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J.K. Rowling owns it all. I own only my OCs.

Chapter Ten Reading Between the Lines
The Friday before Halloween, Hermione had another paper due for International Magic. As usual, Professor Fotherby had given her the very last appointment of the day. It worked out best for both of them, as their conversation normally spilled over the allotted time, and neither of them liked to feel rushed.

Today, however, Hermione almost wished to avoid the whole thing. She was still troubled by Meg Carlisle’s assertions. Could Professor Fotherby have been a friend of Quirrell’s?

It certainly wasn’t impossible. After all, the two taught at the same school, but that did not mean she was in league with him.

No, Hermione assured herself as she entered the classroom five minutes before three. It wasn’t true, and she was foolish to second guess herself and Fotherby.

She should forget the entire incident. Just forget it. There were more important things on her mind, anyway, along with a hint of anticipation for the first trip to Hogsmeade tomorrow morning.

Sliding into an empty desk by the window, Hermione glanced out onto the lush grounds which were now depressingly grey under a chilly autumn rain.

Hopefully the weather would improve for Halloween, as she didn’t necessarily feel like trudging through the mud to the villages.

But her mum had made sure she packed her wellies, and the walk would go quickly with Ron and Harry. They had a fair bit to catch up on, and Hermione was looking forward to a relaxing day free of the confusing complexities the Time-Turner brought.

It was silly to sit here worrying, silly to let mere rumours nag at her peace of mind.

Professor Fotherby an ally of Quirrell’s… Oh, the notion was nearly laughable!

Hermione jumped slightly as the last student left Fotherby’s office followed, unexpectedly, by the Professor herself.

“Hello Hermione,” she said, looking somewhat more drawn than she had earlier in the week. “You can go right in and make yourself at home. I want to fetch a cup of tea before we begin. Goodness, I can’t seem to shake this cold. Would you like a cup as well?”

“No thank you, Professor,” Hermione replied politely. “I’m fine.”

“Well then, I’ll be back in a moment--can’t wait to hear what you thought of the reading.” Fotherby smiled as she left the room, and some of the brightness returned to her face.

Hermione hoisted her bag back up onto her shoulder and let herself into the empty room. Nothing in it had changed much over the last few weeks, though now she noticed a dainty silver dish on the desk filled with tiny cough drops.

There was indeed a cold making the rounds at Hogwarts, and just this Monday she herself had gone to Madam Pomfrey for a dose of Pepperup. Luckily, she had been able to waylay any sickness, unlike poor Professor Lupin who looked as worn out as his frayed robes.

Fotherby most assuredly was under the weather too, though Hermione had heard her coughing since September.

Rolling her sore shoulders, she opened her bag and pulled out her papers along with the notated Muggle book and a brief list of questions she had made up in the library before Meg’s intrusion.

As she was placing her finished scroll on Fotherby’s desk, she saw a leather-bound book resting on the far side.

The title was in the Latin, but Hermione was able to decipher the subtitle: Sacred Dream Symbols-Divining One’s Destiny 

Divination?

Hermione cocked an eyebrow. Sure, Fotherby was a bit eccentric, but she couldn’t believe the professor would put much stock in all that divination business. As it was, Hermione herself was suffering through Trelawney’s classes.

Divination seemed to be the art of the near-sighted, certainly not the all-seeing.

Hermione settled herself in the chair opposite Fotherby’s and busied herself by flipping through her Muggle book. She was trying to read about the Kentucky Sanatorium haunting, but for some reason her mind was drawn back to the dusty book.

Divining One’s Destiny 

Hermione wished she was more adept at Latin, and she promised herself that over the summer she would take a course at a Muggle school if she had to.

But what did that mean, Divining One’s Destiny?

And Sacred Dream Symbols?

Hmm, it was wrong to snoop and, of course, she was horrid at Latin, but a quick peek couldn’t hurt, could it?

Hermione closed her Muggle book and glanced over her shoulder. The classroom behind was still empty. Fotherby was nowhere to be seen.

And, after all, even if she did catch her casually flipping through the book, could she truly accuse her of any wrongdoing?

