ve been planning for a long time, in fact… practically since you were born.”

She stood up straight in her seat and looked at him with wide eyes, suddenly very eager to hear what he would tell her next. This was the first time she felt a small fluttering in her stomach at the mention of a mission with this much significance. “Well?”

“I need someone to infiltrate the enemy from the inside.”

Her face fell slightly, “But Snape already—”

“I know Severus already has base within their walls. But my target is not only Dumbledore this time.” He said with a slight smirk. She looked at him questioningly before he took pity on her and continued, leaning forward towards her on his arms, “I need you to enroll in Hogwarts and help me get rid of Potter.”

She leaned back in her chair, taking all of this in. It had always been her dream to go to a real school, to learn something other than what the same old books around the mansion held. It had also been her desire to help some way in finally ridding of Potter and finally clear her constant anger towards and put it to rest. The Dark Lord saw her look of astonishment and couldn’t help but to smile to himself, for he knew of her inner most desires.

He spoke again, pulling her from her slight stupor, “I need you to befriend him, no matter how repulsive it may seem. You need to gain his trust, allow him to welcome you into his little group of Mudblood-loving friends. By the time you have his full confidence, you will lure him to me, unprepared, so that we can finally end this pointless war and let Dark Magic once again rule the Wizarding World.”

It seemed to be an impossible task, even to her ears. How could she befriend her enemy, come past all of her pre-determined thoughts of him and his kind in order to associate with them and act civil? The only thing about this proposition was the ending—eliminating Potter. The thought sent a pleasant shiver up her spine. “Mission possible, my Lord.”

He let a sickly grin spread across his face, “Excellent.” She matched his smile as he leaned back into his chair, “You shall accompany the Malfoy’s to Diagon Ally this afternoon to collect your supplies. The term starts in a week’s time, so I expect you to be fully prepared by that time.”

She nodded, “Of course, sir.”

“I will also be checking up on you from time to time, you will know when and where to find me.” Once again, she nodded in agreement. He waved a hand towards the door dismissively, “You may leave.”

She exited with a huge grin on her face and began the walk back to her room. But before she could open the door into her room, a pair of strong arms pinned her against the door. She smiled up at his smirking face looming over her as he leaned down to kiss her passionately, their mouths clashing hungrily. He tasted her sweet mouth with his tongue as one of his hands ran possessively up the inside of her thigh and groped at the milky skin. She moaned into his mouth as he began to caress her in time with their thrusting hips. His mouth left hers to make a trail down her neck as she writhed beneath him, her hands running up and down his muscular back. Their eyes met and each saw lust reflected in them. Hermione reached behind her and opened the door, dragging him in by his collar.

Too impatient to continue in this sate of overdress, he pulled his shirt above his head and looked down at her once again, daring her to make the next move. But, instead of pushing him up against the bed like he desperately wanted her too, she looked up at him with excitement in her eyes and whispered, “I’m going to Hogwarts!”

His mouth dropped open in shock as he stared at her, “Are you serious?”

She just nodded and began to jump up and down, hugging him tightly around his neck. He encircled her in his arms tightly and returned her embrace. When they pulled apart seconds later she looked up at him once again, “Can you believe it, Draco? I’m finally going to an actual school!”

Knowing their moment was over, he leaned down to pick up his shirt and pull it back over his head. “That’s great Mia, really. But how did you manage to let him to let you go?” She led him over to her bed as she explained everything that has transpired just a few minutes ago. He listened intently and by the time she finished, his mouth was agape again and he was looking at her with astonishment on his face. “You have to befriend him?” He said, staying conscious of saying his name.

“I know it sounds bad, but it all has a good outcome, right? At the end of it all, he’ll be gone, and it’ll all be because of what I did! Isn’t that fantastic?” She asked feverishly.

“Yeah—it’ll be a relief not to have him on my back anymore.” He said, with a slight joke to his voice.

“Precisely, so everybody wins! I get to go to school and help get rid of Potter for good, and you get to… well… get to go to school with me!”

“And bask in the glory of Potter’s non-existence.” He added with a slight poke to her shoulder.

“Yes, that too.” she corrected. “Oh! And I also have to accompany you to Diagon Ally this afternoon for supplies.”

“Alright, well were supposed to leave in around an hour or so…” He said, looking over at her with a sneaky smile.

She gave him a wicked smile in return, “Well I guess we have some time to burn then, don’t we?”

Hermione pulled him down by his collar so that he loomed over her, “Yes… that we do.” He sealed his sentence with a fiery kiss to her lips and they picked up right where they had left off, this time without the uncomfortable wooden door pressed against them.

~*~

Diagon Ally was alive with activity as young witches and wizards, along with their families, shopped for last-minute school supplies the week before the new term started. Hermione was more than amazed at the colorful shops and even more colorful characters that lined the streets. There seemed to be a store for every need imaginable and she didn’t know where she wanted to start! She glanced briefly at the list she clutched in her hands and made her way over to a store with a sign that read “Madam Malkin’s Robes For All Occasions”, she had a feeling that was where she would find a robe. She walked into the shop alone, for the Malfoy’s had business to attend to in Knockturn Ally, and heard a chime sound that announced her arrival into the shop. A squat witch made her way over to Hermione with a friendly smile. She assumed this woman was Madame Malkin and greeted her with a polite smile.

“Welcome to Madame Malkin’s, dearie, how may I help you?” she asked in a sweet voice.

“Umm… it’s my first term at Hogwarts and the list said that I needed robes?” she asked in a questioning voice. She didn’t know how to talk to these sorts of people, was she supposed to be civil?

“Oh of course—are you a transfer? You seem to be quite older than eleven to my old eyes.” She said jokingly.

“Yes, I was… home schooled.” She explained smoothly, remembering the term that she had come up with to explain her lack of knowledge about other Wizarding schools.

“Well that’s certainly something you don’t hear about every day, is it?” She asked knowingly. Hermione smiled in response and let the older woman lead her to the back, where she saw a variety of different colored robes folded atop each other in an ordered fashion. Next to them was a raised platform surrounded by mirrors and a table with a set of measuring tools. “Now, I need you to step up here so I can take your measurements.”

Hermione complied and stepped onto the platform, looking at herself in the many mirrors. She saw Madame Malkin wave her wand at the table and a roll of tape fly up into the air and begin to circle around her waist, arms, and legs. She did her best to stay still as the older woman recorded her measurements on a clipboard and mutter a spell to a nearby shelf. Hermione watched in wonder as one of the robes found its way onto her shoulders and adjusted itself automatically to her body. This was a foreign type of magic to her.

She heard the bell ring behind her and saw Madame Malkin turn and see who her new customer was. “Ahh, Miss Weasley! I’ll be right with you, dear.”

Hermione saw a petite redhead walk over to where the more luxurious robes were and fondle them lightly, almost in wonder. She didn’t look over at her long, wanting to get this fitting over with so she could continue with her other tasks. Her waiting didn’t last long. Madame Malkin stepped away and admired her work briefly, “You look lovely.”

“Thank you” Hermione replied.

After paying for her things, she left the store and continued down the cobbled street in search for the next thing on her list. She had only been to Diagon Ally once before and that was only to get her wand when she was eleven, pretending to be a first year to trick Ollivander. She had only been down that one cranny, and only remembered how in awe she had been. Apparently, she had never out grown of that astonishment.

The next stop was “Flourish and Blott’s”, the bookstore. She really dreaded going into this shop, her taste for books had dried up ever since she re-read the entire Riddle Family library. Taking one last deep breath of dread, she pushed open the door and froze. This was way bigger than the Riddle Family Library. In fact, she could’ve sworn that it was ten times larger than the dark, decrypted old room. There were books covering every inch of the walls, and even some on the ceiling. There were even more genres than she thought could exist! No, there was not only Dark Magic, there were Charms and Transfiguration and Herbology! She walked down the aisles with a look of wonder painted on her face, wondering where she should start first.

She stuck to her list at first, picking up the necessities, and placing them in a basket she picked up at the front of the store. After that she browsed the shelves in search for items that struck her fancy, little did she know that she wanted to buy a little less than the whole store by the time she was finished browsing. In fact, by the time she had considered herself done, she was already nose deep in a copy of “Hogwarts, a History”, a rather large encyclopedia about her new school. She was too busy reading the first few lines of the Preface “Meet the Founders”, that she didn’t see where she was walking and crashed into someone, sending them both tumbling to the ground.

“I’m so sorry!” she frantically apologized, trying to gather up the books that had fallen out of her basket.

“It’s fine. Here, let me help y—you have a lot of books!” The masculine voice of her victim said in awe.

She giggled, despite herself, “Well I guess I went a little overboard on the back-to-school book shopping.”

“A little is a bit of an understatement.” He joked back at her.

He made her laugh again. No one had really made her laugh before—except maybe Draco, but he didn’t count. She wanted to see his face, but her books were still in a mess on the floor, so she quickly put the rest away and looked up. Oh my god was the only coherent thought that made its way to her brain. She saw emeralds, pure emeralds… in his eyes. How could there be emeralds in his eyes? Was that even possible? Could you do that?!

“Umm, are you alright?” he asked tenderly.

She blinked, “Yeah… yeah. Thank you for helping me, you really didn’t have to do that. I practically ran you over.”

He smiled, “Its fine, it wasn’t your fault, just blame the books.” She chuckled as he held out a hand, “Let me help you up.”

She smiled and took his hand. Hermione was shocked that he could still help her up even with the additional ten pounds of books she was holding. Balancing herself on her shaky legs, she looked up once again to the stranger. “Thank you again for your help.”

“No problem. Uhh, I’ll see you around?” he asked uncertainly.

“Sure, yeah.” She said, nodding.

He turned and walked away and she couldn’t help but stare at him as he left. She was too busy looking at his retreating form that she didn’t hear Draco sneak up behind her. “Starting you mission earlier than planned, are you?”

She was used to him sneaking up on her, so she was none too surprised that he chose to now. She turned to him with an eyebrow raised, “What are you on about, Draco?”

He pointed over his shoulder to where the stranger with the emeralds for eyes was paying for his things; she followed his finger and looked back at Draco with a furrowed brow. He took pity on her and spoke in a clam, yet testy voice, “That was Harry Potter.”

Her eyes widened as she looked back over at “Harry” again, looking him over with her eyes. It couldn’t be! “But… but… but… the scar!” she defended.

“But… but… but… the hair!” he replied in a condescending, yet playful voice, pointing a finger at his forehead.

She looked back over at the checkout desk for the third time and saw him scratch his forehead, lifting his ebony hair slightly to reveal a slight discoloration on his skin, as if on cue. Her blood ran cold and she felt her world start to turn. Anger at her behavior replaced the shock as she felt the one word she wanted to scream out in the open etch its way out of her throat “WHAT?!”

~*~

A/N: Well, since I've had zero inspiration for IFH, I figured that uploading the next chapter to this story would be a good distraction. I hope you don't mind :)

Chapter 3: Welcome to Hogwarts
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Welcome To Hogwarts


Platform 9 ¾ was aligned with parents and siblings bidding the young attendees of Hogwarts long, unneeded goodbyes. Hermione watched them in disgust, each hug and kiss on the cheek driving her closer to regurgitating her breakfast. Honestly, they get to see each other at Christmas, they don’t even need to say goodbye! She thought to herself as she continued to follow behind Draco as he led her to the train. His goodbye with his parent’s had been short enough that she was sure he was the only person in this platform that wasn’t annoying her. They were soon aboard the train and she took the time they spent searching for an open compartment observing the narrow hallway. Younger students were running up and down with their friends, not escaping scolding from the older students with what appeared to be badges atop their chests. She assumed they were the Prefects that Draco had told her about. He also had a similar badge on his chest and made it the topic of many of their discussions about the school and how he gave the Gryffindor’s detentions for any reason he could think of. Her favorite was that their shoes were untied.

The two found a compartment towards the middle of the train and got situated. Hermione placed her trunk on the shelf that was hanging above their heads with ease and took a seat across from Draco and sighed, glancing out the window at the platform once again. Even though she was still disgusted with the sight of the families, one group in particular still managed to catch her attention. It seemed to her to be a sea of red, for each of the occupants in the tight bunch had ginger-colored hair and was being pampered by a plump, short woman who seemed to be wearing a hand-knit shawl atop a heavily floral skirt and jumper. It was a curious sight for Hermione to see that a head of black hair was among the group as well, a male. His hand was around the only girl in the group beside the mother and was talking animatedly to a rather tall boy with a large amount of freckles lining his nose. Her mind became a daze as she continued to observe the family, completely entranced for Merlin knew what reason.

“Mia, are you alright?”

Her head turned to see the amused face of her friend smiling at her. She nodded as she glanced back out the window, only to see that the family had dispersed. Frowning, Hermione turned so that she was facing Draco, who seemed to be thinking deeply about something. He felt her eyes upon him and seemed to shake out of his trance, mimicking her and adjusting himself in his seat. “So, it’ll be a bit difficult for you to get into Potter’s little posse, being sorted into Slytherin and all.”

“Draco, you know I still have to be sorted like everyone else was.” She said playfully.

“Yeah, but you’re a shoe-in for Slytherin. Every Death Eater, with the exception of Wormtail, was in Slytherin. But we all know that his being in Gryffindor deeply scarred him for life.” He replied with a slight chuckle.

She also laughed and they sat in silence for a moment, until she chose to speak up hesitantly, “But what happens if I’m sorted into Gryffindor or something?”

Both she and Draco shuttered as he responded, “I would have to kill you, I suppose.”

She leaned forward and punched him in the shoulder. As she leaned back into her seat, she spoke up again, “I guess it’s nothing to worry about, really. I mean, my father should have a tremendous influence on which house I get into; that, and the fact that I was brought up by your parents for most of my life.”

Draco nodded as she allowed herself to reminisce at the memories. For the first fifteen years of her life, she had been brought up by the Malfoy’s due to the Dark Lord being indisposed, courtesy of one Harry Potter. Yet another reason she hated the bastard— he had destroyed her adoptive father! Although she didn’t regret being brought up by the Malfoy’s. Hermione wouldn’t be the person she was today without their guidance. Plus, she had the pleasure (and displeasure) of growing up with Draco. Their relationship had been a bumpy one to say the least. When they were younger, they despised one another, could not be in the same room without breaking into an argument. But, when they were around thirteen, things started to change… a lot. Needless to say, hormones got to be a bit too much to handle. She did not love him—no she definitely did not. She could never love anyone. Hermione was convinced that a black hole had replaced where the useless organ should have been. Draco and she were far from being anything but acquaintances… with many benefits.

“Anything from the trolley, dears?” a tender voice said from the doorway of their compartment. She was pushing a cart filled with things Hermione had only rarely seen before, brightly colored objects that seemed to be edible—sweets.

She turned to Draco, only to see that he seemed to be ignoring the woman. Licking her lips, she nodded her head and decided to take a chance and purchase one of every item on the cart. The elderly woman seemed to be surprised, but handed her one of each of the items and took the appropriate amount of galleons Hermione handed her without much say. With a polite “thank-you”, the woman took off to the next compartment and Hermione returned to her seat and spread the variety of sweets beside her. Draco looked over at her curiously but said nothing as she opened the first box and found what seemed to be chocolate in the shape of a frog. As she made a grab for it, the frog leaped out of the box and onto the window. Using her quick reflexes, she grabbed the frog before it could climb up the window any further and felt the chocolate slide around in her palm. Not knowing what to do with the squirming creature, she turned to Draco to see him chuckling at her.

“What’s so funny?” she asked agitatedly as the frog tried to make another escape from the confines of her hands.

He just shook his head and she growled at him. Staring at the creature, she felt a light go off in her head. She had heard some discussions about chocolate frogs and the collective cards that they had in their packages. She took a bite off of the frog and felt the milky chocolate fill her mouth. She moaned at the sensation and ate the rest of the frog in record time. Feeling much more content, she leaned back in her seat again and licked the remnants of the chocolate from the inside of her mouth. Unaware that her eyes were slowly drooping shut, she leaned her head against the cool window and let sleep overcome her.

~*~

She was shaken from her dreamless slumber by a hand gently touching her shoulder and jerking her into consciousness. Opening her eyes, she saw three familiar faces occupying the compartment—Crabbe, Goyle, and Pansy Parkinson—frequent visitors to the Malfoy Mansion whilst she lived there. She smiled at them as she straightened her composure and lifted her hands over head to stretch.

“We’re there, Mia, we’re pulling into Hogsmeade Station now.”

She looked out of her window at the darkened, star infested sky and saw that they were, indeed, pulling to a station. She felt the train come to a smooth stop and followed Draco as he grabbed his trunk and led the group out of the compartment. Hermione sighed at the cool breeze grazing her skin and heard a deep voice call from afar, “Firs’ years o’er here! Come on now, don’ be shy!” Looking over to her right she saw that the voice belonged to a rather large man—well, large was an understatement. If she said so herself, he looked more like a half-giant! She could only look at the man for a short time, for Draco was heading toward a line of carriages being pulled by what seemed to be horse skeletons with bat wings attached to their sides. They looked very foreboding and she felt a chill go down her spine as one turned to look at her. The other students seemed to be oblivious to the creatures altogether, probably because they had seen these creatures many times before. Her eyes flickered over to where Pansy was getting into the carriage and quickly followed behind her, her uneasiness slowly drifting away.

After the carriage began to move, Pansy spoke up, “So, you must be excited, Hermione, getting sorted with the first years?”

Hermione inwardly rolled her eyes. Pansy had always been jealous of the relationship that she and Draco had, pining over him for years and jumping at the chance to try and get the best of Hermione. “Oh, it’s going to be thrilling, I’m sure. But seeing as we’re going to be roommates for the next year, I can see you are as excited as I am.”

No one said she ever did.

Pansy pursed her lips and turned to look out the window and Hermione smirked. If she had to bear to share a room with her, she might as well have fun with it. It was a quiet trip to the school, and Hermione was becoming antsy. But when she saw the castle come into view, she felt her breathe catch in her throat as she let a wide grin spread on her face. She was here, at a real school. It all seemed surreal as the carriage pulled to a stop and she stepped out and craned her neck to view the tall towers. She followed the sea of students as they entered the school in a daze, taking in the large staircase and torch lights illuminating the hall. They ascended the steps and came to a large set of double-doors which opened as they filed into the hall. But before she could enter into the grand hall that she saw before her, she felt a hand on her shoulder stop her in her tracks. She turned to see the smiling face of an elderly man with a nearly floor-length beard dressed in deep purple, seemingly velvet, robes. Hermione looked confusedly at the man as the rest of the students filed past them, wondering why he was pulling her aside.

“You must be Miss Granger, am I correct?” he asked.

She nodded, remembering the last name that the Dark Lord had told her belonged to her deceased parents. “I am, and who are you?”

The man chuckled, and she could have sworn that his eyes twinkled. Maybe it was the reflection of his half-moon spectacles? “I am Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts.”

“O-oh, of course.” She said shakily. Hermione had heard of Albus Dumbledore, he was the only man that the Dark Lord had admitted to fearing to her. Of course, she had never seen pictures of him, only stories from Draco and fellow Death Eaters, mocking him for his Muggle-loving tendencies among other thing. To say she was intimidated would be an understatement. Although, he didn’t look intimidating at all, and at first sight she would assume that she could take him. Fortunately, she knew not to take that risk.

“I understand you are a transfer student?” he asked.

“Yes.” She responded quickly.

“Very well—you know of the sorting ceremony, am I correct?” She responded with a nod, “Well, then you also must know that you have to be sorted into a house?”

She wanted to tell him that she already knew which house she would be sorted into, but decided against it, choosing to nod again.

“Follow me, Miss Granger.” he said simply, leading her into the Great Hall that she read so much about.

As she followed the headmaster, she looked up at the ceiling to see that it was, indeed, enchanted to look like the night sky. She had thought that her reading about the school in Hogwarts, a History would save her the trouble of being too overwhelmed by it. But she was pleasantly wrong. The hall was only one part of the grand school and she was already breathless. How could these people not be staring at all of these floating candles above their heads? How could they not be speechless at the perfect alignment of the four house tables and one head table?

Gathered at the front of the hall were a bunch of nervous-looking first years, waiting to be sorted. She had failed to notice the eyes upon her as she entered with the headmaster, for they were all obviously waiting for him to arrive. She continued behind him as he made his way around the first years and motioned for her to take a seat on a small stool while a woman in forest green robes placed a ratty-looking hat atop her head. She was thankful that he didn’t announce her to the entire school. But her thoughts were put to a cease as she heard a low voice whisper in her ear.

“What a mind… that of a true visionary.” It mumbled.

She had read about the Sorting Hat as well and relaxed, it would see where she was truly meant to be. Slytherin, Slytherin… I want to be in Slytherin.

“Slytherin?” the hat questioned. “Your mind tells me otherwise, young one. It speaks of bravery and love… not of any traits belonging to Slytherin. You are quite the opposite.”

She ignored him, he would see.

She could feel the hat raise its eyes in amusement, odd as it seemed. “You, my dear girl are not a Slytherin… you are meant for… GRYFFINDOR!” The announcement of the house she most loathed was announced loudly and she didn’t register what had happened until the table filled with students dressed in robes embroidered with scarlet and gold erupted in cheers. I want a do-over! She thought to the hat, but it was un-responsive. There were so many more things she could have said to persuade it to place her in Slytherin! Why didn’t she register that it didn’t take long to get sorted?

As the hat was taken from atop her head, she was brought to reality. She was sorted into the house that she was brought up to hate; the house that he was in. Although it was probably best for the mission for her to be sorted there, she didn’t have to be happy about it. Hermione walked numbly from her seat and moved over to where the happy, smiling faces were greeting her. There must be some mistake in Hogwarts, a History because she surely did not have love or any of the other stupid qualities that fit into Gryffindor’s students! That ruddy old hat could not read a mind, that was for sure.

Hermione took a seat next to a girl with fiery red hair. She immediately recognized her from Madame Malkin’s as the girl who had walked in while she was getting fitted. Normally, she would not have recognized a face this quickly, but with hair like that, who couldn’t? The girl smiled at her and Hermione smiled politely in return.

“You’re the new transfer student, right?” she asked in a sweet voice.

“Yeah.” She replied shortly.

The girl put out her hand for Hermione to shake and she took it slowly, “I’m Ginny Weasley. This is my brother Ron—” She motioned to a boy across from her who blushed as she met his eyes and said a quiet “Hello” into the table. “And my boyfriend, Harry” she leaned back slightly and Hermione’s stomach dropped. There he was; the same emeralds for eyes, the scar now so potent on his forehead. Her target, her enemy… the boy she had to befriend.

She put on a fake smile and addressed the three of them kindly, “Nice to meet you all—my name is Hermione… Hermione Granger.”

“Nice to meet you, Hermione” Harry said genuinely from beside Ginny. Hermione forced herself to nod at him politely. Surely he recognized her from the bookshop, and that is why he was treating her to such a sweet smile. He must feel sorry for her. Well, she would show him!

“Hermione… that’s such a pretty name” Ginny said, catching Hermione’s attention, “Almost poetic… were you named after anyone?”

“I don’t know.” She answered simply. Hermione had always known her name was a curious one, but never knew from where it came from—a Grandparent, a poet, a character in a book? Of course, she would never know.

“Well, I know how scary your first day can be, so please feel free to ask any questions or just talk.” Ginny said kindly.

“Umm… thank you.” Hermione responded, not knowing what else to say.

She was saved from the inevitable awkward pause by the headmaster standing up and holding a hand to the crowd of talking students. The hall immediately silenced as they all looked at him pointedly. “I would like to be the first one to welcome you to another year at Hogwarts. Surely, this will be another year filled with new beginnings, and happy endings.” Hermione could have sworn that he looked at her for a moment, directing the last statement at her, but dismissed it as he continued. “Now, for the usual announcements: The forbidden forest precedes its name, it is forbidden to those who are not given permission by either myself or one of the other members of the staff. Also, the curfew has been cut to seven o’clock for obvious reasons. We are in the middle of a war, and must take every precaution to stay safe.” A few worried glances were exchanged among the students. “And lastly, I would like to welcome our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, one whom some of you will surely remember, Mister Remus Lupin.”

A pale man with sandy, slightly graying, hair stood up and took a slight bow to the thunderous applause the came from the students. Hermione had heard about Lupin, he was an Auror at the Ministry and also a Werewolf, being infected by one of the Dark Lord’s followers, Fernier Greyback. He had been sacked a few years ago, according to what she had head from Snape, because of his condition. But Dumbledore was a smart man and he must have pulled a few strings in order for him to return to his previous teaching position.

Lupin sat back down and Dumbledore continued, “I am sure you are all as hungry as I am, so please, tuck in!” He clapped his hands and food appeared on the table in front of the students. Hermione could hear the first years exchange comments of wonder as the older students’ bean to eat the feast greedily. Hermione loaded her plate with food and felt her stomach rumble. The chocolate frog had been the only thing she had eaten that day, so it was safe to say that she was hungry. She was about to take a bite of her chicken when she heard what seemed to be a trash disposal coming from in front of her. Looking up, she saw that Ron was stuffing his face with mashed potatoes and chicken simultaneously. The site made her want to vomit.

“Excuse my brother,” she heard Ginny say, “he doesn’t have manners programmed into his pea brain”

Hermione smiled at her and tried to re-focus on her food, taking careful bites to settle her stomach.

The rest of the feast passed quite uneventfully, and before she knew it, she was being lead to the Gryffindor Common Room. She followed the crowd of students to what looked to be a portrait of a rather large woman in a pink dress. She heard someone speak up to say an odd phrase that she only heard as a mumble. But she didn’t think on it long, for the portrait opened and people started to file through. Hermione stuck to the crowd and stepped into it, immediately being blown with a warm gush of air.

It was a very homely place, well… more homely than she was used to seeing. Instead of cool, dark colors aligning the walls, there was quite the opposite. Soft scarlet and gold tapestries and warm colored painting aligned the walls. There was a rather large fireplace surrounded by plush sofas and armchairs that looked like you could be able to drown in them just by sitting. The thought of warm colors and cheery atmosphere used to disgust her, like most things that reflected the light side of magic. But this felt… nice.

A prefect was giving a small tour of the common room but Hermione wasn’t listening, she was too busy unconsciously making her way over to the welcoming sofas. She was right, you did melt into them. She felt very at ease, almost as if she was meant to be here. No, she couldn’t start thinking like that, going soft because of a simple tower. She was just beginning to relax into the cushions when a soft voice called from beside her.

“You seem to like the feelings of the couch much better than the floor.”

Her eyes shot open to see the smirking face of one Harry Potter looking at her from the sofa across from where she was laying. “So you do recognize me, then?” she said coolly.

“Well, it took me a while. Your face was too busy ranting apologies to me that I couldn’t remember anything but that until I saw you laying here.”

“And how, might I ask, would me lying on a sofa trigger your memory?” she asked carefully.

“Simple, the look of relief on your face when I helped you up is almost identical.” He said with a smile.

Hermione couldn’t help but smile at him. She had to get used to accepting his feeble attempts at conversation sooner or later. But there was still a small part at the back of her head that told her that she wasn’t faking her smile.

She was saved from thinking too much on it when Ginny came over and sat on Harry’s lap, his arms moving around her waist to steady her. “So what were you two chatting about?” she asked sweetly.

“Oh nothing, Gin— just about Hermione’s similar expressions of relief.” Hermione couldn’t help but blush and Ginny just looked between the two of them in confusion. Harry saw her look and carefully explained, “I ran into Hermione at Flourish and Blotts a few days back and knocked the both of us to the ground.”

“Oh, so this is the girl you told us about!” a voice said from behind her. Hermione turned to look and saw the amused face of Ron behind her. He had talked about her?

“In the flesh” he said, outstretching a hand towards her.

“You must have had quite the fall, with Harry’s fat arse knocking you down.” Ron said. Harry threw a pillow at him and Ron caught it, laughing. “Whoa, no need to get all defensive, mate.”

Harry made a face and Hermione couldn’t help but giggle at the playful banter. It was a very foreign thing to see joking between friends unless she was a part of it. “Alright you two, knock it off. It’s too late for that.” Ginny said.

“It’s only nine!” Ron complained to his sister

“Well I for one am tired.” She stated. “I’m off to bed to get a good night’s rest” Ginny briefly kissed Harry’s lips goodnight and hopped off his lap. She looked over at Hermione and smiled, “You want to join me, Hermione?”

Hermione nodded, wanting to get away from these conflicting thoughts that began to cloud her mind. She got up from the sofa and began to follow Ginny to the stairs that lead up to the dormitories. She thought she heard a “Goodnight ladies” from behind them, but refused to acknowledge it. No one had ever wished her a good night and she didn’t think tonight would be any different. They passed five sets of doors until they came to the one labeled “Sixth Year”.

“This is my stop; your dormitory is the next door up. Good luck with your roommates, they can be a handful.” Ginny said with a friendly smile. “Goodnight, Hermione.”

Hermione was speechless. Maybe she didn’t just imagine the first goodnight. But before she could come up with a response, Ginny shut the door quietly behind her. She turned and walked a few steps to the last door in the corridor. She bit her lip as she pushed open the heavy wood door and came into, yet again, another warm room. This one was filled with five four-poster beds, all with trunks next to them. Hermione looked over at the bed nearest to the single window in the room and saw her luggage next to it. Assuming that it signified that was her bed, she made her way over to it and saw that a new set of robes were sitting atop the covers. She looked at the scarlet and gold embroidering and sneered. She really wasn’t looking forward to tomorrow morning, where surely Draco would confront her and start asking questions that she didn’t have any answers to. How would she know the reason she was sorted into Gryffindor? Surely, it was her mind, but that didn’t mean that she memorized every nook and cranny!

She sighed and cleared off her bed. Slipping into her pajamas, she quickly got under the warm covers and tried to relax. It wasn’t an easy task, with all of the events of the day swimming around in her brain and causing her to shift uncomfortably. She didn’t think she would ever fall asleep and she barely registered the sound of her roommates entering. Hermione feigned sleep, remembering Ginny’s comments about them, even though she didn’t know what to think of it. It was after the only sound in the room was reduced to the wind blowing against the bricks outside of the dormitory that she felt sleep begin to claim her. Then, she fell under the spell of dreamless slumber once again, her last thought being of the laughter she had witnessed.

~*~

A/N: Wow, you guys really seem to like this story! I'm so glad that you're warming up to it, even though things haven't even gotten good yet =] This is going to be a story potent with URST, so if you have small patience, you'll be very mad at me for a while... until you read about them finally getting together, then you'll love me!

-Shar


Chapter 4: Day One
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Hermione woke up rather early that following Monday. The clock next to her bed read six in the morning and she couldn't have felt more awake. One might wonder how someone could be that jubilant at such early an hour—and, like so many other things, it had an answer. Today was the start of her classes. A normal student would dread this day, as they had many others like it in the years past, but not Hermione. It was her first day of classes ever and she had a right to be excited, Damnit!

The pre-set alarm on her enchanted clock rung for only a moment before she flicked her wand (hidden discreetly underneath her pillow) and silenced it, not wanting to wake her roommates and have them scold her for being such an early riser. Normally, she would just hex anybody who even came close to ridiculing her, but she was undercover and couldn't afford to make a risk so early in the term. So, with her dignity held high, she snuck out of her bed and began to get ready for the day ahead of her. 

She started by taking a long shower to wash that nasty feeling she always had in the mornings away. When she was finished with that, she stepped out into the cool air and proceeded to brush her teeth and dry her hair using her wand, a trick she had learned when she was younger. Already knowing what she was going to wear, she dressed quickly in the uniform that had been atop the bed her first night here; knee-length grey socks, Mary-Jane loafers, a white long sleeved oxford-style shirt, a grey sweater vest with scarlet and gold trimmings, a knee-length black pleaded skirt, and a scarlet and gold striped tie. 

When she walked out of the bathroom, she could see a few of the girls begin to stir and smiled, thankful that she had the privilege of having an empty washroom all to herself in the morning. Hermione figured that in five minutes there would be four cranky girls trying to get ready for the day with very limited space, and even smaller patience. Walking over to her bed, she grabbed her book bag and tip-toed out of the room, slinging it over her shoulder as she shut to door quietly behind her. Just as she adjusted the straps, Hermione heard a muffled voice proclaim “Dibs on the bathroom first!” on the other side of the door. She chuckled. Even though she had limited knowledge of other females her age, they were still thoroughly predictable.

She descended the stairs and wasn't surprised when an empty common room was in her line of vision. No one in their right mind would get up this early, unless you were Hermione. She left the tower with a bounce to her step and made her way to the Great Hall, humming to herself along the way. When she got there, she was rewarded with another empty room, although this one being slightly on the larger side. Hermione found a spot at the Gryffindor table and began to load her plate with slices of toast and eggs. It didn't take long for the other students to file into the hall, the moans and groans alerted her a good ten minutes after she had sat down. 
 
“Good morning!” a peppy voice said from beside her. 

Hermione looked to her side and saw the smiling face of Ginny Weasley, “Morning Ginny.” She replied politely.

“How long have you been up?” she asked conversationally.

“A while” Hermione answered simply.

“Oh, well the boys will be down shortly. They aren't really morning people like you and me.” Ginny began to load her plate with slices of bacon and sausage as she tried again to make conversation. “So are you excited about your first day?”

Hermione resisted the urge to shout “YES!” in an overly dramatic way, which is what her initial reaction was to do. But instead, she bit her lip and nodded, “Yeah, I guess.”

Ginny smiled at her again. How does this girl smile so much without breaking her cheekbones? Surely, there must be some sort of strain from being that happy all of the time? Hermione thought bitterly. She was saved the stress of actually thinking about logical explanations to her observation by Ginny, who, once again, spoke. “I'm always giddy at the beginning of term… but then, it wears off about halfway through.”

“Why?” Hermione asked out of curiosity.

Ginny looked a little confused at her question, “Well it just gets a tad boring after a while. And then the homework, Merlin the homework gets to be outright brutal. Especially for the upper years! Did you get much homework where you used to go to school?”

“Not really.” Hermione answered truthfully. “It was mostly hands-on work.”

“Well that must have been fun, then? No homework and all play?” Ginny said with a nudge.

You have no idea… “Yeah, it was a very interesting experience.”

Hermione was saved from explaining any further by the arrival of two very tired looking boys stumbling to the table. She had to suppress a giggle when Ron dumped what looked to be a pound of syrup into his cereal. But what really made her brake was when Harry mixed his oatmeal with a pitcher of pumpkin juice. Ginny noticed the two of them as well and joined in on Hermione's quiet laughter. “Told you they weren't morning people.” She whispered in Hermione's ear. 

“Wuzz zo f'nny?” Ron asked in a groggy voice.

“Huh, whose laffin'?” Harry asked in an equally muffled voice.

Hermione and Ginny just continued to laugh at them until they began to eat their breakfast, then they were in full out hysterics. Harry spit out his oatmeal onto Ron's face, who was actually consuming his meal. “Oi!” He yelled at Harry, “I'm eating here, Harry!"

“Sorry mate.” He said, wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his jumper.

“Late night, boys?” Ginny asked with a knowing smirk.

Harry and Ron blushed and Hermione could faintly hear the words “last night”, “guys”, and “firewhisky”. It didn't take a genius to figure it out—either they were hung-over or got too drunk to get a decent amount of sleep. Idiots, Hermione thought, wasting their time by drinking. She saw Ginny roll her eyes and knew she shared the same opinion. 

“Ohh, timetables!” Ginny squealed, setting down her fork and clamping her hands together.

Hermione turned her neck to where Ginny was looking and saw the woman who had put the sorting hat on her head passing out sheets of parchment. She was wearing another set of dark green robes, and Hermione wondered vaguely if that was the only thing she had in her closet. The woman came over to where she was sitting and handed her a parchment with what seemed to be a map attached. She had a passive look on her face and Hermione found that she couldn't read her like she could many other people. The woman kept her swift pace and continued down the row of students, bringing Hermione out of her thoughts.

She looked down at the parchment at saw that it looked like a schedule of some sort. Before she could get a good look at it, however, the parchment was snatched out of her hands by Ginny, who looked to be jumping up and down in her seat. Hermione was using all the strength she had not to curse her. “You have Charms first? Lucky, I'm stuck with Snape for Double Potions.”

“Bummer” Ron said with a mouth full of… well… Hermione couldn't really tell what. 

“I have Charms first.” Harry said with a smile. “I could walk with you, if you'd like.”

Hermione had to bite her tongue and push all retorts out of her conscious thought. She was supposed to be his friend. “Sure, that way I wouldn't risk running into a wall because I was nose deep in the map.”

Harry chuckled and nodded. Hermione couldn't help but let a smile break through. She had to admit it, his laugh was contagious. That thought was immediately crushed. She wasn't supposed to like this… this… pathetic excuse for a human being! He was her enemy, which meant she could not find him amusing in any way… unless he was in pain, and then she had the right to laugh.

“What about you, Ron?” Harry asked. 
 
The redhead shook his head, “I got Care of Magical Creatures.”

“I thought you dropped that?” Ginny asked, taking a bite of her toast.

Ron shrugged his shoulders, “Guess I just took it to skive off.”

Harry and Ginny just rolled their eyes, apparently, this was normal to them. Well, not to Hermione. “Why would you skive off your last year?” She asked intently, anticipating his answer. Surely it would be some witty, somewhat humorous countered response.

Ron looked affronted, “W-well… that is…”


She inwardly laughed. That was the best he could come up with? Well, she would show him. “Don't you know that your scores on the N.E.W.T.s determine how future employers will look at you? How are you going to get a job, buy a home, feed yourself?” Hermione felt her face begin to get warm.

Ron smiled and visibly relaxed, “That's easy, I want to be a professional Quidditch player for the Chudley Cannons.”

Hermione scoffed, “And what if that doesn't work out for you? Don't you have any backup plans?”

She seemed to have stumped him, for his brow creased and his face tensed once more. “Why would I need a backup plan?”

“Well, you might not—” She began, planning on telling him exactly where he would wind up if he didn't make his precious Quidditch team.

Hermione was interrupted by a hand on her shoulder. “Well, I think we should get going to Charms, don't you?”

Hermione looked at Harry with a confused look on her face, wondering why he had stopped her from telling off Ron. Surely, he would have gotten tired of his friend choosing not to care on the career front? She glanced at the enchanted wristwatch she had purchased at Diagon Ally, charmed to tell her the time and where she was supposed to be. “Umm… sure”

She grabbed her book bag and slipped away from the table, returning Ginny's friendly wave goodbye. Ron still looked confused and Hermione had the urge to sprint back over there and finish what she started. But, she didn't want to be late for her first class, so she turned around and walked beside Harry, straying a good few inches from him.

When they left the hall, she chose to speak up, “Why didn't you let me finish? I was on a roll.”

Harry glanced over at her, “Ron is very… sensitive about his career choice.”

Her brow furrowed, “Why?”

Harry inhaled a short amount of breath, “Well, he constantly feels the need to prove himself. He has five older brothers, see? And each of them is tremendously good at what they do. The oldest, Bill, works for Gringotts as a curse-breaker and got all twelve of his O.W.L.s when he was here. The next, Charlie, works with dragons in Romania—”

Dragons?” Hermione asked in astonishment.

“Yeah” Harry said with a smile, “He was also an amazing seeker and could have gone professional, but chose to work abroad. His twin brothers Fred and George, own a shop in Diagon Ally called Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, and became tremendously successful. And then there is Ginny, the only Weasley girl to be born in generations. He has a lot to live up to, and he thinks his only strong feat is his keeping skills. Don't get me wrong, he's an incredible keeper, but he has potential to do so much more. But as his friend, I want to encourage him to do whatever he thinks is best." 

Hermione was astonished. She didn't think his reasoning for choosing to be a professional Quidditch player had that much reason behind it. Usually, the decisions she was used to making were short and based only upon nerve. She had never actually heard a logical explanation like that before, and a damn good one at that. “Wow, I… I didn't think that—”

“It's alright, you didn't know.” Harry said with a smile. “I mean, I'm pretty sure no one could figure that out the first time they meet Ron. Well, my first impression surely wasn't along the lines of `Well you look like a sad individual who needs to prove himself to his family, want to share my lollipop?'.”

Hermione chuckled. “You're right, it's more like `If you take one more bite of that chicken leg, I'm not cleaning up your vomit'.” 
 
Harry laughed at her, “Hey you're pretty funny.”
 
“Really?” She asked, clearly surprised. 

“Yeah, I don't think I've ever met anyone with a quicker wit than you. Except maybe Ginny, but I've always had the distinct feeling that she stole some of them from her brothers.”

Hermione felt her cheeks grow warm, “No one has really ever called me funny before.”

It was Harry's turn to ask “Really?” 

“Yeah” she confessed, “where I grew up, it was a very strict household and I didn't have the nerve to talk back to them”

“You kind of sound like me,” Harry said, “Except I took full advantage of it and mocked them with the old `I could always blow you up if you make me clean the dishes one more time'. I even made up phony spells and pretended to curse my cousin to keep him and his friends from chasing me around. But it didn't last after they found out I couldn't do magic outside of school until I was of age.”

Hermione smiled at him, “Sounds miserable.”

“It was for a time. But then I just kept on reminding myself that it was only for the summer, and then I could see my friends and do magic again. It helped when I was locked in my cousin's old bedroom without dinner. I would just think of warm, pumpkin pastries and chocolate frogs. Of course, it ended up making me hungrier, but the thoughts were enough.”

“You went to bed without food?” Hermione asked, aghast.

“Sometimes, when that witty comment brakes through on more than one occasion. It's hard not to make a joke when my Aunt and Uncle were discussing sending my cousin to fat camp.” He chuckled at the memory.

Hermione laughed and they came to stop in front of an open doorway. He let her pass by him and followed her into the room. She gasped when she took in the classroom. Books were scattered around the front of the class, many stacked atop each other at different angles. The seats were coliseum-like, raised at different levels and circling the room around the books. There was a single chalkboard with notes already written on it in white chalk and Hermione could smell the faint waft of peppermint. She chose a seat towards the front and closest to the board, wanting a good angle to take notes. Harry sat beside her and began to take out his supplies as well. When Harry looked up, however, his face turned stony. Hermione was about to ask what was wrong when he answered her question, “Great, we have class with the Slytherins.”

Hermione craned her neck towards the door and saw students file in with green and silver ties around their necks. Her face paled. She had not faced Draco since the sorting, and didn't feel like sharing a classroom with him at the moment. She immediately turned around when a head of platinum hair filed in with the crowd and busied herself with uncapping the bottle to her ink. Harry took no notice and simply glared at the students as they passed, not caring who saw. 

She was saved the displeasure of confrontation when a stout man with a white beard jumped atop a pile of books. He looked to be rather short, no more than two feet. He flipped through a planner quickly and cleared his throat, it was barely a whimper of a thing but he got that classes attention. Hermione couldn't help but be impressed at the man, having such authority over these students. But maybe all professors were like that? 

“There, there… settle down now, settle down.” He spoke in a high pitched-voice. Hermione did her best not to giggle, not wanting to draw attention to herself. “Since it is the first day of term and I'm sure many of you are not particularly happy about it, I thought that we should start with a review day to make sure that none of your knowledge was lost over the break.”

Hermione could hear a collective sigh of relief radiating from the class at the announcement. She couldn't help but be relieved as well. She wanted to know if this class, as well as others, would be difficult for her to learn… sure, she knew spells—she knew loads of spells—but not the kind that were advanced in light magic. She knew simple charms like Wingardium Leviosa and Alohamora, but not much more than that. Hopefully, it would be an easy subject to learn; but then again, she had always been quick to grasp things. 

“I would like you to open your books to page twenty-seven, please.” He instructed.
 
The class complied without complaint and Hermione followed. She scanned the page and saw that it was a simple summoning charm, one that she had already mastered years before. They learned this in their sixth year? How pathetic! 
 
“Now, with the person sitting opposite you, I would like you to practice the charm.”

It seemed simple enough, until she realized she would be paired with Harry. It wouldn't be that bad, though… they already had a civilized conversation on their way over here. She had to admit that from what she little she heard about his childhood, that he was making it lighter than what it actually was. A small twinge in her gut took effect when she let her thoughts dwell upon it, though she didn't know why. It couldn't be sympathy—she didn't really know the meaning of the word.

“Have you practiced Accio before” Harry asked from beside her.

Hermione nodded her head simply, “A bit.”

“Well I've known how to do it since fourth year, so I think it's safe to say that we don't need to practice it long.” He explained with a smile. 

“Yeah, okay.” She replied breezily.

Harry smiled and took out his wand, Hermione mimicking him. “Let's try on that book” he supplied. Hermione looked to where he pointed his finger and nodded in understanding. She waved her wand lazily and recited the charm, the book flying into her hand. Harry looked at her with widened eyes, “You can summon things without speaking the charm?”

Hermione's heart jumped. She didn't know that she did that! She could have sworn that she had muttered the charm. Of course, she knew she was able to, but she trained herself not to reveal that to onlookers, and, more importantly, him. “Umm… yeah, my f-father taught me.” She explained feebly. Hermione knew there was no use in denying his claim, for he seemed to be the stubborn type, much like herself.

“Well your father must be one hell of a wizard, then! It took me forever to learn how to do that.” He explained in awe.

“Well yeah he's pretty—wait, you can do it, too?” she asked in astonishment.

Harry looked a bit uncomfortable for a moment, shifting himself in his seat. “Well yeah, I need to know this stuff for… you know… future reference.” He explained in a hush. Hermione furrowed her brow. She didn't know that he could do that… she had to report it when the Dark Lord made his first contact with her. 

“Oh, right.” She supplied, feigning the hushed, nervous tone.

