There was a horrified scream and Harry bolted awake, sitting up in bed. His world was a blur of darkness and he blinked as he fumbled for his glasses. He was breathing heavily as if he had run a marathon and he ran his hands through his hair while struggling to remember what had jolted him awake.
Someone groaned. “S’wrong, Harry?” Ron mumbled sleepily as he slowly sat up.
Harry shook his head in confusion, all trace of sleep long gone. In vain, his mind tried to grasp his last thought that had surfaced in his dreams before he had suddenly awoken. But like a cool spring breeze, it slipped through his fingers. Something was wrong. He knew it.
“I dunno,” Harry answered.
Ron yawned loudly. “Bad dream?”
“I think so.”
“You think so?”
“I’m not so sure.”
“Maybe it was something you ate.”
In his tired state, Ron failed to catch the worried note in Harry’s voice. Ron yawed once more. “Go to sleep, mate.” And with that, he settled back into bed, already fast asleep.
Harry sank onto his pillow, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t fall back asleep. Something in the back of his mind nagged at him. He was missing something. Something was wrong. He stared at the ceiling, wondering what was the matter with him. Must have been a nightmare, he thought to himself. Get over it. His thoughts drifted and Hermione’s face swam before his mind’s eye.
Harry quickly sat up in surprise, for the door had suddenly swung open and Parvati rushed into the room shouting, “Ron! Ron!” She flung open the curtains of one bed and a slew of curses sprang forth from a startled Seamus. Without an apology she quickly turned to the next.
“Ron Weasley! Where are you?!”
Ron’s flaming tousled hair was bathed in light from the open doorway.
“Wha- Who’s calling?”
Parvati, hands on the already open curtains, turned at the sound of his voice and she hurried towards him, pulling him out of bed.
“Parvati?” a sleepy Dean sounded from the bed she had left.
“What’s going on?” Harry asked, getting out of bed. He watched as Parvati struggled to pull Ron out of his own.
From Seamus’ point of view it looked like she was trying to dislocate his shoulder.
“Parvati? L-let go of me! Geroff!”
“Parvati, sweetheart, if you wanted it that bad, all you had to do was ask.”
“Piss off, Seamus,” Parvati snapped.
Harry thought he saw Dean glare in Seamus’ direction as well, but Parvati caught his attention again as she said, “Ron! You have to come down! It’s Hermione, she-”
But Ron, now wide awake had already stood up and was out the door.
Harry instantly appeared at Parvati side, catching a hold of her arm before she left.
“What’s wrong with Hermione?” he asked, trying to keep his voice steady.
“I don’t know,” Parvati told him. “She woke us up with her screaming. We tried calming her down but she keeps shouting at me to get Ron.”
“Yes. I don’t know what’s gotten into her, but she wants to see Ron,”
“Is she hurt?” Harry asked already heading out the door.
“Not that I know of. She’s only had a nightmare, Harry but she’s pretty shaken up. Should I get professor McGonagall?”
“No. Let me see if she’s-” he was going to say okay, but the sight of Hermione sobbing into a confused Ron’s arms robbed Harry of all thought.
Without warning a well of anger drenched him from head to toe while witnessing the scene unfolding before him. A red haze sprang before his eyes as he saw Ron comfortingly stroke her back and stare at clearly befuddled Lavender hovering at their sides with a handkerchief in hand.
Hermione’s hands clutched Ron’s shirt tightly as her shoulders shook in grief. In between sobs she cried, “D-don’t let me go, R-Ron. D-don’t l-leave me,”
Harry’s hands, with a mind of their own, clenched into fists.
“I can’t- I-I don’t- H-he knows-not safe-”
“Hey, shhh, just relax Hermione. I’m right here. I’m not goin’ anywhere. I’m right here.”
Harry growled low in his throat at Ron’s words.
Parvati briefly glanced at him, but in concern, she turned back to watch Hermione and followed Harry as he made his way down the stairs towards his best friends.
“H-He can’t get hurt, Ron. It’ll b-be my fault. A-all m-my fault!”
“Nothing’s you’re fault, Hermione. Everyone’s fine. Look, Harry’s here see?”
At the sound of his voice, Hermione glanced up. Her eyes were red from crying and her face was wet with tears. Harry stood by the two of them and he sank to his knees, his eyes never leaving hers.
At first glance, Hermione gasped and clutched at Ron tightly as she scrambled away from Harry.
“N-no. Go away!”
The words seemed to pain her, but she uttered them just the same.
“Hermione? What’s wrong?” Harry asked gently as he reached for her.
Hermione recoiled at his approaching hand and clutched Ron even tighter to her.
Harry brought his hand down and stood; his mind racing to figure out what he had done wrong.
She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head fiercely, muttering, “No! I-I won’t let you!” She opened her eyes once more and said imploringly, “P-please, Harry. Go.”
Ron looked in bewilderment to Hermione then Harry, and jumped at Hermione’s next sudden, unexpected outburst.
“No! I won’t let you hurt him!”
