Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Hermione and the Unexpected Visitor

By Mena Baines

“ Owl post!” Rosa squealed, grabbing Hermione’s arm and pulling her through the snow toward the post office. “ Come on, let’s see if we’ve got any mail they didn’t want to give us at school.” She winked at Hermione and dragged her away from the boys.

“ I don’t think we should leave the two of them alone together…” Hermione muttered, looking back at Draco and Harry. It was the weekend, and she and Harry were at Hogwarts spending a little time together when they’d unintentionally met up with their *favorite* couple. Rosa had insisted that they spend the day together.

“ Nonsense,” she said, pushing her way into the post office ahead of Hermione, “ They’ve got to learn to like each other—don’t you want Harry to be an usher at my wedding?”

“ Wha..?”

“ He can walk down the aisle with you—you’ll be the maid of honor of course, I haven’t got any other girl friends—“

“ Rosa—“

“ Say, did you hear about Ginny and Dean Thomas?”

“ Well… no—“

Rosa grinned, “ I hear old Dean’s been putting the moves on Weasley Jr.! Seamus is PRETTY ticked—he’s still trying to win her back all the time,” she went on but Hermione could hardly keep up. Rosa was like a flaming ball of energy that never stopped fueling a constant stream of talk. They pushed their way into the line at the post office and checked for any familiar looking owls.

Suddenly one swooped down and landed on Rosa’s shoulder. It dropped a letter into her hand and nibbled on her ear.

“ Slimer!” Rosa squealed with delight. “ It’s me Mum’s owl,” she said in a fake English accent. Hermione rolled her eyes. She peaked through the clusters of owls looking for one from her parents, and then she remembered abruptly that they were Muggles.

“ Look,” Hermione whispered to Rosa’s as she read her mother’s letter, “ There’s Dean and Ginny! He is walking awfully close to her—the scoundrel!”

“ Oh this is HORRIBLE!” Rosa moaned, throwing down her letter. Hermione frowned and forgot Ginny and Dean for a moment.

“ What is?”

“ My mother!” Rosa grabbed Hermione’s arm again and started pulling her away from the owl post. “ She’s gone and done it again! That little strumpet!”

“ Rosa!” Hermione scolded, “ What are you talking about?”

“ She’s engaged,” Rosa said with a scowl. “ Again. Oh, I can hardly stand her anymore!”

Hermione didn’t know what to say—she’d never known anyone with divorced parents before—it wasn’t very common in England. But Rosa seemed pretty upset and she knew she should say something to comfort her friend…

“ How many times has she been married?” Hermione put her foot in her mouth, as usual. Rosa sighed.

“ A few,” she grumbled. “ I suppose she expects I’ll come to the wedding. Well she’s sadly mistaken!”

“ I’m sorry,” Hermione said, trying to understand, “ I… I’m sure it’s not as bad as you think… that is… who’s she marrying?”

Rosa shook her head, “ It didn’t say,” she said, “ I’m sure I don’t know him. I’m sure they just met days ago! That’s just the kind of reckless person she is!”

Well now we know where you get it from, Hermione thought, and then felt bad. She saw Professor McGonagall approaching the post office with Lupin and her heart sank nervously. She still hadn’t really talked to her beloved Professor since she’d disobeyed her last week by staying away from school.

“ Rosa,” Hermione whispered, “ Come here,” she pulled her down behind the little fence surrounding the post office so McGonagall wouldn’t see her. She wasn’t ready to face her yet, after everything.

“ What is it?” Rosa asked, peeking through the slits in the fence, “ Oh… them two. You still afraid she hates you?”

Hermione gave her a glare. “ Thanks Rosa that was real sensitive.”

“ Shhh. Here they come.”

“ That’s not fair, Minerva!” Lupin was saying, “ It’s too dangerous for her—and for yourself!”

“ We’re both used to making sacrifices, Remus,” McGonagall snapped, stopping in her tracks and facing him.

Lupin shook his head. “ It’s just not right to ask her to do this for us—Let me go back!”

“ Absolutely not! You know it would be…to hard… for us.” McGonagall frowned. “ It’s been too long.”

He sighed. “ I suppose sending Harry back is out of the question…”

“ Of course!”

“ Why can’t you trust him?” Lupin asked.

“ He’s never given me a reason to trust him! The boy has always done just as he pleases.” McGonagall said, and Hermione couldn’t help agreeing with her Professor as she listened, crouched behind the fence. Lupin sighed again.

“ This is too much for us… we’ve got no army, no true leader…” he said, and Hermione’s stomach lurched. What was he talking about?

“ That is precisely why we’re going about this in such an…unconventional way. And anyway, I don’t want to discuss this here! You know what would happen if the Ministry got wind of this…” she said. Hermione and Rosa looked at each other with widened eyes. What exactly were they planning to do?

Lupin nodded, and followed McGonagall into the post office. Hermione and Rosa were silent for a few moments.

“ Should we tell Harry?” Rosa asked, still whispering. Hermione shook her head.

