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The Mortal Coil

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Hermione woke on Halloween with a scream. Heart racing, gasping for breath, she sat up, blankets clutched in a death grip between her fingers. A strange constriction tightened around her chest, making it hard to breathe. Tears welled in her eyes as she made a desperate attempt to regulate her breathing. Her nerves burned with white-hot pain; her skin chilled to ice, the cold creeping up her spine. Then, as if fleeing from the dawn, the pain retreated and her muscles relaxed.

The tears fell from her eyes, slipping down her cheek as she looked about. The curtains were drawn over the four-poster bed. For a brief moment, Hermione wondered if anyone heard. From the silence and soft snores, it was safe to conclude a sound ‘no’. Her brain searched frantically for a reason behind the reaction. It couldn’t have been a heart attack. She was only fifteen, after all. A panic attack, perhaps? Hermione had not had one for years, not since her first year at Hogwarts, but the vague memory of a dream, something to do with a black figure, a dark glade, and the scent of lilacs and something akin to spring rain convinced her it might have been one. Perhaps conjured from that horrific lesson with Professor Moody, witnessing the Unforgivable Curses. The memory left as soon as it came and Hermione rose from bed, determined to forget.

She joined Harry and Ron a half hour later and found they were not the only student to rise early. The entrance hall boasted more bodies than Hermione had ever seen this early, all chattering and gossiping about the Goblet of Fire. She had almost forgotten, too concerned with her panic attack. But there the goblet sat, stationed on a three-legged stool, its blue and white flames dancing eagerly, hungrily awaited the names of those daring enough to enter the Triwizard Tournament. The goblet’s only line of defense was Dumbledore’s Age Line. The thin, gold circle had only a diameter of ten inches, but those ten inches stood in the way of every under-aged student’s aspirations of glory.

Hermione huffed at Ron’s wishful gaze. Honestly, it frustrated her - Ron’s irrational need for justification. She wished he could appreciate his own talents, his own skills, and opportunities. He was an excellent strategist, had a sound mind he unsoundly refused to use, passion, and determination most people lacked. Instead, he became overwhelmed with what he wasn’t: he wasn’t rich like Malfoy, he wasn’t famous like Harry, he wasn’t popular like his brothers, he wasn’t a good student like her - the list went on and on, and now he would never be school champion. Hermione was getting frustrated by the blinders he wore, and after her panic attack, she had less patience for his complaints than usual. Harry appeared the only sensible one among the boys. Or perhaps he was simply better at hiding his disappointment, but he at least wasn’t staring at the goblet like a heartbroken schoolboy.

“Anyone put their name in yet?” Ron asked a third-year girl eagerly.

“All the Durmstrang lot,” she replied. “But I haven’t seen anyone from Hogwarts yet.”

“Bet some of them put it in last night after we’d all gone to bed,” Harry mumbled. “I would’ve if it had been me…wouldn’t have wanted everyone watching. What if the goblet just gobbed you right back out again?” Hermione was about to comment; however, a laugh from behind them interrupted. Turning, she saw Fred, George, and Lee Jordan practically flying down the staircase, grinning like fools. Hermione cringed, realizing what was to come.

“Done it,” Fred said in a triumphant whisper to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. “Just taken it.”

“What?” Ron asked, his nose scrunching. It was a habit of his, she noticed. Hermione couldn’t say she hated it. Ron looked a bit like a rabbit, and she thought it adorable.

“The Aging Potion, dung brains,” Fred responded.

“One drop each,” George continued, rubbing his hands together, looking far too excited. “We only need to be a few months older.”

“We’re going to split the thousand Galleons between the three of us if one of us wins,” Lee jumped in, flashing them a white-toothed smile.

“I’m not sure this is going to work, you know,” Hermione finally spoke, “I’m sure Dumbledore will have thought of this.”

She should have known they would ignore her. All three were far too star-struck to even hear logic. Teacher’s pet Hermione Granger knew nothing of breaking rules, she thought spitefully, so why listen to her? It’s not like she had read about Age Lines. It wasn’t as if she knew there was a defining method incorporated in the Age Line to deduce someone’s age, and since physical age was too obvious she was sure Dumbledore would be prepared for aging potions. What the method of determination was, Hermione could only guess at. So, the bushy-haired witch held her tongue. She knew when her advice wasn’t wanted. “Ready?” Fred was practically hopping with excitement. “C’mon, then - I’ll go first -” He withdrew what Hermione could only assume was his submission to the goblet and walked right up to the line. He rocked on toes and Hermione thought, for a wild moment, he would resign. But sensibility was never a Weasley strong suit. Every eye was on him as he took that fateful leap over the Age Line. When nothing happened, Hermione gasped. It couldn’t be that simple! Surely Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard of their time, wouldn’t be fooled by a simple aging potion? George let out a triumphant cry and joined his brother beyond the line.

Their victory was short lived. With a sizzling sound, both boys were hurled from the goblet, landing with a painful popping noise ten feet away. It was only a moment later that Hermione realized the popping noise wasn’t their joints or bones, but a jinx that caused the twins to grow large, bushy, white beards. The entrance hall erupted with laughter. Hermione felt a smug smile cross her own lips as Fred and George joined the ululation.

“I did warn you,” Spinning on her toes, Hermione found Professor Dumbledore coming out of the Great Hall, eyes twinkling in amusement. “I suggest you both go up to Madam Pomfrey. She is already tending to Miss Fawcett, of Ravenclaw, and Mr. Summers, of Hufflepuff, both of whom decided to age themselves up a little too. Though I must say, neither of their beards is anything like as fine as yours.”

“I knew it!” Hermione whispered in victory, watching the twins head towards the hospital wing, accompanied by a chortling Lee Jordan. Her eyes darted to Harry and Ron. Both of their faces scrunched in confusion. She just sent them a small smile before following them into the Great Hall.

She was excited to learn of Angelina’s entrance. If any student could survive this competition it would be a Gryffindor. All the while, as Harry and Ron chatted about the tournament, Hermione found her thoughts returning to the Age Line. Three attempted aging potions had been thwarted by the line, and that was clear indication that physical age wasn’t the defining factor of admission. How could the Age Line decide if someone was of age or not if someone’s physical age was irrelevant? She pondered this all through breakfast until they left the Great Hall. As she, Harry and Ron passed the goblet once more, dreading another Care of Magical Creatures lesson with the Blast-Ended Skrewts, an idea struck.

“Memory,” she gasped, stopping dead in her tracks, staring in wonder at the Age Line.

“What?” Ron asked, scrunching his nose once more. “What’re you on about?”

“The Age Line!” Hermione said, excitedly. “It’s fascinating! Think about it: four people tried the same aging potion but to no effect! The Age Line knew they were underage, even with their bodies aged! It doesn’t depend on physical age - it depends on memory! All four people still remembered their age! A very strong memory charm must be incorporated with the Age Line!”

“Blimey!” Ron exclaimed, shoulders sagging. Of course, Hermione thought, the simple thrill she experienced from the discovery hadn’t thrilled her friends in the same manner. Harry seemed passively impressed, but the revelation sent Ron into a tantrum. “That’s not fair!”

“Ron,” Hermione began, slightly exasperated, “It’s not meant to be fair. It’s meant to keep under-aged wizards and witches out. It’s reinforcing the age limitation - the only logical part of this whole tournament, might I add!”

“It’s impossible! How are we supposed to get around that?!” Ron exclaimed.

“A memory charm to take away the memory and one to replace it with your new age, of course, however that is too dangerous and too advanced for anyone to even attempt! That. Is. The. Point!”

Suddenly the doors to the Great Hall swung open and the delegation from Beauxbatons entered from the grounds, all marching in two straight lines. A flash of memory struck an amused Hermione, remembering Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline: “They left the house at half past nine, in two straight lines in rain or shine - and the smallest one was Madeline.” She looked to the end of the line, expecting to see frizzled red hair, but instead saw a flicker of silver-gold, and crystal blue eyes. The girl from the night before, the one who asked for the bouillabaisse, was among the delegation, sashaying at the back of the line, like a lion surveying her pride. Hermione felt her face flush, a frown catching the corner of her lips. There was something off about that girl - she felt it the night before, as well, when the students from Beauxbatons arrived, shivering and huddled together, certainly in no straight line.

“I could do that!” Ron exclaimed loudly, eyes following the blond witch as she and the other Beauxbaton students lined up at the goblet, the fire consuming their names hungrily. She huffed at the redhead, rolling her eyes.

“No, you couldn’t, Ron,” she said firmly.

“It seems dangerous,” Harry admitted, turning to the Ron. “You saw what happened to Lockhart.”

“That’s different!” Ron insisted, “This one will only be temporary, right?”

“There’s no such thing as temporary memory charm, but there's a theoretical spell that might repair the memory if it’s small enough, but it's extremely risky!”

“How do you know so much, then?” Ron challenged, flushed. She noticed it was a natural defense mechanism with him - attacking others when he felt small. He appeared more touchy than usual, perhaps due to the French students watching their argument. She tried not to take it personally, though grew uncomfortable with the volume of his voice.

“I’ve read about them, of course!” She hissed, trying to keep her voice low. “Professor Flitwick has given me a few advanced charm books, and there’s no way you could pull it off!”

“Brightest witch of our year afraid to try, is she?” Ron scoffed, a scowl and a pout combining on his face to make a very unattractive expression. “Just because you’re scared doesn’t mean Harry and I are! We’d do it!”

“What?” Harry gaped, “Don’t drag me into this!”

“I never said I would do it! And you don’t even know the spell, Ronald!” Hermione hissed.

“And you do?!”

“Yes!” She exclaimed, instantly regretting raising her voice. All eyes were on her, including those crystal blue eyes looking down at her in amusement. Amusement?! What exactly did she find so amusing, Hermione wondered, flustered and thoroughly offended. Meeting those blue eyes, Hermione scowled, refusing to look away. At that moment, the blond witch sent her something - something that filled her with irrational anger.

A smirk.

She bloody smirked.

That little Barbie doll had the nerve, the utter gall, to smirk at her! Hermione had been smirked at before. Malfoy practically had his trademarked, but the blond’s smirk was like nothing she had ever seen. The blond simply rolled her eyes as she stepped over the Age Line, submitting her name with a flourish. The rest of the Beauxbatons students were led from the hall, back towards the grounds. Indignation filled her and with a huff she turned back to Ron, who had said something, scribbling ink across a piece of parchment.

“What did you say?”

“Prove it!” Ron exclaimed, holding out the parchment. On it, in shaky handwriting, read Hermione Granger - Hogwarts.

“Are you mental?!” she shrieked, “I don’t want to enter!”

“Want to - or can’t?!” Ron challenged. “You act smarter than everyone, Hermione, so why not prove it?”

“What would this solve, Ronald? I’m not going to attempt a spell I’ve never used and submit my name to this awful tournament just to prove I’m right!”

“I knew it,” he finally said, crossing his arms. “You’re bluffing. You just like to sound smart so you pushed that drivel about the Age Line. You’re not willing to put it to the test.”

Hermione’s head snapped around at the sound of uncontrollable giggling. The blond witch had lingered in the hall standing with three other girls and a boy, watching her and Ron’s exchange. She heard them whisper something, only catching one word in every four. They quickly switched to French, seeing Hermione’s eyes.

“How silly,” the boy said in French, leaning towards the others, not bothering to monitor his voice. “Children bickering in the middle of the hall.”

“Is that little girl entering?”

“Of course not,” the blond witch responded. “This is no game for babies.”

“Babies?!” Hermione scoffed, eyebrows furrowed at the French students. They seemed surprised, caught off guard by the fact Hermione understood them. They even looked a little ashamed. Not the blond, however. She simply raised an eyebrow, returning Hermione’s gaze.

“Oui. Bebes,” she finished, that bloody smirk returning to her lips. Hermione huffed, almost stomping her foot in frustration. Instead, she snatched the parchment from Ron’s baffled hand and saw his eyes grow wide.

“Wait, Hermione, I didn’t mean-”

“Shut up, Ronald Weasley!” she hissed, turning to the Goblet of Fire. For a brief moment, her rational mind protested. “This is crazy,” it said. “You’ve only read the theory, never actually tried it before! A professor could walk in from breakfast at any moment, you’re going to be late for class, you could make a mess of your memories, or worse, get expelled!” A thousand reasonable thoughts floated in her mind. The only thought that surged forward, however, was that bloody smirk. A baby, was she? She was the brightest witch of her generation, and by Merlin, she would prove it and wipe that smirk right from blondie’s pretty face.

With a sigh to calm her nerves, Hermione pointed her vinewood wand to her own forehead, the tip cool against her skin. It warmed, sensing her intention. There was a sudden pulse of fear but she threw it aside as she whispered, “Obliviate,” concentrating as hard as she could on her own age: fifteen. A wave of fog rolled over her mind and for a moment it was left blank. She couldn’t hear Harry yell her name, or Ron rushing to keep him back. She couldn’t hear heels clicking up behind her, she couldn’t hear the gasps of the other students. Instead, all she heard was her own voice inside her head. Implantantur Memoriae. She knew the words, knew she was supposed to focus on the memory she wished to implant. With a surge of willpower, Hermione whispered, “Implantantur Memoriae,” and thought very hard on what would happen on her seventeenth birthday. Harry and Ron, older than they appeared now entered her vision, both scruffy with facial hair, waving a birthday cake under her nose. The twins playing exploding snaps in the corner. Her mother and father smiling, holding a small gift. Mr. Weasley trying to operate the blender in her parent’s kitchen and Mrs. Weasley slapping his hands away. People all around wished her the best as she came of age and sang her the birthday song. She stood there awkwardly, never liking to be sung to. She smiled and blew out her candles. Raising her eyes, she was met with silver-blond hair and a crystal blue gaze.

Blue eyes scanned her face, one hand gripping her shoulders, the other gripping her wand arm. For a moment Hermione simply stared at the woman, dazed by the fog rolling across her mind. Then her eyes fell to the slip of parchment in her hands. Blankly, she stepped over the Age Line and watched as the Goblet of Fire consumed her name. She stumbled back, and the blond witch caught her. She heard Harry and Ron rush to meet her, but she held out her hand.

“Not yet,” she gasped, trying to keep her memories straight in her head. She couldn’t look at them. She knew seeing the boys youthful and childish would rattle her sensitive mind. She had to remember the proper spell - the one to repair her memories. It, in itself, was a theory, but one Hermione hoped would work. She took up her vinewood wand once again. The blond almost stopped her, but Hermione cast her a hard glare, shaking her head. “Just…hold me up, will you?” She saw an argument dancing at the woman’s lips and the troubled look on her face. Hermione spitefully wandered if she was bothered, having a child cling to her so. But the woman’s hold tightened, giving her some comfort she wouldn’t collapse. Hermione brought her wand to her forehead once more and searched her memories, as jumbled as they were, piecing together the spell, letter by letter.

“Memoria reparare,” the blond whispered in her ear, tightening her grip.

“Right,” Hermione breathed, trying to ignore the heat rising in her cheeks, feeling the woman’s breath on her skin. “Memoria reparare,” she repeated, and everything went dark.
Many things played through her mind. She saw her fourth birthday party, a cool September day in 1983 when her grandmother presented her with her first book: Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. She saw children laughing at her outside her primary school, throwing acorns into her hair as she clutched books tightly to her chest. She saw Professor McGonagall sitting in her living room, morphing into a cat before her very eyes. She changed back into an old woman before lighting the fire in the hearth, saying Hermione would learn to do the same. She saw the Great Hall and heard the sorting hat yell, “GRYFFINDOR!” Her heart beat like a drum in her ears, hearing the troll enter the girls bathroom - felt panic as her face grew cat fur and a bushy tail sprung from beneath her skirt - the chilled metal of the time turner in her hands - the absolute awe of seeing Harry summon a corporeal Patronus - and finally, a pair of crystal blue eyes staring down at her.

She heard noises, a verbal spat of some sort. She vaguely recognized the Scottish tone but had never heard them so high pitched. She heard a calmer, dreamy voice attempting to assure and comfort, but to no avail.

“This is Flitwick’s fault! Giving the girl advanced charm spell books!”

