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Hermione Vs. The Harry Potter Fan Club

By Mena Baines

Hermione took a seat next to Ron on the floor near the mysticism books. They were in the little bookshop in Hogsmeade—it was a weekday, so they’d had to sneak out of school after their last class. Ron opened the notebook he’d brought.

“ Tell me again what happened,” he said, excitedly thumbing through the pages. Hermione felt nervous. She drew her knees up to her chin and hugged them, peering over Ron’s shoulder at the notebook.

“ I have this dream,” she said, “ I’ve been having it for a while… and every time I have a huge cut on my left arm.” Ron nodded, still looking through his notes. “ And, anyway—this morning—really early, before the sun came up—I woke up after having that dream… and…. I, um, think I had a cut on my arm.”

Ron sighed, “ Are you SURE you had a cut?”

“ No… it was dark… I didn’t even really SEE it, per say… but I could feel it—oh, Ron, I just know it was there! I was so scared!” Hermione admitted. “ And, this is not the first time that’s happened.”

“ It could be a mere psychosomatic reaction,” Ron said, acting quite unlike himself, “ I’ve been studying the significance of dreams for my Muggle studies class—for many of them dreams are their only link to our world. They can prophesize their future, or give them clues on how to… hang on, there’s a quote in here that I wanted to read to you…”

Hermione was speechless. RON had been STUDYING something? Man, she thought, Harry and I really HAVE been ignoring him! He’s actually turned to schoolwork to keep himself occupied….

“ Speaking of Harry,” Hermione said, clearing her throat, “ How… is he?” Ron now knew about the whole situation with Hermione over-hearing Gretchen’s conversation with Kipper and the other girls. He’d claimed that she lied about him telling Kipper that Harry might be interested in dating Gretchen, and Hermione hadn’t believed him. But Ron had again become an ally of hers after he saw Kipper getting cheeky with Dean Thomas in the courtyard.

“ Here it is!” Ron exclaimed, ignoring her question about Harry, “ I read this in a philosophy book, actually, but it might hold some relevance to your situation.”

Hermione again wondered if pod people had stolen Ron’s body. When did he learn the word “relevance”? Or, “philosophy”, for that matter? She was used to simply listening to childish cuts about Malfoy or Seamus when Ron was around.

" What if you slept?,” Ron read from his notes, “ And what if, in your sleep, you dreamed? And what if, in your dream, you plucked a strange and beautiful flower? And what if, when you awoke, you had the flower in your hand? Ah, what then!" Ron beamed. “ Coleridge said that,” he told her, “ He was a poet.”

“ What does a poet know about my dreams?” Hermione asked, folding her arms across her chest.

“ Don’t you see?” Ron asked, “ You seem to have… crossed some sort of threshold. You pulled the cut you have in your dream out into the real world. Is there anything else that you’ve brought out of a dream?” he asked.

Hermione chewed on her lip, “ Now that you mention it,” she said, “ There is this… ghost that’s been following me around.”

“ Oh?”

“ She’s in love with Harry,” Hermione explained.

“ Ah. Are you sure you’re not imagining that?”

“ Why would I imagine such a thing?”

“ Man alive, Hermione,” Ron said, shutting his notebook, “ You’ve certainly imagined other things about girls and Harry.”

“ I have not!”

Ron gave her a look, “ Whatever,” he said, “ Anyway I like you two better when you’re not so pre-occupied with each other.”

“ He’s not pre-occupied with me?” Hermione asked carefully. Ron shrugged.

“ He’s being kind of mean to me, actually,” he said, getting up and offering Hermione a hand, “ Only because he’s not getting enough sleep, I suppose.”

“ Dreams?” Hermione asked, reaching for the necklace that wasn’t there.

“ No, it’s Lupin and Dumbledore,” Ron said, “ They’ve got him on some kind of training regiment or something. He won’t talk about it, really. But he’s always muttering all these funny new spells under his breath.”

“ Strange,” Hermione said, “ Anyway… I don’t want to be involved with it anymore. At least I know the dreams I have about the Forrest aren’t some sort of prophecy now.”

“ How do you know that?” Ron asked, “ Reoccurring dreams do often prove to be prophetic.”

Hermione shook her head, “ No. At the end of the dream I’m always lying on the ground, and then I reach up and rip off my necklace.” She looked at the ground, “ And I’ve already done that.”

Ron clucked his tongue. “ That was mean,” he said, “ Harry was pretty torn up.”

“ WHY?” Hermione asked as they made their way toward Honeydukes. Hogsmeade was awfully crowded for a weekday—maybe because the weather had been better that week. All the snow had melted and the skies were clear and breezy.

“ Come on, Hermione, get a clue,” Ron said, opening the door for her, “ It was his Mum’s, didn’t you know that?”

Hermione stopped in her tracks. “ He didn’t tell me that!” she shouted, “ How was I supposed to know—oh, rats, now I feel terrible!”

“ Are you going to come in or aren’t you?” Ron asked, and she walked inside the little shop. All the happy-looking sweets seemed silly and sarcastic. Did Harry have the right to be mad at her when he hadn’t even told her that the necklace was his mother’s? She didn’t think so, but she still felt rotten about it.

Hermione picked up a pack of peppermint toads, and remembered the day she had stayed until sunset here in Hogsmeade with Harry and Ron, eating candy and ice-skating. “ Do you think I should apologize?” she called to Ron, who was filling a bag with Bernie Bott’s Every Flavored Beans. “ Oh, what’s the use,” she said, answering her own question, “ He’s so unreasonable.”

Something over by the chocolate frog display caught her eye. Hermione looked up to see a mournful looking girl in a dirty pinafore—Ellie! What was her ghost doing in Hogsmeade? The sulky spirit gave her a strange smile.

“ Ron!” Hermione hissed, “ Come over here! It’s the… um,” Ron walked over and looked in the direction of Ellie, who was standing perfectly still.

“ What?” he asked, sampling a few jelly beans before he bought them, “ Blegh!” he said, sticking his tongue out, “ Sea-water! It’s all salty.”

“ The ghost, stupid!” Hermione said, grabbing his head and turning it up toward Ellie, “ It’s right there!”

Ron’s eyes widened, “ The one from the dream?” he asked, almost dropping his candy, “ Where?”

“ I’m the only one who can see her,” Hermione said, and Ellie drifted over to them.

“ What are you doing here?” Ellie asked Hermione, completely ignoring Ron.

“ Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” she answered. Ron frowned.

“ Is it talking to you?” he asked, “ What is it saying? What does it look like?”

“ Not now, Ron!”

Ellie placed a freezing cold hand on Hermione’s neck, near the base of her throat.

“ His mother’s pendant,” she said, “ What have you done with it?”

“ Harry has it,” Hermione said quickly, “ He took it back. I… I gave it to him.”