“ We don’t even know what they were talking about,” she said, “ No sense in spreading rumors.” Rosa nodded in agreement, though Hermione had a feeling she’d blab to the first person she saw. They got up and walked back toward Honeydukes, where Harry and Draco were waiting, standing as far from each other as possible. Only Harry wasn’t alone.

“ I could hardly believe that catch you made at the game on Friday!” Cho was saying as she leaned on his shoulder, peering up at him like he was some kind of Greek god in mortal clothing. “ Saving that girl’s life like that—you were incredible!”

“ That girl,” Hermione muttered in disgust. As if Cho didn’t know her name.

“ Want me to scratch her eyes out?” Rosa asked under her breath as they walked over.

“ Oh, come on, Cho,” Pavartti said with a cat-like smile, pulling on Harry’s arm, “ I certainly could believe it! I mean, he IS the best Seeker in the WORLD! If he can catch a little ball he can surely catch some clumsy girl who fell off her broom…” she trailed off and looked at Hermione.

“ Oh, HI, Hermione,” Cho purred, leaning closer to Harry. He looked at Hermione and blushed. “ We were JUST talking about you!”

“ Uh-huh.” Hermione tried not to let them get to her.

“ Oh, really, what a coincidence!” Rosa chirped with a phony smile in Cho’s direction. “ WE were just talking about YOU! You know those slimy black leeches we had to dissect in Potions? Well,” she gave a false laugh, “ I was JUST telling Hermione how much you resemble one when you attach yourself to Harry like that!” Rosa grinned and glared at her. Pavartti burst out laughing. Cho gave her a death stare, and then turned to Rosa.

“ At least I’m not dating someone who wets his pants every time Harry looks at him!” Cho said with a sneer.

“ Hey!” Draco screamed. “ I do not!” He picked up a ball of dirty snow and threw it at Harry. It splattered all over his face and glasses.

“ Malfoy, you prick!” Harry wiped himself off and advanced toward him.

“ Come on,” Draco said, trying to be bold, “ You want a piece of me, Potter?!” Harry shook his head.

“ Look,” he said, “ I’m going to go back to the castle…” He looked at Hermione but she just crossed her arms over her chest.

“ Me too,” Pavartti piped up, “ I’ve about had it with this town.”

“ I’m with you,” Cho said coolly, “ Let’s blow this popsicle stand.” She hooked her arm onto Harry’s. He looked at Hermione again.

“ Hermione?” he asked, trying to politely shake Cho off of him.

“ What?” she asked with a glare, “ Go on, have a blast. I’m staying.”

“ Please?” Harry asked, “ Come back with me?” Hermione could almost hear Cho growl under her breath as she tightened her grip on his arm despite his squirming.

“ I don’t have to follow you everywhere!” Hermione shouted, “ You’re not the boss of me!” she added childishly, storming off.

______________________

Hermione was thinking about what McGonagall had said as she made her way back to the castle later on. She had said something about sending someone back… back in time? Was she talking about Hermione? She decided it was time to talk to her Professor—to at least apologize for what she had done.

Mostly she was trying to get the image of Harry in a hot tub with Cho and Pavartti out of her head.

Once she got back it was dinner time, but she wasn’t hungry so she went up to her room. It was dark in the hallway to the girls common room, and quiet because everyone else was at dinner, save a few fifth year girls who had been chatting in the common room when she’d come in. Classes were finally starting again tomorrow, as everyone had gotten over their mysterious illnesses, for the most part. Hermione wondered briefly if what McGonagall and Lupin had been discussing at Hogsmeade had anything to do with what had happened last week, with everything getting sick.

She sat down at her dressing table and stared at the mirror for a moment. Her reflection winked back at her with both eyes and she grinned. She was really going to miss this school when it came down to it—where would she go after this? How many other magical places were there in the world? Hermione pulled on the amethyst necklace Harry had given her. Stupid Harry Potter who was too good for her and who could have any girl he wanted—she should have known all along that he was just fooling around with her for the heck of it. Hermione looked in the mirror again and wondered if Cho Chang was prettier than she was—of course she was! She reached back in disgust to unfasten the clasp on her the necklace—she hadn’t taken if off since he’d given it to her on her birthday at the end of their 6th year.

For some reason, she couldn’t get the bothersome little clasp undone, so she turned it around to the front and peered into the mirror to see it more clearly. She started to pull the lock open, but suddenly something moved in the mirror and she gasped and lost her grip on the necklace. What was that? It was something beyond her own face—she looked closer and saw a pair of bright green eyes bat their long lashes at her…

Something else moved in the shadows behind her, and Hermione’s heart jumped into her throat. There was someone in her room. She looked to the door—she had closed it! Hermione stood up slowly and wondered if she’d be able to make it out of the room…

“ Where’s Rosa?” came a gruff voice from the window, and a tall boy stepped out from behind the curtains. Hermione screamed at the top of her lungs.

“ No, no!” the boy said, jumping over Rosa’s bed and running to her. “ Don’t! I’m not supposed to be here!”

“ You’re damn right you’re not supposed to be here!” Hermione shouted, backing away. “ Who are you? What do you want with her?”

