Harry does not think about Dumbledore; she does not think about her place in this war—ever shifting, and not one she's sure she wants to be in. Is she betraying him? Is this what it feels like? A part of her feels that perhaps it was inevitable; the people she loved the most were on opposite sides of the same war. She couldn't stay volleying between them forever. The end was approaching, and Harry wasn't sure if she could handle it.
The idea of having to make a choice makes her stomach roll, and then she is dry heaving into the sink, staring up at her miserable, wan reflection and not recognizing what she sees there. It doesn't look like her, but then, she no longer remembers what she's supposed to look like. Once upon a time she wore oversized shirts that did not belong to her; wore her hair as an untamed mess that sat upon her head; had a pair of wretched, crooked and dirty glasses. The idea of herself as she was now would have shocked her fourth-year self, in every capacity. Fourteen year-old Harry would not know what to do with sixteen-year old Harry, and it hadn't even been that long a time. She would look upon her long, soft (tamed) curls and unhindered green eyes with wonder; she would be scandalized at the idea of having the amount of shoes that she did; and she certainly would never have been caught dead painting her nails, doing her hair, sleeping with the most terrifying Dark Lord to ever exist.
"Are you alright?"
Hermione pokes her head into the bathroom, her features a visage of concern.
Harry makes a noncommittal noise. She's not sure, actually. "Fine," she gets out anyway, though it is quite obvious that she is so far from fine it is laughable.
"Harry…" Hermione leans against the door jam with an imploring gaze. "Are you feeling alright? You look a bit sick."
Sick of everything, maybe.
She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, feeling like more bile is threatening to make itself known. There are people dying and she's not doing anything to stop it. Merlin, it could be Hermione, one day, and what is she going to do then? She knows very well that Voldemort is not fond of mudbloods—and that's putting it lightly.
Her stomach rolls again. "No—it's fine. We're late to breakfast, aren't we?"
Her best friend frowns at her, but fortunately recognizes that pressing the issue would be a lesson in futility.
They join the rest of the student body in the great hall. Harry finds herself incapable of eating more than a few slices of toast, feeling like she can't hold on to anything anymore. The day grows progressively worse, if that's even possible. She can't concentrate on anything in her classes, and she even manages to botch potions. Which is a feat, considering her newfound mastery in the subject. Slughorn grows concerned, asking over her wellbeing and remarking on her uncharacteristic mood. He is not alone. Even Professor Binns recognize the foul mood she's in.
"Harry," Hermione catches up to her in the hallway before charms, darting around the crowds until they walk side by side.
"What happened?" She whispers, voice low but urgent. "You've been so different since Yule break… did something happen?"
She shakes her head. "No—nothing." And that's the truth. Reality is catching up to her, is all. And it is reminding her of her destiny.
"Did something happen with…" Hermione's eyes shift about nervously. "Well, you know who."
Harry stills, ever so slightly, before she shakes her head again. "No. Everything was fine."
Hermione frowns at her, and Harry sighs. "Honest, Hermione. Nothing happened. I guess I'm just… coming to terms with things."
"Things?" She echoes. "Things like what?"
"Things like who I am," Harry fills in, glumly. "Who he is. What I have to do."
Hermione slows, before coming to a complete halt. Harry pauses as well, turning around to look at her best friend curiously. Hermione gazes back at her with a conflicted expression. "Harry," she begins, softly. "What is it, exactly, that you think you have to do?"
Harry blinks in surprise. Her mouth opens, but no words come out. Then she is hauling Hermione off to the side, by an unoccupied window. "Kill him, obviously." She answers, quietly. "What else can I do?"
"Well, it's just," Hermione bites her lip. "You don't think that there are—other ways to win the war?"
Harry looks at her blankly. "Like what?"
"Like—like… I don't know!" She shakes her head. "I just… I don't think it needs to be like that. Why is killing him your only option?"
"What else could I do, Hermione?" Harry presses, flatly. "He'll—he'll kill you, you know. If he ever saw you. He'd kill them all; Ron, Ginny, the Weasley's, Remus, Sirius… don't you see that? I can't—
She cuts herself, looking away as she purses her lips and wills herself not to cry. "I can't let that happen. I never wanted to make this choice… but I know what side I'll choose, if it comes down to it."
"Oh Harry, don't say that." Hermione hugs her fiercely, leaping at her so abruptly Harry almost loses her footing and sends them both to the floor. "There has to be another way. There will be another way, we just have to find it."
She can't find it in her to share that conviction. If Hermione, brilliant as she is, can't find a solution, then who can?
"I hope so." Harry smiles, but it is a wan and facsimile thing.
Hermione smiles back, gripping her hand tightly. She tugs her back into the ebbing tides of students, swinging their hands between the two of them. "Incidentally, I think I might have… accidentally made Sirius think you were a bit of a slut."
Harry knows Hermione is intentionally changing the subject to lighter things. All the same, Harry accepts the gesture for what it is; a deflection.
Harry blinks rapidly. "No way," she marvels. "How did you manage that?"
Hermione scratches her cheek. "Well, everyone was asking Ron and I about your Muggle boyfriend—his name is Tom, by the way, and he's in Uni in London—
"Oh Merlin," Harry chokes on a laugh.
"Anyway, then someone brought up the fact that you brought Malfoy to Slughorn's Christmas Party, of all people… and now he sort of thinks you're two timing your Muggle lover with Draco Malfoy, and he's not pleased. Expect a very stern and reprimanding owl very soon."
"Like Sirius is one to talk," Harry snorts. "He was the biggest man whore when he was my age." Then she sighs, grumbling. "Well, thank you regardless. Actually the bit of drama probably makes it more believable, don't you think?"
"People are more invested in your drama than usual," Hermione nods, solemn. "Which means they believe it more than usual."
Of course they are. She doesn't even want to know what they think of her now—at any rate, anything is better than the truth. Quite honestly the more negative the better; it was more realistic that way. "He goes to Uni, huh?" Harry shakes her head, snickering. "Merlin, do I even want to know what you've come up with for my fake Muggle boyfriend?"
"Well it wasn't like Ron was going to be of much help," Hermione protested hotly. "Really I just… said a whole bunch of Muggle words and confused them all and called it today."
"Muggle words," Harry repeats incredulously, rolling her eyes. "Like what?"
"Well, I said he was a big footie fan and that he's taken you to a game or two; you guys have a lot in common, you both like One Direction—
"Oh come on Hermione—
"And he works with computers…"
Harry shakes her head in wonder. "Hermione, I don't even know what that means."
"Good." She sniffs. "They think he's smart and charming—and real, by the way."
"So, pretty much the same," Harry smiles softly. She can almost imagine it in her head, even if it is a rather strange thought. Tom Riddle, the tragically good-looking heartthrob of his whole campus; charming and smart… charming when he wants to be, at any rate. "Thanks Hermione," she swallows the dream away, feeling hollow in the aftermath. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
"So anyway," she segues, slyly, not smooth at all. "I've been meaning to ask; how was your break? Do anything interesting?"
Harry shoots her a skeptical look. "My break was fine," she replies. "How was yours?"
"Probably not nearly as interesting as yours," Hermione retorts. She grins winsomely at her friend. "How was it, huh? How was he?"
Harry is taken aback by this line of questioning. Hermione made no sense, sometimes. "Um—good, I suppose. I got a lot of sleeping done." She offers, weakly.
Hermione laughs. "Just 'sleeping' huh?"
"Well what do you want me to say?" She snorts. "Yes, fine, other things happened aside from sleeping, is that what you want to know?"
"You told Lavender the details but you won't tell me?" Hermione returns, pouting. "Harry, I am deeply offended."
"Why would you want to know that?" Harry flushes bright red. "And what the hell, how do you know about that?"
"We share a dorm room, you know." Hermione points out, raising a brow. "And a bathroom, incidentally. Secrets are hard to come by."
Harry grumbles under her breath, willing her face to stop burning up. It's not working out all that well. But on the subject of Lavender, the two of them come upon what could possibly be the best thing she's seen all day. Ron glowers out into the distance, an utterly hideous golden necklace of some kind hanging lopsided over his uniform. Harry snickers under her breath at his expression: pure pain. Lavender tugs on his arm, burying her head into his neck as she squeals excitedly, referring to him as 'her Won-Won'.
Hermione makes a noise of pure, unadulterated disgust. "Excuse me," she says, drily, "I have to go vomit."
