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Hermione’s Night on the Town

By Mena Baines

“ …Be forever with my poison arms around you. No one’s gonna fool around with us. No one’s gonna fool around with us….” –Elliott Smith (‘Angeles’)

Hermione was feeling contented, and normal—for the first time in awhile. She was in the Gryffindor common room, the touchstone of her past seven years spent here at school, buried behind a gigantic reference book—her trademark. Or, what had, in the past, been her trademark. Nowadays she was more like to be buried behind Harry’s lips, or flying through time as the school’s young avenger, completing missions and stealing precious artifacts from the past.

Harry didn’t know that she’d gone back in time. McGonagall had told her not to tell him, or he might flip out, knowing that they’d sent Hermione back in time to spend a week with his parents in all their former glory. He wouldn’t be able to understand that he never could have gone back himself—it would have been much too tempting for him to try and change the past.

But Hermione wanted so badly to tell him. She wanted him to know all about his mother—from whom he’d inherited his wild streak, and his charming father, James, who seemed to be responsible for his gentlemanliness.

Harry did seem to be in good spirits, though, since they’d let him out of the detention hall. Maybe he had a new appreciation for life. Whatever the case, at the moment, he was on Hermione’s nerves.

“ Cut it out,” she said, batting him off as he crept up behind her. He was trying to distract her from her reading, the scoundrel.

“ Hermione,” he said, kissing her neck, “ Come on, it’s nearly six o’clock. Don’t you want to go out with the gang tonight?”

“ Let me get this done first, will you?” she snapped, secretly wanting to give in to him. She wasn’t really doing homework—that was a lie. She was studying defensive maneuvers. Six wizards had been killed in Liverpool last week, the victims of a strange attacker that had left no trace of his identity. The battle against the Dark Arts and Voldemort was looming over all their heads with the sticky-sweet air that spring had brought to Hogwarts, but it was on Hermione’s mind more than anyone’s. I’m trying to save your life, you silly boy, Hermione thought as Harry rested his chin impatiently on her shoulder. It was a striking sort of symbolism—his head there, weighty, on her shoulder. She chuckled to herself and thought of a quote she had once heard. Behind every great man there is a greater woman.

Harry took her slight laughter as a sign of submission, “ Alright then,” he said, reaching down and lifting her out of her seat. “ Its about time we got going…”

“ Harry!” she protested, letting the book fall out of her hands. Useless, she thought, these fighting spells are like Greek to me. It’s Harry’s nature, not mine. I only wanted to help! Her head was such a mess of ideas that she let Harry carry her all the way through the common room to the dormitory halls.

“ Come back here!” they heard someone shout, and suddenly Dean Thomas came rushing out of the boy’s dorms, chasing after little first-year Marcus Reily. Marcus was giggling wildly; he crashed off of Harry and bounced against the wall, where Dean picked him up by the collar of his shirt.

“ I’ll tell them!” Marcus said in a singsong voice, “ I swear it!”

“ What’s this about?” Harry asked, setting Hermione down.

“ This twit is threatening to tell McGonagall and Dumbledore about our little outing tonight,” Dean said, “ It’s the annual senior night on the town, and he says he’ll burst our bubble if we don’t bring him along.”

“ I will!” Marcus piped up proudly, “ I’ll go right to the headmaster unless you bring me!”

“ Okay,” Harry said, “ Or…. We could just, say, break both your legs and go without you.”

Marcus suddenly sank to the floor with a funny look on his face. He pushed Dean out of the way and ran, back down the corridor to the boy’s dorm.

“ That got him—“ Harry started to say, but Dean was giving him a wary look. “ What?” he asked.

“ Geez, Harry,” he said quietly, backing away slowly.

“ Oh, come on, Dean!” Harry said, frowning, “ I was just messing with the kid—“

Dean walked away cautiously before Harry could finish. Hermione felt horrible for him—like his second year at school, people were beginning to think he was up to something. But then he had been framed… was it possible that the same thing was happening now?

“ What’s with them?” Harry asked, blushing and pretending not to know. Hermione hooked her arm through his without a word, and let him walk her to her room.

Lately she’d been feeling like Lady McBeth—holding onto her man’s arm as their hypothetical ship sunk hopelessly deeper into deceit. Harry was trying to act as if nothing was happening, and maybe he really didn’t notice, the way Lupin had been working him to the bone with his training. But Hermione could see it all around them since Filch had claimed that Harry had attacked him. People always cast a second look his way, wondering perhaps if he was capable of it.