“You admitted yourself, Minerva,” the calm, smooth voice responded, sounding almost amused, “to have encouraged Miss Granger to steeper feats of knowledge. You, after all, were the one to recommend her for the time turner last year.”

“Well,” Professor McGonagall sputtered, “that isn't the same! At any rate, Mr. Weasley should not have provoked her!”

“I'm afraid the only one to blame, Minerva, is Miss Granger herself.”

“He's right, professor,” she mumbled, “I'm the one who couldn't control my foolish pride.”

“Miss Granger!” She heard the professor rush to her bedside but she didn't want to open her eyes. She didn't want to see the disappointment on the older woman's face. “Foolish indeed! A memory charm?! Two of them?!”

“Three, I believe,” she admitted, though unwillingly so.

“What possessed you do such a thing?!” The last thing that passed through her mind's eye was a pair of pink lips and a smirk that sent irrational waves of ire crashing through her. Her eyes snapped open. She was in the hospital wing, staring up at the arching stone ceiling, Professor McGonagall’s tight-lipped expression looming above her. Just as she expected there were thin lines of disapproval creasing her wrinkled face, but Hermione could not help but notice concern flickering in her eyes.

“I...Ron, I suppose. He was, as you said, goading me on. I knew what I was doing, knew he was just being childish, trying to look impressive. I shouldn't have tried to play the know-it-all.”

“No, you should not have!” McGonagall exclaimed, but Dumbledore stepped forward, placing a firm hand on her shoulder.

“I believe the lecture can wait, Minerva. Miss Granger, how old are you?” She paused at the question, eyes staring blankly at Professor Dumbledore. Seventeen, she thought, but knew that was wrong. She knew it now. She still remembered bits of the birthday party imagined in her mind, with an older, more rugged Harry and an older Ron, far taller than either of them. But this was a fantasy, invented to fool the Age Line. Taking a deep breath, she sighed before responding.

“Fifteen.” She relaxing when the Headmaster nodded.

“Well done, Miss Granger. Not many wizards could boast such an accomplishment. How did you pass the Age Line, might I ask? Mr. Weasley and Mr. Potter were only able to tell it was a memory charm.”

“Three,” McGonagall repeated tersely, and Hermione knew she would have a time of earning the professor's trust once more.

“I...obliviated the memory I was fifteen and to trick the goblet I implanted memories of my seventeenth birthday, making the Age Line believe I was of age. Then, after putting my name in-” Hermione froze, shooting to sit up in her bed. “Dear Merlin, I put my name into the Goblet of Fire!” She shrieked, “I am going to strangle that little French tart!”

“French tart?” McGonagall repeated in bewilderment.

“I assume you refer to Miss Delacour, of Beauxbatons,” Dumbledore smiled, his eyes twinkling in amusement. “She escorted you here, with Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley.”

“Yes, well,” Hermione felt her face flush, rushing to continue her explanation. “After I put my name in I used a rather questionable memory charm I read a research paper on a few days back. It only had a 70% response rate, but I suspected that was because of a fallibility in method. Though since I'm in the hospital wing...I'm afraid to ask if it worked.”

“Spectacularly, Miss Granger,” Dumbledore answered, a smile touching his lips, “though I’m remorseful to have missed what sort of beard you would have grown. With your vivacious hair, it would have been just as spectacular, I'm sure.” Hermione couldn't help but grin, though her amusement was short lived.

“Spectacular?!” McGonagall explained, glaring at Dumbledore. “She's been unconscious for hours!”

“Oh, no!” Hermione said, attempting to jump out of bed, “My lessons! I've missed two already!”

“Not so fast, Granger!” Madame Pomfrey screamed, appearing out of nowhere, pushing the witch back into bed. “You are not to move for another hour! And take this to sleep! Most like your memories still need time to sort themselves out. Dreamless sleep will do you wonders.”

“Thank you, Madame Pomfrey, “ Professor Dumbledore smiled, “And thank you, Miss Granger,” he set a gentle hand on her head, patting Hermione almost affectionately. “It seems this day, you have taught me something.” She flushed at the admission and felt a strange swell of pride erupt in her chest. “I must go correct the Age Line, as you have shown a strong weakness in its defense. Feel better.” Once the headmaster left Professor McGonagall moved to sit at Hermione’s bedside.

“Sleep, child,” she instructed, pointing to Madame Pomfrey’s sleeping draught. “I’ll be here when you wake.”

“I’m sorry, Professor,” Hermione muttered, fiddling with the cup in her hands.

“Nothing to be done now,” McGonagall sighed, but moved a hand to hold her own. “Rest. With luck, you’ll feel better before the feast tonight.”

With a small smile, Hermione drank the sleeping draught, falling into a dreamless slumber. After the panic of her forgotten nightmare, her peaceful rest seemed divine. Memories flashed before her eyes, playing like a film for her amusement. When she woke, she found Professor McGonagall glaring sharply across her bed at Harry and Ron, who nervously stood a good distance away from the Scottish witch.

“Hi,” she rasped, voice hoarse from sleep.

“Hermione!” Both boys exclaimed, rushing to her bed, ignoring McGonagall’s glare.

“Merlin’s beard, Hermione!” Ron exclaimed, “I didn’t want you to - I didn’t mean-”

“It’s fine, Ron,” she smiled, taking his hand in hers. His jaw was clenched tightly, face flushed as red as his hair.

“But it’s my fault-”

“No, it isn’t,” Hermione interrupted, giving his hand a squeeze.

“Debatable,” McGonagall muttered hotly, but Hermione ignored her, sitting up in bed.

“Have I missed the feast?” she asked, hoping to divert McGonagall’s heated stare.

“No,” she answered, standing from her chair. “Though you might want to hurry if you wish to attend. I’m afraid I must take my leave. If there are any further complications with your memory, please inform me immediately.”

“I will, Professor,” she nodded. Hermione almost laughed as Harry and Ron visibly relaxed as McGonagall took her leave.

“Blimey,” Ron exclaimed, withdrawing his hand from Hermione’s. “Thought she’d maul us!”

“How are you feeling?” Harry asked as Hermione stood, feeling a bit uncertain on her feet.

“Foolish,” she confessed. “That was a childish, dangerous and completely juvenile thing to do.” Like a baby, she thought spitefully.

“But it was wicked!” Ron grinned encouragingly, and Hermione felt that sense of pride once more. “You fooled the Age Line! Reckon you could do it again?! Get my name in?”

“Dumbledore has already mended that little loophole, I think,” Hermione confessed. “He was here earlier.”

“Did you get in trouble?” Ron asked, cringing. She could tell he felt guilty. It was a nice change, though she wished it hadn’t taken three memory charms and a visit to the Hospital Wing to achieve.

“No, he simply wanted to know how I got passed and regretted not seeing what my bushy beard would look like.” All three laughed at that and the mood felt lighter than it had all day.

Packing up her things and accepting one more sleeping draught from Madame Pomfrey for later that night, Harry, Ron, and Hermione made their way down to the Great Hall. It didn’t take long for her to notice the odd looks, people whispering behind their hands. As soon as they made it to Gryffindor table Fred and George jumped from their seats, rushing towards her.

“We saw them bring you into the Hospital Wing when we were getting our beards trimmed!” Fred exclaimed, a grin on his face.

“Did you do it?” George asked.

“Did you get your name into the Goblet of Fire?” Fred continued.

“I’d rather not think about it,” Hermione cringed, “I’ll be happy when this whole sordid affair is good and done.”

“So you did?!” they exclaimed, eyes wide.

“Yeah!” Ron answered, grinning from ear to ear. “She did! Shame I didn’t give her my name, too!” Fred and George gapped for a moment before throwing themselves down at her feet. She jumped when they knelt in front of her.

“We bow to your brilliance!” George exclaimed, causing the surrounding Gryffindors to laugh.

“Please forgive our ignorance!” Fred continued.

“We bow down! Bow before the Breaker of Rules! All hail the new Queen!” George exclaimed, jumping to his feet. Together, Fred and George walked behind Hermione and, before she could protest, she was hoisted into the air.

“Boys!” She shrieked, pushing down her pleated skirt as she sat on their shoulders, each supporting a leg. They were kind enough to ensure her decency was preserved as they marched her up the Gryffindor table.

“All hail the Queen!” They yelled, to the cheers and jeers of Gryffindor House.

“All Hail!” Half the table exclaimed, the other half looked positively perplexed. She heard Harry and Ron joining in and felt her face flush bright red. This only went on for a short time. She was eventually allowed to dismount from the twin’s shoulders. She slapped their shoulders furiously, though felt honored to have been included in the joke for once. Her cheeks didn’t pale to a normal color until everyone was distracted with copious amounts of food. Thankfully, Harry and Ron diverted questions of her earlier foolishness. For a brief moment, she could just enjoy the feast until the golden plates vanished and Dumbledore stood.

“Hermione,” Ron whispered, nudging her arm. “Hermione, what if you’re chosen?” He sounded slightly envious but she could tell he was more worried for her than jealous or excited.

“Ron, most every seventh year has entered their name. I highly doubt a fourth year would be chosen in such company,” she responded, though felt a jolt of fear. What if? Hermione was sure Dumbledore wouldn’t allow it. She had nothing to fear. Not only that, she was positive there were competitors better qualified to overshadow her name. This was her only comfort as Dumbledore began to speak.

“Well, the goblet is almost ready to make its decision,” he began, “I estimate that it requires one more minute. Now, when the champions’ names are called, I would ask them please to come up to the top of the Hall, walk along the staff table, and go through into the next chamber, where they will be receiving their first instructions.” With a majestic wave of his wand, all the candles except those inside the pumpkins were extinguished, setting the ambiance. The Goblet of Fire seemed much larger as the candlelight retreated, much more intimidating, the blue and white fire raging widely.

“Any second,” Lee Jordan whispered, three seats away.

The goblet suddenly breathed red flame, sparks shooting from the cup. A tongue of flame whipped into the air, a charred piece of parchment spat from its mouth. The room gasped as Dumbledore caught the parchment in one hand and held it at arm's length to read.

“The champion for Durmstrang,” he announced, his soft voice booming through the great hall, “will be Viktor Krum.”

“No surprises there!” Ron yelled. Thunderous applause was met by the announcement. Hermione saw Viktor Krum rise from the Slytherin table, stomping up to the staff table before disappearing into the side room. Hermione heard Karkaroff yelling over the roaring hall but the raging crowd quieted as the goblet turned red once more. The second piece of parchment was ejected from the flame.

“The champion for Beauxbatons,” announced Dumbledore, “is Fleur Delacour!”

“It’s her, Ron!” Harry shouted over the applause. Hermione followed his pointed finger, her eyes growing wide. It was the French witch from earlier, shaking her silver-blond hair as she gracefully sashayed between the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables. With her nose in the air, this Fleur Delacour presented a triumphant smirk to the hall.

“What a pompous, self-satisfied, little-”

“Beauty,” Ron finished for her, eyes dazed as she walked by. Hermione frowned, elbowing him in the ribs. “Ow! Watch it, Hermione!” He whined, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. All she wanted at that moment was her warm four poster bed and that sleeping draught in the pocket of her robes.

When Fleur Delacour vanished into the side chamber the hall fell into still silence, the potential energy of the room palpable. Fred and George grinned at her, giving her a thumbs up. She shook her head at the twins but felt her stomach jump into her chest as the Goblet of Fire burst into its red flames. Hermione looked away, eyes fixated on the stone floor. She repeated all of her perfectly logical reasons, trying to comfort herself, as she heard the goblet choose the final contestant for the Triwizard Tournament. She felt Harry take her hand, entwining their fingers. She gave him a small smile before Dumbledore’s voice echoed down the hall.

“The Hogwarts champion,” he called, his voice hesitant. There was a small pause, but as he announced the champion, an icy chill seeped into her body, “is Hermione Granger.”

There was no applause. The only sound she heard was a gasp from the staff table. Tears welled in her eyes, still fixated on the stone floor. Harry tightened his hold and her eyes found his green stare. Even Ron, who had been so excited at the prospect of competing, looked horrified. She finally let her eyes sweep across the hall. Though confused, the students from Beauxbaton and Durmstrang could tell something was wrong. The Hogwarts students simply stared, shocked, at the Gryffindor table.

“Miss Granger,” Dumbledore said, not unkindly, “Please, join the other champions.” Taking a deep breath, gathering every shred of courage she possessed, she whirled around, standing from the Gryffindor table. If the visiting schools hadn’t been confused before, they were now. The students watched her inch towards the staff table with scrunched faces, whispering to the Hogwarts students for answers. Her loafers tapped audibly on the stone floor until she came level with Professor Dumbledore. Professor McGonagall stood at his side, holding the piece of charred parchment with Ron’s scribbled handwriting. She looked beyond horrified. The Scottish woman looked just about ready to fight the entire hall on the matter but she kept her silence as Dumbledore smiled down at Hermione, gesturing her towards the side chamber. On shaking legs, she made her way to the door under the scrutinizing gaze of Madame Maxime and Karkaroff. Her mind tried to decide between a numb blankness or a frenzied panic. Before it could decide, Hermione joined the other champions.

The chamber held a small, roaring fire. There were a few chairs but both Fleur Delacour and Viktor Krum remained on their feet, standing on opposite sides of the room. Both Viktor’s dark gaze and Fleur’s crystal blue eyes looked up at her entrance, puzzled. The impulse to run filled every nerve she had, hands twitching, especially as Fleur’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. Instead, she walked over the chair furthest away from either champion, sitting to calm her nerves.

“This isn’t happening,” she tried convincing herself, burying her face in her hands. “This absolutely isn’t bloody real.”

“Where is ze ‘Ogwart’s champion?” Fleur asked but, by the tone of her voice, Hermione suspected she already guessed the answer. Raising her head she saw the blond witch’s arms crossed, a thin eyebrow raised accusingly. Krum simply watched in confusion. “Merde!” Fleur exclaimed when Hermione simply glared at her, “You’re just a-”

“Baby, yes!” Hermione exclaimed, jumping to her feet. “You’ve made your opinion perfectly clear!”

“But the Age Line,” Krum started, scrunching his face in confusion. Before she could answer the door opened once more.

“Harry?” She gasped, rushing to him. “Did Dumbledore send you?” For one glorious moment, she breathed a sigh of relief. “Will there be a redraw? Oh, I just knew they wouldn’t let me compete! It would be preposterous, wouldn’t it?” She laughed, but Harry didn’t join her. In fact. He looked white as a sheet. Her smile faded. “Harry?”

Ludo Bagman burst into the chamber and clapped a hand over Harry’s shoulder, pushing him in the room. Hermione was pushed back as well, right into Fleur Delacour. She felt hands at her waist and gasped, jumping away. She still felt the tingles up her spine, cheeks flushing at the smirk catching the edge of Fleur’s lips.

“Extraordinary!” Bagman continued as Hermione fled to Harry’s side, glaring at the blonde’s amusement. “Absolutely extraordinary! Gentlemen…and ladies, of course. May I introduce - incredible though it may seem - the fourth Triwizard champion?”

“What?!” Hermione exclaimed, turning to face the wizard in question. “Harry?!”

“I didn’t!” He said, grabbing her shoulders. “I didn’t, Hermione, I didn’t put my name in!”

“Wait,” Bagman interrupted, shaking a finger at her, “How old are you?”

“Fifteen,” Hermione answered, “We need to speak with Professor Dumbledore! Harry and I - we’re not old enough to compete!”

“Well…it is amazing,” Bagman drawled, rubbing his chin. “But, as you know, the age restriction was only imposed this year as an extra safety measure. And as your names came out of the goblet…I mean, I don’t think there can be any ducking out at this stage…It’s down in the rules, you’re obliged…You’ll just have to do the best you-”

The door burst open once more and a large group of people charged into the chamber. Professor Dumbledore, Mr. Crouch, Professor Karkaroff, Madame Maxime, Professor McGonagall, and Professor Snape clambered into the room. Immediately, McGonagall rushed towards Hermione.

“Are you alright, dear?” She asked but before Hermione could answer Fleur Delacour marched up to her headmistress and exclaimed,

“Madame Maxime! Zey are saying zese children are going to compete!” Harry turned to Hermione and mouthed, “Children?!” angrily. All Hermione could do give him a sympathetic look before Madame Maxime’s booming voice began her protests. Karkaroff joined in, claiming it was unfair to have two Hogwarts champions, but all Hermione wanted was to find a way out of this hullabaloo.