“ You insolent fool!” Ellie reared back as if to strike her and Hermione cowered, though she was only an apparition and probably couldn’t harm her, “ Why have you given it to HIM? Get it back at once!” She narrowed her eyes at Hermione—they became cold green slits that almost glowed.

“ What’s going on?” Ron whispered, eating another jelly bean, “ Mmm,” he said quietly, “ Grape jelly…”

Ellie tilted her head and looked at Hermione with a fierce glare, “ Are you an alliance of Harry Potter’s, girl?” she asked, “ Do you dare betray my love?”

“ Yes I’m an alliance of Harry’s… er, I WAS,” Hermione said, “ Isn’t that why you pursue me like this?”

“ I’m an alliance of Harry’s,” Ron volunteered, talking to the thin air he saw.

“ Shut up, Ron,” Hermione whispered, but Ellie went on ignoring him.

“ You are completely thick,” Ellie accused, floating up and looking down at Hermione, “ Just do as I say. Get back that necklace—Potter is the last person who should have it. Get it back or you’ll both die.” She looked at Ron. “ And him, too.” She said.

“ Ron?” Hermione squeaked, “ What does he have to do with this?”

“ He shall die a second time if you do not get hold of the necklace,” Ellie said, floating up through the ceiling and disappearing.

“ A second time?” Hermione shouted up at the ceiling, “ What are you talking about? Wait!”

“ Hermione,” Ron said through the corner of his mouth, “ Let’s go. People are staring.”

___________________________

When Hermione got back to Hogwarts, all she wanted to do was take some tea and settle in with her Encyclopedia Mythica. Stupid Dean Thomas had almost caught up with her outstanding History grade, and she wouldn’t have it. He didn’t even study!

She climbed through the portrait hole—Ron had gone downstairs to try and scavenge some dessert from the Great Hall. Hermione hadn’t told him about what Ellie had said—it didn’t make sense, anyway. He would die a second time? Impossible. It still gave her the chills.

Gryffindor’s common room wasn’t very crowded—their Quidditch team was practicing for their final game of the season. They were playing Ravenclaw, who had gotten rather good, for the cup. A lot of the Gryffindor kids had gone down to the field to cheer them on during practice and try to boost spirit a bit. Hermione didn’t expect to see Harry sitting on the sofa eating crackers and toying with his wand. But there he was.

Their eyes met as she entered the room, and she started to walk quickly past him, and then stopped. She stood near the sofa, not looking at him, picking at her nails like a nervous little kid. Harry was staring at the fire.

“ Why aren’t you at Quidditch?” she finally asked.

“ I had to drop Quidditch,” Harry said, crossing his arms.

“ Wha—“

“ I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. Both of them were silent, and Hermione could sense how angry she was. She thought it was perfectly ridiculous that he hold her responsible for something she hadn’t even known about. But at least he wasn’t getting up to go. She liked being near to him again, even though they weren’t very close.

“ I don’t even need this anymore,” he said, eyeing his wand. “ Stupid that they make me practice with it.”

“ Lupin and Dumbledore?” Hermione asked timidly. He was clearly in one of his dark moods. Harry gave her a sideways glance.

“ How do you know about that?” he asked.

“ Ron.”

“ Oh,” his eyes fell. He looked so sad… Hermione almost wanted to put her arms around him—or at least place a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“ So they won’t even give me a bit of life before the big… thing,” Harry said, “ Can’t play Quidditch… can’t be with… you.”

“ That’s not their fault,” Hermione said.

The portrait hole opened and Gretchen and Kipper stepped in, followed by Dean. Hermione laughed out loud.

“ Perfect,” she said, “ Goodbye, Harry.”

“ WAIT,” he said, standing and looking at her. Harry had a mean sort of look on his face, but it was actually quite attractive… As much as she hated to, Hermione stayed in the common room as the girls and Dean rushed over.

“ We just heard!” Kipper said in something that sounded like a long whine. “ It’s terrible!”

“ They can just FORGET about the cup without you,” Gretchen said. “ Those fools…” She looked over at Hermione.

“ Oh,” Dean scratched his head, “ Are we interrupting?” He glanced at Hermione apologetically. She just shrugged.

“ Yes,” Harry said stoically. He walked over to Hermione, grabbed her arm, and yanked her out of the room.

“ Hey!” she said, jerking away from him once they were in the hall between their dorms, “ That hurts!”

Harry threw up his arms, “ Forget it,” he said, starting to walk away. Hermione rubbed her arm.

“ I need that necklace back,” she blurted out because she didn’t want him to leave. Harry turned.

“ What for?” he asked, “ I don’t really trust you with my things. Anymore.”

Hermione sighed, “ A ghost told me Ron would die if I didn’t have it,” she shrugged, “ Me and you, too.”

“ What is this ghost rubbish?” Harry asked with a sneer. “ I’m sorry if you aren’t getting all the attention you think you deserve, but you of all people should understand that there is other stuff going on in my head right now. And I don’t appreciate you making up stories about ghosts to try and make me all concerned about you.”

Hermione shook her head. “ You’ve changed,” she said with a shake in her voice, “ They’ve screwed up your mind so much that you won’t let anyone get near you—not even Ron.” Harry scoffed and started to walk away.

“ What do you know about me, Hermione?” he called back to her as he left.

“ Everything,” she whispered sadly, walking slowly back to her dorm.

___________________________

“ Where is he?” Hermione had barely even shut the door before an accusing voice shouted at her from the other end of her room. She thought it was Ellie at first, but instead of her resident ghost, she found an angry looking younger girl with strawberry-blonde hair and glaring at her with her hands on her hips.

“ Holy hell,” Hermione said, falling back against the door in exasperation, “ How many ghosts are looking for Harry?”

“ What are you talking about?” the girl asked, storming over and looking quite human. “ I’m looking for my brother, Nail. Where’s Rosa? That little… she better not be hiding him here!”

“ Oh, he’s left,” Hermione said, remaining quite calm, “ You just missed him,” she collapsed backwards onto Rosa’s bed.

“ Where did he go?” the girl demanded, “ I KNEW he’d come here—Rosa—that eccentric little punk! She’s always getting him into trouble!” Hermione just sighed.

“ He had some business to attend to,” she shut her eyes. “ Or so he said.”

They heard giggling in the hall, and someone fumbling with the doorknob. Suddenly Rosa and Draco fell inside, kissing each other with giddy grins on their faces. Hermione snickered, and Rosa looked up.

“ Clio!” she exclaimed. Draco turned his head back to see who she was talking to, and fell backwards onto the floor.

“ Rosa McNally!” Clio shouted, “ What have you done with my brother?”

“ ME?” Rosa said, clenching her fists, “ I’m not the one who let Bernie and Calliope get ENGAGED, for crying out loud! HE came here, Clio—I had nothing to do with it!”

