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Hermione and the Traitor

By Mena Baines

Hermione looked up at the sky. All those innocent clouds—how could she be in this dilemma? It was a lazy Sunday afternoon at Hogwarts, and Harry was asleep behind her in the courtyard. She had her head resting on his stomach, falling and rising with every long, even breath he took. Hermione picked up her paper and pen. Okay, start again.

Dear Mum,

Hi, how are you?

Oh, it was already horrible! Hermione crumpled up the paper and threw it away. How do you write your mother to tell her that you want permission to get married right away? Where do you begin? Hermione looked up at the sky and shut her eyes against the sun.

If only she could make her Mum understand—she knew her father would never have it. He’d take one look at Harry’s wild hair and: Forget about it! Hermione smiled to herself, though there was nothing really pleasing about the situation. She was too young to get married, but what were they supposed to do? It was like a war-bride situation—they wanted to have it behind them before the inevitable happened.

Hermione brought her hands to her face. She didn’t want to die—but if Harry died without her, she’d always blame herself for not having been there.

Suddenly she saw something across the courtyard that couldn’t have possibly been there. Buddy? Why was her Muggle cousin standing at the doors to the Great Hall and waving? He was with Clio, and another girl that Hermione didn’t recognize. Hermione stood up, confused.

Harry groaned and rubbed his eyes, “ Where are you going?” he asked with a yawn.

“ My cousin,” Hermione said, walking over to him.

“ Hermione!” Buddy said, grinning, “ Surprise.”

“ I’ll say,” she looked at Clio, “ What’s he doing here?”

“ We’re practically family,” Clio muttered, looking angry, “ Your cousin is dating mine.”

“ Huh?”

“ Hermione,” Buddy said, “ Meet Teresa,” he put an arm around the dark haired girl standing beside him. She had strange eyes, and she didn’t look happy to be there.

“ Hi,” Teresa said, haltingly.

“ Yes, but why are you here?” Hermione asked, not meaning to be rude—but truly, it was odd that they had just shown up at Hogwarts.

“ Problems on the home front.” Buddy always had some clever way to put everything—he reminded Hermione a lot of Ron; couldn’t take anything seriously.

“ It’s my fault,” Teresa said quickly, her eyes wide, “ I was…mixed up with the wrong crowd.”

Hermione thought she was following, but she had so many other things to think about that this seemed very unimportant.

“ Does Aunt Claire know?” it was all she could think to say. Harry was standing behind her now, pulling up his sagging pants and looking tired. While Buddy was talking to her she kept flashing back to the night before. It was a Saturday, so of course they had been in Hogsmeade, which was so boring now, though the conversation was certainly interesting.

“ If I asked you to come away with me, would you?” Harry had asked. They were ice-skating. It seemed like a wrong, impersonal kind of place to have that discussion. Hermione gave him a quizzical look and tried skating backwards.

“ I thought we had gotten past the whole running away thing,” she had said, not looking at him. She hadn’t wanted to believe that they were having this conversation again.

“ Maybe we wouldn’t have to run away,” Harry said, “ I want to marry you.”

“ Why?” He laughed.

“ I want to have something to leave behind.” Hermione hated it when he talked about himself in the past tense like that. Sometimes she felt like she was touching her lips to those of a ghost when they were together—like he was no more real than Ellie, who she hadn’t seen in awhile. She stopped suddenly on the ice and he crashed into her, and knocked her over, and he was real.

“ What’s the matter?” they were sitting on the frozen lake now, looking at each other like, What? And neither knew what to say about this THING that was put before them anymore. Harry’s END, his big finale, sitting there at the finish line like a bad New Year’s Eve party that you’re not looking forward to. The end.

Hermione touched his face, which was hot even in the cold. Hot from the exertion of ice-skating, and the skin on his cheeks was pink to match it’s temperature. It was really a shame that he was so beautiful. If he wasn’t, she might have been able to say no to something that was a totally ridiculous suggestion at best.

But, “ Okay,” she said, “ Let’s get married.” Because he was HARRY, and what else could she say? He loved her.