Tonight, though, she was hoping to get away from all of this. For the senior night out, they were going to be with only their closest friends—everyone who wouldn’t dream of suspecting Harry of doing anything rotten like going after Filch. Or like starting that fire… Hermione still couldn’t get Clio’s solemn words out of her head, as much as she tried.

“ Come on, then,” Draco barked, waving them inside Hermione and Rosa’s room. “ She’s about ready with the waverunner! Hurray up!”

Well, they were going out with all of their closest friends—and Draco. But only because Rosa was bringing him.

“ Hey, guys,” said Ron, who was also inside the room waiting for Rosa to show up with their ride, “ Where are we going tonight, anyway?” Ron, who was the least experienced in the ways of Muggles, was a little nervous about tonight. Hermione flopped down on the bed next to Seamus.

“ We’re going into Burketsville,” Draco explained. He seemed to be the curator of this little excursion. It was customary for the seventh year students to go out on a designated night and wreak good-natured havoc on a Muggle town, and Draco was all about customs. Hermione had known something about this tradition since her fourth year, but she had never imagined she’d being going alongside Draco.

Harry leaned out the window, looking for Rosa. “ Pretty nice out,” he said. Hermione saw him looking in the direction of the Forrest…no, he was looking somewhere else. At Hagrid’s old hut, out at the foot of the woods. Hermione joined him at the window and peered down at the dilapidated little cabin.

“ It’s too bad Hagrid had to leave,” she said, placing a hand on Harry’s shoulder, “ He was always a friend to us…”

“ Yeah,” Harry said distantly, staring at the hut. Hermione rested her head on his shoulder, and felt him shiver.

“ You okay?” she whispered, close to his ear.

“ Uh-huh,” he said, turning back to her. “ But I have a weird feeling.”

“ Weird?”

“ Yeah…but not necessarily bad,” he cast a quick backward glance out the window, “ I had the strangest dream last night. Maybe that’s what’s been bugging me.”

“ A dream?” Hermione asked carefully. She hoped he hadn’t dreamt of killing innocent people or burning down the school.

“ Yeah,” he said, rubbing her bare shoulders. It was really too cool for her outfit, but Hermione felt like a model whenever she wore it. It was a long, blue, sleeveless dress, unbuttoned up the middle, revealing the satiny tan slip she wore underneath. Rosa had helped her pick this out in Hogsmeade last week.

“ There was this girl with long, blond hair,” Harry said, “ In the dream. I don’t remember where we were… but she told me I’d regain everything I’d had after it seemed that I lost everything.”

Hermione felt an uneasy pinch in her stomach. Long, blond hair?

“ What did she look like?” she asked, trying not to seem too eager, “ Was she covered in snake bites? Was she wearing a dirty old-fashioned dress?” Harry laughed.

“ I don’t know,” he said, “ I hardly remember it. Just what she said. That kind of struck me. Because lately… I don’t know… I feel like I’ve lost everyone’s trust somehow. Maybe that’s what she meant.”

Hermione frowned. She should have maybe argued with that but it was true that the rest of the students at Hogwarts were wary of him now. And could the blond girl in his dream possibly be Ellie? What was she up to, telling Harry things like that? Could she somehow have found out that his father was alive?

“ Howdy!” someone hollered loudly, and Hermione jumped back. Rosa was at the window, on her infamous waverunner. She grinned wickedly at Hermione. “ Ready to go, guys?”

Hermione scowled at her. Rosa had this wonderful way of intervening whenever she was in deep and serious thought.

“ There is no way,” she said, “ That we’re all going to get into town on that little thing.”

“ Little?” Rosa said, slapping the side of the flying Muggle device, “ Hardly! This baby is practically a whale! Come on, Herm-oine, hop on and see!”

Hermione had ridden the wave runner once before, with Harry, on a quick trip back to Hogwarts from Hogsmeade. The experience had been a pleasant one, but mostly because she’d gotten to wrap her arms around him the way she had when they rode the hippogriff Buckbeak together as kids. It made her nostalgic. His hair had still smelled the same—sharp and sweet, like oranges.

“ Alright!” Ron shouted, jumping onto the waverunner. The thing bounced with his added weight, and Rosa giggled, revving it up.