Draco stayed on the floor and folded his hands onto his stomach, looking kind of disappointed. Rosa turned to Hermione.

“ Has she been harassing you?” she asked. Hermione sighed.

“ This is some kind of occasion,” she said shaking her head, “ I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t get along with you, Rosa.”

Draco tilted his head backwards and looked at her, “ Cho Chang,” he said, “ Doesn’t get along with Rosa.”

“ Ah. Right.”

“ Well, nobody gets along with Cho,” Rosa said with a sneer, “ They only—“

“ EXCUSE ME!” Clio shouted, “ I have a bit of a problem here! Oh, I knew you wouldn’t help me you tricky witch!”

“ Well for all I know, Nail is on his way home right now!” Rosa shouted back, “ That’s where he told me he was going, after Calliope sent me the Howler.”

“ She sent me one, too, the dreadful gypsy,” Clio said, “ As if I’d be in on this!”

“ Be careful what you say about my mother!” Rosa said with a glare.

“ Yeah!” Draco added dumbly.

“ Wait a minute,” Hermione said, sitting up, “ Clio—you’re a witch?”

“ Yes,” she said, “ I went to Rosa’s American school—before the genius got herself thrown out!”

“ That was partly Calvin Quagmire’s fault!” Rosa argued.

“ Ugh!” Draco said, rubbing his eyes, “ Can’t you finish this tomorrow? Rosa’s got a busy schedule.”

“ Draco!” Rosa scolded, stepping over him, “ Check your hormones for a moment! I want to know where Nail is, too. He was acting awfully strange before he left.”

“ Yeah,” Hermione said, “ He mentioned that he had a witch for a cousin and that there was some wizarding blood in his family—but nothing about a sister!”

Clio narrowed her eyes a bit, “ Which cousin did he mention?” she asked curiously.

“ I… don’t remember,” Hermione chewed on her tongue for a moment, “ Something with a “T”?”

Clio and Rosa looked at each other. “ Teresa,” they both said at the same time.

“ Damn!” Clio kicked the end of Rosa’s bed, “ I thought this might be about her.” She sighed, “ I better stick around and see what happens.” Rosa nodded. She looked to Hermione.

“ I’m sorry… I can’t really explain this,” she said.

“ I don’t even want to know,” Hermione said, holding up a hand.

“ I do,” Draco said, sitting up on his elbows, “ That name sounds familiar…”

Rosa glanced at him for a moment, and then back at Hermione, “ I need you to ask McGonagall to let Clio stay here for a few days… maybe a week. Just to be on the safe side.”

“ What should I tell her?” Hermione asked.

Rosa shrugged, “ I’m sure you’ll think of something!” she said.

___________________________

Hermione’s dreams that night were a jumble of undistinguishable bits. Firstly, Ron beat her out as head of the class, and she threw a fit at graduation. Then there was something about Rosa asking her to marry Draco for her as a favor. Finally, she dreamt of Harry.

He was lying on a mattress somewhere, asleep. Hermione could hear someone singing softly in the distance. It was a comforting voice, and it seemed to take pity on him.

“ Go to bed, the priests are dead.

Now no one,

Can call you bad…”

Hermione tried to reach for Harry in the dream, and suddenly a snake crawled past him—a huge, black snake, and he was gone. Darkness followed, and an image of Ellie appeared in it’s place.

“ Get the necklace,” she said. Hermione could still hear singing, a soft, sweet song.

“ Go to bed, the priests are dead,

Finally, you’ve found me…”

Who couldn’t say, you’re not simply wonderful?

Who could ever harm you? ”

“ Ellie,” Hermione couldn’t hear her own voice, but the ghost could somehow read her thoughts in the dream, “ I don’t understand.” Ellie nodded.

“ Come with me,” the ghost girl said. Hermione could feel herself rising out of bed—there was darkness all around her. She could see Ellie up ahead, her dingy white dress a tiny speck of light through the blackness.

Suddenly she was in a room—a dark room. It was… a kitchen? Harry was sitting on the floor in the corner.

“ Harry!” she called out, running to him. He looked up at her, and his cold, weathered glance melted away.

“ Please help me,” he whispered, his eyes big and watery, almost childlike. She put her arms around him and pulled him to her.

“ Who could ever harm you?” she heard him whisper against her shoulder as she held him. He was trembling in her arms.

Then it was all gone, and she was standing alone with Ellie in the Forrest. Ellie looked at her with a sadness in her eyes.

“ See?” she whispered, “ You’ve got to help him. He NEEDS you.”

Hermione nodded, her eyes filling with tears, “ I know, I know,” she whispered, planning to run to Harry as soon as she woke. This was a dream… wasn’t it? She could see the image of the Forrest, of Ellie, breaking up. She reached out quickly and grabbed a twig off of a little tree.

Hermione could feel herself waking up—it was odd to be conscious of such a thing. She felt something in her tightly clenched fist. She rolled over, and slowly opened her eyes. When her vision had adjusted to the light of the room, she opened her hand. A tiny twig fell to the floor.

___________________________

It was easy to imagine reconciling with Harry while she slept, but after Hermione had woken to find an imaginary stick in her hand, she didn’t quite have the nerve. Hermione pulled her covers up over her head and shivered under her blankets until the sun had come up. She finally climbed out of bed when the room was light enough to suit her. She sat down at her desk and started cutting out little paper hearts for her friends’ Valentines.

It would be a miserable day, Valentine’s Day, as it always was. Hermione had never had a boyfriend before Harry, and now he was gone, too, no matter how much she dreamed of him. Had Ellie really taken her to him last night? It was impossible. Harry would have been asleep in his bed, not cowering on the floor of someone’s kitchen.

To Ron—Thanks for being my acting dream analyst! Love, Hermione.

She stacked Ron’s Valentine with the ones she’d made for Rosa, Ginny and Seamus. It was kind of sad to realize how few friends she actually had—Hermione felt she’d wasted seven years pining over Harry and doing nothing else. Maybe she could make one for Draco… she certainly wasn’t giving Harry one. He had been so incredibly irrational for the past week, she didn’t want to give him the honor of even a homemade paper Valentine. Hermione thought sourly for a moment about how Cho had probably labored for hours over Harry’s Valentine—not to mention hundreds of others for her legions of followers. Including Gretchen. Hermione suddenly got an idea, and a wicked smile spread across her face.

“ What are you doing?” Clio asked, and Hermione jumped.

“ Just making some little tokens for my friends,” Hermione said, “ Unfortunately it didn’t take very long…”

“ How cliché,” Clio said, falling into a chair, “ Valentine’s Day is the corniest.”

“ I suppose that means you don’t want me to make you one, then?” Hermione teased, and Clio grinned.