Later, after Teresa and Buddy had gotten settled, they explained their sudden presence at Hogwarts with a bit more clarity. Apparently, Teresa had been blackmailed into dealing with the Dark Arts, and now Voldemort was after her in a big way. Hermione couldn’t imagine why—the girl was so scared and slight looking that she doubted she could hurt a fly. Buddy had his arm around her constantly, like she’d break into little pieces if he wasn’t holding her together.

“ Hogwarts is the safest place on earth,” Buddy kept saying, “ So here we are.” The whole while that the persecuted couple was narrating their reason for being there, Rosa and Clio were looking at each other with some purpose, like, Should we say something?

Later, Rosa went off to go visit Draco at the Slytherin house, and as she wasn’t about to go sneaking around there, Hermione began to search Clio out to find out what was going on.

She found her in the library, which was dark because all the librarians had gone home. Clio was sitting with Ron at a table near the corner. Hermione wondered for a moment if she should interrupt—Ron was just placing a hand on top of Clio’s as she entered. She cleared her throat, and Clio looked up.

“ Hermione!” she called, waving her over, “ I’m glad you came.” It was written all over Ron’s face that he didn’t feel the same way, but Hermione could hardly care. She could tell there was something more behind Teresa and Buddy’s appearance, though she couldn’t imagine her favorite cousin doing anything wrong. Anything that involved the Dark Arts, anyway.

“ So what’s the story on this Teresa person?” she asked, sitting down. Ron was shooting daggers at her, but never mind that. Clio sighed. She was wearing a t-shirt that said “Rehab is for Quitters”, and reminding Hermione very much of her rebellious older brother. Nail—where was he? Somewhere, in another life, Hermione could have loved a boy like Nail. Hell, she could have loved Nail himself. But not here, not now. Still, she wondered where he was, and didn’t ask for a number of reasons.

“ Teresa is no good, a bad egg,” Clio said, “ But don’t blame your cousin, cause she’s a temptress, a real spider woman. Pulls em’ in and spits them back out before they know what hit them.”

Hermione felt slightly offended on Buddy’s behalf. He was smarter than that. And anyway, why latch onto an innocent Muggle like him? He didn’t really have anything to offer her—did he? Sure, he knew a few token charms, but nothing special.

“ What makes you think she’s trying to start trouble now?” Hermione asked, “ Maybe she is finally getting away from the Dark Arts, like she says. She looks pretty scared.” Clio shook her head.

“ That’s the thing about her, you can’t be positive,” she explained, “ And even if we were, what would we do? We have to wait for my brother to take action.” Hermione’s ears perked up.

“ Nail?” she asked, “ What does he have to do with this?”

“ Everything.” Clio said curtly, “ He’ll be back, soon, I guess, but I don’t know where he is.”

“ I’m lost,” Ron said, “ But I do know there is some Rocky Road ice cream left over in the Great Hall,” he raised his eyebrows at Clio and Hermione knew she wasn’t invited to join them, “ Shall we?”

Clio smiled at him weakly and got up to go, casting a look back at Hermione. Hermione just nodded at her to let her know, It’s alright. Go ahead. I’ll figure this out.

_____________________

Back with Harry in her room all things melted away, to a small place in the cracks under everything that was momentarily important, where she could forget about it. Hermione flopped back onto bed and Harry got up and walked to the window. She tilted her head back over the side of the mattress and watched him upside-down thinking, Husband? He turned back to her with his serious look, and she knew what was coming next.

“ Hermione.” All he had to do was say her name, but she pretended not to get it.

“ Yes?” She played innocent for a moment.

“ Did you write to them?” The question hung in the air long enough to give him an answer.

“ You don’t know my parents.”

“ Hermione! This is important to me,” He sighed and looked out the window. Hermione could see the Forrest, even from where she was positioned on the bed, and it was still like a dark blob waiting to eat her alive if she didn’t start doing things, though she didn’t know what they were yet.

“ Why?” she heard the word leave her lips effortlessly. But really, why? What was the difference if they were wearing rings—didn’t they have something anyway? Harry turned around and looked at her, hurt.