No, Fotherby was the sort of teacher who encouraged curiosity in her students. She would never condemn it.

Hermione stood quickly and reached for the book, lifting the heavy cover open with restrained care. To her dismay, all the print was in Latin, and now matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t translate it.

However, twenty or so pages in, she found a single sheet of paper folded and tucked close to the binding.

Hermione bit her lip.

Professor Fotherby had scribbled some hasty notes on the sheaf.

Fog-Brick Building. Feeling senseless, trapped, doomed, it’s coming.

Streets-weeds-dust-stench-blood, always bright red.

Quirrell?


Hermione dropped the book as if she had been burned.

No.

She closed her eyes and took a steadying breath.

You’re being foolish. So foolish.

Once more, she forced herself to pick up the book. Fotherby’s handwriting on the paper was cramped and sloppy. Obviously, she had written her notes quickly or without paying close attention. The words veered off at odd angles, some of the letters printed others copied in cursive.

But there something strangely definite about “Quirrell.” Yes, the name was directly in the centre of the page, underlined even, so that the question mark appeared superfluous.

Whatever had been on Fotherby’s mind, she was certain about Quirrell.

A chill traced Hermione’s spine. She dropped the sheaf, shut the book and returned it to the desk. 

Meg Carlisle was right.

She sat, her hands limp, lying over her knees.

Meg was right, she was right.

A thick lump lodged itself in Hermione’s throat. She coughed into her hand, trying in vain to dislodge it.

Professor Fotherby swept in with her tea.

“Oh dear!” she said, trotting around to her chair with a white and gold china tea cup. “I do hope you haven’t caught anything Hermione. Really, this cold is simply wretched. But ah, you look pale. Is something the matter? Are you certain you don’t want a cup of tea?”

Hermione glanced up at Fotherby, feeling suddenly bitter, betrayed.

But a name doesn’t prove anything, she thought. And neither did scribbles on a crumpled piece of parchment.

“I’m fine, Professor,” she replied at length, managing to keep her voice cheerful.

Fotherby sat down in her chair and took a sip of her tea. “Mmm, do you like chamomile? My father used to make it for me whenever I was sick. Chamomile with a little honey. I don’t know if it helps, to be honest, but I cannot weather a cold without it anyhow. So, what did you think of this last assignment? Oh, I see you’ve brought a book with you! Is it a Muggle text?”

Hermione struggled to forget the Divination book. Instead, she tried to lose herself in steady ebb and flow of their conversation.

Fotherby was excited to read the passage on the Kentucky Sanatorium, and she agreed that the Muggle writer certainly had an eye for the preternatural. They also talked about the upcoming lectures, which would include a detailed study of Hoodoo magic and its practitioners.

Fotherby told Hermione how she had visited with a well-known witch from New Orleans, Madame Paulina, who was said to come from a long line of Hoodoo priestesses that dated back to the early 18th century.

“I had a chance to interview her,” Fotherby said at once, looking somewhat proud as she produced an article she had written related to Hoodoo magic. “Fascinating stuff. I thought you might like a sneak peek of the course material. Unfortunately, there aren’t many good contemporary articles written on Hoodoo. Within the last ten years or so, it’s come to be regarded as an indistinct art, as often it involves not only spells but also potion brewing and divination. I couldn’t disagree more, but, well, you know how the scholarly community is. What’s in vogue now won’t be when you graduate.”

“Thank you, Professor.” Hermione took the article from her.

She felt her fingertips tingle with tension.

Why couldn’t she shake this feeling? Why oh why couldn’t she let this Quirrell business go?

Because I have proof.

Fotherby must have sensed her upset, because she leaned forward on her elbows and looked at her closely. “Hermione, I do hope I’m not pushing you too hard. You’ll tell me if I am, right? These extra readings, they’re not required. I only suggested them because you seemed to show such an interest in class and in your papers.”

Hermione was about to protest, about to tell her professor that she was perfectly fine, but Fotherby’s concern overrode her objections.