Her knuckles turned white as she clutched at Ron’s shirt, scrambling away from Harry, and unconsciously pulling Ron with her. At the hurt look in Harry’s eyes, Ron tried to gently pry Hermione’s hands off him and said with forced calm, “Hermione, it’s only Harry. You’ve had a bad dream, but you’re awake now. It’s okay. Everything’s okay.” He glanced with frightened eyes at Harry, but he never looked at him.
His face was a mask of emotions struggling to be set free. A look of one lost was came over his features and his eyes were filled with pain and confusion. He didn’t know what had come over her, and he didn’t know what to do.
Looking at her tear streaked face and shadowed eyes, he came to the conclusion that she was just tired. Hermione had lost her parents not that long ago and with the lingering grief and pressures of N.E.W.T.S. beating on her back, the nightmare she’d just had wouldn’t help matters at all. He decided then that he wasn’t going to leave her, no matter what she’d say. Resolved, he knelt before Hermione and placed a callused hand upon her soft cheek.
At his touch she opened her eyes.
“Hey, relax. You’re tired and you’ve just had a bad dream.”
“Is that all? Just a bad dream?” she whispered somewhat deliriously.
“Just a dream. You’re awake now, love. It was just a dream.”
He kept her eyes on his as he repeated his words and she visibly relaxed her hold on Ron. Gently, he picked her up and placed her on the arm chair.
Harry heard Ron tell Lavender and Parvati to go back to bed. The two girls hesitated for a moment, hovering in the background, until Ron finally stood and started to usher them away, much to their protest. He led them to the stairs and away from Harry and Hermione.
“We can’t just leave her,” Parvati objected.
“Sure you can.”
“But how can we leave, just like that?” said Lavender, pausing on the stairs.
“Easy. Just move one foot in front of the other. It’s called walking. With a bit of practice, I’m sure you ladies will get the hang of it,” Ron answered flippantly.
Parvati huffed, “You are the most insensitive, pig headed-”
Ron interrupted her with a raised hand and he gently pushed her up the stairs.
“Parvati, as much as I’d love to flirt with you right now, it’s two o’clock in the morning and I have to get back to Hermione. She’ll be fine. Don’t worry, just go get some sleep.”
Harry paid no mind to them. Taking her hand in his, he held it tightly and with his other he gently brushed her hair away from her eyes with the tips of his fingers. Harry knelt by the chair and watched as she fought a losing battle to stay awake.
“I thought…” she murmured, but Harry shushed her.
“It’s alright. You’re safe now, Hermione. You’re safe.”
With everyone gone, Ron turned and made his way back to Harry and Hermione. Hearing the words that Harry uttered next as Hermione began to slowly drift into slumber, Ron froze. He watched as Harry soothed her fears away, holding her hand, stroking her forehead tenderly and all the while whispering words he knew were meant for her ears alone.
“I’m here, love. I’m right here.”
“You never used to call me that,” Hermione murmured sleepily with a ghost of a smile playing on her lips.
Harry wondered if she was even aware of what she was saying. Her words were whispered so softly that he had to lean closer to hear her and he didn’t mind this one bit.
“Call you what?” he asked.
Harry smiled to himself at her barely audible answer yet he didn’t reply and she didn’t seem to need one. For as soon as the word was out of her mouth, her chest began to slowly rise and fall in slumber.
Ron walked up to them and sat on the floor swallowing a yawn. For a brief moment the two boys looked at each other wondering what had come over her, but they soon looked back at the girl sleeping in the arm chair and Harry continued to soothingly whisper words of comfort.
The fire danced in the hearth. All night they stayed there. The only sounds in the room were the crackling fire and Harry’s whispered words. They never left her side.
The Dark Lord roared in anger. Wormtail winced and visibly shrank back in fear that his master would once again take his exploding anger out on him. Only moments later, eyes blazing, Voldemort stayed to his fears and Wormtail found himself as usual sprawled on the floor still reeling from the sudden yet expected blow.
“Why do I lose control of the child?!” he thundered. “Why is it not stable?!”
“M-maybe you need more blood my lord.”
The Dark Lord stared daggers at his cowering servant.
“As you know Wormtail, the procedure will not work if we use too much. Seven is the maximum and seven we will use. I only have three more in stock until the last, and I will not waste a single drop!”
“Y-you can take another-”
“And have that bumbling fool onto my scheme?!”
Wormtail swallowed and braced himself against the wall. There was a knock on the door and Collins’ head appeared.
“Collins!” the Dark Lord barked, “How many times must I tell you not to interrupt me while I am Walking?!”
“Er, sorry m’lord, but me an’ Weber thought to let you know that we’ve got ‘er,” Collins said, wringing his hands in nervousness.
“Have you now?” Voldemort asked, all trace of anger disappeared.
“Er, yeah, we’ve put ‘er in the room with the other ones,”
The Dark Lord smiled and strode across the room towards the door, in his wake he called out to his servant struggling to stand.
“Wormtail, prepare another dosage. With Collins’ and Weber’s success it appears that we will continue the procedure again tonight when I return.” He stopped in the doorway and with a flare of his eyes thick vines wrapped themselves around Wormtail, tightening their hold on him, attempting to cut off all circulation. His eyes bulged and his face turned red.