Harry laughter grows untamable at that. "You know, I think I might just join you."
She might be annoyed with Ron for ruining their dorm dynamic, but now she finds herself silently thanking him. At least his pain serves as a great distraction.
But unfortunately it all comes full circle again, when Ron's pain ends up returning her thoughts back to the matter at hand. It's after Malfoy's latest botched attempt to get to Dumbledore that Harry feels something cold, hollow and determined settle into her. As she sits by Ron's bedside through an—admittedly quite humorous—fiasco involving Lavender and Hermione, she has to acknowledge that this can't go on. She can't let any one else she loves get hurt. Would he spare Ron, simply because he is her closest friend? She doesn't know.
And that is enough for her to find her feet taking her to two large, imposing gargoyle statues.
"Professor Dumbledore," she greets, hesitantly, as she steps into his office.
It is as cluttered as always. Fawkes coos at her in the corner, and she takes a sweep of the room and sees that Dumbledore is not there. She turns to the bird, smiling slightly as he cocks his head at her, pecking lightly at her fingers. His feathers are soft and warm, as if she is holding her hands close to a fire.
"Harry," she whirls around at the sudden voice, surprised. "It's good to see you. How was your holiday?"
"Lovely," she answers, wary.
"Were you at the wonderful Weasley Christmas gathering this year? I heard young Mister Charlie had quite the run in with a bottle of Ogden's."
"I wouldn't know," she answers at length. "I didn't get a chance to go."
He smiles at her as he walks down the stairs. "Well I hope you enjoyed the day anyway."
She's no idea what to do with this pleasant small talk; it's making her uneasy. Fortunately, he swiftly changes the subject.
"Have you any news with Professor Slughorn?"
Harry takes a deep, shaky breath. This is why she's here. "No." She answers honestly. "I haven't actually talked to him at all." She confesses.
Dumbledore frowns. "Is that so?"
Harry turns around, gazing at the tall spire of memories in the twinkling glass case, spinning slowly. So many of them bear Tom's name on them—she wonders what each one is. Not that it matters; she probably knows each and every one far more intimately than Dumbledore could ever hope to.
"I don't need to." Is her slow, deliberate reply. "I already know."
She can feel the piercing, taciturn gaze from behind her, can almost see the thoughtful frown on the headmaster's face—the incredible mind flying through calculations.
"What do you mean, Harry?" He asks at length, just as slow.
Harry closes her eyes, gathering her courage. She turns around, after a long moment of silence. She's not sure what she sees when she opens her eyes; his expression is not what she had expected. "The horcruxes," she elaborates. His eyes widen.
"Yes?" He asks, quickly, moving closer. "And what do you know?"
She hesitates, searching him speculatively. "Why do you want to know about them?" She ignores him.
He pauses, minutely. "Harry—
"To kill him?" She presses. "To destroy him?"
He sighs deeply, moving into one of the couches. "Harry, you must understand. Whatever considerations he shows you, he is not—a nice man."
She snorts. "That's a bit of an understatement."
He looks up, seeming surprised with her blatant admission.
"I know what he is, Professor," she says, quietly, taking the seat opposite him. She says nothing else on the matter, however, leaving Dumbledore's curiosity piqued without relief. She doesn't seem to want to elucidate him in the near future, either.
He frowns considerately at her. "So then you know that he must—
"It shouldn't be me." She interrupts him, forlorn. Her nebulous expression breaks into something full of sorrow and regret. "In the prophecy. It shouldn't have been me."
His gaze is thoughtful. "What makes you say that?"
"Maybe I am the only one who can defeat him," she concedes. "But I'm also the last person who would ever do him harm."
He studies her closely. "Perhaps," he allows, "that is why it is you."
Harry blinks in surprise. "Professor, I—
"You know then, about his secrets to immortality?" He waves her off. She closes her mouth, frowning as she nods slowly. "And you're sure? You know everything? Or simply what he told you?"
"He didn't tell me anything." She confesses.
"Then, how did you—
"You found his ring, didn't you?" She interrupts, seemingly on a different tangent. She tilts her head to his hand. "That's why your hand is like that."
He frowns. "Harry,"
"It was in the Gaunt house, in Little Hangleton." She reveals, holding his gaze. "Was it not?"
"It was." He agrees, studying her very closely.
"You have your suspicions," Harry notes aloud. "On what they are—and where."
"I do." He nods.
"I don't intend to enlighten you." She adds, flatly.
"Perhaps that is for the best," he decides after a beat, to her utter surprise. She looks him, shocked out of her thoughts.
"Professor?" She says, uneasily.
"You know what they are."
Harry bites her lip. "Yes."
"Yes." She says again.
He smiles wanly at her. "Then you are already armed with far more knowledge than I could ever hope to give you in these lessons."
She still cannot make sense of any of this. Why is he not interrogating her? Tying her to a chair and getting Snape to pour verisaterum down her throat? Locking her in a room in Grimmauld place, possibly for forever? Or telling Sirius, even, who would most likely do all of the above?
"I don't understand," she says at length, tossing a searching glance at her elderly headmaster.
He tilts his head. "Don't understand what?"
"How is that… why are you doing this?"
Dumbledore just shakes his head, fondly. "Harry, my dear, I wanted you to know of the horcruxes, this is true. But mainly as a failsafe. There is greater power than just dark magic, in this world."
Harry squints at him, not entirely agreeing with that statement. Dark magic is very, very powerful. Dumbledore ought to know— considering what it's done to his arm.
"There is a power the Dark Lord knows not," Dumbledore reveals, in hauntingly familiar phrasing.
Harry feels as if all the hair on the back of her neck is standing on end. "What kind of power is that supposed to even be?"
Her headmaster smiles at her, genially. "It's not one you'll ever have to worry about, Harry. You'll know when the time comes."
Harry just stares at him.
"And… that's it? I'll know when the time comes?"
"You're a brilliant young woman, Harry. I have full faith in you."
Harry is starting to wonder if Dumbledore's age has truly made him go senile. "You're letting me go?" She asks, incredulously.
He blinks at her. "Why yes, of course. It's almost dinner time. I assume you must be quite hungry after such a long ordeal."
Her mouth opens as she stares at him, stunned. She closes it eventually, gathering enough of herself to reply. Hell. If he really is senile, why is she even here bothering to argue with him? "Right." She agrees, uneasy. "Well, in that case… I should go and find Ron and Hermione."
Harry flips through her Potions book idly, attempting to keep her mind occupied from deeper musings. It works rather well as a distraction, the half-blood prince is witty, clever, and perhaps the most accomplished Potions master she knows. Not even Slughorn came close. He was constantly applauding her lauded achievements in the Potions classroom, much to her embarrassment and Hermione's ire.
On the subject of Hermione and her ire, it is starting to grow explosive.
"Honestly," she scowls, battling a snare in her curls. "What on Earth did Lavender expect? She acts as if this is my fault somehow."
"Lavender has never been particularly rational," Harry returns, diplomatically. Her attention has slipped from her book to another on her nightstand; nondescript, bound in twine. It's the album Hermione gave her.
"That's an understatement." Hermione snorts.
"She'll get over it." Harry assures. "Ron was just her flavor of the month; I'm sure by the end of term she'll be back with that Ravenclaw boy."
"For our sakes, I hope that happens soon." Her friend grouses, as she ducks down to put on her stockings.
Meanwhile Harry has scooted to the edge of her bed to retrieve the book. She splits the spine, and almost immediately wishes she hadn't. They are her own photos, caught in the infinite, marmoreal glow of paper, a place without time or space. Something lovely but sorrowful curls in her stomach, something that feels far too close to regret. They are not particularly remarkable: most are washed in a white light, or too dark to discern. But they remind her of brief moments she will never have again.
With determination she snaps the book shut, ferreting about her drawers for her camera.
Hermione is just buttoning up her shirt as she looks up and catches her. "You're taking photos?"
Harry shrugs. "I haven't taken any yet since we've been at school."
They traverse to breakfast in silence, it is quiet but not uncomfortably so. The morning is ripe and soft and inspires within her a capacious lethargy. It is so nice to wake up and not have anything to do, no other obligations other than an essay and practice the following day.
There is a commotion in the Great Hall when they arrive. Harry does not think much of this, distracted by the appetizing spread of jams and toast laid out on the tables to spare it much thought. She wastes no time devouring it all with a ravenous, delighted hunger, and most likely would have continued to do so if Ron hadn't elbowed her in the side.