“I spoke to Professor McGonagall about you the other day,” she said. “I know she is the head of your house, and I just thought she might like to hear how wonderful her student is doing--though apparently she already knew.” Fotherby paused and laughed a little, as if at an inside joke.

Hermione knotted her hands together on her lap. “It means a great deal to hear you speak so highly of me, Professor,” she said softly, feeling guilt gnaw at her for the first time.

“Psh!” Fotherby tossed her head. “Believe it or not, I’m careful with my praise, Hermione. I haven’t had a student like you in such a long while. You make teaching a joy,” she sighed, and her smile wavered slightly, “which is why I wanted to talk to you… In confidence, that is.”

Hermione lifted her eyebrows, a nervous fluttering filling her stomach and propelling her heart straight up into her mouth. Did Fotherby sense her suspicion? Could she have seen her reading the Divination book? Or had that horrible Meg Carlisle said something?

“Professor McGonagall was my teacher too,” Fotherby continued lightly, “many years ago, when I was about your age. We know each other well is what I’m trying to say, and I do respect her so. I suppose you could say she’s been something of a mentor to me. But that’s all beside the point. When I spoke to her last about you, she mentioned your rather hefty class schedule and the Time-Turner. You certainly are ambitious!”

She sat back in her chair with a maternal smile. “I want you to know, Hermione, that if it ever becomes too much for…if you need a few extra days to finish assignments, or if you just need someone to talk to, I’m here. Now, I can’t say I give the best advice, but, well.” Fotherby shrugged. “You can always come to me. And the same goes for McGonagall--as I’m sure you know.”

Hermione bowed her head, her eyes stinging viciously. She felt simply awful. Awful. Fotherby was going out of her way to befriend her, to help her, and here she sat, second guessing her genuinely compassionate nature.

But she needed to know, had to settle the matter in her mind before it devoured her alive from the inside out.

“Professor,” she said, her voice slow and soft as she fought to control the shaking within. “Can I ask you something?”

“Go right ahead.”

“I don’t want you to…to be angry with me.”

“Hermione.” Fotherby tilted her head to the side. “Don’t be silly.”

“It’s about the first day of class,” Hermione continued. “After you dismissed us, I was…I was just waiting outside in the hall, and I overheard you talking to Meg Carlisle. And you said, well, I think you said you were glad not to have Harry Potter in your class. Why, Professor? He’s a very good student and…and a friend of mine.”

Fotherby’s expression changed ever so slowly, and if Hermione was less perceptive than she was, she wouldn’t have noticed it at all.

“Yes, I did say that,” she said after a minute. “It’s… You see, Hermione, you are a Muggle-born witch--not that there is a thing wrong with that, my father was Muggle-born--but unlike you, I did lose someone to…to Him. And seeing Harry, he just reminds me of that particular loss.”

“I’m sorry, Professor,” Hermione replied, not knowing really why she was apologising.
Fotherby waved her hand dismissively. “It is something I rarely speak of, but you do deserve the truth, after my careless slip of the tongue. And you may tell your friend Harry that I hold no grudge against him, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

The carriage clock on the mantelpiece struck four thirty.

Both Hermione and Fotherby started.

“I’m sorry to keep you so long,” the professor said, standing. “You’ll be late for dinner.”
Hermione rose as well. “Thank you,” she said. “For everything. I’ll see you Tuesday?”

“In class, yes.” Fotherby’s smile returned. “Enjoy Halloween.”

“You too, Professor.” Hermione gathered her things and left the office, her footsteps echoing in the dark classroom beyond.

Her heartbeat had slowed some, but now she felt a relentless chill was over her.

I hold no grudge against him.

What did that mean?

But oh, she knew what it meant.

Hermione slipped out into the shadowed hallway and let her bag fall from her shoulder.

Meg Carlisle, for all her idiocy, had been right.





Author's Note: Thank you all so much for the continued support and encouragement. The feedback I have received has been truly wonderful, so thoughtful and helpful. You guys are awesome!

I would also like to thank my dedicated beta, Renfair, for her diligent Brit-picking and amazing proofreading skills.

The next chapter is already completed and should be posted soon.

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