“And if I lose control once more,” The vines tightened their hold on Wormtail, and a choking cry escaped from his mouth, “you will find yourself, in rather... unfortunate circumstances. And we wouldn’t want any accidents to happen now, would we?”
Feeling as if his lungs would burst, Wormtail managed to dart his eyes in answer.
With a gleeful look from Collins, the door slammed shut behind them and without warning, the vines let their captive go. Wormtail dropped to the floor in a heap, clutching his throat, gagging and gasping for air.
“What’s you’re name?”
“Hello, Orla. I’m Petra. You’re a year above me right?”
“Oh,” Petra forced a smile, and Orla wondered what kind of girl could smile in a place like this.
The man called Wormtail managed to get some candles in the room and in the flickering light, Orla got a good look at the girl kneeling by her. Her dark hair, uncombed hung in waves down her back. She was small and thin with dark brown eyes that were heavily shadowed. Cuts and bruises adorned her face and arms and much of her legs, and her Hogwarts robes were ripped and torn in various places. In such a state Orla was surprised that the young girl could even remember how to smile.
Her amazement was short lived however when Petra took hold of her arm. A line of white hot fire shot through her and she cried out in pain.
“Sorry!” Petra said, but held the girl’s arm steady in hers before Orla could yank it away. “I need you to keep still. You’ve got a nasty gash on your arm.”
“Really? I didn’t notice.” Orla, wincing, said sarcastically through clenched teeth.
Petra beckoned to another girl to fetch the bowl of water. Yet another gift from the man named Wormtail.
“It’s not that clean but it’ll have to do. Now hold still, this is gonna hurt like hell.”
A strangled cry tore from her throat, but she held fast.
Petra tore off a shred of material from her shirt and began to tie it around the wound. “It’s the best I can do,” Petra said with a weak smile.
“Where did you learn how to do this?”
“My mum’s a doctor.”
“A medi-wizard? Does she work at St Mungo’s?”
“No, she’s a Muggle doctor. The best there is.”
“Oh,” was all Orla could manage to say casting an uncertain glance at ragged tourniquet.
After an awkward moment she added, “That’s nice.”
Petra chuckled. “My dad’s the wizard in our family. My mum had a fit when she found out.”
Orla managed to suppress her smile at this comment.
“I think me mum was a Muggle as well. Well that’s what me foster mum tells me anyway.”
She glanced at the other girl curled up in her corner, and the one who had brought the water bowl. A third sat not far away, picking at her robes. The first quickly averted her eyes and buried further into the shadows, but not before Orla noticed something about her. The girl’s right ear was completely gone, and in its place was a bloody crusted mess.
“My God, what happened to her?” Orla made to get up and walk over to the child, but Petra held her back.
“Her name is Lisa. She’s a Hufflepuff, second year. Lisa must have heard something that she wasn’t supposed to so You-Know-Who did that to her. She’s been there ever since.”
“Why haven’t you-”
“I tried. Believe me, I have. But she wouldn’t let me touch it.”
There was a moment of silence, before Orla slowly stood up, shaking Petra’s hand off her. Lisa scrambled to get away, and pressed herself up against the cold, stone wall. Her eyes were shut tight and Orla could hear her whimpering slightly.
“Hey,” She managed to lay a trembling hand on the crouched figure, “we’ll be okay. I’ll get you out of here. I promise.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, mate,” the girl who had brought the bowl spoke up, her voice dripping with cynicism.
Having a good look at her, Orla came to recognize her as Emma Dobbs; a girl in her year.
She raised her chin in defiance as she said, “I am not going to die in here.”
“We all are!” Emma declared in a hard voice. “Those bastards’ll bleed us until we’re drained. They take us one by one, and each time we don’t have a bleeding clue if the time we spent in this room was our last.”
“They won’t take me.”
“Oh yes they will, Quirke,” Emma ignored Lisa’s whimpering and soft sobs at her words. Petra crawled over and soothed the sobbing girl as the Gryffindor continued, “and this time you don’t have your sodding books to save you. We are all going to die. Maybe not today, but soon. Whenever it tickles You-know-who’s fancy, he’ll come to call.”
“Stop it, Emma. You’re not doing any good.”
“Oh like you have anything to worry about. They’re not going to kill you.”
At this Petra’s eyes blazed as she shook with barely controlled rage.
“You have noidea what I have to go through out there. So don’t bloody tell me that I have no worries, because I have plenty. There’s things worse than death, Emma. Far worse,”
Orla felt a knot of fear from the intensity of Petra’s voice and words.
“I know that all of us are probably not going to make it. Yes, we’re going to die, but by God, I am not going to let any of us go down without a fight. If and when the chance to escape comes along, it’ll be me, Emma, not anyone else, who’ll close the door behind us. I won’t leave anyone behind. No one.”
The candle light flickered, casting long, ominous shadows along the walls.
“My hero,” Orla joked, trying to lighten up the dark mood.
“Someone’s coming,” the third girl announced and the room went quiet once again.
Unconsciously, Orla pressed herself closer to Petra who held the whimpering girl tighter to her. Emma scurried along the wall to join them and the girl that had spoken followed suit so that when the door opened it revealed the five girls huddled together and squinting in the bright light.