They went down for breakfast after Rosa got up, and were met by an odd demonstration outside of the Great Hall. Instead of exchanging Valentine’s cards, Cho’s gang was marching around with picket signs.

“ What in the world,” Rosa muttered.

“ Man,” Clio said with a grin, “ British people ARE weird!”

Hermione squinted and read one of the signs Lavender was carrying. It read: “ Harry Potter = Quidditch Captain Forever!” Gretchen was there as well, barring a “ Harry Plays Quidditch or we Quit!” sign. Others were even more ridiculous and less clever.

“ Let’s go,” Hermione muttered, “ This is sad. I hope Harry is happy.”

“ Happy?” Rosa said, pushing her way past the demonstrators, “ This is going to embarrass the crap out of him! People will think he encouraged them.” Hermione shrugged.

“ It’s not my problem,” she said, slipping something into Cho’s baggy pocket as they shoved their way through the crowd.

“ …Cho?” Hermione heard Harry’s voice and turned around. She saw him through the crowds of people who were either supporting Cho’s insanity or laughing at it. He looked at Hermione.

“ What’s going on?” he asked.

“ Don’t look at me,” Hermione’s eyes locked on his—he looked so tired. What were Dumbledore and Lupin doing to him?

“ Harry!” Gretchen squealed, “ Here he is, girls!”

“ Yes,” Cho was much more together, “ We arranged this to try and get you back on the team, Harry.”

“ Oh.” He looked blankly past her, at Hermione. Pavartti slithered up to him and threw an arm around his shoulder. Hermione couldn’t help thinking that the sleeveless dress she was wearing was a bit inappropriate for February.

“ Did it ever occur to you to stay out of his business, Cho?” Rosa asked.

“ Or that maybe he dropped the team because he WANTED to?” Ron said, appearing beside Harry.

“ Harry, you didn’t!” Kipper said, dropping her sign, “ Is that true, Ron?” she asked, leaning up against him. Ron backed away.

“ Harry?” Cho asked, “ Did you hear her?” She turned in the direction Harry was looking and glared at Hermione.

“ Yes,” Harry said suddenly, as if coming out of a trance, “ I had to drop the team, Cho, I have—other commitments.”

“ You don’t mean HER do you?” Gretchen asked, raising an eyebrow in Hermione’s direction.

“ No,” Hermione said, watching Clio drop something pink into Gretchen’s bag and winking at her appreciatively, “ Harry and I have nothing to do with each other right now.” Cho rolled her eyes.

“ How poetic of you, Hermione,” she muttered sarcastically, “ Well, ANYWAY, I had arranged this as a sort of Valentine’s Day gift for you Harry—you have seemed awfully down lately and I thought this would help.” Harry nodded.

“ Thank you.”

“ But since it’s sort of obsolete to demonstrate against something you voluntarily did—for whatever reason—I have another little gift arranged—something for everyone, really.”

“ How imperious of you, Cho,” Hermione quipped. Cho ignored her and went on.

“ It’s a garden party—for Valentine’s Day, I suppose,” she said, “ Since the weather’s been so unusually pleasant, I thought it would be nice to throw one for all my seventh year friends in your house.”

“ Sounds nice,” Harry said, “ That’s a good idea, Cho.” He glanced at Hermione, obviously trying to get her goat by being nice to Cho. Hermione groaned. How infantile of you, Harry.

“ What about us?” Kipper asked, pouting, “ We’re not seventh years—but can we come, too?”

“ Now, now, Kipper,” Cho said, fluffing up her short black hair, “ If we let you 5th years come, then soon every whiny little first year in the house would be asking to come, as well,” She grinned evilly. “ You understand, don’t you dear?”

“ What if Ron brings me as his date?” Kipper asked, grabbing onto his arm. Ron shook her off.

“ You’ll have to get Dean to take you, DEAR,” he said, “ I… already have a date.”

Kipper frowned, “ Who?” she asked in disbelief. Ron looked around frantically, and grabbed Clio.

“ Her!” he said. Gretchen laughed out loud.

“ Who the heck is she?”

“ Um…” Ron had no idea.

“ Clio O’Ryan,” she said, throwing out her hand with a false cheerfulness, “ Least spirited female at the American Wizarding Academy—two years running!”

“ Precisely,” Ron said with a nod.

Gretchen rolled her eyes, “ Whatever.”

___________________________

“ Hermione,” McGonagall said later when she visited her office, “ I don’t quite understand what you’re saying…”

“ Neither do I,” Hermione said, running her finger along a dusty row of books on McGonagall’s shelf, “ It’s just that Rosa’s got this friend who needs to stay here. I was told to ask you for permission. That’s all I know.”

“ As long as she’s not a vampire.”

Hermione laughed, “ I’m sorry. I know you already have a lot on your mind.”

McGonagall shook her head, “ Too much,” she said, “ Too many what if’s… don’t you hate not knowing?”

“ Not knowing what?”

“ Anything.”

“ Ah. Yes, I do hate that.” Hermione answered with a grin. She was glad to see her Professor sharing her fed-up and crisis filled situation. “ May I talk to you about Harry?”

“ Of course,” McGonagall took a seat behind her desk.

“ What are Lupin and Dumbledore doing to him that has him so exhausted all the time?” she asked, “ If I didn’t know better I’d be worried about his health.”

McGonagall sighed, “ Here is another big Hogwarts secret revealed,” she said, and Hermione raised an eyebrow, “ Dumbledore has no idea what he’s doing.”

“ Professor!” Hermione said, and then re-considered it, “ Actually, I’ve always suspected that he didn’t.” McGonagall nodded.

“ Remus isn’t much better,” she said, “ I hate to say this NOW, but I wish James were here to prepare him for this.”

“ Why do you hate to say that now?”

McGonagall shrugged, “ There are situations,” she said, “ That are out of my control.” Hermione had no idea what she meant, which was often the case as of late.

“ Well,” Hermione said with a sigh, “ I must go get ready to attend a garden party,” she smiled to herself, “ There is something quite amusing that I’m looking forward to witnessing.”

“ Have fun, my darling,” McGonagall said, “ Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.”

“ What a horrible thing to say!”

“ I didn’t mean it literally, dear.” McGonagall explained.

“ Oh, I hope you aren’t cracking up, too!” Hermione said, “ It seems everyone is. Harry is acting half like a madman and half like someone who’s just lost his best fr….” She trailed off when she realized that was true. Was she being too harsh on him? Or was it him being too harsh on her… she decided to worry about it later.

“ And I almost made a Valentine card for Draco Malfoy this morning,” she said with a sigh, “ What has happened to our charming little school?”

“ All things must change,” McGonagall said, leaning back in her chair. She pointed at her throat. “ You’d better get your trinket back,” she said.

“ The necklace?” McGonagall nodded.

“ It was Lily’s.”

“ I know,” Hermione moaned, “ Why didn’t anyone tell me?” McGonagall sighed.