“ She’s my friend…amigo… how do you say it in England?” he asked. Hermione rolled her eyes. He was definitely a friend of Rosa’s. He had a bright silver earring near the top of his left ear, and thin brown hair that had been clumsily died blond. He wore a black Metallica T-shirt and dirty jeans, and looked down at her with dark eyes under dark eyebrows that made her nervous.

“ The names’ Nail,” he said, extending a hand. “ Are you her roommate? Hildegard?”

“ HERMIONE,” she said, shaking his hand. “ What are you doing here? They won’t let you stay. Are you a wizard?”

Nail laughed out loud. “ A wizard? Ha. I’m a scientist.”

Hermione frowned. “ Whatever you say…”

“ What, you don’t believe me?”

“ Look… Nail…”

“ Go on! Ask me anything. I know I’m young, but I know more than most scientists who’ve been to Yale! I swear. You should hear me when Jeopardy’s on.”

“ What?”

“ Never mind,” he said, “ Look, I need to talk to Rosa. Or, I need to…chat with…Le Rosa. Get it? Tea and crackers, right? You know where she’s at?”

Hermione shook her head. “ Huh?” she sighed, “ She’s probably downstairs eating with Draco.”

“ Ah, the boyfriend,” Nail said, sitting down on the bed, “ Perfect. Anyway, I come bearing bad news.”

“ What?”

“ In America it’s impolite to ask personal questions like that.” Nail said.

“ Oh for crying out loud!” Hermione said, throwing her arms out. “ I’ll go get her.”

________________________

Hermione crashed into Ron in the hallway. “ Where’s Rosa?” she asked.

“ Nice to see you, too,” he grumbled. “ What’s with you lately? Harry, too. You’re too busy saving the world for little old me?”

“ Oh, Ron, we’re not saving the world!” Hermione said, walking away. He followed her into the common room. “ Stop being so selfish.”

“ ME?” Ron said, “ Well isn’t that the pot—“

The portrait hole opened and Rosa stepped inside with Harry and Seamus, Pavartti and Lavender were on their heals.

“ There she is,” Ron said dumbly. Hermione met Harry’s eyes for a moment then quickly looked away.

“ Me?” Rosa asked, “ What is it?”

“ You have…,” Hermione took a deep breath, and looked at Pavartti and Lavender. “ Come to our room and I’ll tell you.” Rosa nodded and followed her, Harry and Ron not far behind.

“ What do you two think you’re doing?” Hermione snapped. “ Your room is THAT way.”

“ I’m coming,” Ron said stubbornly, “ I want to know what the big secret is.” Harry nodded.

“ Me too.”

“ It’s fine, Herm-oine,” Rosa said, “ I don’t mind.” Hermione glared at her briefly and then pushed open the door to their room. Rosa’s jaw dropped.

“ Jimminy Cricket!” she exclaimed when she saw Nail reclining on her bed, reading the letter her mother had sent by owl that afternoon. Nail sat up abruptly.

“ Bad, bad news Rosa,” he said, waving the letter.

“ What?” she asked, putting a hand on her forehead and walking inside. Hermione shut the door behind them once everyone was in the room. “ My mother’s wedding… I know… you didn’t have to come all the way to England to tell me that!”

“ Who is this?” Harry asked. Nail jumped up and threw out a hand for him to shake.

“ The name’s Nail,” he proudly announced. Rosa sighed and sat down on the bed.

Harry frowned, “ Neil?”

“ Nail.”

“ Nail?”

“ NAIL.”

“ Oh.” Harry said, raising an eyebrow, “ Harry Potter,” he said, shaking the taller boy’s hand. “ Pleasure to meet you. Nail.” Ron snickered.

Nail nodded quickly. “ Yes, yes. G’day mates and all that.” He turned to an exasperated Rosa. “ Now. Which would you like first? The bad news, or the horrible, destructive, life-changing, despicable—“

“ I GET the idea Nail,” Rosa said, “ Out with it—whatever it is just tell me.”

Nail gave her a sideways glance, like he was sizing her up to see if she’d be able to take the shock. “ My father,” he said, “ Bernard Vincent O’Ryan the Second, co-owner of Smities Tavern on the upper east side—“

“ Nail!”

“ Alright, alright.” He took a breath and began again. “ My father is getting…hitched.”

“ Huh?” That was Ron, but everyone ignored him.

Rosa narrowed her eyes for a moment. “ You don’t mean…” she trailed off.

Nail gave her a sardonic grin. “ Oh, but I do,” he said. Hermione wasn’t quite following. “ My dad is marrying Calliope Gwen McNally.”

Rosa shot up from the bed like a rocket. “ WHAT?” she screamed, and Hermione had never seen her so upset. “ My MOTHER is marrying… BERNIE??”

“ That’s right,” Nail said, “ Sis,”

“ You’ve got to be JOKING!” Rosa said, beginning to hyperventilate. “ Our parents can’t get married, that’s so… disgusting!” Nail shrugged.

“What did I tell you,” he said.

“ What’s the big deal?” Ron asked, “ Your best friend is going to be your brother. So what?”

Nail laughed out loud. “ You don’t know Calliope,” he said. Rosa glared at him.

“ No,” she said, “ You don’t know BERNIE!”