“ Excuse me!” Draco said, shoving Ron back and wrapping his arms protectively around Rosa’s waist as he climbed on behind her. She scooted back against him and he blushed. “ Hurray up, Potter!” he barked, his ears red.

“ Come on,” Harry said, tugging at Hermione’s arm as he stepped on behind Ron. The waverunner rocked again, causing Rosa and Ron to burst out laughing. They think this is funny! Hermione thought, pulling back. Seamus stood beside her at the window, looking cautious. They gave each other a mutually frightened look.

“ I don’t know…” Seamus said, “ Can’t we just take brooms?”

“ Heck, no!” Rosa said, “ Don’t you know anything about Muggles? They’ll get lifted, and then we’ll be in huge trouble if McGonagall catches wind of some Muggle thieves flying around on our brooms.”

“ We can freak them out more with this,” Draco said, sneering, “ Now get your pansy butt on the thing, Seamus!”

Rosa laughed, “ You’re sounding more like me everyday,” she cooed. And then, “ Really guys. It’s safe. Me and Nail had six people on this thing once, plus ourselves. And those were bikers from Jersey. They weigh about eight times what you all do. So let’s go!”

Seamus tentatively stepped onto the flying contraption, squeezing between Draco and Ron.

“ Ouch!”

“ Watch it!” It was a tight fit. Hermione couldn’t help laughing just looking at all of them on this Muggle thing, smushed together, the boys holding on, however awkwardly, for dear life, and Rosa at the front, sitting confidently with her hands on the steering bars.

“ Come on, it’s okay,” Harry smiled and beckoned to her sweetly as the other boys squirmed for room, “ You can sit in my lap. Here,” he reached out for her.

“ Ooh, Hermione,” Ron said, laughing, “ He wants you in his lap!” He and Seamus burst out laughing, and Rosa snorted, trying poorly to contain her amusement. Hermione leaned forward to punch Ron, and Harry grabbed her arm, lifting her onto the waverunner with him. Hermione shrieked, but let him pull her into his lap. She settled against him, arms wrapped shakily around his shoulders, facing the opposite way.

“ Oh, criminy!” she wailed, “ Don’t drop me!” Everyone laughed, but she was being serious. Something about this dumb Muggle thing that Rosa had enchanted terrified her. Harry squeezed her closer.

“ I’m not dropping you,” he said, “ Calm down.” He kissed her ear reassuringly, and Rosa took off. Hermione couldn’t help screaming as they flew up, up higher than she’d ever been.

“ Holy (she said something that caused all the boys to laugh in disbelief)!” she shut her eyes and wrapped her legs around Harry’s waist, terrified that they’d fall under all this weight.

“ Sorry, Herm-oine!” she barely heard Rosa call over the roar of the wind in her ears. “ We have to go hella high or they’ll spot us!”

Hermione muttered something inaudible against Harry’s shoulder. The boys were laughing and poking each other, lifting an arm here and there to try and seem brave. Except Harry, who kept his grip tight, Hermione locked firmly in his arms. Eventually, she got up enough courage to raise her head slightly over the peak of Harry’s shoulder to watch the darkening sky as the last of the sun disappeared all around them. They were up so high that Hermione thought they might crash into a star. She couldn’t see the ground, only clouds below her.

“ How does she know where she’s going?” she asked Harry, her voice small. He bent his head and laughed against her neck.

“ You still conscious?” he asked. “ I was afraid you’d passed out.”

Hermione’s grip on him tightened involuntarily, “You did not,” she whispered. She sighed heavily. “ I’m a wimp,” she decided.

“ Oh, now,” Harry said, “ Not always.” He giggled. Hermione was so close to him she could almost feel his laughter move through her.

Harry, she thought, lifting her head and bringing her chin to rest on his shoulder, I’m not brave enough. I have to get stronger than this if I want to help you. And fast.

_______________________

They got to Burketsville after what seemed, to Hermione, like a long ride. It was darker now, and the city was lighting up against the coming night. Hermione could see its glow as they landed a few miles out of the city limits, hiding the waverunner behind some bushes near a little lake. So much for scaring Muggles with it, Hermione thought. She knew everyone would chicken out when it came to wrecking havoc. She was just hoping to have a little fun and forget her troubles for awhile.