“We were under the impression that your Age Line would keep out younger contestants, Dumbledore!” Karkaroff exclaimed.

“Apparently not,” Snape snipped, eyes darting to Hermione. “Some at this school believe they can operate above the law.” Her jaw clenched at the way he seemed to relish the insult.

“What is that suppose to mean?” Madame Maxime demanded.

“Earlier today, Miss Granger,” Dumbledore began, gesturing to Hermione, “Found a way to fool my age line.”

“So it was this girl?!” Karkaroff looked furious and amused at the same time, “This girl outwitted the great Dumbledore?!”

“Miss Granger is one of this school’s brightest students!” Professor McGonagall exclaimed, and Hermione felt a rushing sense of gratitude. She knew the transfiguration professor would still be disappointed by her actions, but to know she was still on Hermione’s side meant more than anything. “She was the only one to deduce a fault in the Age Line!”

“Yes, and zis little girl ‘elped her little friends, too, it would seem!” Madame Maxime exclaimed, throwing a large hand in the air. “Zis is most unfair, Dumbly-dorr!”

“She did not, Madame.” Hermione’s attention shot to Fleur Delacour, eyes wide as the blond turned to face the giant Headmistress.

“Fleur?” Madame Maxime questioned, “What is the meaning of zis?” She finished in French, looking as if the girl was being insubordinate simply for speaking.

“I was zere,” Fleur confessed, blue eyes flickering to Hermione for the briefest of moments before returning to address the room. “I was standing beside ‘er when she gave ‘er name. Zere was only one.”

Hermione could only stare, baffled. For one second, she wondered if she misjudged Fleur Delacour. The last thing she expected was the blonde to come to her defense, to bear witness to whatever innocence Hermione could claim.

“And Miss Granger has been in the infirmary since this morning,” Professor McGonagall chimed in with a decisive nod. Fleur’s eyes returned to Hermione, meeting her bewildered gaze. Fleur's eyes flitted over Hermione, from head to heel, before rolling away, another smirk tugging at her lips. What was she on about now?! Looking at her like some insect! Heat rose in Hermione's cheeks once more and she briefly wondered if the constant blood rush would have permanent damage.

“We all know, at least, of Potter’s guilt,” Snape began, shifting targets. Hermione moved closer to Harry, wrapping her arm around his. He responded by clasping a hand over hers, fingers tightening as Snape continued. “Potter’s been crossing lines ever since he arrived here-”

“Thank you, Severus,” Dumbledore interrupted firmly, leaving a disgruntled potions master. Harry reaffirmed for everyone there that he did not submit his name to the Goblet of Fire, and the bickering continued until Karkaroff turned to the Ministry representatives.

“Mr. Crouch…Mr. Bagman,” Karkaroff began, standing behind Krum, placing a fatherly hand on his shoulder. “You are our - er - objective judges. Surely you will agree that this is most irregular?” Bagman gave a laugh, trying to appear relaxed while Mr. Crouch stood by the fireplace, like a stone statue. He, for the first time, spoke.

“We must follow the rules, and the rules state clearly that those people whose names come out of the Goblet of Fire are bound to compete in the tournament.”

“Well, Barty knows the rule book back to front,” Bagman commented, as though the matter was closed. Karkaroff wasn’t happy at all to hear this, making demands and threatening to leave. Mad-Eye Moody entered the room, calling him on his bluff.

“You can’t leave your champion now. He’s got to compete. They’ve all got to compete.” Hermione’s hope plummeted to the bottom of her stomach, sitting there like a rock.

“Binding magical contract, like Dumbledore said. Convenient, eh?” Her grip tightened around Harry’s arm at the insinuation.

“Convenient?” asked Karkaroff. “I’m afraid I don’t understand you, Moody.” But Hermione did.

“Don’t you?” Moody said quietly, “ It’s very simple, Karkaroff. Someone put Potter’s name in that goblet knowing he’d have to compete if it came out.”

“Evidently, someone ‘oo wished to give ‘Ogwarts two bites at ze apple!” Madame Maxime jumped in.

“I quite agree, Madame Maxime,” said Karkaroff, bowing to her. “I shall be lodging complaints with the Ministry of Magic and the International Confederation of Wizard-”

“If anyone’s got reason to complain, it’s Potter,” growled Moody, “but…funny thing…I don’t hear him saying a word…”

“Why should ‘e complain?” Fleur exclaimed, stamping her foot. “‘E ‘as ze chance to compete, ‘asn’t ‘e? We ‘ave all been ‘oping to be chosen for weeks and weeks! Ze honor for our schools! A thousand Galleons in prize money - zis is a chance many would die for!”

“Harry is not one of them!” Hermione cried out. “Just because you’re all willing to die for a little attention and glory doesn’t mean Harry is!”

“Says ze little girl who ‘ad to prove she’s better zen everyone else!” Fleur hissed, hitting Hermione where she knew it would hurt. In that instant she regretted ever thinking a shred of decency existed in that slim frame, eyes burning as she returned Fleur’s stare with as much hate and anger as she could.

“Maybe someone’s hoping Potter is going to die for it,” Moody said, interrupting their glaring contest. Ludo Bagman looked aghast, bouncing nervously up and down on his feet.

“Moody, old man…what a thing to say!”

“We all know Professor Moody considers the morning wasted if he hasn’t discovered six plots to murder him before lunchtime,” Karkaroff scuffed, “Apparently he is now teaching his students to fear assassination too.” Hermione couldn’t help but stiffen. If any student should learn that lesson, it was Harry Potter. She, herself, had to save him on a number of occasions, and that wasn’t even the tip of the ice burg.

“Imagining things, am I?” growled Moody. “Seeing things, eh? It was a skilled witch or wizard who put the boy’s name in that goblet…”

“Ah, what evidence is zere of zat?” said Madame Maxime, throwing up her huge hands.

“Because they hoodwinked a very powerful magical object!” exclaimed Moody, and Hermione suddenly realized where this was going.

“There are only three schools that have ever participated in the Triwizard tournament,” she voiced, eyes staring wide at Moody. He shifted his attention to her, his electric blue eye roaming her face. She swallowed a nerves sputter and continued, “I read it in Hogwarts: A History. How are there four champions if there are only three schools? It…had to have been a Confundus Charm, but even then…No seventh year, let alone a fourth year, could do such a thing. And if Harry was in his own category under a false school-”

“It ensured he would be chosen,” Moody finished, giving the girl an ugly smile. “Well done, Miss Granger. Quite the mind on this one, Dumbledore.”

“You seem to have given this a great deal of thought, Moody,” Karkaroff said coldly, “and a very ingenious theory by this girl - though of course, I heard you recently got it in your head that one of your birthday presents contained a cunningly disguised basilisk egg, and smashed it to pieces before realizing it was a carriage clock. So you’ll understand if we don’t take you entirely seriously…”

“It’s my job to think the way Dark Wizards do, Karkaroff - as you ought to remember…”

“Alastor!” Dumbledore said, warningly. Mad-Eye gritted his teeth but said nothing more.

“It seems to me,” Dumbledore began, “No matter how this situation arose, Miss. Granger and Mr. Potter have been chosen to compete. This, therefore, they will do…”

“Ah, but Dumbly-dorr-”

“My dear Madame Maxime, if you have an alternative, I would be delighted to hear it.” When no response came Ludo Bagman nodded, excitedly addressing the four champions.

“Well, shall we crack on, then? Got to give our champions their instructions, haven’t we? Barty, want to do the honors?”

“Yes,” Crouch said, snapping out of his reverie. “Instructions. Yes…the first task…”

Hermione’s eyes flickered to Fleur Delacour only to find her staring again. The blond continued her irritating trend of flashing Hermione that damnable smirk, throwing in a wink for good measure before Fleur redirected her blue eyes to Mr. Crouch.

“The first task is designed to test your daring,” he told Hermione, Harry, Fleur, and Viktor, “so we are not going to be telling you what it is. Courage in the face of the unknown is an important quality in a wizard…very important…

“The first task will take place on November the twenty-fourth, in front of the other students and the panel of judges.

“The champions are not permitted to ask for or accept help of any kind from their teachers to complete the tasks in the tournament. The champions will face the first challenge armed only with their wands. They will receive information about the second task when the first is over. Owing to the demanding and time-consuming nature of the tournament, the champions are exempted from end-of-term tests-”

“What?!” Hermione gasped, feeling rather foolish when she realized she said it out loud. Professor McGonagall simply patted her on the shoulder, shaking her head. Mr. Crouch chose to ignore this, it seemed, turning to Dumbledore.

“I think that’s all, is it, Albus?”

“I think so,” Dumbledore said, eying Mr. Crouch with mild concern. Hermione could hardly muster any sympathy for the man, having been so insensitive to the need of poor Winky at the Quidditch World Cup. After inviting all of the other judges for a nightcap, everyone began moving towards the door.

Madame Maxime wrapped an arm around Fleur’s shoulders, leading her swiftly from the room. As she passed, Fleur sent Hermione a smile, saying, “Au revoir, ma petite.”

“Why you little-” Harry held her back as Fleur walked passed. Hermione huffed, shaking Harry’s hold.

“French tart, indeed,” Professor McGonagall muttered as Dumbledore approached the pair of fourth years.

“Harry, Hermione,” he said, smiling at both of them. “I am sure Gryffindor is waiting to celebrate with you, and it would be a shame to deprive them of this excellent excuse to make a deal of mess and noise.” With a nod, they left together, arms still locked. After a while of walking in silence, Hermione released her death grip on Harry’s arm.

“Harry-”

“I didn’t do it!” He said sharply, almost desperately, “I didn’t put my name in!”

“I know!” Hermione reassured him, “I know. I believe you, Harry.” Harry relaxed a bit, letting out a breath of air he had been holding in since she saw him walk into the chamber.

“Whatever happens, Harry,” she said, taking his hand, “we’re in this together.”

“But Mr. Crouch said-”

“Mr. Crouch can shove off!” Hermione exclaimed, marching up the stairwell towards Gryffindor tower. “I don’t know who put your name in, Harry, but whoever did was not doing you a kindness. And I’ll be a monkey’s uncle before abandoning you to that fate.”

“I-” Harry stuttered stiffly, flashing Hermione an attempt at a smile. He instead settled for a hug, wrapping his arms around her. “Thanks, Hermione. I know I can always count on you.” She buried her face into his shoulder, giving him a tight hug before releasing him.

“Come on, then. Fred and George will probably crown both of us tonight.”

Harry grinned at that and she celebrated that little victory, yet she could tell a thousand worries still plagued his mind. She couldn’t blame him. Hermione, at the very least, knew it was her own fault. She had been prideful and stupid enough to submit her name, knowing the risks. Harry had no choice and no one to pin the blame on. She had to remain confident. With their heads together maybe they would survive this foolishness.
After shooing the Fat Lady’s friend away, that nosy gossip, and giving the password Harry and Hermione were assaulted by noise and light. Before they could protest they were yanked into the common room with the entirety of Gryffindor House to meet them, all screaming, applauding and whistling.

“You should’ve told us you’d entered!” Bellowed Fred to Harry, though Hermione could only just hear him above the tumult.

“How did you do it without getting a beard? Hermione, did you help him?! You should have told us!” George roared.

“I didn’t!” Harry said. “I didn’t submit my name-”

But before he could get another word out the mass of students descended upon them. People were shoving food into their hands, giving congratulations and celebrating the fact Gryffindor had not one, but two champions to cheer for. The girls seemed more interested in Hermione than Harry, some muttering he shouldn’t even compete against Hermione, but she shooed these naysayers away. She managed to escape the crowd before Harry. She considered going back to rescue him but she had a well-made bed and a sleeping-draught calling her name. Ascending the stairs to the girls' dormitory, Hermione was happy to see it abandoned.

After preparing for bed, she climbed into her four-poster, drawing the curtains to dissuade others from bothering her. Hermione drank the sleeping draught, relishing the feel of the sleeping draught warming her throat, anticipating the dreamless sleep soon to come. After the insanity of Halloween, she could do with dreamless sleep, though in hindsight she had spent most of the day sleeping already. Collapsing on her bed, as the potion took effect, she shook the worries from her head, wanting nothing more than to forget this day ever happened. Forget the tournament, forget Ron’s childish behavior, forget her own damnable pride and forget Fleur Delacour.

She wanted to forget the very image of the French witch: her pointy noise stuck in the air, hair practically levitating behind her in a dramatic breeze, the sway of her skirt as her hips rolled with her long, confident strides. Her eyelids began to feel heavy, thinking of those crystal blue eyes, the natural pout of her lips, and that irrational anger welling in her chest as it stretched into a smirk. Sleep took her then, thinking of that smirk. A strange realization came to mind before all thought was lost. She smelled that smell again. The smell of lilacs and spring rain.

Chapter Text

Hermione woke Sunday morning feeling better than she had in days. No panic attack, no horrific dreams, and no scent of lilacs and spring rain. She dressed for the day and went down to fetch breakfast. She figured the last thing Harry wanted was to join the crowd of jeering peers. Luckily, she was able to navigate her way down to the Great Hall and back with little interaction. She arrived at the portrait of the Fat Lady just as Harry clambered out of the entrance. He looked as tired and miserable as she felt the day before. They hurried down the Grand Stairs, passed the Great Hall and rushed towards the lake, avoiding every student wearing red and gold in sight. Neither wished to entertain their fellow giddy Gryffindors. As they circled the lake, munching on their toast, Hermione noticed her shoe was untied. She knelt, took the stings between her fingers, but paused. Her eyes stared at her untied shoe and panic set.

“Harry,” she breathed, voice low and quiet. He paused, looking back at her.

“What?” he said sharply, still agitated. Tears prickled her eyes as she looked up into his green stare. “What?” he repeated more gently, “What’s wrong?”

“Please don’t say anything,” she muttered, fingers gripping her shoelaces tightly. “I - Oh, Merlin, - I can’t remember how to tie my shoe!” She gasped, looking desperately to Harry.

Harry stared, unmoved. Then, suddenly, a smile graced his lips. A small chuckle started it, bringing a small smile to her own lips, her panic slipping away. They both erupted into laughter, rolling to the ground, toast abandoned in the grass. It was a hysteric outburst. Nothing was truly funny, she knew, but Hermione couldn’t care at the moment. It felt too good to laugh, even just for an insane moment. When their hysteria subsided and their sides hurt to bursting, Harry rolled towards her, grabbing her shoelaces. With a smile, he tied them for her. They sat in silence, throwing their soddened toast to the giant squid until Harry began in a somber tone,

“What are we going to do?”

Hermione sighed, taking his hand in hers. She enjoyed holding Harry’s hand. Ron’s was too warm and sweaty, but Harry always had a cool touch. “We survive. Together.”

“We’re not supposed to help each other,” Harry grumbled.

“Harry,” she began, raising an eyebrow at him, “I’ve been keeping you alive since first year. I’m not about to abandon you for some gladiator competition.”

“They’ll say we’re cheating-”

“We’re two fourth years in over our heads!” Hermione exclaimed, “If they think we honestly care about winning-”

“No one expects me to, but you,” Harry began, “Hermione, you heard Moody. The only reason my name was chosen was because it was the only one submitted to a fourth school, but you - you were chosen from all of the seventh year students!” Hermione paused, eyebrows furrowed. “That means the goblet thought you were the best competitor. Everyone’s going to expect you to win. You are the real Hogwarts champion.”

“This is rubbish,” she decided, brushing her skirt down as she rose to her feet. “We survive together. We’ll worry about winning later. I’m not dying for glory - for Hogwarts’ nor my own. Honestly, it’s you we should be worrying about! Someone wants you in this tournament, Harry. We should write to Sirius. You’ve got to tell him what’s happening.”