He smiled at her, thankful that she understood. Hermione assumed that the only reason he was so inconspicuous about the subject were the Slytherin onlookers, their ears straining to hear their conversation. More than half of the Slytherin's knew who she was, and knew about her mission. It made her quite uncomfortable, having all these eyes staring at the back of her head and scrutinizing her every move. She knew she was above all of these people, but it didn't make the situation any less nerve-wracking.

“How did your father teach you, with the age restrictions and all?” he asked curiously.

“I turned seventeen last November, so he taught me over the summer.” She lied breezily.

“You're birthday is in November?” He asked.

She nodded, “Yeah, November nineteenth.”

“November nineteenth…” he muttered to himself, “I'll remember that.”

Hermione furrowed her brow, “Why would you want to remember my birthday?”

“So I can get you a present, of course.” He replied simply, as if it was an obvious answer.

“Why would you want to get me a present?”

Harry looked at her oddly, she didn't know what for. No one had ever cared for her birthday before, except maybe Draco and his annual “gifts”; although she wouldn't really call them gifts, because he benefitted more than she did half of the time. “Well, we're friends aren't we?”

Hermione was floored. Friends, already? Well this was proving easier than expected. “Right, yeah, of course.”

He chuckled a little, “Good, you had me worried for a moment there.”

Hermione smiled, “Well, you were an easy target.”

Harry arched a brow, “Way to boost my self-esteem.”

“It was my pleasure.” She said, faking formality.

They sat like that for a while, just talking. Hermione was surprised how easy it was to hold a conversation with him. First, before class, and now during she was talking to him without so much as a violent thought having to do with his impending doom. The rest of the class was busy working on their shaky summoning charms to notice the two of them laughing, and for that she was thankful. They might think she was actually enjoying herself. Which she wasn't… not really.

“And so then, he runs into the room in just his Chudley Cannons underwear and a white undershirt, pissed as hell. Next thing I knew, he whips the shirt off, jumps on the table and starting spinning the thing around like a cowboy shouting `I'm a lucky idiot, I'm a lucky idiot!'”

Hermione burst out laughing, “No way!”

“Yeah” he nodded frantically, “But not even five minutes later, he found a mop and put it on his head singing, `I'm a horsey, whip me!'”

“Oh gods” she said, he face turning pink. “That's a mental image I didn't need in my brain.”

“Well now you're scarred for life like the rest of Gryffindor house. The lesson to be learned is to never give Ron butterbeer on an empty stomach after a Quidditch match.”

“Dooley noted.” She replied.

It was then that the bell rang, signifying the end of class. They both picked up their bags and supplies and walked out side-by-side. “So what do you have next?” he asked her as they filed out into the crowded hallway.

“Erm…” she pulled out her timetable and looked it over, “Defense Against the Dark Arts.”

“Me too, I guess we're walking together again. Hope you're not tired of me already.”

“Hardly” she replied without thought.

“Good” he smiled at her.

She smiled back and they made their way to the classroom at a steady pace. They got their quickly and entered the room to see Ron already there and waiting for them. Harry waved at his friend and Hermione began uncharacteristically giggling. Harry heard her and whispered through the corner of his mouth, “Just try to picture him before he ripped his shirt off and you'll be fine.”

Hermione just giggled harder and Harry couldn't help but join her. When they reached Ron, his face was contorted in confusion. “What are you guys laughing about?”

“Nothing!”

“Mashed Potatoes!” 

They both answered at the same time and erupted in laughs once again. Ron looked at the two of them as if they had gone mental, “You know, I'm not sure if I want to know.”

Eventually, they sobered and sat down, Ron next to one of his housemates which Hermione didn't know the name of, and Harry next to Hermione. Ron looked a little put out at first when Harry chose the seat next to Hermione, but played it off nonchalantly. Hermione was a little surprised as well, but busied herself with getting her supplies to mask her confusion. The class was chatting lightly, waiting for their professor to arrive. He entered the classroom in a stride and the class went into a hush. Hermione's earlier theory was then proven; the professors did have that effect on their students.

“Good morning.” Professor Lupin greeted the class with a smile. Mumbled responses were heard throughout the classroom and Hermione mumbled her own along with them. “For those of you who don't remember me, I'm Professor Lupin. Yes, I am still a werewolf, so whoever has a problem with that can feel free to leave.” He looked over the classroom once and nodded, “That's what I thought. Now, onto the real reason we're all here: Defense Against The Dark Arts. Now that you have N.E.W.T.s to prepare for, I have no choice but to come down hard on you. So yes, that means homework on your first day.”
 
Many groans emitted throughout the classroom and Hermione resisted the need to sigh. Honestly, it was school, did they expect anything less? “But, to start off the lesson, we are going to take thorough notes on defensive spells. Now, most of these will be review, but they are still crucial to your testing."

He made his way to the chalkboard and removed the cover that had been over it, revealing a diagram and notes. Hermione began to copy the board while listening to Professor Lupin's lecture like many other students. It was true, she knew many of these spells, but the theories behind them were a mystery to her. Most we designed to repel Dark Magic, which she specialized in and used most of her limited knowledge with. She was foreign to the lesson in the sense that these spells were meant to be used in the form of defense from curses, not to repel them back at your enemy. There were so many other uses for these spells that Hermione had never thought possible. Talk about expanding her horizons!

The lesson consisted of long notes and an even longer lecture, but Hermione found herself far from bored like the rest of her classmates. The only other person to be equally enthused about the lesson besides her was Harry, whose notes seemed to be equally in-depth. It was towards the end of the lesson when she heard a quite snoring beside her. She turned around to see Ron resting his head on his hands and breathing heavily. Hermione figured she wasn't the only one who noticed, for quite giggles began to sound from all around her. Lupin seemed to have taken notice as well and stopped mid-sentence to levitate a rather heavy-looking book over to where Ron was seated. Hermione thought lightly that he was going to drop the book on his head in punishment, but all he did was lift the spell and send the book crashing to the edge of his desk, right near his ears. 

Ron's head snapped up, “Wha—mum?”

The class erupted in laughter and Ron blushed when he realized where he was. Professor Lupin raised an eyebrow at him, “Does my class bore you Mister Weasley?”

“Well yeah.” He responded truthfully, “Why can't we do lessons like we did in third year?”

“Sorry to disappoint you, Mister Weasley, but you have tests to prepare for. We won't begin the physical part until next week.” The whole class seemed to be effected by this. They all moaned and groaned and Lupin laughed, “Don't worry, it's not all bad. I'll try to make it as bearable as possible for you… at least bearable enough where you won't fall asleep.” The class laughed at the reddening face of Ron.

It was that moment that the bell to signify the end of class sounded. The class began to pack up their things as Professor Lupin called over the chatter, “Your homework is a two foot long essay on the history of the Diffendo spell!”

Hermione, Ron, and Harry made their way out of the classroom with Hermione lagging behind a bit, looking at her timetable once more. She was about to catch up with the two boys when an arm tugged her to the side and into a secluded classroom. Hermione didn't need to think too much on it to figure out who it was. 

“You seemed to be enjoying yourself in Charms today.” Draco hissed in her ear as he began to pace the room.

“It's an act, Draco, I need to get close to him, remember?” Hermione said smartly.

“It didn't look like and act to me.” He said matter-of-factly. “I think that you started out acting, and slowly were sucked into the Potter `charm'.”

Potter charm?” Hermione asked humorously, “I don't think so. I can handle myself Draco; I was born for this job.”

“That may be so, but your walls might not be thick enough to resist the lure of Potter and his Muggle-loving cronies.” Draco said with a sneer.

Hermione's temper began to rise, “Are you insinuating that I can't do this?”

Draco saw her face contort to one of anger and immediately lost his confident demeanor. “W-well…”

“I am fully capable of initiating a false relationship with my sworn enemy; you above all people should know how passionate I am about this.” She said, poking him hard in the chest.

He rubbed the tender spot, “I know, Mia, I know. Look, I'm just saying that I'm worried about you. You haven't been to a school before and you might get sucked into its clutches and lose focus.”

Hermione smiled lightly at him, “Well thank you for your concern but I'm fine. I'm doing fine and I don't need your help.”
 
Draco smiled at her in return, “You knew you're really sexy when you're angry.” He started to walk over to her but Hermione held out a hand to push him back a fair few inches. He looked put out as Hermione shook her head.

“You're trying to butter me up and it's not going to work. While I'm here, it's strictly business and nothing else.” Draco frowned and Hermione laughed at him. “No.”

“You're no fun.”

Hermione just shook her head. Before she left the room, though, he grabbed her forearm and stared intently at her. She looked at him questioningly as he spun her around to face him. “Don't do anything stupid, Mia… He's watching.”

Hermione just pulled out of his grip and slipped out the door. The halls were emptying and she had to sprint the length to class. She had Divination next and followed the map until it lead her to a tower that smelled of smoke and potpourri. She had to climb a narrow ladder and push open a trap-like door in order to enter the classroom. The bell rang just as she took a seat next to Harry and Ron at one of the circular tables. Harry looked questioningly at her and she replied with a simple lie, “I had to use the washroom.”

He just nodded and didn't question her further. Ron, however, seemed oblivious and was staring intently at the smoking crystal ball that was perched in the middle of the table. Their teacher had yet to enter the classroom and Hermione took that time to think about what Draco had told her. He was watching her. The Dark Lord was watching her. She didn't want to think about how he could do such a thing, she knew he had his methods and didn't bother questioning them. The point was that he was watching her, and that meant she had no room to make a mistake. Even though she was used to him watching her like this, it was a higher-stake situation. The thought of him knowing her every move in this secluded castle made her develop sweat on the back of her neck.

“You alright, Hermione?” Harry asked with concern.

“Yeah” she lied, “Never better.” 

~*~

A/N: Yeah I know... I should be working on IFH. But hey, you guys seem to like this story so much, I decided to post the next chapter =]

-Shar


Chapter 5: Dumbledore's Army
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Classes had been going on for a week when Hermione stumbled upon what she thought to be the most astonishing thing she had ever been witness to, and she had seen quite a few in her time. It started out as a normal day; her classes were going well, the food had been editable, and she hadn't had another run in with Draco that scared her to pieces, though she still hadn't admitted that was what she was really feeling—fear. 

She was in the middle of her Divination class, staring at her teacher and wondering how a bird like her could ever get a job teaching a class like this. It was obvious that she lacked the seer blood that was usually required to teach a Divination class. She even considered dropping it, after the professor had predicted her to be attacked by a swarm of hippogriffs by breakfast the next morning. Honestly, who did this woman think she was? But, she chose to keep it, for the sake of her mission.

“Today we will be focusing on the art of tarot reading. I, myself, am fairly new to the craft as my discovery of the cards did not come about until two summers ago. Now please, turn to Chapter Six in your books to reference what you find in your partners reading. We will be using the Celtic Pagan method, as well as the Planetary Spread. I will be around observing your findings. Maybe we will have another appearance of the Death Card this year.” Hermione could have sworn that she looked in her direction, but dismissed the idea. Professor Trelawney came off as anything but an expert in Divination.

She was sitting across from Harry once again while Ron had elected to take a spot by Dean Thomas, claiming that he had to discuss something with him. Hermione found that Ron was not the best liar, as he and Dean seemed to be focusing on the smoking crystal ball more than each other. She had no idea what the fascination was with the thing, it was as if they had never seen a glass ball containing magical mists before! Harry was studying the image of the Planetary Spread they were supposed to use while aligning the cards to match quite slowly and Hermione huffed.

His head snapped up, “What?”

“Are you checking to see if the cards have wizard pox or something?” She asked in amusement.

Harry just gave her a look and finished setting the cards down in their correct positions, ignoring Hermione muttering profanities under her breathe. He looked at her with a raised eyebrow and Hermione rolled her eyes at him, causing him to crack a smile. 

“I think I should read you first.” He stated.

Hermione nodded in response and he flipped the cards over, revealing detailed sketches of symbols and people she was not familiar with. He also seemed to be baffled by the cards, for he immediately reached for his book and started at the northern tip of the star-shaped alignment. “Alright this is supposed to read home matters… let's see…” He read off a description of her card, the Two of Swords, “You find yourself in a stalemate situation and you are neither able to move forward nor retreat. This is not a comfortable situation, but a state of armed truce. Depending on the surrounding cards, the Two of Swords may mean that you find yourself in a tricky situation, but you are unwilling to face up to sorting it out for fear of upsetting the status quo—well, that's odd.”

Hermione felt her hands get sweaty and proceeded to wipe them off on her skirt, out of the vision of Harry. The one time Divination actually made some sort of sense, it read her like an open book. “Yeah, it's… far off to say the least. This tarot reading is a load of nonsense.”

Harry nodded, sympathizing with her. “Maybe we should just move on to the next one… matters and skills.”

“You can just skip that one; I don't need a card telling me what I'm good at.” She replied breezily.

Harry smiled, “I'm with you on that one.” He glanced at the book again, “Love and relationships, then?”

Hermione shrugged, “Sure, what can it hurt? The nonexistence of my love life can be neither helped nor ruined.”

Harry chuckled and studied the card for a moment before flipping to the correct page and reading off what was printed before him, “The Tower—sounds pleasant.” He commented, causing Hermione to giggle. “The tower in this card represents all of the things you have built up around yourself, the exterior face you present to the world. You aren't an exotic dancer and not telling anyone about it are you?”

Hermione punched him in the shoulder, blushing faintly. “Continue reading, you dolt!”

He shook his head to brush his bangs out of his face and continued to read, “It indicates that an unexpected shock or disaster will change your life completely. Some action you have taken in the past is now beginning to have unfortunate consequences that you never imagined. The tower that you have so carefully created will be destroyed no matter what you do—your plans and ambitions shattered. The tower cracks and falls because it was a flawed structure built with the poor materials of misguided ambition, false values, and pride. While the consequences of this card are painful and unwanted at the time, they force you to face up to the fact that you have been deceiving yourself and living your life on a false premise. Now, you must sort through the wreckage and truthfully examine your motives. If you try to erect the same tower again from the old rubble, it will collapse again.”

The two of them remained quiet for a while, soaking in the long description. Hermione thought in some ways, it made sense—not pertaining to her of course, but to someone with conflicting emotions. The true question was why it was in relation to her love and relationships. She had been hoping for something straightforward, something like “You will have lots of great sex until the day you die”. Why must Divination always speak in riddles? 

“Well, that was… erm…” Harry tried feebly.

“Utterly pointless” Hermione finished. “Honestly, let me just do yours so we can get this over with.”

Harry handed her his book, “Be my guest.”

Hermione re-shuffled the cards and set them into their previous positions, noticeably faster than how Harry had done it before. He knew she was thinking this and stuck his tongue out at her childishly. She just smirked and flipped the cards over. “Let's just skip to Fame and Achievements to save us the trouble of reading another riddle.” He nodded in agreement and Hermione looked at the card before referencing it to the corresponding description in the book. It was a picture of a woman cloaked in a white robe in a field, holding a small sickle, “Death.”

Harry's eyes narrowed into tiny slits and his face turned a shade of light pink. Hermione looked at him apprehensively before he shouted, “Every bloody year!

His exclamation was loud enough to cause the professor to shuffle over to them and peer at Harry through her magnified spectacles. “What seems to be the problem, dear boy?” She glanced down at the cards and saw the one marked Death and tutted to herself, “It appears that the omen of death is upon you once again Mister Potter. It has been a pleasure teaching you these past five years…” she trailed off and sniffed, pulling a tissue out from a pocket in her gypsy-like robes and blowing. She turned and left the two of them at their table, the rest of the class staring at them, not knowing whether to laugh or sympathize.

“Harry?” Hermione asked tentively, placing a reluctant hand on his shoulder and feigning sympathy.

He looked up at her and smiled, “Sorry… it's just a touchy subject.”

Hermione nodded and removed her hand from his shoulder. “On the bright side, class ends in—” The bell rang and Harry laughed. “Now” she finished flatly.

The two of them picked up their books and waited for Ron and Dean at the entrance to the classroom. They were along in a few moments and the four of them made their way down the trapdoor and spiraling staircase in a comfortable silence. When they arrived in the Great Hall for lunch, Dean spoke up as he took a seat across from Hermione. “So Harry is the DA meeting still on for tonight?”

“Yeah, right after dinner” He replied.

Dean nodded in understanding and went on to eating his meal. Hermione, however, was thoroughly confused and looked at them with a furrowed brow. “What's the DA?” she asked curiously.

Harry looked at her as if he had just realized something, “Oh, that's right, I haven't told you yet!”

“Obviously.” She said in an explicit tone.

“It stands for the Defense Association, a club Ron and I started a few years back after… well…” He trailed off. He caught himself and continued, “We practice defensive spells, preparing ourselves for future… events. We have people from every house participating from third year and up. Well, with the exception of Slytherin, that is.”

Hermione was in shock. A club for preparing themselves? It was fairly obvious what she had to do now. They were actually training for the Final Battle! But, she had to keep her thoughts to herself as she answered in what she hoped was an interested tone, “That sounds fascinating.”

“It is!” Ron exclaimed from beside her. “Harry teaches us everything we need to know; even Neville learned how to cast a disarming charm without poking someone's eye out! He's bloody brilliant!”

Harry blushed and Hermione smiled politely. She had to gain access to this club. It could be extremely valuable information for her master and his now seemingly feeble attempts at preparation. “So, are you taking any new members?”

“Of course” Harry said, obviously pleased. “You already know when the meeting is today, but we always meet on Wednesdays and Fridays at the same time.”

Hermione nodded, “Alright, I'll be there.”

“Fantastic.”

~*~

The rest of the day passed slowly, but by the end of dinner, she found herself rushing to the Gryffindor Common Room, intent on meeting up with someone to walk to the meeting with. Harry hadn't been very precise with the directions, so Hermione thought it best to tag along with someone else for the time being. Then, she could find the way on her own and make use of her newly acquired knowledge. 

She found Ginny lounging on one of the couches near the fire and greeted her softly. Ginny's face immediately brightened as she stood up to face her. “So I heard you're going to the meeting as well?”

Hermione nodded and Ginny squealed. She had to restrain herself from covering her ears at the high-pitched noise. Seriously, was this girl wired to make her brain turn to mush? “Do you have to do that?” she asked, referring to her over-exited demeanor.
 
“Sorry, it's just in my nature.” She said with a shrug. Glancing at the clock, she stood up and turned back to Hermione. “Do you want to walk down together?”

“Sure.” Hermione replied, somewhat relieved that she didn't have to trail a stranger all the way to the Room of Requirement. She had read up on the room in Hogwarts, a History, of course—it was designed to accustom to whoever walked past it thrice with a single intent on their mind. The book did not specify a location, but in a few minutes, Hermione would have no trouble finding the come-and-go room. 

She followed Ginny as they made their way through Hogwarts at a steady pace. The two of them arrived in a hallway on the seventh floor a few minutes later, where a few students were filing into a door that Hermione never recalled seeing in her past walks in this part of the castle. This must be the entrance, Hermione thought to herself, observing the surroundings to make sure she would remember. It was across from a tapestry showing a man looking as if he was trying to teach a heard of trolls ballet, a very different sight for her to witness.

“Come on, so we can catch the door!” Ginny proclaimed before she grabbed Hermione's wrist and pulled her behind her as she sprinted towards the door. 

They reached the door just as someone was entering and filed into it behind them. Hermione was immediately struck speechless as she entered the large room. It was filled with large bookcases aligning the walls, cushions along the floors, and what looked to be practice dummies in the shape of Death Eaters. Hermione had to chuckle to herself quietly, but immediately silenced quickly as she found another intriguing feature of the room, a corkboard filled with clippings from the Daily Prophet and a magazine she didn't recognize. She walked over to the board and observed it, finding that every article had something to do with her master or the attacks she had helped participate in. It sent a cool chill down her spine knowing that she was in a room that was being used for training to defeat people like her. Not her, she was far to experienced for any of these armature students to face, but Death Eaters like Wormtail, or even Malfoy. 

“It's quite disturbing, isn't it?” a dreamy voice asked from beside her. Hermione turned to see a girl looking at her oddly. She had dirty blonde, waist length hair that seemed to be on the straggly side, protruding silver-grey eyes that made her seem as though she was surprised at something, what seemed to be radish earrings, and a necklace made from butterbeer corks. She seemed to notice Hermione's confused expression, for she pressed on, “All of those people… gone. Tragic, really, how someone can do such a thing without the influence of a Blibbering Humdinger.”

“A—a what?” Hermione asked, taken aback at the odd phrase.

“They make people do things that aren't ethically correct. Things like committing murders or helping someone use the washroom.” The girl responded, still using that dreamy tone.

“Right…” Hermione answered, not knowing what else to say. 

“I'm Luna Lovegood, and you're Hermione” she said in a matter-of-fact way.

“I—right, nice to meet you” Hermione replied, extending her hand for her to shake. But instead of accepting it, Luna chose to through her arms around Hermione and give her a loose hug. Her first thought was of disgust, before turning to one of awkwardness. She had only just met this girl and she was already initiating physical contact. She patted Luna's back lightly and let out a relieved breath as she pulled away, staring at her again.

“I wrote that article, you know.” She said, pointing to a piece of paper that belonged to the unknown magazine Hermione had noticed earlier. “My father let me do a piece on the precautions Hogwarts was taking to protect its students, seeing as I go here. It was a thrilling experience, knowing I was going to be on the same page as the Crumble-Horned Snorkack! We didn't put it up though… I don't know why, they're extremely fascinating creatures. Maybe I should go ask Harry.”

And with that, she left. Hermione stared after her. She thought after Ginny, Hogwarts couldn't produce an odder version of the female race. Luna Lovegood had definitely proved her wrong. 

Hermione turned to skim the bookcases that had first gathered her attention when she heard Harry's voice sound from the center of the room. “Alright everyone, gather around!” Hermione, along with the rest of the occupants of the room (quite a few, if she did say so herself) gathered around him. He smiled at the crowd and continued in a confident voice, “Today, being the first meeting of the year, we'll begin practicing the uses of the Dissillusionment Charm. I would like you to practice the spell with a partner. It seems easy, but there are many ways this can turn out, so go on and practice and I'll be around if you need any help.”

The students dispersed quickly and paired off, and the only person remaining was Luna. Hermione groaned to herself as the girl approached her with a smile. She forced smiled in response and let her lead her to a spot by the fireplace. Luna muttered the incantation quietly while tapping her wand lightly to the top of her head and began to disappear from Hermione's vision. 

“Did it work?” she heard Luna's voice ask.

“Yeah” Hermione said, “I can't see you at all.”

“Excellent” she replied, “I feel like I just had a flood of pumpkin juice poured down my back.”

Hermione couldn't help but giggle to herself at the comment. A few moments, Luna re-appeared before her and she jumped a little, not expecting her to be not even a foot in front of her. The girl just smiled at her, “You're turn”

Hermione nodded and performed the charm on herself. She didn't feel the sensation that Luna had described, but an odd tingling feeling working its way from her head to her feet. Luna looked in her direction pointedly and she knew that she had been unsuccessful. Hermione cursed herself, angry that she couldn't perform a simple Dissillusionment Charm. She had read about the charm before, but never performed it. Death Eaters weren't necessarily known for being inconspicuous when it came to their attacks.

“You look like… orange.” Luna stated.

“Orange?” she asked in astonishment, “How in the hell could I have turned orange?”

Luna shrugged her shoulders, “Maybe we should ask Harry.”

Hermione shook her head, “No, that's not—” But Luna had already motioned for Harry to come over to where they were. Hermione felt her face grow warm in embarrassment as he did a once-over on her appearance. She expected a sarcastic comment, or maybe a deep chuckle from him. He surprised her by muttering a spell and causing a warm sensation to liquefy over her body. 

“Have you practiced this charm before?”

“No” she answered honestly.

He just smiled and came to stand in front of her, “It's quite simple, all you have to do is say the charm and relax your body.” Hermione nodded and tried the charm again, but felt the same tingling sensation wash over her and groaned. Harry pressed his lips together and muttered the same spell he had done before. “You're not relaxing. You need to clear your mind, loosen up, and just… be.”

Hermione closed her eyes, trying to clear her mind of anything but the charm as she recited it to herself before lifting her wand to the top of her head and voicing it. She felt as though an egg had been cracked upon her head and grinned at the new feeling. She saw Harry smile at her and couldn't help but exclaim, “I did it!”

She didn't know what motivated her to make her next move, but she ran over to where Harry was and gave him a hug. He hadn't been expecting an invisible Hermione to come over and hug him, so the both of them tumbled to the ground as though she had jumped him. They both let out a sound of impact and laughed uncomfortably. 

“I'm so sorry!” She blurted.

“It's alright” he said lightly, “We if this isn't déjà vu, I don't know what is.”

Hermione blushed, “Sorry."
 
“It's alright. Besides, to everyone else it just looked like I fell over for no apparent reason and am now talking to myself.” He said with clear amusement.

“So I'm guessing you do that a lot them, seeing as no one is coming over here and asking if you're alright.” 

“Well half of them are invisible, so they very well could be, and the other half are just used to it.” He said, smiling up at her again.

An awkward silence fell between them and they both realized at that moment what position they were in and scrambled off of each other. Hermione said the spell to lift the charm and tried her best to cool her hot skin. She had never really been so flustered about being on top of a guy before, especially in a compromising situation like this. Normally she would stay in control, not get off the guy as if he were on fire; and she definitely felt as if she'd been burned. 

Harry shot her a smile as if to say “Don't worry about it” and she nodded. He left to help another group of students on the other side of the room and she watched him as he walked off. When she realized that her line of vision was no long on his back, but on a tad bit lower region, she blinked rapidly and turned to see Luna standing behind her once again. She gasped in surprise and tried to calm her racing heartbeat with a palm over her chest. Luna seemed to be unaware of how much she truly startled her, because she just smiled at her lazily.

“He really is a fantastic teacher, don't you think?” she asked her conversationally.

Hermione glanced over her shoulder to see Harry help another student master the Disillusionment Charm and then patting his hand on their back in congratulations. “Yes” she said as she saw him smile at them, “he is.”

“It's kind of a shock, really.” Luna said, catching Hermione off guard and causing her to turn back around to face her, “He didn't use to be this confident, always with his head in the clouds and looking as though if he'd associate with somebody he'd spontaneously combust. But then he just changed after our fourth year and started up the Defense Association. Quite an odd name, if you ask me, because we do far more than learn to defend ourselves.”

“Well then why did you settle on the name?” Hermione asked curiously.

“Harry's old girlfriend, Cho, suggested it—quite an airhead, if you ask me—and in comparison to the others it was the best.” She answered simply. “I still remember the first time Dumbledore heard about it, he joked that it sounded as though we were forming a sort of wizard army.” Hermione chuckled. It did sound like the way the headmaster would react to such a thing. “If you think about it, Harry really based it off of his ideas and such."

“Well why don't you just name it Dumbledore's Army, then?” Hermione suggested lightly.

Luna looked at her with widened eyes. Well, wider than usual. “That's a good idea! I'm going to start using that, too.”

Hermione smiled at the girl. She took another look around the room, observing all of the people in it. They all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves and learning a lot from Harry's teachings. The way he carried himself when he was teaching was… quite remarkable, if she did say so herself. She didn't think it was possible for a person that young of age, with a dark fate hanging over his head, to carry himself so well. Of course, he didn't know that this was going to be his last year, maybe he suspected it, but didn't really know. Maybe… maybe she should hold off on telling the Dark Lord about his defense club, see how far he could really stretch these kids before declaring any danger to them. It seemed logical. Who would think that a bunch of kids would stand a chance when faced with a duel against a highly trained Death Eater, anyway? It sounded utterly preposterous and would probably mean nothing to the Dark Lord, maybe cause him to chuckle at their misguidance. 

She turned back to Luna and saw her staring off into space. Hermione didn't think she'd noticed her staring at her until she spoke up, “You know, if the nargles hadn't of pushed you into Harry, I would have thought that you meant to knock him over. It was quite amusing seeing you two like that, made me think… Ginny really isn't his soul mate, anyway.”

Luna walked over to where a few students were playing a version of hide-and-seek using the new mastered Disillusionment Charms, leaving Hermione speechless. Just what had she meant by that? 
 
~*~

A/N: Looks like a lot of you think I'm being original, which is a good sign =] I'm glad you're all enjoying the story! In Fair Hogwarts should be updated this next week as long as I keep on brainstorming. If you're a fan of it and have any suggestions, feel free to e-mail me or something because I do not want it to die! My e-mail address is on my website, and the link to my website is on my Author's Page. Please stop by and give a shout!

-Shar


Chapter 6: Hogsmeade
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The month of September flew by and before Hermione knew it, it was the second week of October. A Hogsmeade trip was planned for the third years and up and she was looking forward to exploring the town just outside of Hogwarts. She loved Hogwarts—she really did—but the walls seemed to close in on her the first few weeks of her stay there. The only thing that kept her sane was her improving social skills with Harry, Ginny, Ron, and surprisingly, Luna. Although she still found the bubbly blonde to be a close contender to the eighth wonder of the world, she was an interesting person to talk to when she found herself overloaded with coursework, which proved to be quite often.

She woke up early on Saturday with an odd feeling in her lower stomach, not unlike the ones she used to get when a bad thing was about to happen. Hermione hadn't had these pains in years; the last time she remembered having them was when she was eleven during the summer. She was convinced that she was having a touch of the Wizard Flu, but it never amounted to anything but that queasy feeling in her stomach. That same day, the Malfoy's had a fire that originated in their overly large fireplace. They never told her how or why the fire was started; only that she had to stay in her room for a few days while the repairs were being done. Being the young, na�ve girl she was, she went along with it without question. Their house elf, Dobby, brought up her food every meal, and he became the first person she could talk to beside Draco. It was odd, considering an elf an equal, but Dobby's kind nature stuck with her even after he was dismissed when she was thirteen. She really missed him.

Rubbing her tired eyes, she got out of the comforts of her bed and prepared herself for the day ahead of her, but instead of her uniform she dressed in jeans and a sweater thinking of the chill winds outside. Her roommates, again, were not up at this hour, even though they would be if it was a weekday. Sleeping in was vastly overrated, in her opinion. What did dreams hold that was better than real life? Hermione rarely dreamed, if at all, so she did not see the logic in taking extra time out of your day to sleep if all it did was make you lazy and cranky. Honestly, where was the sense in that?

Ginny was waiting for her in the common room, as was their newly-formed routine. Ginny suggested it after a few weeks of noticing that both she and Hermione arrived in the Great Hall for breakfast within minutes of the other. Hermione was resistant at first, as she always was with these people, but gave in eventually after Ginny tried to pull the “puppy dog pout” she had heard so much about. She had to admit, it stirred something within her seeing her lower lip jutted out like that, but it was most likely due to annoyance than anything else.

“Good morning Herms!” The red-head chimed brightly. Yet another new addition to her life here at Hogwarts, nicknames that made her want to pull out a steak knife and stab whoever called her it repeatedly in the chest. Most of the time it was Ginny, whose sugar sweet voice didn't help matters when the name oozed out of her mouth. The only person who was allowed to call her anything other than her birth name was Draco, and even then she got exasperated once in a while.

Pretending that the current state of Ginny's health wasn't at risk, Hermione responded in what she hoped was a cheerful voice, “`Morning Ginny.”

Ginny smiled at her and she knew she was safe. The two girls made their way out of the tower and sat down at the Gryffindor table when they arrived at the virtually empty hall. There was already food set before them and they wasted no time piling it onto their plates and devouring it. Hermione had acquired an addiction to the cooking that Hogwarts provided them, and wished there was some way that she could have it at her fingertips. But alas, she asked Ginny after her first taste of treacle tarts with no avail. The location of the kitchen was another secret that Hermione had yet to discover.

“So” Ginny asked with a half-mouthful of eggs, “looking forward to your first Hogsmeade visit?”

Ignoring Ginny's lack of table manners for the time being, she answered with a grin, “Of course! I mean, I love this place to pieces but a change of scenery would be a welcome relief.”

Ginny nodded, “I felt that way when I was old enough to go. Ron and Harry were always bragging about how incredible it was and I couldn't wait to see for myself. Any place you're looking forward to seeing?”

“The Three Broomsticks sounds interesting, and so does Honeydukes.” Hermione said with interest, remembering the few stores she had read and heard about.

“Both well worth the visit, I assure you. I'm sure Harry, Ron, and I would love to accompany you your first visit to the coveted village.” Ginny said.

Hermione couldn't help but smile at the faux formality, “Well I thank you for your kind offer and will do well to remember it.”

Both girls laughed and continued to pick at their food. Harry and Ron both came in within the next few minutes, the weekend sleep clear on their smiling faces. One of the many benefits of the weekend: Harry and Ron weren't easily mistaken for Inferi and their eating habits were back to a normal, garbage-disposal pace.

“Morning ladies” Ron called happily before shoving what looked to be a pound of flapjacks onto his plate. Ginny and Hermione nodded to him and Harry and continued eating.

Hermione had been getting this weird feeling every time she looked at Harry lately. It could only be described as her stomach muscles contracting and feeling as though they were lifting it into her throat. It wasn't a pleasant feeling, and certainly not one that she had been accustomed to. This foreign experience was something new altogether and it befuddled her to an extensive degree. Did everyone feel like this when they looked at him? Did Ron—did Ginny?

But, she had been semi-successfully avoiding his eyes for a good few weeks now without him questioning her. And she didn't feel guilty about it one bit because she knew who was to blame—Luna! What she said after the first D.A. meeting had been plaguing her ever since she thought about what it could have meant. Hermione didn't even want to think about it… she just did. Stupid Luna and her stupid riddles…

“So when do the carriages leave?” Hermione asked, distracting herself from her inner thoughts.

“In about ten minutes” Harry answered, glancing at his watch.

Hermione nodded in understanding and finished up her food. They had small talk as the excitement for the trip mounded with each passing minute. After what seemed to be forever, the announcement that the carriages had arrived was made and students bustled to the exits of the hall and tried to get the best spot. Hermione followed behind Ginny to one of the carriages towards the back and ended up sitting right next to Harry. Great, she thought, that's just what I need right now. The guy who is making me experience physical as well as mental pain sitting next to me in a confined carriage. Fan-bloody-tastic.

Harry smiled over at her and her stomach did that weird contraction again, making her grimace. On top of her other feeling in her lower stomach, it was rather painful. “Are you alright?” He asked in concern.

“Yeah” she lied smoothly, “I'm fine.”

He gave her a look that said that he didn't believe her, but didn't press it, and for that she was thankful. As she had got to know Harry, she had been getting the distinct feeling that he just knew what was going on in her head, but when she lied about it, he didn't want to make her uncomfortable. Hermione thought it was due to his… situation. Luna had said that he didn't used to be as open as he was now. Maybe that was the reason? She knew that she hated people who wanted to know every detail of everything that she did. Ginny was the kind of person who put off that vibe sometimes, but she pressed back when Hermione gave her one of her infamous “if you ask me again I swear to Merlin I will kill you” looks.

The ride to Hogsmeade was short, as she expected. The town was only a few miles away from the school and what felt like ten minutes later, they arrived. Hermione was the first to push herself out of the carriage, practically shoving an equally eager Ron out of the way. Ginny giggled behind her and Hermione could picture the incredulous look Ron was giving her behind her back. But before she could turn around and laugh at him and his childish reactions, she was hit with the beauty that was Hogsmeade Village.

The tall buildings reminded her of a more homely version of Diagon Ally. She could see older students running to their favorite stores and third years staring in wonder at the village much like the way she was. Most of the stores seemed to be along one long road with a few others off on other paths. They were all very close to each other, forming dark alleys between them where she assumed the trash and vermin laid. She had never seen a place like this before, oozing magic and happiness. Surprisingly, she was not at all disturbed by it, but rather the opposite. She felt as though she belonged in places like this, places where laughter could be heard around every corner and where she could imagine herself living in her later years.

“Beautiful, isn't it?” A feminine voice said from behind her. She knew it was Ginny and didn't bother to turn around. “So, where do you want to head off to first?”

“I'll just follow your lead” she said passively. In truth, she wanted to go everywhere, but knew that she had to keep herself in check, as they didn't have the entire day. Her homework was sitting in a pile on her bedside table, waiting to be completed.

Ginny nodded and grabbed Harry's hand, intertwining their fingers together. They lead the way to a building with a sign that read “The Three Broomsticks” and Hermione smiled, as this was one of the places she wanted to visit.

When she walked through the door she was hit with a waft of what seemed to be butterscotch. She recognized the scent as butterbeer and a wide grin spread on her face. It was by far one of her favorite drinks and she only seldom got to taste it. They had a limited supply when she lived at Malfoy Manor, claiming it would ruin their health and make them soft. It was nowhere to be found at the Riddle Mansion, as the Dark Lord never acquired a taste for it. She used to sneak some when she went out on raids, making it her goal to have some by the end of their time spent there. Sometimes, it was the only thing she looked forward to on those days.

They found a table near the back and a curvy sort of woman came up to ask for their orders. Hermione noticed that she was also very pretty and when she approached them, Ron's face seemed to get a few shades redder. Hermione giggled under her breath and made a note to herself to point that out later.

“What'll it be today dears?” she asked while looking them over.

“I think we'll all be content with some butterbeers.” Harry said on behalf of the table. He turned to Hermione for a short moment after what looked to be a second of thought, “Do you like butterbeer, Hermione?”

Hermione answered bluntly, “Oh yes!”

Harry gave her another smile and she had to put a hand over her stomach to settle it. The woman nodded at them and turned back towards a bar to get their orders. Hermione turned to Ron, whose face seemed to be slowly returning to its normal pale shade. “So Ron, you seemed a bit choked up back there.”

Ron turned his head down towards the table and mumbled something that Hermione didn't catch. Ginny, who was sitting beside him, looked down and patted his head teasingly. “Ronny here and Madame Rosmerta have what I like to call a `fawn and flop' relationship.”

Hermione and Harry both laughed as they saw Ron's shoulders slump. He gathered the strength to pull his head upwards and was glaring at the lot of them, causing them to laugh even harder. “Just you wait, we'll be married someday and you lot will be kissing the ground her beautiful feet walk on!”

Harry elbowed Hermione gently in the side to get her attention and said softly, “That's what he said about Fleur Delacour, but she ended up marrying Bill.”

Hermione remembered the name of one of Ron's many older brothers and laughed at the pathetic vibe she got from it. Ginny felt the need to chime into this particular situation as well and Hermione was all too willing to listen to what she had to say. “Good `ol Phlegm was part Veela, so Ronny didn't stand a chance. Even Harry wasn't prone to her looks—but when it came to her personality, it was a total turn off. Although, I'm sure if you put him under Veritaserum he'd still say he'd want to shag her.”

“Not true!” Ron said, affronted.

“Oh really, so if I said that I had a vile of Veritaserum in my pocket right now, you'd drink it and tell us that again.” Harry said, very amused.

“Of course” Ron said, crossing his arms over his chest. After a moment, he gave a wary look at Harry and asked in a hushed tone, “You don't really have any, do you?”

He seemed to be serious and they all, save Ron, burst out in laughter. Madame Rosmerta came up a few seconds later with their drinks and they all thanked her in turn. Ron chose to avoid her gaze, a move that Hermione found to be hilarious. All thoughts of a nasty comment were ceased, however, when she took her first sip of butterbeer in over a year. The warm liquid filled her taste buds and awakened them as though there had been a drought and this was the sweet nectar they needed to recover. Hermione held back a moan, not wanting to catch the attention of her tablemates. But, apparently, her expression gave it away.

"Are you sure you've had butterbeer before, Herms?” Ginny asked with a raised eyebrow.

Hermione nodded, taking another sip of the delicious elixir, “Yeah, it's just been ages since I've had it.”

They all nodded in agreement and went back to their drinks. They spent a good half hour talking about school and the latest gossip that was filtering through Hogwarts. Harry seemed to get bored quickly with the stories having to do with him, for he was completely slouched in his seat and staring at his empty butterbeer bottle with a glazed expression. Ginny and Ron seemed to be ignoring him and kept on chatting. Hermione, however, found herself looking at him and observing the way he was twirling the bottle on its bottom and leaving a wet pile of excess water underneath it.

“Are you two alright?” The voice of Ron broke her from where she seemed to be lost in numb thought. Harry seemed to be brought back from wherever his mind was at the same time she was and was looking at Ron with an odd expression. “You guys seemed to be off in another world for a minute, there.”

“I was just thinking” Harry responded quickly.

“Met too” Hermione said.

Ron seemed to buy it and lifted up his sleeve to look at his watch. “We should get going if we still want to hit Zonkos and Honeydukes.”

They all agreed and paid for their drinks quickly, heading down the road past a few stores until they arrived at Honeydukes. The outside of the store in itself looked appetizing, the display window filled with succulent-looking sweets and moving objects that seemed to be put up simply to lure people into the store. Hermione entered behind Ron and stopped in her tracks, floored by the number of candies atop the ceiling-high shelves. Her mouth was watering with anticipation as she approached a display of heavenly fudges towards the middle of the crowded store, all packaged in brightly colored boxes. She thanked Merlin that she had brought a decent amount of galleons with her as she picked out a few of the ones she thought to look the most appetizing and continued her scouting of the rest of the store.

By the time she considered herself to be finished, she had found a basket and piled the candy and fudge into it with vigor, making her way to the check-out counter quickly, intent on devouring each piece of her treats as soon as humanly possible. Hermione ended up waiting behind Ginny in the line and she turned to look at her with a smile, which then turned to doe-like eyes as she let her eyes fixate to what was in Hermione's hands. Hermione immediately pulled the candy back slowly out of reflex as Ginny stared at her.

“Are you seriously going to buy all of that?” She asked in awe.

Hermione nodded and she laughed a little to herself, “I keep on forgetting it's your first time here.”

Hermione smiled at her and continued to wait for her time to pay for the items. Ginny was saved from being a distraction, as she was up next and paid for her handful of sweets. Hermione stepped up after her and placed the basket atop the counter and pretended not to notice the clerk's look of astonishment at her large number of sweets. She quickly paid for her purchase and turned to walk towards where Harry, Ron, and Ginny were waiting for her towards the exit. But when she turned to look out the window for a brief moment, she saw Draco tapping lightly on the glass and pointing to a secluded alley between two shops across from where they were. She turned towards the three people she was supposed to meet up with quickly and nodded. He made his way to the alley after her confirmation, dodging the traffic of people along the street.

Hermione came up to them and they all turned to smile at her. She returned their smile with a false air of confidence and quickly made up a lie to ditch them, “I have to go run a letter to my parents really quick, so do you guys mind going to Zonkos without me and I'll meet you there in a few minutes?”

They turned to look at each other and Ginny spoke on behalf of them, “Sure, no problem. We'll see you in a few minutes.”

Hermione smiled gratefully at them and thought to herself, Well that was easier than I thought. These people are truly becoming more and more gullible with the coming weeks. 

She let them walk out of the store in front of her and waited for them to be far away enough for her to sprint over to where Draco was hiding without being noticed. She arrived in the dark alley quickly and looked for the head of platinum hair that was always so potent in darker areas. She found him well towards the back, where there was a high fence and a few piled up boxes filled with trash and used magical items that seemed to be faulty. Draco turned around to face her and she dropped her bags along the wall. He swiftly backed her up against the hard wall and kissed her vigorously, catching her slightly off guard. It had been a while since they had done this and she had forgotten how spontaneous he was. She allowed him to probe the entrance of her mouth and trace the length of his tongue with hers. She moaned when he touched the small of her back and lifted the hem of her sweater to tough the bare of her skin. He really was a fantastic kisser.

But she had made a promise to herself that she would have no romantic (if you could call it that) entanglements while on her mission. So with a sudden burst of strength, she pushed him off of her and caused him to stumble into the wall opposite her with a bemused expression on his face. “Hey, what was that for?!” He asked, while brushing the small bit of dirt he had gathered on his jacket from his collision off of his shoulder.

“You know full well what that was for, you dolt!” she said with slight humor in her voice, “I already told you that we can't do that while I'm on mission here.”

“But I needed some action, Mia, I'm dying!” He said, throwing his hands up in exasperation.

“Just get Pansy, I'm sure she'd be more than willing to fulfill your needs.” She said with a slight smirk.

He returned her look, “You and I both know that she's not as good as you are in the sack.”

Hermione shrugged her shoulders in a noncommittal way, “Not my problem.” He knew that there was no reasoning with her after that point, so his face dropped to the ground in disappointment. “Now why did you drag me all the way over here? Surely it was more than your randy hormones itching their way out of your pants.”

“Ha ha” he laughed dryly. He stepped closer to her and his expression turned serious abruptly. She was immediately thrown out of her calm demeanor and looked into his grey eyes with intensity. “He wants to speak with you.”

Her heart dropped. “Now?

He nodded and stepped back towards the fence. Hermione followed him to see a basin filled with a glowing liquid that looked similar to a pensive lying atop one of the stacks of boxes. Draco stepped aside and allowed Hermione to get closer to it. She leaned down to look into the swirling liquid and saw the Dark Lord's face appear in the substance slowly. Hermione had to hold back a sharp intake of breath as she became face-to-face with her master. He seemed to see her surprise, however, and smiled.

“Hello Hermione, I see Malfoy was true to his word in getting you to the basin.” His deep voiced echoed. She only nodded in response, not knowing what else to say. “It has come to my knowledge that you were sorted into Gryffindor, correct?”

Hermione's stomach lurched in fear. He would surely scorn her for it and demand answers that she did not have. She resorted to a one word answer, trying to save herself from giving him any other reason to heighten his sure displeasure at the situation, “Yes.”

He nodded in confirmation, “I have to say that I'm impressed.”

Hermione's brow furrowed. That was definitely not what she had been expecting. Where was the anger, the hostility, the questions? “Impressed?” she asked in a breathy voice.