“ It’s always been sort of a mystery,” she said, “ Since we saw you wearing it—we wondered if it was the same one. And where on earth Harry got it.”

“ His mother didn’t give it to him?”

“ Hermione,” McGonagall said, leaning forward, “ It was a gift from James. She never took it off. She was wearing it when she died.”

___________________________

“ I haven’t got anything to wear,” Hermione said, lying back on her bed. Rosa was putting on makeup in the bathroom, and Draco was milling around the room. Clio was sitting at the window reading a dog eared copy of The Great Shark Hunt.

“ I could lend you something,” Rosa said, coming out of the bathroom, her hands in her hair as she pinned it up. She was wearing a little flowered dress that tied together in the front, and looking very beautiful.

Draco walked over to her and laid his forehead on her shoulder, “ I don’t want to go,” he whined, “ Let’s just stay here,”

“ Oh, knock it off,” Rosa said, walking to her closet, “ Here, Herm-oine,” she said, reaching into it, “ This would suit you,” She took out a long skirt with little light purple flowers on it. “ Your favorite color, right? And you could wear your white collar shirt…” she pulled open Hermione’s drawer.

Hermione covered her eyes with her hands, “ This is too much for me,” she said, “ I’m a haunted girl. I think I should just stay here, you guys go. A party Cho is more or less throwing for Harry—where I’m sure she’ll throw HERSELF at Harry, does not sound very appealing.”

“ Don’t you want to see the results of our little scheme?” Clio asked with a grin, looking up from her novel. Hermione shrugged and tried to conceal a smile. They’d planned a bit of revenge on Cho and a certain other person.

“ What?” Rosa asked, “ This doesn’t have anything to do with the Valentines they got from the secret admirers they’ve been bragging about all day—does it?”

Clio snickered, “ Hermione is a genius,” she said, “ She knew Cho wouldn’t tell Gretchen and Gretchen wouldn’t tell Cho, both thinking it was from Harry—perfect! They’ve dug their own graves!”

“ This is beginning to sound awfully morbid,” Rosa said, pulling Hermione up off the bed and shoving the outfit she’d chosen into her hands.

“ Awfully morbid, eh, Rosa?” Clio asked with a laugh, “ You sound like a real live Brit.”

Draco peeked out the window at the courtyard below, where Cho and some of the other seventh years were lugging heavy fold-out tables into the garden beyond. The cooks from the Great Hall were carrying pastries and sandwiches, and the kitchen boy was busy toting bottles of sparkling champagne.

“ This is really nice of them to let us have a garden party,” Rosa said, walking over and leaning against Draco’s back to peer out the window. “ I think we all need a little break.” She patted Draco’s stomach, and he grabbed her hand.

“ I still say a nice evening alone at the Arlington in Hogsmeade would be a lot more fun,” he said with a grin. Rosa shoved him.

“ Give it a break, you scoundrel!” she said, beginning to push him toward the door, “ It is Valentine’s Day—be a bit more romantic, won’t you?” He winked at her, and she prodded him out of the room so Hermione could get changed.

“ I wonder if Harry will even come,” Hermione said, zipping up her skirt, “ I think something is going on, something beyond all of the training and everything. McGonagall’s acting quite secretive.”

“ She’s always quite secretive,” Rosa reminded her, going to the dresser and plucking a rose from the dozen Draco had given her. “ Don’t worry, Herm-oine! Harry will be there, and everything will be perfect. You look great,” She turned her around and pointed her to the mirror, tucking the rose into the clip she’d put in Hermione’s hair.

“ Thanks,” Hermione said, looking at herself. The skirt did look pretty—but she was sure Cho would wear some flirty little number with spaghetti straps and a hemline that crept up her thigh. “ But it doesn’t match,” she said, touching the red rose.

Clio walked over with her wand and tapped the flower in Hermione’s hair.

“ Chintoiuoroius,” she said, and the rose turned the light lavender color of those on her shirt. “ There,” Clio said, “Now let’s go before those obnoxious little pixies eat all the sweets!”

___________________________

The sun was just beginning to set as Hermione walked outside to the garden party with Rosa, Draco, Clio and Ron. Harry was already there, near the entrance to the garden’s maze, talking to Pavartti and eating a roll filled with shrimp salad. Hermione nervously plucked a petal from the flower in her hair.

“ Oh no,” Rosa moaned, “ Dean brought Gretchen the Urchin. What a shady deal. I thought this was for the seventh years.”

“ But look,” Hermione said, glad Gretchen had a date with someone other than Harry, “ Ginny came with Seamus!”

“ Oh HOORAY,” Ron said darkly.

“ Really, Ron!” Hermione scolded, “ What do you have against Seamus?”

“ Look at Cho!” Clio whispered, “ Doesn’t she look smug?” she asked with a mischievous grin.

“ Yes, quite,” Hermione said, “ Almost as if she’s waiting for something…” The girls snickered, and made their way over to the table.

“ Alright, everyone,” Cho said, ushering the group over to the table. Lavender was already sitting, eating cake and looking bored. “ Have a seat, and let’s begin this properly.” Clio rolled her eyes, and sat down between Hermione and Ron. Hermione quickly pulled Rosa into the seat next to her, so she wouldn’t have to awkwardly sit near Harry. He sat down next to Lavender, and Gretchen and Dean took their seats beside him. Cho stood at the head of the table and waited for Ginny to fall into Seamus’s lap with a giggle at the other end.

“ I know it’s a little early to reminisce,” Cho said, raising her glass, “ But this IS our last semester together at Hogwarts, and I just wanted to throw a little get-together here for all my Gryffindor friends.” She grinned at Harry, and gave him a seductive look. Harry took a bite of Lavender’s cake, and she snickered. “ Here’s to the Gryffindor House,” Cho said, raising her glass, “ My home away from home.”

“ And here’s to you, Cho,” Hermione said with a coy look, “ Who’s always made herself right at home.” Ron burst into laughter and hid his face in his napkin. Clio and Rosa chuckled. Harry gave her a look. Draco just looked confused.

Cho sat down heavily, searching for a comeback but coming up with nothing. She looked cold—she was wearing a teeny bit of red fabric that hardly passed for a dress.

“ Can we eat now?” Seamus asked, and Ginny covered her smile with her hand.

“ Oh, I think we should say grace,” Hermione said, enjoying being a smart alec pain-in-the-butt. “ It’s only PROPER,” she added, with a glance and a smirk at Cho. Ron was dying with laughter. Harry shook his head.

“ Fine, Hermione,” Cho shot back with a glare, “ Why don’t you say grace, since you’ve found your voice this evening.”

“ No, I really think Lavender should,” Hermione suggested, leaning back in her chair with her glass of sparking champagne, “ Since she’s already eating.” Now it was Pavartti who burst into laughter.