“ Look,” he said quietly, changing the subject. He held out his hand and whispered a spell Hermione couldn’t understand, and soon there was a flaming ball of purple fire in his palm. He held it in the air above his hand. “ This could kill a normal wizard. I mean it, he’d just be flat dead as soon as it touched him. And Lupin showed me how to throw them, I’m pretty good at it. So any wizard who crosses me would be dead. But not Voldemort.” He closed his hand quickly around the flame and squelched it. “ Not the one that matters.”

“ Oh, Harry,” Hermione sat up.

“ I feel like I’m wasting my time here,” he said, looking at her. “ I just… want to do something… worthwhile.” Hermione nodded slowly, but she still didn’t know how she’d tell her parents.

Harry fell onto his stomach on the bed where she sat.

“ It’s exhausting, isn’t it?” she said, examining her fingernails timidly, “ Being us?” They grinned at each other. Hermione looked up, and the mirror caught her eye. There was nothing there… but…

“ Want me to rub your back?” she asked without even meaning to.

“ Yeah,” Harry said, taking off his glasses and shutting his eyes, “ Would you?”

Hermione regretted asking—it was a silly idea and she didn’t know where she’d come up with it. Rosa or Clio could walk in any moment and she’d be embarrassed. None of her other friends were contemplating marriage, or their possible deaths. She didn’t want them witnessing her serious moments. But she had offered, so she lifted Harry’s shirt in the back and ran her nails lightly over his skin. She pretended for a moment that they were married, and this was their house, their bed. It was strange enough just thinking about it, she couldn’t imagine actually going through with it. Even in the future—how could she ever marry Harry? He was rambunctious and daring, and while she loved him for it, they were so different. She hoped Harry would live long enough to someday find a love that truly suited him, though the thought of it made her still made her sad.

____________________

Hermione’s dreams started out normally—or, the way a normal person’s would. She dreamt of things that were relevant to what she was feeling—Buddy’s odd behavior, Nail’s secret whereabouts, and even McGonagall’s guarded information, which she hadn’t thought about consciously but was still in the back of her mind. Also, she dreamt of Harry growing up to be a famous Quidditch player.

In that dream, she was standing outside a beautiful home somewhere near the city, watching Harry, who was inside drinking brandy and looking distracted.

Suddenly Ellie was beside her, watching him with her. Hermione vaguely understood that Ellie was really there, for in her dreams she did exist, and could affect her. Sometimes she wondered if the ghost girl wasn’t responsible for all that went on in her subconscious.

“ What’s wrong with him?” Hermione asked her ghost companion.

“ Nothing,” Ellie said, “ You gave him everything,” She looked at Hermione with something that was gratefulness.

“ I did?” Hermione asked. She was coming to realize that this was a dream, and she hoped it wasn’t a premonition—Harry looked so unhappy from where she stood.

“ Yes,” Ellie said, “ You gave him his life.” She reached down and grasped Hermione’s arm, and her touch didn’t feel cold at all. She placed Hermione’s hand in her line of vision. It was pale blue and see-through, wispy….like a ghost’s.

“ Oh,” Hermione let a quiet gasp escape her lips. She saw that she had no reflection in the windowpane—she was dead. “ I died to save his life?” she asked.

Ellie nodded, “ Yes. Just as I wanted—he has everything he needs here. A warm house, respect from all those who know him, and people who love him. Finally.” She looked back through the window, and Hermione turned to see a woman with long, red hair and freckles enter the room with a smile. Ginny?? That fiend, Hermione thought crossly.

“ But I don’t understand,” Ellie said, looking back to Hermione, “ I don’t understand why his happiness hasn’t set me free.” The scenario cut so quickly to the Forrest that Hermione wondered if one could get motion sickness from a dream. Only she wasn’t wearing her usual nightgown, and she didn’t have the cut on her arm—she still resembled the bluish image of a ghost. She wandered through the woods for awhile, looking for Ellie. But instead she found herself. She was sleeping at the foot of a tree, looking troubled. Harry was with her, sleeping as well, lying in her arms. Hermione noticed that the version of herself by the tree WAS wearing the pale, silken nightgown, and she had a three inch gash across her left shoulder.

Hermione bent to touch the cut on her arm. Don’t die, she thought affectionately toward this seemingly younger form of herself. She heard someone coming and straightened, wondering it they’d be able to see her.