“Good morning, ladies. Are you enjoying your stay?” the Dark Lord mocked as he stood in the light with his arms folded behind his back.
Collins and Weber snickered in the background.
“Would you like me to get you anything? Some food perhaps? A drink of water? Oh, no, I see saint Wormtail has done that for you already. How about an owl home? No? Well then I’ll be needing one of you for tonight.”
Emma’s grip on Orla tightened painfully.
“It seems I can’t get enough of our late night rendezvous. Now then who shall it be?” His eyes scanned the trembling mass of bodies and rested on Lisa.
“Well, it seems we have a winner.”
“NO!” Petra shouted and clutched at the girl who was pulled away from her by invisible arms.
Lisa clutched at Petra’s robes but with a final tug she was torn away. The young girl wailed and shouted words of nonsense and all the while Orla stared at her; willing what strength she had into the doomed, screaming girl.
“I’m sorry,” Orla whispered in broken sobs. She and the others watched helplessly as the Dark Lord, with a wave of his wand pulled the wide eyed girl towards him. He leaned into Lisa and whispered loud enough so the others could hear.
“We’ll be needing all of it my dear, so I hope goodbyes are in order.”
A blood curdling scream tore from Lisa’s throat, as she sobbed helplessly. The last Orla saw of the girl was her bright blue fearful eyes looking straight into her own grey ones before she was pulled away by those invisible arms into the blinding light.
Weber came into the room and dragged a fighting Petra out also.
“Stop struggling, sweetheart. You know the drill.”
The Dark Lord, his black figure outlined in the light continued in a drawling voice, “Collins, for a job well done why don’t you welcome our most recent guest, Miss Quirke. Take as long as you want.” With that he strode out, leaving the girls with the hulking Death Eater.
“With pleasure, m’lord.”
Orla’s insides froze and her fingers dug into Emma’s arms.
“No,” Orla breathed in terror. She kicked at her assailant and tugged away from his iron grip on her wrist but to no avail.
“Oh it won’t ‘urt much, poppet. Just close your eyes and think of somethin’ oh, warm and fuzzy like,” Collins chuckled ruthlessly.
“Get you’re hands off her, you bastard!”
“You wait you’re turn, girl!” Collins backhanded the girl, and she went sprawling onto the floor.
“If you’re lucky, the Dark Lord might let me spend some quality time with you too poppet- Oy! Quit your figetin’!” The last part was directed to Orla who, in a frenzy after seeing Emma hit, tired to bite, kick and punch him.
Collins hauled the screaming Ravenclaw amidst Emma’s shouts
of “Bastard! Wanker! Let her go! LET HER GO!”
The door shut behind them muffling Orla’s futile screams and Collin’s vehement oath after a well aimed kick, leaving the two girls once again bathed in the soft, eerie glow of the candle light. Muffled sobs and soothing whispers once again echoed within the room.
She couldn’t be near him. It was too dangerous. Yet how could she stay away? It was all too confusing, what she was feeling and recent circumstances didn’t make the situation any better. Was he still there, silent and biding his time waiting for her to let her guard down? She almost laughed aloud at such a notion. Voldemort would have no need of hiding in the shadows when he could very well use brute force to break through the simple wall she built in futile. He could have very well gotten through and could be listening to her very thoughts. He could be seeing through her right now, looking at the students sitting at their various tables, blissfully eating and talking without a care in the world.
Not for the first time, Hermione thought that they were lucky. It still baffled her to think that the Dark Lord could be residing in her mind, let alone be control her every thought, every action, every word. Good Lord, could what she was thinking at the moment be her own?
She glanced down at her full plate, not sure if this action was of her own accord. Her heart began pounding at the thoughts of what havoc she could wreak. She was the smartest witch at Hogwarts and she prided herself knowing this, with a smug smile clinging to her lips whenever it called for such an occasion. Now however, was not the time for an inkling of satisfaction. Her knowledge and the power she had gained from such knowledge could very well lead to the destruction of not only her friends, but probably Hogwarts as well. Such a thought was not a welcome one to mull over hot porridge. Hermione took a breath and shut her eyes.
One step at a time, Granger. First thing’s first. Harry. She knew that if she had any ounce of will power left she had to put it to good use, and the first thing she had to do was to push Harry away. It has to be done. I can’t let him get hurt. He’s been through so much already, and if I can save him, then it’ll be enough.
She swallowed knowing the consequences of such an action. She wasn’t sure if she could do it, for Hermione knew that if she were to save Harry, she must forget him. She must cut him off completely.
The thought of even attempting to do so made her sick. Her second thought made her want to burst into tears because if she were to truly protect the people she loves then that would mean cutting them all off.
She had to be alone.
Sudden, unexpected anger flared through her. There had to be another way. Distancing herself couldn’t be the only solution. The question was, what was the solution? The first thing that popped in her head almost made her smile.
Hermione knew that this among other things would be one of the many places she would miss the most after graduation. There had to be something there, a book, a spell, explaining how the Dark Lord could even accomplish such a feat of control. There had to be another solution other than separation, and she would find it.
"Don’t be so sure, child.”
Hermione grit her teeth his sudden intrusion. “Go away,” she muttered.