Hermione’s knees were still shaking as she took her first steps off the waverunner. Harry hooked his arm through hers and laughed at her wobbly stance. After a while she was okay, as they headed down the road to the Muggle town.

“ Okay,” Rosa said, once they were inside the city, “ What shall we do first? Get something to eat? Go see a Muggle movie?” Rosa was something of an authority on Muggle life. Hermione was too, but she didn’t want to be the leader tonight, so she left that up to her friend.

“ Let’s freak some people out!” Draco suggested, jumping up onto Rosa’s back. “ Come on! Who wants to see a dumb movie when there are suckers all over this place!” They were standing at the corner of a four-way intersection, near a street lamp. Every now and then a bus would pass by, but other than that there wasn’t much traffic in this outer part of the city. Rosa grabbed Draco’s legs and spun around, laughing.

“ Okay, you little rascal,” she said, “ But where to start?”

“ Come on, guys,” Seamus whined, “ I’m hungry! And I don’t want to bother anyone… what if the school finds out?”

“ Please!” Ron said, “ We won’t do anything that major!”

“ I’m hungry, too,” Harry said, “ Let’s just get something to eat first, since we don’t even know what we’re going to do yet.” Hermione agreed, and she and Rosa persuaded the other boys to go along with it. They took one of the buses into the crowded part of town, where all the shops and restaurants were located.

“ Here we go!” Rosa said, when they stepped off the bus, “ Chinese food! This stuff is great—real authentic Muggle cuisine!” She led them into the little restaurant, grabbing Ron and Draco when they paused to gawk at the neon shops and bustling crowds like they’d never seen anything like it.

“ Table for—“ Rosa stopped to count their party, “ Six, please.” She said.

“ And what’s the name?” asked the little black-haired woman who stood at the hostess stand.

“ Uh…Malfoy!” Rosa sang happily, and Draco coughed and blushed. She ushered them over to a corner to wait for their table—the little Muggle joint was packed.

“ Speaking of weddings,” she said, grinning at Draco, “ You’re all invited to come to my mom’s. It’s next week.”

“ Yeah,” Ron said, “ So is Percy’s. He’s having it on Easter Break so me and Ginny can get out of school to come.” He rolled his eyes. “ Like I want to. But it would be fun if you all came.”

Rosa nodded, “ We could do a double-wedding tour for Easter Break!” she said with a grin. “ You guys have GOT to help me live through Bernie and Calliope’s wedding. It’ll be torture without you!” she looked at Draco, and tugged on his arm.

“ You know I can’t!” he said, “ I’ve got to do some stupid crap with my dad.” Hermione and Rosa exchanged a look. Both were afraid that Draco’s father was trying to steer him toward the Dark Arts before Voldemort made his move at Hogwarts.

“ Well, the rest you have to come,” she said, looking a little discouraged.

“ I don’t have any plans,” Harry said with a smile, “ I’m there—for Percy’s, too.” He added, looking at Ron. “ I can’t wait to see what the twins have been up to,” he said with a grin.

“ I’ll go,” Hermione said, “ I was going to stay at school and study for the N.E.W.T.S., but I have this feeling that they’ll be obsolete this year.” The group laughed nervously, as they all knew what she meant. Harry squeezed her arm.

“ I’ll come,” Seamus said, “ But I can only make it to the Weasley shindig. My mum wants me to come with her to Ireland for a few days. I promised Ginny I’d be her date at her brother’s wedding, though. So I’ll see you guys there.”

“ I’m so excited!” Rosa said, happily, “ I can’t wait to see what Nail and Clio again,” she added, looking at Hermione purposefully. What’s that supposed to mean? Hermione wondered, her cheeks burning red.

“ Clio…” Ron droned happily. “ Maybe I’ll drag her to Percy’s wedding,” he said with a loopy grin.

Hermione didn’t want to admit it, but she’d missed Nail O’Ryan like crazy since he’d left. She felt embarrassed even thinking it. What WAS it about that guy? He was rude, American, and…well, wonderful, so far as she could tell. Her interest in him was so different from her devotion to Harry. I shouldn’t have to be so committed, she thought sourly, I’m only seventeen. But at the same time, the idea of bucking Harry’s trust, and everything they’d been through, made her want to ignore all other boys. She decided she’d just see what happened at the wedding next week and take it from there. There were more important things going on. But the very idea of seeing him again was half the reason she wanted to go. Hermione blushed to herself, feeling traitorous for thinking it.