It was McGonagall, and while she brushed right past the ghost Hermione, she fell crying at the feet of the sleeping one. Her eyes were already bloodshot and tired, and she looked like she had a miserable task at hand.

Her professor gathered her composure for a moment, and reached for her wand. She lifted her sorrowful eyes to the two sleeping teenagers.

“ I’m sorry,” she whispered, raising her wand.

_________________

Hermione bolted out of bed like something had bitten her awake. Her chest was heaving, as if she’d been running. Something was wrong. Clio was gone from her place the floor, but Rosa was still sound asleep in her bed. She didn’t have time to ponder over the meaning of her dream—things were amiss. She kicked off her covers and threw on some clothes in the darkness.

Ellie was standing in the corner, and Hermione gasped when she saw her.

“ My heart,” she said, struggling to breathe, “ You gave me a fright!” Ellie looked at her somberly.

“ Go NOW.” The ghost girl said, moving, “ Wake her,” she gestured to Rosa, “ And go to him quickly. It’s Magdala. She’s jealous, she’ll kill him.”

“ What?”

“ She’ll kill all of you if she has to,” Ellie explained, “ She was born a Squib—she has nothing to lose.”

“ I don’t understand…” Hermione went to Rosa’s bed and shook her awake.

“ We’ll both lose him if you continue this pointless questioning!” Ellie screamed.

“ But I don’t know what to do!” Hermione shouted back, scared. Rosa opened her eyes and blinked a few times, confused.

“ Go,” Ellie pointed to the door and it flew open, banging loudly against the wall. “ Magdala is my sister—I can’t help you. Even in death he has bound us all.”

“ What are you doing, Herm-oine,” Rosa muttered, stumbling as she got yanked out of bed. Hermione looked back to Ellie, but she had gone.

“ No!” Hermione said, “ Dammit!”

“ Who are you talking to?” Rosa frowned, “ Where’s Clio?”

“ Something’s horrible is about to happen,” Hermione threw Rosa’s dress, which she’d conveniently left lying on the floor, at her. Rosa nodded—Hermione had forgotten she was something of a divinator.

“ Thanks for waking me up,” she pulled her dress on. “ Let’s go.”

“ Buddy and Teresa,” Hermione said, panicked. “ I know this has something to do with them. Where are they?”

“ I don’t know, but we haven’t got much time,” Rosa said, “ Let’s spilt up.” Hermione nodded. She headed for the Great Hall and the courtyard, while Rosa went to check out the boy’s dorms.

Hermione could almost feel Harry moving through the halls as she searched them—he was nearby. Strangely, her gut wasn’t telling her that he was in danger. She saw a shadow move around a corner.

“ Harry?” she called. She heard a set of quiet footsteps halt, and ran around the corner to meet him.

Harry stood with his back to her, not moving. She called his name again, and he turned around slowly. He looked at her like he was terrified.

“ Harry, thank the Sages—what’s going on?” she moved toward him and he took careful steps backward. His eyes were wide, his expression confused and trapped. Hermione frowned. “ What is it?” she asked, “ You don’t look like…” Was he under a spell?

He wasn’t speaking, just backing away from her slowly.

“ Harry, what are you doing?” she reached for him again, “ Come here,” He shook his head slowly, turned and ran. Hermione started to follow him, but she heard a scream in the direction of the Gryffindor tower that made her change her mind.

Harry must have been under a spell. Where was he going? Hermione didn’t understand at all, but she had an odd feeling that he’d be alright without her for now. She raced back to Gryffindor tower to see what was the matter.

_____________________

The common room was silent. Why weren’t any teachers rushing in here to see what the commotion was about? Everything felt still and chilly. Hermione made her way slowly toward the boy’s dorms.

“ What’s going on?” Cho and Lavender were crouched near the doorway to the girls dorm, holding their robes tightly and looking nervous.

“ I don’t know,” Hermione whispered, suddenly feeling very brave. “ Why don’t you come with me?”

“ No WAY,” Lavender said, “ Sounds like big time trouble,” she licked her lips. Cho stood up.