A few seats away, Dennis Creevy glanced up at her wearily and she gave him a forced smile.
“Are you talking to yourself now? That cannot be good for your sanity.”
“I said, go.”
“I’d rather not. I actually like it here. You see, from this angle I can see and hear everything and I quite like the power.”
“You don’t deserve any of it.”
“On the contrary, my dear, I deserve all of it.”
Hermione’s grip on her spoon tightened.
“I just cannot understand why I did not think of this earlier.”
The Dark Lord’s laugh echoed in her head, and Hermione shuddered.
A burst of laughter exploded from the opposite end of the room and her head jerked up at the sound, her eyes darting nervously. A group of students laughing at a joke hooted with laughter at the Ravenclaw table, blissfully unaware of what was brewing right under their noses.
She envied their ignorance.
“Where is Harry, I wonder. Surely you don’t think that your petty idea would stop me from taking the boy?”
Her blood went cold. So he was there all along. Her eyes narrowed as she said fiercely, “I won’t let you take him.” With this, she received a few weird stares from few passers by entitling them to an unexpected shout of “Bugger off, why don’t you?!”
Still fuming, Hermione pushed her food around with her spoon.
“Temper, temper Miss Granger. You had better be more tactful, or people will most certainly think that you have finally snapped.”
Hermione was about to reply but her ears perked at the familiar sound of mirth coming from the entrance to the Great Hall.
Glancing in this general direction, she quickly sent her gaze back down to her bowl but not before Voldemort announced, “Ah, the main attraction has finally decided to make its appearance.”
“Stay away from him,” Hermione whispered shakily, shutting her eyes.
“Then, I believe that would mean for you to do so as well.”
Her jaw clenched at this and soon relaxed at the peaceful silence that quickly ensued after this last statement. She opened her eyes, one after another.
She let out a breath that she’d been holding in for so long as soon as the mad conversation had begun. She knew however with much trepidation that this silence would not go on for long, but she will make use of her freedom no matter how small.
Looking up, she watched Harry and Ron make their way to the table. Ron was gesturing wildly, and it was no secret that the reason for Harry’s laughter must be whatever wild tale Ron was relaying at the moment.
Hermione sighed, as she drank in the sight of the two of them. Fearing that this would be her last chance to see them in such a carefree state, she devoured as much as she could of this memory of them. It would be different now. It had to be. She had to discover what it was exactly that allowed the Dark Lord to take such a hold on her, and the only way to protect Harry from any further harm that she could cause would be to have to cut him off from her life. He’ll understand. She thought once the two of them caught sight of her. Harry’s welcoming smile made her breath catch in her throat.
He has to.
Harry and Ron took a seat.
“Morning, Hermione! Feeling better?” Harry asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
“I’m starved, can you pass me the marmalade?”
Her heart clenched at her next words, “Ron, pass Harry the marmalade.”
“Er, sure, but you’re closer to it, aren’t you?”
“No. I’m not.”
Puzzled, Ron stretched his arm out to reach jar of marmalade by Hermione’s elbow.
“Are you alright, Hermione? Looks like you haven’t eaten a thing,” Harry commented.
“I’m fine. And how would you know if I’ve eaten anything or not? You just got here,” Hermione dismissed.
“Well, er, yeah but I was just concerned-”
“Well, now you have nothing to be concerned with. I’ll be in the library,” she said curtly, and greeting Ginny, who had just arrived, with a fleeting smile, she gathered up her books, stood up and left without a word.
At her departing back, she heard Ron utter, “What’s gotten into her?”
Forgive me Harry.
The only warning that Draco had before a red tipped figure went crashing into him was a shout of “Thanks Professor!” Moments later one of the Weasleys, he was sure it was Ginny, barrelled into him without thought. The force sent her spinning, and the air was soon filled with various sheets of parchment, books and a slew of curses.
“I’m so sorry, I-”
“Watch where you’re going Weasley!” Draco roared.
Hearing this, and catching sight of the harassed looking boy standing before her, Ginny caught herself and frowned.
“I didn’t know you were going to be here, Malfoy or I’d have run in the other direction.”
“I do go to this school Weasley, and next time look ahead and not at the floor. Won’t find spare galleons that way.”
“Why? You’ve had a look around, yourself?” Ginny spat scathingly.
“Don’t need to Weasley. Unlike you, my family makes an honest living.”
“Oh, so that explains why your dad’s in prison,” she answered with mock sweetness.
Without warning, Draco’s hands went around her arms like a vise and he pushed her up against the wall saying, “Watch it Weasley. Diggory was first. You could be next. Now that the Dark Lord’s up and about, won’t be too long before all the Mudbloods’ll get what’s coming to them.”
“I’m not Muggle born, Malfoy,” her voice was steely and she held Draco’s threatening gaze with her own.
The two were dangerously close and Ginny unwillingly came to notice that her face was just inches from his. She was surprised and slightly weary when she noticed that his gaze drifted to her lips.
“But you do like them, don’t you?” he said huskily.
“Let go of me.”
“And if I don’t?” Draco raised his eyebrows questioningly.
“Ginny?” A female voice sounded, not too far away.