“Why yes” he said simply, “It takes a truly gifted wizard to fool the Sorting Hat into placing you into a house opposite of the one you were destined for. Even I must say that it must have taken much strength and will-power in order to accomplish that, making your mission all the more easier for you to accomplish.”

She was floored. He thought that she had tricked the hat! The urge to correct him was brief, she knew that she had to take advantage of this and not make him question her ability for this job. “Thank you, master.”

“How are you classes coming along? Anything you are having trouble with?” he asked.

She shook her head, “Not at the moment. All of my classes are fairly easy and most are with H—Potter.” She had to correct herself quickly. She had almost said Harry!

He nodded in approval, “Making it far less difficult into befriending him and easing your way into his group of Muggle-loving cronies, I presume.”

“Yes, sir, most definitely.” She said.

“Excellent. Any news you have for me concerning Potter?” he asked.

Hermione knew to what he was referring to. Things like the D.A. and if he was training for the final battle. She had promised herself that she wouldn't tell him about the club, so she had to resort to lying. “No, master, nothing at the moment”

“Well it is early in the term, so you still have time to get closer to him and find those things out. I want you to become one of his closest alumni, I hope you realize this. It may be revolting, but sometimes one must resort to drastic measures to get to their goal.” He said with a cool expression.

Hermione nodded, “I understand, sir.”

“Good. That's all I needed to speak with you about. Expect another visit from me soon; Malfoy will fetch you when you are needed. Nice job so far, Hermione, keep up the good work.” And with that, he faded from the confines of the basin. Hermione exhaled a deep breath and looked up to see Draco tossing a rock up and down in the air lazily. He noticed the silence and looked up to meet her eyes.

“You know, you're lucky that I didn't tell him the look on your face when you were sorted into Gryffindor.” He said with a cocked eyebrow. Hermione clenched her jaw and he smirked at her, “Slow your roll, Mia, I'm not going too. I want to help you, remember.” He walked up to her and put his hands on her shoulders in what he thought was a comforting manner, “Just remember to keep your feelings in check around Potter, eh? It's getting quite sickening seeing you blush that way when he smiles at you.”

When he bent down to try and kiss her again, she shoved his hands off of her shoulders, picked up her bags, and stormed out of the alley, leaving him staring after her. She walked down the street towards Zonkos in time to see Harry and Ron paying for their things. Hermione entered and saw the many colorful, alluring objects begging for attention. She ignored them, however, and walked up to tap Ginny on the shoulder. She turned around slowly and frowned at her, “You were gone an awfully long time. What held you up?”

“Oh, long line.” Hermione answered flatly.

Ginny seemed to accept her excuse and they both turned to wait for Harry and Ron to finish buying their things. They were along shortly and both asked similar questions to Ginny's, to which she replied with the same pathetic excuse she had used before.

They all made their way to the carriages, deciding they were finished for the day. Piling into the small transport, they found themselves in the same order they had been in on the way to the village. Harry had recounted something Hermione had missed when she was “sending a letter to her parents” and she could see that he was trying to keep a straight face.

“And then, Ron asked the attendant if it was real chocolate. He said, yes, of course, and he ate it. A few seconds later, his teeth were green and he was singing a horrid rendition of the Wicked Sisters in an Irish accent! It took five minutes for him to get back to normal, and by that time he was yelling at the guy who convinced him it was real, asking for an apology, still sounding like drunken Irishman!” By the time he was finished, Harry was laughing and clutching his side, causing the whole lot of them to erupt in laughter. Even Ron had to admit that it was funny.

After they all recovered, Harry turned to Hermione and asked in a low voice, “Do you think that tops the boxer incident?”

Hermione chuckled and shook her head, “Not by a long shot.”

Harry smiled at her, “Well then we'll just have to keep on waiting.”

She felt her face get warm when he smiled at her. Hermione immediately turned away and tried to cool down her face with her hands. Draco was right, the little blighter! She actually blushed! She mentally scolded herself, using a fair few curse words she forgot were in her vocabulary, and as they arrived at Hogwarts, she found herself in a much sourer mood than she was when boarding the carriages that morning. 

~*~


A/N: Thanks so much for all of your positive feedback! It means a lot that you take the time to write a review just for me. I hope that you're enjoying reading the fic at least half as much as I enjoy writing it. Seriously, this is the most fun I've had writing a fanfic ever. It's safe to say that this story is my favorite :]

-Shar


Chapter 7: Day of the Dead
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Day of the Dead


It was dark.

She was in a hallway; a long, narrow, poorly lit hallway. Her feet were carrying her almost mechanically to the place she knew that she had to be. There was only one thought going through her mind: Death. She was going to face death. Not her death… no that would be far too stupid to walk to her own death. It was someone else’s. She was going to go kill someone.



Her wand was gripped tightly in her right hand, turning the knuckles white with strain. She must really hate this person in order for her to act like this. Usually, when she killed, her wand would lay almost limp in her hand so the risk of it flying when she cast the spell was high. But this time she was making sure it would not leave the confines of her hand. 


Flashes of their appearance went past her line of vision, angering her even further. Messy, dark hair was the only thing that remained potent. He was someone she knew. Why didn’t it make this harder, then? If she knew this person that she was about to kill, why wasn’t there any hesitation?


She walked up the flight of stairs she knew lead to the Astronomy Tower and her breath began to get ragged. This was the moment, the moment she would come face-to-face with her prey. She was the lioness and they were the small mouse that got in her way. She needed to keep her mind on the plan, and not let it dawdle. She was here to kill. She was here to conquer them. She was here to prove herself.


The fresh air of the tower hit her like a large gush of ocean mist. Refreshing, but at the same time awakening your senses. She was almost there. Their outline could be made out on the far end of the tower, near the edge. Perfect. 


She did her best to keep her footsteps quiet, walking on the balls of her feet. Her air supply was cut short as she began to hold her breath, only letting it out through her nose when necessary. He was only a few meters away now. His lean silhouette was coming into view. The moon was the only source of light and she took it as another tactic as she tried to hide in the shadows. She could hear him breathing. 


Her wand arm began to move up on its own accord, aiming at his unarmed back. It was then she felt the small twinge of hesitation wash over her. Should she really stoop so low as to cursing someone when their back was turned?
Yes, her common sense answered. It is nothing you haven’t done before.

Of course, she was just being stupid. It was now or never. She opened her mouth and drew in some final intakes of air to recite the curse she knew so well. Her feet took her out of the shelter of the shadows as she got a good angle. But something stopped her. His back had tensed and he was beginning to turn around as if he sensed her. No, she
knew he sensed her. She was stiff and her body refused to move back into the shadows. 

He had completely turned around and was staring into her eyes. She stared back and watched as his gaze turned to her raised wand and his expression faltered to one of shock. His eyes re-connected with hers with a shine of vulnerability. It was her chance to do something but she found herself unable to open her mouth. They stared at each other for what felt like an eternity, her arm beginning to grow sore and shake as though a ton of iron bricks had been placed atop it. Still, she did not waver.


His voice was so quite, she had to strain her ears to hear it. “I trusted you.”


Her eyes began to shine with unshed tears as she continued to focus on him. Her intent was to kill him, so why wasn’t she doing anything? Why was she just standing there like a fool and crying? 


“What have you done?”


A lone tear escaped down her cheek and she gathered up all of the courage she had and spoke, “I’m sorry.”


She walked closer to him; wand still raised and began to speak the curse—the curse that would end his life. He looked heartbroken but never moved to defend himself. After a pregnant pause she came within inches of him. But it was then the moon chose to shine its light upon the two of them. She saw his eyes, his beautiful emerald eyes hidden beneath his rounded spectacles and came undone. Her wand had turned to butter as it slipped through her fingers. She watched it fall and looked up at him curiously. Why had she done that?

His expression contorted once again, this time with one which made her stomach contract. A hint of a smile grazed his lips and she opened her mouth to say something, anything, to break the silence. But fate had other plans.


A figure floated up behind him and her breath caught in her throat. His red eyes pierced her skin as he stared at her with displeasure. Harry remained unfazed, as if he were a statue. “You disappoint me, Hermione. I gave you one mission and you can’t even do it without turning into a sap.” His gaze flickered to Harry and she stiffened.


“Don’t touch him.” She heard herself say in warning.


He raised his brow at her, “I don’t think you grasp the situation at hand here. You fail to complete your assignment and I have to pick up the pieces.”


“No.” she said firmly.


“And what are you going to do to stop me?”


She raised her wand arm only to realize that her wand had vanished. She heard laughter and saw that her wand was in the slimy hands of her master. Her eyes widened in fear as he pointed his hand to the still form of Harry.


“NO!” she screamed as a green beam of light shot out of her wand.


Her eyes darted open.

Hermione let her eyes travel her surroundings and let out a puff of relieved breath. It had only been a dream, and an odd one at that. It was as if she were a whole different person! She couldn’t even kill the person who was supposed to be her target? Honestly, dreams were such a nuisance, it was a wonder she ever had them at all.

Sighing and accepting that the option to go back to sleep was moot, she threw off her covers and checked the clock by her bedside table. It was nine in the morning. She let herself panic for a moment before realizing it was Saturday. And, better yet, it was Halloween. She had an entire feast to look forward to today. Hermione smiled as she slid off of her bed and into the bathroom to get ready for the day ahead of her.

Ginny was, unsurprisingly, on one of the sofas already wide awake and looking to be working on an essay. Hermione walked over to where she was sitting and plopped down on the armchair nearest to her. Ginny’s head shot up at the movement and smiled at her. “You’re up later than usual.” She commented.

Hermione nodded, “Yeah, I was actually dreaming for once.”

Ginny looked at her with a naughty glint in her eyes, “And was it an interesting dream?”

Hermione snorted at her innuendo and replied, “It was more like a nightmare than anything.”

Her face fell with disappointment as she turned back to her assignment, “Oh.”

“Sorry that my dreams don’t stimulate your aching loins, Gin.” Hermione chipped with a smirk.

Ginny giggled and twisted back to look at her, “Just take comfort that anything having to do with the opposite sex and their reproductive organs is my area of expertise and I take pride in that”

Hermione chuckled and let Ginny get back to her assignment. She sat there in silence until an idea struck her. “Hey, Ginny”

The red head turned to look at her, “Yeah?”

Hermione pursed her lips and second guessed herself for a moment. Should she really ask her this? The girl was bound to ask questions and she knew that if she answered them honestly, her head and her dignity would be on the line. But this was a growing problem that agitated her to no end… and if she just made up the rest she would get the answer she was looking for! Genius. “Can I ask you something having to do with—?”

“Oh yes, yes a thousand times yes! Ask away!” she said with excitement, clapping her hands together and forgetting her assignment.

Hermione shook her head at her reaction, but sobered as she gathered up the last amount of guts she had. “I’ve been having this weird… feeling when I’m around this guy. It’s like my stomach is trying single-handedly to jump out of my throat. I have no idea what it means and was hoping you—”

“You like him.” Ginny answered simply.

It was an understatement to say that she was floored, “W-what?”

“You like him, you want to jump his bones… however you want to put it.” Ginny said as though she was reciting it out of some unknown manual.

“But… but that’s impossible…” Hermione trailed off. This bird was mental! She could not, should not, and surely would never like someone like him! It was preposterous! Ginny was anything but an expert if that was her conclusion.

“Honestly, Herms. It’s perfectly normal to like someone. Whether it’s just a passing fancy or a stable lust, all of it is a part of being a normal, hormonal teenager.” She explained in what Hermione though sounded like a matter-of-false-fact tone.

Hermione resisted the urge to scream, “I’m not a normal teenager, you twit!”  And instead settled to nodding her head like an idiot.

“Sooo…” Ginny started in an innocent voice, “Who’s the guy?”

Hermione did her best to remain calm. She had to come up with a lie that she would believe, and “No one…” didn’t seem like something that she would accept as an accredible answer. “Erm… you don’t know him.”

Ginny’s eyebrows narrowed, “You sure you’re not just embarrassed about liking him or something? Is it Neville?”

“No!” she blurted quickly, “I mean, I grew up with the guy and he goes to another school in… Bulgaria.”

“Yeah, whatever” Ginny said passively, “But trust me when I say that these feelings usually don’t go away easily. I mean, I’ve been feeling that way towards Harry for ages, but the bloke didn’t even ask me out until last year! Guys are extremely thick-headed when it comes to this type of stuff.”

“R-right” Hermione didn’t like the feeling that her stomach was giving her. This was a completely different one from the other she had been experiencing lately. It was an unpleasant clenching feeling in her lower stomach. Why must that useless organ cause her so much pain?

Ginny put a comforting hand on her shoulder, which, to extents unbeknownst to her, angered Hermione. “Remember, if you need anything feel free to come to me, alright?”

Hermione nodded with a faux smile. Ginny removed her hand and returned to her work, allowing Hermione to relax if only for a moment to take all of this in.

She could not possibly like Harry like that. Sure, she had been tolerating him a lot easier lately but… that didn’t mean she harbored sexual feeling for him! If she needed anything of that nature, all she had to do was sneak down to the dungeons and ask Draco for a favor. But Ginny had said that it wouldn’t go away easily… so did that mean that Draco couldn’t even help her? Harry was her target and nothing more. Friendship, actual non-faked friendship, was as out-of-bounds as you could get on a mission like this. Growing to like them… like that… it was unheard of, and certainly not ethical! Sure he was sexy, in that good-guy kind of way. Yeah, his hair looked really silky smooth even though there were always almost a dozen strands loose. Of course he—wait! Nonononononononononononono! This was all wrong! 
“Hello ladies!”

Hermione held back a groan when she heard Ron’s peppy voice from behind her. They had arrived. Perfect, simply perfect! She refused to make Harry’s eyes has he took a seat next to Ginny, not really feeling like regurgitating the contents of her stomach. If the feeling she felt while around him mixed with the feeling she felt when she was around Ginny, she was certain that would be the case.

“So, do you guys want to get something to eat or what?” Ron asked, looking very eager.

“Sure” Ginny replied, setting down her quill, “I could really use a break.”

“How long have you been working on that thing, Gin?” Harry asked with concern.

“Oh, just a few hours.” She replied, waving a hand about coolly.

Ron’s face contorted to what Hermione could only assume was disgust. “How you are even remotely related to me, I will never know.”

“Well if the red hair and high temper wasn’t a straight giveaway, I have no idea either.” Ginny replied with a sneer.

“Smartass…” Ron mumbled, causing the group to laugh.

After a moment, they all got up and made their way to the Great Hall, Hermione, noticeably silent along most of the way. She was thankful that no one seemed to notice but was sure that Harry would speak up eventually. She took the time that was usually used for enjoying the cooking that was always so divine in her mind to think of something to blame her quietness on. She couldn’t very well say that she was avoiding speaking because of fear of blurting out that she might harbor feelings of a sexual sort about him. The only thing that kept her sane was that there were no feelings attached to this… this predicament. It was only lust, pure, unadulterated lust and nothing else; perfectly normal… perfectly sane.

“Are you alright, Hermione?”

And there it was.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just tired.” She lied smoothly. Well, that had come out easier than she thought. There was nothing to worry about. Hermione relaxed as she continued to pick at her food, finally relishing in its deliciousness.

Harry nodded at her, not believing a thing she said, but taking the normal route and not pushing it. Thank Merlin he was thoroughly predictable or she would be on the hot seat.

Breakfast continued like that, Hermione being abnormally quiet and Harry casting fleeting glances towards her, silently asking her if she was alright. It was bizarre that Hermione could even tell that he was looking at her for that reason. It was almost as if she could read him without trying. Usually, she had to at least put up some sort of effort to gain access into someone’s mind without the use of Legilimency. But with Harry, she just knew

I must be getting better at it
, she thought to herself.

~*~

It was late-afternoon and Hermione found herself in the common room, studying for an upcoming Divinations exam on the many uses of omens in everyday life. She still hated the class with a passion and hoped that this mission really paid off in the long run if she had to endure these tortuous days of predictions of her demise. The future was meant to be unseen, not studied.

She was in the middle of comparing the two omens of fire and ice when she felt someone come up and sit next to her. Her stomach lurched once again and she knew who had elected to disturb her studying. Taking a deep breath, she tried to ignore his strong presence beside her. But, of course, her attempts were fruitless.

“Hey” his smooth voiced vibrated from beside her.

She turned up to look at him and smiled, “Hi.” He made a move to talk, but she chose to interrupt him, not wanting to make up anymore pathetic excuses for her behavior that day, “Look, I know I’ve been acting weird today but you don’t need to charm me into telling you, alright? It’s my business and I would appreciate it if you’d just back off.”

Harry looked affronted, “I didn’t come over here to make you tell me anything, Hermione.”

Hermione felt her face fall and color come to her cheeks in embarrassment, “Oh, well… that’s rather embarrassing, then.”

She saw him nod, “Don’t worry about it, I understand”

She smiled lightly, “You are a very understanding person, aren’t you?”

He nodded, “I like to think so.”

“Well why don’t we just get you an award then?” she joked.

“I wouldn’t object to that” he said with a laugh, “I would like it to be silver with my name engraved right in the middle.”

Hermione chuckled, “I see you’ve given much thought to this.”

“Oh yeah, definitely. When you’re on death watch, you get to think about some things.” He said.

Hermione knew it was meant as a joke, but to her it was anything but. Her expression and the air about her sobered as she looked at him pointedly, “Why did you come over to talk to me, Harry?”

The smile was wiped off of his face, “Can’t a guy come over and talk to his friend?” Hermione gave him a look and he chuckled. “Well, I have been nominated on behalf of Ron and Ginny to invite you to the Burrow this Christmas.”

Hermione’s brow wrinkled in confusion, “What’s the Burrow?”

“Oh, it’s their house!” Harry said, just realizing that she was foreign to the word. “You’ll find out why when you see it. That is… if you want to?” he ended hesitantly.

Hermione carefully considered the question. On the bright side, it would give her more chances to get closer to Harry. On the not-so-bright side, she would be surrounded by Weasley’s, and if they were anything like the two she already knew, that was a hazard in itself. But she vaguely remembered what Harry had said about them—how caring, loving, and successful they were in their own right. The only two she heard nothing about were the parents to the many young red heads. She recalled seeing a plump woman in the middle of a sea of red on Platform 9 ¾, which must have been the mother. She looked homely enough.

“Sure” she finally concluded, “I would love to.”

“Fantastic!” he exclaimed, his eyes shining with excitement. “You won’t regret saying yes, the Burrow is always amazing. You like the school food, right?”

Hermione nodded enthusiastically, “Yes”

“Well Mrs. Weasley’s cooking is a hundred times better than that!"

“I didn’t think that was even possible…” she mused.

“Neither did I. And if we get word back to her soon enough, she’ll knit you a sweater.” He said.

“A sweater?” she asked.

“Yeah, she knits them every year for Ron, Ginny, Me, and basically everyone she considers family.” He explained.

“I would be considered family?” she asked, clearly reproachful.

“Anyone who is a friend of her kids is family to her.” He said with a grin. He must be really close to their family… she concluded mentally.

“Shouldn’t anyone crazy enough to befriend Ron and Ginny get more than just a sweater?” she asked jokingly.

He laughed, “You’re probably right, but good luck trying to convince Molly.”

Hermione found herself becoming more and more excited about Christmas. The food, the free sweater, a family… it all was becoming increasingly appealing. “You really love her, don’t you?”

He nodded, “She’s like a mum to me.”

She looked at him carefully, deciding the pained expression on his face was due to his history. She knew what it felt like not to know your mum. She could never tell him that, though. It might make her seem vulnerable and pose a threat to her homeschooling back story if it ever came into play. She wanted desperately to comfort him, but pushed the thoughts aside. She never had anyone to comfort her, so why should he?

He smiled at her and tried to change the subject from the dark one that loomed over them, “So are you excited about your first Halloween feast tonight?”

She grinned, “Absolutely, I can’t wait!”

“You really like the school’s food, don’t you?” Harry asked curiously.

She nodded, “The best stuff I’ve ever eaten, until I go to the Burrow this Christmas, that is.”

“Hmm…” he mumbled in thought. She was about to question him but he interrupted by speaking again, “I remember when I first had the food here, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.”

“Exactly!” she said, glad that someone shared her opinion. “But everyone here seems to think it’s nothing special. Must be the way their parents cook it, or something.”

“Or you were brought up by Molly.” Harry added.

“You’re making me increasingly eager for Christmas to get here, Potter.” She said playfully.

“And is that such a bad thing?” he asked.

“Well yes” she said stiffly, “I hate snow!”

Harry looked at her as if she had grown two heads. The expression was priceless and made Hermione giggle to herself. “You hate snow?” he questioned carefully. She nodded and he continued to look at her oddly, “How could you hate snow?”

Hermione looked at him as if the answer was obvious, “Its cold.”

Harry laughed at her, “You can’t be serious”

“And why not?” she asked cuttingly.

“You can’t simply hate something because of one of its minute qualities. What about the snowfall fights and the days we have off of class because the heating charms break?” He listed off each of the characteristics on his fingers for emphasis and Hermione couldn’t help but guffaw.

“Well I guess it has some appealing features, but they all end in the same result: freezing you arse off and risking frostbite!” she sniped. Hermione crossed her arms and basked in her genius. Surely, he could not come back with anything good.

“But you are forgetting the one thing we Gryffindors do best to warm up.” He motioned for her to come closer to him with his finger and she complied hesitantly. “We have sex by the fire.”

Hermione’s jaw dropped as she shoved him in the shoulder, “You are such a pervert”

He was already laughing and looked at her through hooded eyes, “Hey, you asked for it!”

Hermione rolled her eyes and leaned back into her seat, her heartbeat apparently quicker. Stop it! She commanded, but as she glanced back over at Harry it refused to obey. Damnit! 
“Hey, there you two are!” she heard Ginny’s sprightly voice call from the other side of the common room.

Harry looked behind him and smiled over at his girlfriend. Hermione’s stomach clenched again and she flinched. Thankfully, it went unnoticed as Ginny took a seat next to Harry who kissed her in greeting. Hermione directed her attention to Ron, who elected to stand up and observe.

“What have you guys been up to?” he asked, smiling.

“Oh nothing, just talking about Christmas” Hermione disclosed with a smile.

Ginny’s eyes widened as she looked over at her. “Are you coming, then?” Hermione nodded and Ginny squealed excitedly. “It’ll be so much fun!”

“Yeah, except for the fact that Hermione here doesn’t like snow.” Harry said teasingly as he spared a glance in Hermione’s general direction.

“What?!” Ron bellowed.

“Erm…” Hermione started warily.

“Every year we have the annual Weasley snowball fight!” Ginny exclaimed.

Hermione glared over at Harry, “You never said anything about an annual snowball fight, Harry.”

He smiled innocently at her, “You never asked.”

She frowned at him and looked back over at Ron, who looked like he was about to say something that she knew she would regret acknowledging. “We are going to train you. No one is going to show up at the Burrow unprepared for the fight, you’ll be demolished.”

“Plus the fact that I want you to be on my team, and we never lose.” Ginny chipped.

“Thanks, no pressure, right guys?” Hermione added sarcastically.

“Now why would we want to pressure you into anything?” Harry asked in a pristine voice.

She pointed a finger at him, “You stay out of this, Mister ‘What’s-so-wrong-with-snow?’.”

Harry snorted and Hermione glowered at him. He turned his face upwards for a moment and noticed the clock, “Hey, it’s almost time for the fest.”

Hermione glanced up and saw that he was right and immediately sat up, setting Ron off of his balance. He stumbled backwards and Harry and Ginny let out a small chuckle. Ron narrowed his eyes at them as he regained his balance.

“Well I think we should get a move on if we want to get first dibs on the Pumpkin Pastries.” Ginny said, breaking the silence.

They all agreed and made their way out of the common room. Hermione couldn’t help but notice how Harry and Ginny’s hands interlaced mechanically as they got up and exited out of the portrait hole. She felt slightly lightheaded as she stepped down into the hallway, almost losing her balance much as Ron had done moments ago. Luckily, no one had noticed and she continued behind them at a steady pace.

They arrived in the crowded hall just as Dumbledore was standing up to make an announcement. Hermione quickly sat down next to Harry as Ron and Ginny took a seat opposite them. It was quite odd, that Harry would elect to take a spot by her rather than with his girlfriend. But if she looked at it logically it made sense. They would have a better angle to make those disgusting goggle-eyes that teenage couples always felt the need to do. Oh, and it would be easier to play footsie.

Or, they knew about her conflicting emotions and did it on purpose! Yes, that must be it

“Welcome one and all, to the annual Halloween Feast.” Dumbledore’s voice boomed throughout the hall. All attention was drawn to him and he smiled. “I would like to congratulate you on a nearly spotless first few weeks of schooling. If my sources are correct, only around twenty detentions were given out.” The hall let out a collective laugh as he continued, “Now, I am sure all of you have been looking forward to the delicious treats we have in store for you. So please, tuck in!”

The food appeared on the table and the students all began to pile food on their plates. Hermione immediately reached for the garlic seasoned mashed potatoes but found that a hand collided with her own on the journey. She looked over to see Harry smiling apologetically at her. She felt her face envelope with warmth as she loaded her plate with potatoes and watched as Harry did the same moments after. She felt so ashamed of herself because at that moment she knew. She knew that she had some sort of feelings for him other than hate.

Hermione spared a glance over at the Slytherin table to see Draco sneering at her. She quickly turned around and buried her head in her hands. She had always known there was a reason Halloween was also referred to as the Day of the Dead.

Chapter 8: Happy Birthday, Hermione
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Happy Birthday, Hermione

The day was November 19, the time was nine in the morning, and where was Hermione? She was in Gryffindor Tower, finishing an essay about the last battle between the Goblins and the Imps. Although a seemingly boring subject to be assigned an essay to, she found herself addicted to describing the casualties of the historic battle, the numbers growing to dangerously high numbers within a matter of hours into the fight. Hermione suspected that her growing interest in her schoolwork was due to the increasingly growing difficulty that the professors were dishing out. Difficulties were what made her strong in training and she knew that when she was challenged at a school, then she would come out stronger. At the beginning of the term, she had been able to predict everything that was going to come out of their mouths before they even thought of what they were going to say, but now she was furiously scratching her quill across her parchment, trying desperately to keep up with their lectures. She had thought a few times to ask someone for help with the more difficult subjects, but decided against it. Hermione Granger didn't need anyone's help.

Another and more potent reason was that the feelings that she first acknowledged a few weeks ago, were now fully dominant in her daily life. No matter where she went, no matter what she did, Harry was always on her mind. Studying and homework made for a good distraction, if only for a little while. But half of the time Harry usually found her and asked if she could use some company. Her conscious mind always screamed against it, but her big, fat mouth refused to listen. Then she ended up having another easy-to-maneuver conversation with him and fell even deeper into the hole she knew was being dug. Why couldn't she ever say no to him? It was as if he had put a spell on her or something! But no matter how much Hermione tried to divert the blame from herself, she knew that it was far from the truth.

Distractions could only last so long when you are trying to avoid something.

“Hey Hermione”

At first, when Hermione felt a presence coming up behind her, she thought it was Ginny. After all, she was the only person that got up as early as she did on a weekend. Unfortunately, she was proved wrong. “Hello Harry”

He took a seat next to her and gave her a smile, one that made her stomach twist in knots again. If this is what friendship felt like, why was she so adamant in convincing herself that it wouldn't be so bad? It hurt like hell! He kept smiling and soon the pain was too much to bear.

“What?!” she said harshly.

“Do you want to go down and eat breakfast?” he asked levelly, not affected by her harsh tone.

Hermione narrowed her eyebrows suspiciously, “But Ginny and Ron aren't even up yet.”

He nodded, “Exactly”

“Not usually the words used to explain the absence of your best friend and girlfriend.” Hermione commented, looking at him pointedly.

He shrugged his shoulders, “I want to show you something.”

She looked at him reproachfully, wondering what had brought this on. “Why?”

He shook his head in bewilderment. Hermione opened her mouth to speak up again, but he took her hand and led her off of the couch. His touch on her hand caused her to drop her quill as a shock as fast as lightning zapped through her body, starting from her fingertips to her toes. What in Merlin's name was that?

“Come on” was the only thing he said as he led her out of the tower and into the hallway.

Hermione remained silent as he led her down a series of halls and stairs. She didn't want to think, didn't want to ruin this… this moment. The only reason she even considered this a moment was because his hand hadn't let go of hers since they had left. It wasn't as if she were gripping on for dear life, begging him not to let her hand go; her hand was virtually limp, only curling around his slightly so she wouldn't lose grip and fall behind. She wondered vaguely if he could feel her hand beginning to sweat at the pressure. At least, she thought it was because of the pressure.

It was when Hermione came into view of a large portrait of a fruit basket that they stopped. Hermione observed the area, wondering what was so special about this place. There was only a portrait. She turned to look at him with an odd look, “What am I supposed to see here?”

Harry only smiled at stepped up to the portrait, coming to focus on the pear buried within it. Hermione opened her mouth to question him when hi hand came up and he tickled the pear. That's right, tickled. Hermione stood there, transfixed by the movement and almost jumped when the portrait swung open. He stood agape at the hidden doorway as Harry turned to look at her. He took her hand again and led her into the room.

It was as though she had died and gone to heaven.

The kitchen, she was in the Hogwarts kitchen.

“Oh Merlin” she breathed as she started to look around the room. She saw cabinets upon cabinets filled with food of every kind—ranging from sliced carrots to packaged meats. Pots and pans aligned the walls and she could see a brick fireplace on one end of the large room. In fact, the room was so large, that she thought it was an exact replica of the Great Hall, with tables that looked like the house tables, but empty. Cooling spells were present to preserve the foods which needed it and she could feel the slight chill they gave off. She spun around to look at Harry to see him looking at her with a grin on his face.

“Happy Birthday, Hermione”

Her mouth dropped open. She had forgotten that today was her birthday and he had remembered it, just like he said he would. “Y-you remembered?”

“Of course I did” he said.

She took another look around the room, “And this—”

“This is my present. You told me that you loved the food here so I thought I'd share my little secret with you: unlimited access to the school kitchens. But only Ron knows, so try to keep it on the down low, yeah?” he asked in a hush.

Hermione nodded, “I just… no one has really ever done something like this for me before”

His brow furrowed, “Really?”

“Yeah” she answered honestly.

“Not even your parents?” he asked.

She shook her head and caught a glimpse of movement in the corner of her eye. She turned and saw a house elf bustling around the kitchen and had to contain a gasp. She turned back to Harry, “What's a house elf doing here?”

“Oh, well they're the cook's here.” he explained.

Hermione looked startled, “Really?”

He nodded, “But don't worry, I know one who gets paid to work here. They all love it working at Hogwarts.” he pointed to a table near the middle of the room, “Wanna take a seat?”

Hermione smiled and followed Harry to the table. She sat down across from him as a house elf with tennis-ball shaped green eyes came to halt next to him. There was something familiar about this elf, but she couldn't quite place it. “Mister Harry Potter, sir! Dobby is so pleased to see you!”

It was then that it clicked. Dobby! Her old house elf, Dobby! Her eyes widened and she bowed her head down, suddenly conscious of her appearance. If he recognized her, she would be in deep shit! Although half of her wanted to shout out who she was, if only to talk to him as if nothing had changed, she knew that that wasn't the best idea at the moment. Hopefully time had been good to her and disguised the 13-year-old he used to know.

“Hello Dobby, how've you been?” Harry asked politely.

“Dobby has been good, sir, very good! Who is Harry Potter's new friend?” Dobby looked over to Hermione and she met his eyes, trying to mask her fear.

“Oh, where are my manners, Dobby this is—”

“If you don't mind, Harry, I would just like to get something to eat and get back to my essay.” Hermione interrupted, plastering an innocent smile on her face.

Harry gave her an odd look, “Umm… alright, then. Dobby, could you just bring us some flapjacks and breakfast muffins with eighteen candles on them, please?”

Dobby nodded enthusiastically, “Right away, sir!”

The house elf scurried off and Harry turned over to Hermione, looking at her oddly. She smiled at him meekly and tried to avoid his gaze. “What was that about?”

“Nothing, I… I just want to get back to my essay is all.” She lied.

He didn't believe her. “Hermione, it's your birthday. You need to relax, take it easy.”

She shook her head, “It's just another day, Harry—another day, another essay that I need to complete.”

He sighed, “I used to think that.”

She tilted her head at him in curiosity, “What do you mean `used to'?”

“Well, after so many `surprise' parties courtesy of the Weasley's you get used to the idea of your birthday being worth celebrated. Plus, the gifts aren't half bad, either.” He said with a grin.

“So you're just in it for the presents, then?” she asked humorously.

He smirked, “Naturally.” When her face lost the small traces of humor, he spoke up in a serious tone, “You have celebrated your birthday before, right?”

She scoffed, “Of course I have.” A flash of her last “birthday present” and she let her already rising temper show in her features. Harry seemed to notice this and raised an eyebrow at her, knowing that there was something else she wasn't telling him. She thought about it for a second, wondering if she should let him in again. On the logical side, it was the right decision, trimming the edges of anything that would give away her true identity. Besides, she had already done it a few times before and he never seemed suspicious of her motives. She sighed, “My… family's way of celebrating it usually only benefitted them rather than me. It got to the point where I just couldn't take it anymore and asked them to stop about three years ago. But my… boyfriend always insisted on giving me a gift every year and the same thing happened. You can use your imagination for the rest.”

He nodded in understanding, a slight frown present on his lips, “What constitutes only benefitting them?”

She smiled smugly, “Well he usually finished before I—”

“I meant with your parents” he said, a repulsive look on his face, probably caused by the mental picture Hermione had just drawn for him.

She laughed quietly at his face and answered him, “Parties, balls, anything designating as a formal get-together where the only thing I was needed for was to blow out the candles.”

He looked at her placidly, “Must have been horrible.”

She shook her head, “Not really, the cake was always good.”

He chuckled, “You know what I mean.”

Nodding she tried to search for another sarcastic comment to keep her from digging up these old wounds. There was nothing. So, she settled for being pathetic as a sad look washed over her features. “You sort of become numb to it after a while. Your birthday slowly turns into another day where the only thing different is that you grew a few inches more than last year."

He leaned back in his seat, “Well when I was growing up, my birthday was never celebrated.” Hermione was surprised at his confession. “So it's safe to say that you're not preaching to the wrong choir. But even though it was just another day, I still tried to do something to acknowledge it like bake muffins at midnight when my aunt and uncle were asleep or go to the playground for the whole day even if it meant extra dishes to wash that night.”

Hermione thought for a moment before replying, “I guess… I never really cared much for growing older. The older you are, the more you grow weaker, loose agility.”

He looked at her for a moment, “That's not entirely true. The older you get, the wiser you get.”

“Yeah, but wisdom isn't always an easily acquired trait.” She reasoned.

“It just depends what kind of people you're around.” He said in a lucid voice.

She turned to look at him and sore she saw something flash in his eyes. It was like he was trying to read her. She immediately put up her walls but didn't feel anything trying to press against then. Maybe he's using another way of reading you, her mind supplied, like actually studying you and trying to figure you out the normal way. But something in the back of her head was rebelling; something was telling her that she shouldn't be thinking too much on this. There were consequences of thinking too much, like showing emotion. She saw him lean forward on his elbows slightly, tilting his to the side and continuing to look at her with that searching look on his face.

“Here you are sir and miss!” Dobby's voice perked up from beside them.

Harry's neck craned over to where the smiling house elf was standing and smiled politely at him. “Thank you, Dobby.”

Dobby nodded with a wide grin, “It is no problem, Harry Potter, sir! Dobby enjoys his company very much!”

Hermione couldn't help but crack a smile at the familiar enthusiasm. It had always made her smile when she was younger, and it was a small relief to know that even with years apart, he could still affect her so. Dobby left with a slight bow and disappeared into the kitchen. Hermione looked after him for a moment before turning to her food. She couldn't help but let her heart swarm at the assortment of muffins and flapjacks, each with a lit candle or two on them. She looked up at Harry to see him smiling at her.

“Make a wish” he said briskly, nodding to the food.

Hermione bit her lip as she thought of what she should wish for. She already had everything she wanted at the tips of her fingers, so what else was there? Taking a chance, she leaned down and blew out the candles with the one thing she had always used to wish for on her miserable birthdays: happiness. Even though she was completely content with her life, she had never been truly happy. Although she knew it was a long shot, as the wish had never come true thus far, it was still the only thing she was missing. Each of the eighteen candles went out as though a large gust of wind had blow by. Hermione smirked as she looked back up at Harry.

“So what did you wish for?” he asked, reaching for a muffin.

Hermione beat him and grabbed the muffin her was reaching for, plucking the single candle out and taking a bite. He looked at her amusingly and she smiled, “You know as well as I do that you don't tell anyone your wish or else it won't ever come true.”

He nodded and grabbed another muffin, taking a bite, “Yes, but now I know that it was something you really want to come true. Usually, when it's a silly wish, people tell others what they asked of the Birthday Fairy.”

Hermione chuckled, “Interesting analogy.”

“I like to think I'm a genius when it comes to these things.”

“Yeah, well don't get to full of yourself, you might explode or something.” She said, beaming at him blithely.

“It would make good old Voldermort's job much easier. I can see the headline now, `Harry Potter: Death by Humongous Ego'” he said with a laugh.

Hermione, however, didn't hear anything past the Dark Lord's name. “You… you speak his name?” she asked, trying to hide the awe mixed with anger that she felt.

He shrugged nonchalantly, “Well yeah, it's just a name, isn't it?”

Hermione shook her head, “It's the name of the most powerful Dark Lord of all time! I thought people feared speaking it, not say it as though it were the name of their confidant.” Control yourself, Hermione, she told herself, one slip and you're screwed.
“You obviously haven't gotten to know me well, if that's your conclusion. When you're number one on someone's hit list, you don't have a problem telling people who it is.” He said calmly.

She narrowed her eyes, “You're very stubborn, aren't you?”

He raised his hands, “Sue me.”

Hermione couldn't help but smile. He was definitely different from anyone she had ever met. No one had dared speak his name in front of her before, or anyone else for that matter. It was a… relief. Even she had never spoken his name aloud and here was this guy who said it so fluently that she couldn't help but be in awe. She should be angry, she should be yelling at him, she should have some sort of emotion breaking through her other than abatement. But Hermione couldn't do anything but feel admiration. He was brave, and she hailed it.

Maybe this was what friendship was supposed to feel like, and the other contractions of her stomach where an unpleasant side-effect. Admiration, the new feeling that she was growing to like, was now pouring over her. She didn't know what to say, she was unable to speak. Luckily, Harry chose that time to look at his watch and his eyes widened.

“Shit!” he cursed as he began to wipe the crumbs off of his shirt from the many muffins and flapjacks he had been consuming. “I have a Quidditch game in twenty minutes!”

Hermione nodded and got up from the table, grabbing another muffin for the trip. Harry sent a quick “Thank you!” to Dobby as they rushed out of the kitchen side-by side. Hermione tried her best to keep pace with him, but felt herself wavering as they followed the single corridor. When they arrived in the entrance hall, she looked behind her, trying to memorize the way for future references. Hermione ran to catch up with Harry as they ascended all the way to the seventh floor. Harry said the password to the tower and the fat lady let them through, Hermione nursing a slight stitch in her side. She needed to get back into shape.

Harry turned to her, “Are you going to come?”

Hermione found herself nodding, “Of course, I wouldn't miss it.”

He sent her a dazzling smile and he sprinted up the stairs to his dormitory. Hermione sighed and left the common room, following the route she knew led to the Quidditch pitch. Today's match was Gryffindor versus Slytherin, the first game of the year. It was supposed to be held a week previous, but due to an injury on the Slytherin team, it had been postponed a week. Hermione found herself becoming excited at the premise of the game. She had gone to a few with the Malfoy's when she was younger, but when she moved to Riddle Manor, she was forbidden to leave unless otherwise ordered. She had missed watching the sport and the fact that it was her best friend up against her… other friend, made it increasingly appealing.

She arrived at the pitch and took a seat in the Gryffindor stands. Ron, Ginny, and Harry were all on the team so she found herself sitting alone. Not that she minded much, she was used to being by herself She sat in silence for awhile, observing the view from the stands. You could see the forbidden forest from where she sat, the trees blowing slightly in the cool breeze. She had elected not to grab a coat on her way out, knowing that the forecast for today wasn't going to call for one.

She heard the click of a megaphone and adjusted her position in her seat, turning her head to look over at the commentator's booth. Her housemate Dean Thomas's voice boomed throughout the pitch, “Welcome one and all to the first Quidditch match of the season!” Cheers were heard throughout the stadium and he continued, “And here comes the Slytherin team: Malfoy, Goyle, Crabbe, McLaughlin, Broadcorb, Zambini, and Vaisey!” The players all flew onto the field and did a lap, circling the stands. Hermione saw Draco wink at her and she scoffed. “And the Gryffindor team: Weasley, Robins, Weasley, Arndt, Yettaw, Wooster, aaaaannndddddd POTTER!” The stands erupted in cheers once again, this time more lively and Hermione clapped her hands and let out a scream for her house team. They also did a lap and Ginny waved at her. Hermione waved back and watched as they all flew away.

She observed as they all assumed their positions and waited for Madame Hooch, the referee, to blow the whistle and throw up the Quaffle to begin the game. She saw the older woman say something to the players before blowing her whistle loudly and releasing the scarlet ball. The students cheered as the players all swooped throughout the field. Ginny caught the Quaffle and sped towards the three golden hoops on the Slytherin side of the field.

“Weasley has the Quaffle! She passes it to Wooster, to Yettaw, back to Weasley and… she scores! Ten points to Gryffindor!”

Hermione cheered along with the rest of Gryffindor and a majority of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. It continued like that, Ginny scoring most of the goals for Gryffindor and Broadcorb of Slytherin getting some in as well. She realized that Crabbe and Goyle were horrible at beating Bludgers away, as most of their team had already been hit more than once by them. Not that she was surprised, as they were both complete idiots.

Harry was circling the pitch, his eyes focused on finding the snitch and Draco was on his tail. Hermione rolled her eyes at his predictable behavior. He always had to follow someone, even if it wasn't intentional. Once in a blue moon he would take action, but most of the time he was still a slime ball waiting for orders. It was only when he was with her that he found the need to be in control.

“Potter has seen the snitch!” Dean's amplified voice screamed.

And it was true, as Hermione saw a glimmer of gold in the path of Harry's broom. Draco came up beside him and began pushing him out of the way. Hermione frowned as the two boys fought furiously for the snitch. Draco continued to push Harry out of the way and she fought the urge to scream at him. Why, she did not know. If truth be told, she should be rooting for her best friend, the one she had known her whole life. But she felt compelled to root for Harry, the one who had clearly spotted the snitch first.

“McLaughlin scores, ten points to Slytherin!”

Hermione held her breath. The score was now tied; eighty to eighty and the pressure was all on the two seekers. The snitch was long gone and both boys were scowling at the other. It was then that Harry made a dive to the ground, Draco immediately following him. Hermione saw that there was no snitch and knew what he was pulling. She had seen many seekers do it before, but only a few had pulled it off. The name of the dangerous move escaped her as her focus stayed on Harry and his decent towards the ground at a maximum speed. Draco was on his tail by a few inches and Hermione held her breath again, biting her lip until she felt the copper taste of blood fill her mouth.

She leaned forward as she saw Harry pull up inches from the ground. Hermione let out her breath and closed her eyes in relief, thankful that he was alright. A gasp filled the stadium and her eyes shot open. Draco was lying on the ground, rolling around in pain. She felt a tug in her gut as a floating stretcher popped onto the field. The game continued on as Draco was levitated onto the stretcher, looking to be unconscious. Hermione was so focused on him that she didn't see when Harry had flown sharply to the left towards her side of the stands and catch a shiny, golden ball in his palm.

“POTTER HAS CAUGHT THE SNITCH, GRYFFINDOOR WINS!”

Hermione jumped up from her seat and screamed, all thoughts of Draco evaporating from her mind. The Gryffindor team flew down to congratulate their seeker and Hermione smiled as he was caught in a group hug. But Hermione's smiled faltered as he saw Harry pick up Ginny, twirl her around and kiss her passionately on the lips as if in slow motion. The pain was in her chest this time. She felt the breath leave her as she pushed her way past the people exiting the stands onto the field. They were all gathered below around the team, congratulating them, and she had to shove her way past them all. The exit was on the other side of the crowd and she was almost there when she heard someone call her name.

“Hermione!” his voice was loud; she could hear the grin in it.

She chose not to acknowledge it and pushed her way through the crowd further, nearing the exit. She heard him call her name again, penetrating her, making her chest ache even more. If all he did was causing her pain, why was she even here in the first place? Why had she agreed to come?

Hermione reached the exit and she walked the way to the castle, her arms folded across her chest. A wind blew against her and she shivered, cursing herself for forgetting about wind chill. Her feet carried her and she was numb to her surroundings, just following wherever her instincts told her to go. She heard the laughter and loud chatter behind her and quickened her pace into the castle. She turned right at the main staircase and followed the long corridor to the portrait of a fruit basket. She tickled the pair quickly and climbed into the doorway, leaning against it once she was safely inside. Hermione didn't know what led her here, but she was relieved that her mind had chosen a secluded place only few people knew about.

Hermione let her head loll to the side and let her body relax. She took a seat at the nearest table and put her head down, letting her mind rest from the conflicting emotion running through her mind. Her collective period was short-lived, however, as the pitter patter of footsteps interrupted the silence. Jerking her head up, she saw big, green eyes staring up at her and she relaxed.

“Hello Dobby” she said, picking her head up and looking at the small house elf.

Dobby smiled at her widely, “Hello Miss Hermione!”

Hermione's blood ran cold as he continued to grin at her. “How… how did you know it was me?”