“ I’ll go,” she said, trying to remain calm, “ It’s probably nothing…” Hermione nodded curtly, and led the way into the boy’s dorms, up the stairs, down the hall. She knew which room the scream had come from. It was in her gut—and Harry was nearby again. But how could he be? He must be awfully fast… The door to he and Ron’s room was cracked slightly. Hermione looked back at Cho, who had been following cautiously.

“ Got your wand?” she whispered. Cho nodded, her eyes wide. Hermione pushed the door open. The scene inside was not a pretty one.

Rosa was crouched on the floor, crying. A pale-faced Ron was half-heartedly trying to comfort her, his eyes like saucers. Harry stood shakily in the middle of the room, staring down at the heap of a lifeless girl on the floor.

“ What…?” a sickening feeling rose in Hermione’s stomach. Harry didn’t move, just kept staring. Cho covered her mouth with her hand.

“ It wasn’t his fault!” Ron shouted quickly, “ This girl—she was trying to kill him!” Rosa choked out a sob. Hermione looked at Harry’s hands—one of them was stained with ash. The firespell. He looked at her.

“ I had to,” he squeaked, “ But I didn’t mean…” he trailed off. Hermione backed up against the door frame. The girl on the floor was Teresa—her dark hair spilled out awkwardly around her sluggishly numb body.

Suddenly someone was pushing past her into the room. Buddy. Great Wizards—Hermione wanted so badly to believe this was a nightmare, but she knew it wasn’t.

“ What?” Buddy choked out in a disbelieving sob.

“ Some girlfriend!” Ron shouted at him, “ Thanks a lot for letting us meet her! She tried to kill Harry!”

“ Liar!” Buddy screamed, falling to the floor beside Teresa, “ Why the hell would she do that?”

Harry shook his head, “ She said she didn’t want me inheriting Voldemort’s powers. I told her she could have them,” his voice was shaking, “ And then…” He reached down and pulled a knife from her lifeless hand. “ She didn’t even use magic. I didn’t mean to…I was panicked.”

“ You….” Buddy growled, and then suddenly pounced on Harry, “ Can’t you see she was only POSESSED?” He screamed, knocking Harry’s head back against the floor. Ron tried to pull Buddy off, and Hermione could only stand frozen in the doorway with Cho, who could see that she was in way over her head.

Someone else then barreled into the room—this time it was Clio. She had her wand, and she shot a spell at Buddy that froze him with ease.

“ Don’t!” Hermione shouted, “ He was only upset!” she fell beside her now unconscious cousin on the floor.

“ She’s fooled all of you,” Clio said quickly, walking to Teresa’s body and giving her a swift kick to the stomach. Hermione heard Rosa and Cho gasp in surprise.

“ Um, Clio,” Ron said, getting up slowly, “ She’s dead. Harry blasted her—I mean, it was self-defense…” He stopped when they began to hear a strange chuckling sound emanating from the girl on the floor.

Teresa lifted her head abruptly and grabbed Clio’s ankles, yanking her to the floor. Everyone jumped as the girl, previously presumed dead, preceded to try and choke Clio with her hands.

“ If it isn’t my favorite crusader,” Teresa spat down evilly as Clio struggled. For a moment all in the room were too shocked to move, then Ron jumped up and lunged for Buddy’s now living girlfriend.

Teresa knocked him away with ease, but Harry grabbed one her arms and held fast, allowing Clio to escape. Teresa stood up with a heinous grin, flipping her long, dark hair back over her shoulders.

“ How about a little respect?” she said, pivoting to Clio, “ I’m royalty in your neck of the woods, O’Ryan.”

“ I don’t follow my mother,” Clio shouted back, her cheeks turning pink, “ As far as I’m concerned you’re just an angry little piece of trash. Even to the Netherworld you’re nothing! I know about you now… MAGDALA. Your father threw you away as soon as he found out you were nothing but a pathetic Glib!”

Clio lunged for her, but Teresa was quick. She grabbed the nearest person—Hermione—by the hair and put a dagger to her throat.