They got their table, and ordered plates of Chinese food, which Hermione had only had a few other times in her life. She scarfed down egg rolls and fried rice, listening to everyone chat about their plans for after school.

“ Well I’m going back to America as soon as I can,” Rosa announced. “ No offense, guys, but this country ain’t for me. Me and Nail are going to the Megadeath concert in Jersey this summer. After that, I dunno—maybe I’ll get a job with one of my mom’s friends. Maybe… I’ll make love potion for a living!” she winked at Hermione, who sank in her chair.

“ Please don’t!” Draco said, and everyone laughed, except Seamus, who had no idea what they were talking about.

“ I’m moving out of my house the minute I graduate,” Ron said bitterly, “ I think I’ll move to the states, too. Las Vegas is looking pretty good.” Rosa laughed.

“ You and Clio could get married in a drive-thru chapel!” she said, pinching his cheek. He swatted her away.

“ Why?” he asked, twirling the straw in his soda, “ Did she say she liked me? Does she mention my name?” Rosa just laughed again.

“ Well I’m NOT getting married,” Draco said with a scowl, “ My parents are going to buy me a huge mansion with maids and servants, and I’ll just do whatever I want until I decide what job I want to have.”

“ Ugh!” Hermione said, “ That’s disgusting. You want you parents to always have control over you?” she asked.

“ What does that have to do with mooching off of them?” he demanded, annoyed.

“ If you take their gifts, they’ll hit you up for favors later on,” she rationalized, sipping her soda, “ You’ll feel like you owe them something.”

“ Bull,” Draco muttered.

“ Now, now,” Rosa said, patting his silver-blond head, “ Don’t listen to him, he’s just being a brat. He knows I’m dragging him back to the states and forcing him to marry me,” she joked.

“ Yeah, right,” Draco said, folding his arms across his chest. Rosa’s grin widened, and she leaned over, whispering something in his ear. Hermione saw him turn bright red, and try to contain a smile.

“ He may have to reconsider,” Rosa cooed. Draco grabbed her hand and stood up, pushing his chair back abruptly against the table behind them.

“ We’ll be right back,” he said, embarrassed, pulling a laughing Rosa away from the table.

“ Never a dull moment,” Hermione muttered. Harry sighed and leaned back, patting his tight, Quidditch player stomach. He smiled at her.

“ I’m stuffed,” he said, lazily draping an arm around her chair.

“ Me too,” she said, leaning over toward him, “ You want to disappear?” she whispered in his ear. He nodded and grinned.

“ Excuse us, boys,” Hermione said, getting up with Harry. “ We’ll be back…or not…it’s really hard to tell.” Ron rolled his eyes, and Seamus giggled.

______________________

Hermione was having so much fun being just a silly girl for one night that she lost track of the time. She and Harry had wandered into the city square, which was alive with Muggle nightlife. They’d bought a funnel cake, thrown good-luck wishes into the fountain in the center of the square, and had not tormented any Muggles so far. They found a quiet little spot in the nearby park when they tired of the crowds, and Hermione laid down on her side, Harry sitting beside her.

“ So what are your plans after graduation?” he asked her once they were alone, looking into the distance. Hermione’s heart ached for him. What plans could he make? And, for that matter, what plans could she make, without him?

“ Harry…” she said, reaching up and taking his hand. She loved the feel of his skin. Warm and rough. Great Wizards, what would she do if he lost his warmth, his life, on the battlefield? Hermione couldn’t even imagine. She pulled him down next to her, into her arms, her futile attempt to keep him safe and close for a few moments. It felt, then, like a few moments were all they had left.

“ No, tell me,” he said, quietly now, his face close to hers. She felt his breath on her cheek, and told herself to relish it. Harry breathing. Then she cursed herself for jumping to conclusions. He could survive. Couldn’t he? It had to be possible. Nothing was impossible, especially not in their world.

“ Well,” she said softly, “ I plan on taking a break after I graduate, for once. Before I look for work, I want to have one summer to myself, to think things through clearly. I want to go to some quiet place—like Wutai, in the mountains.”

“ Wutai?”

“ That place Clio is always talking about?” Hermione said, “ You know. You could come visit me,” she said, and she choked on the last word, her eyes filling with tears.