“Dobby is very good at remembering his former masters” He stated proudly.

“Well, then why did you ask who I was earlier when I was with Harry?” she asked curiously.

“I never said it took Dobby a short period of time to remember.” He said with a blush on his cheeks.

Hermione smiled sweetly at the elf when a thought struck her. “Dobby, how did you end up working here at Hogwarts? I thought Lucious—”

“Dobby was set free, miss!” he cut in enthusiastically, “Harry Potter helped free Dobby from that horrible man! He planted a sock in the diary, he did! He got me a job at Hogwarts, a paying job!”

“He—he did?” she asked in wonder. So it had been Harry who took Dobby away from her? Harry had set her elf free? But by the look on Dobby's face, she knew that it was for his own good. Luscious had treated him horribly, and sometimes he would come up to her room, crying from the pain he had inflicted on him. Hermione used to tend to his wounds with a spare first aid kit she had always kept in her room and her wand. She would let him stay in her room until the next morning, when he had to make breakfast. So really, Harry had saved Dobby.

“You have grown up much, Miss Hermione.” Dobby commented in awe.

She smiled, “I see you haven't changed much, Dobby, save for a bit more confidence.”

He nodded, “Dobby is not afraid of anything!”

Hermione giggled and she looked at him seriously for a moment, remembering what she wanted to ask of him. “Do you mind not telling Harry about how you know me, Dobby?”

Dobby tilted his head to the side, “Why, Miss?”

Hermione bit her lip and spoke in a hushed voice, “I'm just… embarrassed about growing up with the Malfoy's and want to tell him myself… later. Please, Dobby?”

“Keep a secret from Harry Potter?” he thought for a moment and saw the sad look on Hermione's face. “Alright, but only if Miss Hermione gives Dobby a pair of socks for Christmas”

Hermione smiled and nodded, “Of course, Dobby, thank you so much!”

She embraced the elf and pulled back grinning. Dobby spoke up once more, “Why is it that you are at Hogwarts, Miss Hermione? You were not allowed last time Dobby was around.”

Hermione faltered, “They… they changed their minds after a while, I guess.”

Dobby beamed, “Dobby is glad you are here, Miss Hermione, Dobby missed you!”

“I missed you too, Dobby” she said honestly.

“You want something to drink, miss?” Dobby asked politely, backing away towards where the food and drinks were stored.

Hermione thought for a moment before she settled on the one thing she knew would calm her nerves. “Got any firewhisky?”

Dobby frowned, “We is only supposed to use it for special occasions…” Hermione's face fell and Dobby seemed to consider something for a moment. “But Dobby thinks seeing his Hermione again is a special occasion.”

Hermione grinned as Dobby pulled out a glass full of Ogden's finest. He poured her a small glass full and she drowned it quickly, feeling the slight burn as it etched its way down her throat. She looked up at him with a dark look on her face, “You might want to give me the whole bottle, Dobby”

“The whole bottle, miss?” he asked, slightly taken aback.

Hermione nodded wordlessly, “It is a very special occasion after all.”

Dobby seemed reproachful for a moment before sliding her the whole bottle. Hermione smiled in thanks and nursed the bottle to her lips, gulping down the sharp tasting liquid. She knew she should stop, thinking of the hangover she would have in the morning. She was never one to enjoy the blistering headaches and dizziness. Hermione asked Dobby if he knew someone with a hangover potion and he replied that he had some left over for his friend, Winky. He said she could borrow the rest of it and Hermione's resolve flew out the window. She chugged the bottle of firewhisky until the last drop fell onto her tongue, her last thought being of Harry and Ginny kissing on the Quidditch pitch. She flinched at the picture and asked for another bottle. Dobby complied hesitantly, but brought her another one after she insisted.

She was going to have one hell of a morning, but she didn't care.

Harry and Ginny could go fuck themselves.

~*~

A/N: Thank you all for your fabulous reviews! I'm so glad that you like the story!! Sorry that the updates are taking so long. But hey, that's life. Please continue with your fabulous feedback and I'll update quickly =]

Chapter 9: Of Hangover Potions and Snowballs
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Of Hangover Potions and Snowballs


Dobby was very worried about his friend.

She had been there for a good half an hour, chugging bottles of firewhisky down like a baby needing its milk. After he had handed her the hangover potion, she had gone absolutely bonkers! He hadn't bothered to ask how she had acquired such numbness for the strong drink, knowing that it might disturb her from where she appeared to be deep in thought. Dobby just sat there, watching as she emptied bottle after bottle, until she was up to about five. He wanted to stop her, he should stop her, but there was this itching feeling that she needed to handle this by herself. But, he promised himself that if she asked for another bottle, he would refuse. Any more of that stuff and she could end up in a coma!

He loved his Hermione, worshiped her almost as much as Harry Potter himself. But there came a time where her best interests had to overshadow her need for alcoholic beverages. If he was thinking correctly, there were only two people that could make her stop, not including himself. The first was Harry Potter. He had been so nice and caring to Hermione that Dobby had to go to the side and jump for joy. She deserved real friends, especially considering her upbringing. Of course, she had had it better off that Dobby, but her battle with her guardians had been more internal. He noticed that there was a certain way that Harry looked at Hermione, a sort of high respect. Maybe that was why she didn't want him to reveal her previous housing? She didn't want to lose Harry's trust? Well, it was either that or she liked him, generally liked him.

No
, he thought to himself, Miss Hermione had never liked anyone except for Dobby and maybe—
The entrance to the kitchens began to open and Dobby's thoughts were run short. He turned over to Hermione to see her looking at the entrance with a panicked look on her face. Quickly she stumbled over to behind one of the counters, hiding. “Dobby, please don't tell anyone I'm -hic- here!”

The house elf nodded and she curled up behind the small counter. She really needed to get him a lot of socks for all of the things he had, and was going to do for her, that day. She knew better than to go shopping for the things, though. If she recalled, she had quite a few pairs of brightly colored socks tucked away in her trunk from—ahem—her missions. They were eye-catching and she couldn't resist picking a few out from throughout the homes she had visited. It was quite a low thing to do, but she couldn't care less, they were just socks.

She heard the faint sound of footsteps and stiffened, trying her best not to make any sound. It was quite hard, seeing as she was pissed out of her mind. In fact, it was a miracle that she had any say over her actions at all. The only thing that told her she was drunk was her line of vision switching from in-focus to a blur every few minutes.

“Hello Dobby” a masculine voice said.

She knew that voice… she knew that voice. But who was it? Damn, of course the firewhisky chose now to interfere with her mind. Was it safe to come out of her hiding place? Her mind said to stay put, well, either that or it was telling her to spray soot…

Dobby's voice was a mumble and Hermione couldn't tell whose name he spoke. She cursed her ears and tried to lean to the corner of the counter so she could hear the conversation clearer. “No, Dobby, that won't be necessary” the stranger spoke. Hermione leaned a little further and twisted so that she could see the legs of which the voice belonged to. “I was just looking for something to bring back to the…”

Hermione hadn't realized that she was leaning closer and closer to the conversation. So it was quite a shock when her body lost its balance and collapsed on the stone floor, sprawling her for the stranger and Dobby to see. Her head was spinning and she groaned, not really grasping what was happening anymore. The only thing she was aware of was that no one was talking, and after comprehending that, she started to panic.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here?”

The condescending voice was a dead giveaway. She turned to look up into his grey, piercing eyes and held back another groan. “Hello -hic- Draco.”

She saw him frown slightly, “You're drunk, aren't you?”

She narrowed her eyes, mostly because her vision was blurring again. “What gives you -hic- that -hic- idea?”

He raised his eyebrows, “Mia, what happened?”

She decided that now was the time to start to get up. Propping herself on her elbows she lifted her body into a kneeling position, grabbing the top of the counter to help pry her up onto her pair of little less than sturdy legs. She slipped a little, but caught herself before she tumbled back to the ground. “I don't want to -hic- talk about it.”

She saw him make an odd face, opening his mouth to talk again, but she lost balance a second time and felt her arm propping her up turn to rubber. Lucky for her, Draco had fast reflexes and caught her by the waist. Hermione made a quiet grumbling sound of protest as he picked her up to cradle in his arms. She could take care of herself, thankyouverymuch! But as she saw the room begin to spin all thoughts of protest began to slip away.

“I'm going to take you back to your common room, alright?” he said sweetly.

Hermione nodded her head, but found that wasn't the best idea as the room began to spin again. Deciding it was best to just stay still, she let her body relax into Draco's arms and heard Dobby calling a faint goodbye as she shut her eyes, thankful that it helped with the dizziness.

The only thing she was aware of was of her body moving slightly up and down with Draco's steps. She started to get used to the pattern and felt her body begin to drift into a sleeping state of mind. Tired, she was very, very tired. Just as her mind began to slip into unconsciousness, he stopped. Hermione shifted slightly. They couldn't be there yet, it had only been a few minutes—at least, that's what it felt like. Hermione forced herself to open her eyes to find that she was looking at the wall of a corridor, and not the corridor that was near her common room.

She opened her mouth to ask what was wrong when she heard footsteps coming from the other side of the hallway. Hermione remained quiet and looked up at Draco, who seemed as though he was making up his mind about something. And if she knew him, the end result wasn't going to be pretty. Then, proving her suspicions correct, she saw the wall moving downward and the stiff feeling of a floor come into contact with her back.

Draco leaned down with a painful look in his eyes, “You'll thank me for this. I'm sorry.”

She didn't quite register what he meant, but before she could ask, he was gone. Hermione let her mind process for a moment, thankful that she could still think. Her other senses were gone and she needed to milk this last one for all it's got. The conclusion wasn't pretty. He had left her there alone in the corridor! The bastard! When I find him, he's going to be sorry he was born, the slimy git! If he ever comes near me again I'm going to—
“Hermione?!”

She was surprised that she could make out her name. The voice was chopped and she had to resort to opening her eyes again to see a burred face looking down at her. From what she could make out, he had dark hair and… and very brightly colored eyes. She knew him, too! But who was he, Damnit?! She groaned as she tried to think of the name. It rhymed with fairy… berry… Carrie…

“What happened to you?” the concerned voice spoke again.

The concern gave it away and she felt her stomach twist, “Harry?”

She saw him nod as his face came into view. How could she not remember Harry? “Yeah… and if you don't mind me asking… what are you doing lying in the middle of an empty corridor? You haven't been hurt or anything, have you?”

Hermione shook her head, “No I -hic- haven't.”

She saw Harry's face relax, but then return to one of concern again as she let herself let out another hiccup. “You're drunk?”

For some reason, she found that really funny and she giggled. “Yeahhhhhhh”

“Hermione, why did you—you know what, never mind. I'm just going to take you up to Gryffindor Tower, alright?”

“Okie dokie artachokie!” She felt herself being lifted again and she let out a “Weeeeee!”

Harry sighed as began to walk them up the few flights of stairs that lead to the common room. Hermione kept on squirming in his arms and he tried his best not to drop her. He had only gone down to the kitchen to get drinks for the victory party and instead found a tipsy Hermione. Ron was going to kill him, not to mention the rest of the tower, who was counting on him for drinks. But, he thought to himself lightly, I think Hermione has drunk enough for the lot of us. 
When they arrived at the tower, he spoke the password and ignored the Fat Lady's spiteful gaze. Hermione heard a loud commotion as they entered the portrait hole and asked, “Is there a partyyy? I really love parties!”

“No party for you, Hermione. You're going straight to bed.” But it was then he realized that he couldn't get Hermione to bed, and he didn't want to bother Ginny. Making up his mind, he pushed his way through the crowded room and made his way to the stairs that lead to the boy's dormitory.

“Hey Harry, where's the d—what's wrong with Hermione?” Ron called from his place standing on top of the couch. Harry chose to ignore him and pressed on, finally reaching the stairs. But before he could start to ascend him, Ginny popped up into his vision with a wide grin on her face.

“Hey Harry!” She glanced down to the bundle in his arms and her grin faded, turning to a look of worry. “Oh Merlin, what's wrong with her?”

“Nothing!” Harry said quickly.

Hermione chose then to tilt up her head and smile as she saw her friend staring at her. “Hi-lo G'nny, how are you doing this fine evening?”

Ginny's eyes widened and she looked at Harry with an alarmed look on her face, “She's drunk?!”

“Shh, it's a secret!” Hermione said, giggling as she put a finger over her lips.

“What—how you did… when did you… what happened?!” Ginny asked in a flurry.

Harry looked around for a moment before answering in a hushed tone, “I found her alone in the second floor corridor, lying on the ground. I… I didn't know what to do so I brought her here.”

Ginny looked taken aback for a moment before changing her look to one of sympathy, “The poor thing… do you want me to levitate her to her dorm?”

“No, it's alright, I was going to take her up to mine… more private, you know? I don't think that she'd want a bunch of girls questioning her in the morning.” he explained feebly.

Ginny narrowed her brow, “Are you sure? I could just—”

“Yeah, I'm sure, Gin. I'll be right back.” He said with a small smile. He didn't wait for her to reply as he continued up the stairs, not catching the sour look on her face as she stared after him and the girl in his arms.

He reached the seventh year dorms to find it unsurprisingly empty. Harry made his way over to his canopy and set her down gently. His arms were loosely wrapped around her as he released her onto the soft covers. He removed them and Hermione shivered as his brushed against her sides. She covered it up coolly and looked at him with glossy eyes. “Where'd the -hic- party go?”

“It umm… it left, too much fun with you there that they all tired themselves out.” He tried.

She giggled again and he sighed in relief, “Too bad, soooo sad. But it' okay… because I have…” she lifted her finger to tap his nose lightly, “you to keep me company.”

“Uhh, actually I was going to get back to the…” he trailed off, as Hermione puffed out her bottom lip and shook her head. “…party?”

“I don't want you to go” She said softly, “I want you to stay right here!”

Harry opened his mouth to say something, but she silenced him by pulling him by his collar to lie next to her. He faced her with his mouth agape. He could feel her warm breath on his face, and he flinched when he caught the scent of firewhisky in her breath. “Hermione I… I have to get back to the party.”

“Why?” she asked, a tiny whine present in her tone.

“Because…” she leaned forward and his breath caught, “Because I…” She was barely an inch away from him and he felt his eyes begin to drift close in anticipation. When he felt nothing but the air bushing against his lips, his eyes drifted open to see Hermione lying unconscious beside him.

~*~

Chirping was heard outside of the windows and Hermione groaned as the high-pitched noises. Damn birds!
She let her eyes drift open and closed them immediately as the sun burned her eyes. Gods, how she hated hangovers! The only good part of drinking was the part you couldn't remember, and the part you can remember is the most painful. The last think she could recall was being carried down a corridor by… Draco. Yes, that was it. Draco had found her in the kitchens and brought her to her dormitory. He could be a sweetheart, sometimes. But, of course, him being a prick always overshadowed that more times than not.

Hermione remembered Dobby giving her a hangover potion and reached into her pocket to grab it. However, when she groped around for the small vile, she found nothing but an empty pocket. Her eyes widened as she checked the remaining pockets for the potion and began to panic. She couldn't find it! Hermione twisted her neck around frantically, checking around her dorm. On her bedside table she found a small piece of parchment and picked it up.

It read: Hermione, I found this on the bed before I left; I think you might need it. -Harry
Hermione lowered the note to see the vial of hangover potion atop her desk. But before she could let relief wash over her, she re-read the note. Before he left… but that must mean… OH MY GOD I SLEPT WITH HARRY?
She automatically groped for her clothes to find them highly disheveled and she let her panic rise to the full capacity. How could she have done that?! She didn't even—okay, she liked him, but that was beside the point! She slept wither her fri—her target! Oh Merlin, what was she going to do now?! She had single-handedly sabotaged her mission!

Hermione heard the door creak open and she lay back down in her bed, feigning sleep. Footsteps approached her and she put the potion back on the nightstand, trying to remain still. The footsteps stopped right in front of her and she heard a soft whisper, “Hermione, are you awake yet?”

She allowed her eyes to flicker open and Harry' face came into view. Her heart leapt in her throat as she saw him smile at her. She propped herself on her elbows and stared at him, not really knowing what to say. Thankfully, he spoke up again, “You going to drink that?” He motioned to the potion and she nodded numbly.

Hangover potions were really a miracle. The sweet liquid slid down her throat and she sighed as she felt the symptoms dissipate. Glancing back up at Harry, she let her inhibitions fall as she opened her mouth to speak in a raspy voice, “I'm sorry about last night.”

“That's alright, we all make mistakes.” He said, looking at her with a strange shine in his eyes.

“Mistakes… right…” Hermione mumbled. “I don't really remember much”

Harry nodded, “I figured as much.”

“What happened?” she asked shakily, not knowing whether or not she wanted to hear the answer.

He took a seat on the bed and started to explain, “I found you in the second floor corridor, you were pissed and so I brought you up to my dorm.”

Hermione looked around the room to discover he was right, this wasn't her dorm. She was puzzled for a moment before regaining herself and asking the question she was most anxious to answer, “You mean, nothing else happened after that?”

Harry shook his head, “Not really, no.”

Hermione let a breath of relief out. She didn't sleep with him! Her body slumped against the covers and she let herself relax. Harry noticed her stance and smiled. She saw him out of the corner of her eye and turned to look at him, “What?”

“Well I was just wondering if you felt good enough to go outside?” he asked innocently.

Hermione narrowed her eyebrows, “Why?”

He shrugged, “No reason, it's the first snow of the year and I wanted you to see it…”

“S-snow?” she asked shakily. She threw off the covers and scrambled to the window, seeing the blankets of white powder covering the grounds. Her blood ran cold and she turned back to Harry, who was openly laughing at her. “You think it's funny?”

“Yeah, pretty much”

Hermione reached for a pillow behind him and smacked him over the head. He let out an audible “Oomph” as it collided with his skull and he looked up at her incredulously. She just smirked and tilted her head to the side in warning.

He stood up and faced her, towering over her petit for by a good few inches. “Get your jacket on, we're going outside.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow, “Make me”

“Fine” He raised his wand hand and flicked it in the air. Hermione looked at him oddly until a coat flew into his hand, her coat.

Hermione stared at him in awe, “How did you…”

“Shh” he said, putting a finer over his lips, “It's a secret.”

Something about that phrase struck a nerve in her, almost as if she had said it before. Hermione immediately banished the thought. She would never say something so… so childish! She was too busy thinking about why the phrase got a reaction out of her that when she felt the jacket being placed on her shoulders, she flinched. She craned her neck to see Harry adjusting it before pulling away and facing her again. She slipped her arms through and he smiled, making a beckoning motion with his hand.

Hermione harrumphed and followed behind him, not really knowing why. She knew where he was leading her, so why was she still trailing after him? Snow was freezing cold and here she was without the proper attire, save a single coat. She was risking catching a cold, or worse, pneumonia!

Harry seemed to sense her hesitation and turned around to grab her hand. The friction was instant, working its way from her fingers to her toes, the familiar feeling of a lightning strike awakening her senses. Harry seemed unaware of her reaction as he lead her to the entrance hall in a hurried pace. One might almost think he were late for something. No, this was a spur-of-the-moment thing… wasn't it?

He let go of her hand and opened the door with a push, the cool breeze hitting Hermione like a ton of ice cubes to the face. She shivered and stepped back, attempting to make a run for it. Harry smiled at her mockingly as he grabbed her hand once more, dragging her out of the warmth of Hogwarts. “This isn't fair!” she screamed.

“Life isn't fair” he replied shortly.

“You'll pay for this Harry… Harry… I don't know your middle name.” She trailed off.

He glanced back at her with a small smile, “Its James.”

“Right” she said briefly, “Harry James Potter, you'll regret the day you ever forced me into the snow.”

“Well at least I won't go down alone” he said, coming to a stop in an open part of the grounds, near the black lake.

He let go of her hand and she stared at him with a confused gaze, “What do you mean?”

He just smirked and she felt herself becoming worried. Something wasn't right. Something was going to happen. She was in danger, she could sense it. She turned around; trying to observe her surroundings, but her vision was blocked when a snowball hit her square in the face. The freezing sphere melted down her face in droplets and she gasped. Wiping the residue from her face, she saw two figures coming towards her, both with flaming red hair.

“What is the meaning of this?!” she screeched at the three laughing teenagers.

“We told you that we needed to train you” Ginny said simply.

“But… but… now?” she asked.

“No time like the present” Harry said, forming another snowball in his palms.

“I have no idea how to make a snowball, let alone throw them!” she exclaimed.

“That's why we're here” Ron said with a nod. “To turn you into the best snowball fighter the Burrow has ever seen!”

“Right…” Hermione said uncertainly. “Good luck with that.”

Harry took a step towards her, “You're going to need all the help you can get and we are going to help you. What would you rather do: Get pummeled by a dozen Weasley's because of lack of experience or barely get wet at all and always being able to hit your target?”

“None of the above, I would stay in the house and read a good book.” She said, crossing her arms.

Ginny shook her head, “Wrong answer, Herms.”

Hermione groaned and took a quick look around, not quite sure what she was checking for. When she turned her attention back to them she decided to give up, “Fine, fine. I choose the second one.”

“Excellent” the three said simultaneously.

“Okay, that was a little creepy.” Hermione said honestly.

“You'll get used to it” Ron said with a certainty in his voice.

Hermione gulped and watched as Harry walked up to her. He bent over and picked up a handful of snow, placing it in her bare hands. She shivered and looked at him. “Now, round it with your palms.” He instructed.

She tried to do what he said, but found that she failed miserably, crushing the snow and sending it to the ground. Ginny giggled and Ron bit his lip to keep from laughing. Harry simply sighed, “This is going to be a long afternoon.”

Hermione gave him a small, apologetic smile. Harry gave her another handful of snow and told her to try again. She didn't get it that time, or the time after that. But, by the fourth try, she got the snow to form into a lumpy ball and grinned up at Harry who smiled in return.

“Now, I want you to aim for Ron.” He said.

Hermione gave him an odd look, “You want me to hit him?”

He nodded, “Yeah, that's the basic idea. Don't worry, he can take it.”

Ron grinned over at them, flexing his muscles, “I'm a big, strong man!”

They all laughed at him and Hermione threw the snowball, missing by only a few inches. “Damnit!” she cursed. She made a second snowball and tried again, this going clear over his head. Without waiting for another instruction, she angrily made another snowball and threw it at him with a strong force. It hit Ron square in the chest and she smiled victoriously, panting slightly.

“Well, now we know to get you all riled up before the fight.” Ginny said jokingly.

Hermione laughed half-heartedly and turned to Harry. He looked at her with a small glint in his eyes, “Are you ready for a practice round?”

Hermione thought for a moment, “I don't know”

“Well from what I've seen, you need a few minutes to get into it, so let's give it a go, alright? We'll split up into teams so we have equal chance of winning.”

Hermione nodded, glad that she wouldn't have to depend on just herself so early in her learning. Ginny ran over to Harry's side and her confidence fell, a frown forming on her lips. She walked over to Ron, trying to cover up her disappointment. She saw Harry and Ginny speaking in hushed tones and her blood began to boil. Ginny pecked him on the lips and she almost lost it. Harry turned over to them, hand around Ginny's waist lazily, and asked, “You guys ready.”

“Yeah” Ron spoke on behalf of them.

“Oh yes” Hermione said through clenched teeth.

Ron looked over at her, “Are you alright?”

Hermione looked over with a sharp gaze, “Never better”

Ron seemed to take that as a legible answer and began to form a snowball. Hermione turned back over to Harry and Ginny and pounded snow together tensely, her jaw clenching.

“Ready… set… go!”

Hermione launched a snowball and hit Ginny square in the face, knocking her a few steps backwards. She smirked and launched one at Harry, but he dodged it easily. She quickly hid behind a nearby tree and gathered up more snow, trying to pick the best moment to emerge. She glanced around one side of the tree to see Ginny and Ron charging at each other with armfuls of snowballs and furrowed her brow. Where was Harry? No sooner did that thought cross her mind that a snowball had been crushed over her head. Hermione spun around and crushed the snowball in her arms atop the intruders head. He looked up at her and Hermione saw piercing emeralds staring at her. Her anger escalated, the scene before they began with him and Ginny replaying in her head. Grabbing another glob of snow, she threw it at his face and scrambled towards the clear patch of land.

She could hear Harry following her and picked up her speed. She knew that she had no time to pick up more snow so she was relying on her feet to carry her to safety. Unfortunately, she forgot to count the fact that it was open grounds and the nearest place of shelter was the castle.

Hermione felt arms snake around her waist to try and stop her. But by cause of the speed at which they were running, the two of them fell over. Hermione ended up on top of Harry and shifted uncomfortably. She made a move to get up when an idea struck her. Reaching to the side, she grabbed a handful of snow and pushed it onto his face, rubbing it in before flicking the excess off. Harry stared at her with an aghast look on his face as she smirked in victory.

Her victory was short-lived, however, as Harry used his strength to flip them over, hovering over her with a smirk to match her own moments ago. She was staring at him in shock as he grabbed a handful of snow and rubbed it in her face. She didn't know why, but at that moment she began laughing. Harry looked at her oddly before chuckling a little to himself. But, their laughter faded as they both realized what position they were in. They stared at each other, not really knowing what to do when they heard someone clear their throat. Both of their heads snapped up to see Ginny crossing her arms and tapping her foot, looking at them with narrowed eyes.

They both scrambled off of each other and stood to face the suspicious-looking Ginny. She tilted her head to the side and asked, “What's going on here?”

“We were just playing, Ginny” Harry explained.

Hermione nodded in agreement and Ginny kept her stance, “Yeah right, just playing… and Ron's an anorexic super genius.”

“HEY!” Ron yelled from a few feet away.

“Ginny, nothing was going on, it's not as though we were shagging in the snow!” Harry exclaimed, a slightly mocking tone to his voice.

“You were close enough.” Ginny said hotly.

Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but Ginny stormed off, Harry chasing after her like a lost puppy, calling her name as if his life depended on it. Hermione felt her eyes fill with something… as though water was being accumulated in her pupils. She was going to cry. She had never really cried before. A tear or two when she got a bit over-emotional, but she didn't count that as crying. She wiped her eyes before any tears could fall and walked to the school, sniffing. The cool breeze blew across her face and made her eyes tear up once more. She didn't wipe them this time as she made her way to the castle. It was safe to say that her day was ruined.

She blamed the snow.

~*~

A/N: Sorry for the long updates! I'm getting worse with age, I think. Looking back I used to updated directly after the previous chapter was validated and now it's just... well, a lot more different. Sorry if you guys hate it--I wouldn't blame you if you did. Just please stick with the story if you like it! And from the reviews I've been getting that's a large majority of you (YAYY!) so no excuses! Hehe.

Chapter 10: Christmas at the Burrow
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Christmas at the Burrow

It was rather unfortunate that the snow was still coming down heavily, even after three weeks. It was rather reflecting Hermione's mood: unchanged and melancholy. Yes, melancholy. She had finally come up with a suitable word that was both neutral and becoming. She had ruled out depressed and pessimistic, and even apathetic. Harry Potter did not make her apathetic.

The “snowball training” had been going on vigorously as well throughout those few weeks and each time Hermione found herself becoming more and more easier to anger. One could only take so much of Harry and Ginny. Harry and Ginny and their… touching. Really, why did couples insist on having to touch each other every single moment they were within a foot of each other? Didn't they enjoy even a little bit of elbow room once in awhile? Did they have to do it in public? Honestly, there were at least twenty broom cupboards throughout Hogwarts that weren't put there for just storage and they should do well to take advantage of that!

She tried her best not to avoid him altogether, save herself from feeling anything whatsoever towards him. But, of course, that nagging voice in the back of her head telling her that if she did that the mission would be ruined overpowered her greater judgment. So, after a rather tiring internal battle, she forced herself to be his friend, despite what he was doing to her. It took a lot of her self control not to scream from the tension she was creating between them. But, she figured, it would all go away… eventually. It always went away after a while.

It was December 20, the day they were scheduled to leave for The Burrow. Hermione was finishing up packing the last of her clothing with a wave of her wand and after they were finished folding themselves into her trunk, it shut with a quiet click. Sighing, she picked up the handle and let the small wheels pop out, allowing her to lug it down the stairs into the common room, where they had all agreed to meet before boarding the train.

She sat down on the sofa and propped her trunk next to her, staring into the flames with vague interest. She was still iffy about going there, nervous about meeting the Weasley family. Hermione didn't consider herself to be a people person; she was more of an “I'll-be-civil-to-you-only-up-until-I-kill-you” person. Being raised with limited social access had many disadvantages that the average person wouldn't think twice about, especially when you were raised by Death Eaters. But hey, it was who she was, and she couldn't change that.

Consumed in her thoughts, she failed to hear someone approach her. Only when they spoke up did she comprehend their presence. “Are you nervous?”

She looked over at the familiar voice slowly, “A little, but I'm not the most social person around so it's nothing new.”

Harry nodded, “Well I'm sure you'll be fine.”

“Tell that to my stomach. I feel like I'm going to regurgitate breakfast.” She said, letting her face contort to accentuate her statement.

“Don't they have potions for that?” He asked, somewhat amused.

She pursed her lips, “Yes, well we're leaving soon and I'm sure that we don't have time for a quick trip to the hospital wing.”

“Never stopped me”

“Yes, well you're you and I'm lazy.” She said with a small smile, “I'd rather sit here on this comfy couch, soaking up the heat then brave the chilled hallways.”

“The hallways may be chilled but we could always run.” He said in a sing-song voice.

She raised an eyebrow at him, “Not the best way to win the agreement of a sloth.”

He shrugged his shoulders, “Never said I was smooth.”

She smiled and turned back to the fire, thankful that the nausea was wearing off. The Burrow had better be worth it if she was going to have to deal with this.

Harry remained silent beside her but she could sense—how, she didn't know—that he wanted to say something. She prepared herself for another smart comment, or even a humorous icebreaker, trying to come up with a response to anything she thought he might say. But, her attempts and his chance at breaking the silence were squashed when footsteps bounded down the stone stair behind them. They both turned around quickly and saw Ron looking at them with a wolfish grin.

“So, who's ready to go to the train?”

Hermione was about to say that they still had to wait for Ginny when she bounced up from behind him. She found that their timing rather made her uncomfortable than amused. Harry and Hermione both nodded after a moment and the four of them made their journey to Hogsmeade Station.

The train was already filling with students by the time they arrived. The snow was blowing fast past their faces and Hermione felt her eyes moisten and breathing constrict. People who enjoyed this must have a medical condition or else they'd be dead by now. If that was true, the whole population of Hogwarts students going home must have some sort of contagious disease because every last one of them was smiling and acting as though it was 80 degrees out.

Hermione stepped onto the train as the wind picked up even more and took a long gasp of clean air when felt the waft of a warm breeze blow onto her face. No one seemed to notice her reaction and for that she was thankful. The last thing she needed was another group effort to try and get her to warm up to the snow.

They eventually found a compartment and each took a seat on the cushy benches. Harry had elected to sit next to Ginny and Hermione was left to sit next to Ron. It was odd, not to have Harry close to her, as they had been for the past few weeks. She couldn't decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing. But, as Harry's arm rose to wrap around Ginny's petit waist, it was decided. It was a very bad thing. And the worst part was that they were right in front of her, so she had a first row seat to the Harry and Ginny Show. Perfect. There was only one way to make this all go away, even for a little while. She shut her eyes. It was childish, but effective. If they asked, she didn't get much sleep last night.

The conversations that she picked up were all of building excitement and Ron yelling at Harry and Ginny to get a room. Hermione was thankful that her eyes were closed or else she might have glared the two of them into an early grave. Oh, how she detested train rides.

~*~

The next thing she knew, she was being shaken in consciousness by a strong hand. Her eyes drifted open lazily and she let her vision adjust to the dim lighting of the compartment, the blurred images coming into focus slowly. She tilted her head to the side to see Ron looking at her with a smile. Holding back a groan she lifted herself up to a sitting position and yawned. She chanced a glance out the window to see the train coming to a stop in front of the familiar platform.

Hermione thought that she would only see this place once more and be done with it. Too many families, too small of a stomach. But, under the promising circumstances, she figured that two more times couldn't be so bad. After all, it was her first Christmas away from a dingy mansion, she should be happy for a change of scenery.

She felt an odd sensation in the back of her head and tensed up; someone was watching her. Twisting her neck a few inches to the side she saw the familiar bright green orbs come into contact with hers and she felt her stomach twist up. In all actuality, she was rather surprised she hadn't becoming numb to this feeling by now. Back when she and Draco had first begun to… mature… there had been a small aching in her lower region every time she thought about him. But, after time, it went away, she got used to it. Why wasn't this feeling any different? What did he have that Draco didn't already have? Draco already had that bad boy persona down, so that couldn't be it. They were both charming, had piercing eyes… so what was it that made Harry so damn different?!

Her thoughts were run short as the train came to a stop. Hermione and Harry's eyes quickly averted each other as they grabbed their trunks and made their way to the platform. Hermione didn't know what to look for, as she had only seen Mrs. Weasley once before. But, it wasn't hard to spot the fiery red hair among the crowd once Ron and Ginny went sprinting to their mother. Harry smiled at the two of them and Hermione stared in fascination as the older woman enveloped her children in a warm embrace. Her trance was put away, though, as the woman looked at her and smiled.

“You must be Hermione; it's wonderful to meet you, dear.” She said kindly, reaching out and giving her a loose hug. Hermione was in shock for a moment, but tried her best to return the hug. Pulling back Hermione smiled at the older woman and stepped back a few feet. “I can't tell you how anxious I've been to finally meet you! Ron and Ginny have told me so much about you, and I'm sure you'll enjoy your holiday at The Burrow.”

“I look forward to it.” Hermione said genuinely.

Mrs. Weasley nodded and caught sight of Harry. The woman practically knocked him over with the force of her hug, letting a single statement of “Harry, dear!” emit from her lips. Hermione didn't know whether to be amused or concerned. But, when she let him go, Hermione let out a breath and a small chuckle out of her throat.

They all walked to a secluded corner towards the back of the station as Mrs. Weasley pulled an old record out of her knitted bag. Hermione glanced at the label and saw “Celestina Warbeck: A Cauldron of Hot, Strong Love” printed in bold letters. She had never heard of the singer before and was curious as to why Mrs. Weasley pulled out one of her records out of her bag. But, her questions were put to rest as Ron, Ginny, and Harry all put their hands onto the record. Hermione quickly placed her hand atop it as well and in a few moments felt the familiar tug of a Portkey in her stomach.

In what felt like a second they all landed in a heap and Hermione felt the snow begin to melt on her face. Her jaw clenched as she got up and brushed the snow from off of her jacket and pants. Glancing upward, her hands stopped at she caught sight of a building that looked as though it was about to tip over. The only way it could remain standing was if it was held up by magic. It was covered in blinking Christmas lights and wreaths, all hung at random angles. Popcorn and what looked to be old boots painted red green, and silver aligned the trees. There seemed to be a chicken coop to one side of the house and odd items scattered around the lawn, all covered by the large blanket of snow. In front of it all was a lopsided sign that read “The Burrow”.

The others were already making their way inside and Hermione had to take long strides to keep up with them. Thankful to be out of the snow, she entered the house quickly and found herself in the kitchen, where pots and pans were washing themselves in the sink. It wasn't anything she hadn't seen before, but she certainly hadn't seen such a cluttered kitchen. It was small and looked as though it was going to burst with the amount of clutter that was inside of it. Harry and Ron had disappeared and the three women were left in the kitchen alone. Mrs. Weasley smiled again and turned to face Hermione. “My home is your home. Please, let Ginny show you to her room. You'll be sharing, if that's alright?”

“Oh, of course” Hermione lied.

Mrs. Weasley smiled and she followed Ginny up a single flight of stairs. There seemed to be three rooms on this floor and Ginny led her to the first door. When she entered the room she looked around in interest. It was a small room, big enough for Ginny's bed and a small mattress on the floor she assumed was for her. Pressed against the wall was a desk in front of a window and a small closed that looked to be erupting with clothes. The walls were brightly painted with pink, yellow, and orange and aligned with posters of popular wizard bands and newspaper clippings from what Hermione assumed to be Witch Weekly. Next to Ginny's bed was a small table covered with photographs and various pieces of jewelry that looked to be very expensive.

Hermione tossed her trunk next to her mattress on the floor and turned to where Ginny was sitting on her bed, fondling one of her pillows. “Where's the bathroom?”

Ginny nodded to the door, “Second door to the left.”

Hermione followed her instructions and entered a small bathroom, various items scattered throughout the counter and any space that was capable of holding something. Hermione sensed a pattern and assumed that the whole house was like this: small and cluttered. She had never been claustrophobic but felt that these were the types of things that could set someone who was off. Sighing, she lifted the seat of the toilet and took a seat, burying her face in her hands. This was going to be a very interesting holiday. Sharing a room with Ginny, being in such close proximity with Harry, the bloody snow… this was shaping up to be her most miserable Christmas yet, and they haven't even hosted a party yet.

A knock at the door interrupted the silence and Hermione called “Occupied!”

“Mum wants me to tell you dinner's ready in five minutes.” Ginny's voice sounded from the other side of the door.

Hermione quickly flushed the toilet and washed her hands, accidently knocking down a bottle of Sleekeazy's Hair Potion. She promptly put it back and stepped out of the bathroom, unconsciously drying her hands on her trousers. Looking both ways down the narrow hallway, she noticed that Ginny didn't wait up for her like she normally did and sighed. At least she wasn't the only one who felt that the situation was awkward.

She made her way down the stairs at a brisk pace and entered the kitchen again to see everyone already sitting down at one side of the table in a bundle. She took a seat next to Ron and smiled politely at everyone. As soon as she adjusted her position, the waft of food come into her nostrils and she moaned inwardly, remembering what Harry had said about Mrs. Weasley's cooking. The food floated onto the middle of the table and her mouth watered at the sight of mashed potatoes, chicken, peas, carrots, bread and marmalade, and salad. It was like she was cooking for an army!

Loading her plate with a little bit of everything, she tried to control herself from stuffing her face. Starting with the mashed potatoes, she braced herself and her eyes widened as she let the food soak into her taste buds. It was unlike anything she had ever eaten. Harry was right, it was way better than Hogwarts's food! She chanced a glance over at him to see him smiling at her with an “I-told-you-so” look on his face.

“Fred and George will be arriving tomorrow,” Mrs. Weasley spoke up. “Bill and Fleur in a week and Charlie along with them. The whole family, can you remember the last time that happened?”

“The wedding?” Ron asked.

“Yes, that must be it, over a year ago!” Mrs. Weasley mused.

Hermione looked questioningly at Harry and he whispered, “Bill got married last year.”

Hermione nodded in understanding and turned back to Mrs. Weasley, who was in a conversation with Ron about Fred and George's latest escapades. Hermione remembered Harry telling her about how they owned a joke shop in Diagon Ally and listened intently to their conversation, eager to hear the description of one of their products.

“They told me that they invented some weird mistletoe thing in spirit of the holidays and were going to bring it here to test out.” Ron explained.

Mrs. Weasley looked concerned, “And what exactly does this mistletoe do?”

“Well… Fred told me that it works like the Muggle one, but then George added that it won't let you escape until you kiss. But, they both said that it only affects people who are soul mates. Don't quite know what that means but it sounds wicked!” Ron said with wide grin on his face.

“A soul mate is someone who was meant only for you, Ron, like you were both destined to be with each other. Remember that whole speech Trelawney gave us in sixth year during Divination?” Harry said, answering Ron's hidden question.

“Oh yeah… so that was what she was on about? I thought she was talking about becoming friends with ghosts…”

Everyone at the table laughed, Mrs. Weasley included. Hermione rather liked this invention of Fred and George's, as it wouldn't affect her in the least. She was positive that soul mates didn't exist. Besides, it wasn't as if she would be caught dead under one of those things! She had more common sense than that.

“That' so romantic!” Ginny gushed, clinging onto Harry's arm.

Hermione glared over at Ginny and spit, “It's pointless”

Ginny looked over at Hermione with a surprised look on her face, turning to one of annoyance. “What's pointless?”

“Soul mates” Hermione said simply, “They don't exist.”

The room went silent and Hermione couldn't help but feel uncomfortable. Then, much to everyone's surprise, Harry spoke up, “You don't believe in soul mates?”

Hermione looked over at him with a numb look on her face, “No”

"Well what about true love?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“What's true love?” Hermione asked incredulously.

Harry looked at her oddly, his face softening. “True love is the soul's recognition of its counterpoint in another.”

She was floored. Harry stared at her, not anticipating an answer, but making Hermione feel as if he was bearing into her soul. Could someone do that with just a look?

Mrs. Weasley looked at Harry fondly, “That was beautiful, Harry.”

He smiled at her, breaking their gaze from each other. Hermione excused herself and made her way into the living room, feeling faint. What the hell was he doing to her?! He was turning into a pile of slop, that's what he was doing! The bloody prat was messing with her emotions and making her… she didn't even know how to describe it! All she knew is that she didn't like it, not one bit.

“Are you alright, dear?” Mrs. Weasley's kind voice said from beside her.

Hermione looked into the woman's warm eyes, “Yeah, I'm fine. Just feeling under the weather is all.”

“Well, I brought you some dessert. Pumpkin pie drizzled with whipped cream and cinnamon.” She handed her the plate and Hermione smiled in thanks.

“Dinner was amazing, Mrs. Weasley, really. Harry was right when he said you were the best cook he'd ever met.”

Mrs. Weasley blushed, “Oh hush dear, it's nothing. Please, eat your pie and feel better, alright? And if you need anything, anything at all, don't be hesitant to talk.”

Hermione nodded, “I won't”

She gave her a pat on the shoulder and got up, making her way back to the kitchen. Hermione looked down at the pie and was about to take a bite when she heard voices coming towards her. Deciding it would be better to eat up in Ginny's room, she quickly ascended the stairs and closed the door behind her. She walked up to Ginny's bed and sat on the plump mattress, letting her eyes flicker to the pictures that she noticed earlier.

Picking up one in a silver frame, she saw Ginny and two other girls in her year by the greenhouses waving and smiling. Putting that one down she picked up another, this one in a golden wired frame, it was of Ginny, Harry, and Ron. They looked no older than twelve in the picture and were all outside of the Hogwarts express. She noticed that the clothes on Harry's back seemed to be at least five sizes too big for him and wondered vaguely how that was even possible for such a skinny young boy. Ginny looked so innocent, with her long wavy red hair, pale skin covered in freckles, and knobby knees. Ron still looked the same, slightly taller than Harry and too lanky for his own good.

The last frame, a pink one covered in red hearts was one of Harry and Ginny on the common room sofa, arms wrapped around each other and smiling widely. Hermione felt an angry tug in her chest and whipped the picture across the room, shattering the glass and cracking the wooden frame. Breathing heavily, Hermione looked down at the picture and went over to pick it up, muttering “Repairo” tensely under her breath to fix it. The couple in the photograph was looking up at her with fear and Hermione frowned at them. She had forgotten that some photographs could feel when they were being shaken up. She put the picture back on the bedside table and sighed, running her fingers through her hair. If only there was an answer to her problems that was easy to access.

She glanced back down and took a bite of her pumpkin pie, relishing in its sweet taste. For now, pumpkin pie would be her answer. Lots and lots of pumpkin pie.

~*~

A/N: Sorry for the wait! Your reviews have been so amazingly awesome and I've been putting off updating for wayyyyyy to long. I hope you forgive me =/ I'll try to be quicker next time.

Chapter 11: Double Trouble
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Double Trouble


Hermione woke up lying on her mattress the next morning, a plate filled with only crumbs of the pumpkin pie she had devoured last night laying next to her. Glancing around the room, she noticed that Ginny was still sound asleep and looked at the clock mounted on her wall. It was a little past eight in the morning. Sighing, Hermione lifted herself off of the floor and stretched, her back making a cracking sound. She made her way to the bathroom, trying hard not to wake Ginny and being forced to face her. Having Ginny glare her into an early death wasn't on the top of her to-do list for the morning. Even evil geniuses needed to be awake in order to deal with peppy 16-year-olds.

After she was finished preparing herself for the day about a half an hour later, she braved walking into the room again to see Ginny wide-awake and sitting at her desk, writing something down in what looked like a journal. Hermione did her best to stay quiet as she set down her pajamas, standing on the balls of her feet until finally dropping down atop her mattress. The only sound in the room was that of a quill scratching against parchment and it was deafening. Hermione found herself missing the small conversation they had not so long ago. But, as far as she could tell, she was going to be deprived of those for a while, so she might as well suck it up and get over it. That method worked countless times before, so why not now?

Hermione glanced over at Ginny and knew why not: Because she cared. For once in her life, she had developed fondness for people other than herself and maybe Draco. She wasn't fond of her fellow Death Eaters, for she was convinced that their heads were filled with nothing but sawdust. She wasn't fond of the Malfoy's; they had made her childhood miserable. Even a small part of her knew that she wasn't fond of the Dark Lord. He was like her father, so she felt nothing but a strange connection that had nothing to do with love or caring, but rather bond and trust. But she was fond of Ginny. And Ron. And even Mrs. Weasley. She might even be fond of… Harry. But fondness can easily go away. Surely she was only developing this feeling because of her constant presence around them and the warm environment. Yes, it had to be the atmosphere.

There was a knock at the door and both girls jumped at the piercing noise. Ginny called a soft “Come in” and the door opened slightly, revealing a mop of plump red hair. Mrs. Weasley's smiling face came into view as she opened the door fully, revealing her in a long floral dress covered with a white, stained apron.

“Breakfast is ready, girls.” She said.