"What?" She looks up.
"That's Katie," he whispers, his eyes drawn to the center of the room, where a group of students have congregated.
For a moment Harry does not quite connect the dots.
"Katie Bell." He adds. "Thank Merlin she's back—we've got that game with Hufflepuff coming up, you know."
"Right." Harry agrees absently, her eyes drawn not to the girl in question but to a figure standing at the door, frozen.
Malfoy looks as if his past has come to haunt him, a stricken look in his eyes when he catches sight of the girl he almost murdered. Harry has never felt much sympathy for the boy, but there is a pang in her throat that feels quite similar nonetheless. Malfoy is just a boy—a particularly immature one, at that. And yet Voldemort expects him to do something terrible. He stands, still as stone, for so long she thinks he might faint. Then he turns around and bolts out the door.
Harry takes one last longing look at her waffles, before she's standing up as well. Her two best friends glance up at her curiously.
"I'm going to go get some photos while the lighting is still good," she says by explanation, tugging her camera over her neck.
"You want company?" Ron asks around a mouthful.
She shakes her head. "No, I'm alright. See you in a bit!"
Then she is darting out the hall in pursuit of the Slytherin, skittering into the vast entry chambers, peering around. She thinks she sees a whisper of silvery blonde in the wan light, and moves to follow it.
Why the hell is he in such a hurry, she thinks irritably, darting after him. And why is he walking so far?
She finally catches up to him by the green houses; it is bitter cold out here, and the glass is fogged up from the humidity inside, obscuring him from view. Harry follows quietly, boots crunching lightly in the snow. The noise is not enough to alert the blonde to her presence, even she steps on a twig. The reason for this becomes clear enough when she rounds the corner; he is hunched over, shaking slightly. He looks like he's about to be sick.
"Malfoy?" She whispers quietly, making him jump.
"Fuck, Potter," he curses, rubbing wary hands over his face. "Wear a fucking bell, would you?"
She frowns, ignoring this. "Are you alright?"
"Am I alright?" He repeats, perplexed. Draco snorts. "Don't you think that question is better posed to your friend in the Hall?"
"Probably," she agrees. "But I'm asking you all the same."
"I'm fine, Potter." He scowls, but it is wan and dejected. He shakes it away with a defensive flush to his face. "And what are you doing here, anyway?"
Harry holds up her camera.
"Pictures? Really?" He scowls, and she snaps one in his face, flash and all. "Gah!" He throws his hands up, staggering backwards.
"Are you going to tell me, or should I wring it out of you?" Harry continues, lightly.
"You're making things up, I'm perfectly fine. I was just… it was hot in there."
It is a feeble excuse, and they both know it.
Harry's eyes are full of sympathy. It looks like it's exactly what Draco doesn't want to see. His scowl deepends. "It's not any of your business, Potter."
It had been ages since she's heard him call her that. It feels weird, realizing that he's been calling her 'Harry' this whole year. Potter suddenly feels so foreign and distant. Too distant, really.
Harry realizes with stunned disbelief that she's actually worried for Draco. And not just in the vaguely guilty way she's been worrying about him all year. It was a sort of general, ambiguous guilt over the entire situation; if Harry could just do her god damn job and vanquish the Dark Lord, so many people, including Draco, wouldn't be suffering as they were now. In light of that, it made sense that Harry would want to help him in some small way.
"It is my business," Harry sighs. "It really, really is."
Draco is staring at her, expression difficult to read. She wasn't sure what to make of it. Sadness? Fondness? She'd never seen an expression like that on him before, much less ever directed at her. Then again, the had been enemies for most of their school years, so that was no surprise. She wondered when that really changed; for her, it had been this year. She loathed him her fourth year, but by her fifth so much had changed in her life she could honestly say he didn't rile her up like he used to. He was a nuisance more than anything, a tedious schoolmate making her already difficult life even more difficult. And then this year… seeing what had happened to him— seeing all the hardship that Harry had inadvertently caused— made her regard him in an entirely new light.
She wonders; did Draco feel the same? Were they, finally, friends?
So many years had passed since that day on the train when he'd offered his hand and she'd rejected it.
Harry wonders if maybe today is the day that she should offer her hand.
She clears her throat, feeling an awkward flush rise up her neck. "Look, Draco, there's something I want to say. Back then, I—
Harry doesn't get anything else out but a muffled little shriek, because there is a mouth covering hers.
Harry is in such a state of disbelief that she doesn't even manage to pull away. She just stands there, as rigid and tense as stone, and neither responds nor pushes him away.
Draco pulls back after a moment, with a wide-eyed, frenzied look that meant he also was surprised with his own actions. All the same, despite the mortified horror clouding his bright grey eyes, Harry can see there is so much more emotion that just embarrassment there, too. There is pain, a great deal of that. But it is the longing that makes her breath catch. It is so plain to see. She can't believe she had managed to miss something like that.
Draco was… in love with her.
And all Harry could feel in response was an endless, overwhelming sadness. "... Draco…"
He doesn't wait for her to respond. The expression shudders into impassivity. "Sorry," he says, briskly. "I shouldn't have done that." And then he pushes past her.
Draco knew, from the moment his lips had left Harry's, that kissing her would be the greatest mistake of his life. He could feel it in his very bones, as she stared at him in disbelief and sadness. Sympathy. She didn't see him in the same way— of course she didn't. Draco knew that all along. It was a mistake. He was being stupid, and he thought if he just buried it deep enough into his subconscious he could pretend it had never happened. If he just buried his feelings for her, then he could ignore them and pretend as if they hadn't been there all along.
But he knew, in his heart, that he could never forget it.
"Draco, Draco…" The great Dark Lord stalks forward, shaking his head. "Just as worthless as your father… I should have known you would fail."
His heart beats a wild, frantic tattoo against his chest. Like a caged animal— no, a cornered animal. The greatest, most terrifying Dark Lord to ever live has turned his livid red eyes in Draco's direction, and Draco is intimately, painfully aware that these are his last moments. Lord Voldemort is not a man who accepts failure, of any kind. And Draco has well and truly failed him.
The boy's face has drained of all color, and he is shaking, eyes wide with fear, "I could have d—done it." He whispers. "I could have."
"And yet dear Severus had to do it for you. Not even strong enough to cast a simple curse, are you, Draco? Here, let me teach you…"
The boy screams as a jet of light throws him to the ground. Not the killing curse, for he might have use for the Malfoy spawn yet. He lifts the curse. "However, you did manage to bring my Death Eaters into the school. I suppose you might not be entirely useless." His eyes narrow. "Unless it wasn't really you?"
The boy is still in a heap on the ground, but his head darts up at that. "No!" He protests, shakily. "I—I did it myself. It was my task…"
Lord Voldemort walks closer, eyes the burning color of rage and anger. "I'll see for myself whether this is true." His eyes narrow even further when he takes in the boy's expression; he looks utterly terrified now, crawling away as if to run away. This is an endeavor doomed to fail, of course, but he is curious as to what it is that could make the boy attempt it nonetheless. It is obvious the boy is hiding something.
"No," he shakes his head rapidly. "No, no, I did, I promise, please—
Lord Voldemort raises his wand. "Legilimens."
Harry deflects a spell, raising a barrier for another, and dodges out of the way of the rest.
It is utter chaos in here. The students don't know what to do, she's no idea where in the hell the teachers are, and the Death Eaters are destroying the school, using the children as their playthings. She grabs a first year in a Gryffindor tie, thrusting him up the stairs. "Get to the common room," she snaps. "And stay there! Don't let anyone in who doesn't know the password."
She looks around the stairwell, where dozens of frightened children are looking at her with pleading eyes, as if they expect something great out of her. What nonsense. How typical, everyone looking at her to fix their problems. This one, at least, is common sense. "Same for the rest of you! Except the Slytherins. The dungeons are compromised; stay with the Hufflepuffs."
Except she doubts any of the Slytherins are in any great danger anyway. Not when it's their parents gallivanting and wreaking havoc about the school in their masks.
Harry hadn't thought Voldemort capable of this, and she cursed her own naivety. A part of her had grown numb and disconsolate at the idea of it—would Voldemort really destroy this whole school? A school the both of them held with such fondness? The rest of her crushed it down, steeling herself for the worst. She had always known who he was; there was no denying it now.