Nail shook his head, “ This is big time trouble. She’s moved in with him.” Rosa practically fainted.

“ This is a nightmare,” she muttered, “ I’m having a nightmare!”

“ So,” Nail said, “ Naturally I ran away. I mean, CALLIOPE? How can you live with that…witch?”

“ Hey!” Hermione and Rosa said in unison.

“ Anyway,” Nail said, “ I thought I’d crash here for a few weeks and then move to Tasmania or something.” Rosa rolled her eyes.

“ But you can’t!” she said, “ Nail, I’d love to have you stay, but they won’t let you! How’d you even FIND me here?”

“ I have ways.”

“ Oh, please! Nail I can’t get thrown out of another school!” Rosa sat down and put her head in her hands. Hermione didn’t know what to do—Rosa NEVER got agitated like this. She got an idea and turned quickly to walk out of the room. Harry followed her.

“ Where are you going?” he asked, and Hermione gave him an annoyed look.

“ To the Slytherin house to get Malfoy.” Hermione said, “ Don’t bother me!”

“ MALFOY?” Harry asked, not giving up, “ What good will he do?”

“ I thought he might calm Rosa down,” she said. “ Now run along—he won’t come if you’re with me!” Harry looked kind of hurt.

“ What did I do to make you so mad at me?” he asked, and Hermione rolled her eyes, thinking he sounded rather childish.

“ NOTHING,” she insisted, “ I just don’t feel like DEALING with you today!” she said, and he finally stopped walking alongside her.

____________________

Hermione couldn’t sleep. Malfoy was still lying on the floor of their room—snoring something terrible. Somehow, though, he’d been able to coach the hysterical Rosa to sleep, which was good. On the other side of her bed, on the floor near the window, Nail was listening to headphones, and the music was blasting so loud in his ears that Hermione could make out every word.

She still didn’t understand the whole ordeal. Shouldn’t they be happy that their lonely parents were getting married? Didn’t all best friends want to be siblings, in a way? Actually, she thought to herself, Harry and I were best friends for a long time… and I would have hated to even have been thought of as his sister… She wondered if that was what this was all about.

Hermione threw a pillow at Nail.

“ Turn that down!” she hissed when he removed his earphones, “ I’ve got classes tomorrow!”

“ I can’t sleep,” Nail said, “ This place gives me the creeps.” Hermione groaned.

“ Why?” she asked, “ It’s perfectly safe here.” Nail frowned.

“ Liar,” he whispered, and then rolled over and shut his eyes. What’s that supposed to mean? Hermione wondered. She still couldn’t sleep, and it wasn’t just because Malfoy’s breathing sounded like a chainsaw.

Fin was supposed to be in the kitchen. Instead he had snuck into his Master’s bedroom to try and get a peek at one of his gigantic books. There was something that had been bothering him.

Voldemort’s chamber was full of rats. And no ordinary rats were these. Rats the size of small dogs, with funny, snarled faces and deep red eyes. Their tails were black, and like snakes—Dickie had told him once that the rats breathed fire if you stepped on their tails. Fin was careful to avoid them as he crept through the room, though he knew Dickie had often played on Fin’s gullible nature and made up stories to scare him. In a strange way, Fin missed Dickie, though he had tormented him while he was alive. At least he hadn’t been so alone.

He made his way past Voldemort’s bed, where the curtains were drawn around the slumbering sorcerer. Fin knew if he so much as stepped on a crick in the floor his Master’s super-sensitive hearing would pick it up, and he’d have another gash the size of Texas blasted into his back. Last night he’d been cleaning up in the foyer when he’d tripped over his Master’s robes and had been beaten within an inch of his life. Fin was used to it. It only took him an hour or two to regain consciousness, with the help of some of the snakes. Voldemort would kill the poor creatures if he knew they helped him to wake up by biting him. Fin chuckled to himself under his breath. My only friends give me venomous bites, he thought, how lucky I am.

Prowless had stuck up for him a bit—or so he thought he’d heard until he’d blacked out. He was Voldemort’s second in command, and for some reason he’d always been kind to Fin. Earlier that evening he’d given him a bit of moldy sweet roll when Voldemort’s back was turned.

“ Don’t beat the boy, Riddle,” Prowless had said in the most courageous voice he could manage. “ It was only an accident….”

“ We’ll see about accidents,” his Master had growled. Fin didn’t cry, struggle or protest—it was over more quickly if he just lied there.

Peter Pettigrew, who served as Voldemort’s sort of messenger, was less helpful when he came to call. Sometimes he’d just laugh at Fin, who was clumsy and always making a mistake that Pettigrew knew would lead to trouble with the servant’s master. His eyes would almost light up—Pettigrew was that kind of person. He’d even trip Fin up on purpose sometimes—it was his sort of revenge, on Fin—on anybody after what had happened to him. Not only had he been forced to remain a rat for almost 13 years, afterward when he’d botched up the murder of Siris Black Voldemort had come down hard on him. Fin wasn’t sure what his punishment from the Dark Lord had been, but he had heard Peter’s screaming for 10 days inside the old mansion’s walls…he shivered just remembering it.