Hermione lifted herself off of her mattress and followed Mrs. Weasley down the stairs, Ginny a short distance behind her. When they reached the kitchen, the burst of delicious food blew into Hermione's senses and she looked hungrily at the table. Eggs, kippers, bacon, toast, and sausages were all aligned along the middle and she gingerly took a seat. She began to load her plate right away and did her best to avoid Ginny's eyes. She could feel the brown orbs bore into her and it was all she could do not to scream.

She saw Mrs. Weasley sit down and turn to her. “You get a good night sleep last night, Hermione?”

Hermione smiled warmly, “Yes, thank you.”

She nodded, “Well I'm glad. Today is going to be jam-packed. Fred and George should arrive soon, and with them, the return of my husband from his business trip. Then, we'll have to get the house ready for the Christmas party Harry and Ron wanted to have this weekend.”

“A party?” Hermione asked with a slightly shaky tone to her voice.

Mrs. Weasley nodded, “Yes, a party. They've had one every year for the past two years and this being their last year, I felt like we should get an early start.”

“Oh” Hermione said idly, “That's… lovely.”

“Is something wrong, dear?” Mrs. Weasley asked in a worried tone.

Hermione shook her head, “It's nothing, really.”

She gave her an odd look, “Alright, dear. If you're sure.”

Hermione gave her a thankful smile. At least there was one person here she wasn't ashamed to be fond of. Ginny was slowly losing her favor. First the funny feeling she got whenever she was around her, and now the silent treatment. Honestly, how childish could you get? So she was underneath her boyfriend for a good ten seconds, that wasn't a reason to overreact like this! It wasn't as if it meant something.

Hermione was shaken from her thoughts by the sound of slow footfalls coming into the kitchen. Slowly turning her head, she saw Harry running his hand though his hair lazily and staring at the floor. He took a seat next to Ginny and looked up slightly, meeting her eyes for a moment before quickly averting them. Well that was odd. She thought to herself.

“Where's Ron?” Mrs. Weasley asked.

“He's still in the bathroom, didn't feel so well this morning.” Harry explained. “I was up all night conjuring up empty pails for him to… well you get the picture.”

Mrs. Weasley put a hand over her mouth, “Oh my poor Ronnykins, I should brew him up a quick Pepper-up Potion!” And before anyone could say another word, she bustled out of the kitchen.

Hermione looked up at Harry and Ginny and asked, “Ronnykins?”

Harry let out a small laugh, “Yeah, you'll be hearing a lot of that around here in the next few weeks. It's Molly's pet name for him and well, it stuck. I think Fred and George use it more than anyone else.”

“I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be looking forward to their visit, or cower behind a table and cry” Hermione said honestly.

Harry chuckled, “Well in my opinion, they're not so bad once you get to know them but when you first meet them they have a habit of acting a bit—

All of a sudden, three loud pops sounded, signifying apparition. Harry looked as though he was going to finish his sentence when a sound Hermione could only describe as resembling an explosion sounded. They all jumped as a whizzing sound followed and a bright line of sparks flew into the kitchen. Hermione was blinded as the sparks flew about the kitchen, knocking pots and pans off their holsters and denting cupboards. The loud sounds became so overwhelming, that the three occupants of the kitchen had to cover their ears to save from any more strain. The noises came to a sudden halt as the sparks faded, leaving a faint whisper in their wake. They all removed their hands from atop their ears and Harry finally got the chance to finish his sentence, “eccentric.”

No sooner had the word left his lips that two tall men with bright red hair came into the kitchen. They both donned matching silver robes, covering shirts each embroidered with three W's in the top right corner, one red, and one blue. But the thing that made them stand out the most was their matching devilish grins showing off their inhumanly white teeth which, to Hermione's observations seemed to reflect the light and shine about the entire room. “Season's greetings pals and gals!” they both said in unison.

One of them turned over to grin at Harry and he covered his eyes, shielding them from the glare of his teeth. “What in the name of Merlin did you do to your teeth?”

The twins looked at each other and simultaneously touched their hands to their teeth, pulling them straight out from their mouths. Hermione resisted the urge to gag. She looked down to their hands to see the gleaming white teeth shining brightly. And, glancing back to their mouths, she saw them sporting matching smiles and showing a pair of normal-looking teeth. Before anyone could say anything to their display, the one in the red spoke up. “They're called Dazzling Dentures, guaranteed to blind anyone within a good two yard distance with just a flash of the teeth or your money back.”

A man with a receding red hairline pushed through Fred and George before they could speak another word, sending a radiant smile in the direction of Ginny and Harry. He was dressed in dark brown robes and an oddly patterned green vest. A pair of thin-rimmed glasses rested on the bridge of his nose and Hermione could tell by looking at the way the robes fell around his body that he was a very thin man. Ginny ran into his arms a second later, exclaiming a squeal of “Daddy!” and her suspicious were confirmed. This was Mr. Weasley.

“There's my favorite little princess! How are you, sweetheart?” He cooed.

She giggled, “I'm fine Daddy.”

It was a sickening site, seeing them doting on each other. Now she knew the reason she acted so peppy all the time: She was a spoiled brat. As far to her knowledge, Ginny was the only girl, so it was inevitable for her to be pampered beyond normal capacity.

The two of them pulled apart and he walked over to Harry and gave him a hug as well, but this one much shorter. “Good to see you again, Harry.”

“Back at you, Mr. Weasley.” Harry said with a smile.

Mr. Weasley looked around the kitchen for a moment, searching for something. At first, Hermione thought he was observing the damage his sons had inflicted on the kitchen. But, after only remaining in thought for a moment, she was proved wrong. “Where's Ron?”

“Not feeling too well.” Harry explained for the second time.

Mr. Weasley nodded and turned towards Hermione for the first time. Her body stiffened and she immediately felt self-consciousness wash over her. She had never met this man before, and yet she was already intimidated by him. How is it that this family had such an effect on her?

“And you must be Hermione, am I correct?”

Hermione nodded, “Yes.”

He gave her a warm smile and held out his hand, which Hermione reluctantly took. “Well it's a pleasure to meet you, Hermione.”

“Same to you.” She replied mechanically.

“Oh would you lookie here Fred.” The twin she now identified as George commented, looking pointedly at her.

“What, George?” Fred responded with an airy nonchalance.

“It's the bird our good `ol Ronnykins couldn't stop writing to us about!” George exclaimed, as though he had just deducted a major discovery.

“Well slap my wand and call me Shirley, I think it is!” Fred said, looking at her with a goofy grin. Hermione began to form a smile as she comprehended what they were saying. Ron had written about her?

“Hermione, right?” George asked.

“Umm… yes.” She answered uncertainly.

Fred stuck out his hand for her to shake and she reached for it politely. “I'm Gred, and this is my brother—” George came up and began to shake her other hand. “Forge.”

Hermione didn't even bother asking questions about the way they had re-arranged their names. She was quickly learning not to second guess their behavior. But really, what could they do that would shock her now? Unfortunately, Hermione found out the answer to that question quickly when both twins took each of her hands and brought it up to their lips for a chaste kiss. Their lips were soft and only lasted for a moment, but as they pulled away, she stared gaping at them but they just grinned and turned away.

Hermione thought an awkward pause was next, but was proven wrong yet again. They all took a seat next to her and began to eat, striking up a conversation with each other about something that she held no particular interest in. Truth be told, she was more concerned with the damaged kitchen she was in. How could everyone be so nonchalant about the whole thing? Didn't anyone care about common courtesy anymore?

“WHAT IN THE NAME OF MERLIN HAPPENED TO MY KITCHEN?!”

Finally, a voice of reason,
Hermione thought to herself as Mrs. Weasley came into the kitchen spotting a scarlet face. Everyone but Hermione blushed and bowed their heads down in shame, as if it was all of their faults. Hermione wanted to slap them all across the head for acting like a bunch of wimps! It was Mrs. Weasley. All she had as a weapon of choice was a rolling pin.

“Hello mother!” Fred chimed.

“So lovely to see you!” George followed.

“How you lost weight?”

“Or gained more of the loving and caring we have missed so much while we have been away from home?”

“Mummy, we missed you!” they both shouted in unison before sandwiching her in a hug from both ends.

Mrs. Weasley huffed and pushed the two off of her, “Oh cut it out would you! I missed you too, but I would like to know what happened to my kitchen before any tearful reunions are to take place!”

“Well you see…” George fumbled to explain.

“We wanted to test out a few products…”

“And it ended up…”

“Going a bit out of hand…”

“A bit?” she asked timidly. “A bit? Destroying my kitchen does not constitute as a bit!”

“Sorry mum.” They both said in unison.

Hermione found herself to be somewhat shocked that they gave in so quickly to her. They came off to her as the kind of people who would fight for what they wanted, not give in at the slightest hint of a raised voice. But, she figured, this family wasn't exactly as readable as she originally thought so she might as well get used to being wrong within these next few weeks. Sighing, she excused herself and walked into the living room, taking a seat on the sofa and relaxing into its folds.

“It takes a while for the shock to wear off.”

She had become used to him sneaking up on her by now, so her eyes remained shut as she answered in a blasé voice. “For what to wear off?”

“The inability to read the Weasley's like an open book.” He responded.

Hermione opened her eyes and looked at him with a cocked eyebrow. “And how do you know that's what I'm trying to do?”

“The look of shock on your face about a dozen times gave it away.” He said, taking a seat next to her.

“And what makes you an expert?” she asked.

“Because it's common knowledge. When I first met them, I thought they were going to be just like my so-called family at home, but was proved wrong every second I spent with them. They're an odd bunch, but have become the closest thing to family I've ever known other than my godfather.” He said quietly, growing more distant towards the end.

“Godfather?” she asked. He had a godfather?

He nodded, “He died a few years ago.”

A shot of something went through Hermione's chest at the statement. “I'm so sorry.”

“It's alright, it wasn't your fault. He was murdered.”

“Murdered?”

“Yeah. By his cousin, Bellatrix.” He said tersely.

Hermione did her best not to gasp for air. Bellatrix? Bellatrix Lestrange? As in the Bellatrix that was the Dark Lord's pet for all intensive purposes? She had murdered her cousin, her own flesh in blood? Hermione knew she was mad, but to kill your own kin was just… barbaric. If Hermione was forced with the decision to kill someone of her own blood, she knew that she wouldn't do it. Granted, she had never known any of her relatives, so there was no saying what she would actually do in that situation. But the thought of it made her sick to her stomach, so there was a good chance that she would back down at the chance.

They both remained silent as they sat there, Hermione not knowing what to say for once. There was so much tension in the air that she could taste it on her tongue. It tasted like rotten meat. It was in these moments that Hermione thought about ways to avoid these situations. She really had to stop letting these people from getting to her. The mission was vital and in full swing and here she was, enjoying herself when she was supposed to be working. Then again, wasn't that what she was supposed to do, be their friend? What was left of her to do then, shag one of them? She shuttered at the thought.

“Are you two ready to help with the cleaning?”

Mrs. Weasley was looking at them with a duster in one hand and her wand in the other. Hermione smiled and nodded at the elder woman and stood to face her. It was then that she noticed that how taller she was than her. She had a good few inches over the stout woman and Hermione couldn't help but smile to herself. She had always been called petite and now she could count herself as more towards average than her tormenters had lead her to believe.

“Hermione, Harry, since you're already here would you please tidy up the living room? If you find anything of a… questionable nature, please set it aside and I'll take a look at it later. Alright?”

“Sure” Harry replied. Hermione jumped a little when she felt his close proximity behind her. Must he always do that?

“Thank you so much! I'll be in the attic, trying to find some decorations.” And with that, she disappeared up the stairs.

Hermione lost count of the steps as Mrs. Weasley ascended the stairs, not knowing what else to do. Harry wasn't making an effort to initiate conversation, so why should she? So, without any further distractions, she pulled out her wand and began to pick up random pieces of trash, molding them all into a single ball. Harry later followed her lead and they were soon on opposite sides of the room. They continued like that for what felt like hours, but in reality was only about forty five minutes. Hermione was so concentrated on getting the dust from behind their wireless set she didn't hear the footsteps announcing the arrival of another person. In fact, by the time she was finished, she could begin to hear snippets of a conversation coming from behind her.

“…not the right time, Ginny.”

“She'll never find out. Besides, it won't take that long that why it's called a quickie.”

Hermione's gag reflex kicked in and she tried to make it look as though she was still busy cleaning. Maybe, if she came in at the right time, Ginny would go away.

“Come on, be realistic. We have to work if we want to throw the party in two days, you know that.”

She heard Ginny sigh resolutely, “Yeah, I know… but just for once I would like to—”

“I know.” He interrupted. “We'll have time later, I promise. But for now, we have to get back to cleaning. Besides, I think our conversation is making Hermione uncomfortable.”

The mention of her name caused Hermione to bump her head on the small shelf that was above the wireless set. Looking meekly over at Harry and Ginny she saw that Harry was smiling at her apologetically while Ginny was crossing her hands over her chest, averting her gaze. Knowing that hiding discreetly was no longer an option, she turned around fully. There was a strained silence as they all looked awkwardly around the room. Hermione didn't know what to say, but she knew what she wanted to do. Puke.

“Ginny, what are you doing back here?” Mrs. Weasley's overpowering voice sounded from the stairs.

Ginny turned around to face her mother, “Mum! I was just—”

“No excuses! Get back to the bathroom and continue washing it like you are supposed to be doing right now!”

Ginny sighed in frustration, “Fine.” Seeing her mother nod in content, she quickly turned to Harry and gave him a kiss on the lips. Hermione flinched and she could have sworn that Ginny was staring at her as soon as their lips dethatched, a smug smile dancing on her face. But, she turned back to Harry too quickly for her to tell. “I'll miss you. Remember later.”

Before Harry could respond, she climbed the stairs, leaving both him and Hermione speechless. Harry turned to Hermione slowly with his features contorted oddly. “Sorry you had to hear that.”

Hermione was thankful that he was apologizing to her. But that still didn't change the fact that she heard their conversation and was sure she'd be scarred for life. “Thanks.”

They were saved from what surely would have been a tense conversation by Fred (or who she thought was Fred) stepping into the room. He was holding a bright pink bunch of leaves in his hand and looking at them with a wide grin. Now she knew where Ginny inherited her lovely smile.

“`Ello Harry, Hermione.” He greeted.

“Hey Fred” Harry replied, proving Hermione's earlier guess right.

“Do you mind if I hang this somewhere? Me and George want to test it out to see if it actually works.” He gestured to the doorway connecting the living room to the kitchen above him with a bob off his neck.

“Sure, knock yourself out.” Harry said, shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly. If possible, Fred's grin widened and he snapped his fingers so a small stepstool appeared. It wasn't very big, just tall enough to boost Fred up to safely secure the bundle of leaves on the doorway. When he got down, he stared at it with a proud look on his face. Harry, however, narrowed his eyes and looked at Fred. “Is that the new mistletoe-thing you guys have been working on?”

Fred nodded enthusiastically, “Yep! Weasley's Special Mischievous Mistletoe, guaranteed to get you and your sweetie to pucker up or… well, I think you know the rest.”

Harry nodded, “Right. Remind me, what's the point of this mistletoe, anyway?”

“Well it's only supposed to work on soul mates. Sometimes, a person's soul mate isn't the one they're currently with and it'll be pretty amusing watching their faces when they find out that little fact. It's still in its testing stages, though, so we're not quite sure if it works yet. George suggested bringing it here and testing it on mum and dad, so I'll call them down later to see if it's ready to sell.” Fred explained, his face very eccentric. “The poll's already going on when Ginny will drag you under there.”

Harry punched Fred in the shoulder playfully, “That's just cruel.”

He threw his hands up in the air, “Never said I was nice.” He remained silent for a moment before looking up at Harry with a small smile. “Harry, why don't you step under the mistletoe?”

Harry narrowed his brow, “Why?”

“Well, to test it of course. If I'm right, your soul mate, if they are near, will be drawn to you by some unknown circumstance. If they aren't around, you'll be unaffected.” Fred said, his eyes twinkling.

Harry gave him a look before stepping under the bright pink bundle. He looked unaffected until the mistletoe began to glow slightly. This drew the attention of Hermione and she found herself drifting towards the bright light it was giving off. It was like her feet were moving on their own accord while her eyes were focused on the light. It was so pretty…

Hermione tripped over her shoelace and ended up tumbling the rest of the way, right into Harry. His fast reflexes caught her and she was shaken from her trance. Blinking her eyes rapidly, she saw Harry looking at her oddly. “What are you d—?” he was cut off by a bright opaque array of what looked to be dust falling around them until they formed what Hermione thought reminded her of a bubble.

She straightened her composure and made to walk away from Harry, so that she could make room for Ginny when she was drawn to him. But, the bubble in around the two of them stopped her. It wasn't as forceful as a brick wall, but rather like strong rubber. She tried again to push past the bubble and still couldn't break through. She turned to Harry to see him trying the same thing. He stopped after a few moments and the two of them just starred at each other. They both heard a low chuckle and turned to see Fred covering his mouth, his shoulders shaking.

What is so funny?” Hermione asked angrily.

When he didn't reply, Harry tried, “What happened, Fred?”

Fred sobered enough to speak to them, but the amusement was still present in his tone, “Well I guess there are still a few kinks to be worked out…”

“Obviously” Hermione said hotly. “Now, let us out so we can get back to cleaning.”

Fred remained silent for a moment before his smile turned to a small grimace. “I'm afraid I can't do that.”

“What do you mean you `can't do that'?” Harry asked slowly.

“Well, soul mates or not, you guys still have to obey the charm that was put on it in order for it to release you.” He said with his voice decreasing in volume every syllable he emitted.

“And what would that be?” Hermione asked.

“It's mistletoe, Hermione. What do people do under mistletoe?” Harry asked her, his face contorting into what Hermione thought looked very pained.

It took her a moment to register what he meant and her stomach dropped. “We have to kiss?!”

“That's the basic idea, yeah.” Fred chimed in.

“Well fine then.” Harry said, catching Hermione by surprise and letting his lips graze her cheek. He lingered for only a second before pulling away, but it felt like it went by in slow motion to her. When they detached, she felt her check burn where his lips had made contact and resisted the urge to lift up her hand and rub it away.

They both looked quite embarrassed and let their eyes travel to where they thought they'd see the living room. But, to both of their dismays, the bubble was still around them. She heard Harry let out an aggravated grunt and she too felt her jaw clench in frustration. Both turned to Fred to see him looking at them with a raised eyebrow.

“Seriously, a peck on the cheek? That's primary material! It won't let you out without some lip to lip action.” He sounded cheeky and Hermione felt like she could break the bubble by reaching over and punching him in the nose.

“Fred, come on. I can't kiss Hermione.” Harry said pleadingly.

Hermione felt a small feeling of disappointment wash over her. Of course he wouldn't want to kiss her, he had Ginny for that. She looked over at Fred to see him shrugging his shoulders, “Yes, you can. My sister will never find out. Besides, it's the only way to get out of that thing.” He gestured to the bubble with one hand extended, “All it needs is a simple peck on the lips. That's all. If you want some privacy to get it over with, fine, I'll leave.”

Harry looked in thought for a moment. Hermione thought he was going to say no and yell at Fred to find another way to fix this situation, but he did the complete opposite. “Alright.”

Hermione looked at him dumbfounded, “What?”

He looked at her with a slight flush to his cheeks. Truth be told, she found it quite cute. “I said alright.” He turned to Fred and pointed a finger at him, “But you have to leave the room and swear that you'll never repeat this to anyone, not just Ginny.”

Fred placed his left fist over his heart, “I swear on the Marauders Map.”

Hermione furrowed her brow and looked at Harry. He seemed to take this as an acceptable answer and nodded. Fred then turned to leave the room and Hermione wanted to yell at him to come back. She didn't want to kiss Harry! He was her… acquaintance!

The silence was defining as they both stood there, avoiding each other's eyes. Hermione didn't want to make the first move, and, as far as she could tell, neither did Harry. At least she knew she wasn't the only one feeling remorse towards this. But it was only a kiss, a short kiss that would let them go free and get back to their chores. Just a kiss…

Hermione looked tentatively to Harry to find him already staring at her. Their eyes met and she found herself being unable to look away. His eyes were so radiantly beautiful that even the first time she saw him, those few months ago, she found herself speechless. Of course, now she knew the name to whom they belonged to and that certainly changed some things. Wait, was it her or were they drifting closer? She felt a hand behind her neck and she knew she wasn't imagining things. His touch was light, feather-like, almost as if he wanted this to be quick yet pleasant. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up and she knew that it was working. She braced herself when he was no more than an inch away, his breath blowing warm air onto her face. Closing her eyes, she felt the light pressure of his lips upon hers and she felt her body melt.

His lips were like satin, moving slowly across hers in small strokes. Her hands, hanging feebly at her side, came to rest on his shoulder blades, feeling his muscles tense at her touch. She felt his lips apply more pressure and her mind went into a blur and she didn't even remember thinking about it before responding and applying equal pressure with her own lips. For what felt like an eternity, they stood there, soaking up each other. Their lips gently suckled on each other and their hands roamed lightly, not straying from their original places. The need for air became too much to resist and Hermione felt herself pull back quickly.

Their breathes were ragged and their eyes remained closed. He rested his forehead gently against hers and she felt herself nuzzle against it slightly. It was in that moment when her mind chose to turn back on. She had just kissed Harry! Her sworn enemy, her target, her friend, Harry! And she liked it too much… way too much. She only knew of one way to escape situations like this. She ran.

Disentangling herself from Harry, Hermione sprinted up the stairs two at a time and tuned out anything she thought was a call of her to come back. When she reached the door to Ginny's room, she placed a locking charm on it quickly and collapsed onto her bed. She pulled a pillow from beside her and screamed into it as loud as she could. She had developed a habit of doing that years ago when things didn't go her way at the Malfoy Manor and felt that it was still as effective now as it was then. But, she had never had this much feeling behind it. And damn, was it giving her a headache!

She had never experienced anything like that in her life. Not even with Draco. Sure, he was a fantastic kisser and shag, but it was all passion and lust. No real feelings other than raw desire. But this kiss with Harry… she felt like she wanted to cling to him and never let him go. It was as if desire was only a contribution factor and something else was fueling the fire she had felt in the pit of her stomach that wouldn't go away since the moment she found out she had to kiss him. It made her want to puke and laugh at the same time. Something was wrong. She had never felt this before and was scared beyond belief. Surely, she couldn't have feelings for him. She had just admitted she liked him as a friend and now this?

Well, whatever this was, it sucked. More so than anything she'd ever felt. And she thought being depressed was horrible. It wasn't going away, that much she knew. So she would stay here for a while and think. Think about her feelings, her mission, and most of all Harry. Why had she been so drawn to the mistletoe? Was Fred going to tell anyone despite him swearing on some sort of map?

She had a lot of time to think about these things because that was the first night that Ginny didn't return to the room during the night. 

~*~


A/N: Sorry for the long delay! I won't bother with excuses. But I hope you liked the chapter regardless. Things are beginning to get a little bit more interesting wouldn't you say? I am loving the reviews you guys keep on giving! They are really helping me a lot. I'm already past 100! WOHOO!!! Thank you all so much. I'm really glad you like the story =]

Chapter 12: Numb
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Numb


It was the day before the party.

Hermione had had a few days to think about what had been transpiring and she had finally come up with a conclusion. He liked her. And not the like as in a friendly like. An actual attraction. So these past few days she had been walking around the house with a smug look on her face. More than one person had asked if she was alright. Of course she was! She had the boy-who-lived attracted to her! She couldn't have felt better if she tried.

Of course, it wasn't really a surprise. She usually attracted the opposite sex like flies, hence why she was so talented at what she did. Hermione had something most of the other Death Eaters didn't have: Attractiveness. She had used it to lure more than a few victims into the clutches of her master and never hesitated to use it to her advantage. She wasn't one to sleep around, though. In fact, Draco had really been the only one she had shared that with. Well, him and the occasional pick-me-up when she went out. But really, it wasn't as if she had shagged all of Great Britain. It was only a smidge.

So, she had come up with a plan. Now that Harry was basically putty in her hands, she could use in her favor. The kiss was only the beginning. The initial shock had now worn off and she finally came up with a conclusion about why she had acted so odd. It had been her first time not initiating contact and he had caught her by surprise. Of course, she didn't know why she was so surprised in the first place. Sure, he had a girlfriend, but really, they were still in school so it wasn't as if they were going to last. Besides, Ginny struck her as one of those people who would be easy to manipulate. She still considered her a friend, but friends don't last. They never last. So why worry?

Today was the perfect day to initiate her plan. It just so happened that yesterday Fred had announced to the dinner table that the annual Weasley Snowball Fight was to take place this afternoon. Hermione had been excited from the beginning, but now she was glowing. All of those days of training would finally be put to good use. She hoped that they wouldn't hesitate to go full out. A challenge on her first go would help her from being easily distracted. Seducing Harry seemed too childish, something that was entirely to clich� for her to even attempt. No. She was going to make him fall for her the old fashioned way. It seemed that he liked who she was being now, so all she had to do was keep pretending. It seemed so easy that she considered concocting a new plan entirely on more than one occasion. But it would make for a nice break.

The only thing she had to keep a monitor on was her emotions. She had acted so silly last time! Her hormones had gone wonky. That had to be the reason. Her heart racing, palms sweating… it was all a normal reaction to the kiss. She was a teenager; she was bound to make the mistake of letting her emotions run wild. But now that she knew what to look out for, it would be easier to prevent it from happening again. She couldn't kiss him. Not until she had all of her emotions in check. If he tried to pull one on her, though (which he was highly likely to do… that kiss was pretty intense, so he was bound to want more) she would avoid it. Run, make excuses, do something to avoid it. Easy as pie.

“Hermione, dear, are you going to come down for lunch?” Mrs. Weasley's voice sounded from the door.

She had cooped herself up in Ginny's room for most of the day, reading a book she had borrowed from the school library before they had left. It was a fiction novel about a witch falling in love with a troll. Quite the epic love tale, if she did say so herself. It was nice to know that love existed in a fictional world, making her feel better about her loveless life in the real one.

“Sure, Mrs. Weasley. I'll be down in a second.” She placed a scrap piece of parchment on the page where she left off and placed the book beside her on the bed.

Hermione made her way down the stairs and saw everyone already eating at a fast pace. It was as though they didn't even care about their digestive systems at all. Well, when they were in the middle of the snowball fight and got a cramp, she wouldn't be there to help them, but rather in a corner laughing to herself. So with that humorous thought, she sat down next to Ron and piled a small serving of bacon sandwiches and salad onto her plate. She was strategizing to win, and win she was going to do.

“So, who's ready to get smoldered?” Fred asked with a grin.

The whole table let out a slur of comebacks and colorful comments that Hermione couldn't catch. She smiled and got back to eating, fully focused on the game. The sound of apparition interrupted the conversations around her and a man with a ponytail of red hair tied about his neck stepped through. Mrs. Weasley let out a loud squeal of “BILL!” and Hermione recognized him more clearly now. Harry had said that he was a curse-breaker for Gringotts and recently got married. She could see an earring on his left ear that resembled a large fang and observed that his clothing was very grungy. He looked very different from the other Weasley's and she admired him for that. It was nice to know they weren't all clones of each other.

Behind Bill was a strikingly beautiful woman with long silvery blonde hair, pale blue eyes, and when she flashed Mrs. Weasley a smile, Hermione could see a pair of white, even teeth. Hermione assumed this must be Bill's wife.

“Molly `ow wondervul it iz to see you again.” She said in a throaty voice, thick with a French accent.

“Fleur, it is always a pleasure.” Mrs. Weasley answered, giving her a hug as well.

“So mum, has it started yet?” Bill asked, taking off his leather jacket and tossing it atop one of the chairs.

Mrs. Weasley looked a tad annoyed at his statement, “No, it starts after lunch. But really Bill, you're a grown man, you shouldn't be gallivanting about playing silly games.”

“Oh come on mum, you're only young once.” He said with a lop-sided smile.

“Well, either way, have some food before you brave the cold.” Mrs. Weasley said, motioning to the table.

Bill nodded and placed a hand around Fleur's back, guiding her to the seat next to his. They both began eating and Hermione had to wonder to herself how they could have ever found each other. They looked to be complete opposites of each other. Bill, with his tattered leather clothing and tooth-shaped earring and Fleur with her pale blue sweater and matching pants. A literal picture of fire and ice. Hermione was so busy observing the couple that she jumped when Bill's eyes met hers.

“I don't believe we've met.” He said.

Hermione shook her head, “No, we haven't. I'm Hermione Granger, Ron and Harry's friend.” She left out Ginny's name on purpose.

Bill stuck out his hand, which Hermione took without hesitation. “Nice to meet you Hermione. I'm Bill and this is my wife, Fleur.” He motioned to Fleur and she smile at her as well.

“It iz a pleasure to meet you.” She said politely.

“Same to you.” Hermione replied, taking her hand from Bill's grip

“How's business bee going, George?” Bill asked.

“Stronger than ever.” George replied.

“Brought a new product with us.” Fred chimed.

“Don't know if it works yet…” George trailed off.

“Haven't had any testers?” Bill asked.

“No we—” Fred's eyes flickered towards Hermione and stopped himself. “Yeah… we were hoping to test it out at the party.”

“Well what is it?” Bill asked curiously.

As Fred and George explained their newest product, Hermione dared a look over to where Harry was sitting. He looked to be fiddling with his napkin with his eyes completely focused on it. If she didn't know better, she would think he was trying to hide a blush. No, he couldn't be. He was just bored and waiting for everyone else to finish. But as Hermione looked at his plate, she saw that he wasn't finished with his food. In fact, it looked as though he had only taken a few bites. Odd.

She didn't realize she was staring at him until she felt a pair of eyes boring into her. Flicking her eyes next to Harry for a moment, she saw Ginny's bright brown eyes narrowed in her direction. She wouldn't let Ginny's obvious jealousy affect her. She glared right back and leaned back in her chair, daring her to do something. Apparently, Ginny hadn't thought this all the way through and she just focused her attention back on the main conversation. Hermione smirked in triumph and turned her attention to the conversation as well.

“So where's Charlie?” George asked.

“Yeah, where's good `ol Dragon Breath?” Fred added.

Mrs. Weasley glared at Fred for a moment before answering, “He'll be here in time for Christmas.”

“That's real specific, mum.” Fred said.

“Yeah, right on the dot.” George added.

“Oh hush you two.” She said in a strained hiss. “He had some last-minute things to take care of in Romania before he can get here.”

“Charlie was always a workaholic.” Bill said breezily.

Within the next half an hour, the conversation stayed light. Hermione noticed that Fleur tended to stare at Bill a lot. She didn't really see the point in that. If you knew someone was sitting right next to you, what was the point of looking at them as if the seat was vacant? Honestly, it was a waste of time. If you were going to tire out your pupils, you should at least do it on something worthwhile.

“Get your coats on, ladies; it's time for some action!” George called as he sprinted up the stairs.

Hermione rolled her eyes as everyone leapt out of their seats and followed his lead. Hermione casually scooted her seat back and followed behind them at a slower pace, making sure to distance herself from the traffic of people trying to make it to their rooms. She heard Mrs. Weasley say some suggestive words including some mentions about how stupid and childish the game was. Hermione had to agree, but it sure was fun to hit people in the face with freezing cold slush balls.

Ginny was already fully dressed by the time she entered the room. The red head pushed past her with her eyes focused on the opposite wall and Hermione held back the urge to punch her in the stomach as she passed. She would get her in the fight. So, without further ado, she pulled on her heavy winter coat, wool gloves and thick leather boots. Taking a final look around the room, she exited.

When she reached the living room she saw everyone already down there. They all were in light conversations and Harry was the first to notice she had arrived. Even Fleur was there, bundled up in a bright white coat with fur around the neck and matching gloves. “There you are. We were waiting for you.”

Hermione was surprised, “You didn't have to do that.”

“We know.” Ron said.

“But we wanted to.” Bill added.

“Besides, it wouldn't be fair game if we left you in here now would it?” Fred asked rhetorically.

Hermione smiled at the group and followed them out the back door. They took her past the garden and into an open field. It looked like an orchard covered in a fresh blanket of snow. It was surrounded by trees and was about half of the size of the Quidditch pitch at Hogwarts. In short, it was perfect.

Fred and George went in front of the group and George cupped his hands over his mouth like a megaphone. “Line up, me and Fred are going to pick teams!”

“Oy! Who made you two captains?!” Ron yelled at the pair.

The two looked at each other before answering in unison, “We did.”

“Now line up, runts!” Fred screamed.

They all formed a line and Hermione was squished in-between Harry and Bill. Harry's shoulder collided with hers briefly and she took a sharp intake of breath. Stay calm; he doesn't affect you like this. You are in control, not him. She chided herself. Within a few seconds her body relaxed and she stood tall, proud of herself for her conquest over her hormones. Now, all she had to do was become numb to them and she'd be ready for anything.

George scanned the group with his eyes for a moment, “Ginny.”

Ginny bounded forward with a wide grin and gave her brother a high five. She gave Hermione a sly grin and Hermione returned her look. If she wanted to play games, she would get one hell of a fight.

Fred scanned the group for a moment like his brother and his face brightened as an idea came to him. “Harry.”

Harry walked forward to Fred and gave him an odd look. Apparently, he wasn't expecting to be picked first. Hermione took her focus away from Harry and focused on George, who had his chin gripped between his thumb and pointed finger in thought.

“Ron.” He called.

Ron jogged over to George and went to stand next to his sister.

Hermione looked back over at Fred and could swear she saw a twinkle in his eye. “Hermione.”

Hermione's stomach plummeted as she walked slowly over to where Fred and Harry stood. She was really hoping she and Harry would be on opposite teams. That way, she could go after him without being questioned. Flirt without flopping. But no, apparently Fred had other things in mind. She tried not to show her displeasure as George and Fred made their final picks. In the end, her team got Fleur and George's team got Bill. Both teams went into a huddle as they started to plan out their strategy.

“Alright” Fred instructed, “I want Harry with me in front, and Fleur and Hermione in charge of our fort. Make it about waist high and sturdy. Work on extra ammo once you're done and then join us. The name of the game is to destroy the opposing team's fort. No charms to make it impenetrable, but you can use some to make building it faster. Everyone ready?” Everyone nodded, “Alright, on the count of three. One… two… three!”

Hermione sprinted to a nearby tree and began to make a base for the fort. Fleur wasn't far behind her and she helped hand her snow. Hermione cast a simple sticking charm to make the snow pat easier as she smoothed out the base. She didn't like being ordered around. In fact, she detested it. It was all she had not to waltz up to Fred and give him what he deserved. But, alas, she knew she couldn't. Oh, how she longed for this mission to be over soon so that she could stop holding back all of these repressed urges.

They were about at knee-length when Fleur spoke up. “Iz zis your first time playing?”

Hermione didn't let her gaze falter from the fort as she answered, “No.”

“Oh… well Bill thought I should play thees year. Said eet would be fun.”

“The only fun part is when you get to hit people in the face with the snowballs.” Hermione commented, patting in another handful of snow, and then smoothing it over with her wand.

“Why would you be amused by zat?” Fleur asked.

Hermione shrugged, “Because it's entertaining.”

“Well eet sounds barbaric to me.”

“Never said it wasn't.” Hermione said lightly.

“You are not like other girls, are you?”

“Nope.” Hermione answered, “But any normal girl wouldn't be able to get this fort done in half the time now would she?”

And, sure enough, with one final wave of her wand, the fort was finished. Hermione eyed it proudly and turned to look at Fleur behind her. She seemed to have a passive look on her face as she looked back at her. Hermione shrugged and started to make a surplus of snowballs like she was instructed. Truth be told, she didn't like Fleur very much. She struck her as the kind of stuck-up snob that tried too hard to fit in where she didn't belong. Hermione hated phonies like that.

Fleur helped her with the snowballs and when they had made around fifty, they called it quits and went to join Harry and Fred. Hermione was quick to find them and molded a snowball in her hands, coming up behind Fred. He felt her presence within a few seconds and turned to face her with a smile.

“The fort ready to go?” He asked.

Hermione nodded, “Yeah.”

“Excellent. Now you go over with Harry and try to take on their fort. Me and Fleur will stay back and play defense.”

“I really don't think—”

“Hermione, listen. You and Harry are friends, right? Well, one kiss shouldn't change all of that. But keep in mind that mine and George's inventions don't have a habit of malfunctioning often.” And with that, he sprinted over to Fleur.

Hermione stood there, dumbstruck, as she watched him depart. Just what had he meant by that? Hermione looked over to her right and saw Harry picking up a handful of snow and forming a snowball. Remembering the plan, she walked over to him and forgot about Fred's advice. For now.

When she reached Harry, he was already looking at her with an odd look on his face. She tried not to let her true emotions show (annoyance, anger, and some unnamed feeling that she still hasn't distinguished) as she spoke up. “Fred wants me and you to take on their fort.”

Harry nodded, “I figured as much.

“So what do you propose we do?” Hermione asked.

“Wing it.” He answered simply.

Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but Harry was already running over to where the other team's fort was on the opposite side of the field. She let out an aggravated grunt and followed behind, her snowball pressed tightly in her hand. She regretted bringing wool gloves; the snow was leaking through and making her hands numb.

The fort was being guarded by Bill and Hermione wondered vaguely why Harry was still racing full speed towards it. In an instant, she realized. He was being the distraction. She made a quick scan of the field and saw the Ginny and Fred were in the middle of a wrestling match and Ron had Fleur trapped against a tree with a snowball raised in his right hand. Quickly, she snuck around the tree closest to their fort and saw as Harry taunted Bill away from it. She waited until Harry had Bill a few yards away before striking. She got within shooting range of the fort and shot a Reducto at it, blowing the fort apart and spraying wet snow all over the place. Hermione hid behind the tree and barely escaped the cold shower.

“VICTORY IS OURS!” Fred boomed.

Hermione came out from behind the tree to see Harry and Fred running at her at full speed. She barely had time to brace herself before she was crushed in a team hug. She could hear the other team moaning and groaning behind her and smirks. It felt good to win it for the team. Oh, how she'd missed this.

“That was brilliant, I can't believe you knew exactly what to do!” Harry acclaimed.

Hermione had to bite back the cocky response on the tip of her tongue. Harry like the “innocent” her. If she wanted to take advantage of him, she would have to act exactly the way she was when they kissed. But oh, how she wanted to brag about how she had learned to read signals like that! It had taken her years to perfect it and the one person who compliments her on it (well, aside from Draco, but he didn't count, he was a suck up if he wanted a shag) she couldn't even tell. Irony sucked.

Hermione decided to be bashful, “Thanks! It's just a gift I guess.”

“Well it was bloody brilliant!” Fred exclaimed.

“Oy!” Bill's voice sounded from afar.

The group looked over at Ginny, Bill, George, and Ron. Ron chose to speak up next, “We want a rematch!”

Fred raised an eyebrow, “Call all the rematches you want, we're still going to beat you!”

“We'll see about that. Game on in five minutes.” Ginny said with a dangerous look. Well, what she thought was a dangerous look. Hermione thought it made her look constipated.

And so they had another game. And another… and another one. Every match had the same result, Hermione destroying the opposing team's fort and everyone basking in her excellence. It was all she could do not to scream at the top of her lungs. The “new” Hermione had to be modest. Oh well, she had a pillow for later.

It was the last official game and Hermione was at her usual post, by the opposite fort. It was heavily guarded and she was having a bit more of a challenge getting a good aim. Harry and Fleur were being good distraction, but Fred kept on giving her hand signals that were both atypical and obvious. She had to change her position five times because he kept on giving it away with his stupid techniques. So, she remained hidden from everyone and saw Fred searching the grounds for her. Perfect. Ginny was guarding the fort and Hermione resisted running towards her, knocking her down into the fort and winning the match yet again. That would look a bit odd.

She had a feeling Ginny had elected to take the position of guard. Of course she would try to take the glory for herself. But there would be no glory for her or her team. Hermione was a highly trained killing machine! Specialized in raids and torture. Ginny didn't stand a chance. And if things didn't go her way, there was always the route of killing her and hiding the body.

Whoa! Slow down there, Hermione. Remember, you need to be inconspicuous.—
I could just knock her unconscious, and then bury her… then technically I won't kill her. Her lungs will just give out from lack of oxygen and it'll all be by cause of nature—Uhh, wrong answer. You need to calm down and focus on the game.—Game?—Yes, the snowball fight you're supposed to be winning for your team—Team?—Oh shut up! You know you couldn't do this on your own.—Yes I could.—Just forget it…
Hermione aimed her wand a few inches from Ginny, avoiding her thoughts of homicide for now. A wordless Reducto and the fort was kaput. Ginny turned around and her face was as bright as her hair. Hermione chuckled out loud for once as her team cheered and enveloped her in another hug. She was coming to like these; she might just pitch them as the new victory march of the Death Eaters. It would make for a good change from burning down people's houses and stomping on the ashes.

Harry was the closest to her in the huddle and she was proud to say that she didn't feel anything this time. She was completely numb to his body contact. Step one: Complete. Unfortunately, he had to ruin it by squeezing her tighter, yelling congratulations in her ear and ending with a kiss on her cheek. Yeah, that's right. A kiss on her cheek. Her face was turning red but it was masked by everyone else following his lead and giving her many more kisses. Fleur did the double kiss on both cheeks and Hermione had to admit that all of this attention was making her feel uncomfortable. Sure enough, they called it quits after that last game.

Hermione followed behind everyone and rubbed the excess saliva off of her cheek. Or, that was what she was telling herself she was doing. In reality, it burned from the exact spot Harry had placed that first kiss. And she was convinced this would be easy. Harry still made her feel funny and she couldn't move forward until she stopped. But if he kept on pulling stunts like this, it would never happen. Damnit.

It was a warm relief when they walked into the kitchen. It smelt of hot cocoa and biscuits. Hermione took off her snow-covered gear and placed it by everyone else's near the steel stove. Everyone gathered by the warm fire in the living room and she found a seat on one of the armchairs. Harry and Ginny were on a loveseat, his hand around her waist again. Honestly, couldn't they not act like a couple for ten minutes so her nausea could pass? Ginny shot her an evil smile and she knew that wouldn't be the case. She'd just have to deal with it. Besides, the more she saw it, the more she would get used to it, and the number she would become. Really, it was all working out to her benefit.

So with her hot chocolate in hand she gazed into the fire. She heard the smack or a chaste kiss like a cannon and tensed. She wouldn't look back, it would only get a reaction out of her, and that's the last thing she wanted. No, she would just stare into the fire like this didn't have any effect on her at all. Practice makes perfect after all. By the time she was numb to it all, she would be a pro. It would all be perfect.

The tickling sensation at the roof of her nose said differently, but she chose to ignore that.

~*~

A/N: Thanks so much for your amazing reviews! Keep 'em coming =] I'm so glad you guys like the story enough to leave over 100 reviews so far, WOHOOOO!!!!

-Shar


Chapter 13: Some Parties Are Worth the Torture
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Some Parties Are Worth the Torture

 

 

 

There was only an hour left before the party was scheduled to start. Hermione had been helping Mrs. Weasley in the kitchen for the better part of three hours with the snacks. At first, she insisted on having no part with the food, claiming that she didn't want to ruin it. But, of course, she eventually gave in after Mrs. Weasley used some persuasive arguments that she simply couldn't refuse. That woman should be considered a miracle worker.

 

Wiping her hands from the excess flour, Mrs. Weasley turned to Hermione with a small smile. “Well I think we're just about finished.”

 

They both turned to look at the table in the center to the kitchen, which was now covered in pastries, fish and chips, and basically anything they could alter to have a red and green tint. This meant everything except for the kitchen itself. Hermione looked at the table in accomplishment, a certain proud aura coming off of her. If someone had told her she would be helping someone cook for a bunch of adolescent teenagers, she might have killed them for proposing such an absurd idea. But now she couldn't be more polar to that.

 

“All that's left now is the turkey, which should be finished by dinnertime.” Glancing at the clock, she turned to Hermione, “You should get ready for the party.”

 

“But what about—”

 

“No but's about it. I'll take care of the rest myself. You've been more than helpful these past few hours, the least you can do for yourself is make yourself nice and pretty for the party. Now shoo!” She made a waving gesture with her hands and Hermione reluctantly followed.

 

She made it up to Ginny's room and shut the door behind her. Luck for her, Ginny was out and about around the house, cleaning and dusting much like she and Harry had done those few days ago. Sighing, Hermione made her way over to the bag where her party dress was in. Yesterday, Mrs. Weasley had taken her and Ginny out dress shopping for the party in Diagon Ally. When Ginny took three hours in every store, only to come up empty handed, it took all that Hermione had not to tear her hair out. She had found her dress in the first store; a green empire-wasted party dress with silver trimming about the bust and double layered chiffon lower half.

 

Ginny, after about three stores, found her dress as well. It was a silver sequin low-cut dress that came to her knees and made her look gorgeous. Mrs. Weasley only agreed to buy the revealing dress because it was on sale… oh, and she was a spoiled brat.

 

Hermione had never cared for parties. The only ones she had ever been to were the ones held at the Malfoy Manor and they never ceased to bore her to an early grave. The Malfoy's took any opportunity they could to throw a party to show off their riches, and that included using Hermione's own birthday. She was always forced out of the confines of her bedroom and dressed in the finest of dresses and jewels with no one but Draco to keep her company. She had a feeling that this party wouldn't be much different. They were all the same.

 

Hermione slipped the dress over her head and adjusted it around her body, fidgeting to get it placed just right. She went to the full length mirror placed against the wall and looked at her reflection. It didn't look like any of the other dresses she had ever worn. In fact, she chose this one because of its simplicity and lack of regality. All of the others she was forced to wear were full of frills and elegant patterns. The finest money could buy. If she thought about it for too long, she would think she was spoiled.