Harry just stared back at her, not knowing what to say. Not wanting to get her hopes up, or smash them. He kissed her nose softly.

“ I’ll visit you often,” he whispered wistfully, and Hermione shook her head and squeezed him closer to her.

“ No, no,” she said, crying, “ That’s not what I mean. I don’t want your spirit, goddammit! I mean, I want you to come see me, and hold me like this, and, and I want us to be together, and I want to have children with you someday, after the dark lord is gone, when things are safe!”

Harry sat up suddenly, angry, “ Hermione, things will never be safe for me. And if you want to have my kids, well, we’d better get busy now because I won’t be around when things are safe for you, and we both know it. So stop daydreaming.”

Hermione sat up, narrowing her eyes at him, “ How can you talk like that!” she snapped, “ Are you giving up?”

“ Haven’t they told you the way things are!” Harry shouted back at her, “ Or have they been leading you blindly with lies like they did with me?”

“ What?” she asked, shaking her head. “ What are you talking about?”

“ Its ME, Hermione,” he said, pointing at his chest, “ I’M the danger. It’s not Voldemort—hell, if he weren’t alive, it’d be some other dark lord. As long as I’m alive they’ll be some power-hungry jerk like him trying to get hold of THIS.”

Hermione shook her head, “ But you’re not evil!” she said, “ God, Harry—are you saying they WANT you destroyed?”

“ I don’t know what I am,” Harry said, “ And they don’t want me destroyed—not yet. They’ve been waiting for me—for the prophecy! They thought it was my dad, but they were wrong. They need ME to rid the world of the former One.”

“ What?” Hermione frowned and tried to understand. “ You mean… Tom?”

“ Yes, Tom,” Harry said, “ HE was the one in my father’s generation who was born with the Power. He was corrupted by the Dark Arts like all the Ones before him. The gift of having this Power comes with the constituent that the One is always driven mad by it. Hermione, do you have any idea what I’m CAPABLE of? What I could do, if I wanted to?”

Hermione wanted to cover her ears. She couldn’t take anymore of this damned prophecy. What did the people who wrote it know about the scared boy who sat beside her? Did they know she would love him? How could they know that she’d throw herself in front of a freight train before she let him be driven mad by his powers?

“ So they’re banking on the two of you destroying each other?” Hermione asked, pulling on her necklace. Then why were McGonagall and Lupin trying so hard to save him?

“ That would be the best-case scenario,” Harry said, running a gentle hand down her cheek and giving her goosebumps. “ I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to start talking like this.”

“ I don’t understand,” Hermione said, “ It sounds like they change their story about this prophecy thing every time… I think you could kill him, Harry.” she finally said, “ If you’ve got this POWER… you could kill him, and I could keep you honest. I really think so.” She’d stopped crying now. She actually believed what she was saying.

She heard music in the distance, and saw a band setting up on a stage in the square. Harry looked over his shoulder.

“ You want to go back to the restaurant?” he asked. Hermione shook her head.

“ Let’s stay,” she said, “ Come on, I’ll teach you to dance like a Muggle.” He stared back at her.

“ You’d keep me honest?” he asked quietly. Hermione put her arms around him. The feeling of someone so powerful needing her so much made her shake.

“ You know I will,” she said, “ I have so far, haven’t I?” He laughed softly against her shoulder. “ I’ll do more than that,” she said, “ I’ll do anything.”

“ Damn,” he said, sitting up and smiling at her, “ We need to stop having this conversation.” Hermione laughed, and stood up.

“ Come on,” she said, pulling him toward the stage.

“ Hermione!” she heard someone calling her name, and thought maybe it was Rosa. But when she turned, she saw McGonagall running toward her.

“ Oh, man,” Harry muttered, “ Busted.” Hermione’s cheeks turned pink. She couldn’t believe what a troublemaker she’d become this year.

“ Hermione, Harry,” McGonagall said, catching up to them, out of breath, “ Come back…to castle…at once…”

“ What’s the matter?” Hermione asked her professor.

“ There’s been another attack,” McGonagall said, frenzied. “ This time in Cornwall. I know this is the senior night out—we’ve known you kids do this every year. But you have to get back, right away.”

“ How many?” Harry asked, suddenly very grave.

“ Eighteen,” McGonagall said, choking on the word. “ All former students of Hogwarts,” she added with a whisper. “ Rubus Hagrid and Angelina Johnson were among them.”