Though he was reluctant, Hermione managed to convince Harry to inform Sirius of the Triwizard tournament. Hermione knew how he felt, and how he would feel if Sirius was caught trying to help him. Harry would be devastated. Hermione was sure it was the thought of losing one of few connections to his parents, and the promise of a better life away from his muggle family, that made Harry pause. It was for the best, however. They were children trapped in a dangerous game and needed all of the help they could get. Hermione knew Sirius would never let harm come to Harry. Never abandon him. It was the look behind Sirius’ gaunt, hollow eyes that convinced Hermione of his innocence and his intentions towards Harry. It was that kind of care and devotion Harry needed at the moment, more so than protection. At least Sirius would write back, maybe even find a way to visit.

Harry spoke to her on their way to the Owlry; however Hermione only half listened. Instead, her thoughts revolved around his words from earlier, how she was the “real” Hogwarts Champion. Hermione was chosen by the Goblet of Fire, her name presented on that singed piece of parchment, scrawled in Ron’s messy writing. The goblet threw aside hundreds of seventh year candidates, all qualified and eager to compete. It was unnerving and flattering, though she refused to acknowledge the preening pride swelling in her chest. She knew her situation was nothing to flaunt. What could a fourth year witch offer as Triwizard champion? Why had the goblet deigned to select her?
It was all wrong! She had only meant to prove herself to Ron. To Fleur Delacour, a small, irrational part of her whispered. She was spiteful at her ridiculous need to justify herself to the Beaubatons champion. She was never meant to be selected, never meant to compete. Now she had to prove herself to the entire school, in the name of honor, glory, and an asinine tradition akin to medieval knights knocking each other off of horses with sticks. 

The week began with Hermione screaming. She scrambled away from her bed, kicking off her sheets, her eyes darted madly about the room. She expected to see trees, and mist, and a dark, looming figure. All she saw was Pavarti Patil and Lavender Brown gaping at her, woken by her panic. The other two girls slept on as Hermione’s panic attack set it, her breathing erratic, short and painful. Pavarti tried to approach, a hand extended carefully, but Hermione shook her head, grabbed her robes and fled to the water closet. Tears in her eye, she sunk to the floor, trying to take deep breaths, hoping the day would improve from there on. It didn’t.

It was in Herbology Hermione began noticing the change. Professor Sprout eyed her suspiciously throughout the lesson, refusing to call on Hermione when she wanted to answer a question. Instead, she called on Hufflepuff students, praising them brightly with compliments and house points. Hermione dismissed it as a temporary thing, recalling Hufflepuff house had rooted for Cedric Diggery to be Hogwarts champion. Hufflepuff saw so little chance for glory she understood the favoritism. She let it go. The Slytherins were behaving far worse, but it couldn’t have been easy for them to cheer for Gryffindor, whether it was for Hermione or Harry. She thought nothing of this, either. The next few days, however, Hermione’s life became Topsy turvy.

Professor Sprout wasn’t the only professor to react poorly to Hermione’s sudden disobedience. Before, most of the professors treated her almost as a mini colleague, trusting her with minor tasks, discussing the subject more in-depth because of her interest and hunger for knowledge. Professor Sprout was just the beginning.
Professor Snape seemed to have spent the last few days finding new ways to torture her, making snide comments and giving Hermione extra challenging assignments well above her year, since she thought herself a seventh year. When he realized she actually enjoyed the new coursework, he changed tactics, giving her simple assignments, ones she could have completed in her sleep as a first year. This was far more effective, boring Hermione to tears and frustrating her beyond reason.

Madame Pince, the librarian who usually favored Hermione, shushed her at every small sound, every scratch of her quill, every creak of her chair.

Professor Vector thought Hermione’s rebellious behavior was due to her not being challenged in class and decided more homework was the key.

Professor Flitwick was the only professor happy with her little stunt, impressed by her use of such a challenging charm. He sneaked her more advanced spell books, though insisted she not tell Professor McGonagall, as he heard an earful from her about inappropriate distribution of coursework.

Out of all of them, it was the transfiguration professor’s behavior that distressed Hermione. Ever since sitting with her in the hospital wing, Professor McGonagall treated Hermione with distant disappointment. She still acknowledged her in class, unlike Professor Sprout, but there was no small smile as she answered another question correctly, no affectionate pat on the head, no sympathy and compassion. It had been Professor McGonagall who comforted Hermione that first year of school when she had no friends. It was Professor McGonagall who encouraged her to pursue her love of learning. It was Professor McGonagall who sat at her bedside when she was petrified by the Basilisk. It was Professor McGonagall who introduced her to the wizarding world. She was like a third parent to Hermione, the magical parent she never had. The woman’s disappointment was shattering.

Juxtaposed to her superior’s disapproval, Hermione’s peers began treating her with newfound interest. Once other students saw her go against the Headmaster’s wishes - best him, even - students Hermione never spoke to were wishing her well in the halls, congratulating her, asking how she did it, saying they would root for her come November. The girls in her dormitory, who had long since written her off as snobbish and annoying, were jumping to speak with her, congregating on her bed at night, trying to include her in the latest gossip. She shooed them away, usually threatening them with whatever heavy book she had at her bedside. Even some Slytherins were acknowledging her in the halls, wanting to pit her against Harry; though Malfoy still made his snide comments. Her social life - well, in the simplest terms - suddenly she had a social life. Instead of Hermione Granger: teacher's pet, know-it-all, and bookworm she was suddenly Hermione Granger: school champion, rule breaker and Triwizard Champion. Apparently, the only thing needed to become popular was to challenge established authority.

Hermione didn’t care for this new surge of popularity, and would have traded it in a heartbeat if it meant repairing her relationship with Professor McGonagall, or making life a little easier for Harry. She knew the student population was not extending the same approval to him, especially the girls of Gryffindor house. They were treating him poorly, feeling Harry shouldn’t compete against Hermione and that he was trying to overshadow her, threatened by a woman champion. She knew this was ridiculous and tried to dissuade these opinions, with little to no effect. Hermione tried reminding Harry it was them against the world like they agreed at the lake shore. She sensed it wasn’t as easy for him to ignore the increased hostilities and suspicion, especially with Ron insisting his guilt. The redhead was convinced Harry had submitted his name.

She tried reasoning with Ron, but he wouldn’t hear it. He felt Harry should have told him, at the very least, and Hermione knew then it wasn’t about jealousy. Ron was hurt. He felt Harry left him out of some grand adventure. She was at the point of ripping her hair out, wishing the two would simply makeup or hash it out. But Harry was just as stubborn and indignant and since, out of the two of them, he was the sensible one she truly felt no hope for the situation. As the school’s hostilities grew towards Harry, Hermione repeated her mantra of “Ignore them” which she began to realize only further irritated him. But without anything else to encourage him “Ignore them” just kept slipping out.
Harry’s mood was particularly foul as they made their way to Snape’s dungeon for double potions, where the Slytherins waited outside. Hermione caught sight of large, round buttons and, for a wild moment, she thought they were wearing one of her S.P.E.W. badges. Instead, the buttons read Slytherins for Krum.

“Like them, Potter?” Malfoy called out loudly as they approached. “And this isn’t all they do - look!” He pressed his badge and the message vanished, instead showing an image of Krum throwing a quaffle at Harry’s head, stating: Potter Stinks.

“Oh, very funny,” she said sarcastically, “really witty.”

“Want one, Granger?” Malfoy smirked, though it seemed lackluster, for some reason. Less effective. “I’ve got loads. But don’t touch my hand, now. I’ve just washed it, you see; don’t want a Mudblood sliming it up.”

With a flourish, Harry’s wand was in his hand, face red with anger. Hermione jumped back, seeing Malfoy raise his own wand.

“Harry!” She hissed, but he didn’t lower his guard.

“Go on, then, Potter,” Malfoy goaded, “Moody’s not here to look after you now - do it, if you’ve got the guts -” For a wild moment she thought he would back down, but her hopes were dashed as Harry called out,

“Furnunculus!”

“Densaugeo!” Malfoy screamed.

All Hermione saw was a bright white light before her head hit the ground.

“Hermione!” She heard her name but her mind was rolling. She felt hands on her, saw a head of red hair, but her focus was on the peculiar feeling in her front teeth. As they brushed her bottom lip she realized her front teeth were growing. With a shriek, her hands flew to her face, trying to cover her mouth. Ron tried to wrestle her hands away but she fought him off, feeling her teeth stretch passed her chin.

“And what is all this noise about?” Oh, no. No, no, no. Not him. Anyone but Snape. She heard a volley of explanations, but Malfoy was chosen to give the truth.

“Potter attacked me, sir-”

“We attacked each other at the same time!” Harry shouted.

“-and he hit Goyle - look-”

“Malfoy got Hermione!” Ron exclaimed and she felt his hands wrap around her wrist. She tried to fight him, tried to cover herself, but he was too strong. Her hands were pulled from her face and Pansy Parkinson let out a shriek of laughter. The Slytherin girls began giggling and chortling as Snape’s cold eyes stared down at her.

“I see no difference.” Tears burned her eyes as she choked back a sob, jumping to her feet and rushing down the hall. Madame Pomfrey was not at all pleased to see her again so soon but after seeing how upset she was the Healer took her in and shrunk her teeth, no questions asked. Just as Hermione was getting used to her new bite, Professor McGonagall charged into the infirmary, stopping at Hermione’s bed.

“Miss Granger,” she said in a huff, appearing out of breath. “If you intend to make this a habit I may just put you in a bubble!”

“With books?” she asked, eyes looking up at McGonagall, desperate for comfort. The Professor pursed her lips, but soon a small smile cracked her stern face.

“Of course, dear. I’m no monster.” Hermione smiled as the older witch sat down. “You are not to make this a habit, my dear,” she said, pointing a finger. “Potter is enough trouble without having to worry for you.”

“I’m sorry, Professor,” she muttered. “I know I have been behaving-”

“Like a teenager,” Professor McGonagall interrupted. “Hermione, you are one of the brightest students I have ever had the pleasure of teaching.” At this, Hermione felt the paradoxical swell of pride and shame, having felt she failed her mentor somehow. “You may have an old soul but you are still a teenager. You’ll find the next few years you will do strange and seemingly crazy things, simply because your emotions dictated you do so. Why, I remember the summer after I graduated from Hogwarts, returning to my family’s manse. You see, I fell in love with a muggle man from the village.” Hermione leaned forward, excitement jumping in her chest. It was a rare thing for McGonagall to speak of her past. “We had such a wonderful time,” Professor McGonagall smiled a smile Hermione had never seen before, one full of happiness and bliss. “He was a simple farmer but he was adventurous and brave and true. He led me through the woods and we played in the glen until the fireflies came out. He purposed to me that summer with his family ring.”

“What did you say?” Hermione asked, leaning further towards her, not wanting to miss a second.

“I said yes,” McGonagall confessed, though there was no happy smile. Instead, she gave Hermione a mournful expression, shaking her head. “But the next morning I told him I couldn’t.”

“Why?” Hermione gasped. The professor took Hermione’s hands in hers.
 
“My father was a muggle,” she explained slowly. “He was a kind man, a gentle man, my mother eloped with. It was only after I was born she told him she was a witch. I saw what my mother did to be with my father. She hid her wand away and taught me and my brothers to do the same. I helped her hide our magic from the neighbors and had to deal with my father’s lack of knowledge. I couldn’t live as my mother did, in fear, in hiding, locking my magic away. So I told my love I loved him no more, though it broke my heart. I moved to London and worked at the Ministry before returning to Hogwarts. My point being,” Professor McGonagall gave her hands a squeeze, “That summer I remember being foolish and proud and emotional. It’s what teenagers do. You made a mistake, Hermione. You’ll make plenty more. I’m afraid I made a mistake, as well, forgetting you weren’t my fellow, but a young girl in need of adventure and excitement, just as I was that summer in the highlands.” Hermione did something then she had not done since her first year of Hogwarts. She launched herself from the bed and embraced Professor McGonagall. The older witch wrapped her arms around her, chuckling as Hermione clung to her robes.

“I’m frightened, Professor,” she confessed.

“You are the brightest witch of your age, my dear,” McGonagall said. “You’ll be alright. So long as you do your best in the tasks ahead, you’ll be alright.”

“I wasn’t referring to the tournament.” The confession left her lips before she could prevent it and she felt the professor stiffen. Professor McGonagall pulled back, eyes searching Hermione’s face for an answer. “I-” She stuttered, pausing to regain her courage. “I’ve been having strange dreams - dreams I can’t remember. But afterwards I wake up afraid, panicked, I-” Hermione paused, tears welling in her eyes. “It’s getting worse and worse and I’m afraid to close my eyes.”

“Dear girl,” Professor McGonagall whispered, rubbing Hermione’s arms affectionately. “How long has this been going?”

“Halloween,” she confessed. Before McGonagall could inquire further, Collin Crevey ran into the Hospital Wing, breathing heavily.

“I-” He gasped, bending over, leaning on his knees as he caught his breath. “The champions- the champions need to go-”

“Oh, for goodness sakes, Mr. Creevy!” Professor McGonagall huffed, “What about the champions?”

“The champions are,” he gave a long gasp before continuing, “needed for photographs.”

“Well, at least I won’t be going back to potions,” Hermione sighed, giving Professor McGonagall a small smile.

“You go, Miss Granger,” the older witch said. “I’ll ask Poppy regarding your dilemma.” Hermione gave her a grateful smile before walking towards the door. “And Miss Granger!” McGonagall called. Hermione spun around in a heartbeat. “Don’t think I didn’t notice,” she said, gesturing to her own teeth. She flashed a guilty smile before racing off with Collin Creevey.

The third year led her to a small classroom a few floors up. The desks were pushed aside to make room in the center of the chamber. Five chairs sat in front of a velvet backdrop. Ludo Bagman was sitting in one of these chairs. Viktor Krum stood up straighter as she entered the room, raising his eyebrows from their contemplative furrowed expression. Fleur Delacour stood by the window, looking over the grounds, ignoring the cameraman openly gawking at her. She was surprised to see Mr. Ollivander seated at the judges' table, Madame Maxime and Professor Karkaroff hovering over him suspiciously. Hermione’s eyebrows furrowed, noticing who was missing from the crowd.

“Where’s Harry?” She asked. Fleur turned on her toes and Hermione wished she had remained quiet. Squared away in her powder blue uniform, the Frenchwoman regarded her with that same self-satisfied smirk that sent Hermione into irrational anger. Instead of giving Fleur the satisfaction, she turned to Viktor, who simply gestured to the broom cupboard. Hermione scrunched her face, confused by the answer, but moved to it all the same. Ludo Bagman jumped up at once.

“Don’t mind that, Miss Granger!” He said, all too quickly, “Just a little interview for the Daily Prophet!”

“Interview?” She repeated suspiciously. “In a broom cupboard? Harry!” She knocked on the door. “Harry, are you in there!”

“Hermione!” She heard Harry exclaim and suddenly the door flew open. Harry emerged, eyes searching her face. She knew he must have been looking for her enlarged teeth. She simply flashed him a smile, showing him her fixed overbite. “Thank goodness! When you took off like that-”

“Sorry to interrupt,” a woman said, emerging from the closet after Harry. She appeared anything but sorry, an acid green quill poised in her hand. “But we weren’t quite done, Harry, dear-”

“I think you are, Rita,” Dumbledore announced as he entered the classroom.

“Dumbledore!” the woman exclaimed, “How are you? I hope you saw my piece over the summer about the International Confederation of Wizards’ Conference?”

“Enchantingly nasty,” Dumbledore said, a twinkle in his eye. “I particularly enjoyed your description of me as an obsolete dingbat.” Hermione gasped but this Rita looked less than bashful. “But I’m afraid we will have to discuss the matter later. The Weighting of the Wands is about to start. May I introduce Mr. Ollivander? He will be checking your wands to ensure that they are in good condition before the tournament.” Mr. Ollivander gave a little wave before gesturing to Fleur.

“Mademoiselle Delacour, could we have you first, please?” said Mr. Ollivander. Fleur swept over to him, brandishing her wand. “Hmmmm…” He twirled the wand between long, thin, fingers, and it emitted a number of pink and gold sparks. “Yes,” he muttered, “nine and a half inches…inflexible…rosewood…and containing…dear me…”

“A ‘air from ze ‘ead of a veela,” Fleur finished, smiling with pride. “One from my grandmuzzer’s.” Hermione openly gaped at the confession. She wasn’t sure which was more shocking, the fact that Fleur was Veela or that Ron was right about something.