 

Turning around, she slipped on a pair of silver shoes she had bought to go along with her dress and made her way down the stairs. She didn't feel like bothering with her hair. The voices downstairs became louder as she descended, empty conversations filled with empty words. Maybe if she was quiet enough, they wouldn't notice her. But, there was always that one piece of wood that always creaked. So when she felt as though she would slip past them as silent as a mouse, she was proven wrong. The second to last step creaked and the whole room turned to look at her. Fred, George, Ron, Harry, Bill, and Fleur's eyes focused on Hermione as she ground her teeth in frustration. It seemed as if everyone had something to say, as a slur of compliments came spilling out from their mouths.

 

“Blimy” Ron breathed.

 

“You look…” Fred started.

 

“Bloody fantastic!” George finished.

 

“Tr�s magnifique!” Fleur gushed.

 

“You look beautiful.” Bill said with a grin.

 

The only person who didn't say anything was Harry, he was too busy staring at her. Hermione should have felt at least a little bit of power by getting this much of a reaction out of him. But all she felt was her face growing red. She seriously needed to get a hold of herself, and fast. And, as quickly as she thought it, the warmth went away. She smiled at all of them in thanks and took a seat on the couch. She stole a glance at Harry and met his eyes with her own. She tried her best to throw him a sweet, innocent smile. But her attempt was squished as he looked away suddenly. What was up with him?

 

Ginny descended the stairs shortly afterward, earning wolf whistles from Fred and George. Her pale legs looked amazing and her red hair was curled and unnaturally shiny. Hermione couldn't help but let a pang of jealously flow through her. Ginny looked gorgeous and suddenly, she regretted getting something plain. She really shouldn't second guess herself so much, it only lead to things like this. Emotions like this.

 

“Ginny, you look gorgeous.” She heard Harry say, giving her a kiss on the lips.

 

It was a good thing that she turned her head away, or else she might have vomited all over Ginny's dress. Oh, what a pity that would have been. Truly tragic. But alas, she still felt the nausea in her lower stomach, straining against her skin. It wasn't helping the situation. The party hadn't even started yet and she was already thoroughly depressed. Perfect.

 

There was a knock at the door not even a moment later and Hermione suppressed a groan. Time to find a corner to sulk in.

 

The couch squeaked as she got up and made her way to where Mrs. Weasley had placed the punch. She poured herself a cup and sipped it gingerly, the fruity liquid engulfing her taste buds. She wished that it was spiked with a little bit of firewhisky so that she could at least somewhat enjoy herself, even if it was a hoax. If she recalled correctly, she might have packed some. She shook the thoughts from her head before they could get too inn depth. She didn't need to take her distaste out on innocent bystanders. Well, not now at least. Besides, if Mrs. Weasley got wind of it, there would be hell to pay.

 

“Hello.”

 

Hermione turned around and saw a pair of wide, silver eyes staring at her and she smiled shortly. “Hello, Luna.”

 

Luna's dress was a multitude of different shades of blue patterns and fabrics, all in different layers. She was still wearing her butterbeer cork necklace and radish earrings and Hermione wondered vaguely if she ever took them off. Her platinum locks were pulled back in a single French braid that reached down to her lower back with little clips woven in it and her shoes were a miss-matched pair of trainers, one with rainbow stripes, the other with blue and white stars.

 

“How have you been holding up?” The blonde asked.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“With Ginny and Harry of course.” Luna answered simply.

 

“Oh, well…” Hermione trailed off.

 

“Yes, they really are quite the couple, aren't they?” Luna asked, looking towards where Harry and Ginny were standing, talking with Seamus and Dean. “But if I'm right… the nargles will try to disrupt their meeting under the mistletoe.” Her gaze drifted to the bright pink arrangement.

 

“Nargles?” Hermione asked.

 

She turned back to her, “Yes, nargles. They often infest mistletoe unless some other type of shrubbery is around. Making or breaking the moment over the couple that most deserves it at the designated time.”

 

“What are they going to do to Harry and Ginny?”

 

Luna gave her an odd look, “They're not going to do anything. They're simply going to sprinkle some invisible bubbling ashes on their heads.”

 

“And what will that do?”

 

Luna rolled her eyes, “I don't know that. What do you think I am, psychic?”

 

“Sorry I—”

 

“Harry and Ginny will meet the fate that the nargles want them too. No one else can control that, not even if their hidden desires are begging them to.”

 

Hermione furrowed her brow, “Excuse me?”

 

“Have a nice night, Hermione.” She waved and turned to walk towards Ron.

 

Luna always ended up making her more confused than she already was. She should really learn to tune her out. Right her mind said sarcastically, because you're so good at doing that.

 

Grumbling, she made her way over to the fireplace and sat on the run in front of it. Staring into the flames, she let her mind empty. How she wished that she was back at Hogwarts so that she could immerse herself in her studies. That always made for a good distraction. Well, until someone noticed you and asked you what was wrong. To which the person in question would respond “Nothing” just to make the other person go away. Honestly, didn't people recognize the signs that someone wanted to be left alone? Sometimes human contact can grow to be too much.

 

Around her, the party was in full swing. The last of the guests had just arrived and it wouldn't be long until dinner would be served. It seemed as though everyone in their year was here—save the Slytherins, of course. It would have been nice to see Draco. She missed him. It was her first holiday without him and she felt his absence pressing down on her like a dark precipice.

 

“Come on, Harry!” Ginny's voice squealed from behind her.

 

“Ginny, I already told you that I don't think it's a good idea.”

 

Hermione's neck turned to see the red head gripping Harry's arm tightly and pulling him towards the entryway to the kitchen.

 

“Why not?” she asked with a pout, tugging harder on his arm.

 

“Because we don't know if it works yet, that's why not.” He said through clenched teeth. From the position he was in, it looked as though Ginny was stronger than Hermione had originally thought.

 

“Well then we can test it!” she said brightly. “It's not as if my parents are watching or anything. You don't have to be such a prude.”

 

“I'm not a prude, Gin, and you know that.” He said with a slight amusement hidden in his tone.

 

Hermione saw a flush of pink grace Ginny's cheeks before it quickly disappeared and was replaced by a stony expression. “Well then what's there to worry about? If it doesn't work, we can just yell at Fred and George to fix it.”

 

“Ginny…” he warned.

 

Ignoring his plea, she gave a final hard tug and placed them both beneath the mistletoe. Hermione held her breath as Ginny looked at Harry with a victorious smirk. Harry looked as if he wanted to be anywhere but there, darting his eyes around the room. Hermione looked at the pink arrangement as it began to spurt a wall of dust, much as it had done when she and Harry had been under there. Bracing herself for a big, sloppy kiss, she began to turn away but something caught her eye that made her keep her focus on the couple. The dust was around the two of them and gaining the attention of the entire room but something was off… it looked to be a pale shade of red instead of the opaque sheen it had taken with her and Harry.

 

The two didn't seem to notice, because Ginny looked at the crowd and gave Hermione a small wink before leaning up to capture his lips with hers. Hermione flinched and made to turn away again, but for a second time, something stopped her. Ginny and Harry jerked apart as if invisible hand had pushed them and flew to opposite side of the room. Concerned calls and gasps and even a few laughs erupted throughout the room and Hermione resisted the urge to go and comfort Harry, who was rubbing his neck from where he had hit a bookcase.

 

Ginny, on the other hand had hit a corner where a stuffed version of a Christmas tree was placed and got up easily without any sign of injury. She rushed over to Harry's side and helped him get up, making the fire in Hermione's lower stomach grow hotter.

 

“Oh Harry, are you alright?” she asked in a sickenly sweet voice.

 

“I'm fine.” He said darkly.

 

Ginny gave him a small smile, “Well, I guess we'll have to go get Fred and George now…”

 

“No need for that.” Fred popped up, jumping to where they were standing. George was quickly behind him and they looked at the couple with wide grins.

 

“Alright you two…” Ginny said coolly, “You're little invention is faulty.”

 

George gasped and placed a hand over his heart, “Why little sister, I'm insulted.”

 

“Our invention…”

 

“Faulty?”

 

“It's an outrage!”

 

“Honestly, you think we'd make something that doesn't work?”

 

“Yeah! You just… you're just… JEALOUS!”

 

Ginny looked at them humorously, her arms crossed over her chest, “Right… I'm jealous… yeah, okay.”

 

“WE KNEW IT!” they yelled in unison.

 

Hermione could see the whole room roll their eyes at the petty outburst that came from the twins. It was pretty hard to miss the ridiculousness. But Hermione hoped for her sake that Ginny ended up winning the argument. Wait. Who was she kidding? It was Ginny. And besides, Hermione already knew the mistletoe was faulty.

 

“The bottom line is that you two need to fix it. Now.” Ginny growled.

 

“Whoa” Fred said, backing up a little as if a wind had blown him back. “What's the rush? You can kiss Harry whenever you want to, no need to make it public.”

 

Hermione knew why she needed to. Bitch.

 

“Well what's the point of hanging it up if it doesn't work? They'll be people shooting all over the room and being matched with the wrong people! Pandemonium will ensue and it'll all be your fault.”

 

The twins looked at each other before speaking together, “Evidently, you need to have your brain checked.”

 

Ginny looked at them with a cocked eyebrow. She opened her mouth to retort, but a piercing voice interrupted her. “Dinner's ready!”

 

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley came through the kitchen opening and stopped in their tracks. The mistletoe emitted the dust; it was opaque as it formed around the two elder Weasleys, enveloping them in an all too familiar bubble. Hermione, as well as many of the other party goers looked in wonder at the bundle and the couple underneath. Mrs. Weasley turned to the crowd and blushed as she realized what kind of situation she had gotten into. Mr. Weasley, however, scooped up the blushing woman into his arms and planted a sweet kiss on her lips. Catcalls sounded throughout the room mixed with a few gagging noises from their children.

 

When they pulled apart, Mrs. Weasley looked like a ripe tomato and Mr. Weasley was grinning like Christmas had come two days early. Hermione watched them with envy. Love. It was a commonplace thing, but oh so foreign to her eyes. It was nice to know that the mistletoe worked on someone. Wait a second…

 

Hermione turned back around quickly to see Harry openly staring at her with wide eyes. Ginny was oblivious to this, for her face was contorted to one of pure rage as she glared at Fred and George. Fred was trying to avoid his sister's eyes and George was discreetly moving his hands to protect a very sensitive part of the male anatomy from being injured.

 

“Well would you look at that…” George started.

 

“It's fixed.” Fred finished feebly.

 

Ginny just kept glaring at the two of them. But after a small amount of time, she looked between Harry and Hermione and screamed in exasperation, storming out of the room and up the stairs. The connection between the two of them broke when they felt Ginny's eyes. Harry cast a last fleeting look at Hermione before rushing up the stairs after his girlfriend. She had a feeling that he was trying to send her an apology. It didn't help the feeling of her lower stomach dropping to the tips of her feet. She felt a pair of eyes on her and she craned her neck to see Fred looking at her with a small nod to upstairs. “Go after him.” He mouthed.

 

Hermione shook her head and he gave her a warning look. She didn't know why, but she felt compelled to obey him after that. There was no Legilimency prying into her brain… so what could it be? Instinct? Well, whatever it was, it was enough to get her up and onto her feet. Up the stairs she went with a single thought pulsing through her head, Was the mistletoe accurate or not?

 

She reached Ginny bedroom and heard two muffled voices. One male, one female, both raised above normal tones. Hermione wanted to see this for herself, but knew that she shouldn't interrupt this particular argument. So she settled for pressing her ear up against the door. For once, she was thankful for the Weasley's not being able to afford something. And in this case, it was thicker wood for doors.

 

“Ginny you just need to calm down, alright?” Harry tried to say evenly.

 

“Calm down… calm down? How in the hell am I supposed to calm down when you…” She cut herself off, as if afraid to say the next part.

 

“When I what?” Harry asked slowly. She didn't answer, so he repeated himself, “Ginny, when I what?”

 

“WHEN YOU KISSED HER, THAT'S WHAT!” she screamed.

 

Hermione put a hand over her mouth and flinched away from the door. How did she know about that?

 

Harry seemed to be in the same state as she was, because he took his time in answering the loud outburst. “How did you… when did you…?”

 

“I saw it, you moron!” She said bluntly. “I was there!”

 

Hermione thought for a moment. She certainly hadn't noticed anyone there besides herself, Harry, and Fred. But Ginny could have been coming down the stairs and looked in and saw them. It was all so ironic that she didn't want to think about it.

 

“Ginny, it was just a kiss, it meant nothing.” Harry said evenly.

 

“Oh really? Then explain what just happened downstairs.” Hermione could envision her crossing her arms.

 

“That… well… like they said, it must have gotten fixed.” He answered feebly.

 

Ginny laughed mockingly. “I was just talking about the mistletoe, Harry. I was talking about they way you two were eye-shagging the shit out of each other.”

 

We were not eye-shagging! Hermione internally screamed.

 

“We were not eye-shagging!” Harry yelled.

 

Thank you! She thought with a sigh.

 

“Oh don't give me that bullshit!” Ginny screamed. “There's no use denying it!”

 

“Denying what, exactly?”

 

Ginny took a long pause. Hermione was waiting impatiently as she wanted to hear the answer to that as well. What did they have to deny? It wasn't as if they were secretly shagging or something. She inwardly laughed at that. Like she would sink so low as to shag her target. It was bad enough that she genuinely liked him, but to shag him was something that was pretty much off limits to dwell upon. If he ever wanted to shag her (which she had no doubt in her mind that he did), she could easily pull away.

 

Ginny's quiet voice interrupted her thoughts and she once again pressed her ear against the thin door and strained to hear it. “If you can't figure that out… I don't think this is going to work.”

 

“What… what's not going to work?”

 

“Us” She said in a voice only just above a whisper.

 

There was a silence and Hermione didn't know whether to jump for joy or huddle up in a nearby corner and cry.

 

“I just… I'm done.” She said in the same tone.

 

“Done?”

 

“Yes Harry, done.”

 

Another pause. “So what do we do now?”

 

“You can get out of my room and leave me alone.” She said smoothly, almost as if she was asking him to go and get her a glass of water.

 

“Alright.”

 

Hermione heard footsteps and scrambled to get to the other side of the hallway at least to avoid the door swinging into her. Her back collided with the wall just as the door to Ginny's room opened and out stepped Harry, looking both exhausted and dejected. His gaze was focused on the floor and Hermione thought that he might not notice her. If only she were that lucky.

 

His footsteps stopped he caught sight of her, haphazardly sprawled out against the opposing wall, her dress flowing around her and her eyes locked on the floor. Their eyes met simultaneously and it was as if there was an unspoken connection that allowed them to speak through their wide orbs. Searching for a solution, digging for a way so that everyone would be happy that would have no dire consequences. But who were they kidding? There was no way this could pan out that didn't have someone getting hurt in the process. So there was an agreement between them in that instant. If people didn't believe there was nothing going on between them, then there would be nothing.

 

Harry Potter and Hermione Granger had to see as little of each other as possible.

 

“I love her.” He said in a small mumble.

 

She nodded even though she thought otherwise, that she really didn't sympathize with him for a second. But she had always been a good liar. “I understand.” It was liquid poison.

 

He sent her a small smile, trying to reassure her. It wasn't as if they were best friends or anything. They had only known each other for a few months so after this whole ordeal, they could continue normally. Or as close to normal as two people like them could get. It would all work out. Harry would gain back Ginny's trust or find out what the hell she was on about and Hermione would complete her mission with more ease. Simple. But if it was so simple, then why was there a burning sensation in her chest? Was it a bad idea?

 

“See you around?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

At that moment a time bomb went off in both of their heads. How long would it take for this plan to backfire on them? Only time would tell.

~*~

A/N: Oh Lord, I don't even want to think about how long it's been since I updated =/ So let's avoid that topic for now, shall we? I didn't bother rendering this chapter because I'm in a rush, sorry. But I don't think it's that hard to read, do you? If you do, I'll make sure to render it next chapter. Thank you so much for your reviews thus far! You guys rock my socks.

-Shar


Chapter 14: The Unneeded Christmas Gift
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The Unneeded Christmas Gift

 



 

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!

 

Hermione and Ginny were both jerked awake on Christmas morning with a loud noise that made their eardrums throb and skin erupt in shivers. Quickly turning around to look for the source of the noise, Hermione saw a small electric red blow horn floating in the middle of the room no bigger than a snitch. She reached up to try and swipe it away but it moved quickly to the left and avoided her hand. Growling, Hermione looked over at the clock. Five in the morning. This thing had woken them up at five o'clock in the morning. Hermione considered herself to be a morning person and she thought this was ridiculous. People were supposed to sleep in during break, not be woken up by a miniscule blow horn for an alarm.

 

Ginny was in the same mood as Hermione as she groggily got up and walked to the door sleepily. Hermione wondered vaguely why she was making such an effort to get out of the room when it was clear that she was still well over half asleep. But, her question was put to rest as she threw open the door and Fred and George came into few cupping their ears and obviously waiting for something. Of course this was their doing. Hermione thought to herself with a grimace.

 

The blow horn immediately flew into George's hand and he pushed what looked to be a small button on the bottom and it deflated in his palm like a balloon which he quickly pocketed. She saw Ginny put a hand on her hip as the other supported her body against the doorframe. Hermione feared—okay, hoped—that Ginny's hand would give out soon and she would collapse to the floor in a heap. Fred's voice brought her out of her revere and its peppy tone made her even more anxious to close the door.

 

“Happy Christmas!” He shouted loudly.

 

“Hope little Luther here didn't wake you from ahem any pleasant dreams.” George piped up with a wink in Hermione's direction. She shot him an odd look in return, not really getting why he was pointing his suggestion at her. Did she look like she dreamed? Especially about those things? Disgusting.

 

“Why do you insist on waking us up? The presents aren't going anywhere.”

 

Fred and George shot each other a naughty glance, “How do you know?”

 

Ginny scoffed and Hermione suppressed a chuckle. The situation stopped being funny quickly as their faces grew serious. She made a note to leave the room when someone opened a present from them.

 

“Cut it out. Now please, take your little toy and get out so we can sleep.” Ginny said through clenched teeth.

 

“Sorry little sis, no can do. “ George said, putting his hands in his pockets.

 

“Mum and Dad have been up since four getting Charlie settled in and said to have everyone down by five for presents.” Fred continued.

 

Ginny glanced backward at Hermione for a second and looked back at the smirking twins. Sighing, she leaned in and spoke in a wispy tone, “Is there coffee?”

 

“Three pots,” George said in an equally hushed voice.

 

“I'm in.” Ginny said as she pushed past Fred and George and bounded down the stairs in a rush. Hermione didn't know how coffee could motivate a person so much. She was up, so she would stay up. That's just the way her body worked.

 

She heard a pair of feet come closer to where she was sitting up and let her gaze float upward to see Fred smiling down at her. He held out a hand, “Come on Sleeping Beauty, presents await you downstairs.”

 

Hermione gave a look, “I don't think so.”

 

He frowned and leaned down so that his weight rested on his knees. “And why would you say something like that?”

 

Hermione shrugged, “I've never been a big Christmas fan.”

 

Fred shot her a small smile, “Well that's about to change. You're in Weasley territory now. Everyone who walks out of this house never wants to leave after Christmas Dinner.”

 

“Well I see the point in that but…” she trailed off.

 

“But what?”

 

Hermione sighed resolutely, “Nothing. Lead the way to the presents.”

 

Fred didn't look convinced but helped her up regardless and walked with her down the stairs and into the living room that was already bursting with people in their pajamas holding mugs of hot coffee and sorting through presents. Fleur seemed to be glowing in her all-white silk nightgown and matching robe, looking around at the atmosphere and smiling every free moment she had. Hermione made a point to find out what that was about later.

 

Fred led her over to sit between who she assumed to be Charlie and, to her horror, Harry. Charlie was very stocky and clearly had the most freckles out of the bunch. She didn't think that anyone could give Ron a run for his money, but was proven wrong. Props for Charlie.

 

It was too late to get up and move without getting noticed so she tried her best not to touch him. Unfortunately, the couch wasn't going to allow her to do that. Their arms brushed and she had to control the shivers that went up her arm and to her spine. She thought she saw Harry take a sharp intake of breath but brushed it off and blamed the awkward situation that they were in. They had been successfully ignoring each other the past few days and now it may all be for nothing.

 

“All right, is everybody here?” Mrs. Weasley asked from the kitchen archway. After the party, Fred and George had elected to take down their Special Mischievous Mistletoe due to many more couples being thrown about the room and causing damage to the shelves full of Mrs. Weasley's records and knitting supplies.

 

“Yes mum, the last of them have finally arrived.” Bill said teasingly and Ginny stuck her tongue out at her older brother.

 

“Perfect.” She clapped her hands and the presents that had been placed precariously under the tree floated throughout the room and landed in front of whom they were addressed to.

 

Every member of the room got a thin box wrapped in red and white stripped paper and a matching thin ribbon that Hermione could only assume to be the sweaters that Harry had told her about. Other than that clone of a gift, Hermione was surprised to see an extra three presents set in front of her.

 

“I think this year we'll go youngest to oldest, yeah?” Mrs. Weasley asked the room.

 

Moans and groans followed that statement except from Ginny who pumped her fist in the air in triumph. She immediately set to open her presents by tearing the carefully wrapped gifts to shreds. She opened the sweater first and Hermione got her first hint at what they looked like. Ginny's was a light purple and she could see a large G sewn onto the front in a darker shade. It was obviously hand-knit and Hermione finally saw why they held them in such high regards. They were made exclusively for them and no one else could say that they had the exact same one. Ginny's face erupted in a grin and she thanked her mother with sincerity.

 

Ginny had other small gifts from each of her older brothers; products wrapped in pink from Fred and George's shop, authentic Romanian chocolate from Charlie, jewelry from Fleur and Bill, and a set of new quills from Percy who had failed to make it. She unwrapped a package in light blue as quickly as the others and stopped when she saw what was inside—a gold locket. Harry avoided Ginny's eyes and shifted in his seat. Hermione could feel the tension in the air and wished that it would go away. The last thing she wanted was to hear another heated argument.

 

Harry was next and his sweater was an emerald green that matched his eyes with a lighter green H embroidered on the front. He also got similar gifts to Ginny's and a green package. Ginny had gotten him a pair of silk red pajama pants and he sent a thankful smile in her direction.

 

Ron was after and his sweater was a maroon with a dark purple R on it. His presents consisted mostly of sugary sweets and Quidditch supplies from his elder brothers. Hermione didn't want to be next. She was afraid of what was inside the carefully wrapped packages at her feet. But, when Ron opened his last box of Bertie Bott's, she knew she had to. Taking a deep intake of breath, she started with the sweater and felt the soft yarn beneath her fingertips before she saw it. Pulling it out of the box, she saw that it was a dark blue with a lighter blue H on the front. Hermione looked over at where Mrs. Easley was sitting and thanked her sincerely.

 

“Oh, it's not a problem dear. Any friend of my children is family to me.” She said sweetly.

 

Hermione blushed and placed the sweater back in the box and set it aside. Picking up the next box, she unwrapped the bright yellow paper and opened the cube-shaped box. Inside was an assortment of fudge and sweets and Hermione looked at the small tag inside. It read: Happy Christmas! Your mates, Harry and Ron. Hermione looked over at Harry and said, “You didn't have to get me anything, you know.”

 

“How did you know it was m—” Hermione shot him a look and he sighed, “I know, but I wanted too.”

 

There goes the “not acknowledging each other” plan. Her mind whispered bitterly. Ignoring her thoughts, she managed a quick, “Thank you.”

 

He smiled at her and nodded. She got back to her remaining gift quickly before her body had time to react under his eyes. The next present was wrapped in a bright pink box and Hermione was afraid to open it. Pink was a dreadful color and anything inside of that box couldn't be good. She had to put her better judgment away, however, for the sake of appearance. Carefully, she tore off the paper and opened the box, seeing, to her disgust, more pink. It was a variety of beauty products from make-up to Sleekeazy's Hair Potion al organized in a wooden carrying case. Hermione picked up the card on top and read: To the only girl friend I have left. Happy Christmas! Love, Ginny.

 

Hermione looked over at the youngest Weasley with a raised eyebrow. She was already looking at her, so there was no use trying to avoid the fact that she had given her a present. “I bought it a few months ago.” She explained meekly, “Thought it would be nice to teach you how to use it one day.”

 

Hermione snorted and set it aside, “Maybe in another lifetime.” She mumbled. Hermione had never liked make-up and rarely wore it. The last time she remembered even purchasing the stuff was then she was fourteen and had a ball to prepare for at the Malfoy Manor.

 

The last present puzzled her to an extent. She knew that none of the other Weasley clan ad gotten her anything, as they had never met her before. So who would send her a Christmas present? She really hoped Draco wasn't pulling something funny by sending her a pair of revealing lingerie or something equally vulgar. Reluctantly, she picked up the gift examined it briefly. It was a variety of different bright colors, all in random patterns that appeared to be hand-drawn. Hermione tore off the odd wrapping and cardboard box to see a scarlet velvet case. Opening it, her eyes widened as she saw a miniature gray curled horn, not unlike that of a unicorn. There was a tag attached to it by a thin string and she read it silently to herself.

 

This should bring you luck in your troubles. The nargles have done their part, now it's time for you to do yours. Make sure to use it wisely, for it has been known to explode when you touch it too long. -Luna

 

Luna. Luna Lovegood had sent her a Christmas present—a present that looked like a horn that belonged on the head of some unknown creature that has yet to be discovered. That girl sure knew how to make an impact, she had to say. What exactly did she need luck in? There were no troubles, not that she had any knowledge of anyway. Her mission was going just fine and her personal life was… well, non-existent as of now, but that didn't really make much difference. Followers of the Dark Lord don't have personal lives; the Dark Lord is their life. It was a miracle that she had any knowledge about how to talk to people at all. But that wasn't the point; the point was that her dreamy-eyed friend thought that she was having troubles. The fact that this was bothering her was enough to drive her mad.

 

Unbeknownst to her, the presents had continues to unwrap after she had discovered Luna's note and no one seemed to be paying any mind to her. That was probably for the best, because she felt as though her mind was in the clouds. This must be what Luna felt like.

 

What am I doing?! I'm dwelling on something that a crazy blonde wrote on a Christmas card.—Well, you have a right to—What do you mean?—Well, it wasn't exactly spelled out for you, so you have a right to wonder what the hell she meant—That's true. But I still shouldn't be thinking about it this much—It's the most you've considered something that someone has told you in your life, don't beat yourself up over it.—And why not?—Because you weren't prepared. Simple as that. When you're not prepared for something, you think more about it afterward. Just like that kiss.

 

Hermione stopped her thoughts right there. She would not think about that kiss again. It was bad enough that it hadn't left the topmost of her thoughts yet. But she didn't think that this would last too long. It was only a phase. Every time she kissed someone, she would think about it. Granted, it would only be for a good day, day and a half… but she had been expecting the kiss. She felt her body relax. She had finally found the reason why she couldn't stop thinking about Harry and their kiss! Spontaneity. It was so simple that she had to restrain herself from running into the kitchen and placing her head into one of the cupboards and repeatedly slamming the door against her head.

 

The last of the presents were opened within that moment and Hermione could vaguely hear Ron asking when breakfast was going to be. Laughter rang out throughout the room and everyone made to go to the kitchen and eat. Hermione stayed behind for a moment before joining them. It would all be all right. It would all go away soon.

 

~*~

 

It was the day after new years and Hermione, Harry, Ron, and Ginny were all in a small compartment on the Hogwarts Express heading back to Hogwarts.

 

The goodbyes exchanged with the Weasley family had been anything but a simple hug and kiss on the cheek. Hermione had been spun around in midair a record three times and given seven sloppy kisses on each cheek. Every member of the family had told her to come back in the summertime and spend a few weeks with them and Hermione lied through her teeth once more by saying that she would. Of course, by that time, she would probably be on the Ministry's Most Wanted List.

 

The night before they were supposed to leave, Hermione found out why Fleur had had that look on her face when she fist walked into the living room. She and Bill were expecting their first child. Mrs. Weasley was ecstatic and literally jumped Bill in a monstrous hug, chiding him for not telling him sooner. It was a happy time for the Weasley family and Hermione couldn't have felt more out-of-place. Sure, these people were growing on her in ways that she feared they might, but they were a family. A foreign group that she seldom saw, if at all. Growing up without a family can make anyone feel awkward around others, even if they've had years to perfect a straight face. Even though there was still a muddled feeling around the bunch of red heads, she couldn't help but feel a small pull towards the Burrow.

 

Fred was right, after Christmas she didn't feel as strong of an urge to leave as she had at first. But there was work to be done back at Hogwarts and she needed to get it done before… well… before the Dark Lord contacted her and told her. She had a feeling that it was going to happen soon. And although she was still focused on her end, there was a part of her that didn't want this to some to an end. She was at school for the first time, she had friends, and she actually had a life that didn't consist of casualties that piled up because of her talent with a wand. Her wand was being used for charms and hexes that could really prepare her for becoming a better witch. All good things come to an end.

 

“So Hermione how'd you like the Burrow?” Ron asked.

 

Hermione looked straight ahead into his blue eyes and nodded, “It was lovely, Ron.”

 

He sent her a smile and leaned back into his seat, “I still can't believe that Bill and Fleur are having a kid, though.”

 

“Well they are married, Ron.” Harry said simply, “Married people have kids.”

 

“I know that.” Ron said sourly, “It's just weird is all.”

 

Ginny nodded, “I know how you feel. It seems like just yesterday that I still thought of Fleur as a stuck up bimbo during the Triwizard Tournament and now she's having my brother's baby.” Hermione snorted and Ginny snapped her head in her direction. “And what is so funny?”

 

“The whole situation is.” Hermione stated bluntly.

 

“I'm glad my family life is so humorous to you.” She said hotly.

 

Hermione opened her mouth to say something, but someone beat her to the punch.

 

“Cut it out Ginny.”

 

Ginny turned to Harry with a frustrated look, “Oh, so now you're defending her?”

 

Harry rolled his eyes, “You know I'm no—”

 

“Save it.” Ginny said coolly. “Just find another compartment when you want to shag each other, alright?”

 

“Quit it, Ginny.”

 

She narrowed her eyes, “Oh come on you know you want to.”

 

Hermione looked over at Harry who let out a sigh and lean back into his seat. Ginny didn't know a thing! She was sick and tired of her jealous attitude and sarcastic innuendos. It was best to just ignore her. She felt her right hand twitch towards where her wand was being kept in her right pocket. Control yourself. Her mind warned.

 

Ron leaned over to his sister and tried to speak in a hushed tone, “What's going on?”

 

Ginny, Harry, and Hermione answered simultaneously with a loud “Nothing.”

 

Ron puffed out his lips and slouched down, wishing he was anywhere but in that compartment.

 

He got his wish about a half an hour later when the train pulled into Hogsmeade Station. The tiny, dark platform served as a haven as the tension lifted from the three teenagers plus Ron. They grabbed their luggage and exited the train quickly, making their way towards the carriages at a jog. The ride up to the school was silent, no one even attempting to create conversation. As they approached the castle, Hermione felt a warm feeling spread throughout her body. She was home.

 

The dark horses came to a stop and Hermione pushed her way out of the carriage briskly, making a beeline for her dormitory so she could get some rest. In the entrance hall she saw friends exchanging hugs and telling each other about their holidays. She did her best not to create a scene as she quickly moved past them and towards the stairs. Through the hustle and bustle of the crowd, she didn't see the road block that she was about to hit in time to avoid it. She collided with a muscular chest and nearly knocked them both over. Luckily for her, she had her luggage to lean back on. She barely had time to glance upward when the tall figure pulled her down towards the dungeons. No one noticed them make their way through the crowd and as they reached the dark corridor, she let go of her trunk and slapped him in the face.

 

Never do that again. You nearly pulled my arm out of the socket!” She rubbed her shoulder tenderly and glared up at Draco.

 

He shrugged nonchalantly, “Had to get you to come down with me somehow.”

 

“You could have signaled me or something!” She scorned.

 

“I did.” He said blatantly, “But you were storming through everyone like someone was chasing you.”

 

“I was anxious to get to bed, that's all.” She explained.

 

He crossed his arms, “Really.”

 

She scrunched her nose and looked at him with narrowed eyes, “Yes, really. Now what was so important that you had to drag me t—he wants to talk to me again, doesn't he?”

 

Draco nodded, “Yep.”

 

Hermione sighed, running a hand through her hair. She let it drop to her side and motioned to the opposite end of the hallway, “Fine. Lead the way.”

 

He started walking ahead of her and she picked up her trunk and rolled it behind her as the two of them made their way down the dark halls. The only sound as they walked was of the wheels making contact with the stone floor. Hermione felt tiredness set in as they closed into their destination, an empty classroom a hallway down from the potion's room. She hoped that this would be brief so that she could get to bed.

 

Draco opened the door for her and she went inside, setting her trunk to rest against a desk leg. She saw the stone basin atop the teacher's desk in the front of the room, emitting an eerie blue glow. Stepping up to the desk, she leaned down and watched as her master's head appeared in the liquid.

 

“Good evening, Hermione. I trust your holiday with the Weasley's went well?” he asked.

 

She didn't want to know how he found out about her stay with them during the break. “Oh yes, perfect.”

 

“You think you're getting closer to Potter, then?” he asked eagerly.

 

“A little too close for comfort.” She answered honestly.

 

He emitted a chuckle, “Well I can't say I sympathize. It's tough associating with blood traitors. I myself know I could never be capable of completing such a task. But you, my dear, are really doing a superb job.”

 

“Is that the reason you keep contacting me, to tell me I'm doing a good job?” she asked.

 

“Of course not.”

 

“Then why?”

 

He gave her a look. It almost looked like he was either scrutinizing her or pitying her. “I have my reasons.” Hermione opened her mouth but was cut short, “That are none of your concern. You just keep pressing forward. And remember to never let his trust for you waver. Do whatever you have to so that you can be his number one accomplice.”

 

Hermione nodded, “I will.”

 

His image faded into the basin and Hermione turned back to Draco, who was sitting atop a desk and staring at her intently. “Why does he insist on checking up on me like I'm a three-year-old?”

 

“He just wants to make sure that you're alright.”

 

Hermione crossed her arms over her chest and turned around so he couldn't see her face contort to listlessness, “He's not my father.”

 

“Mia…”

 

Hermione took a deep breath and turned back around. “I'm fine, Draco. I'll just go get some sleep.”

 

He put a hand on her should her and gave a small squeeze, “Remember, I'm right here if you need me.”

 

She nodded, “Yeah, I know. But I won't.”

 

“Right. You won't.”

 

She walked off and felt his eyes on her back. It was as if everyone thought she was a porcelain doll that wasn't capable of doing anything. First the Dark Lord, and now Draco. She was fine, she was doing fine. Harry trusted her. Now that he and Ginny were fighting and it was apparent that they couldn't not talk to each other, her position was now set in stone. School was about to start so Harry should be out of her thoughts by the end of next week.

 

I'm fine. 


~*~

A/N: Hello all! Sorry for the slow updates, but HPFF isn't my top priority at the moment. I've moved on, so to speak. But I will continue to update, just not as quickly as some of you would like. I also haven't had time to answer every review like I used to be able to do. But just know that I am so thankful that you guys like the story so much and are sticking by it!

-Shar


Chapter 15: A Change of Mind...
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A Change of Mind...


She was in a dimly lit pub. The music was pumping out of the scattered speakers throughout the walls plastered with posters of pin-ups from Playwizard and advertisements for the latest kind of firewhisky. In the middle, a few steps away from the bar, was a cleared space of tiled floor. There were couples places precariously inside of it, moving so close to the other it shouldn't even be considered dancing, more like trying to have sex with their clothes on. The tiles moved along with the beat of the song, but the same couldn't be said for the occupants of the dance floor. They weren't even moving to the beat of the song, which was a fast-paced one that someone might find in an underground rave. But none of this mattered to her. All she knew was that she was horny and she needed to find someone to assist her in sedating that awareness to a dull ache rather than a pulsing throb in her lower abdomen.

 

She was sitting upon a tiny bar stool, scanning the pub for a victim. Unfortunately to the oh-so-willing suitors that kept approaching her with corny come-on's she was very picky. But once she saw something she liked, she went for it like a tigress and her prey. That is what they were to her, prey. Poor, unfortunate souls wouldn't know what hit them. Draco didn't know what she was up too, for all he knew she was out shopping for a new dress. Oh, she had bought a new dress alright. But it couldn't really constitute as a dress when it barely reached her mid-thigh and was tight enough that you might have thought it was a second skin if you were placed at the right distance. That's what these slime balls liked, and that is what she was going to feed them. Only then would she be in control.

 

A dark figure entered the bar and her attention snapped just as the door closed to announce the newcomer. He was wearing a long black cloak that flowed behind him as he walked, revealing a pair of black jeans and a dark grey jumper. It was clear that he was intending to be inconspicuous, but failing miserably as he had caught her attention and perked her interest. He had taken a seat a few down from hers and ordered a firewhisky in a deep, husky voice.

 

She had found her prey.

 

She turned her seat towards him and angled her legs so that one dangled lazily over the other, trying to draw his attention to her. She pretended to be nonchalant when her mind was commanding him to notice her so she didn't have to walk over to him. It was a waist of energy if he wasn't willing to comply with her wishes. Twisting her neck to see if her tactic was working, she was pleased to see his hooded face turned towards her. She threw a seductive smile towards him and twiddled her fingers as a sort of wave. He seemed to be too entranced to come up with a proper response and she smirked. Knowing that it would be pointless to exchange formalities, she nodded towards the dance floor and he seemed to move his head in confirmation that he understood. She smiled as she walked over towards the middle of the crowd and waited. Not even a minute later, the mysterious man made his way through the crowd and she pointed a finger at him, motioning for him to come over. He complied and she wrapped her arms carelessly around his neck, pulling him more firmly against her. In turn, he wrapped him hands around her petite waist and began responding to the music.

 

Game, set, and match.

 

Unlike the others on the dance floor, their bodies moved in rhythm with the now steady beats of music emitting from the speakers. She tried to get a good look at the man's face but he kept on twisting about so that it would remain hidden. She furrowed her brows and huffed loudly, making it apparent to him that she was frustrated. He chuckled deep in his chest and because of their close proximity she could feel it vibrating against her own. There was something familiar about that laugh, but she couldn't put her finger on it. If she knew this person, it would be dangerous for her to be seen here. They could report back to someone who had the power to punish her…

 

Before she could elaborate further, he twisted her so that her back was pressed up against his chest. His hands remained delicately at her waist as she turned her hips and tried to adjust to this new position. She was usually the one in control and yet she was letting this stranger was lead her. Oh well, it was only a dance. At least that was what she was trying to convince herself as the two of them finally found a rhythm with their hips. He could sense the hesitation of her hips as the cogs in her brains started functioning again to figure out who he was.

 

He lowered his lips to her ear and huskily whispered in the same tone he had used to order his drink, “Stop thinking so much, Hermione.”

 

She turned so that their position was changed back to the one they started with, never losing their rhythm with the blaring music. “How do you know my name?” she asked dangerously.

 

He twirled her at arm's length and brought her back so that her back was turned to him once again, both of their hands intertwined at her hips. He lowered his lips to her ear again, “That's for me to know and you to moon over.”

 

She craned her neck to look up at him and placed one of her arms around his neck. To any onlooker they would look as though they were about to kiss. “I think you highly underestimate me She purred, trying to scare him into revealing who he was.

 

He chuckled as he let one of his hands move further down her hips and towards her upper thigh. She couldn't stop the shiver that wracked her body and made her eyes become hooded. “On the contrary,” he said firmly as he traced a finger down her neck and made her mouth form a small “O”, “I think that you highly underestimate me.”

 

She calmed herself as he removed his finger from her now boiling skin. “Just who do you think you are?”

 

He turned his head upwards slightly so that the shadows of his hood uplifted to reveal his smug smile. “Who do you think I am?”

 

She didn't have the answer to that so she avoided his stare. Even though she couldn't see his eyes, she could feel them burning a hole in her. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. She was supposed to seduce him, ask him to her room and then send him off. It was going to be a one-time thing just to try something new. But this… this… prick was ruining everything! She just had to go for the mysterious one, didn't she? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

 

“Hermione” he called breathily. She turned back to him and before she could react, his lips were on hers. It wasn't forceful, but not to be confused with chaste either. He pulled back before she could make the move to deepen it. Their noses bumped and she opened her eyes. Her eyes met a pair of emerald orbs and she pulled back in a rush. He held onto her arm tightly, not letting her get away. “Don't run away.” He said desperately as she turned back to face him. They were a herd of two standing among a cluster of sweating dancers.

 

Something about the way he said it made her stop struggling. “Harry…”

 

He nodded and caressed her cheek. She leaned into his touch and he cupped her chin to make her look up at him. “You shouldn't be doing this.”

 

“Doing what?”

 

He looked at her meaningfully, “You know exactly what you're doing.”

 

She remained silent as she got his point. But then she looked up defiantly as her better judgment began to settle in, “You can't tell me what I can and can't do!”

 

“You're right, only you can do that.” He said softly.

 

Harry then disentangled himself from her and she felt a cool breeze sweep over her. But before she could complain, he lowered his head to hers and placed a quick kiss on the corner of her lips. She wanted to move that fraction of an inch so she could feel his lips again, but she was immobile. As soon as his lips left her skin, his image faded and she was left alone in the middle of the dance floor, the couples around her blissfully ignorant of what had just taken place. She stood there and felt a flood of loneliness come over her; it was enough to make her nose crinkle up as a tingling feeling appeared. It was only when she felt a lone tear escape down her cheek that she pulled herself out of this nightmare.

 

She gasped as consciousness settled in and her body shot upwards. She looked around and let her body grow slack against her headboard. She was in her bed and not in the middle of a dance floor. The dream had been so real, though, She thought to herself. Well, it was. At least, at a time.

 

In fact, it had almost been exactly like one of her trips to the pub near Malfoy Manor. Well, more like one trip. Early in her “relationship” with Draco she had discovered a nearby pub called “The Wizard's Broomstick” and figured that one person to shag wasn't healthy. It was normal to want to experiment with others, right? Well, at the time she thought so. Everyone else around her seemed to do it: Bellatrix, Narcissa, and pretty much every female Death Eater that she had come to meet. And since she was well on her way to becoming one at the time, why not follow in their footsteps? If that's what Death Eaters did, then she had to do it eventually. Her body was her greatest weapon, willing to be manipulated at her every command. Finding a stranger and using him for experimental purposes seemed to be a surefire way to train her self control. Of course, the end product would also be quite beneficiary to sedate her other needs as well.

 

After that one night with a stranger, she knew that she was truly her greatest weapon. So, of course, she milked it for all it was worth in the beginning; with Draco, and occasionally with a pick-me-up at the local pub. But there came a point where she knew that it was pointless to be selfish. She knew that after a while it wasn't about training her body, but rather sedating her need for change. She had a perfectly fine life and should have been focusing on more important things. So, she stopped her trips to “The Wizard's Broomstick”. But revisiting it in her dreams reminded her of the empowerment she had felt… and then how quickly it was torn away when she unmasked her mystery man.

 

It was the second time she had dreamt of Harry, the second time she had turned to mush around him, and the first time that she felt completely helpless as he disappeared. She had thought living with him was hard, what with the constant aches and pains that she felt while around him (she really needed to figure out what those were). But living without him, even for a moment, felt as if the world had come to an end. She couldn't move, and she became so numb that she didn't even realize she was crying until she had jerked herself awake.

 

Unconsciously, she wiped her eyes to find that her palm came back wet. She threw off the covers and rushed into the bathroom, checking her reflection. Staring back at her was a complete stranger. Gone was the strong, confident, wise-beyond-her-years Hermione that she had taken so much time to build. In her place was a puffy-eyed, weak young girl who was trying desperately to find her purpose. It was times like these that she usually wanted to blow the nearest flammable object to smithereens. But now, the weak part off her consumed her practiced habit and replaced it with the need to cast a strong silencing charm and sob.

 

What was wrong with her—what had happened? Surely a single dream couldn't do this to her. There must have been something building up inside of her that she was unaware of, something that now had chosen to burst and consume her. But why now? She was in the middle of the most important mission of her life. This mission was going to be the key to finally securing her place beside the Dark Lord and ruling by his side as the world, both, Wizard and Muggle, succumbed to them. So why did she feel as if she should have declined it? Was the mission the reason that she was going through these changes—turning soft? Or, could it not be the mission, but the people to whom she was assigned to befriend? The person she was assigned to befriend.

 

Shaking her head she stepped back out of the bathroom to check the clock. Seeing that it was around the time she would usually awake to begin preparing for the day, she made her way to the shower and allowed the steaming hot water wash over her and with it, calm her befuddled mind. These few minutes under the wet beads would be her only escape for the day, for she had a feeling that her mind would not rest until she found an answer to all of the questions swimming around in its depths. She had to soak up these few minutes, cherish them, and try to keep them printed in her head to dwell upon when her mind would choose to wander.

 

After her time expired, she stepped out of the shower and let the cool breeze of the outside world wrap around her and drag her back into its dark clutches. Sighing, she dressed and grabbed her book bag from beside her bed and shut the door just as the light flickered on and the chorus of morning moans drifted throughout the room.

 

She wasn't surprised to see an empty common room awaiting her as she descended the stairs. She didn't expect anything less after the way Christmas had gone. Truth be told, she felt sorry for Ginny… and anger at herself for causing her pain. She didn't quite like this new feeling. Sympathy. It really could put a downer on your morning. This new Hermione was really starting to take toll on her. Oh, how she wished that it was only temporary; she didn't know if she could take this much emotion in one day, let alone for the rest of her life. She was completely content to being a heartless wench.