But the worst of all was Lucius Malfoy. He was Voldemort’s most faithful follower, and a useful link between the Kingdom of the Netherworld and the Ministry of Magic. For some reason he hated Fin with a passion. He got this cold, hateful look on his face whenever Fin dared to look at him—and he wasn’t afraid to take a hand against Fin himself if the mood struck him. Fin felt sorry for his son—he’d never been to see Voldemort at the mansion—Lucius was afraid to tell him about the plans for Voldemort’s uprising. He insisted that the boy was weak and sentimental.

“ Cries like a baby when I hit him,” Lucius would say, pressing his lips together and narrowing his eyes. “ Not like this one,” he gestured to Fin, “ Those blokes at Hogwarts have made him soft. It’s not about competition like it was in our day—they encourage the houses to get along, to RESPECT each other, even.” Voldemort scoffed.

“ It will be the fault that brings them to our feet in the end, Lucius,” he’d croaked in that unbelievably inhuman voice of his, “ Their willingness to see both sides of things, to be FAIR to all,” he chuckled, “ Potter is as good as ours.”

“ It was a good move, killing his parents,” Lucius said with a nod, “ And then going into hiding so he’d be raised by those savage Muggles—did him quite a bit of good, all those years of misery. The anger, the hate that instilled in him—priceless, really.”

Voldemort laughed, a strange, scratching sound that was anything but jolly, “ I couldn’t have brought him up better myself,” he drank from a cup of unicorn’s blood, “ Leave it to Muggles to destroy all the good in a person.” Lucius grinned wickedly.

“ Indeed,” he said, frowning, “ It’s just too bad Hogwarts is so essential for his training as a wizard. I’d like to get my hands on him myself… I could teach him a thing or two about the dark arts.”

“ Patience, Lucius, patience,” Voldemort had said with a glare. He didn’t like his followers getting any bright ideas. “ He’s learned enough on his own accord. Soon he’ll have all the fury and skill he needs to continue his training at my side.”

Fin narrowed his eyes, remembering the conversation in the darkness of his Master’s chamber. I’m angry, he thought, how could this Harry Potter possibly have more hate and anger in him than I do? And Fin had been around the Dark Arts for so long… he just didn’t understand.

It’s my weak heart, Fin thought, it’s my always feeling sorry for myself, my stupid dreams about Marielle, my wishing that Voldemort would make me his apprentice. Wishing, dreaming, feeling—the Master would have none of that. Harry Potter must be so devoid of emotion, Fin thought, for Lord Voldemort to respect his power the way he does.

A rat scurried past him and his breath caught. Praying Voldemort hadn’t heard, he crept over to the bookshelf. The spell book—yes, here it was. Dickie had told him it was made of human skin. Fin hoped that was another one of Dickie’s fibs as he picked up the book and quietly carried it out of the room.

Once he was back in the kitchen, he crouched on his dirty mat near the trash chute, and opened the dusty old volume. Fin remembered the page number—719—a spell he’d wanted to try again but couldn’t quite remember.

He found it: the flame thrower. In Latin if was called something else, but Fin only knew the spells by the things they did when he tried them—he couldn’t really read Latin or anything else very well. He held out his hand and concentrated—it was after midnight, a good time to do dark magic.

“ Pendicikious Flinkicouitis ” He had to whisper but it had the same effect. A small flame appeared in his hand. It burned his skin as he held it there—lots of the dark magic spells had nasty side effects like that, but Fin’s skin was so damaged already that he hardly noticed. He saw one of the rats from Voldemort’s bedroom scamper into the kitchen to look for crumbs.

Fin narrowed his eyes at the ugly beast, and thought of Harry Potter. The animal looked up suddenly and snarled it’s fangs at Fin, as if it knew what he were about to try. Fin let the hate inside him build, and he felt the flame grow hotter in his hand.

“ Stoicoiticlius!” he said, a little too loud, but never mind. The flame shot out like a death ray toward his target, and the nasty rat was quickly disintegrated into a pile of ashes and soot. Fin laughed out loud—giddy, and happy with himself for the first time in awhile.

He was angrier than Harry Potter—more talented in the dark arts, more hateful and more deserving of filling the Dark Lord’s shoes. And soon he would prove it.

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

Hermione was standing outside a window somewhere in the dark, snowflakes falling onto her matted hair. I look HORRIBLE, Hermione thought, catching a glimpse of her reflection in the window pane. She was holding something—a baby! It was crying wildly near her ear, and another whimpering child was standing beside her, tugging on her pant leg.

Hermione squinted her eyes and peeked into the window. The knitted cap she wore was partly obscuring her vision—she was so cold! She looked inside, past the pretty dining table set with lots of tasty looking foods, into the living room beyond. Someone was inside, smiling and warm—was that Harry?+

Hermione knocked on the window a few times. “ Harry!” she called, but somehow she couldn’t hear her own voice. The baby’s frantic cries grew louder. “ Harry, is that you? Let us in—we’re freezing!” she pleaded silently against the window. He must see me, she thought, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes.

Suddenly she saw someone else enter the room. It was a woman, no, a girl—she was beautiful with long blond hair and cold green eyes. Harry put his arms around her and held her against him. The strange, pretty girl awkwardly returned his embrace.