In an instant, Draco calmly stepped away from her with a mocking bow. Ginny scowled at him in response then turned and smiled to find Luna staring at the two of them and at the mess at their feet.
“Hello. Where were you? You just disappeared,” Luna asked, still looking suspiciously at a smirking Draco, who picked up his books and walked away with an arrogant swagger.
“Sorry, Luna,” Ginny started to pick up the sheets of parchment and Luna bent down to help her. “McGonagall came and wanted to talk to me about Harry.”
“What about Harry?”
“He’s back on the team,” Ginny answered, grinning.
“I know, I’ve got to tell him.”
Ginny explained the entire conversation while they walked the rest of the way to the Great Hall, she did so mostly out of excitement for Harry, but also to forget those silver eyes piercing into her own.
With an exclamation, Luna suddenly stopped in her tracks.
“What is it?”
“I just remembered! I forgot something in my room! I’ll see you in class, okay?”
She spotted Harry, Ron and Hermione already seated and Hermione didn’t look too well. Ginny watched her talk to Ron, and saw the surprised look on her brother’s face as he reached for the marmalade and handed it to Harry.
I wonder what’s going on.
Putting on a cheerful face, she walked to the table unaware of the most unlikely pair of grey eyes following her every move.
She had the funny feeling that she was being watched. Looking up from a particularly heavy book, she glanced up to see a boy about her age dressed in Slytherin robes watching her. He stood by another shelf with a book in his hand. Hermione glanced around her nervously to see if she was mistaken and that he was looking at someone else, but she soon found that she was the only one in her section.
“Can I help you?” she asked, but was only granted with silence. “Do you need help find anything?” she ventured and he shook his head in response.
An awkward silence stretched between them for a few moments before Hermione said with a friendly smile, “Alright…well, bye then.” Giving him a weary look, she quickly grabbed the books she needed and sat at an empty table. With a sigh, she spread the heavy tombs around her and began to read.
“That’s her isn’t it?”
“At the table by the corner. Part of her face is covered by that stack of books.”
Hermione saw a blonde girl about three years younger than her slowly rise out of her seat and craned her neck to get a better look at her. Her friend, a dark haired boy with a bad acne problem grabbed a handful of her robes and pulled her down quickly saying, “Are you mad, Susan? She can see you!”
“I just wanted to have a look,” the girl named Susan protested.
Annoyed, Hermione looked up at her and raised her eyebrows questioningly. Abashed, the girl flushed and fussed with her plait, staring at her friend and not daring to look anywhere else.
After a few moments of silence, in which Hermione went back to her reading, Susan began to whisper rather loudly once again.
“It is her, Michael! She doesn’t look that bad. Seems to be doing rather well, considering what she’s been through.”
“I hear it was You-know–who that done her parents in.”
“No!” Susan gasped with surprise, earning her a stern look from Madam Pince. Growing beet red once again, she mumbled her apologies.
“Well she is Harry Potter’s best friend. Who else would he be after, what with him having no one else close to him.”
“What about that red headed giant that hangs around him all the time?”
“Who, Ron? Well, he’s next isn’t he?”
“Next for what, exactly?” a deep voice sounded.
Michael and Susan jumped and looked up to find a boy who they were sure was in seventh year, towering over them. Neville eyed the two fourth years with disgust.
“The library is no place for gossip, I think and Ron Weasley happens to be a good friend of mine. So if you two happen to know any troubles that’ll come his way, you’ll be sure to tell me, yeah?”
Michael nodded wordlessly in answer, his eyes as huge and round as saucers.
Neville nodded at them and walked over to Hermione, books in hand. With a slight smile on his face he smothered a chuckle as he thought, Blimey, that moment was probably the first time I’ve ever had someone look at me in nervousness. Not very satisfying, that. Behind him, the two scurried out of the library.
“Hello,” he greeted Hermione cheerfully, “this seat taken?”
“No, not at all.”
“That for Professor Wellington’s class?” Neville asked, spreading his books before him and pointing at Hermione’s.
“What? Oh, this? No, just some light reading.”
Neville gave her an incredulous look at her choice of words.
“That hardly looks to be a bit of light reading, Hermione.”
“This is actually very interesting, Neville. Did you know that-”
Neville held his hands up good naturedly, interrupting her.
“No. I’m sorry Hermione, but please I’ve got to finish this for Professor Snape and if I forget my train of thought I won’t get anything done.”
A bit miffed, Hermione asked, “This isn’t last minute, I hope.”
“Oh, no. Actually I’m trying to get ahead. What with Professor McGonagall’s project to finish, and Professor Flitwick’s experiment I don’t think I’ll have any time for the research I need to get done for Professor Sprout.”
“You really like Herbology, don’t you Neville?”
At this, Neville quit rifling through his books and parchment, and grinned.
“I love it. Now, where did my quill go?”
Hermione pulled a spare out of her bag and handed it to Neville.
“Thanks, so how are you doing?”
“Well, I think with a bit more revising, I’ll be alright for my N.E.W.T.S.”
“God, don’t remind me. Actually I meant, er, well… your parents, and uh… how are you doing…with that…” Neville rubbed the back of his neck nervously and kept his eyes down.