This is the real Lord Voldemort. The one Harry has been intensely, desperately, trying to pretend didn't exist.
Harry stalks through the halls with a single minded purpose, not paying any mind to the chaos around her. She can feel his presence, somewhere in the castle, and she intends to find his location, no matter how long it takes. She rounds the corner to see the hulking figure of one of the Ministry's most wanted: Fenrir Greyback, holding up a struggling boy against the wall. Her blood runs cold. Fenrir is infamous for biting children.
"Get away from him!" She shouts, drawing his attention.
The werewolf pauses, dropping the boy to the ground in favor of turning to her. "Would you like to take his place then, little girl? I wouldn't mind…"
His eyes widen when she draws closer, and he sees just who he is threatening. His claws lower; a clear sign of non-aggression. But Harry does not care, she has the opening she has been waiting for, lashing her wand around her and shouting, "Sectumsempra!"
She watches with morbid fascination as the dark curse hits him. Harry has never used any of the spells in the Half-Blood Prince's book, for they were very dark indeed. It was not that she thought she would be unable to perform them; rather, that she would be able to perform them too well. Harry has never had any issue in casting black magic, she knows that if she wanted, the killing curse would fall quite easily from her lips. Still, she wasn't sure what she was expecting from the spell; Greyback falls to the ground, sliced open, blood pooling everywhere. He is still alive, but she does not know how long that will last.
Harry spares him a cool, unmoved glance as she walks around him, climbing up the stairs to find the dark lord.
She runs into Bellatrix, much to her deep displeasure. The deranged woman has captured a group of little Ravenclaw girls, casting hexes upon them with delight. She hates the woman, so suddenly, so conclusively. It's a dark, foreign emotion that she isn't used to. She hates her so deeply that her rage boils over, growing into something uncontrollable. Harry isn't sure if it is truly directed at Bellatrix, or the woman was just unfortunate to be the first person Harry sees. All the same she loathes this woman, and she loathes the dark lord too, for doing this. He is the reason these little girls are huddled together in the hallway, bloody and bruised, crying pitifully at the merciless hands of a monster.
She walks closer, raising her wand just as Bellatrix turns around; "Crucio,"
She remembers this woman in a similar event, shrieking on the floor, screaming in agony. She remembers being horrified at the sound.
She is not horrified any longer.
Harry does not release her curse, not until she stands directly above the twisting form seizing on the floor. Even then, she simply stands for a moment, appraising her handiwork with an ambivalent glance. Movement on the other side of the hallway draws her attention; it is a Death Eater she doesn't think she's seen before. He is frozen at the sight, clearly conflicted between assisting his fellow Death Eater and his orders from the dark lord to leave Harriet Potter alone. Harry meets his gaze, before she dismissively releases the unforgiveable. She casts an expelliarmus on the woman, taking her wand. Hopefully she'll stay unconscious for the duration of the attack.
Harry meets the Death Eater's eyes as she continues to walk down the hall, passing him with a dark, challenging look.
This one is clearly a Slytherin, for he shows a laudable amount of self-preservation, and simply moves to let her pass.
It's not long before Harry realizes where she's going; the Astronomy Tower. But why is he up there?
Either way, she steels herself for whatever she'll find, climbing the stairs with a mechanical determination.
What Voldemort sees is enough to propel him into an unmitigated, white hot fury.
Malfoy, failing, time and again. His thoughts grow hysterical with fear and he feels trapped in the machinations he can't get out of. He had expected this; in fact, Voldemort relished the thought. The boy's sorrow was rather refreshing—he has no real intentions of ending his life, but the idea of it is pleasing nonetheless. Maybe that will teach Lucius what happens to failures.
But these thoughts and memories are not what hold his attention. The Malfoy boy's thoughts are predictable and shallow, and then all of a sudden his mind seems to wrench away from him. But the dark lord is the best legilimens to have ever lived, and his attempt and shielding his mind is futile at best. It becomes clear what he's trying to protect, when a very familiar figure is drawn from his memory.
There is Harry, approaching him in the hallway, reprimanding him (rightfully) for being so foolish, and cautioning him to be more careful. It is not Harry who angers him, rather it is the Malfoy boy, and more specifically, all the thoughts flying through his head. She's so beautiful; Merlin, what he would give to kiss her… And when she says that they need to come up with a plan, his heart skips a beat. They—he and Harry, together.
Harry, tugging him away from his friends. She imperiously demands him to take him to the party. He feels like his chest is three sizes too small, and it gets very hard to breath. She wants him to take her to Slughorn's Christmas party. She wants them to pretend to date. After the shock and elation comes a wan sadness; can she not see how much he wants that to be a reality?
Harry again, taking his breath away. His, and everyone else in the room. Draco is moodily hunched over in a corner, waiting at the base of the staircase with other invitees. He sees the mudblood girl, sparing Draco a narrow, suspicious glance. Draco ignores her, because Harry is delicately picking her way down the stairs, so stunning he is immobile with his enrapture. Around him the children break out into whispers. He is still immobile even as she finally reaches the base of the stairs, tilting her head and asking him if he's ready to go, as if she doesn't realize that he's been struck speechless, that it is impossible to focus when her dazzling smile turns to him.
She is the brightest presence in the room; every eye is drawn to her, including Draco's. He can't keep his eyes off her. The dress is the color of ivory, and looks wonderful against her skin; of which there is much to see. He shakily places a hand against her naked back—Harry does not even pause in conversation, laughing at something one of Slughorn's guests said, making a perfunctory remark of her own. His fingers leave the warmth of her skin to trail into her curls; half of it is pinned up with sparkling silver and jewels, the rest spilling about her shoulders.
He can almost pretend that it's real. Professor Mcgonagall approaches to give them an awkward but well-meaning compliment; Slughorn is far more obvious about it, remarking at least five times that they're; 'So dashing, so radiant! What do you think, Wormple? Have you ever seen a more elegant pair?' Draco cannot help but wonder what it would be like if it was all real. Harry is quick to remind him that it's not, there's no need for him to be so flustered, this is all just fake anyway. This is the last thing he wants to hear, so he rushes off in favor of his task.
Harry, standing in the font hall, waiting for him, looking splendid, as always, wrapped in a fluffy Gryffindor scarf and a tartan dress. She turns around when he calls her name. There are people milling about, and they all stop to watch what is most likely the hottest gossip in the entire school. Draco flushes, but a part of him is pleased. Let them talk all they like—let them think that she is his. To his surprise Harry smiles brilliantly at him, making his heart flip over. She walks towards him and throws her arms around him; it is all a show, but it feels wonderful nonetheless. When they pull apart she is still smiling, and holding out a little box. He has one of his own, pulling it out. They decided to trade Christmas gifts this year, in the most eventful way possible. This seemed as good a time as any.
He opens his. Harry peers up at him, urgently. "Well? Do you like it?"
It's a watch—the kind his father would approve of. It doesn't surprise him that she has good taste. "I love it," he says, thickly, not really referring to the watch. "Open yours."
She tugs gently at the bow, lips parting when she opens the lid. He studies her very closely; he thinks her eyes glisten for a moment, but then she is blinking that away. "Oh, Draco," she gasps softly. "It's beautiful." And he can tell she's being honest, that this is not part of the show, and it makes his chest tighten.
"Can I put it on you?"
"Yes, of course!" She spins around, so he can reach over her and fasten the golden necklace against the nape of her neck, taking the opportunity to run his hands through her hair as he pushes it aside.
"There," he moves away, and she turns back to him, gazing down at the necklace at her throat. It is befitting of the girlfriend of a Malfoy, certainly; intricate gold chain, inlaid with twinkling rubies.
"Ruby," she whispers, smiling. "Gryffindor colors?"
He shakes his head. "Your birthstone."
The gesture clearly takes her by surprise. Her eyes soften, and her smile is small but breathtaking nonetheless. "Thank you."
And now, the scene changes, and his lips are upon hers.
They are just as soft and sweet as he'd imagined them to be—she makes a squeak of surprise when he presses her against the wall of the greenhouse. It is a brief, insignificant thing; he does not know if her immobility was due to shock or lack of interest. It becomes clear when he looks into her eyes—shining, nebulous, full of empathy.
"Draco…" She says, but then he is running off, unable to hear the rest of that.