 

Down in the Great Hall wasn't much different. She went to take a seat across from Ginny only to receive a cool glare and complete ignorance of her presence. Again, she expected nothing less. This girl's heart was broken and it was all her fault. At least, from what she heard of their shouting match those few days ago it was. The guilt was overwhelming but she knew that she could do nor say anything to make the situation any less heavy. It had to end soon, anyways. How long could one be bitter?

 

You're one to talk—Shut up.

 

Thankfully, Harry and Ron showed up sooner than expected with sleep deprivation written all over their faces. Harry took a seat next to her and Ron next to his sister, who was playing with a helping of eggs. It was an awkward silence as the group just sat there and for once, just ate. No talking, no jokes, just eating. Ron seemed to be the only comfortable one there, although it was clear he was just as tuned into the situation as everyone else. His way of avoiding it, however, was stuffing his face much like he always did. At least there was one person who was acting normal. If Ron ever stopped eating, there would be uproar.

 

Hermione's appetite for the school food was gone. She took small nibbles of toast once in a while, but her stomach seemed to be weighed down with something else to be bothered with digesting food. She reached for another piece of toast and her hand brushed against Harry's for an instant, sending the now all too familiar lightening strike up her arm. She played it off as a small twitch and pulled back with her second helping of toast. It was sad that she was now used to the feelings that Harry made her feel. The more she became familiar with them, the more curious she became as to what they were. Ginny had told her that they meant that she liked him. Well, now that she acknowledged that and the feelings were still there, something else must be there as well. The closest feeling she could compare them to was lust and she knew that she couldn't feel that for him.

 

Could she?

 

“Hey Harry!”

 

Hermione snapped out of her revere to see Seamus standing next to Harry with a wide grin on his face.

 

“Hey Seamus,” Harry greeted.

 

“Just wonderin' if the D.A. meatin' is still on for tonigh'?”

 

Through her dazed state of mind she could barely understand what he was saying through his thick accent. She really needed to stop thinking so much.

 

Harry nodded, “Yep, same time and place as always.”

 

“Alright, see you then” he said, turning his back and walking back over to where he was sitting before with Dean and Neville.

 

Truth be told, she had completely forgotten about the D.A. meeting today. It was the first day back after break and her mind was still adjusting to the fact that she had class in fifteen minutes. The last D.A. meeting hadn't gone so well, so it wasn't a surprise that she didn't dwell upon it. Well, now she was going to have another chance to make a fool out of herself. Great.

 

She decided it was time to leave and grabbed her book bag. Her first class was Arithmacy and she knew that no one had taken that course besides her, so no one would jump to walk with her. Besides, she liked being alone. It seemed as though that was the only thing that hadn't changed—her desire to work alone. She had better hang onto it so that wouldn't disappear as well. The least she could do was have one remnant of her former self. It was the most dominant part of her, so if Draco decided to pull one of his stunts and nearly pull her arm out of its socket again, she would remain unchanged and he wouldn't get suspicious. The last thing she needed was Draco on her tail while she was going through an identity crisis.

 

~*~

 

The day seemed to go by in a daze, each class a blur of note-taking and lectures. Dinner was a sweet relief from the plethora of new information that Hermione had packed into her brain. Her appetite still hadn't changed, unfortunately, and all she could do was stare at the delectable treacle tarts that seemed to be trying to persuade her to eat them… eat something. But she couldn't. Why should she eat when there was a mystery that had to be solved? Forget food when there were demons to be conquered!

 

The D.A. meeting was set to begin soon and Hermione decided that it was time to drop off her work in the tower before making her way down to the Room of Requirement. So, without a second thought otherwise, she sat up and left her seat and exited the Great Hall, glad that no one had elected to walk with her. It seemed as though there was a mutual agreement between the four of them: Don't push it. Don't tempt the thin lines between them, for they could collapse and cause a new disaster altogether. The last thing Hermione needed was another reason to worry for the sake of her mission. If she tested those lines, she was sure to blow it. Her work would be for nothing, and she would surely be punished. Although the new Hermione seemed more nonchalant, the old Hermione was still a faint whisper that was just loud enough to persuade her body towards not committing what was sure to be considered suicide.

 

The common room was somewhat empty, with only a few of the younger students scattered about, either working on homework or slacking off. She was a whisper of a presence as she disappeared up the staircase to the girl's dormitories and re-appeared minutes later. They were all so consumed with their own lives that they didn't notice the ghost of a girl seemingly glide right past them. But could she really blame them? They needed distractions in times like these.

 

Whoa, where had that come from?

 

Hermione stiffened as she turned to observe a pair of what looked to be second years playing a game of exploding snap. Half of her was repeating what she had just thought, while the other was screaming “How could they be playing a foolish game like that when they should be training?!She knew that was all she did at their age. She had been brought up by daily training routines with Draco and never once had played a game like exploding snap. That was when the third voice appeared, one sounding much like her own: You're jealous. These kids have the opportunity to have fun when you had none. They can be carefree, laugh, and do whatever they please because… well, they're kids. Normal kids that have so much and it could all be taken away so easily.

 

It was the first time that she really let it all sink in. Jealousy. It wasn't the burning jealousy she knew to exist, but the jealousy in which you longed to have what others did. In this case, a sense of normalcy. It was foreign, scary, and eye-opening. This emotion didn't seem as dangerous as she originally thought. From what she had heard, jealousy was an ugly sense that made you want to burn the person you were feeling it towards alive. All jealousy did for her was cause a dull ache in her chest. Not like the ones she felt around Harry, but more tugging towards the two second years and their innocent game. It made her feel alive—human. She let a faint smile grace her lips as she exited through the portrait hole, in a much better mood than only minutes before.

 

As she reached the Room of Requirement and walked down the hall three times, she couldn't help but feel more confident about the meeting. Sure, she had made a complete idiot of herself last time, but she could still rise above that easily. She was Hermione Granger, tough ass Death Eater who could do anything she put her mind to! Funny how it took a bout of jealousy to figure it out. She could feel a tinkle of the old Hermione return, the part that held her confidence. She opened the door with a smug smile and saw that everyone was gathering in the far right hand corner. She jogged over and sat down just in time to see Harry stand up and address everyone.

 

“Hello everyone, I hope you all had a pleasant holiday. I thought that we could use today to review Patronus Charms. I know we have covered them once before, but I figured because of the recent holiday, your Patronus's should be much stronger than the last time we released them.” He sent a small smile to the crowd of people and a few heads bowed down, blushes filling their cheeks. “Now, for those of you who are new to the Patronus Charms, they are really quite simple. All you have to do is think of the happiest memory you have and recite the spell Expecto Patronum. It's not as easy as it sounds, so don't be disappointed if you can't get it on your first try. The memory has to be very strong, the strongest you can think of. I'll be around to help those who need it.”

 

Everyone dispersed and Hermione was left in a frozen state. She didn't really know what her happiest moment was. Hoisting herself up, she walked toward a secluded corner where she was far off from any onlookers and leaned against it. Bending her head towards the ground, she tried to think of a happy moment to use for the backing force of her Patronus Charm. She had plenty of happy memories, but which to choose? After a quick scan she decided on her sixteenth birthday—her first time. Draco's first bout of trying to be a romantic and failing miserably. The thought still made her laugh and so she pushed it into the forefront of her mind as she recited the spell briskly. “Expecto Patronum!

 

She saw a bit of white dust emit from the tip of her wand before quickly disappearing. She guessed that that wasn't exactly what a Patronus was supposed to look like. Huffing, she tried reciting the spell again, the same memory in her head and the same result coming from her wand. Becoming frustrated, she tried the spell a final time, raising her voice in volume. Still nothing but a small spurt of dust. Hermione was never someone to give up on something without trying her hardest beforehand. So, for a grueling two hours that's all she did; try and try and try again.

 

She had just finished what was sure to be her two-hundredth attempt when the sound of footsteps broke her concentration. Spinning around, she came face-to-face with a pair of emerald eyes for the second time in recent memory. Her heart leapt up in her chest and she did her best to control her breathing as he opened his mouth to speak in a gentle tone.

 

“Have you been practicing that for the whole meeting?”

 

She nodded in conformation and surprise washed over his face. “What?” she asked.

 

“The meeting ended twenty minutes ago, Hermione.”

 

Surely enough, as she let her eyes travel behind him, the room was vacant. She let her head shake a little in disbelief as she met her eyes with his again. “Wow, don't I feel like a dolt….”

 

He shook his head, “You're not a dolt. It took me a fair amount of times to get it right.”

 

“I don't think two hundred constitutes as a fair amount of times.” She said bitterly.

 

Two hundredwell that's… umm… wow.”

 

She nodded shortly, turning her head to the ground, “Exactly. I think I've come to terms with the fact that this charm is more of a curse.”

 

“Don't say that.” He said, reaching out to put a comforting hand on her shoulder. The pressure sent a strange feeling of comfort throughout her body and she lifted her downturned head. He did a quick scan of the room around them and gave her a small smile. “Listen, since we're out of time now… how about I help you out a bit?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Well, like a private lesson. You and me in here trying to get a shiny Patronus out of that wand of yours.”

 

“You… you'd really do that for me?” she asked, a warm feeling spreading throughout her chest.

 

“Yeah,” He said with a nod. “I've done it plenty of times with Neville and a few others.”

 

“Oh” she said softly, the warmth quickly dropping down a few degrees.

 

“So are you up for it?”

 

“Sure. I could really use the help.”

 

He removed his arm from her shoulder with a small pat. “Great. How does this Thursday night sound, around seven?”

 

“That sounds perfect.”

 

“Alright then. Do you want me to walk with you up to the tower?” he asked, jerking a thumb behind him towards the exit.

 

“No, that's fine. I'll stay here for a few minutes and get some more practice in.”

 

He nodded and turned to leave. She kept her eyes on him up until he shut the door behind him. The sound that the door made echoed throughout the empty room as Hermione made her way over to it and slumped against the cool wood. She felt the tingling sensation in her nose again and her eyes began to blink repeatedly. The new Hermione was turning her into a sap. She vaguely wondered if the private lesson was a good idea now that her strength was quickly dissipating. Where did the old Hermione go to, anyway? What caused her to leave in the first place? The answers seemed so far away. She could really use her in a time like this.

 

Little did she know that her answer was sitting on the other side of the wall, banging his head repeatedly against the cool stone where the door one appeared. 

~*~

A/N: Wow, have I neglegted updating this story! Well, I can promise you that it will be done in no time. Since it is already finished and has been for some time, all I have to do is make the chapter images and validate the rest of the chapters so I can update My Confusing (and Hard to Believe) Love Life and upload a whole new story! Thank you, summer :)

-Shar

Chapter 16: ...A Change of Heart
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...
A Change of Heart

 



 

Thursday came quicker than Hermione anticipated. She was excited, yes, but there was still that slight tug in her stomach while she was around Harry that she had to worry about. What if he saw through her and started asking questions? He was about as stubborn as she was so there was no escaping one of his question tirades. She had to make sure that her walls were up full time and at their strongest or else risk exposure of emotions. Emotions were a new concept to her and she didn't want them to come spilling out around Harry. Especially around Harry.

 

Classes went by normally. She learned a few new charms that she thought weren't worth much. She really questioned the curriculum here sometimes. She expected a challenge and instead was top of her class. It was an accomplishment, obviously, and she didn't overlook it as breezily as she would have normally. When she found out, her face turned red and she wanted to scream out in joy. She quickly realized, however, that the rest of her class, save for Harry and some Hufflepuff named Terry Boot, were slackers and her accomplishment was really moot. Still, she took pride in being the smartest witch in her class. It made her have good days when she found the hands of depression and loneliness try to lure her into their clutches. Who knew that changing personalities could have so many negative affects?

 

She was set to meet Harry at seven and it was already six-thirty. She was currently in Gryffindor Tower, finishing up her Potions essay. Snape had yet to not assign them homework since day one. She never liked him when he loomed around the Riddle Manor and now that he was her professor, her opinion remained unchanged. When people started filing into the common room after dinner in bunches (she skipped in order to finish up on her essay), her attention snapped to the clock and she thought that it was about time she left.

 

Making sure her wand was secure in her pocket, she made her way out of the tower. She had to push a few people aside, muttering petty apologies and excuse me's she knew they didn't care about. The halls were still littered with the occasional snogging couple and groups of gossipers as she made her way through. Her stomach began to clench and she wasn't even around Harry yet. As she approached the Room of Requirement she concluded that it wasn't Harry at all that was making her feel this way; she was getting excited. Excited and scared. Why must emotions all feel so similar? It was a real strain on the mind.

 

She concentrated on Harry's lesson as she walked three times along the deserted hallway and watched as the door appeared in front of her. Would it be pathetic if she said that Hogwarts and its secrets still ceased to astound her? Well she thought so, so there was no use in trying to express it otherwise. She grasped the brass handle and took a deep intake of breath. She could do this. It was only a simple lesson. She was going to learn how to conjure a Patronus. That was all.

 

Pushing open the door slowly, a warm breeze blew past her and she let her body relax. As she stepped into the room she saw that it looked similar to the way that it did for D.A. meetings, except equipped for two instead of, say, fifty. There was a single mahogany bookcase, two bean bag chairs, a fireplace, and candles floating near the ceiling. It was a very warm environment and she let herself fall into one of the bean bag chairs. It sagged with her weight and she tried to get comfortable, wiggling around for a good minute. That was put on a hold, however, when the door creaked open behind her. Her head twisted backwards and she saw Harry smiling at her. Her stomach dropped.

 

“I see you beat me here.” He said as he closed the door behind him.

 

“Not my fault you're slow.” She replied quickly. Oh how she loved her wit. Even when she was in distress, she still found a quick reply ready in the back of her mind. She really was too lucky.

 

He chuckled and walked over to her. She tried to calm her churning stomach with no avail. He took a seat beside her. “Now, I think we should skip the formalities and get straight to business.”

 

“Agreed.” She didn't feel like straining her walls.

 

“So,” He started as he rubbed his hands together, “What seems to be the problem?”

 

“I can't conjure a Patronus.” She said blatantly.

 

He chuckled again, “I know that part. I meant why can't you conjure one?”

 

She shrugged, “I don't know, I thought you could tell me.”

 

“Well let's see here… you came up with a memory, correct?” She nodded. “You recited the incantation with that memory in mind?” She nodded again and he blew out a puff of air. “Show me.”

 

She winced, “Are you sure you want to see my piteous excuse of a Patronus?”

 

“No.” He responded honestly, “But I can't help you if I can't deduct what's wrong.”

 

“Right.” She knew she didn't have much choice in the matter so she lifted herself up.

 

“Aim for that bookcase.” He instructed.

 

She aimed her wand for the bookcase parallel to her and took a deep intake of breath. She let the memory of her sixteenth birthday float into the forefront of her mind and leveled herself. “Expecto Patronum!” She chanted strongly. Nothing but a wimpy puff of white smoke came out of the tip of her wand. She turned slowly to Harry, expecting to see him laughing. She was surprised to see him instead looking at her with his eyes narrowed and his chin gripped in-between his thumb and pointer finger. He was calculating her.

 

He took a moment before answering. “You have the same problem I had, but you just didn't have anyone to tell you. A corner isn't the best place to practice defensive magic when you have plenty of people around you to help…” She averted his eyes. “You don't have a strong enough memory.”

 

Her head snapped up, “My memory is perfectly fine!”

 

He stood up, “Obviously not. You need to think of the happiest moment you can remember, Hermione. The first memory I chose was the first time I rode a broom.”

 

“That's a good one.”

 

“Yes, but not good enough. It might be the happiest memory for some people, but not for me. I had happier moment in my life that I could choose.”

 

Hermione nodded in understanding. “Problem is that I don't really have a whole lot to choose from.”

 

“Why's that?” he asked.

 

She contemplated if she should tell him or not. The actual truth was completely out of the question, obviously, but she could still tell him a clipped version. He was there to help her, not criticize her. The old Hermione was screaming at her to stop, but the new Hermione pushed her aside and told her to do it. So she did. “I didn't exactly grow up in a happy environment. My parents died when I was really young and my… foster father pressured me to always be the best. He wouldn't send me to a real school because he wanted to teach me himself. He's a fantastic teacher, don't get me wrong. But he is very adamant that I have to be perfect or bust. It wasn't until this year that he suddenly changed his mind and sent me here.”

 

“I'm sorry about your parents.” He said consolingly.

 

“It's alright. I didn't know them.”

 

“That's what I kept telling myself whenever someone told me they were sorry about me losing my parents.” Hermione lifted her head to look him in the eyes. She had forgotten for a moment that he had the same experience as she, though with much more dire consequences. “But there came a time when I knew that I had to let it all out.”

 

“I've already done that.” She admitted. “Some days I would just lock myself in my room and cry… I didn't know why, but I just did. Look at me. You must think I'm a total sap.”

 

He shook his head, “Not at all.” He stepped closer to her and she felt her breath catch as he placed a hand on her shoulder, “I did the same thing. Don't think you're alone, Hermione. You'll never be alone. Not as long as I'm here.”

 

Yeah, but that won't be for much longer. The old Hermione snapped.

 

“Think about something else. I know that there must be something in your past that could fuel the energy needed for your Patronus. If I could find one, you can too.” He removed his arm and gave her space to think.

 

She took the silence as an opportunity to think. Moving over to a nearby wall, she leaned against it and let her mind begin to work. She could never once in her life remember ever being happy. It was a melancholy thing to think of herself, but it was true. Even when she took pleasure in her raids, in kicking Draco's ass while dueling him, she knew that she was never happy. It was only brief ecstasy that quickly wore off. A small part of her knew when she chose the memory of her sixteenth birthday it wouldn't work. Sure, losing her virginity was a landmark and she felt relieved that it finally happened. But relief wasn't happiness. She let her mind wander to Christmas—to the kiss she and Harry shared. It was dangerous territory to tread while he was so near, but she was willing to take the chance. She remembered turning to mush and then feeling empty as he pulled away. Truth be told, she was too confused about how much he affected her to be happy. No, she couldn't use that memory.

 

The Riddle Manor was the polar opposite of happiness, so anything she did in there was doomed to be dismal, same with the Malfoy Mansion, too many formal parties and cruel treatment to even be associated with happiness. It was then that it hit her.

 

“I've got it!” she exclaimed.

 

“Excellent!” Harry said, “Now try it out again.”

 

She nodded and turned towards the bookcase. Aiming her wand just right she let the memory of her carriage pulling up to Hogwarts fill her mind. The joy she had felt when she first saw the tall, dark towers of the castle was unlike anything she had ever felt in her life. If that wasn't a happy memory, she didn't know what happy was. “Expecto Patronum!” She shouted.

 

Opening her eyes quickly, she saw a large cloud of white smoke emit from her want and she turned to Harry with a wide grin on her face. He returned her smile and the smoke disappeared. She couldn't believe it! She had come farther than she ever thought possible! She looked at her wand fondly; still unable to grasp that the white smoke had come out of it. She was too bust staring at it, lost in thought, that she didn't hear Harry come up next to her.

 

“That was impressive.”

 

She jumped when she heard his voice and saw him looking at her with pleasure in his eyes. “Thank you! I—I didn't think I could do that!”

 

He smiled, “Well you did. I told you that you could.” She let a shy smile grace her lips and he paused for a moment. “Do you… do you mind if I try something?”

 

“No.” She replied quickly, “Anything.”

 

He nodded. “Turn back around like you're going to conjure the Patronus again.”

 

She complied and stood ready, preparing her memory again. She did not, however, expect Harry to come to stand very close to her, his chest pressed up against her back. “W-what are you doing?”

 

“I'm trying to see if I can get my magic to bond with yours to form a full-blown Patronus, one that actually takes the form of an animal.” He explained. Though he seemed confident, she could sense a slight shakiness to his voice. She wondered if he was experiencing the tingles that were slowly moving throughout her body too.

 

“Oh… okay.”

 

He pressed more firmly against her back and felt his hand cover hers. He was also holding his wand, so it was trapped between his palm and the outer part of her hand. She suppressed a deep breath as their hands touched, trying to make it seem like he wasn't affecting her the way that he most definitely was. Unfortunately, the pent up breath was too much to contain and it came out in a gush.

 

He felt it and leaned down to whisper in her ear, “Do you trust me?”

 

She nodded, “Yes.”

 

“On the count of three, we say the incantation, alright?” He took her silence as confirmation and began the countdown. “One… two… three!

 

EXPECTO PATRONUM!” They shouted in unison.

 

Whatever Hermione was expecting, it wasn't what happened next. She felt a jolt of magic flow through her coming from Harry. How she knew it was coming from him was a mystery, but she just knew that they were somehow connected at that moment. The magic was building up in their wands and a bright silvery light protruded from them, causing their eyes to close from the intensity. It felt as though a gust of wind was circling around them, blowing her hair slightly askew and she worried that it might have hit Harry in the face. They re-opened them only when they felt that whatever had erupted from their wands leave and let their jaws drop at the sight in front of them. A ghostly figure of a stag and an otter were gallivanting around the room, circling around their conjurers and playing with the other. It was a truly beautiful sight to behold and the two of them had their eyes glued to it.

 

After what seemed to be an eternity, they both let out a breathy “Wow.”

 

“That was…” Hermione started.

 

“Incredible.”

 

Neither was aware that their hands were still wrapped up together.

 

Hermione wanted to thank him. She had never felt happier then she was at this moment. Whether it was because she was so close to him, she wasn't sure. But she needed to thank him. Inclining her head to the right to try and look in his eyes, she found him already looking at her intensely. Her thanks died in her throat as the two of them simply stared at each other. She knew that this was starting to get dangerous and she should pull away, but something was drawing her closer, or rather, Harry's face was inclining closer to her, hypnotizing her not to move. One moment she saw his warm emerald eyes staring at her, the next, her vision went dark as she closed her eyes and let Harry's lips descend on hers.

 

The moment when their lips connected was so intense that they dropped their wands. They didn't hear them clash on the floor, for they were too absorbed in the other to notice. Hermione's right hand came to grasp that nape of Harry's neck to secure his lips to her own, as if he needed further reason to stay there. His hand came to wrap around her waist to turn her so that they were facing each other instead of craning their necks to keep their lips attached. Hermione's other arm automatically went to wrap around his neck and his around her waist. The kiss intensified and she felt the warm velvet of his tongue test the barrier of her mouth, asking for entry. It was a surprise to her that he was this tender, asking for permission instead of plunging in. But she didn't think about it too long, because the moment their tongues collided, her mind went blissfully blank.

 

They were in the middle of a deserted room with two smoky woodland creatures circling around them, seeming to grow in brightness the longer they stayed wrapped up in the other. Hermione let her fingers bury themselves in his ebony locks and marveled at the smoothness of it. The moment he felt her fingers in his hair, he let his hands begin to caress her slim waist and she moaned into his mouth, reacting instantly to his warm touch. The vibration caused a similar, more masculine reaction from him and it was then Hermione realized how much she felt a desire for him. And as delicately as the kiss began, she pulled away. The smack of lips sounded throughout the vacant room and brought her back to earth. Feelings she couldn't explain came rushing through her and there was only one thing that was clear: She had to run. If what she was feeling at this moment was what she thought it was, she had to get out. Now.

 

She disentangled herself from him quickly, bending down to get her wand and not meeting his eyes. He knew what she was about to do and tried to stop her, his voice pleading. “Hermione please, please don't go.”

 

She hadn't realized she had been crying until a lone tear made its way down her cheek. That seemed to be happening too often to her liking. She turned to Harry, her wand now secure in her pocket and saw the heartbroken look on his face. It was enough to make her second guess her motive to leave. But she knew she had to. “Harry, I can't—I can't do this… its wrong.”

 

“What's so wrong about it?” he asked desperately.

 

She bit her lip, “So many things…” He opened his mouth, probably to ask why, but she stopped him. “Please just leave it be.”

 

She could see his eyes begin to get wet with tears and knew that she had to leave before she let him get a hold of her. He was going to die! He was going to be killed and she was supposed to help. She couldn't feel this way towards him, be kissing him, doing anything but staying his close friend.

 

“I can't do that, Hermione, I—”

 

“Don't.” she interrupted. “Don't say it. I want to be your friend… noth-nothing more.” It was all lies! But she had to lie, lie to protect him from getting hurt. She should at least make sure he was happy before he died. She couldn't make him happy like this.

 

She brushed past him and walked quickly to the door, wiping her tear-stained cheeks. “Hermione please… please…” She ignored his calls and closed the door behind her.

 

There was a small urge within her to run, but she resisted it. Somehow she knew that he wouldn't follow her so her pace was slow as she walked the deserted halls. She tried her best to not let her mind wander, but that was easier said than done. She tried to distract herself by observing the portraits as she passed them. Her distraction failed after no more than a minute, when she felt a fresh well of tears build up in her eyes. Oh, how she wanted to turn around and jump back into his arms. But she knew that she couldn't. He was her enemy, and they would both perish if the wrong ears got wind of it. She wiped the tears away from her eyes and sniffed. Pull yourself together! Her mind screamed.

 

She turned a corner near a hall filled with empty classrooms and felt her shoulders being tugged into one before she could even make out the end of the hallway. The door slammed shut behind them as they stumbled into the dark room. She didn't bother panicking. It wasn't as if she didn't know who was responsible. Fumbling to straighten her composure to the best of her ability, she turned slowly to Draco. If she looked like she had been crying, he didn't acknowledge it. There were no words as he extended an arm to the glowing basin. She inhaled a large intake of breath and walked towards it. Her footfalls echoed loudly throughout the small classroom and she did her best to contain a shiver. She had never been this nervous facing her master before. Granted, she had never been shoved to talk to him after kissing his arch nemesis, either.

 

Placing her arms on either side of the basin, she looked down into the liquid to see his face already formed in front of her. “Good evening, Hermione.”

 

“Good evening, my Lord.” She responded curtly.

 

“First off, I would like to say you are doing a stupendous job.” He said with a small smile, “A few of my peers have told me how close you have gotten to the Potter boy. Well done, my dear, well done.”

 

“Thank you sir,” She said, containing a stutter that was threatening to pierce her.

 

“Now, to the reason I called you here. It's not for a check-up this time.” Hermione's interest perked and she leaned closer unconsciously. “We are getting ready to move in. Soon we will be inside Hogwarts grounds. I expect you to be on your guard and stick close to the boy at all times. In a few short days… we will rid the world of Harry Potter.”

 

Hermione's breath caught and she choked out a feeble response. “Yes sir, I will be on my guard.”

 

He nodded, “Good. Remember, don't let the boy out of your site.”

 

She managed a weak nod before his image disappeared. It was all too much. She bolted from the classroom, ignoring Draco's calls. Blocking outside noises was quickly becoming her new forte. She sprinted down the remaining halls and staircases, just wanting to get to her dormitory, cast a strong silencing charm, and sob. A few days? She thought she had more time! More time to think things though, more time to bury these new feelings for Harry, more time to figure out what the feelings were. Her time was running out. She knew that her decision to walk out on Harry was a bad one. But there was no use turning back now. She couldn't kiss him anyway. Not with his life so close to being cut short. She had to let the old Hermione out. The new Hermione had too many drawbacks and emotions to complicate things further. But as she arrived at the portrait hole and caught her breath, she realized something.

 

The old Hermione was gone.

 

There were no ideas on how to get rid of these feelings for Harry, no hint as to what she should do now. The dark, powerful, brave, witty part of her wasn't there. It was as though she had faded into nothing. How could this have happened? Where had she lost the other half of her? It hit her like a ton of bricks to the gut: The kiss. It had destroyed her. She wanted to mourn, wanted to cry, wanted to tell someone and ask for advice. But she had no one. Her time was almost up and she had no one. Her stronger half was now gone and there was nothing to help her get through what was sure to be the most traumatic experience of her life.

 

Her posture sunk as she mumbled the password and entered the tower. It was virtually empty, save for a few people scattered about in various nooks and crannies. She made a beeline towards the girl's staircase, when she bumped into someone. Her neck craned upward to see Ron looking at her with a lop-sided grin.

 

“Hey, Hermione” He greeted.

 

She stepped back a few inches, “Hi Ron.”

 

There was a long pause between the two of them. Ron shifted his weight from one foot to the other nervously. “Hey umm… I was wondering if…” He trailed off. Hermione wasn't really paying any mind to his mumblings as she felt another flood of tears begin to come. She looked over his shoulder to see that she wasn't far from the staircase, maybe a good four feet.

 

“…with me?” Hermione saw his shoulders slump and that's when her eyes went back to him. She had missed every word he had said. He was looking at her nervously, biting his lip and she could see the faint trace of a blush forming.

 

“I'm sorry. I trailed off for a minute. Could you repeat that?” She said quickly. The tears were coming faster and she didn't want anyone to see her cry.

 

He looked at her with wide eyes, fumbling with his words once again. She would feel sorry for him if she wasn't in such a hurry to get to her dormitory. “Would you want to come to Hogsmeade with me this weekend?”

 

He seemed proud that he finally got it out. Hermione, however, was less interested, as she felt her vision begin to go cloudy. If she was going to say something, she had better say it quickly so that she could make it. “Yeah, sure Ron,” she said hurriedly. And without another word, she brushed past him and sprinted up the stairs.

 

She collapsed on her bed in a heap and cast a silencing charm. No sooner had she let the curse fall from her lips that the tears began to far, and soon following, the sobs. She found herself clutching one of her pillows and hugging it to her chest as she rocked back and forth. She gulped in air every free moment she had, her chest hitching and her arms shaking. She had never cried this hard in her entire life. The old Hermione knew that it was a waist of energy. But maybe there was another reason she had never allowed herself to let loose like this. It felt horrible. She felt so vulnerable; as though she were alone in an open forest, crying much as she was now with no one there to help her. Save the forest it was the same pathetic picture that fueled more tears to cascade down her cheeks.

 

How could she have been so stupid as to let her guard down? It was always there for a purpose. And that purpose was so that she wouldn't get attached or worse, hurt. But now that her walls were collapsed in a giant heap, there was nothing that she could do. She couldn't tell the Dark Lord to call off the mission. What could she possibly say? “Umm yeah… I have sort of become somewhat attached Harry and now I don't really want him to die. So if you could just postpone the attack for, I don't know, another month or so? That'd be great.” Fat chance of that happening. She'd be dead and possibly Draco and Harry as well, Draco simply because he was the main person who was supposed to be watching her and could have easily prevented it from happening. Why had she been so adamant about steering clear of him? She was so set on getting the mission done perfectly that she didn't consider the consequences. Missions like this don't come without a risk of becoming too emotionally attached to the people around them. Why had she even said yes to the mission in the first place? Oh yeah, because she wanted to go to Hogwarts—because she was selfish.

 

It was her own damn fault she was in this mess, and now her target has become her friend—well, possibly more than friend after tonight. They wouldn't get a chance anyway, so why define her feelings? What was the point? He was going to die and she was going to help kill him. It was her mission, her destiny. It didn't matter how much she cared, he was still going to die. The outcome would never change. Harry Potter was doomed to a short life all because of love. His mother's love for him had ultimately doomed him for a damned life. Love was useless.

 

If love was useless, why is your heart still beating a thousand times per minute?

 

She groaned and collapsed onto her mattress, letting dreamland be her escape from this treacherous castle. 

~*~

A/N: I hope you don't hate me for this chapter. It's pretty URST-y and I know that it's very frustrating but hold tight! They'll be together very soon :) Thank you all for the fantabulous reviews!

-Shar


Chapter 17: In Too Deep
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In Too Deep


 

 

 

Hermione woke up with a massive headache early Saturday morning. She hadn't even bothered getting up out of bed at her normal hour, knowing that it would only make it worse. It felt as though someone was pounding a massive hammer into her skull repeatedly trying to break it open. She was surprised that it hit her now rather than yesterday, when she cried herself to sleep. Yes, Hermione Granger had fallen asleep crying. That morning had only resulted in a dry throat and puffy eyes, but today knocked that day's start out of the pitch. She tried to remember any of Friday's events that could possibly be the reason for her turmoil. It was then that it hit her: Harry. She and Harry had basically treated each other like they were invisible. She had gone to bed that night thinking of how miserable it made her not to talk to him. Of course it was Harry.

 

She was in deep shit.

 

The rest of her dorm mates had already gotten ready and when she heard complete silence she knew that it was time to get up. It was bad enough that she was up late, but now she was completely alone again. She took a small comfort in being surrounded by people now, even if they were asleep. With Harry ignoring her and Ginny being her normal self, she really had no one to turn to. Alone used to be her favorite getaway, but now she was begging for release. She needed friends, she needed to laugh—she needed Harry.

 

After she finished cleaning up with a hot shower, her headache seemed to tone down to a dull pounding. She padded down the stairs, something pulsing in the back of her head. It wasn't the headache, but rather a small feeling that there was something about today that was important. She had already finished all of her coursework so that couldn't be it. She didn't recall making any plans with anyone. Not that anyone would want to spend time with her anyway. As far as they knew she was either a whore or a heartless hag. It was all for the best, though.

 

She looked at the clock perched atop the fireplace and sighed. It was ten-thirty. She didn't feel like eating breakfast, knowing that she would run into Harry there. She wanted to talk to him, but knew that she couldn't. Not after what had happened. It might hurt her more to distance herself then to actually talk to him, but her mind would never be at ease either way. He was her friend, he was her enemy, but above all else, he was someone that she felt the wells of desire perk up for more than anyone else. She wanted to be more than his friend and that scared her. She didn't even want to elaborate more on her feelings, fearing the inevitable.

 

The couch began to look very inviting. She lay down in its fluffy depths and tried to get her body to relax. Closing her eyes, she began to clear her mind, something she had learned from the Dark Lord. Whenever she had something on her mind that she didn't want there, all she had to do was clear her head and relax. Granted, she didn't have a pensive to permanently remove the thoughts, but this was the next best thing. As soon as she felt her mind go blank, footsteps interrupted her concentration. Her eyes shot open and she looked over the back of the couch. Ron was walking down the stairs and she let out a breath of relief. But the feeling in the back of her mind started going off again as he approached her. She sat up and smiled as he stood in front of her.

 

“Ready to go?” He asked, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his trousers.

 

Hermione's brow furrowed, “Go?”

 

“To Hogsmeade.”

 

It was then that it clicked. In order to get Ron off of her back, she had agreed to go to Hogsmeade with him. In her vulnerable, emotional state, she had agreed to go on a date with Ron. Oh Merlin. “Right… yeah. Yeah I'm ready to go.”

 

He smiled down at her and she returned it half-heartedly. She allowed him to escort her to the carriages with a hand placed nervously on her back. Truth be told, she was nervous as well. This was her first date. Well, if you didn't count the trips to the pub and sneaking around with Draco. She didn't. They found an empty carriage and sat across from each other. Hermione shot nervous glances at Ron and could sense that he was sending some her way as well. She didn't know why she had agreed to this in the first place. She had little recollection of agreeing to the date, so why didn't she just tell him that? Maybe there was a part of her that wanted to forget Harry. Forget why she was thinking about him in the first place. Ron was a nice enough bloke, so she should be able to enjoy herself. Right?

 

They arrived in Hogsmeade and Ron led her to The Three Broomsticks. She was thankful he chose this place. It was a comfortable environment, so she didn't have to feel pressured. See? She thought to herself, This won't be so bad.

 

They found a vacant booth and took their seats. Hermione smiled over at Ron, who was fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. The waitress came over and asked for their order and Ron asked for two butterbeers. He looked over at her for confirmation and she nodded. They were left alone and he looked as though he was trying to find something to say. She figured that she should start the conversation, it was the least she could do.

 

“So Ron, how are your classes going?” It was simple but effective.

 

“Fine.” He responded shortly.

 

Hermione nodded, “Have you been studying for your N.E.W.T.s?”

 

He snorted, “No.”

 

“Well you should. It's the most important test of your school career!”

 

“I'm too busy with Quidditch to worry about studying.” He said with a silly grin.

 

Hermione rolled her eyes, “And what makes Quidditch so much more important than studying?”

 

Ron looked at her as if she had grown another head. “Loads of things! First off, it's fun so I can actually pay attention to what I am doing. Second, it…”

 

Hermione knew she shouldn't have, but at that moment, she tuned him out. She loved Quidditch, but if she couldn't understand why it was more important than school, there was no point in listening to him. Although she had to admire his passion for the sport. Harry was right. If he was this passionate about his future career, she should respect it. Of course, Harry was always right. In class, in life, in everything. But he wasn't in the cocky sort of way; he was always right because he had to be right. If he wasn't, it could affect him in his future battles. Oh great, now she was thinking about Harry. She was on a date with another guy and she still couldn't stop thinking about Harry!

 

“…plus the fact that you get tons of birds.”

 

“You play Quidditch for the girls?”

 

“Weren't you listening to a thing I said? The birds are just an added bonus.”

 

“But they're a contributing factor?”

 

“Of course!”

 

She rolled her eyes just as their butterbeers were placed on the table. She took a sip from the glass and licked her lips, removing any residue. At least one good thing was coming from this date. The waitress stayed put and leaned down to address them again, “Is there anything else I can get for you?”

 

Ron seemed in thought for a moment, “A ham sandwich with a side of crisps, please. Anything for you, Hermione?”

 

“No, I'm fine.”

 

The waiter departed and Ron leaned over to her, “What do you have against Quidditch?”

 

“Nothing. I love Quidditch. I just don't see how people can hold it above their studies.”

 

“It's really quite simple all you have to do is…” He trailed off, looking behind her, a grin forming. “Hey Harry!” he yelled, waving his arm.

 

Hermione turned around in her seat and saw Harry staring at her. She felt like crying when she got a good look at his face. He looked heartbroken, just like when she had walked away. His mouth was agape and he turned to leave as soon as their eyes made contact. He pushed past groups of incoming customers and stormed out the door. It was as if he were moving in slow motion, making her chest hurt even more.

 

“What's got him in a mood?” Ron asked, clearly hurt that his friend didn't acknowledge him.

 

“I… I…” Hermione tried to search for the best thing to say. “Have to go.”

 

“What?”

 

Clearly, that wasn't the best thing to say. “I'm sorry Ron. Can you excuse me for a second?”

 

“Umm yeah, sure.”

 

Hermione walked quickly over to the bathroom and locked the door behind her. She started to breathe heavily and braced herself against the sink. Her vision began to go fuzzy and she felt something begin to work its way up from her stomach. She forced it back down and tried to calm herself. Looking up at her reflection she scowled and turned the tap on. Making sure the water was cool beforehand she splashed it onto her face. She flinched at the temperature but it calmed her by waking up her senses. Grabbing a towel, she ran it across her skin, picking up the scarce droplets. She threw it to one side of the sink and bowed her head down. She had to pull herself together. This was her first date and she was ruining it by letting someone else dictate her. She had to go back out there and enjoy herself.

 

It was going to be hard but she had to do it. She had to enjoy herself for her own sake and for Harry's. The less amount of time she saw him, the better they would both be. She would find a way to save him. Yes, that was it. She would convince the Dark Lord to pull back and give Harry more time to prepare. It was all for the best. Never mind how much she missed him, how much he affected her, how heartbroken he looked when he saw her with Ron. He would understand one day. This was all for him.

 

She looked once more in the mirror and saw that her face was clear. She exited the bathroom and went back to sit across from Ron. He didn't bother asking questions. She could see in his eyes that he knew where she had been, but not exactly what she had been doing. He was eating his order of crisps and didn't look as though he was going to break the ice any time soon.

 

She needed to busy her mind, so she spoke up. “So tell me about yourself Ron. I know we've had a lot of classes together and such, but I don't really know that much about you.”

 

“Well what do you want to know?”

 

“I don't know… umm… what's your favorite color?”

 

“Orange like the Cannons!” He replied excitedly. Harry's is blue. Hermione heard the smug voice and tried to block it out. “What about yours?”

 

“Green.” She replied without thought. Harry's eyes.

 

“Green, why green?” Ron asked with interest.

 

“Cucumbers!”

 

“What?”

 

“I like… cucumbers…” Oh good going, Granger. Like he's going to believe that!

 

Ron nodded, “That's logical. I like mince pie.” Oh wow, it worked. Hermione shook her head to the side to try and get rid of the voice, as though it were a bug in her ear. Ron took this gesture differently. “You don't like mice pies?”

 

Figuring that she shouldn't dispute that, she came up with something else to say. “I actually prefer shepherd.”

 

Ron nodded, “So does Harry.”

 

Hermione sucked in a breath. He just had to mention him. “He-he has good taste.”

 

He didn't seem to notice her stutter, “Oh yeah. He even gives me a run for my galleons sometimes.”

 

“Really?” she commented half-heartedly. In all honestly, she wanted anything else but to talk about Harry. If they did for too long, she would explode. If she sounded disinterested maybe he would drop it.

 

“There was this one time when I thought that I could pick a fight with him about Muggle sweets versus Wizards sweets. Of course he won when he shoved a—what was it?—a Mars bar down my throat. I've never been the same since.” He chuckled at the memory.

 

“I've never had Muggle candy.” She mused.

 

“Well you're missing out! Hey, maybe I can talk Harry into getting you some.”

 

“No!” She replied quickly. When Ron gave her an odd look, she tried to save herself. “I mean I don't want Harry to go to any trouble.”

 

“Nonsense.” Ron said, waving a hand about. “In fact, he would probably do it in a second if I told him it was for you. He's really taken a liking to you Hermione. Sometimes I can't get him to shut up. Actually, it was his constant raving about you that convinced me to take you out. If figured anyone who can get Harry to talk non-stop about her is worth taking to The Three Broomsticks.”

 

The air had left her lungs. She could feel herself growing pale. He had talked about her? He liked her? Well, of course he liked her—but enough to talk about her to his best friend?

 

“Hermione are you alright? You look like you're about to vomit.”

 

She allowed her gaze to float upward to see Ron's bright blue eyes glowing with concern. “I'm sorry Ron but I have to go.” She pushed her chair out and rushed to the door. As soon as she started moving, she felt her lungs start flexing and her breaths become ragged again.

 

“Hermione?”

 

She heard him, but she didn't turn back. All she knew was that she had to get out of there and fast. She pushed open the door and ran outside into the cool air. She didn't know where she was running to but when she saw a few carriages pull up she made a quick decision. The further away she was from Ron and his Harry-related comments, the better. She climbed into the nearest one and slammed the door behind her, putting her head in her hands and calming herself. She felt the carriage jerk and it began to move. As she left Hogsmeade behind her, she felt her shoulders slump as relief washed over her.

 

“You're in love with him.”

 

Hermione's head shot up at the familiar dreamy voice. Luna had her face buried in an issue of The Quibbler; her platinum locks pulled back in a long plait at the base of her neck with little blinking beetle clips weaved throughout. If someone else was in the carriage, she would have thought they had spoken up. She looked too enamored with her magazine to say anything out loud. Especially something like that.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

Without looking up, Luna answered in the same voice. “You're in love with Harry.”

 

There went any thoughts that she was just daydreaming. “No I'm not.”

 

“Denying it won't make it any less true. Even if the truth hurts, you can do nothing but accept it. Life might have its ups and downs, but if you spend too much time making up excuses for the inevitable, you'll only end up hurting yourself. At least, that's what it says here… you're a Virgo, right?”

 

“Umm I don't… what do you mean denying it? I'm not in love with Harry!”

 

For the first time, Luna lifted her head and Hermione felt as though her wide silver eyes were probing into her soul. It made her feel quite uncomfortable and she squirmed a bit in her seat. Looking at her pointedly, Luna lowered her voice an octave. “You and I both know that's not true. Love isn't complicated, Hermione. Either you are in love or you aren't. And I can tell by looking in your eyes that you are completely and irrevocably in love with him although you fear admitting it because you want to protect him.”

 

“I…”

 

“Do yourself a favor and stop living in regret. Be selfish, be happy, but most of all just be.” Luna ended by rolling up her magazine and pointing it at her almost accusingly. After her long speech, she sat back in her seat and continued reading like nothing had happened.

 

Hermione was speechless. She slumped back into her seat and shook her head. Everything that Luna had said made sense. She was selfish once, but selfish in a way that it was only benefitting the Dark Lord. She had never been selfish for her. And as she thought about it another thing became potently clear. She didn't know how, but somehow lust and desire had turned into something more dangerous.

 

She was in love with her enemy.

 

The carriage came to a halt and Hermione was vaguely aware of Luna getting up and stepping out. “Hermione.” She called.

 

Hermione lifted her head. Luna smiled, “Remember what I said. Happiness can always be found in the depths of your heart. Follow your heart, Hermione.”

 

Hermione saw her retreat back to the castle and decided she should get a move on or she would end up back in Hogsmeade. She walked towards the castle in a daze, her thoughts running rampant. Most were along the lines of: I'm in love with him. I am in deep shit. I could get killed. I could get both of us killed. I'm a traitor. What will Draco think? Will anyone ever find out? Will I let them? WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?!

 

The castle was virtually empty as she walked though the vacant halls. Even the younger years were outside playing. Everyone had better things to do than to sulk around the castle like a ghoul. In fact, even the ghosts that usually roamed the halls were absent. Apparently they had other places to be as well on a Saturday. This didn't do much to lighten her mood. She felt alone once again. Funny. Being in love was supposed to make you feel good—radiant even. But all it was doing to her was making her more miserable. Instead of feeling complete, she felt empty; instead of feeling alive, she felt like an Inferius. Love could go fuck itself.

 

She stopped for a moment and turned around. Seeing an empty hall behind her, she began walking again. She could have sworn she heard footsteps behind her. But apparently she was going crazy as well because there was no one behind her. Strange.