“ Clever girl,” she said, glaring at Clio. “ But if Potter couldn’t destroy me with a firespell—what do you think YOU’RE going to do to me?” she laughed maniacally, pressing the knife closer to Hermione’s neck. There must be a thousand things I could do to get out of this, Hermione thought, why can’t I come up with anything when a mad-woman is inches away from killing me?

“ Just because I can’t do magic,” Teresa said, “ Doesn’t mean my father couldn’t do it for me.”

Clio’s eyes narrowed. “ Your father wouldn’t touch you to strike you,” she said. Teresa laughed out loud.

“ Well, surprise, surprise,” she said, “ I agreed to help him with something,” she gestured to Buddy. “ This boy’s connections helped the Netherworld right into Hogwarts, ‘ the safest place on earth’.” She laughed again, “ It’s too late Clio. You’re still thinking inside the box, all of you. You won’t know what hit you until it’s too late.”

“ Magdala,” Clio said, “ Why are you doing this for him? You are NOTHING to him—do you think there will be a place for you at his side after he’s used you to win?”

Magdala’s eyes narrowed, and Hermione felt a trickle of blood slide down her throat. “ Not if Potter is alive,” she said evenly, “ And that’s what this is all about, you know. The marvelous Harry Potter. Well I won’t HAVE IT!” she screamed. Harry seemed to tense, his eyes were on Hermione’s, trying to pick the right moment to strike. Obviously spells would do no good against someone who had a protection charm cast upon them by a Dark Lord. Think of something, Hermione pleaded silently, because she was beginning to see what this was coming down to.

“ I’m his only living child,” Magdala said, “ He’s killed all the others. Without Potter he’ll have no one—he won’t give me the throne—I admit that I’m a Squib.” She smiled again, a wicked thing that darkened the room. “ But my child might not be,” she said callously.

“ No!” Hermione squeaked. Did Buddy know?

“ That’s right, you little tart,” Magdala sneered, pressing the knife closer, “ It was mighty convenient that the niece of Claire Dupont, once one of the most powerful witches in London, was going to Hogwarts. And that she had a son. Really, it’s all worked out swimmingly for the Netherworld, gang! Crime pays big time when you’re corrupt enough to reap the benefits. You should see our secret weapon!” She laughed again, “ It’s a real doozy.”

“ What do you want?” Harry asked, “ I can promise you right now that I’ll never work for Voldemort, regardless of what magic I practice. He killed my parents; I’ll never forget that, no matter what he offers me.”

Magdala just snorted. “ Don’t be so sure about that,” she muttered. “ What I want is you, dead. Now. I’m not taking any chances—my son WILL be the next dark lord, not some pathetic orphan school boy.”

“ Alright,” Harry said, “ I’ll… fight you. Whatever you want. Let the girl go, first.” Harry, don’t, Hermione thought, you can’t win without magic.

“ Well that was the plan, obviously,” Teresa snapped, “ Clio, be a dear and tie him up for me?”

“ Over my dead—“

“ Do it or I slit her throat!” Magdala screamed, “ You know I’ll do it, Clio. I’ve got nothing left to lose.”

“ That’s not entirely true.” Suddenly someone was at the open window—Nail! Hermione almost reached for him, she was so glad to see him. “ Voldemort put a protection spell on you,” he said, glaring, “ But will it work on your child as well?” he glared at her. Hermione could tell by the way Magdala’s grip on her tightened that she wasn’t sure.

“ Of course,” she snapped, “ Get away from me—you don’t scare me. You’re just as weak as your mother was.”

Hermione saw a fire light in Nail’s dark eyes. “ You’d better apparate out of here,” he said, his voice even, “ Or we’re going to test your little theory about your kid.” Teresa sank, and dropped Hermione, going to the window with the dagger still outstretched. Outside, a black chariot pulled by dark gray hippogriffs appeared.

“ Traitors!” she screamed, “ I may be a Squib, but through me the battle has begun! There is a greater evil than I at Hogwarts this very moment.” She threw a finger and pointed at Harry, “ He’ll be the end of all of you—fools! You stand beside him now though his heart is black.” She laughed out loud. “ As usual my siblings have backed the wrong horse.” Her chariot took off then, disappearing into the black night.

“ Well,” Ron said, breaking the stunned silence in the room, “ That was…odd.” In the doorway, Cho Chang fainted.