Mr. Ollivander made a few more comments before making a bunch of flowers burst from the wand tip. “Very well, very well, it’s in fine working order,” he said, handing the flowers to Fleur, along with her wand. “Miss Granger, you next.” Hermione nodded, withdrawing her vinewood wand. “I heard a little rumor you performed quite a bit of difficult magic with this wand recently,” Mr. Ollivander said, eyes searching Hermione’s. She nodded reluctantly, to which he shook his head. “Nothing to be ashamed of, Miss Granger, I knew you had hidden potential all the while! Vinewood doesn’t choose lightly. I remembered the day you entered my shop that wand rattled in its box - you remember?”

“Yes,” she confessed, giving Mr. Ollivander a small smile, “I thought you hid a mouse in the box.” The wandmaker let out a chuckle at this.

“Yes, yes, but it was really the vinewood reacting to you, seeking you, knowing you would give it a greater purpose. This particular wand was made on the autumn equinox if I recall correctly. You must have been feeling very passionate that day you cast your charms to cross the Age Line.” Her eyes betrayed her the, flickering to Fleur Delacour, her crystal blue eyes watching the exchange with interest.

“I’m afraid I don’t follow,” she said, diverting her attention back to Ollivander.

“Vinewood response powerfully to great emotions - both great happiness or great wrath. Now, let me take a look here.” He fiddled with her wand in a similar fashion as Fleur’s, all the while Hermione felt the blond’s eyes on her. She heard those heels click about the room, circling the table, and the veela entered Hermione’s field of vision. It was almost like she wanted Hermione to catch her eye, but the fourth year knew the second she did that bloody smirk would dance at Fleur’s lips, sending Hermione into a fury. With her wand being examined, and with the new found knowledge of its connection to her emotions, she suspected rattling herself into a frenzy would do her no favors. “Ah, yes, dragon heartstring, unyielding and dangerous. A good wand for a powerful hand. Ten and three-quarters.” With a stream of silver smoke rings, Mr. Ollivander returned her wand, pronouncing it in working order. She pocketed her wand and finally risked a glance towards the Beauxbatons champion. Fleur met her gaze, blue eyes dancing in amusement. The Veela rolled her wand between her thumb and forefingers, turning back to the window as Ollivander examined Krum’s wand.

Tired of the blond’s little game, Hermione followed her. Fleur watched her approach but turned her eyes to look out over the ground when Hermione stood beside her.

“Look,” Hermione began, “I know you are less than thrilled by the turn of events, I’m not so keen on them myself, but we can at least act civil, don’t you think?” A smile graced Fleur’s lips, though she didn’t meet Hermione’s eyes. She instead kept looking over the ground.

“Gloomy,” Fleur spoke. Hermione paused, baffled by the sudden comment.

“I’m sorry?”

“Gloomy, zis country of yours,” Fleur repeated, gesturing with her wand to the gray clouds hanging over the grounds. “Zere is not a ray of light in the world, it seems. In France, ze sun is never so far away.” Hermione didn’t know quite how to respond. She had tried to extend an olive branch, yet Fleur seemed determined to complain about the…weather? “Ze food is far too ‘eavy, as well, ‘ave you noticed?”

“The…food?” Hermione questioned, still utterly befuddled. An unusual, irritated noise escaped her throat.

“Oui, ‘eavy and greasy food. At Beauxbatons, we ‘ave ze best chiefs in ze world prepare our food. Whoever cooks ‘ere cannot be trying too ‘ard!”

“The house elves are doing their best!” Hermione replied, defensively. “Not that you’d notice, your nose so high in the air, complaining about ridiculous things! Must you be nasty about everything?

“But of course,” she confirmed, finally gazing down at Hermione, a strange twinkle in her eye. It was nothing like Dumbledore’s good-natured expression. It was mischievous, taunting. “If somezing is not suitable, do you expect me to lie? Oh, yes,” Fleur began, sarcastically, in a higher pitched voice,” “Zank you, mademoiselle, ze food is lovely. Oh, yes, zank you, mademoiselle, no, I am not freezing in zis miserable castle. Oh, yes, zank you, mademoiselle, you ‘ave such a,” Fleur’s smile widened, rolling her eyes, “beautiful country. When I find somezing to enjoy in zis cold, awful place, ma petite,” Fleur put a finger under Hermione’s chin, holding her face still as she leaned forward, invading Hermione’s personal space, “you will be ze first to know, I am sure.” Heat rose to Hermione’s face. She wasn’t sure if it was out of anger or from just how close Fleur was standing. She wasn’t so tall, Hermione thought spitefully. Fleur only stood a few inches taller, without her heels. With her heels, however, she loomed over the Gryffindor, that smirk sending Hermione into a white, hot fury. She slapped the blond’s hand away but didn’t move, refusing to retreat.

“You spoiled little tart!” Hermione began, but suddenly someone cleared their throat behind them. Hermione spun to find that Rita woman standing behind them, her penciled eyebrow arching unnaturally high. She took a step away from Fleur, heat rising in her face. The blond simply glared at the reporter. That’s when Hermione noticed everyone staring. Harry looked baffled, eyes darting between Fleur and Hermione. Viktor Krum, who stood in the corner from the group, watched them with a strange pout playing at his grumpy face. The headmasters, all standing together with the photographer, appeared annoyed. All held nothing but annoyance and their display - all but Dumbledore, who watched in amusement, a smile touching his lips. Madame Maxime waved a large hand at Fleur, exclaiming in French,

Fleur! Come here, at once! You may play later!” Fleur looked none too pleased by this but did as requested. Face red with embarrassment, Hermione rushed to Harry’s side, grabbing his arm once more. She noticed Krum’s strange pout darken, but he soon directed his attention to his headmaster.

“Well, then!” Ludo Bagman exclaimed, “Photos! All the judges and champions, what do you think, Rita?” They were all jostled about, trying to find a position Madame Maxime would fit into the frame. Eventually, she sat while everyone else stood. The photographer was keen on getting Fleur in the front but Rita ripped Harry from Hermione’s grip and put him center frame. Fleur, much to Hermione’s displeasure, took his place. She tried ignoring the blond but the irrational irritation invading her mind kept her aware of Fleur’s every movement. Well, not every movement she soon realized, as she felt a thin, manicured finger lightly touch her side. Hermione shrieked, jumping back from Fleur, holding her ribs. The Beauxbatons’ champion looked amused beyond words but the rest of the company shot Hermione a frustrated look, having foiled a photo.

“Sorry,” She said before glaring at Fleur Delacour. “What are you on about?!” Hermione hissed, trying to keep her voice down.

“You ‘re ticklish,” Fleur said as if making a fantastic discovery.

“No, I am not!” Hermione bit back, but instantly felt Fleur’s fingers back on her ribs. “Don’t do that!” She said, wishing her pitch hadn’t had climbed quite so high. A broad grin stretched over Fleur’s face.

“I knew it,” she said, triumphant, “You were ticklish Halloween night, as well.” Hermione was gobsmacked, suddenly remembering how she had been pushed back into Fleur, and how Fleur’s hands found their way to her sides, preventing her from falling.

“What is it to you if I’m ticklish!”

“Sensitivity is a good zing, ma petite,” Fleur whispered as Madame Maxime shot them a had glare from her chair. “At least, when you are older. I am sure Mousier Potter will enjoy zat.”

“What do you mean when you’re-” Her eyes widened, suddenly catching on to Fleur’s point. Her face went as red as Weasley hair. “How dare you!” She shrieked, crossing her arms over her ribcage, guarding against further attacks. “Harry and I are not- we’re just friends!”

“Miss!” The photographer exclaimed, causing Hermione to jump, “Please stay still, and scoot a bit closer to Mademoiselle Delacour!” She did as he asked, but begrudgingly, as he took more photos.

“Harry and I are just friends,” she hissed quietly, not even looking at Fleur. 

“I see,” Fleur said, and Hermione couldn’t help but notice a slight change in octave, her note hitting a bit higher. “No fretting, ma petite, I am sure you will find someone to show you ze benefits of sensitive skin.” Hermione suddenly felt very self-conscious standing next to the blond for the photo. Next to Fleur Delacour - tall and beautiful Fleur Delacour - Hermione looked like the frumpy librarian’s assistant, with her frizzy hair, lightly freckled face, and baggy jumper. She had grown over summer, she knew, curves setting in, breasts developing, but she was nothing compared to the French girl. Tears threatened her eyes but she refused to cry. She wouldn’t give Fleur the satisfaction.

“Why do you have to be so nasty?” Hermione whispered, her voice lacking its previous strength. Fleur’s eyes shot down to her and, for once, her smirk faded.

“Pardon?” But before Fleur could ask further the photographer called for individual photos. She kept her distance from the Beauxbatons champion after that and rushed out of the room with Harry when it was all done. They descended the stairs in silence towards dinner, making it to the entrance hall before Harry asked,

“What happened with Fleur Delacour?”

“She’s a right nasty piece of work,” Hermione hissed, shoving away her self-consciousness and regaining some of her anger. “She’s nothing but a spoiled little-” Before she could finish Hermione paused, taking a deep breath. She took another and turned to Harry. “Do you smell that?” she whispered, fear creeping under her skin, cold and icy fingers wrapping around her neck.

“Smell what?” Harry asked.

“Lilacs and spring rain,” she whispered, dreading the night ahead.

Chapter Text

The panic attacks only grew worse.

Hermione woke screaming almost every night, shocking the other girls in the dormitory. Eventually, she asked Professor Flitwick to teach her the Silencing Charm, claiming it was out of boredom. Since her spectacular memory charm, Flitwick was more than eager to teach her increasingly complicated magic, against McGonagall’s wishes. She mastered the spell in a few days and placed it on herself most nights, so as not to wake the other girls with her screams. As promised, Professor McGonagall spoke with Madame Pomfrey, who believed the panic attacks stemmed from anxiety. There was no way to continually take a sleeping draught safely, the risk of addiction too great. One too many, she knew, and she would never wake again. At most, Madame Pomfrey prescribed one a week, which Hermione used on the weekends when she could sleep as long as needed.

Hermione was exhausted, more irritable. She and Harry made quite the pair, especially after Rita Skeeter’s article was published in the Daily Prophet. As it turned out, the article was less about the Triwizard Tournament and more about a dramatized retelling of Harry’s life with Harry painted as the tragic, but optimistic hero, and Hermione, his beautiful true love. Hermione had already heard the Slytherin girls snickering over that particular delusion.

Beautiful.

It was a word Hermione never identified with; never truly felt she deserved. The mature, rational side of Hermione was okay with this. She didn’t need to feel beautiful for validation - she had so much more to offer the world. But in the darkest parts of her mind, that word kept cropping up, kept grating at her nerves, kept conjuring an image of blond hair and crystal blue eyes.

Fleur Delacour was only mentioned in the article once, as Triwizard Champion. Her name was misspelled, badly, as well as Viktor Krum’s. She would catch the Veela watching from time to time, mostly in the Great Hall during meals. Every time, the Veela’s eyes caught her gaze, shift to Harry, and then turn away. It was a simple enough reaction. Yet nothing was simple with Fleur Delacour. She didn’t just catch Hermione’s gaze, she held it. She didn’t just look at Harry, she glared. She didn’t just turn away, she huffed as if offended. This irrationally complicated range of emotive abilities made Fleur Delacour frustrate Hermione long after the Veela was out of sight. She must have read the Daily Prophet, Hermione thought. She was scornful at not getting the attention and glory she so clearly craved - overshadowed by a child. That gave Hermione just a tad bit of guilty satisfaction.

As the first task crept closer Harry and Hermione found themselves in the library more and more - Harry studying the theories of summoning charms, per Hermione’s advice, and Hermione researching previous events in the Triwizard tournaments, seeing if she could get some insight on the first task. That’s how they began the Saturday before the first task, each dealing with their own unique panic attacks.

“The first Triwizard Tournament was held in the 12th or 13th century. It’s difficult to specify a date, but the tournament was discontinued in 1792 due to,” Hermione flipped the page, groaning at what she found, “to the high death toll. Perfect,” she muttered bitterly, gritting her teeth when Madame Pince shooshed her from across the chamber.

“Brilliant,” Harry drolled, staring at a book on summoning charms. Not reading. Staring. Harry made no effort to read, and no effort to simply close the book. She knew is only joy in life was the prospect of speaking with Sirius that night, and even that didn’t seem to elate him as it usually did. Hermione sighed, continuing to read.

“Out of the one hundred and twenty-five tournaments held over the centuries, Hogwarts had won sixty-three times, followed closely by Beauxbatons, with sixty-two. Strange, there’s no mention of Durmstrang winning…” Hermione knew she could not discount Viktor readily, however. He was an accomplished Seeker for Bulgaria and she had a sneaking suspicion his quiet nature was more for observational purposes rather than from shyness. “The last tournament involved catching a rowdy cockatrice; however, the beast went on a dangerous rampage, injuring champions and judges alike.”

“What, exactly, is a cockatrice?” Harry asked with a groan, slamming his head onto his book.

“I don’t know. I’m afraid to look it up,” Hermione confessed and continued, “One tournament in the 15th century, the champions had to hunt a Thestral. One champion went so far as to kill a spectator, thus enabling him to see the creature. Another tournament in the 17th century, a duel was held as the final task, ending with both the last standing champions fatally wounded. In the 18th century, a Thunderbird was transported from America to act as large snitch - the one to catch it without being struck by lightening proclaimed the winner of the tournament. All three champions died in the attempt. Oh, this is marvelous!” Hermione slammed her books shut, cursing under her breath at another loud ‘shoosh!’ from the librarian.

Whatever precautions the ministry had taken, it was clear their lives were very much in danger. She began making a list of spells, charms, jinxes and defensive magic that might help in the tournament - ones the other two champions were sure to have learned. Harry remained collapsed over Summoning Theories: Grasping the Summoning Charm. She wasn’t confident Harry was particularly receptive to learning them at the moment, not when he was having so much trouble with his summoning charms, not when his life was very much in danger again, not when he not only had to worry about surviving this bloody tournament but also worry about who wanted him dead in the first place. Despite this, Hermione persisted in pushing him. He needed to be as prepared as possible, and she would rather have him irritated than dead.

As she opened another book, Hermione felt her eyes grow heavy. She shook her head, trying to stave off sleep. She was not in the mood to scream herself awake in public. It was hard enough to make excuses for her dormmates. She couldn’t imagine Harry’s reaction. He had enough to deal with. He didn’t need her crying about nightmares. She went so far as to pinch herself, eventually having a wide collection of bruises up and down her forearm. Just when she found a spell that might be of use, Viktor Krum entered the library. Hermione gave an exasperated sigh and Madame Pince gave her another ‘shoosh!’ He took up roost in a chair down the way from her, his usual perch. Soon her quiet haven would be invaded by giggling, noisy girls. She and Harry decided to make their escape while they could, though Hermione made sure to cast Krum a polite smile as she passed.

With her library converted to a Viktor Krum exhibit for fangirls, Hermione and Harry went their separate ways for a while - Harry to the Common Room and Hermione to Professor McGonagall’s office to read. In her first year, when no one liked her, Hermione spent much of her free time reading in Minerva McGonagall’s office as the older witch graded papers and filled out paperwork. She would go to complain to McGonagall at times and cry on her shoulder when people teased her, but mostly it was a quiet, safe place she could be her curious self. It was her emergency sanctuary nowadays, as McGonagall was the only one who knew the full extent of her problems.

“How is your memory, Miss Granger?” McGonagall inquired, eyes still on her paperwork. “Is there any further concerns?”

“No, Professor,” Hermione replied, eyes gliding across the pages of her book. “I even remember how to tie my shoes again, much to Harry’s delight.” The older witch chuckled at this.

“I’m sure Mr. Potter is happy to help. And your panic attacks?” Hermione’s finally lifted her eyes, finding McGonagall’s intense gaze examining her. “I know Professor Flitwick taught you the Silencing Charm, and Miss Brown’s complaint the other week leads me to believe it wasn’t due to ‘boredom’ in class.” Hermione swallowed, nervously. “A clever solution, but it only treats the symptom - not the problem.”