Lavender choked on the bit of cake she was chewing. “ I don’t know any prayers,” she said with a mouthful of icing, oblivious as ever.

“ Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub,” Rosa said quickly, “ There. Now let’s eat.”

Things went relatively smoothly for a while after that, with Hermione distracted from picking on Cho and the others by a conversation with Ron about mermaids. He kept insisting that he had a friend whose mother was a mermaid and whose father was human, and Hermione kept telling him it was impossible.

Then Gretchen spoke.

“ I apologize,” she said, “ But I have a bit of business to attend to,” she glanced around the table, “ I don’t quite know when I’ll be back,” she added, and then ran off with a smile. Hermione grinned and looked at her watch—8 o’clock—she had planned this perfectly. It was dark enough that Cho didn’t see which direction Gretchen went when she left.

Hermione had to distract herself until 9 o’clock, so she left the table with Clio and Ron and sat down in the grass, chatting about Nail, and Fred and George, and Percy’s up-coming wedding. Hermione wished she had some brothers or sisters as she listened to their stories. Rosa and Draco were off in their own little world by the mulberry bushes, laughing and feeding each other cake like they were practicing for their wedding. Hermione kept glancing over at them, jealous. Harry was sitting at the table, talking to Cho over Lavender’s head, which was rested on the table, as she had fallen asleep. Pavartti and Dean were laughing about something, and Pavartti had kicked her legs over Dean’s lap. Ginny and Seamus were still in their seat, busying themselves with making up. Hermione wondered when they came up for air, as she hadn’t seen their faces separate since she’d left the table.

“ Love is in the air,” Clio said in a mocking tone, noticing the things that Hermione was as she looked around the courtyard. Hermione glanced at her watch. She wondered what Cho and Harry were talking about… if Cho mentioned anything about the note it would ruin the whole joke…

“ Ugh,” Ron said, lying back in the grass, “ I think I’ve actually eaten too much.”

“ Oh, poor thing,” Clio teased, leaning beside him and pretending to punch his stomach.

“ Don’t!” Ron said, laughing. Hermione could see by the look in both their eyes that she needed to break things up soon, or she’d be the only one without a consort in the whole courtyard. Aside from Lavender, who wasn’t even conscious at the moment.

“ Clio, look,” Hermione whispered, excited, “ She’s getting up!” Clio turned in time to see Cho rise from the table. She was looking at Harry like he was a sure thing, and she ran her finger across his shoulders as she walked away, toward the maze.

“ Let’s go!” Clio said with a smile, jumping up. She reached down to help Ron up. “ Can he come?” she asked a bit timidly. Hermione nodded.

“ Come on,” she said, and they walked across the lawn, following far enough behind Cho to keep the cover of darkness.

Harry looked up from his champagne glass, “ Where are you guys going?” he asked the three of them as they crept by.

“ Um, nowhere,” Hermione said, biting her lip, and backing away with Ron and Clio behind her.

“ Just for a stroll!” Ron added quickly, and they laughed and ran into the entrance of the maze. Hermione felt bad that they couldn’t include Harry. She wanted him to know how much she wished that he didn’t have to have other things on his mind. And not just so he could have more room to think about her. So he could act silly, like a kid, with them again. She missed him.

They slunk through the maze, following the image of Cho’s red party dress through the darkness. They could see the pink Valentine heart with the message from the secret admirer on it in her hand.

“ It won’t even matter if she hears us,” Hermione whispered, “ She’ll only think it’s Harry trying to get there before her!” Ron and Clio snickered, both imagining the look on Cho’s face when she saw Gretchen waiting instead of Harry—and likewise the look on Gretchen’s when she saw Cho come around the corner instead of Harry.

They continued to follow Cho through the maze for quite a while—longer than they’d expected. Hermione could hardly tell in the dark, but Cho didn’t seem to on the right path. Can’t the fool even find her way with the map right in front on her? Hermione wondered angrily, knowing all the while that it was extremely difficult to navigate the maze, even in the day.

“ How long is this going to take?” Clio finally asked, “ My feet are tired!”

“ Is she getting us lost?” Ron asked, also beginning to get irritable.

“ I… I don’t know,” Hermione said, “ This… looks like the right trail… but I can’t be sure.”

“ Great,” Clio whispered, “ We’ll never get out of here!”

“ No, wait,” Ron said, “ There’s the fountain—yeah! Gretchen should be just up ahead!” Hermione could see his grin the dark. “ I wish we had a camera!”

Hermione heard a twig snap behind them and spun around. All she saw was darkness, but in the distance she heard footsteps.

“ Come on!” Ron called to her when she fell back, “ I think I can hear Gretchen—is she TALKING to herself?! Clio laughed, and tried to contain to herself.

“ Wait…” Hermione said, looking behind her again. “ There’s something…”

“ Oh, forget it, Hermione!” Clio said, “ She’s about to find her ‘dream lover’.”

Ron smiled to himself, “ Don’t you want to watch them freak out?”

Hermione kept her eyes on the darkness behind them, “ Um, that’s okay,” she said, curious, beginning to walk back the way they came, “ You two go ahead.”

Ron and Clio, a bit puzzled, warned her to be careful—getting lost in the maze alone was like a death wish. Then they went ahead, leaving Hermione to search through the tall green bushes that served as walls. Everything was dark—a cloud had slid across the moon, blocking her only light. Hermione’s heart was pounding, and for some reason she wasn’t scared. Who was following her?

She heard a scream in the distance, and then another. She grinned as she imagined the two girls running to each other in the dark—and finally getting close enough to realize they’d been duped. But she was suddenly much more curious about the noises that were moving stealthily through the maze.

“ Hello?” she called out, timidly at first, and then louder. The cloud moved away from the moon, and it lit her path again. Washed in blue moonlight, the flower-filled maze of bushes looked rather beautiful.

She heard another sound like footsteps nearby, and it seemed closer this time. “ Who’s there?” she cried, trying to make her way around the wall she thought she heard the noise behind.

“ Hermione?” she recognized a familiar voice.

“ Harry!” she cried with glee, a huge smile spreading across her face. “ Where are you?”

“ Hermione, oh it’s you!” he called, “ I’m here!”

“ Where?” she asked, laughing.

“ Here!” he shouted, and Hermione had no idea where that was.

“ Harry!” she said, laughing and spinning around to try and find out where she was, how she could reach him. “ You followed me! Why?”

“ I have to give you your Valentine’s Day gift,” he said, laughing.

“ Throw it over the wall!”

“ I can’t!” he said, “ It must be delivered in person. Hermione giggled, running down the path to try and find her way to him.

“ I’m coming!” she shouted.

“ Where are you?”

“ I’m here!”

“ Where?”

Hermione laughed again, and stuck her hand through the thick bushes.