____________________

“ This really isn’t necessary,” Hermione insisted, as Nail rubbed some elixir on the place where her neck had been cut.

“ Sure it is,” he said, tearing off a piece of bandage with his teeth, “ I can’t believe the school nurse didn’t tend to this.”

Hermione shrugged. She was so glad to have Nail back at Hogwarts she thought she would explode. He seemed to make everything calm.

“ All the teachers are in a frenzy,” she said, “ No more guest visitors unless the Netherworld shrivels up and dies.”

“ I understand,” Nail said, carefully patting the bandage onto her neck, “ I’m sure they want me and Clio to leave, especially. Now that they know who we are.” Hermione nodded.

“ I’m sorry.” Nail and Clio’s mother had been a mistress to Voldemort, and Magdala’s mother. Like many of the women who had called on him, she had been murdered by the Dark Lord when she came to know too much about his plans. Fortunately they had found her diary, and worked to unravel some of the Netherworld’s plans through that information since then.

“ It’s okay,” Nail said quietly, “ It’s best if we’re not here, anyway. We’ve never wanted to draw too much attention to ourselves. I’m just glad I found out who Teresa really was in time, and that Clio got my own soon enough to stop her from playing dead. I don’t think she really had a chance at killing Harry, though. She’s a fool. Probably bluffing about being pregnant, too.”

Hermione nodded, “ I hope so,” she whispered, “ Poor Buddy. Pomfrey gave him a memory charm and sent him home. But what if he does have a kid out there somewhere? I feel like he should know.”

Nail sighed, “ Just wait till all of this blows over, if you do decide to tell him.” Hermione nodded. Everything was insane, but Nail still knew what to do. Outside of the otherwise empty hospital wing, Hogwarts was going mad, trying to get the straight story about what had happened, and to find out how, and what the Netherworld was planning next. But where they were, watching the sun come up through the window, all was peaceful for a small moment.

“ You’re so great,” Hermione said dumbly, without thinking. She looked up at Nail, and he laughed. “ No, really,” she said, “ I want you to know that I think very highly of you.”

“ I know you do,” he said smugly.

“ Is that so?”

“ Yes.” They looked at each other for a long time with tiny, tired grins. Well he’s leaving tomorrow, Hermione thought sadly, and everything will be chaotic again. He sighed and leaned his head against her shoulder. Hermione patted his hair gingerly, knowing that they were both thinking the same thing.

Yeah, it would be nice. Sure. But not in this lifetime. And especially not now.

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

Fin pulled on his new boots—he couldn’t believe his luck. When Teresa brought him to Hogwarts she’d given him a place to stay, all new clothes—and new boots! These were the best part. He tied the sharp brown laces proudly as he prepared to carry out his Master’s latest orders.

The little cabin he was staying in was close to the Forrest, and though it was falling apart, Fin loved it. It was HIS, especially now since Teresa had left. One of the old groundskeepers had lived here before he got fired, Teresa had told him. He was a stupid old drunk, she’d added, kicking empty bottles of rum around the cabin. Teresa had seemed very angry about something. Meanwhile, Fin couldn’t be happier, and he was glad she had left, so she wouldn’t spoil his mood.

The only unhappy thing about his new situation was hearing his Master’s voice in his head. Fin hated that. It was a scratching, irritated sound, giving him instructions too loudly through his brain. Get the matches, boy, Voldemort ordered with hateful condesendance, Go to the garden. Fin understood this mission a little better than his last, which had seemed rather pointless.

He grabbed a little pack of matches that he’d transfigured from a bottle cap he’d found on the floor, and threw them into the pocket of his new tan pants. They were so clean! Fin couldn’t get over it. He’d been so careful to keep them that way, as well as his new red shirt, which was fancy with a white collar. Teresa wasn’t a very nice person, but she had given great presents. Fin remembered happily that now that she had gone he could throw open all the windows in the cabin and let the sunlight flood in all day if he wanted to.

He wasn’t worried about anyone seeing him, though sometimes he felt like he should be. But Teresa had told him not to bother with hiding. Let them see you, she’d said, it doesn’t matter. Fin thought maybe she was trying to trick him, but Voldemort would have put a stop to it if that were the case, he was sure.