Hermione smiled sadly at him knowing full well what he had meant the first time. She cleared her throat before placing her hand on his in thanks.
“I’m alright, Neville. Thank you.”
With a relieved look, Neville said reassuringly, “Well, if you’re ever feeling slightly under the weather, you know that you can talk to me right? Because well, er,” he continued in a quiet voice looking her in the eye, “I…I do know a thing or two about loss.”
Hermione looked at him with a hint of sadness in her eyes, touched at his concern.
After a few beats of silence, Neville cleared his throat and opened his books.
“So, you know… I’m here.”
At that moment, Hermione almost told Neville everything. The voices, the shadows, her fears and even her mixed up feelings for Harry and her plans to push him away.
“Do you honestly think that Longbottom will believe you? You’ve just lost your parents, child and to many of your peer’s eyes, you are a wreck. Not only will he pity you, but he will also think of talking to one of your dear professors. And I simply cannot have him talking to the wrong people, Granger. I’ve done away with two Longbottoms already. It would be wise not to endanger the third.”
Inside she was crying helplessly, but on the outside she was smiling freely looking as if she had not a care in the world.
“I know, Neville. Don’t worry, I’m fine,” she answered him, inwardly raging against the dark force in her mind making her lie to the people she cared about. She knew what she had to do to Harry, and she dreaded the separation. Neville’s care was a small comfort, but it was something.
“Well, I better get working. Don’t want to end up in detention, or lose any points.”
Neville once again looked through his things, under the table and around his chair having now seemed to have misplaced the quill he had borrowed.
“Where did that quill go?”
Something was wrong. For two weeks Hermione had been ignoring him. She seemed distant, and every time he drew close to her a disgusted look came over her features. Harry just couldn’t understand it. He wondered what he had done to make her act this way, and at her every disdainful look that he never knew would ever be pointed in his direction, he fought to hide the hurt that he knew would shine through.
The three of them were walking back to the castle after another eventful class with Hagrid, who looked even more haggard than ever. Hermione was talking animatedly with Ron, thinking that her rouse to ignore the dark haired shadow that trailed slightly behind her went unnoticed. Ron however noticed everything, and every now and then he would look to Harry with a slight raise of his eyebrows asking what was going on. In answer to this, Harry would just shrug and shake his head, just as confused as Ron was. Hermione either did not notice this frequent exchange or just didn’t care.
At Ron’s many attempts to bring Harry into the conversation, Hermione would grow quiet, and would only smile or nod politely, but never look at Harry. Her gaze would either be directed at the castle, on the ground, or at Ron, who guiltily liked her attention. Harry listened quietly while she once again reprimanded Ron for not being as organized as he should be.
“Our N.E.W.T.S. are swiftly approaching, Ron. How can you even think to pass of you’re not prepared?”
“Well that’s where you come in, right Harry?” Ron answered and tried to bring Harry into the conversation once again. Instead he only smiled and nodded, looking at his feet.
Definitely not the way to get a girl, mate. Ron thought with an inward shake of his head.
He noted that Hermione ignored Harry completely and was puzzled by this. She was fine two weeks ago. It wasn’t until the morning after her nightmare that things started changing, and he wondered what it was exactly that had her so rattled that night.
The three of them continued to walk in this manner, when Hermione tripped on her own feet and would have gone sprawling on the ground had it not been for Harry instinctively taking hold of her arm and steadying her.
Expecting a word of thanks and a look in his direction, Harry was completely taken aback when she recoiled at his touch and rounded on him, eyes blazing.
“Don’t touch me!” she shouted.
Ron stared, surprised at Hermione’s unexpected and strange reaction while Harry stepped back from her unrelenting glare.
“I was just-”
“I know what you were just doing, and when I need your help, I’ll ask for it,” she snapped. “I’m not a damsel in distress, Harry and I can take care of myself without your grubby hands clinging onto me.”
“I didn’t say you were a dam-”
“I don’t care what you think! I don’t want you touching me,” she continued in a condescending tone, sending Harry further into the depths of confusion. “In fact, I don’t want you even near me.
"I’ve been thinking, Harry. I have a full life ahead and I won’t let a petty thing like our friendship destroy it. I made the mistake of taking your hand in our first year and my parents paid dearly for it, but I won’t make that mistake again.”
Completely forgetting Ron, she placed all of her focus on Harry for the first time that day. The reason for her attention however, was not what Harry had hoped for.
Sharp knives sliced through him and with every word and every look they wrenched out with such excruciating pain that it rendered him speechless.
“Go wherever you want to go and do whatever you like because I no longer care what happens to you Harry and I never will.”
Harry struggled to swallow the lump in his throat.
“Now why don’t you just bugger off and go save some person, since that’s all you’re meant to do anyway,” she finished with a smirk.
In an instant Harry’s face darkened, his eyes narrowed in anger and his jaw clenched.
“Fine. I’ll go. I’m tired of your endless nagging anyway,” he snarled and angrily stalked off.
Hermione watched him go, with a mask of disdain plastered on her features and she appeared so engrossed that Ron startled her by grasping onto her shoulder and spinning her around.
“That was uncalled for, Hermione,” said Ron.
She only raised her eyebrows in answer.