________________________

Hermione listened to Rosa snoring quietly in the darkness. Her own tears had dried, but her face was still puffy and sticky. Hagrid, their childhood friend, was dead. Murdered. And Angelina, that sweet girl who had fawned over the Weasley twins and looked out for Harry on the Quidditch team. She was barely two years older than Hermione. Than Harry. McGonagall said that Voldemort’s signature was all over the crime scene. He was leaving his calling card. Getting closer and closer. Beckoning for Harry.

Hermione could feel someone standing behind her before she turned around. But she still gasped when she saw Ellie at the foot of her bed. The ghost looked at her somberly.

“ My father is walking through his head,” she said, “ Making him crazy. He won’t stop until he gets what he wants. Go help him,” the ghost whispered, “ Please ease his mind. He’s so scared! I can’t help him anymore.”

Hermione kicked her covers off. “ What do you know about all of this?” she barked at the apparition, not caring if Rosa woke. But suddenly Ellie’s image was fading. No! Hermione thought. It’s not fair for her to be so cryptic! People are dying! She climbed out of bed and stole out of the room.

Did Ellie mean that Voldemort was trying to posses Harry? Hermione’s heart started beating faster. Was this it? Was this the big showdown? What would she do if the dark lord’s spirit was inside of Harry? How would she stop him? She had no idea.

Something invisible in the air guided Hermione seamlessly through the empty halls. Everything was dark, but she could feel Harry up ahead. He does need me, she thought. And she was not afraid.

Finally she saw him. He was moving through the lower hallway quickly, and with purpose. Where is he going? She wondered. But she refused to spy on him. She trusted Harry.

“ Hey!” she called, and he turned quickly, looking terrified. “ Wait up.” She ran up the hallway toward him. He stood frozen, staring at her with huge eyes. He wasn’t wearing his glasses.

“ Where are you going?” she whispered. He was shivering! “ What’s the matter?” she said, reaching for him. Harry stiffened when she touched him. Hermione rubbed his shoulders.

“ You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she said, with a laugh to herself, thinking of Ellie.

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

Fin quaked under the girl’s touch. This was the girl from his dream. He’d dreamt once, while he was still at Shinra mansion, that a girl had come into the kitchen and put her arms around him. It was the best dream he’d ever had.

She was small and pretty, with cinnamon eyes. She touched his shoulders… so soft… not like Ellie at all. Fin listened for his master’s voice. What should I do now? he wanted to scream, confused. But Voldemort’s presence was suddenly gone. Just a moment ago he’d been screaming at him, out of control, while Fin painted the words RIDDLE WAS HERE in a dark red that looked like blood, high over the inside of the castle’s entrance hall. But now, here in the hallway, as soon as he’d turned and met this girl’s eyes… the master’s control evaporated.

“ Oh, what’s wrong?” She looked so worried—about him! Fin caved in, letting her put her arms around him. Oh, those arms. He couldn’t remember with any clarity when the last time someone had touched him with such tenderness. Almost a year ago, at least, when Ellie was still alive. But even she hadn’t had such warmth for him.

“ I’m upset about what happened, too,” the girl whispered in his ear, the closeness sending Fin into rapture. She smelled good—clean, like lilacs. She rubbed his shoulders again, and Fin pressed closer to her. Yes, yes, yes. He thought maybe this was a dream. It couldn’t be real. He couldn’t have finally found the one person who cared, who wanted to make it better, wandering the dark halls of this strange school.

“ Oh,” Fin let a sigh of happiness escape his lips. This couldn’t be a dream. He could feel his hot, overjoyed tears falling from his eyes to this girl’s soft shoulder. He felt the scratch of the lacy strap of her nightgown on his face as he rested his head there.

“ Harry,” she whispered, stroking his hair, “ It’ll be okay.” Fin was puzzled for a moment. What had he called him… Harry? For the moment, though, he didn’t care. Somehow this girl knew how much Fin needed her to hold him. And she said it would be okay.

Fin wanted this girl. She made him feel normal for the first time in forever. He knew Voldemort would come close to destroying him later, for ignoring his voice in his head and reveling in something good for an instant. But he didn’t care. He’d ask for the dark lord to let him have this girl. He could take her back to his hut at the foot of the hill, and keep her there, to comfort him.

Even if Voldemort forbade it, he would find a way.