Lord Voldemort wrenches out of the child's mind, sending the blonde crumpling to the floor in a shriek of agony. Good. There will be far more of that before he's done with the boy—he might he even kill him for this grievance, for failing him. For holding such disgusting, romantic sentiment (but is the dark lord truly so different?); for being able to hold her in front of everyone; for taking them to a party and have everyone lavish compliments at their feet; for daring to put his lips upon her; for being everything he isn't.
"Crucio," he whispers, feeling such great satisfaction watching him writhe on the floor.
He can hear the anarchy of his death eaters in the halls below, the screams of the children, the shattering of ancient historical artifacts as Bellatrix has her fun. He does not care for any of it, Dumbledore is dead and it is not even a passing flicker in his mind. All his attention—all his rage, is centered on the boy in front of him.
"You don't have to do this," She whispers, low and grave.
"Please," She says again, nothing but a murmur of breath.
Don't do this to me, She does not say, but he hears it all the same.
He keeps a steady hand.
Rain splatters across the windows, drenching the world outside in a shallow ocean of murky water. It'll be hell having to trudge through all that mud. She can't bring herself to do much else aside from lean against the glass, listless, an unfocused gaze fixated on the tenebrous sky above her.
Harry cannot come to terms with anything right now, so she ignores the world in favor of a lifeless, unending silence. Maybe she's better off not living, anyway.
It's been days; the Order has been in a fervor the whole time, regrouping and making plans for the war that has begun in earnest; Harry can't remember doing much else than sitting here on the sill of an unused room in Grimmauld Place, staring out into the murky world beyond.
Sirius came to see her. She expected something more dramatic. He—and all the other Order members—are convinced she'd just been under the imperious at the Ministry. They think her sorrow is from Dumbledore's death; that she's taking it the hardest because they had such a close relationship. He reassures her that everything's okay, that no one is upset and it's not her fault. He reminds her he's here for her if she wants to talk. She doesn't say a word throughout all of this, staring at him blankly, as if he is some kind of alien.
She curses herself. Aliens remind her of Han Solo, which reminds her of all the long hours curled up with Tom, stealing kisses while he's engrossed in some deep and droll book.
Harry bites her lip, willing herself to stop doing this. Stop thinking about him. Stop thinking about anything that reminds you of him. He's a monster, she reminds herself. He was never anything else.
Except—that would be everything.
Which is why she's sitting here, thinking of absolutely nothing.
Someone would have to drag her out of here eventually.
There's a knock on the door. "Harry?" A familiar, gentle voice calls from just outside. She feels herself stir out of her lifeless haze—this is actually a voice she wants to hear. "Can I come in?"
"Hermione," she croaks, voice hoarse from disuse, "door's open."
Hermione peeps her head in, a look of uncontained sorrow spilling off her expression. Harry feels her heart crumple again at the sight—she wishes she could extract the stupid organ, rip it to pieces or maybe just donate it to science. As long as she doesn't have it any longer, she doesn't care. Feeling anything is such a terrible burden.
"Oh, Harry," she whispers, tears welling in her eyes as she darts towards her, hugging her tightly.
"Harry," she mumbles into her hair, rocking slightly. Harry brings her arms up to return the hug, numb. "Harry—I'm so sorry… oh, Harry… I'm so sorry…"
"It's not your fault," she reminds her, quietly.
"I know," she sniffles, breaking apart. "But I wish this had never happened to you. It's not fair."
She shrugs. "It was bound to happen eventually." She points out, hollow and cold, knowing she's right.
What was she expecting, really? Having a relationship with the Dark Lord? How could she have ever foreseen an outcome that didn't end like this—with her heart broken, with her sorrow the only thing she can remember how to feel? She really meant that little to him, then. She supposes she shouldn't be so surprised. Tom Riddle was a consummate actor, more than capable of deceiving the most intelligent of people. Certainly it wasn't too hard to fool an adoring, lovesick little girl.
"That's not true," Hermione insists. "That's not true at all."
Harry turns miserable eyes towards her best friend. "How can it not be? Hermione, he's a murderer. He killed my parents—he almost tried to kill me. I was stupid. I was so stupid. How could I have fallen for that? How could I have believed that he could be anything else than a monster?"
Hermione's gaze is both pleading and conflicted. "But he's saved you, too," she adds, quiet, "Harry, come on, we both know you mean a great deal more to him than that."
She laughs, hollow. "Do I?" She counters. "I don't think there would be any way to know."
Hermione shakes her head. "There is," she disagrees. "I don't think these last three years have been meaningless. Three years, Harry. You can't possibly believe that he's done with you. Harry he—
"Cares for you deeply." She finishes, and Harry knows what word she so tactfully avoided, and feels a small smidge of gratitude at that.
"He threw an unforgiveable at me," she feels the need to remind her.
"Yes, he does that to a lot of people," Hermione huffs. "He was angry, Harry. You were defying him."
"Of course I was!" She protests, hotly. The most emotion she's felt in days. "He killed Dumbledore—he almost killed Malfoy; he almost killed me. Again."
"Wrong unforgiveable," Hermione remarks.
"Because the Cruciatus is so much better."
"Well you're not dead, so I'd think so." And then, rolling her eyes, "Harry, it was barely even half a second."
"That's not the point!" She scowls, incensed. Hermione is right though, really the curse was lifted before she could even get over the shock of it at all. "That he did it at all is the problem! He's dangerous, and I've always known it—I was being a gullible little fool, to think he could be any different with me. That he could change, or something equally as naïve."
Hermione's expression turns into a deep sorrow. Harry doesn't like the look of it at all.
"I think you're wrong, Harry." She disagrees, slow and hesitant. "I think—I think he might be in love with you." She says, shocking Harry to the core.
She gapes at her, incredulous. "Excuse me?"
"You didn't see his face, Harry," she shakes her head. "The way he looked, after he… Harry, I felt bad, when I should have been feeling anger at him for even thinking of hurting you."
Harry denies this. She refuses. Holding any hope sounds both tragic and completely ridiculous.
"And even now," she begins again, "there hasn't been any attacks at all, did you know? No activity at all. It's worrying the Order, actually. They thought that he'd have capitalized on everyone's fear now that Dumbledore is dead—but he isn't. No one knows what he's doing."
Her heart clenches, even as she wills it not to.
"That doesn't mean anything, Hermione." She returns, staunch in her disapproval.
Hermione raises a brow. "You know him better than me," she advises, "only you can say whether these last three years have been a lie."
She shrugs, noncommittal. She doesn't want to think about this. She feels sick, and dizzy, even though she's not eaten anything today. But then, she's felt like this ever since he effectively broke her heart and proved these last three years were nothing but another one of his manipulations.
She sways a bit, and Hermione frowns.
"Harry, are you alright?" She gives her a once over. "You look dreadful."
"Thanks," is her acerbic response.
Hermione ignores her. "Seriously Harry, when was the last time you ate, or slept, even?"
It hits her again. "I don't know."
This alarms her best friend. "What do you mean, you don't know?" She repeats, incredulous.
Harry grits her teeth, resting her head against the wall. "It means I don't—
But then Hermione is shrieking and she can't feel anything but a white haze in her head, and then she is getting sick all over the carpet, and promptly thereafter passes out.
I don't want to be the enemy
(when I could be anyone else in the world)
Harry is in shock.
She also gets sick all over the tile floor— again.
Hermione leaps back just in time, pulling a face. She pats Harry's back consolingly, looking about as shocked as Harry feels.
The muggle doctor gives her a rather disproving glance, shriveling her nose.
"How long?" Harry asks again, faintly.
"Five months," the woman says again, with great emphasis and incredulity. "You really haven't noticed at all?"
"No," she answers, honestly. Sorry, she's been a bit preoccupied with the war, and her place smack in the middle of it.
How was she to expect this? It had never even crossed her mind.
It should have, though.
Now that she's thinking of it—it really, really should have. She knows, at least in theory, what happens when you have sex with someone, but she'd never really connected that to her own situation. Which in hindsight is perhaps the stupidest thing she's ever done. Honestly it's more surprising this hadn't happened earlier. They've never—not even once—used any kind of contraceptive charm. Not that she was aware of, anyway.
How could she have been so—so stupid? Maybe even more mind-boggling; how could he have been so stupid? At least she can plead the excuse that she was sixteen and inexperienced, and severely lacking in a sexual education aside from whatever Hermione cautioned her about. And he… well, he clearly knew what he was doing, if his abilities in bed were anything to go by. How could they both have ignored something so absolutely catastrophic—not to mention, completely preventable?