“ Harry?” Hermione squeaked. She caught a glimpse of his face before a gust of wind came and knocked a blast of snow against her and the window. He looked so happy—so completely satisfied inside with this other girl. Hermione had never seen him look so peaceful in her life….

Hermione woke to the sound of a loud argument. Oh, no, she thought, McGonagall must have caught Malfoy in here... and Nail. She opened an eye against her pillow, not wanting to get out of bed. What on earth had that dream meant? Even her disturbing nightmares about the forest somehow made more sense…something about the dream was bothering her, though she couldn’t put her finger on it…

“ I must alert my superiors at once!” Draco was saying when Hermione sat up. Nail was standing before him, glaring down at the smaller boy with his intense eyes.

“ You just try it,” Nail threatened. “ Just try walking out of this room with the intention of letting some teacher know I’m here and see what happens.” Malfoy swallowed. He looked at Hermione.

“ Tell him!” he said, waving a finger at Nail. “ Tell him how dangerous it is for Rosa to keep him here!” Hermione pinched her eyes shut.

“ Get out of my room!” she screamed. She was in a horrible mood, and she didn’t care who got caught for what at the moment. Rosa rolled over in her bed.

“ Ugh,” she moaned, “ What time is it?”

Hermione kicked her covers off. “ It’s time for you to get up and straighten all of this out!” she said, walking to Rosa’s bed and yanking her out by her arms. “ Tell Nail he has to go back to New York, and I’ll try and sneak Malfoy out without causing a commotion.”

“ I’m not leaving!” Nail said, “ Please, Rosa, you’ve got to understand…”

“ Nail…” Rosa walked to him and put a comforting hand on his shoulder, which Malfoy quickly batted off.

“ She doesn’t have to understand anything you hobo!” Malfoy sneered, “ Only that you are an intrusive mooch who—“

“ WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?” Nail roared, and he seemed to grow larger as he approached Malfoy with malignancy. Malfoy shrunk behind Rosa.

“ Y-you heard me,” he said, ducking his head close to her shoulder. Rosa giggled, enjoying the whole scenario.

“ Boys, boys,” she drawled, “ Don’t go fighting over little old me!” She winked at Hermione, who groaned and grabbed her things for the shower, storming out of the room.

_____________________

Hermione was actually glad to return to her classes—even Potions. The only one she was nervous about was Transfiguration. After the strange conversation she’d overheard at Hogsmeade that weekend, she had a lot of questions for Professor McGonagall—and she wasn’t sure if her mentor would trust her with the answers after everything she’d done.

In the meantime, she was trying not to speak to Harry, who was a bit miffed at her but still willing to follow her around. Hermione rather liked it, in secret. At lunch, she stole into a lonely corner of the Great Hall to try and catch up on some reading for Defense Against the Dark Arts. She had the eerie feeling she’d need it.

“ I wonder if Lupin’s going to be teaching that from now on,” she heard Harry’s voice over the top of her book and looked up with wearied eyes.

“ I don’t think so,” she said, quickly looking back into her text, “ He’s just visiting for moral support. I think.”

Harry sighed and sat down next to her. Hermione tried not to enjoy the feeling of being close to him too much. She tried also to ignore the fact that his shirt was pushed up in the back, making his boxer shorts slightly visible. Hermione couldn’t help giggling at the pattern—little blue whales with goofy grins and fountains of water shooting up off their backs.

“ What?” he asked with a grin.

“ Nothing!”

“ You’re so strange,” he said, smiling into the distance.

“ I am not.” She turned a page and didn’t return his gaze when he fixed it on her. “ Stop staring at me!”

“ I’ll stare at you if I want to!” Harry said, drawing up his knees and resting his head on his elbow, “ It’s a free country,” he added stupidly.

“ That’s real mature, Harry,” she said, turning the page again. She wasn’t even reading anymore, Harry took all of her attention and threw it on himself whenever he was in the room—selfish! “ Why don’t you go stare at Cho?” she said coldly.

He poked her at the ribs, “ Don’t let her get to you,” he said, “ You’re doing exactly what she wants you to, you know?” Hermione glared at him.

“ Don’t you dare give me advice!”

“ I know,” he said with a sigh, “ I’m an idiot and…forgive me?”

“ Forgive you for what? Maybe you haven’t done anything. Do I have to be nice to you all the time? Has Parliament passed a new law, Hermione Granger cannot forthwith behave unkindly to Harry Potter?” He laughed out loud.

“ I love you,” he said without really realizing it, and then sort of shrank after he heard his words leave his mouth, “ I mean…” Hermione bit her lip until she felt her skin tear. She groaned and threw down her book, defeated.

“ Why can’t you just be mean to those other girls?” she asked. Now she really felt ridiculous, but she might as well just say it. “ I hate it. You just let them hang all over you—I know you like it, Harry, and it’s not right! Well, maybe it is but I just…”

“ Why isn’t it right?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye, “Has Parliament passed a new law?” he joked, “ Harry Potter henceforth belongs to Hermione Granger?” Hermione grabbed her book and stood up.