“ Can you see me now?” she asked.

“ No… yes!” She heard him running closer, and felt him grasp her hand on the other side of the bush.

“ Harry!” Hermione shouted with joy. “ You’ve found me!” He squeezed her hand, the touch of his skin making her feel warm all over.

“ Almost,” he said, “ There’s a corner here—I can’t get around.”

“ Put my present in my hand,” she suggested.

“ I’ll try.” He kissed her hand softly, giving her happy goosebumps. “ There’s a bit of it.” He said, kissing her hand again and again and making her giggle wildly. “ Hermione… I’m so sorry I was cross with you.” She could feel his lips move against her hand as he spoke.

“ Oh, Harry—I was jealous and stupid!” Hermione admitted, “ I want to hold you, Harry—where are you?”

“ I’ll find you,” he said, “ Don’t worry. Do you think you can get back to the fountain?”

“ I… think so.”

“ Meet me there,” he said, taking her hand in his again. Hermione didn’t want to let go of his hand—she had never wanted to see anyone so badly in her life, to put her arms around him and never let him go again. But she pulled her arm back to her side of the maze, and ran along the path, searching for the fountain in the middle of the maze.

What if I never find it? she wondered. She was beginning to get tired as she ran through the twisting maze of bushes. I could get stuck in here and never find my way out—there was no way to part the bushes with magic—navigating the maze was part of the N.E.W.T. test, so it was impossible to cheat.

Just as Hermione was starting to wonder if she’d ever see Harry again, she saw something up ahead. It was a strange, white glow—Ellie! She turned to Hermione and gave her the friendliest smile her ghostly face could manage.

“ Go to him,” she whispered, and Hermione could hear her words in her head. She followed Ellie around a couple of bends—and then heard running water. The fountain! She turned a corner after Ellie and found it. The ghost disappeared before Hermione could thank her.

“ Harry?” she called, twirling around to see that he hadn’t made it to the fountain yet. Was this some kind of trick Ellie was playing on her? She did seem to hate Harry, after all, but at the same time she insisted that she loved him. Hermione didn’t dare try and comprehend it then. She saw Harry run out from one of the paths leading to the fountain, his eyes darting back and forth and his chest heaving from running.

“ Hermione?”

“ I’m here!” she cried, running over to him. He broke into the most beautiful smile—Hermione hadn’t seen him smile like that since before he’d learned of the prophecy. He threw out his arms and she jumped into them, wrapping her legs around his waist and letting him lift her into the air and spin her around with delight.

He fell to the ground with her in his arms, kissing her closely, still breathing heavily from running through the maze. Hermione broke the kiss to giggle happily and catch her breath. Harry’s cheeks were pink and his eyes bright in the strange moonlight.

“ I love you,” she said, without even thinking, like she were just realizing it. She took his face in her hands, “ Look at you,” she said in disbelief, “ I LOVE you,” she said again, her smile so wide that it hurt. Harry kissed her and cradled her to him.

“ I have another present for you,” he whispered, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out the amethyst necklace, which he had repaired.

“ I’m sorry,” she said, remembering how she’d broken it, and his heart.

He shook his head, “ I was trying to push you away,” he admitted, “ Dumbledore says it’s a great weakness to care for someone so much that you’d do anything for them. He said Voldemort could use it against me.”

“ What those that old coot know?” Hermione said, hoping Harry didn’t put any stock in that.

“ He’s right,” Harry said, “ I would do anything. I would let the world slide into ruin to spare you any moment of pain.” He reached down and fastened the necklace around her neck, touching her skin softly as he did. “ But what do I care? I was miserable, wanting you all the time. It’s a weakness I’m willing to have.”

Hermione reached up and pulled him back down to her. “ We have to make a pact,” she whispered, “ Never to let stupid pride or Dumbledore’s words of ‘wisdom’ pull us apart. You and I know what’s best for the world.”

“ Your blood, my blood,” Harry said with a nod, “ Are you sure about this? It’s a pretty serious thing, I think.” Hermione smiled.

“ I’m sure,” she whispered, tucking his wild hair behind his ear for him.

“ Alright,” Harry said, sitting up, “ Let’s do it.” He reached into his sock and pulled out a little pocket knife. Hermione nodded, sitting up next to him, and pressing close to him, hoping he wouldn’t feel her trembling. Harry took the blade of the knife and slashed a thin cut across his palm. He handed it to Hermione.

“ Kiss me first?” Hermione asked timidly, and he pressed his lips to hers. Hermione always lost her head for a moment when he kissed her like he did then. Harry… that softness in his kiss… and then the longing, youthful hunger for her that she felt when the kiss deepened… the way his tongue found the soft spot to the left of her bottom lip, where she always bit down when she was nervous. Hermione shivered, remembered the pact and broke the kiss.

“ Alright,” she whispered, her voice shaking as she felt Harry’s breath on her cheek. She brought the shaking hand holding the knife to her palm, and Harry rested his head on her shoulder, kissing her neck quickly. “ Alright,” she whispered again. Harry needs me. She cut a line down the skin on her palm, just as he had. Somehow it didn’t even hurt. Harry took the knife and looked into her eyes. “ My blood, your blood,” he whispered, “ Nothing comes between us,” He pressed his bleeding hand to hers, and Hermione could feel their blood swell together. She felt so powerful all of a sudden, squeezing Harry’s hand tighter.

Finally when their cuts had closed up a bit, they laid down on the grass, exhausted somehow, listening to the quiet flowing of the fountain behind them. Hermione watched Harry’s eyes and realized something.

“ It doesn’t matter,” she said quietly.

“ What doesn’t?”

“ Anything,” she whispered with a smile, “ I mean… before… when I said if you turned to the dark arts to defeat… I don’t even care. I would still fight for you.”

Harry scooted his head closer to hers, so that their foreheads touched. Hermione shut her eyes and listened to his breathing, calm and quiet. His breath smelled sweetly of the cakes and pastries he’d eaten at the garden party.

“ The party,” she said quietly, “ I wonder if they’re looking for us.”

“ Forget em’,” Harry said, putting his arm around her and drawing her close, “ We’ll just say we got lost.”

“ We did get lost,” Hermione said with a laugh, opening her eyes and kissing him on the nose.

“ I want to sleep under the stars tonight,” Harry said, “ If you won’t be too cold.”

Hermione pressed her face against his chest, “ How could I be cold?” she whispered. She wrapped an arm around him and squeezed his shoulder.

“ Who couldn’t say you’re not simply wonderful,” she inadvertently began singing the song from her dream, “ Who could ever harm you?”

“ Where’d you hear that song?” Harry asked sleepily.

“ I don’t know,” Hermione said, unbuttoning his shirt a bit and kissing him bellow his neck. “ Why?”

“ Sounds familiar,” he said, “ I don’t know why… I must have heard it somewhere.”