Harry buries her face in her hands.
Somehow, the doctor finds this as a sign to continue. "I'm going to prescribe you some prenatal vitamins," she drones, returning her attention to her paperwork. "Five months is a very long time," she gives her a considering glance at this, "though it doesn't appear that you're showing as much as you should be. Could you describe to me your eating habits?"
Harry sighs: Hermione snorts, and answers for her, "Sporadic at best."
She shoots her a glowering look, but Hermione only shrugs unrepentant.
"Could you elaborate?"
"She eats whenever she remembers to, which isn't very often. And when she does, she gets easily distracted and doesn't finish, or moves on to something else."
Harry moves to protest—except this is all entirely true.
"She eats very well though," Hermione adds, reluctant, "Fish and poultry and a lot of vegetables. Well, she eats well aside from the truly staggering amount of cake she's capable of consuming."
Harry pouts. That's not her fault—her sugar tooth was magnified with eleven years of longing for the taste of sweetness. It's no wonder it's a little out of hand.
The doctor takes all this in stride. "I see. Well, I encourage you to eat on a regular schedule, if only to promote a better sense of routine. Try not to gorge yourself, but keep in mind that you're eating not only for yourself but to support your fetus—
Harry pulls a grimace at that.
"And that you should be eating more than usual. How are your sleeping habits?"
"Probably just as bad," she admits, resigned.
The doctor makes a noise that could mean anything, but Harry is sure it's mostly disapproval.
She scribbles something down, and then rips the paper to give it to Harry. "Take this to the nurse at the front desk. Also, you'll need to schedule a follow-up appointment, so we can take a more detailed look at the health of your baby."
As if that's not terrifying.
Harry spends the next few hours in a daze of unmitigated terror. She doesn't know what to feel, so she decides not to feel anything at all. The numbness is far better than any alternative. Hermione is a comforting, reassuring presence by her side. She doesn't know how she ended up with such wonderful friends; Ron meets them at a Costa down the street from the clinic, where Harry has been staring down at her tea for the better part of the last thirty minutes, in a staunch silence. He doesn't say anything at all, though he can see how tense the air is, even being as dense as he is. He brought her invisibility cloak on Hermione's request, and they drape it over her as they return to Grimmauld place.
They return her to her room at the top of the house without alerting anyone to their disappearance and subsequent reappearance.
She crawls under her covers, staring sightlessly out from under the blanket and refusing—or perhaps just incapable—of saying anything at all. Hermione and Ron don't pressure her, sitting with her in a stony silence.
She's not sure how long she stays like that, thinking nothing, lost in a quiet so unending she thinks it might consume her. Hermione must leave at some point, because she returns later with food. Harry attempts to eat as much of it as possible, but even that is a struggle. She is unwillingly reminded that this is not a decent amount of food to support two people. The idea of supporting anyone else is incredibly disturbing. Her best friend wanders outside of the room again, speaking quietly with someone. It sounds like Mrs. Weasley. They're asking about her—Hermione is attempting to make an excuse.
Ron sits next to her on the bed, holding an enormous bag of crisps and looking as if he intends to eat every last one. He offers to share though, and she knows she shouldn't but she does anyway. It tastes like processed food and happiness.
Hermione doesn't even bother scolding her for that—she is on this new kick where she refuses to eat anything but meat and vegetables, as if that didn't sound like death itself—looking far too relieved that Harry is eating at all.
"You don't have to tell me," Ron reassures quickly, when she moves to open her mouth.
"That's—" Harry blinks. "Well, thanks, but I kind of do. It'll get a little obvious eventually."
"It hasn't been obvious yet—and still isn't." Hermione notes. "You might be able to get away the way through if you just pretend to be mopey and sad and stay up here all day."
Harry nods. "That could work." She is very good at being a sullen, irritable little gremlin. And she has much cause for it these days.
"Could—what?" Ron blinks. "What do you mean, obvious? What are you hiding?"
Harry sighs deeply.
"Well, Ron, let's put it this way… how do you feel about being a Godfather?"
To Harry's complete lack of surprise, Ron is very enthused at the idea of getting to mold a small child in his likeness. He has a lot of ideas—almost all of which she shot down about five seconds after.
Well, not all of them, actually.
There were two unintentional suggestions out of Ron's mouth that she ended up taking very seriously. One was moving to her own place; he hadn't actually suggested that, but he'd been having a laugh at the idea of her having some incredibly pretentious boarding school child, and that had made her think about the fact that, well, she was going to have a child. And she might need to have a house to do that. She let Hermione pick it out, which might not have been the best of decisions, but she thought her friend to be rather pragmatic about things and she also knew London far better than Harry could ever hope to. Unfortunately she hadn't realized that Hermione's pragmatisms did not carry into the world of interior decorating.
It was pretty, and big: far too big for her, even her and another small human. Fortunately Ron and Hermione's presence made things seem less empty. That, and all the furniture Hermione had a merry time purchasing for her. Still it was quite lovely, and her one stipulation was that it had to be close enough to walk to the Leaky Cauldron, but out of the way enough for people not to come looking for her.
Ron's second unintentional suggestion was a completely heinous nickname that had stuck like a sticky charm every since.
Hermione despaired at the idea of her naming her child Flynn; mainly because Ron was the one who had come up with it. Ron, for his part, was incredibly smug. Harry insisted she wasn't actually going to name him Flynn—although as of now, she didn't know what else to call him.
But moving out of Grimmauld Place has brought on it's own problems.
First and foremost being: how exactly is she going to explain this to the Order?
"We'll cross that bridge when it comes." Is Hermione's sage advice. "For now, let's just get you settled here."
And then she promptly goes back to her interior design catalogues, insisting for their opinions on draperies. Ron eventually gets so fed up he chooses the most heinous one of the bunch; Hermione reprimands him for ever thinking that blue and purple could go together like that. Harry is simply happy to have her two best friends here with her.
The days pass in a blur. Harry very studiously does not think at all about him, or anything about him. She's probably better off getting that whole part of her life obliviated from memory, honestly. As it is, she makes a valiant effort to distract herself with other things. This isn't all that hard; there are many things to distract herself with. Some bigger than others.
"You're nutrient levels are settling out," her muggle doctor appraises. "And you seem to be starting to gain a healthy amount of weight."
Harry pouts. She doesn't want to gain anymore, all things considered. But she knows its all for the health of her baby, so she bears it—with no small amount of complaint. Ron is with her this time, and they get a great deal of congratulations about their upcoming first child; Harry at first attempts to explain that Ron is not actually the father, but gives up after the fourth or fifth time. Ron is utterly enthusiastic, finding the situation far more hilarious than she does and lying to all the nurses about all sorts of ridiculous things. He is apparently a famous rockstar. Someone asks him if his name is Ed Sheeran. He says yes, even though they both have no idea who that is, and asks them all to keep quiet about his secret love child. He even signs autographs.
She thought she'd made her peace with her abrupt new reality; at the very least, she had accepted the fact that in the next few months there was going to be a little infant that would entirely rely on her for its very existence. The thought was terrifying, and if she was being honest, a tad burdensome. She didn't really like the idea of having a baby—but it was far too late to back out of it now.
She was not at all prepared to actually get to see him, sleeping in his little world. She can see him so clearly; his eyes are closed as he sucks his thumb, and she can count each and every one of his toes.
It… unsettles her, as much as it elicits a deep-rooted affection. Love. She loves him already, and he's not even born yet.
"A boy." She breathes, repeating what the nurse had just relayed to him. It's not just a nameless legume stuck in her stomach—it's a boy. A baby boy.
"He's a looker, eh?" Ron grins, watching the screen with her. "Ya think he'll have red hair?"
"I really hope not," Harry finds herself saying, faintly.
"Oi!" Ron protests. "What's wrong with red hair?"
"Nothing," she shakes her head, smiling, all her attention still focused on the picture. "But he'll forever be assumed to be a Weasley."
"And what's wrong with that?" Demands Ron, hotly.
She sobers after a moment, looking away then. It is so hard not to think about Tom, not when she's staring down at a little part of him, dreaming away on screen. She loves him, just as she loves his father. The thought makes her insensibly sad, suddenly. Will he have red hair? Big, bright green eyes? Or perhaps they will be solemn and silver, the color of mercury?