“ No, that’s not what I meant…” She started to leave.

“ Not that I would mind!” Harry quickly added. Hermione rolled her eyes. “ As far as Cho goes… I just feel sorry for her.” Hermione scoffed. A likely story. And the blond girl? Who was she? Hermione couldn’t say that the dream she’d had last night wasn’t still on her mind. “ I feel bad,” Harry continued, “ Because I think I broke her heart.”

“ Well that’s rather arrogant of you,” Hermione said, though she was sure it was true. She stormed off, half wanting Harry to follow her. But he didn’t. There will always be someone else, Hermione realized slowly as she walked away. She saw Cho across the Great Hall, laughing with her fellow Ravenclaws. She really was beautiful…

Hermione walked quickly out of the Great Hall. If Parliament did pass that law, Hermione thought, Harry, you’d break it every chance you got. She didn’t trust him—she didn’t trust him at all.

______________________

They had Transfiguration with Slytherin, and Hermione sat with Rosa. She felt miserable. She wanted to go back to her room and relax after classes—but NAIL was there. She couldn’t imagine a fate worse than that strange boy residing in her room.

“ I think Ron is mad at you,” Rosa was saying, “ I can’t imagine why, but you know how boys are,” she said, “ Big babies!”

“ Do you think Malfoy is a big baby?” Hermione asked, curious about how a bold girl like Rosa must percieve her wimpy boyfriend. Rosa shrugged.

“ He’s got some…family problems,” she volunteered, “ I think that’s why he’s so….” Hermione raised an eyebrow. “ Don’t tell anyone this,” Rosa whispered, “ Especially not Harry,” Hermione nodded, and leaned in closer.

“ He came back from the holidays with this purple mark along his side… a huge bruise. And a little pink spot under his eye where I could see one had just healed… He’s had them on his back before, too—always after his father comes calling for the weekend.” Rosa shook her head. “ Poor thing…he’s so ashamed.”

Hermione shuddered. “ That’s awful. Hard up little bugger—no wonder he’s so mean.”

“ Well I don’t know for a fact,” Rosa said with a sigh, “ He’d never admit it… That father of his…. I get so angry sometimes just thinking about it.” Hermione nodded. For some reason she thought of the dream she’d had last night. Why? It had nothing to do with Malfoy… did it? She felt confused, and concentrated instead on McGonagall, who was lecturing on the safety methods involved in transfiguring living creatures.

“ One slip of the tongue, and you could end up with a mountain lion when you were only expecting a housecat,” she said. Hermione grinned—she’d missed her favorite Professor while classes were out.

After their lesson was over and most of the class had filed out of the room, Hermione cautiously approached McGonagall’s desk.

“ P-professor?” she spoke softly, clutching her books and peering over McGonagall’s desk, where she sat shuffling through papers. She looked up at Hermione over her small glasses.

“ Yes?”

“ I just wanted to apologize again—“

“ There’s no need for that.” McGonagall said, holding up a hand to halt Hermione’s speech. “ What’s done is done. We asked you to bring Harry back without consequence and you did.”

“ He was so depressed,” Hermione tried further to explain, “ I couldn’t bring him back here very soon to… face everyone.”

“ I understand,” McGonagall said, and then she looked up. “ He’s not comfortable here?”

“ Well… I do think it’s a bit awkward….with all the teachers… knowing what he has to do… what he is… and expecting him to behave accordingly.”

“ I always thought that boy was full of mischief,” McGonagall said, “ Like his father. Like James. Can I tell you something Hermione?” she asked. Hermione perked up.

“ Yes! Please do. I’ve so missed talking to you.” Hermione sat down near her desk.

McGonagall smiled for a moment. “ I hate having Remus here,” she said. “ That’s Professor Lupin,” she added, and Hermione nodded, “ I feel awful for it, but he reminds of James… of the old days when I had to push him away for the good of the prophecy, and for my safety. Remus was all I had left, and I couldn’t stand it.”

“ Push him away…” the words echoed quietly on Hermione’s lips. “ What about Lily?” she asked, “ Wasn’t James… I mean…” McGonagall sighed.

“ I’ll never know how they ended up together, it was foolish.” She looked out the window, “ Of course he loved her—but they were such opposites. Lily was just one of his many admirers, quiet, doe-eyed girl who went to all the Quidditch matches.” McGonagall shook her head, “ Anyway I’m sure he was better off with her, but it was all for nothing on my part, and Remus is like so many bad memories. I wish he’d go…” She stopped as Hermione bounded out of her chair.

“ Thank you!” she said, throwing her arms around her Professor for a moment. “ I’d love to stay but there’s something I’ve got to do!” She ran out of the classroom and headed for Gryffindor tower.

______________________

Hermione met up with Ginny in the hall, and they walked back to the Tower together. Hermione could only half-listen to her friend talk as they approached their dorms. She’d been such a fool! I love you… Harry had said it without even thinking! She wouldn’t make the same mistake McGonagall had.

“ Dean is making me bonkers,” Ginny said, “ He’s such a… ladies man, or something—at least he THINKS he is. I miss Seamus sometimes, but I don’t think he’ll have me back.”