“I don’t know if there is a solution, Professor,” Hermione confessed, slamming her book shut. “Every night is the same,” her voice began to shake, exhaustion getting the better of her. “I fall asleep, I dream this horrible dream I can’t remember and I wake screaming. My nerves are so frazzled, every little thing sets me off now, I’m getting as agitated as Harry! All I can remember is a dark figure, a forest, and the smell of lilacs and spring rain. They’re simply dreams, though. Madame Pomfrey said as much. I’m sure they’ll ebb away with time.” Hermione wished she felt as confident as she sounded. McGonagall didn’t seem to agree, releasing a heavy sigh and leaning back in her chair.

“Perhaps it is time for a second opinion. The first task is fast approaching, Miss Granger. If you are too exhausted to compete, well…I fear the results.”

“I have a sleeping draught reserved for the night before, so I’ll have a full night’s rest-”

“One night’s rest does not account for weeks of deprivation,” McGonagall argued, and Hermione couldn’t think of a reasonable rebuttal. “We will discuss this more at a later date. I know you have plans with Potter. Go to Hogsmeade. You look in need of a break.” With a reluctant sigh, she abandoned her books on one of McGonagall’s bookcases (she was coming back, anyway) and went to find Harry.

In Hogsmeade Hermione’s attempt at reuniting Harry with Ron fizzled before she could get a spark. She collapsed into the booth at the Three Broomsticks, defeated. With Harry stubbornly hidden away under his cloak, Hermione received the majority of the attention. Students and villagers alike approached to try and speak with her about the first task, the tournament, or Rita Skeeter’s article. She thought to capitalize on this newfound interest, pitching S.P.E.W to all who would listen. She got a few new names and made a little progress, but most, especially those who were raised in the wizarding world, thought the whole affair strange at best, offensive at worst. A few heated debates ensued, ending with the witch or wizard stomping off in a rage. Good riddance, Hermione thought; however, it was discouraging how little support she gained.

With the recent chaos in her life, Hermione had yet to give proper attention to the Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare. She tried to make time when she could - she might be facing near and present danger, but that was nothing compared to generations of oppression and slavery. The short list of members was disheartening, but the beginning of any venture always began small. She hoped the movement would grow in time, with love and care. Rationally, Hermione knew patience would be the key; however, her need for direct action made her contemplate the Elves working in the school kitchens and the possibility of getting actual Elves to support S.P.E.W.

For a mad moment, when Hagrid and Professor Moody approached, the former leaning over her shoulder to look at her notes, Hermione believed the crazed wizard might be interested in Elvish welfare. An odd turn of events, but the prospect of gaining a professor’s support was exciting. But, of course, it was only a ruse to speak with Harry, that mad eye darting about Harry’s place across from her.

After the professors left, Harry confided in Hermione about Hagrid’s invitation. She thought it a bad idea, as the escapade left the boy’s meeting with Sirius at risk. But Harry seemed resolute. So, against her better judgment, Hermione helped Harry escape the common room to meet with Hagrid, staged outside the Fat Ladies portrait. She wished him luck before retreating to her bed, casting the Silencing Charm on herself. As soon as she closed her eyes, she fell into a black abyss.

A soft lullaby hummed in her ears. She awoke on flat ground, blades of grass creasing her cheek, wet from midnight dew. She rose to her bare feet, gripping her wand tightly. She stood in a dark meadow, all light absent in the distance. She smelled rain in the air and the sweet scent of lilacs.

A black shape came into the clearing and for a wild moment, she thought it was a Dementor. She raised her wand, an attempt at the Patronus Charm playing at her lips, but the Dementor took a step toward her. It didn’t float. It took another step and Hermione realized it wasn’t a Dementor at all. The cloaked figure circled her in the clearing, always facing her. She saw nothing beneath its cowl, darkness destroying any hint of light.

“Who are you?” She cried out, wand raised, hand shaking. The creature didn’t respond. It stood there, watching. Waiting. Her chest constricted tightly under its gaze. She gasped for breath but couldn’t inhale. Her lungs fought for air, but nothing could bypass the dread and fear that filled her. Tears stung her eyes, a death grip on her wand as she fell to her knees. The figure approached. Its cloak billowed behind him but no light could catch the fabric. It was pure blackness, pure nothing. Tears fell from her eyes, seeing the creature draw closer and closer. His cloak of darkness swept over her and she screamed.

“Hermione!” Hermione sprung up, hand reaching for her wand. Her chest heaved up and down, hyperventilating. Her eyes burned with tears as she looked about. Lavender Brown, Parvati Patil, and Fay Dunbar stood over her. She realized, horrified, that her screams broke through the silencing charm. The girls stood a few feet away, scared to touch her, scared to approach.

“Hermione?” Parvati began kindly, bravely inching closer. It was then Hermione noticed she was shaking, shaking like a scared little girl. She was soaked, cold sweat dripping from her brow. She threw her wand aside, afraid of accidental magic. “Hermione, what happened?” Parvati asked, “What’s the matter?”

“I-” Hermione tried to speak but found her voice constricting, unyielding, torn from screaming. “I need McGonagall,” she said, hoarsely. “I need- I need the hospital wing,” she sobbed and tried to govern her body more carefully.

“Lav, go! Get Professor McGonagall,” Parvati said, pointing Lavender to the door. “I’ll help Hermione to the Hospital Wing. Hermione?” she said gently, helping the witch from her bed, grabbing her shoes, “Hermione, do you want us to get Harry? Or Ron?”

“No,” she said quickly, “No, I-” She looked down at her shoe and cursed her luck. She couldn’t remember how to tie it again. She tied them in the best knot she could, choosing to worry about it later. “No, just Professor McGonagall.”

Parvati was kind enough to walk her down to the Hospital Wing, escorted by a Prefect they ran into. Madame Pomfrey, freshly woken from the look of her, herded Hermione towards a bed, but she didn’t want to lay down. She never wanted to sleep again. Professor McGonagall came rushing into the room still in her nightrobes, followed closely by Lavender Brown.

“Miss Granger!” She exclaimed, “My poor child, you’re white as a sheet! Miss Patil, thank you for your aid. You and Miss Brown may go back to bed.”

“Yes, Professor,” Parvati said before patting Hermione’s shoulder gently, “Feel better, Hermione.” Hermione gave her a tight-lipped smile before she left, followed by a yawning Lavender Brown. McGonagall was by her bedside, shaking her head at the girl.

“What did I say about not making this a habit?” Hermione couldn’t help but laugh, though it was half-hearted. Her body was sore - as if she fought three rounds with the giant squid. “Was it the dreams again?”

“Yes,” she answered. Her body began to shake at the memory, the cloaked creature standing over her.

The doors to the Hospital Wing opened once more and Hermione was shocked to find Professor Dumbledore sweeping into the chamber. Behind him, to Hermione’s utter horror, was Professor Trelawney. Hermione had not seen the fraudulent Seer since third year, having opted out of her divinations class for Arithmancy with Professor Vector. She had hoped to never see her again.

“Miss Granger,” Dumbledore said kindly, joining Professor McGonagall by her bedside. “I apologize for startling you. Nearly-Headless Nick saw Miss Patil escorting you through the halls and thought it best to inform me. Minerva spoke with me earlier this evening. She told me you’ve been experiencing panic attacks and dreams?”

“Yes, Professor, I’m sure it’s nothing-”

“Nothing?!” McGonagall exclaimed, “Nothing would not send Miss Brown to my chambers in the middle of the night, woken by your screams! She said you looked half-possessed, writhing in pain! She compared it to the Cruciatus Curse! That is not nothing, Miss Granger-”

“Minerva,” Dumbledore said in a calming voice, “I’m sure Miss Granger was only being modest.” His kind eyes looked to her, but she saw a something troubling his usually controlled expression. “When did these dreams begin?” He asked.

“Halloween,” Hermione answered, eyes darting to Professor Trelawney. “What is she doing here?” She feared the answer, dread creeping into her stomach, but she had to know.

“I have asked Sybil here tonight,” Dumbledore began, gesturing for Trelawney to step closer. Her large eyes, only made larger by her spectacles, stared curiously at Hermione. “In hopes, she may offer her professional opinion. Now please, Miss Granger, if you would elaborate on the context of your dream.”

“It’s just a dream,” she said quickly, realizing where this was going.

“Some dreams are dreams,” Trelawney interrupted in he quivering, dreamy voice. “Some dreams are prophecy. Oneiromancy is one of the oldest and truest forms of divination.”

“But most dreams are dreams,” she argued, jaw tightening at the insinuation.

“Please, Miss Granger,” Dumbledore spoke. “I can relate to your hesitancy. I, once, believed the same as you - that dreams were dreams and prophecy hollow. Please trust me when I say I have been corrected on this matter, and I ask you trust me. We simply wish to help.” With a shaking sigh, Hermione nodded, eyes fixing on Dumbledore’s comforting, understanding gaze.

“In the beginning, I couldn’t remember anything. I woke hyperventilating, panicked, pained, smelling lilacs and spring rain.”

“Lilacs and spring rain, you say?” Trelawney repeated in her dramatic voice, large eyes darting about Hermione’s face, probing for information. The fourth year wondered, for a crazy moment, if the Divination professor was trying to quite literally see into her brain. It wouldn’t surprise her, considering Trelawney’s crazy antics.

“Yes,” Hermione responded, trying to temper her irritation. If Dumbledore could have an open mind on the matter, it wasn’t above Hermione to do the same. “Does that mean anything?”

“It could mean many things,” Trelawney responded, rubbing her pointy chin. Hermione could practically feel McGonagall roll her eyes, but the Transfiguration professor remained silent. “Please, continue, my dear.” With a stiff sigh, Hermione complied.

“Tonight - tonight I remember everything. There was a glade surrounded by trees, and-” Hermione paused, a cold chill slipping down her spine as she remembered the dark creature.

“Hermione?” McGonagall questioned, placing a long, thin hand on her shoulder. The pressure from the older witch’s grip roused her from paralysis.

“I thought it was a Dementor,” she whispered, closing her eyes, darkness consuming her vision just as the creature had done in her dream. It was only when McGonagall moved her hand and wrapped an arm around her that Hermione realized she was shaking. “It wasn’t. It was pure blackness - no shape or form to catch light. I- I think I asked it a question, but it didn’t answer. It’s cloak swept over me and everything went dark.”

Hermione opened her eyes, finding Professor Trelawney gaping wide-eyed, shrinking away from her. Dumbledore’s expression lost any form of gentleness, though she could see the gears turning in the Headmaster’s brilliant mind. McGonagall simply tightened her grip, holding Hermione in a half-hug.

“Sybil?” Dumbledore turned to the Divinations Professor. “Have you ever heard of such a dream?”

“Yes,” she confessed, “I fear to name these dreams as such, however.”

“What do you mean?” McGonagall demanded. “Speak plainly!”

“Minerva-” Dumbledore tried, but his words, for once, went unheeded by the Transfiguration professor.

“If you have information that will help, say it, Sybil!”

“It is information that would damn, I’m afraid,” Trelawney confessed, giving Hermione a sad smile, “Not help.”

“Knowledge is power,” Hermione said, “If these dreams are something other than dreams, I need to know how to fight it.”

“My dear,” Trelawney said in her dramatic drawl, looming over Hermione. “You cannot fight death.”

Chapter Text

Hermione’s eyes fluttered open, mind blissfully absent of thought. She simply stared at the unfamiliar ceiling above until a small sniffle jostled her attention. She tilted her head to the side. Madame Pomfrey was up early tending to a Hufflepuff in the next bed over. The poor girl was almost in tears as black liquid sprayed from her nostrils. A backfired jinx, Hermione theorized. Within a few moments, Madam Pomfrey managed to quell the geyser into a trickle. The damage was done, however, the liquid staining the soft, absorbent cotton, turning it from pure white to a shiny black. That’s when Hermione remembered the previous night - her screams breaking through her Silencing Charm, waking in a cold sweat, shaking uncontrollably. She remembered the scared look on Lavender Brown’s face and the startling ease in which Parvati Patil took charge. She remembered McGonagall’s worry, Dumbledore’s kind understanding, and Trelawney’s large eyes staring with a sense of pity and fascination. She remembered never wanting to sleep again.

Funny how easily sleep took her. A credit to Madame Pomfrey’s potions. The dream that loomed in the back of her mind seemed like a fading memory. The dark creature was a distant blur, the glade a place far, far away.

An omen of death.

How ridiculous.

Perhaps she could have a laugh with Harry later, the boy having been on the bud end of Trelawney mad predictions. There was obviously a more logical explanation - one less dramatic. It could be stress, or fear, or anxiety. Professor Dumbledore promised to look into the matter before escorting Trawleney from the Hospital Wing, perhaps sensing Hermione’s growing agitation. Professor McGonagall left shortly after, ensuring Hermione that Trelawney was simply pushing for attention. Still, Trelawney’s words danced in the back of her mind, whispering,

You cannot fight death.”

Hermione rose, unwilling to stay put a moment more. Madame Pomfrey fussed, but she insured the healer she was quite alright, having gotten a good night's sleep thanks to the sleeping draught. The healer gave her one more vial for later before releasing Hermione. It was midday and her stomach yearned to break her fast. She darted for the Gryffindor table, but as soon a Harry laid eyes on her he jumped to his feet, dragging her away from the Hall.

“Harry,” she whined, trying to reach for at least a roll of bread before he forcefully moved her to the entrance hall, “Harry, please, I’ve had an awful night. Whatever it is can wait! I need food-”

“Dragons,” he said suddenly.

“I’m sorry?”

“The first tasks. It’s Dragons.”

Hermione lost her appetite.

“Dragons?” She gasped, “Dragons?! What are we supposed to do about dragons? Kill them?!”

“No, we just have to get passed them. They’ll be guarding something.” Harry recounted the night before, how Hagrid led him to the dragon’s enclosure, how Ron’s brother, Charlie, was there, and about the types of dragons they had. He then discussed his conversation with Sirius and Hermione felt a headache brewing. They spent that Sunday in the library, trying to think of something to get past a dragon. Most of the books were on how to care for dragons, however. Nothing described how to get past them or fight them. Harry insisted Sirius insisted a simple spell would do, but Hermione learned long ago being friends with Harry Potter was never simple. When Viktor came to sulk in the library they retreated to the common room. They read on and on, but still, no answers came.

Even after Harry retired, Hermione stayed up most of the night reading in bed. In truth, she was afraid to shut her eyes. Whether it was the face of a dragon or the mysterious, dark figure, neither seemed appealing dream-fellows. She studied a few charms and transfiguration spells that might help, but nothing Harry would be able to learn by Tuesday. She was perusing Albus Dumbledore’s 12 Uses for Dragons Blood when Parvati stirred in her bed.

“Hermione?” She called, her voice groggy from sleep. She sat up in bed, tilting her head. “You’re still reading?”

“Is that really so shocking?” Hermione quipped. Parvati chuckled a bit, but soon her face became somber.

“You need to sleep.”

“You saw what happens when I sleep.”

“It’s not every night though, right?” Parvati said, encouragingly. “I’m sure-”

“It’s been happening since Halloween,” she confessed and wondered briefly why she said it. Parvati, while a decent enough person, was not someone Hermione normally spoke with. She was Lavender Brown’s gigglemate. They sat and spoke of boys, the latest hair potion, which Weird Sister was fitter, and so on. “I’ve been using a Silencing Charm, so I…wouldn’t wake you.”

“A Silencing Charm?” Parvati gasped, “But we don’t learn that until fifth year.”

“Professor Flitwick isn’t hard to encourage,” Hermione explained. “And I had to think of something. I just…” She paused with a shake of her head. “I just need to focus on the first task.” To Hermione’s surprise, Parvati stood, joining her on her bed, eyes skimming over the books. Her eyes grew wide at the titles, recognizing the obvious theme.

“Dragons?!” Pavarti gasped, horrified. It was obvious she was trying to remain quiet, but Hermione couldn't help but cringe at her volume. Luckily, their dormmates slept on, blissfully unaware.  

“We have to get past one,” Hermione confessed. She was making quite a few confessions that night, it would seem, but it felt nice to talk to someone, to confide, to trust. “There are a few things I might try, but Harry - he’s not going to be able to learn any of these in one day.”