But the idea of Tom also instills a vague sense of terror in her heart; she does not want the Dark Lord to know, and that is frightening. Her first instinct is to stay as far away as possible from him—to protect this baby. From him. And it shouldn't be.
The nurse smiles at them curiously; she didn't ask if Ron was the father, and they didn't elaborate. "Would you like to keep the photo?" She gestures towards the screen.
Harry sucks in a breath. "Well I…"
There is a long moment of stillness, the noise of the machine a quiet hum beneath it all.
She smiles sadly. "Oh no, that's alright."
"Oh." Says the nurse, clearly not expecting that. "Right. Well I'll just…" And then she's moving about to unplug things and work with the machine.
Harry and Ron are silent as she putters out of the room, big muggle machine in tow. Harry doesn't move for a moment, looking lost and listless. After a moment she hops off the table, moving to the bathroom to change out of this heinous looking hospital garb.
When she emerges Ron is all set to go, jacket on, umbrella in hand. She attempts a smile, if not for herself than at least for him.
They don't talk all the way back.
Harry and Ron return to her flat just past dark, thoroughly soaked, rain jackets and umbrellas be damned. Hermione stands from where she had been blatantly fretting upon the couch, casting her a worried glance when she brushes past her, intent on a hot shower.
She turns to Ron. "What—what happened?"
Ron runs a had through his limp hair. He looks rather fetching soaking wet, but Hermione scolds herself for thinking that. This is definitely not the time to notice that.
"She's okay," Ron hedges, so Hermione knows its bad.
"And?" She presses, frantically.
"So's the kid." He adds. "Boy. Five months or something? Or maybe the doctor said six."
"Oh." Hermione breathes a sigh of relief. However the tension doesn't quite leave her shoulders, for Ron still looks pensive, lips pressed into a thin line. "What happened?"
"Nothing, really," Ron shrugs, spelling off his shoes and shrugging off his dripping jacket. "Seemed all standard procedure to me. Y'know, doctor said she's doing good and all that, and then we got to see an ultranoise picture of the thing. Real weird contraption—it made these crazy noises and it was all black and white—
"Ultrasound." Hermione corrects, exasperated. A dark worry furrows her brow. "How… how did Harry seem about it?"
Ron is quiet for a moment. "She was alright. She didn't look… upset, persay. Just—detached. Indifferent, I guess."
He pulls something out of her pocket.
"She didn't want to keep it." He says by way of explanation, as Hermione's eyes grow wide.
She accepts it, big eyes turning back to Ron. Ron shrugs helplessly. "I just thought… she might change her mind, y'know? Why throw it away?"
Hermione nods absently, her eyes flickering back down to the unmoving, unborn infant. "She didn't want it?"
"No—" Ron pauses. "I guess it must be pretty hard, all this. Considering… y'know. Everything else."
"Yes." Hermione agrees at length, fixated upon the photo, but no longer seeing the image. Instead she sees the convoluted mess everything has become, and Harry's solemn, quiet eyes, when she thinks they're not looking, and thinks of a baby boy that will come into a world that is broken and burned and utterly ruined.
Ron stretches. "Ah, anyway, I'm going to head for a shower as well, before I end up melting or something."
Hermione makes a distracted noise in response, holding the photo so hard it bends in her hand.
Hermione leaves in the night, silent and quick, darting past the Order members with little fanfare; it is not her they are concerned for, she they are watching closely for every second of the day. It's not her they fret over endlessly into the night, in furtive hushed whispers around the kitchen table, arguing over everything; should they have let her get her own place? Should they start talking about her place in the war? Does she even have one?
She's only sixteen, someone would say, Sirius perhaps.
But Dumbledore said he had a specific task for her, someone else would respond. And she is the chosen one.
And what of the prophecy? Another would ask. We all heard it. How are we supposed to expect a young girl to be able to defeat the dark lord?
Perhaps the prophecy is wrong... Perhaps there is another way.
And on it continued.
She slips past them easily enough, crumpling the letter in her hand.
Malfoy has finally responded to her; she has an hour, before the hole in the wards of Malfoy Manor will close.
She apparates to the front gates, swallowing when the fidelius melts away before her eyes, revealing perhaps the most beautiful mansion she's ever seen. The yard unfurls into the summer night; she can hear the soft lilt of fountains in the distance, distilled against the palatial columns of the house.
She gathers her courage, sets her shoulders, and opens the gates. It feels as if it takes an eternity before she finally reaches the grand staircase to the enormous front doors.
She doesn't quite knock when the door abruptly swings wide open, making her jump.
She looks up, surprised, staring up into the equally shocked face of Professor Snape.
"Miss Granger," her former Potions Professor intones, settling back into a laudable indifference. "My felicitations; I had not expected to see you until next term."
Hermione nods, utterly terrified and trying not to show it.
"Yes, me either," she replies, quickly, "lovely to see you professor... But if you'll excuse me I'm afraid I am in quite a bit of a hurry—
She doesn't give him time to respond, darting past him and into the magniloquent sprawling marble interior of Malfoy Manor. She takes a corner immediately, even though she's no idea where she's going.
Hermione curses herself; why the hell didn't she ask Malfoy for a map? She certainly needs on in this monstrosity of a house.
"My, my, are you lost, little girl?"
Hermione stills, something cold shooting up her spine in fear. She turns around slowly; Bellatrix Lestrange is appraising her with gleaming dark eyes, leaning against the banister of the stairs behind her. She glances at her watchfully, eying the woman's eye with great concern.
"Did you lose your way? Or were you, perhaps, looking for something?" She coos, stalking down the stairs ever so slowly.
Hermione takes a step back. "No," she replies, unsteady. "I'm fine."
"Is that so?" Bellatrix makes a great show of sniffing the air. "I don't think you belong here, little girl. I can smell it in the air—the filthy muggle blood."
She's reached the bottom of the staircase. "And I think it's coming from you—
"Bellatrix," Interrupts a harsh voice from the right, stilling the woman's wand.
It is Snape, looking between them with an impassive expression.
"What, Severus?" Bellatrix snaps, never once looking away from her. "I'm a bit busy right now, if you hadn't noticed."
"Oh, I did." Snape drawls. "But it would perhaps be quite remiss of me to allow you to continue."
Bellatrix rounds on him, a look furious anger contorting her face into something horrible. "Allow me? I am ridding the world of more dirty blood—cleansing the world through every last drop. I don't need you to tell me what to do!"
With that, she pivots back around, wand pointing at Hermione. She doesn't have any time to think up a defense spell, or dodge, even, as a bright light comes rushing towards her, "Crucio!"
She closes her eyes—but it does not come.
It has been deflected before it could hit her by a metallic, conjured mirror. The mirror disappears after the curse grounds itself into the marble.
And now, she really does feel fear.
"That's no way to treat our guest."
"Master," she spins towards the new voice, both longing and reverence so sickly apparent on her face.
Severus bows his head, "My Lord," he greats, low and reverent, but with significantly less mindless adoration.
Voldemort waves them both off, striding gracefully down the grand staircase. "Indeed," he begins loftily, eying her with an unreadable expression. "There is no need for violence. I assume the girl will be quite amenable, considering she has voluntarily come into our home."
"Yes, an interesting event," Snape replies, just as detached and unreadable. "Why indeed would a young girl find herself wandering into the halls of this manor, uninvited?"
"Why are you here, little girl?" Bellatrix demurs, lowering her eyes. "Perhaps you have come to plead for your life?"
Hermione scowls, but bites her tongue. She is not foolish enough to instigate her ire again—even more so, Lord Voldemort's. She can't imagine what it's like to be the subject of his anger, but it must be catastrophic.
She doesn't respond, waiting to see what happens. Lord Voldemort turns his attention towards her; it is as terrifying as she assumed it would be. She feels like she wants to melt into the ground—anything to run from his dark, crimson gaze. Her heart has frozen in pure, unadulterated fear.
He looks down at her, curious. A mudblood.
His eyes narrow.
No, not just any mudblood. This is a very familiar looking girl; one he has seen quite often in memories that are not his own. He contemplates her again. Very familiar indeed. This is Hermione Granger—Harry's closest friend. Or one of them, he believes. The other is that insufferable redhead. This one however, has at least proven to have some lick of intelligence to her; how could she have possibly thought walking into Malfoy Manor, the base of his operations, to be a good idea? When she must be fully aware what his opinion of mudbloods is—an opinion that runs extreme through his followers?
But she is clever; she must know all this.