“ Shall I sing the rest?” she asked with a smile. “ I don’t think the words make much sense, but it’s pretty.”

“ Maybe in a moment,” Harry said, giving her his covetous look and kissing her again. Hermione lost herself in his gentle kiss for a moment, and then remembered something.

“ Harry,” she said, pulling back and grinning at his contented expression, “ I meant to ask you something.”

“ Hmm?”

“ This necklace,” she said, pulling on it, “ McGonagall and Ron told me it was your mother’s… where did you get it?”

Harry blinked a few times, “ It was in the pocket of the invisibility cloak,” he said, “ When I got it for Christmas.”

“ So Dumbledore gave it to you?”

Harry shrugged, “ I always thought it was Sirius who arranged that I got the cloak,” he said. “ Why do you want to know?”

“ It’s just kind of curious, that’s all,” Hermione answered, “ This necklace… don’t you think it holds some kind of significance?”

Harry nodded, “ It’s been worn only by girls that the Potters loved,” he said with a grin, “ Kind of a cheesy significance, I guess.” Hermione smiled.

“ Not cheesy,” she said, pulling him back into her arms. Of course she wasn’t thinking about it then, but in the back of her mind she still thought there was something more behind the little amethyst crystal she wore.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Fin left the Shinra mansion by carriage on a rainy Monday morning. He hadn’t been outside it’s walls since he was a small child, and the impact of even the small light from the sky on his eyes was dramatic. Voldemort hadn’t seen him off as he’d left—he’d been calling together a meeting of the high council of the Netherworld’s most important associates. Something big was happening, and Fin could feel himself at the center of it, which was odd.

Voldemort had left his instructions in Fin’s head, which was terrifying, because he’d have to hear the dark lord’s voice in his mind, telling him what to do, how to do it. Fin tried not to think about it as he climbed aboard his carriage. He was traveling alone, and far into the west. Finally leaving the cold mountains of Niebilhiem and the hateful old mansion, he looked forward to perhaps seeing the sun. Today, however, it’s light was hidden behind thick rain clouds. Fin had nothing to think about during the carriage ride—he barely yet knew his mission. He rested his head back on the seat in the carriage as the driver and the black stallions pulled out of the front gates, and ventured to sleep.

“ Can’t you heal yourself?” Fin was asking Marielle, as she wept over her arm, and the sore spot where her father had struck her for failing to learn her apparition timing. Marielle shook her head.

“ You’re as stupid as you are weak,” she barked at him through her tears, “ One can’t heal oneself—what sense would that make?”

Fin was quiet for a moment, “ Maybe I could do it,” he suggested, “ Tell me how.”

Marielle snorted, “ I’m sure you could not.”

Fin laid back on his bed—she was probably right. His nature as a wizard certainly wasn’t to heal. Marielle turned to him with a strange look.

“ I don’t want you trying anything when I die,” she said, and Fin’s face fell. They both knew it was inevitable—Marielle was not strong enough to complete her father’s trials. But Fin tried not to think about his only friend in the world dying—it was awfully unpleasant to imagine being all alone, especially now that Dickie was gone.

“ That look on your face,” Marielle said with a laugh, “ You haven’t become affectionate towards me, have you?” Fin shook his head. It was a lie, and Marielle knew it, of course. She only smiled.

“ You don’t think I love you do you, servant boy?” she asked, leaning toward him. Fin stiffened and didn’t move.

“ I don’t.”

“ Oh, you liar,” Marielle said, running a sharp fingernail along his side, “ You want me to—and you hope I do, I can see it… No one has ever loved you in your whole life, have they?”

Fin said nothing.

“ My mother loved me,” Marielle said, sitting up, “ Father killed her when she tried to take me away from here.” She was quiet for a long time. Fin sat up beside her and put a tentative arm around her shoulders. Marielle started to shrug him off violently like she would normally, but something in her broke, and she collapsed against him instead.

“ Finley!” the driver was screaming at him, and Fin woke suddenly. Where was he? He almost sank to the floor in fear, remembering all at once that he was free—for the moment, at least—of Shinra mansion. Still under Voldemort’s control, however, he climbed out of the carriage and followed the driver toward a large suburban Tudor home.

“ His Lordship has arranged a place for you here,” driver said, leading him to the door. A strange, nervous feeling rose in Fin’s stomach. When was the last time he’d met someone new? He caught sight of his reflection in a window pane near the front door. Fin didn’t know what to make of himself—he just looked dirty.

“ You’re to stay the night here,” the driver continued after he’d rung the bell, “ And the patron of the house will have instructions for you tomorrow.” Fin nodded.

The door opened, and suddenly the driver beside him and the carriage in the driveway were gone—apparated back to his Master. Fin stared back at a girl who looked about his age with long, brown hair and dark blue eyes that were full of the Netherworld’s poison. She half-glared at him.

“ Get inside at once,” she said. “ You should have come at night.”

“ Yes, ma’am.”

“ Quiet!” she shouted when he spoke. “ My younger sister is home—what would she think?” She grabbed his wrist fiercely and dragged him up the stairs in the foyer. “ My parents can’t know about this—they don’t belong to the Order and they’d turn me in if they knew.” Her nails dug into Fin’s skin as she yanked him into a room that was decorated in light purple and white. Fin could see the sun beginning to come out a bit outside and smiled to himself.

“ Get away from the window!” the girl ordered. Aside from a few of Voldemort’s withered mistresses, she was the only girl he’d ever met outside of Marielle. And he found her to be much less kind, which was saying a lot, Marielle having been the daughter of the Dark Lord, and exceptionally evil herself.

“ You will stay in here,” she said, “ This is my room. I will bring you some food later—you’re not to make any noise or leave under any circumstances. I’ll brief you on your first mission tomorrow,” she added, and Fin could tell she thought she was very important.

Suddenly someone pounded on the door, and they both jumped.

“ Phone!” a small girl’s voice called from the other side of the door.

“ I’d better take this,” the girl said to Fin, “ You stay here.” He nodded. Stay here. He understood his mission so far.

“ By the way,” the girl said as she waited for her sister’s footsteps to retreat back down the hall, “ You can call me Teresa.” With that she left the room, Fin still standing awkwardly in the middle of it.

As soon as she was gone, Fin ran to the window and threw open the curtains. Maybe if I don’t mess things up the Master will set me free, Fin thought hopefully, looking up at the bit of sun that was visible through the clouds. He knew it was a long shot, but he had to keep hoping. Deep down, though, he knew his work wouldn’t please Voldemort. His Master planned on having him “wreck” Harry Potter—whatever that meant. He was sure it was something designed to make him more susceptible for his fall to the dark side. But Fin had other plans. Plans that certainly didn’t involve Harry Potter walking away from him alive.

The End. (for the moment)