 

She arrived at the portrait hole and said the password to the fat lady who seemed to be powdering her nose. Even the portraits were going up and about. It was lucky she caught her before she left or else she would be stuck roaming the halls for the rest of her afternoon. As she climbed up inside the hole and let the warmth of the common room envelop her she found it, like the rest of the castle, empty. Sighing, she decided to catch up on some light reading. She went up to her dormitory and rummaged in her trunk for a book she had recently checked out of the library, 101 Uses of Unicorn Blood in Love Potions. She found it under her scarf and headed back downstairs after kicking her shoes and socks off, intent on reading it by the fireplace.

 

When she got down there, she only had time to toss her book on the couch before the portrait hole opened. She froze and wondered if she hid behind the couch maybe they wouldn't see her. She didn't know why she wanted to hide. She was the one who was lonely, right? When the shadow of the person came closer and Hermione finally got a good look at them, she knew why she wanted to hide.

 

“What are you doing here? How did you find me?”

 

“I followed you.”

 

“You followed me? What are you, my stalker?”

 

“Listen Hermione I… I wanted to ask you… well…”

 

Hermione grew impatient, “What? Ask me what?”

 

He sensed her anger and looked up at her viciously, his green eyes blazing with internal flames. “Hermione I know you felt something in that kiss!”

 

Shit. “What kiss?”

 

“Don't play coy with me, you know exactly what kiss!”

 

She needed to get out of here. Now. “I don't know what you're talking about.” She turned her back and walked a few feet away from him until she felt a hand come down roughly on her shoulder and turn her back around.

 

He was growing angrier. She was growing weaker at his touch. He removed his hand and looked at her fiercely. “What game are you playing at? Do you take some sort of sick pleasure teasing people?”

 

“Do you have to know everything about me?” She countered.

 

“No, I don't.” He admitted. “But I want to know. And what's more than that, I know enough to see though your mask.”

 

“What mask?”

 

“You're façade. You're `Oh, I'm so mysterious. No one will ever get through to me' Persona.” He said, mimicking her high pitched voice.

 

She was beginning to snap. “Well did you ever think that I put it up for a reason? That there was a point to it?”

 

“Of course I did! But the fact that I have no idea what it is makes me mad!”

 

“You don't have to know everything about me. In fact, you know nothing about me.”

 

“Oh really?”

 

“Yes.”

 

He leaned closer to her, “Then tell me. Tell me that you felt absolutely nothing in that kiss and I'll leave you alone. And don't bother lying.”

 

Hermione put on her best stony expression and leaned towards him, stopping a few inches from his face and speaking in a voice no higher than a whisper. “I felt nothing.

 

She pulled back and his face remained the same. “Really?”

 

“Yes! Now will you please just leave me alone?! Can't you get it through your thick skull that we just can't be together?” She started to raise her voice, hoping that he would just leave.

 

“No. No I can't.”

 

“But you just said that—”

 

“You're lying. I know you are.”

 

“And how do you figure that?” She asked dangerously, challenging him to a dangerous tango that she knew might be her demise. But she didn't care.

 

He stepped towards her, leaving all but a few inches between their bodies. “You're saying that if I kissed you right now you wouldn't feel a thing?”

 

She let her gaze flicker to his lips and quickly back up again. The temptation was deadly. “No, not a thing.”

 

He raised an eyebrow and before she knew it, his lips were against hers. She didn't have enough time to respond before he pulled away. He was testing her. And she was failing. But the worst part was that she didn't care. He looked down at her and she didn't waste any time wrapping her hands around his neck and pulling him back to her. He seemed surprised, yet not so much as he tested the barrier of her lips with his tongue. She allowed him in without another thought. It was then that her mind finally realized: She was in too deep. She was being pulled under his spell and there was no turning back. The kiss started out softly, testing the grounds. But a well of pent up desire washed over them and soon they would not be able to control themselves.

 

His hands came to rest at her hips and he led them against the nearest wall. Her back slammed against the hard surface and a small breath came out her lips, disrupting their kiss. Harry didn't miss a beat, sucking on the corner of her mouth to her cheek and back again, capturing her mouth in another fiery kiss. She plunged her hands in his hair, missing how it felt beneath her fingers. She felt one of his hands begin to trail down her leg and stop at her knee, pulling it up to wrap around his waist so that the only thing that was in-between them was their clothes. Hermione quickly wrapped her other leg around his waist and he pressed her further against the wall, elevating her so they were the same height.

 

His mouth left hers and started to begin a trail of wet kisses down the column of her throat, sucking and licking in all the right places. Hermione moaned at his ministrations and moved her hands to his back, tracing the flexing muscles with her nimble fingers. She felt him shiver and he assisted her in taking it off, only detaching his lips for a second. One of his hands began to sneak its way under her top and she felt her body lurch at the feel of his hands on her skin. He made delicate circles around her belly button and finally began to remove it. Their lips found each other again and her bra was quickly discarded. The feel of bare skin-to-skin contact was enough to undo her and she ground her hips into him, electing another masculine groan from deep within his throat.

 

He detached once more from her mouth, only to turn them around and make his way up the stairs to the boy's dormitory. Hermione took this time to plant butterfly kisses from his ear to his shoulder, stopping there and sucking on it. It didn't take long for them to re-attach their lips once he finished climbing up the stairs. He moved them blindly to the door at the end of the hall, jiggling the handle as he pressed her up slightly against it. It opened and he stumbled through it, finding his bed and laying her atop it. She saw him stare at her a moment before hurriedly climbing on top of her and kissing the question out of her mouth. She decided to make a bold move and sucked on his tongue as it probed her mouth. He jerked away for a moment before moaning into her mouth. She grinned and flipped them over, straddling him.

 

His hands came to rest on her hips as she lowered herself and kissed her way from his throat down his chest, planting small kisses on his muscular abdomen. She unbuckled his trousers and pulled them off, knocking his shoes and socks off. He pulled her back up to kiss her passionately and trailed his hand down her back. She helped him remove her jeans and as she was preparing to wiggle on top of him again, he surprised her by flipping them over so that he was hovering over her. Her hand moved to the nape of his neck as she pressed him harder against her. He didn't disappoint as he kissed her tenderly on the lips and moved his hands to play with the band of her knickers. She thrust her hips up, begging him to stop his teasing and he obliged by sliding them slowly down.

 

She didn't let him be the only one with clothing on for long as she pushed off his boxers and let their bodies become flush against each other. There were no longer any barriers keeping them apart. The two wasted no time and met each other, becoming one. Sounds of passion filled the quiet dorm as they entangled themselves in each other. 

...
 

He collapsed on top of her but she didn't mind. His body weight was strangely comforting on top of her. She didn't have time to bask in it, though, as he rolled off of her to lie next to her. Unconsciously, she turned over on her side and let him cup her from behind, feeling all of him press up against her. She felt a wave of tiredness wash over her as her eyes drifted close. A blanket landed on top of them as Harry waved one of his hands before placing it back on Hermione's waist, holding her snug against him.

 

She knew that there would be consequences in the morning. But she didn't care. All she knew was that she was perfectly content being here in this moment. Let tomorrow come with its heavy bearings. For now, she would lye here and sleep. And for once, she would dream of something pleasant, or rather, someone. The same one who haunted her dreams was now being opened with open arms. 

~*~

A/N: Hope you enjoyed the chapter! When I first wrote it, I was really nervous, but hopefully you like it despite that. Remember to review :)

-Shar


Chapter 18: The Truth Comes Out
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The Truth Comes Out

 

 

 

She didn't know what time it was, nor did she care. When she felt the dull signs of consciousness wash over her it was an understatement to say she was scared to feel herself pressed against someone else's naked body. It took a few moments to remember just who she was being held to and when she did, she let a ghost of a smile grace her lips. Although it sounded clich�, her first thought when she let the events of before she had fallen asleep creep into her mind was that it was the best sex she had ever had. Better than Draco, better than those nameless guys, just all around better. She still had yet to discover what had made it so special. But when she felt Harry's arm tighten around her waist she knew.

 

It was because she loved him.

 

It hadn't just been sex. They had made love. Of course she loved Draco… but not in the way that she should. Now that she thought about it, he had become more of a brother-figure throughout the years. But when they were growing up, there had been no one else to place their affections on when puberty hit. So, naturally, they had chosen each other. She would always love him, but it was a different kind of love. Not like the love she had for Harry. The love she had with Harry was pure, unconditional, and most likely unrequited. She was probably a replacement for Ginny. Perfect, lovely Ginny. So she would soak this up for all she could. This was her time with Harry and she wouldn't waste it by running away for the second time.

 

She wiggled more firmly into his arms and felt his head bury in her neck. She sighed as his warm breath came into contact with her naked skin. It soon turned into his soft lips placing butterfly kisses along the base of her neck and shoulder. It was obvious that he was now as awake as she was. She turned around and Harry detached his lips just in time to look at her with his gorgeous emerald eyes. She remembered the first time she saw them. They were vastly becoming her favorite thing about him. She saw them squint as he grinned at her, propping himself on his elbow to get a better look at her. She shyly pulled up the covers over herself and avoided his gaze. He was the only one who could make her feel uncomfortable like this. The old Hermione would have laughed, but she was long gone.

 

He gave her a small once-over and caressed her arm. “There's no need to be self-conscious, Hermione.”

 

“I'm not!” He gave her a look and she rolled her eyes. “Alright, so what if I am?”

 

“Well I find it incredibly cute.” He said, lightly touching her nose with his finger.

 

She raised her eyebrows, “Really?”

 

“Really.” He leaned down and kissed her lightly on the mouth. Before he had a chance to pull away, she wrapped one of the hands that was holding onto the blanket and draped it around his neck to secure his lips on her own. He seemed surprised for a moment before smiling into to kiss and carefully peeling the rest of the blanket from her chest. As the kiss deepened Hermione maneuvered so that she was on top of Harry while still passionately kissing him. He moved his hands to her waist and caressed up and down, causing goose bumps to erupt on her skin. She straightened so that she was straddling him, breaking apart the contact of their lips and positioned herself. 

She let out a loud “Harry!” and he smiled into their kiss once more. Her hands wrapped around his shoulders, making it so there was no room in between them. The friction of their bodies and the constant need to break their feverish kisses was enough to make both of them come undone simoantiously. Although neither of them lasted half as long as last time, they weren't complaining. The fireworks were still there, proving that the last time hadn't been a fluke.

 

He rolled off of her and looked her in the eyes. She gave him a silly grin and kissed him on the corner of his mouth. These were the best moments of her life, and when she looked back, she wanted to say that she was daring enough to take advantage of their time together. He reached behind him and searched for his boxers. Finding them half under the bed, he pulled them on and turned back to Hermione, who had been looking at him the whole time, admiring how the taut muscles in his back constricted with his movements.

 

“See something you like?” He asked teasingly.

 

“I think you already know the answer to that.” She replied as she pulled on her underwear.

 

He chuckled but all too suddenly, his expression turned serious. Looking towards the door, he waved his hand so that it opened and muttered a quiet “Accio clothes”. The remainder of their clothing flew onto the bed and Hermione gave him a curious look. She didn't want to believe that he was going to leave her. In her mind, it was inevitable, but half of her still hoped that he would stay… just for a little while. He handed her his tee-shirt and she gingerly put it on, still looking at him. He met her eyes and turned so that he was sitting Indian-style on the bedspread. She tucked her feet beneath her and looked at him expectantly, bracing herself.

 

“Hermione I want you to know that I'm not the kind of guy who sleeps with someone that I don't care about and then leaves them there.” Hermione nodded, hope springing up in her chest. “I think you deserve to know about how… how I feel about you before you say anything.” She leaned forward expectantly as he took a deep intake of breath. “The fact is that these past few weeks with you have been the best I've ever had. I don't think anyone has ever made feel so alive before I met you. That day in Flourish and Blott's was a bit of a bumpy start but I think it was fate that brought me to you. All of my life I've been surrounded by all the wrong people and only a handful of the right. But none of them have gotten me to feel this way. Now I think I've figured out exactly what this is, but I'm not quite sure because for a time, I thought I knew what it meant. I really hope I don't muck this up by saying what I think I'm feeling. I hope that you won't get scared because believe me, I think I'm scared enough for the both of us.” He grabbed her hands, which had been intertwined at her waist and held them tenderly. She looked into his eyes and saw that there were tears beginning to form. She smiled at him, trying her best to silently encourage him. It seemed to be enough because he spoke firmly, “Hermione I… I'm in love with you.”

 

The tears Hermione though she was feeling pooled in her eyes and began to fall down her cheeks. He was in love with her? This was all wrong! He couldn't be in love with her. It was dangerous enough that she had fallen for him.

 

“Please don't cry, Hermione. I understand if you don't feel the same way.” He said solemnly.

 

She shook her head. “It's—it's not that.”

 

“Then why are you crying?”

 

She bit her lip and lowered her head. She had to tell him. She had to tell him everything. Even if he didn't love her afterwards, he deserved to know just as much as she deserved to know how he felt about her. It was crucial. She would ruin the first love she had ever experienced. But it was something she had to do to save him. Without her in his life, he would stand a better chance of defeating the Dark Lord. It was now or never. “I have to tell you something…” He nodded, still looking reproachful. He thought he was alone in his feelings. Silly boy. “Harry I—”

 

She was interrupted by a tapping on the window. She and Harry turned around and saw a brown owl perched on the windowsill holding a roll of parchment. Giving her an odd look, Harry opened the window and took the parchment from it. Immediately it flew off towards the forbidden forest. He made his way back to the bed and opened it. Hermione scooted towards him in curiosity. He finished reading before she got a chance to look at it, however, and rolled it back up. Turning to her without meeting her eyes he said, “Dumbledore wants me to meet him in the forbidden forest to…” He glanced upward for a moment, contemplating how he should word it, “train.”

 

She nodded and the words came tumbling out before she could stop herself. “I'm coming with you.”

 

He gave her a curious look, “You want to come with me?”

 

She nodded without a second thought, “Yes. I want to come with you.”

 

“Alright well… we have to leave right away. He said it was urgent.” With that he put the remainder of his clothes on and pulled an extra shirt from his trunk.

 

Hermione pulled on her pants and turned back around to see Harry trying to flatten his hair. It really was quite amusing. Every time he got it somewhat flat, it sprang back into disarray. He turned to her with a shrug and motioned to the door. She nodded and they exited the dormitory. When they got to the common room Hermione saw that it was only four in the afternoon. She wasn't asleep long and everyone was still either at Hogsmeade or outside. For that she was thankful. If someone had walked in on her and Harry she didn't know what she would have done.

 

They walked through the halls in silence. Hermione didn't think that she should tell Harry before they had to face Dumbledore. She would get them into even more shit then they were already buried in. She didn't even want to tell him that she loved him back yet. It was better for him to think his feelings were one-sided for the time being. She would tell him after they met with Dumbledore. For now she would just let him know that she was here. She slipped her hand into his and intertwined their fingers. He looked over at her and gave her a tender smile as they walked out the main entrance.

 

She felt the chilled air wash over her as they walked towards the forest. She could see dark clouds making their way towards them, foreshadowing rain. She loved the rain. It was more innocent than snow and disappeared as soon as it hit the ground more times than not. And when it did happen to stay, it formed tiny puddles to splash in. She had done that when she was younger but never had the opportunity when she was moved to the Riddle Mansion. Maybe if Harry and Dumbledore wanted to be alone, she could sneak back and humor herself with a quick splash.

 

She had never been in the forbidden forest before so when they got within five feet of it, she stiffened. Harry walked a few steps but felt her stay put so he turned around. Her eyes were glued foreword at the foreboding trees and she felt dread wash over her. Maybe it was a spell to keep people out? Dumbledore had said anyone who ventured into it would be punished. So why would he ask Harry in there? She felt Harry give her hand a tight squeeze and she looked over at him. Instantly, she felt warmth spread over her. If Harry wasn't afraid, then she knew it must be safe enough to go in. She smiled at him and let him lead her into the depths of the forest.

 

As they weaved through the trees Hermione could swear she heard a wolf howl. And then, a few minutes later, the bushes started to wiggle as though something was going to jump out at them. At this point, Hermione was clutching to Harry's arm tightly. He didn't seem to mind as he walked confidently through the forest. If she didn't know better, she'd say that he had been in here once or twice. But who in their right mind would come in here anyway? It was called the forbidden forest for a reason. As they got deeper and deeper within it, she began to worry that she wouldn't be able to find her way out. But as long as Harry was with her, she felt safe. Nothing could hurt her.

 

They came to a small clearing that Hermione assumed was towards the middle of the forest. Harry stopped and looked around the parameter. “He said he would meet me here…”

 

Hermione let go of his hand and began to walk around, without straying too far from him. “Well maybe he's just running late?”

 

Harry shook his head, “No—no Dumbledore's always on time.”

 

Hermione looked up and saw the dark clouds she saw earlier begin to accumulate above them. Something wasn't right. The wind started to pick up and blow her hair and Harry's shirt askew. She made her way back over to Harry who had his eyes closed tightly as if he was in pain. She walked faster and opened her mouth to as what was wrong, but before she could emit a word his hand shot up to his forehead and he keeled over.

 

“Harry?!” She called as she ran over and kneeled next to him. “Harry what's wrong?”

 

“Hermione… get… out!” He panted.

 

“What? No!”

 

“Yes!” He looked up at her pleadingly, “Listen to me. I don't want anything bad to happen to you. Run. Go to Hogwarts and get McGonagall.”

 

“No Harry, I'm staying here with you.”

 

“Hermione ple—ARRGGG!” He bent back over and broke out in a cold sweat.

 

She shook his shoulders violently, “Harry? Harry what is it? Talk to me please! Harry…”

 

Before she could get another word out, the sound of a dozen people apparating filled the clearing. She had a really bad feeling about this. She slowly looked up and saw that her and Harry were surrounded by dark cloaked figures with skulls for faces. Death Eaters. He was here. Hermione tensed up and wrapped her arms protectively around Harry, trying to come up with a plan. The talking it over one didn't seem like an appropriate choice. She knew that she didn't stand a chance dueling all of these people anymore. At a time she might have, but now that the old Hermione was gone, she didn't think she could go up against more than three.

 

All thoughts of a plan left when she heard a single pop. Her breathing quickened and Harry's body started to shake with more pain. She knew that she had to face him sooner or later. So, regretfully, she let go of Harry and stood up. He was a little less than a yard away from them. He didn't look like he noticed her previous grip on Harry as he barked out, “Seize them!”

 

Hermione felt herself be taken back into the clutches of an unknown Death Eater and away from Harry. She immediately began to struggle, “Hey, what are you doing?! Let go of me!”

 

Harry wasn't putting up much of a struggle as he continued to writhe in pain. She shot a fleeting look towards him and then to the Dark Lord. He was looking at Harry with what could only be described as a look of smug triumph. Anger began to boil in her stomach as she tried to make a rush towards him. But the Death Eater holding her was strong. She was beginning to get confused. Why was she being restrained in the first place?

 

The Dark Lord walked nearer to Harry and let a smirk grace his pale lips, “Harry, Harry, Harry.” He began mockingly, “You really thought that you stood a chance up against me? You thought I didn't have a plan of my own? Well this must be coming as a bit of a shock to you, then.”

 

Harry's head turned upward as he glared at him, his eyes turning dark with hatred. “I don't underestimate you, Tom. I just didn't think you were the type of… person to attack someone when their back was turned.”

 

His eyes narrowed and Hermione could see the anger radiating off of him. No one had ever called him by his actual name unless they were asking to be cursed. “You dare speak my name?”

 

“I dare to do a lot of things, Tom. Now listen to me. Let Hermione go and we can settle this like gentlemen.”

 

If Hermione didn't know better, she would have sworn that he laughed. He never laughed. “You want me to let Hermione go now do you?”

 

“Did I stutter?”

 

Instead of getting angrier like Harry and Hermione both expected, he smirked again. Hermione's stomach dropped. She knew what he was going to do before he even had the time to think it all the way through. But before she could say anything, he turned toward her and addressed the Death Eater holding her. “Let her go Dolohov.”

 

He released his grip on her and she stumbled over to him. The Dark Lord picked her up by her shoulder and led her over to where Harry was standing. He began to struggle when he saw Hermione being dragged over to him. “Take you hands off of her, Riddle!” He roared.

 

“Give me a reason, Potter. I dare you.” Harry opened his mouth to speak, but he held his finger up to silence him, “But before you do I think you should hear something.” Hermione struggled against his grip and opened her mouth to scream at him, but with a wave of his hand a gag was put over her mouth and she stiffened. She had forgotten. He was the most powerful wizard in the world and there was no use trying to fight him. “Hermione… such a pretty, trustful soul, is she not?” He caressed the side of her face and looked at her tenderly but she flinched away. He looked over at Harry sharply. “Tell me about the first time you met.”

 

“That's none of your business.”

 

“Fair enough. How about telling me things about her? Her favorite color, her best friend, her childhood perhaps?” He finished with a sneer.

 

“It's—none—of—your—business.”

 

“Really now?” He asked innocently. “What if I told you that I could answer every one of those questions plus an added bonus, hmm?” Harry looked at him oddly. “Her favorite color is red because of bloodshed. She and Draco Malfoy have been best friends since they were tykes. Should I go on to her childhood?”

 

Harry scoffed. “You're lying.”

 

Hermione bit back a sob as the Dark Lord chuckled. “Am I? Her parents were murdered when she was five months old by a few of my best Death Eaters and I, being the merciful Lord, took her under my wing after she demonstrated powerful magical abilities well beyond those of a Mudblood. And now, here we are, seventeen years later, after she completed the most important mission in her career. She's on the fast track to being my second-in-command, her lifelong dream. She led you to me.”

 

Hermione couldn't breathe. Her parents, her unknown past being thrown out for not only her ears, but Harry's as well. She had always thought that the Order of the Phoenix had been responsible for her parent's death. That's why she hated Harry. It was all a lie. A lie to get her to be on their side rather than where she was meant to be. With Harry, with Ron, with Ginny, with actual friends. The mission was all a flop. She was just being used to get to Harry.

 

“You're lying!” Harry screamed. Hermione turned over to him with tears spilling down her cheeks. He looked at her and caught her expression. “He… he is lying, isn't he Hermione?”

 

The gag prevented her from replying but he got his answer in her eyes. His grief-stricken face made her heart break into a million pieces. His strong stature flopped and he gave in to the Death Eater holding him, letting him have the advantage. Hermione wanted nothing more than to run over and hug him, telling him that she loved him and none of that was even important to her anymore. She let the tears run rampant down her cheeks as the Dark Lord turned to look at her. “It's for your own good.” He whispered, “After tonight, you'll be by my side planning the takeover of Muggle London.”

 

She wanted to scream that that wasn't what she wanted. He let her go by guiding her back over to where she was before. Dolohov didn't grab her this time but she was rooted to the spot by her nerves freezing up. The strength she had was slowly dissipating and she knew that it was near hopeless to do anything to help Harry now.

 

The Dark Lord stepped closer to Harry and instructed the Death Eater holding him to let him go. Bending down to his level he spoke in a hushed tone, “You've escaped me enough to make my killing you so much more satisfying. Everyone knows never to run away from their enemies. You always kick them while their down. Or, in my case, kill them while they're wallowing in their self pity. So, let us skip the `last words' bit and get down to business, shall we? Crucio!”

 

Harry's body began to shake with pain and Hermione flinched. He was under the spell for a good few minutes and never said a word, screamed, or moaned in pain. This angered the Dark Lord and he lifted the curse for a moment, only to scream it once more at him. The curse was stronger than ever and Hermione could see Harry struggling not to speak. He didn't want to give the Dark Lord the satisfaction. It got to the point where his ears began to bleed. Hermione couldn't take it anymore. He seemed so small, so helpless, so much in pain that she had to do something.

 

“STOP IT!” she screamed.

 

The Dark Lord paid no mind, but the Death eaters around her began to whisper. Feeling a rush of adrenaline kick in, she grabbed her wand from her pocket, ran up close to him, and aimed. “Expelliarmus!”

 

His wand flew a good ten feet away from him and he spun to look at her. She lowered her wand slowly, wanting him to know that it was her who stopped him. His eyes narrowed and he glided quickly over to her, stopping an inch away, so close that she could feel his breath on her as she turned up to face him. His red eyes were flaring as he spoke, “Hermione what did you just do?”

 

“I stopped you from killing Harry.”

 

“Its Harry now, is it?” He asked viciously, “And why may I ask did you make such a mistake?”

 

“It wasn't a mistake.” She said flatly. She looked over where Harry was lying stiff on the ground, eyes closed lightly and breathing raggedly.

 

He followed her eyes and turned back with an amused look on his face. It looked almost alike to pity. “Aww… you've fallen in love with him. How disturbing. You really were a promising talent. Too bad I have to get rid of you.” Hermione's eyes narrowed just before he shouted it. “CRUCIO!

 

He didn't even bother teasing her. The curse hit her full blow and she collapsed to the ground. The pain worked its way through her body, making each individual muscle throb with piercing pain. She didn't even bother masking the screams. She had no reason to. He could have all the satisfaction he wanted, she really could care less. The pain was all she could focus on anyway. It felt as though her insides were on fire. She twisted and turned, trying to find a way out of the pain. Not once in her career as a Death Eater in training had she been put under the Cruciatus curse. And now she knew why. He wanted to keep her in pristine condition so that he could continue to use her.

 

Another wave of pain came and she let out an ear piercing scream. She clutched her stomach and curled up in a ball. It didn't ease the pain but at least she would be taken away from this word the same position she came in. It felt like forever that she was under the constant pain. She wanted to be dead already so that she could be relieved. She begged for it, pleaded for it, screamed for it. But her body was strong and wouldn't listen.

 

She didn't know how much time had passed when she began to see flashes of her life before her eyes. They came steadily at first, starting from her fourth birthday and being forced into a frilly salmon dress. The first time she and Draco had kissed, had sex, made each other laugh. The first book she read, the first textbook she found, the first spell she had cast. When she moved into the Riddle Mansion and how scared yet excited she was. The first duel she had won, which happened to be the first she had ever been challenged to. But the ones that shined the most out of her memories were the ones she had as soon as she had pulled up to Hogwarts. How kind Ginny had been to her, how Ron never failed to make her laugh, and especially how Harry made her stomach twist into uncomfortable yet pleasurable knots. Oh, Harry. He shined brighter than them all. He was the person who changed her for the better, who made her feel alive for the first time. The boy she loved. The only regret of her giving into death was to never see his face again.

 

Her vision began to get fuzzy as the pain stopped. She knew he had lifted the curse but the weight of death was heavy upon her shoulders. He had held the curse long enough to destroy her. She coughed and saw that it was blood red. Her ears had a faint ringing in them and because of that she couldn't hear the gravel move around her as Harry crawled over to her. He had much more strength than she and picked up her head to set in his lap. His face came into her sight, moving in and out of focus. He had fresh tears running down his face and a few fell on her cheeks. He opened his mouth to speak but she shook her head; which turned out to be a bad idea as she quickly vomited on his jeans. She could feel the remnants on her chin but her arm had gone numb. She knew she had only moments left and could feel herself begin to leave. She might as well say it now so that he knew. He deserved to know.

 

“Harry…” He leaned closer, for her voice was quieter than a whisper and heavy with weakness. “Harry… you n-need to know that I… I l-love you too.”

 

She could hear him begin to sob and chant something, shaking her, trying to keep her with him. But it was too late. She gave into the white light. 

~*~

A/N: Thank you for all of your awesome reviews! I'm glad you all are so fond of this story :) I hope that this chapter was filled with enough Voldy-action for those that were asking for it.

-Shar


Chapter 19: Love Me, Love Me Not
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Love Me, Love Me Not

 

 

 

It was dark.

 

There were small splatters of colors. But you couldn't really call them colors. They were too dim to be classified as bright, but too potent to be nonexistent. They moved along freely in distinguishable patterns; diagonal, horizontal, vertical, but then straying into movements completely foreign to describe. Once in a while there would be a bright white dot passing by, resembling that of a bright sun. Those moments were the only thing that kept her hopes up that there was a chance for her to live. But when they disappeared fear and dread washed back over, enveloping her and dragging her deeper. After a time, she welcomed death—begged for it. But it wouldn't grab a hold of her. Every time she felt it come closer, it would be drawn away by something. Some invisible emotionless force was pushing it away. In this state of mind, she couldn't feel anything but numbness, so anger at death's procrastination was absent. But she did wonder vaguely if she was dead already. What did death feel like, anyway? And if she wasn't dead, where was she?

 

She didn't know how long she had been like this. An hour? A day? A week? A month? Time seemed to pass without incident. She knew that the clock was running, but didn't know how fast or how slow. For all she knew, she could be a vegetable and would spend the rest of her life like this. This was her punishment for being weak. She had failed what she had been set out to do and instead had experienced the most dangerous emotion of all. She had fallen in love. It didn't matter anymore that she had been used, lied to, and taken advantage of. The fact was that before she gave into the darkness, she had expressed that she had, in fact, fallen in love with Harry. As long as he knew, she would be at ease. But then why did she feel so empty—so cold? Love was about letting the other person know that you felt the same way and then it was done. Right? No regrets, no emptiness. Maybe she was different. Maybe she was destined to never be in love and when she ultimately did, it would be miserable so that she would suffer instead of feel complete like she was meant to.

 

Hermione Granger. Whoever thought that Hermione Granger would fall in love? Not her, not the Dark Lord, not anyone. She had always followed commands, never once went against authority. But then she met Harry and it all turned into shit in a matter weeks! She had always hated him—for all the wrong reasons, she now knew—but hated him nonetheless. It seemed as though the people she loved (in theory) she hated, and the people she hated she loved. She was one screwed up broad. At least before she died she would die knowing that Harry loved her.

 

Oh, Harry.

 

He might be dead right now. She had left him while her head was lolled in his lap and could hear him crying. She wished that she would have weaseled in an apology. But no, the most important thing had been to tell him that she loved him. Pay no mind that she ultimately led him to his own death. She loved him. Yeah, that would go well. Why die at the hand of your arch nemesis when you were loved? What a lovely picture. He was most likely dead, and here she was in limbo wallowing in self pity. At least, she thought it was limbo. She couldn't cry here, she could barely think here, so why was she here? If she was dead, she might as well be able to be miserable. But she could feel nothing but the darkness she was surrounded in. She is all alone. Or, she was.

 

She could hear muffled noises coming from every which way. She wanted to move so that she could find them, but she was immobile. At first, she thought it was just her mind playing tricks on her, but the sounds grew louder and there was no use denying that they were there. Maybe they were there to take her away, to help her escape from this place. But as they grew louder and she braced herself for them to take her, nothing happened. They weren't there to help her. They were just there. The muffles then slowly turned sharper and more defined. Words? Yes, they must be words. There was no other way to describe them. They soon became clearer and she could make out small bits.

 

“…it was luck that I found you…”

 

“I know and I… stupid… accident…”

 

The voices weren't directed towards her. They were just voices conversing with the other as if…

 

She wasn't dead!

 

She tried desperately to reach out and listen to the voices. They grew sharper the harder she pulled so she gave it her all. She wanted to know who was there and where she was now. It wasn't limbo or death, which was a relief. It seemed she was pushing herself into reality again. She didn't quite know what lay ahead of her, but she was anxious to figure it out.

 

“Why was the girl with you, then?”

 

“She wanted to come with me.”

 

“And you let her?!”

 

There was a pause. “Well yeah. I didn't want to leave her behind.”

 

Another pause. “You love her, don't you?”

 

“I used to think so… but…”

 

Now that she was out of limbo, emotions were now part of her being. They chose that moment to crash onto her and she felt the weight of them knock her forward. The dark abyss that she was stuck in before washed away into a bath of light. Instead of feeling nothing, she regained the awareness of her body. The familiar sensation was a welcome relief and she moved her fingers out of reflex to check that it was real. It was.

 

“Hermione!”

 

The voice was like an angel. She felt a pressure on the hand she had just moved and a rush of fire moved from the tips of her fingers to her shoulder. It was Harry. She tried to open her eyes, but they felt like they were stapled shut. She must have gotten the image across that she was awake, however, because the pressure increased and she heard him speak again.

 

“Hermione? Hermione! Can you hear me?”

 

Yes! She wanted to say, Yes I can and I want to tell you I'm sorry!

 

Her lips wouldn't move so he took that as a “No.” The pressure left and she wanted to reach out and touch him. She had moved her fingers, so why couldn't she tug on his arm? She tried but couldn't get it a centimeter off of wherever she was laying. It felt soft, so she concluded that she wasn't in the forest anymore. She must have been moved when she was in limbo. Well, what she thought was limbo. Oh fuck it, it was limbo!

 

Her anger began to pool as she kept trying to move her arm. Why did her body choose now to freeze up? Pressing one more time against the invisible weight she felt a burst of adrenaline pass through her and she groped for his arm. She came into contact with it and as soon as she touched him she could hear him intake a large amount of breath. The moment she felt his grimy shirt under her fingertips, her eyes shot open as a strike of lightning shot through her.

 

“Hermione?” he asked uncertainly.

 

Her eyes focused quickly to the bright light as she looked up at Harry, whose emerald eyes were shining with concern. She tried her best to smile as she spoke in a husky voice. “Harry, you're alive.”

 

He smiled back at her and nodded. She moved around a bit so her back was resting up against the bed she was laying on. Her vision began to get fuzzy again and she keeled over.

 

“Whoa take it easy!” He said as he helped her lean against the headboard again. After making sure she was secure, he removed his hands quickly and averted his eyes.

 

Hermione took the opportunity to observe her surroundings. The brick walls, multiple cots, and faint smell of pepper-up potion all led her to believe she was in the hospital wing. How did she end up here? She took a good look at Harry and saw how beaten up he was; any visible skin was covered in dirt, his eyes were bloodshot, and his hair was even messier than usual—and not in the good way. He didn't look like he could speak two sentences yet alone carry her to the hospital wing or even levitate her. She felt the strength to speak make its way up her throat and she said the first thing that came to her mind.

 

“I'm sorry.”

 

He turned sharply to her and she flinched when she saw the look on his face. His jaw was clenched and his eyes narrowed. It all suggested that he was going to yell at her, so she braced herself by shifting a bit more in her place. The blow never came. She slowly looked back up at Harry and saw him looking at the mattress. “Yeah… me too”

 

“What—what do you have to be sorry for?” she asked, testing the ground.

 

He gave her an icy glare that sent shivers down her spine. “For trusting you”

 

She flinched. That one hurt. “Well I suppose I deserve that.”

 

“You deserve a lot more than that. You should be dead right now—in Azkaban maybe.”

 

“Look Harry, I know right now I must seem like the worst person on Earth and—”

 

“If you're going to try and explain, you might as well save it.” He interrupted. “I don't want to hear your petty excuses. Not now, not ever.”

 

“But if you just—”

 

“No, Hermione.” He said sternly. “I've had enough of your lies.”

 

Hermione bowed her head down. “You're right.”

 

His head snapped up, but she didn't notice. She was too busy studying the sheets that were pooled on her lap. Her vision began to blur once again, but not accompanied with the dizziness that would cause her to keel over. This time, her haze was caused by a well of tears. Even though she knew that she deserved every bit of his harsh words, it still stung. He had been so tender with her before, up until she had been writing on the forest floor. Even then, he had cradled her in his arms and begged for her to come back to him. But he must have changed his mind in the time she was in limbo. That's just what she deserved. She had love and now she had lost it.

 

Wiping the unshed tears from her eyes, she looked back up to see him still looking at her. He must be looking at her for a reaction, testing her. Well she wouldn't fail this test. “So what happened—after I… erm…” She didn't know exactly how to describe what had happened.

 

“Died?” He supplied.

 

“Right, sure.”

 

“Well when Voldermort was… torturing you he had no intent to stop. But Moony jumped out of the bushes and pounced him. They all apparated away and good `ol Tom swore he'd be back for me. But you must know that, of course.”

 

The last comment threw her back. “Excuse me?”

 

“Well you're a Death Eater, right? Shouldn't your twisted tattoo be throbbing by now?”

 

“My twisted tattoo?” She asked dangerously.

 

“Yeah, you know that thing on your forearm that alerts you when your master wants you.”

 

“I know what you meant! I don't have one.”

 

“You can't fool me.” He said teasingly, “Every one of your kind has one.”

 

“Everyone except me. Don't you think you would have noticed it by now? Especially after last night?” He gulped and his face turned a light shade of pink.

 

“Last night was a…”

 

“Mistake?” He nodded and her stomach plummeted. “And what about this morning?”

 

“That was a mistake, too.”

 

“And what about the part where you said you loved me?”

 

“That was a—” he stopped himself and turned to glare at her. “Unfortunate flaw on my part.”

 

“Right.” She whispered. It was amazing how much things could change. First he loved her, and now he didn't.

 

The awkward moment between them was interrupted by the doors to the hospital wing squeaking open. Both Harry and Hermione turned to look at the man entering the wing. He wore a shabby looking suit and looked a mix between tired and sick. As he got closer, she could see he had graying light brown hair and a small amount of stubble on his chin. He was holding two goblets in his hands with steam emitting from each one. The man smiled as he stopped close to Harry and gave her a quick once over.

 

Harry twisted his neck and said in a solemn voice, “Hello Moony.”

 

“Harry.” He looked back over at Hermione and she managed a small smile despite her current mood. “Care to properly introduce me to your friend?”

 

“Do it yourself.” He said sourly as he got up from the chair he had been sitting in and brushed past the startled man. The doors slammed shut behind him and echoed throughout the silent room.

 

The man blew out a puff of air and sat in the now vacant seat gingerly. He was still holding both goblets and took a drink out of one. Slowly looking over at Hermione, he handed her the other goblet. She took it carefully and held it with wobbly hands, not knowing what to make of the gesture.

 

“I didn't poison it, you know.” He said jokingly. Hermione looked at him curiously and he smiled, motioning to the steaming goblet. “It was meant for Harry but since he's indisposed at the moment, I think you'd benefit more from it.”

 

Taking that as a good enough reason to drink it, she complied. She studied him for a moment over her cup. He must have been the other man that Harry was talking too. Harry had called him Moony—no way! “You're Remus Lupin.”

 

“The one and only. I suppose you've heard of my… erm disability as well?”

 

“Yeah… you're a werewolf.”

 

“It doesn't make you feel uncomfortable or anything does it?”

 

“No! No, not at all.” She said quickly. “I admire you, actually. I have ever since I've heard of you. You go about life as if you have nothing wrong with you and when people give you crap about it, you just let it happen. No violence or anything. It's a nice relief, you know? Usually when people are discriminated against, they resort to methods like rebellion and violence. But you go around, acting as if you are just a member of normal Wizarding society, proving that you belong there.”

 

He looked surprised for a moment, “I never expected you to be so…”

 

“Understanding?” Remus nodded. “I suppose Harry told you that I'm a Death Eater, then?”

 

“He might have mentioned it.”

 

She nodded tensely. “Well you'll be relieved to know that he is seriously misinformed.”

 

“Is that so?”

 

“Yeah.” She looked over at him and smiled sadly. “But you probably won't want to know about my side of the story either.”

 

“On the contrary…”

 

“Hermione.”

 

“Hermione.” He gave her a warm smile. “On the contrary, I am very interested to hear your side of the story.”

 

“Really?” She asked slowly.

 

“Really.”

 

“Well I'm not actually a Death Eater. I guess you could call me a Death Eater in training. I was supposed to make friends with Harry so that the Dark Lord could get to him easier. But I…”

 

“Fell in love with him instead?” Hermione gave him an aghast look and he smirked. “You don't hide it as well as you think you do.”

 

She blushed. “Well the mission didn't really go as planned. But if it did—go as planned I mean—I would have been his second in command. That was what I was led to believe anyway. Now I don't think he was ever going to let me have any say in my future. Turns out he was just using me for his own benefits. Not that it mattered much. I had already turned my back on him awhile ago after I… had a change of heart.”

 

There was a long silence and she thought that he was going to get up and leave, just like Harry. Taking another sip of the drink (which she now identified as hot lemon tea), she waited for him storm out. It was inevitable, really. Who would sympathize with the Death Eater?

 

“Harry hasn't heard your side of the story, has he?”

 

She shook her head, “He stormed out before I could explain.”

 

“Just give him time to cool off. I know he loves you, Hermione. He's just going through a rough patch. I can't imagine how his girlfriend being a Death Eater in training is affecting his state of mind.”

 

“Oh I'm not his girlfriend.” She corrected lightly. He gave her a knowing look and she bit her lip. Was she? She took another sip of her tea and noticed something. “Why haven't you run out the door yet?”

 

He chuckled, “My dear I have no reason to be judgmental because you aren't what society defines as `normal'. After hearing what you have to say, I know that you truly have a heart of gold and though Harry might not see it, you're here because of your sacrifices.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

He leaned closer to her, “You're aware of how Harry survived the first time Voldermort attempted to kill him?” She nodded. “Well, because of his love for you, and your love for him, you survived. When I levitated you and Harry back to the castle, you were dead. But by the time Harry pulled through and saw you, your fate was decided. Harry's love is a gift not given often, but when received, it is the ultimate source of protection. Back when Sirius was alive, we discussed how there might be the possibility that because of Lily's sacrifice, Harry would have a love inside of him so powerful that it could bring back the dead. It was more of a theory than anything, but it turns out that my old friend was right.”

 

“W-why are you telling me all of this?” She asked shakily.

 

He grinned and she could scarcely see a shadow of how handsome he must have been in his youth. “Because you deserve to know.”

 

“I don't deserve anything.”

 

“Just because you've made a few mistakes doesn't mean you have to be punished for the rest of your life. Harry will come around, I know he will. But until then you have to stay strong.”

 

She nodded, sniffling a little. “You really shouldn't be so nice to be.”

 

“Like I said before, I have no room to judge.” He looked down at his goblet and frowned. “Excuse me for a moment, Hermione, it seems as though I've run out of tea. Do you want me to fetch you some more while I'm down there?”

 

“No thanks Mr. Lupin.”

 

“Please, call me Remus.”

 

“Alright. No thanks Remus.” She said with a whisper of a smile.

 

He smiled back at her and exited the room, leaving her all alone. She had never been in this part of the castle before. It was odd being alone in such a large room. None of the other cots were occupied, which was a bit of a shock. Usually a hospital had more than one occupant in it at a time. It was sort of creepy. The only sounds were that of the strong winds against the windows. Turning to look out the one nearest to her, she saw that it was raining. How ironic.

 

A sudden creaking noise caused Hermione to jump in her seat and snap her neck back over to the door. She suspected it was just Remus returning with their tea but was surprised to see a head of platinum hair looking at her apprehensively, almost studying her, like he didn't believe she was real.

 

“Mia?”

 

She smiled at him, “Hi Draco.”

 

He ran over to her and enveloped her in a hug. She squeezed him back hard and felt him pull away. Their noses were touching and she could see tears in his eyes. She wiped them away as he pulled back and sat close to her on the cot. He sniffed and looked her in the eyes, “I—I thought you were—”

 

“I was. But I'm back now.”

 

“Mia, I don't know what to say. I mean, I knew that you were going to be there when Potter was… you know. But I had no idea that he would kill you.”

 

“Neither did I. But I guess when you change sides he gets a little miffed.”

 

“You… you're changing sides?” He asked.

 

She nodded. “He was using me, Draco. He lied to me about my parents. I don't even know if my name is actually Hermione. I was fighting for all the wrong reasons.”

 

He looked at her sadly, “Wow. Mia I-I'm so sorry.”

 

“It's alright.” She said softly.

 

“No it's not.” She looked up at him curiously, “Listen, we've been together since we were in diapers and I can't stand around watching you get hurt. I love you. You're my best friend.”

 

“Draco you can't just leave! Your father will blow a gasket.”

 

He nodded, “But you're worth it.”

 

She smiled and saw him lean in. Before she could stop him, their lips collided. It was a soft kiss, but she still felt the emotion he was pouring into it. When he said “I love you” he didn't mean platonically. She was about to push him off and explain her feelings towards him and more importantly, towards Harry, when a loud, angry voice echoed through the room.

 

“GET YOUR SLIMY PAWS OFF OF HER, FERRET!”

 

They sprung apart and Hermione saw Harry looking murderous. Her eyes flicked to Draco and saw him smirking over at him. This wasn't going to be good.

 

Draco stood up and approached Harry slowly, “Ahh Potter, so nice of you to join us.”

 

“What are you doing here, Malfoy?” Harry said through clenched teeth.

 

Draco lifted his arms up innocently, “I was just having some catch up time with Mia here.”

 

Mia?” Harry spat disgustingly. “What kind of hideous nickname is that?”

 

“The kind of nickname that shows history”

 

“History of what, exactly?”

 

Draco smirked, “History of f—”

 

“STOP IT!” Hermione screamed. They both looked at her and glared at them. “Stop fighting! It's not going to get you anywhere.”

 

“Mia I—”

 

“Shut it.” She warned. She turned to Harry, “Harry, what are you doing here?”

 

“Am I not allowed to be in the hospital wing?”

 

“Not when I'm the only one in here and you stormed out for no apparent reason.”

 

“No apparent—you're a fucking Death Eater and you never told me! Sorry if it takes a while to let it sink in that you were plotting to kill me when I thought you were my friend.”

 

She scoffed, “You never even took the time to hear my side of the story.”

 

“Why should I?”

 

“Because I love you!” She screamed. He looked taken aback and she took his silence as an advantage. “Didn't the fact that my last words to you before I died were `I love you' have any effect whatsoever?”

 

There was a pregnant silence between the three of them. Hermione had tears welling up in her eyes, Harry was biting his lip, and Draco looked as though he were about to vomit. They were all saved from having to break the ice by the doors slamming open and an out-of-breath Remus bracing himself against the frame. All eyes were on him as he panted out a single sentence that made all three of their blood streams go ice cold.

 

“Voldermort… he's… here… now!”

 

All hell had broken loose.

~*~

A/N: Thanks again for all of your amazing feedback! You guys are awesome.
 


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