...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.
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.
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!
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