“ Oh, nonsense,” Hermione said, rushing up the stairs and trying not to appear too hurried. “ Seamus is dying to have you back.”

“ You think?” she asked, trying to keep up, “ I don’t know, sometimes he can be such an oaf…”

They entered Gryffindor Tower, and Hermione scanned the room for Harry. She found him… only he wasn’t alone. He was sitting by the fire with Ron, and a giggly group of the prettier fifth year girls. Hermione stopped in her tracks. One of the them, a too-tall girl with long chestnut hair, got up and sat in Harry’s lap, playfully kicking her legs over the arms of the chair he sat in.

“ Oh…” Ginny said, trying to divert her attention. “ There’s that fifth year trollop who’s been following Ron around.” Hermione glanced in the direction Ginny was looking and found the girl she meant—a pixie of a thing with thin, white-blond hair, who was leaning onto Ron’s shoulder and laughing stupidly. Ron looked perfectly pleased. Somehow this made Hermione feel even worse.

She pushed her way around the outskirts of the common room so that the jolly little group by the fire wouldn’t see her. As she careened through the halls toward her dorm she wondered if this were another obscure nightmare. She crashed into her room and slammed the door behind her before Ginny would have a chance to try and console her.

“ I’m just fooling myself, that’s all,” Hermione whispered, trying not to blow things out of proportion. What was one love lost to a pack of starry-eyed 15 year olds? He was just Harry Potter. Just Harry…. who had once almost, kind of asked her to marry him and maybe meant it in the smallest, make-believe way. Hermione walked to her mirror.

“ You are NOT McGonagall,” she whispered to her reflection. There were tears in her voice. She reached up to rip off the amethyst necklace—forget the impossible clasp, she’d never wear it again.

“ Right.” Came a voice from her bed—she gasped and her heart jumped into her throat as she spun around. Nail. He was lying on her bed reading comics.

“ Damn you!” Hermione said choking out a sob, “ Just go away! You think you’re the only one who has problems? You can’t just come here and…and…” She sank to her knees and let herself cry.

Stupid, stupid, weak sobbing girl… here on the floor where you belong. She felt strong hands lifting her off the ground and placing her on the bed. Nail kneeled in front of her. His intense eyes almost looked soft and sorry. Hermione didn’t want to see them—she buried her face in her hands.

“ Hey,” Nail whispered, his gruff voice thick with something that might have been compassion. He took her arms and pulled them away from her eyes. “ No need to go into self-pity mode.”

Hermione tried to stop her tears, “ Don’t you comfort me,” she said, looking down at his black T-shirt. He was such a slob. All the British boys wore collar shirts. “ I don’t even know you.” He was holding onto her wrists.

“ Well then I’m the best person to lay your woes on,” he said, “ It feels better if you just say it.”

“ No it won’t.”

“ You’re a stubborn little brat,” Nail said, dropping her wrists. Hermione almost regretted it—she wanted someone to hold her—even him.

“ I know,” she whispered sadly, “ I’m no fun,” she sighed heavily, “ Just like McGonagall. We should have been like the silly little girls who followed them around just cause they were good at Quidditch.”

“ Huh?” Nail reared his head back. “ What’s that?”

“ Quidditch?” Hermione wiped her eyes and sniffled, “ Oh, it’s a wizard sport. There are 7 players on each team, you see, and you have a Snitch, a Quaffle and two Bludgers… Oh, what am I saying! I’m not explaining Quidditch to you.”

“ Why not?”

“ I don’t feel like talking about it right now,” she said, “ It’s Harry’s sport and I think I’ve decided to hate him.”

“ Oh, the dark-haired boy?” Nail asked, “ Rosa tore his picture out of the Encyclopedia Mythica and pinned it up on her wall when we were kids.”

“ Oh, for crying out loud!” Hermione said. “ Why does he have to be so good-looking?”

Nail was quiet for a moment. “ I wish I was more good-looking,” he said frankly, “ Maybe Rosa wouldn’t be so interested in that little wizard prick Malfoy… and she’d know I wasn’t just upset about our parents getting hitched cause I’ll have to live with Calliope.”

“ So you’re in love with Rosa?” Hermione asked. Nail shook his head.

“ Not anymore. When we were kids, yeah… I just hate to have to admit that I had the prettiest best girl friend in the States, and she never even… looked at me that way…. Not even for a second.” Nail explained, and looked up at Hermione, whose eyes were wide.

“ I think I might be the same way,” she said, “ Only Harry… I suppose he used me when he was in trouble… when he needed a sort of…mother figure to take care of him—Great Wizards that’s horrible!” She choked out another sob.

“ Truth hurts, don’t it?” Nail asked. Hermione collapsed against him and he caught her. She felt so stupid—how could she have fooled herself again and again into thinking Harry’s "I love you’s" meant that… She squeezed a piece of Nail’s T-shirt into her hand.

“ Hey, come on,” Nail said, his voice close to her ear. “ Ain’t like it’s the end of the world. We’re just kids… we gotta learn our lessons now and move on. Things will be alright.”

As Hermione rested her head on the Muggle boy’s broad shoulder, she actually believed that they would.

To be continued…..