“I thought you were competing against Harry,” Parvati said, and Hermione gave a little huff.

“Harry didn’t put his name in,” she insisted, but her fellow Gryffindor looked hesitant. “He didn’t want to compete. I’m in this mess because of my own pride and stupidity, but Harry can’t even say that. I’m not going to let him blunder in blind just because some old men want a good show. He didn’t abandon me first year when that troll could have well taken off my head. I’m won’t abandon him now.” For a moment Parvati said nothing. Their eyes met and she simply stared at Hermione quietly. Then, she said,

“You’re a really good friend, Hermione.” Parvati gave Hermione a smile and placed a hand on her arm, giving it an affectionate squeezing before moving to her own bunk. “Good luck. I’ll be cheering for you both on Tuesday.”

“Thank you, Parvati,” she said, giving the girl a smile. “For everything.”

Hermione needed all the luck she could at the moment, especially when Harry compelled her to help him learn the Summoning Charm for the first task. 

“Concentrate, Harry, concentrate!”

“What d’you think I’m trying to do?” Harry barked angrily. “A great big dragon keeps popping up in my head for some reason…Okay, try again…”

Hermione gave a frustrated huff as he performed the Accio Charm once more, but the power just wasn’t there. His plan was sound, at least. Using his broom to evade an angry dragon. Play to your strengths, and all that. Just so long as he could get his broom.

After hours of practicing, Harry wanted to skip Divination, (Hermione could hardly blame him, now being on the wrong end of Trelawney’s ‘you’re going to die’ predictions) but Hermione wasn’t about to miss Arithmancy. As she made her way to class she saw a few Beauxbatons students out on the ground having a free period. Fleur Delacour sat with a dark-haired Beauxbatons boy and a red-headed Beauxbatons girl. While the boy chatted animatedly Fleur sat in silence, blue eyes distracted and dazed. Hermione supposed the Veela’s worries were aligned with her own, thoughts of dragons and fire. She wondered what the Frenchwoman might do - something distant, she assumed. Nothing that would get her hands dirty. A charm, she was sure. Charming something wouldn’t be a problem for Fleur Delacour.

For a moment Hermione wondered just how much Fleur’s grandmother’s Veela blood affected her. She was obviously beautiful, none could argue against it, but Veela’s attraction was more than just simple beauty. Hermione remembered how Harry and Ron acted at the Quidditch World Cup, willing to fall off a balcony just to gain a Veela's attention. Veela magic was something entirely unwizard, something primal, she assumed, remembering the rage of the Bulgarian Veelas. Then, a horrific thought entered Hermione’s head. The morning of Halloween, while bickering with Ron, he made that declarative statement that started the whole mess.

I could do that!” He proclaimed, eyes dazedly watching Fleur Delacour enter the hall. If the Veela hadn’t appeared at that moment, if she hadn’t had that effect on Ron, trying to puff out his chest and spread his peacock feathers, would Hermione have submitted her name? Would she have simply sat with the audience, cheering on Harry, rather than facing a dragon? She knew these were silly thoughts. What was done was done - what's more, and she couldn’t discount her own foolishness that fateful morning. She chose to show off, but a small part of her still blamed Fleur Delacour. And deep down, she knew her blame didn’t lie with her effect on Ron, but for the strange, irrational effect Fleur had on her own state of mind.

It was a bitter pill to swallow and the thought bounced around in her head all through Arithmancy. Surely she wasn’t affected by a Veela’s thrall, was she? No, it only affected men. For a moment she thought jealousy, perhaps? It was the more apt explanation, and somewhat true besides, but also not quite satisfactory. Her lack of sleep was the only thing affecting her at that moment and she couldn’t wait to take the sleeping draft and safely shut her eyes. That would not come to pass until near two in the morning when Harry finally mastered the summoning charm.

“That’s better, Harry, that’s loads better,” Hermione said, hiding a yawn behind her hand.

“Well, now we know what to do next time I can’t manage a spell,” Harry quipped, “threaten me with a dragon. Right…” He raised his wand for one more go. “Accio Dictionary!” The book was ripped from Hermione’s hands and Harry caught it with a flourish. She found she was too tired to care. “Hermione, you said we’re in this together, but we’ve been focusing on me for the last two days. What’re you going to do?”

“Don’t worry, Harry,” Hermione smiled, “I worked it out last night. I’ve had a lot of time to read, as of late. For now, I need sleep.” With that, they parted ways. She drank the sleeping potion greedily and fell to her bed, reveling in the soft, cushy pillows. Relief filled her as she was finally allowed to drift into dreamless sleep.

When she woke, Hermione found the morning passed without her. She was roused by Professor McGonagall just before noon.

“Come now, Miss Granger. You’ll need to make your way to the first task soon.”

“What,” she said groggily, “What about…my lessons?”

“I informed your professors you wouldn’t be attending lectures this morning, giving specific instructions to the other girls you were allowed to sleep. I would rather you miss lessons than be sleep deprived for…what is to come.” Hermione simply nodded, rising from bed. “Here,” Professor McGonagall presented her with black robes, looking more like fitness attire found in muggle shops. “I thought you and Mr. Potter would be more comfortable in flexible attire.”

Hermione gave her a grateful smile and was left to change. Gryffindor colors accented the black clothes, red sleeves and yellow trim stretching down the arms and legs, though it was the Hogwarts crest featured over her heart, not the Gryffindor lion. The material was light and breathed rather well. It might help in the smothering atmosphere a dragon’s heat caused. Hermione was suddenly thankful she wouldn’t have to prance about in her usual pleated skirt. She made her way down to the common room, finding Harry waiting for her with Professor McGonagall. His robes were similar to her own, only that he wore his Quidditch pads over them. A smart move, considering his strategy.

“Are you two ready?” Professor McGonagall said, looking anxious.

“Yeah,” Harry said, “Yeah. Right, Hermione?”

She could hear the slight desperation in his voice, hoping to hear something encouraging. Till that moment, Hermione hadn’t felt all too nervous, not since hearing the word, “Dragons,” pass Harry’s lips. Perhaps it was the sleep deprivation, perhaps it was the distraction of helping Harry, but it finally seemed to register in her mind that she was about to face a dragon. A live, fire-breathing dragon. Her body stiffened so badly she could hardly squeeze enough air out of her lungs to reply,

“Yeah.” She numbly followed McGonagall out to the grounds with Harry close behind.

“Now, don’t panic,” McGonagall began, “just keep a cool head…We’ve got wizards standing by to control the situation if it gets out of hand.” The older witched looked so frazzled Hermione suspected her little speech was more for her benefit than for them. “The main thing is just to do your best, and nobody will think any worse of you…Are you two alright?”

“Yes,” Harry answered quickly, “Yes, I’m fine.” Hermione didn’t answer, chest still tight with anticipation. They walked to the edge of the forest, passed Hagrid’s hut, to a giant tent.

“You two are to go in here with the other champions,” Professor McGonagall said, in a quavering voice, “and wait for your turn. Mr. Bagman is in there…he’ll be telling you the - the procedure…Good luck.”

“Thanks,” Harry responded in a flat, distant tone. He walked into the tent, and Hermione gave a stiff sigh before following suit.

The tent was fairly small. All the champions held their own corner. Viktor Krum’s eyes instantly found her as she walked in. He looked surlier than usual, brow furrowed as he averted his gaze. He appeared a bit flushed but she supposed it was rather stuffy in the tent. Harry was kidnapped by Bagman - the only one in the tent who appeared the least bit excited. Harry seemed to be ignoring the wizard, practicing the wand motion for Accio at his side. Fleur Delacour sat in the corner on a low wooden stool. She wore the same fretful face and didn’t appear half as confident as during the Weighing of the Wands. Hermione supposed dragons wouldn’t be that thing to make her like Hogwarts. In this regard, Hermione could hardly blame her. Those blue eyes found hers and Hermione couldn’t find it in herself to feel angry at the moment. She gave the blond a small smile which, to her surprise, Fleur returned.

“Well, now we’re all here - time to fill you in!” Bagman exclaimed brightly. “When the audience has assembled, I’m going to be offering each of you this bag” - he shook a small purple sack. Hermione thought she saw something move inside. “From which you will each select a small model of the thing you are about to face! There are different - er - varieties, you see. And I have to tell you something else too…ah, yes…your task is to collect the golden egg!”

Harry grabbed her hand after Bagman had finished and pulled her to the corner. He looked a bit green, his jaw clenched tightly.

“You have a plan, yeah?” he asked, “I know you’ve been busy helping me-”

“Don’t I always, Harry?” she laughed half-heartedly, giving him a stiff nod. “Though I’m not sure what will happen if I puke before uttering a single spell.”

“Glad I’m not the only one,” Harry commented, giving her a warm smile. For a small moment, everything was okay. It was just her and Harry, comforting each other. Her anxieties flooded back upon hearing hundreds upon hundreds of pairs of feet passing the tent, jubilation and cheers, laughing and jokes. There was a clear separation between the joyous crowd and the somber champions as if an invisible wall separated them. Then, without waiting a second more, Bagman opened the purple silk sack.

“Ladies first,” he said, offering it to Fleur Delacour. Hermione saw her fingers shake as she reached into the bag and withdrew a tiny, perfect model of a dragon. Welsh Green, from the look of it.

“Aw,” Hermione cooed at the tiny figure as it curled in Fleur’s palm, leaning over to see it properly. It was actually quite adorable. She looked up and found Fleur, bemused and smiling. Suddenly remembering their last encounter, in which the blond had discovered her ticklish nature, Hermione took a step back.

“The real things aren’t as cute,” Bagman laughed, holding the bag to her. “But don’t worry, Miss Granger! You get your own!” Hermione let out a humorless laugh. She reached into the bag and her heart gave a little jump when she felt something cling to her hand. She supposed, like the wand, the dragon chose the champion. She pulled her hand from the bag, seeing a blueish-gray Swedish Short-Snout clinging to her palm, with the number ‘1’ on it’s neck. Her heart stopped.

“I’m going first,” she whispered to no one in particular. Harry put an arm around her shoulder as the Short-Snout began butting its horn into her palm. Krum drew the Chinese Fireball and Harry the Hungarian Horntail, but Hermione’s eyes simply stared at the small dragon in her hand. What did she know about Swedish Short-Snouts? Their average length was twenty-two feet, they are native to Sweden, specifically the mountainous regions, and they produced the hottest fire among dragon kind.

“Well, there you are!” Bagman exclaimed, “You have each pulled out the dragon you will face, and the numbers refer to the order in which you are to take on the dragons, do you see? Now, I’m going to have to leave you in a moment, because I’m commentating. Miss Granger, you’re first, just go out into the enclosure when you hear a whistle, all right? Now…Harry…could I have a quick word? Outside?”

“Er…yes.” Harry hesitated for a moment but withdrew his arm from Hermione’s shoulder and followed Bagman out of the tent. Hermione let out a shaky breath, eyes returning to the miniature dragon now jumping in her hand.

“Are you alright?” Hermione spun around, finding Viktor Krum looming over her, that strange pout on his face.

“Are any of us?” She asked. He nodded in agreement.

“Good luck,” he said simply and he gave her a rare smile. She returned it, happy to have all the luck she could get.

“Thank you, Viktor. You, as well.”

A whistle blew in the distance. Her heart dropped at the sound but her feet automatically moved to the tent’s entrance. Her eyes darted to Fleur, those crystal blue eyes watching her as she went. She held the gaze for a moment before leaving the tent. She found Harry and flung her arms around him.

“Good luck,” he mumbled in her hair.

“You too,” she said. “I’ll be waiting for you afterward, hopefully not over-cooked.” He chuckled, releasing her as they moved in opposite directions. She walked through the forest, the miniature dragon retreating into her pocket. There was a gap in a giant enclosure. She walked through it and was greeted with hundreds of cheering faces. People roared as she moved forward, but all Hermione saw was the Swedish Short-Snout crouching defensively over a clutch of bluish-gray eggs and one golden egg, shining from the spotlights illuminating the enclosure. The Short-Snout’s eyes found her instantly and opened its mouth. With a jolt Hermione jumped into action, diving behind a large boulder just as a jet of bright blue fire erupted from the dragon. Gasps and screams flew from the crowd, and Hermione withdrew her wand from its holster. After a calming, deep breath, she whispered,

Calamitatis,” and ran her wand down the front of her body. A cold, icy sensation dripped down, following the path of her wand. When the feeling subsided, she raised her hand and found it wasn’t there anymore. Rather, it looked just like it’s surroundings. Half of the crowd shouted in panic, having not seen her cast the charm. Even Ludo Bagman said,

“Did the Short-Snout get her?!” in alarm, but soon he announced, “No folks! We have confirmation she’s alive!” A blast of cheers rang around her but she ignored them the best she could, keeping her wand poised as she saddled the boulder, peaking out at the Short-Snout. “It seems Miss Granger has cast a very complicated disillusionment charm on herself! She seems to like charms quite a lot!”

She released an indignant huffed at the quip. She was never going to live that down.

The Short-Snout whipped it’s head about, trying to locate her. Hermione knew she couldn’t simply walk right up to the eggs. The dragon would hear or smell her. She needed a distraction, something enticing, something active to keep the dragon’s attention. She pointed her wand at a large rock a few feet away and whipped her wand down, diagonally to the left, and straight right. Instantly the rock shifted from a simple rock to a little beagle.

“Wait, is that a dog?!” Ludo Bagman exclaimed, still unable to see Hermione. The beagle barked and ran away from Hermione. The Short-Snout instantly snapped its head to the dog, blue fire rolling threateningly in its mouth. For a split second, Hermione felt guilty, knowing the dog would be charred to a crisp. Then again, she thought as she moved around the edge of the enclosure, it was just a rock. The dog bounced about the other end of the ring, keeping the dragon occupied with its barks and growls, allowing Hermione to inch to the dragon’s left side. She needed to wait until the dragon moved for the dog, and then she could dive for the egg and make a run for it. She stopped just outside of the dragon’s wingspan. She needed the dragon to move, just an inch or so. She crouched and waited as the dog continued to provoke the dragon. The Short-Snout bobbed its head at the dog, almost chicken-like, and roared, trying to get the dog to flee. The dog remained unmoved, taking a few steps closer. Finally having enough of the annoyance, the Short-Snout jumped towards the beagle, breathing its blue flame.

At once Hermione sprang up, rushing towards the clutch of eggs. She immediately felt warmth returned to her body and, horrified, realized her disillusionment charm had fled.

“There she is!” Ludo Bagman screamed. “She’s making a run for it!” The crowd screamed, which caused the Short-Snout to raise its head from the charred rock, small bits of fur burning on the edges. Just as Hermione dove for the golden egg, her arms wrapping around it, she came nose to nose with the dragon. The dragon keepers screamed, rushing into the enclosure, but the Short-Snout already had fire rolling in its mouth and, with a shriek, Hermione threw her wand up at the dragon’s nose and screamed,

Calida Aura!”

Just as the blue flames rushed from the Short-Snout’s jaws the spell pushed from her wand. A hot breeze pinned Hermione to the boulder behind her, one arm holding her wand in the air, the other maintaining her death grip on the golden egg. She released a determined scream, trying to keep the spell going, pushing against the ice blue flames. Streaks of fire whipped at her arms, legs, and face, but she continued to focus on the charm. Her eyes darted down, seeing a curve in the ledge beneath her. With a kick she dove for it, rolling down into the crevice, the blue flames chasing after her. She hugged the egg to her body, wand pointing towards the opening, expecting to see the Short-Snout’s horned face any second. Instead, she heard a collection of voices scream “Stupify!” There was a crash and the scurrying of feet. A head of red hair poked into her hiding spot.

“Blimey, Hermione!” Charlie Weasley yelled, reaching for her. His strong arms lifted her out of the hole and upon seeing the champion alive the crowd burst into roaring applause.

“She’s done it! Miss Granger has gotten her egg!” Her eyes looked up at the screaming audience. A gaggle of red-shirted Gryffindors began shouting, “All Hail the Queen!” led by two tall and lanky redheads, acting as conductors to a chorus. Realizing the danger had passed, adrenaline fled Hermione’s body and she slumped against Charlie.