She is risking her life, coming here.
And there is only one reason she would do this.
He feels his foolish heart twist involuntarily at the very idea of her, even though he has valiantly tried these past few weeks to forget about her entirely. It is not so easy a thing, when she has plagued his thoughts since even before her birth. When she has come to mean so much more to him than just an enemy; when she has become something far more dangerous than that, no matter how much he tries to deny it.
Bellatrix fidgets, a mad smile upon her face. "She doesn't have an answer, my Lord. Please, allow me to welcome her fully to our home—
He holds a hand aloft. "Let her speak."
The girl opens her mouth a few times, but nothing comes out. She looks wildly around at their company, unsure.
"Well…" She falters. "Well I—I mean…"
She gives him a pleading look. "I—I wanted to speak to you," And then after a pause, she adds quickly, "my Lord."
Well at least someone taught her manners.
He gives her a sparing glance, unmoved and silent, even though he knows he'll give in eventually. The idea of any news of her at all has him possessed by a sudden swell of helpless anger and possessiveness.
"Is that so?" He raises a brow. And then, turning to Bellatrix and Severus, "You may leave us."
Bellatrix turns a halting look towards him, before glancing wildly back at the girl. "But, my Lord—
"Must I repeat myself?" He snaps, before he has to elaborate further, as he descends to the floor.
She stops, cowed, shaking her head. "No, my Lord."
"Good," he replies, dismissive. "Now leave." Severus at least, heeds his command without complaint, bowing low and swooping out of the room. Bellatrix follows soon thereafter, with significantly more reluctance. He raises a hand aloft, and the doors swing shut behind them, a silencing charm raised in the interim.
"Speak your piece, girl." He turns back to the young Gryffindor.
She stares at him with a vacillating expression.
"I warn you not to try my patience," he adds, ominous.
This stirs her out of whatever grip had made her speechless, a familiar, reckless temerity lighting in her eyes. Typical Gryffindor.
"It's um—about Harry," she begins, her eyes suddenly alit with tremulous courage.
He doesn't respond, waiting for her to elucidate. He had deduced as much on his own.
"She doesn't know I'm here," the girl starts again, biting her lip. A look of guilt crosses her face. "I don't think she'd be happy to find out, either. But I just…"
He's surprised that there isn't as much fear in her eyes as he had suspected there would be. Certainly not as much as everyone else—no true, absolute terror, wide in her gaze.
"I think you should know," she looks away. "I think she wants you to know, but just doesn't know how to tell you. She thinks you hate her."
This is so far from the truth it is laughable. As it is, he doesn't allow any expression to rise to the surface. This is very exciting and all, but she has yet to come to her actual point, and he wasn't lying about his patience. He has very little of it to spare these days.
He is about to remind her of how slight a line she is walking right now, when she summarily upturns the contents of his life.
"She's going to have a baby." She blurts.
This is met with a poignant, hollow silence.
"In October," she adds. "Or at least, she's supposed to. I guess there's no real way to pinpoint when exactly, you know, considering it's not really an exact science… but that's what the doctor said, so I'm assuming there must be some validity in it…"
She's rambling, and he's utterly ignoring her, unable to process anything. She stops eventually though, and now there truly is fear alit in her eyes. But not the fear he had expected—it is not a fear for her life, but a fear for… Harry? Why? What exactly does she think he's going to do, hunt her down and kill her for this?
The girl fidgets, clearly waiting for some kind of reaction.
He's not all that sure what he's supposed to do. He feels he has grown cold, as thoughts turn over themselves in his head, completely indiscernible aside from the wash of white noise rising above his ears.
"Where is she?" He finds himself saying, after perhaps an eternity of silence has gone on.
The girl hesitates, throwing him a wary look.
Eventually she must find something in his features that reassures her. She looks down, rummaging about her little bag. When this proves fruitless, she pats her coat pockets and ferrets about them, until she finally finds an insignificant slip of paper—a letter really, sealed and all—crumpled beyond repair, drawing it from her pocket. She tosses him another glance that reminds him of small prey approaching an unmoving predator; hesitant and fearful. But she proves herself to truly be a Gryffindor, and thrusts the paper out in front of her.
She's clearly aiming for him to take it—he does, with no small amount of curiosity.
He peels the seal away, lifting the envelope and pulling the note from its home.
A floo address.
The script is far too familiar, and for a moment he doesn't even comprehend the words, too lost in the long slides and arches of each letter, tracing them as if he could see the hand that wrote it. Finally it clears, and he realizes the address is for a place in London.
"That's where she is," clarifies the girl, stirring him out of his thoughts. This is surprising; he had assumed she was squirreled away in one of the Order safe houses—his stomach flips over at the idea of her going willingly to the Order, leaving him to turn into their fold—or perhaps the hovel she so deeply enjoys, out in Otter St. Catchpole. Is this another Order house?
"Um—it's a muggle flat," she adds, as if she assumes it was something he wants to know. It is, but he casts an irritated glance her way regardless.
"It's Harry's," she adds again, as if she has a death wish. "Just Harry's. It's under a fidelius, so no one knows here it is, except, well—"
She trails off, fortunately, before he has to resort to drastic measures to cease her embarrassing rambling. He folds the paper in half, not entirely sure if he wants to think any deeper on this—on any of this.
Instead, he motions towards the door.
"The exit is that way, Miss Granger," he begins with a wave of his hand. A door behind her bangs open, and she jumps at the sound. "I suggest you use it immediately, lest you would like to risk your life wandering the halls."
She nods fervently. "Yes—yes that sounds like a good idea. Uh, thank you. I'll just be leaving, then…"
And with one last wary look, she bolts out the door, skittering into the long, echoing hallway. He said 'that way', but now that she was in here she had no idea what that was supposed to mean. She chose a direction, and walked in it with great trepidation. He was right; he might not be all that interested in taking her life, but she was sure there were people in this manor who would do so without thought.
She met the warm night air with a great sigh of relief, gazing up into the starry blanket above Malfoy Manor.
Hermione doesn't know if she did the right thing. Who was she to meddle in their affairs? And yet, she knew in her heart that Harry needed this, needed him, however strange a thing it might seem to her. And, seeing him in person, studying his expressions and features as they struggled to remain indifferent throughout her stay; they confirmed what she had thought all along. He is not so callous and immune as he makes himself out to be—at least, not with Harry.
No, most certainly not with Harry.
The very mention of her had his entire attention set fixated upon her in the space of a second. Even Snape and Bellatrix were not given nearly as much thought, their existence meaningless in comparison. But yet the mere mention of her had him held in a silent rapture.
Hermione bites her lip as she darts back through the gate, leaving the wards as quickly as she had come, just making the hour cutoff Malfoy had given her. The scrap piece of paper she'd asked Harry to write down her new address on, ostensibly for Fred and George; writing Malfoy to gain access to the Dark Lord's headquarters, even going here at all—this all would be in vain if it doesn't fix this. If it makes it worse, even.
Yet, somehow, against all reason and rational thought—she finds herself holding a quiet faith in the Dark Lord, even though he has given her no reason to do so.
Perhaps she is not wrong to.
Hermione doesn't see his distant expression as he stares down upon the slight, crumpled paper. Nor does she see his shock and surprise when he pulls something else out of the envelope; a picture. It is not a wizarding picture, full of movement and magic. It is a muggle picture, and not all that much of a good one either. It is small, unmoving, dark and blurry. But that is all insignificant; it is far too recognizable not to know what it is, even if he had never seen one himself.
It is so very strange, to look down upon the picture and know he is staring at his unborn child. It is impossible to tell if it is a boy or a girl from the unfocused image, but his mind unwillingly supplies him a great array of possibilities.
He carefully returns the slip of paper into its envelope, and consciously places the whole package in a locked bureau; he cannot bring himself to throw it, but he refuses to allow himself the temptation to see it again.
It is useless, though.
The memory remains, and nothing short of an obliviate will ever manage to lodge it from its place ingrained so deeply within him.
Sorry for the... years long wait? Tbh a lot of this was already written, because I wrote it in a giant clump of nonsense that made no linear sense years ago, and its just been really trying putting all the pieces together to at least try to make it coherent. At any rate, a lot of part II was written before part I, and yet when I posted this I was actually worried part II didn't fit with Part I at all, even though it was the reason I wrote the story in the first place. In the end, I decided not to change it, since it's literally my favorite part.