“Was it? Or was it exactly what he needed to hear?”
Her response caused him to worry about her even more.
“What’s gotten into you?”
More than you can imagine.
“The truth,” she answered instead.
“You don’t mean that.”
Bewildered, Ron simply stared at her, waiting for Hermione’s face to break into a smile and Harry to return with a laugh, finding that all of this was just a joke. And a terrible one at that. But Harry’s form disappeared in the distance, and Hermione levelled her unrelenting stare with his. There was no laughter, no sudden smile.
A burst of wind slammed into them, causing Ron to shiver and pull his scarf tighter around him. Hermione turned and started making her way back without him.
“Where’re you going?”
“We’re going to freeze to death just standing out here and unlike you I’m hungry.”
Once inside, she shook the snow off herself and made to turn and walk to the Great Hall, when someone caught her eye. Hunching her shoulders she said, “I just remembered, I need to go to the library for something. I’ll see you later.”
“But I thought you hungry.”
“I changed my mind.”
Hermione waved as she walked away, leaving Ron standing in the hall.
With a shake of his head, he strode through the entrance of the Great Hall and Draco purposely collided into his side almost sending him off balance.
“Watch it, Malfoy.”
“What, Weasley? Forgot how to walk already? Must be nerves for the upcoming game. I heard Potter is back on the team,” Draco scoffed and Ron’s ears turned red in anger. “A futile attempt at making up for your abysmal goal keeping skills I gather.”
Ron clenched his fists in anger, and was about to snarl back a threat when, with a smirk on his face, Draco turned and walked away. Ron turned to find Professor McGonagall’s sharp eye on him and throwing a dark look at Draco’s retreating back, he grudgingly made his way to the Gryffindor table.
He was following her. Probably has nothing better to do. Hermione thought, but she still picked up her pace. She had tried to avoid him, but no matter where she was he was always there, watching but never saying a word. A Slytherin trick. He’s trying to scare me, but it won’t work. She could hear his echoing footsteps ever at her heels. She didn’t know who he was, and she wasn’t sure what year he was in. Did he even go to this school? Hermione shook the silly notion out of her head. Of course the boy went to Hogwarts. How else would he have gotten here, adorned in Slytherin dress? She must have never noticed him before that was all. It was a big school and one can’t know everyone in it. Still, it was very unsettling having him follow her everywhere.
What was even weirder was the fact that he wouldn’t say a word. Of course she would never attempt to strike a conversation with him, but still, not a jab nor a shot came forth from his thin lips and this she knew was not normal for a Slytherin.
Hermione contemplated if he was different from the others, but her notions were dashed at the sound of an all too familiar voice behind her, and turning she found that the boy was just one of Malfoy’s cronies.
“Well if it isn’t the mudblood. Where are your shadows, Granger? They finally realize what an annoying little beggar you are, and scampered away?”
“It’s that Slytherin smell that stinks up the halls. They had to leave before they suffocated.”
Crabbe snarled, and Goyle took a menacing step forward but Malfoy stopped him by putting out his arm.
“It’s not as bad as the mudblood stench. That can linger on you for hours.”
Crabbe and Goyle laughed, while third the boy smirked at Draco’s remark.
Hermione’s face grew red but she quickly snapped back, "Shouldn’t the four of you be off somewhere grooming yourselves?”
Draco brought a hand to his heart with a mocking look of pain on his face.
“Oh, that smarted, Granger. Really, that did.”
“I don’t have time for this,” she commented with a wave of her hand and turned away.
“Potter looked a bit angry today. He wouldn’t talk to anyone, not even his precious weasel. Is there a little argument amongst the Golden Children, Granger?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Guess again, Granger. I don’t know what you’re doing, but whatever it takes to push Potter over the edge, I’ll be happy to help.”
“Sod off Malfoy.”
“Another crushing comeback from the mudblood. You’re on a roll, Granger,” Draco drawled before he departed.
Hermione glanced behind her to find Parvati staring strangely at her.
“Are you alright?”
Hermione sighed in frustration. “I’m fine Parvati. Why does everyone keep on asking me this?”
“We’re only worried, love. That’s all,” Parvati answered gently.
With these words Hermione seemed to relax somewhat, but was still slightly confused because Parvati continued to stare strangely at her.
“Sorry I snapped.”
“Don’t be. Who were you talking to, just now?”
“Oh, it was only Malfoy. Must have had nothing better to do and saw me walking by. You know how he is.”
Parvati nodded slowly and looked behind her at the empty hallway. The strange look still clung to her features.
“Well, I’ll see you in class. I’ve got to head to the library,” Hermione exclaimed as she walked past Parvati.
“Yeah,” she answered distantly, “see you.”
Turning, she stared at the back of her roommate of seven years speculating who it was that she had been really talking to and why she had to lie about it; for it couldn’t have been Malfoy, as he was lounging outside with Crabbe and Goyle. She should know because she had just come inside still seething from an argument with the annoying Slytherin.
Who were you talking to, Hermione?
A/N: whew, that was fun, well hope you all enjoyed. before i leave i must give thanks to my awsome beta, michelle for providing me with the idea of an argument. Hope it was convincing and not too rushed.
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