Fin left the cabin and started up the big hill toward the castle. It was nothing like Shinra mansion—it was warm, proud and welcoming. He resented Hogwarts, though, as it was the home of his enemy. Fin knew Voldemort would kill him if he destroyed Harry Potter, and he was becoming increasingly worried about this. Maybe he wanted to live? Sometimes he pondered over it—during the day. But to see Harry rise beside Voldemort and take the kind of power he was being handed…. Fin wouldn’t be able to bear it. He would return to being the whipping boy, for both Voldemort and Potter. He’d rather die. As long as Potter went down with him, that was.

Fin snuck around the side of the castle, toward the garden. There was a long maze of bushes at one end, a pixie sanctuary near the top, and a courtyard in the middle. Go to the left, Voldemort’s voice boomed through his head, and Fin cringed.

There were two people sitting in a corner of the garden, near a small fountain. One was a girl, and she was crying softly. Fin paused—something about her seemed familiar. Was she one of Voldemort’s mistresses…? Impossible, she was much too young, and anyhow, they were all dead, as far as Fin knew. A boy with bright red hair was sitting with her, patting her shoulders—incredible! Fin had never seen any hair like that before. He grinned to himself, and then felt a jerk in his head like a bolt of lightening from within.

Quit fooling around, Voldemort’s thoughts growled inside his head. Wait a moment behind the bushes, then light a fire.

Why? Fin wondered, was his Master bothering with trifling things like a fire in the garden? He had learned not to question the Dark Lord—he usually knew what he was doing. But still. Fin grasped the matches in his pocket as he ducked behind a bush full of dark green leaves. A few flower buds had already shown up in it’s foliage due to the warm weather. Fin thought of Marielle, how in her younger days she wore flowers in her hair. Voldemort had strongly disapproved. Marielle never wore flowers after the Dark Lord killed her mother.

“ I can’t believe what a fool I was,” the girl in the garden was crying. She was small with reddish-blond hair. She looked sloppy, and Fin wondered why she wasn’t wearing a dress. “ Teresa was my sister… or half sister. Why didn’t I see it?”

“ It doesn’t matter,” the red-haired boy said, “ She won’t come back.”

“ Don’t be so sure,” the girl said, drawing her knees up against her chest and burying her face in her hands. The boy put his arms around her and kissed her cheek. So Voldemort wanted him to kill Teresa’s sister. Well, that seemed like a good enough reason for Fin. He felt sorry that he’d have to see the red-haired boy go, though, his bright hair was quite unlike anything Fin had ever seen. Oh well. He struck a match, and blew a spell onto the tip so the fire would be impossible to put out. He’d actually made up that charm himself, and was a bit proud of it. Maybe it would impress his Master, somewhat.

Fin tossed the match into the bushes, and immediately felt sad. Now those flowers would never bloom. Marielle… she always loved flowers.

Fin heard a horrible scream in the back of his head as the flames spread.

Marielle.

She put her hands on his face—they were cold, but they made his cheeks hot.

“ Who couldn’t say you’re not simply wonderful?” she whispered.

Finley! There was a shout like a bullet to his head. A wave of red hot pain washed over him, and he stood. He could feel his Master’s anger running through him. Stand up, you damn fool! Fin did as he was told. The fire was large enough to notice now, and the girl in the garden stood, pointing.

Run! Voldemort screamed, and Fin got up, still stumbling from the tremendous ache in his head. He tore back down the hill toward his little cabin, away from the intensifying heat of the fire. Nothing personal, Fin thought, casting a glance back at the two students trapped beyond the flames. He barreled through the door to the hut, hoping no one had seen where he’d run to.

Fin put his arms over his head and sank to the floor. Voldemort was only chuckling quietly now. Get out of my head, Fin thought, trembling on the ground. What are you making me do?

He imagined all the flower buds falling to the ground beneath the flames, dead before they even blossomed. And of course he thought of Marielle. Dead before she had a chance.

Oh, Ellie, he thought sadly as Voldemort’s control over his brain slipped away until his next mission, where are you?

End- for now