“Was that a Flame-Freeze charm?!” Charlie asked, guiding Hermione from the enclosure. “Where did you learn that? I didn’t even know it until my dragon taming certification.”

“I,” Hermione breathed, still clutching her egg for dear life, “I read it in a book.”

“A book?!” He exclaimed, “You’ve never performed it before?!”

“No,” she admitted, “But I’m happy to see it works.” Charlie gave her a lopsided grin, squeezing her shoulders affectionately.

“Me too!” He led her from the cheering and chanting of, “All Hail the Queen,” towards Madame Pomfrey’s infirmary station.

“Miss Granger!” Professor McGonagall rushed towards her, pushing passed Professor Moody and Professor Flitwick. “Don’t you ever think of doing something like that again!” she yelled, shaking Hermione’s shoulders frantically. “I almost had a heart attack! First, you disappeared, and then you almost get roasted like a pig!”

“That was beautiful charm work, Miss Granger!” Flitwick exclaimed, “A Flame-Freeze charm at your age?! I’ve never seen such a thing!”

“Don’t you go encouraging her!” McGonagall exclaimed, pointing a threatening finger down at Flitwick. “Come on, dear. To the first aid tent!” Hermione nodded, suddenly feeling those burns. Though the Flame-Freeze charm worked as the book reported, she wasn’t prepared for the actual thing. Instead of feeling like a summer’s breeze the heat from the fire felt more like an oven. The spell had not protected her entirely, flames sneaking around the charm. She had long, blistering burns down her arms, legs, and one side of her face. Madame Pomfrey rushed to her.

“Dragons!” She raved, her voice dripping with disgust. “What a bloody brilliant idea! Not like we don’t have enough harmful creatures, what with Dementors last year, a Basilisk the year before and now Dragons and Hagrid's bloody Blast-Ended Skrewts! Come over here, Granger! No, they don’t look too deep at all. That was a brilliant charm you performed. I can’t imagine what may have happened if not for your quick wand.”

“Professor McGonagall said something about a roasted pig,” she said before she could filter herself, “I suppose I’d have an apple in my mouth about now.” Madame Pomfrey’s head shot up at the comment and for a brief second Hermione thought she could see the hint of amusement dancing on her face.

“Well, as it is, I have no apples. Only this.” She proceeded to dab a strange purple liquid that smoked and stung on her wounds, but they healed instantly. “Wait here a moment before getting your score, Granger.” With that, Madame Pomfrey left the tent.

Hermione breathed her first sigh of relief that day - what felt like the first sigh of relief since Halloween. She had done it. She had faced the dragon and got the golden egg. The first task was over and Hermione, despite her opinion on the tournament, swelled with pride. That morning she thought she might fumble, or falter, or fail and have to be rescued by the keepers, not having completed her task. But the heavy weight of the egg in her lap proved she could do this. For the first time, Hermione felt she wasn’t drowning. She felt maybe, just maybe, she could do this. She could dream the dream of winning the Triwizard Cup.

With a deep breath, Hermione stood and made her way back to the enclosure. The second she stepped into view the crowd cheered again. The Short-Snout had been escorted away and Hermione could see the judges panel where the five people sat in raised seats draped in gold.

“And here she is - the Hogwarts champion, Hermione Granger!” Ludo Bagman called, issuing another roar of applause. “We just got the full story of her endeavor from the dragon keepers! Miss Granger successfully used the Disillusionment Charm to conceal herself from the Swedish Short-Snout and transfigured a rock into a dog to distract the dragon, making her attempt for the egg! Though she managed to retrieve the egg the Short-Snout saw her and attacked! Miss Granger, however, was prepared with a Flame-Freeze charm and managed to hold the dragon off until the keepers could arrive! Now, out of a possible score of ten points per judge, let’s see what the scores are!”

With a large hand, Madame Maxime was first to respond, sending a long silver ribbon that wove the number ‘10’ into the air. A roar of applause greeted Hermione, and she felt her heart beat rapidly in her chest. A ten?! She hadn’t expected that from the Beauxbatons headmistress, assuming she would reserve top points for Fleur Delacour.

Mr. Crouch came next, shooting the number ‘9’, as well. Hermione couldn’t help but smile as the chorus of, “All Hail the Queen’ started back up again, clutching her golden egg tightly to her chest.

Dumbledore was next and sent Hermione a small wink before sending another ‘9’ into the air.

Ludo Bagman gave a silver ‘8’, waving at the crowd as they cheered once more.

Karkaroff glared down at Hermione before raising his wand and a silver ‘6’ slipped from the end. The crowd stomped and roared and Hermione left the grounds, heading straight back to the first aid tent as the dragon keepers moved the Welsh Green into position. She had just made it into the tent when a whistle blew, and Ludo Bagman exclaimed,

“One down, three to go! Miss Delacour, if you please!” Hermione listened to the bout, Ludo Bagman’s voice the only illustration she had of the events. “Oh, I’m not sure that was wise!” He shouted, oddly gleeful as the crowd gasped and cheered. “Oh…Nearly! Careful now…good lord, I thought she’d had it then!” There was nothing - nothing for ten nerve-wracking minutes. For a wild moment, she wondered if Fleur could transform into that harpy-like creature, similar to the Bulgarian Veelas at the Quidditch World Cup. Her thoughts were interrupted by a roar from the crowd. Moments later Fleur Delacour walked into the tent. She was shaking from head to foot. Hermione couldn’t help but notice a wet spot on the tail of her skirt, charred at the end. Fleur’s eyes shot to Hermione, eyebrows furrowing.

“Bagman was right,” Hermione said out of nowhere. “The smaller ones were much cuter.” She didn’t know where it came from. She usually reserved quips for the professors and people older than herself. Her peers had never really cared for her comments in the past, knowledgeable or comical. They would jeer or tell her to stop being a know-it-all. But suddenly, through her shock, Fleur Delacour smiled at her. Not smirked, but smiled. She even laughed, and Hermione felt a quite different reaction to the blond witch than the usual frustration. Quite different. She felt satisfaction bloom in her heart and more pride in making Fleur Delacour smile than getting a hundred golden eggs. The emotion was shocking. It was overwhelming. And for a brief moment, Hermione wondered what it meant.

Madame Pomfrey came rushing up to Fleur, guiding her further into the tent and away from Hermione. She didn’t see the other girl for quite a while.
Krum entered soon after, cursing angrily under his breath. She didn’t think a well-timed joke would cheer his mood. Then, as the next whistle blew, she realized in horror it was Harry’s turn. She shot up and ran for tent’s entrance but Madame Pomfrey stopped her, suddenly appearing by the entrance. She would have to figure out how she managed that, someday.

“Not so fast, Granger! You’ll see Potter soon, no doubt. He’s in and out of the Hospital Wing as often as you, nowadays. Now sit!”

“But Harry-”

“Sit!” With a huff and a stomp of her foot, she moved away from the door. She wouldn’t sit, though. Not if she could help it. Instead, she gazed at where the other champions rested, each enclosed in their own little area. She wondered if she should make some sort of attempt to speak to them. This tournament was about international cooperation, after all. She thought of speaking with Viktor Krum but remembered how upset he was upon entering the tent. It wouldn’t be a kindness, approaching him when he was angry.

The only other option was Fleur Delacour but after that flutter of butterflies in her stomach, Hermione wasn’t sure she was ready for another encounter. Her heart stopped when a vicious roar echoed from the enclosure, and shouts of surprise could be heard under Ludo Bagman’s commentary. Hermione rushed for the doors, ignoring Madame Pomfrey. Outside she could see Harry high in the air and took a dive that made her gasp. He disappeared from her sight. She tried rushing to see what happened but a hand grabbed her shoulder. She turned to yell at Madame Pomfrey but found Fleur Delacour instead.

“You already ‘ad your dragon, no?” She commented, raising a thin eyebrow.

“I know that well enough!” She huffed but jumped upon seeing Harry above the tree line once more, and another dive, and another gasp from the audience.
“Your boyfriend will be fine,” Fleur said dismissively, “Zis is ‘is battle, ‘owever.”

“I just-” Hermione stuttered, suddenly fearing the bout of silence from the enclosure. “I’m just so worried I could rip my hair out! I - wait,” Hermione’s eyes darted to Fleur. “Boyfriend? Are you referring to that ridiculous Rita Skeeter article?”

“Oui,” Fleur said in a stiff manner.

“I’ve told you before, he’s not my boyfriend,” Hermione said, cheeks flushing. “Harry’s like the brother I never had.”

“Oh, please!” Fleur laughed viciously. “You ‘re always ‘anging off of ‘im, clinging to ‘is arm, touching ‘im, always in the library wiz ‘im. And now you swoon and moan in worry for ze little boy who lived.”

“How dare you!” Hermione shrieked, “Just because I - I grab his arm or hold his hand doesn’t mean he’s my boyfriend! He’s my best friend, one of the only ones I have! And he’s facing a dragon right now!” She threw a shaking finger to the enclosure. “Or have you forgotten how terrifying it is to stare at a face that can breathe fire at?!” Fleur’s smirk dropped at this, eyes narrowing.

“Look at that!” Ludo Bagman’s voice suddenly boomed as screams and applause rang through the air. “Will you look at that! Our youngest champion is quickest to get his egg! Well, this is going to shorten the odds on Mr. Potter!” Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. She couldn’t care at the moment how annoyed Fleur looked. With a huff, the Frenchwoman turned on her heel and marched back into the tent. Hermione waited there for Harry and, the second he appeared in front of the first aid tent, she threw her arms around him.

Chapter Text

Watching Harry and Ron wrestle an overzealous Pigwidgeon, hooting and screeching in Ron’s arms while Harry attached his letter to Sirius, Hermione knew then and there she would never understand the complexities governing male friendship. For weeks, Harry and Ron acted like children, refusing to speak, both ranting and raving to Hermione of the other, neither willing to admit his own vulnerability. Now, after nothing more than, “Forget it,” it was as if the calamity never happened. Harry filled Ron in on Sirius’ theories, who affirmed them wholeheartedly, now being the supportive friend Harry wanted from the start. The sight filled her with relief, with joy, and with a guilty sense of jealousy. Instead of interrupting, instead of butting in, Hermione leaned back on the railing. Giving in to the amusement of two teenage boys wrestling a tiny, enthused owl, she allowed herself to laugh.

Hermione felt like she could breathe. Her eyes shifted over the ground, thinking of the day’s events. The dragon was evaded. The Golden Egg claimed. It was three months until the second task and her oddball group of friends were back together. For a moment, she enjoyed the feeling of simple relief.

“There’s no way any of the other tasks are going to be that dangerous, how could they be?” Ron said as he took Pigwidgeon to the window, the owl hooting and curling in anticipation. “You know what? I reckon one of you could win this tournament. I’m serious.” Hermione’s sense of relief vanished at the words, realizing she would have to be the voice of reason once more. Shaking her head, she leaned against the stone wall behind her, folding her arms.

“We’ve got a long way to go before we finish this tournament,” she said, “If that was the first task, I hate to think what’s coming.”

“Right little ray of sunshine, aren’t you?” Ron responded. “You and Professor Trelawney should get together sometime.” Hermione felt her stomach twist as Ron threw Pigwidgeon off the Owlry tower. Now that the first task was passed, now that all of her waking thoughts didn’t revolve around the fear of roasting alive, Hermione dreaded the inevitable necessity for sleep and what waited in her dreams. There was no sleeping draught for her that night, no escape from the glade. She could feel the anxiety building already, remembering the crippling grip around her rib cage, hyperventilating, unable to breathe. She thought of telling Harry and Ron, thought of reaching out for help, comfort, support. Harry had enough trouble in his life, however, and Ron wouldn't know how to comfort her, she knew. He wasn't gifted with empathy. Ron was inclined towards evasion, helping one laugh to forget their woes. A special ability, to be sure, but not one that could save Hermione from her own dreams. All thought of confessing her troubles fled as Ron sighed, shaking his head at the departing owl.

“Well, we’d better get downstairs for the surprise party,” Ron said decisively, “Fred and George should have nicked enough food from the kitchens by now.”

Swallowing her plea, Hermione followed the boys to the Gryffindor common room where they were greeted by a thunder of cheers. Cakes, flagons of pumpkin juice and butterbeer littered every table and Lee Jordan lit off Filibuster’s Fireworks, polluting the air with smoke. Through the haze, Hermione made out a banner drawn by Dean Thomas, depicting Hermione’s Flame-Freeze Charm and Harry zooming around the Horntail’s head.

In an instant, Hermione was surrounded by Gryffindors, most notably the girls from her own dormitory. Parvati, to Hermione’s shock, drew her into a fierce embrace, frantically giving Hermione a blow-by-blow of her panic attack during the first task. Lavender laughed, patting Parvati on the back while the Patil twin slowly squeezed the air from Hermione’s lungs. Hermione wasn’t sure what was more uncomfortable - the hug, Lavender’s obnoxious laugh, or the subtle sound of Parvati beginning to cry. She was about to panic, about to attempt to comfort her dormmate, albeit awkwardly, but Hermione froze when she caught sight of Harry opening his egg to a crowd of Gryffindor boys.

The most horrible scream Hermione had ever heard pierced her ears, filling every audible space in the common room. Everyone screamed, but none compared to the wailing cry of the Golden Egg.

“Shut it!” Someone screamed through the screeching, though she wasn’t sure who. Hermione was too busy trying to shove her fingers as far as she could into her ears. Finally, Harry managed to close the egg. Silence rang as everyone slowly recovered from the concussive volume.

“What was that?” Seamus Finnigan exclaimed. “Sounded like a banshee…Maybe you’ve got to get past one of those, next!” Hermione cringed at the suggestion. Honestly, she was tired of being reminded of Trelawney’s shaky voice.

You cannot fight death.”

What drivel. Besides, Banshees only cried in such a way when a charge of their ancestral house was about to die. As far as Hermione knew, she had little to no Irish heritage to brag of. There was no Banshee haunting about, looking over her shoulder, waiting for the inevitable. Still, Hermione grew quiet, feeling the presence of the dark figure looming over her shoulder. She withdrew from the conversation, the party, the festivities. She took the first opportunity to retreat to her dorm. The only one to note this was Harry, who gave her a small wave and let her be. She heard an uproar of laughter from the common room and smiled as she climbed the staircase, happy that others were experiencing happiness, joy, and relief. She had been relieved just hours ago, at the top of the Owlry, the cool breeze of November brushing her cheeks, her two best friends friends again, chatting animatedly over a hyperactive owl. Now, Hermione faced the prospect of sleep filled with haunting dreams; a dark glen, a figure devoid of light, and the smell of lilac and spring rain.

The dark figure was absent that night, and every night since the first task. Sometimes, Hermione still dreamed of the meadow, silent, and void of light. Laying in the grass, surrounded by emptiness, Hermione would stare at a pitch black sky. Other nights, she couldn’t recall her dreams. She would have a vague idea that she had dreamed, a fleeting recollection, a small wisp of remembrance, but that wisp vanished as soon as she rose to begin her day.

December brought the chill of winter to Hogwarts. Hermione was thankful for the carpeted dorms, as stone or tile would have been unbearable to bare feet. While the castle had thick walls and cushy carpets to boast of, Hermione couldn’t imagine it was pleasant for the other schools. Durmstrang sat on the water, surrounded by ice, only protected by the timber of their vessel. And if Fleur Delacour thought November cold and depressing, the Veela must have been completely frozen all the way through at this point, the small carriage shaking in the harsh winds every night.

The only thing that had warmed in the coming weeks was Harry’s mood. Once Harry and Ron were friends again, he laughed readily, joked easily, and talked constantly. Ron did everything he could to ensure Harry’s forgiveness was not ill placed. Hermione was overjoyed to see it, but a part of her missed those days when it was just she and Harry, reading in the library, or walking by the lake. Now she studied by herself more often than not, left to rue Viktor Krum’s fan club and Madame Pince’s harsh shushes alone.
Hermione threw herself into her studies to abate the loneliness and quell her anxieties. Homework was often the first endeavor completed, leaving Hermione time to ponder over the Golden Egg. And when that yielded unsatisfying results, she worked on a plan of action for the House-Elf Liberation Front.

She was convinced now more than ever that she would need to find a way to enter the kitchens. She had managed to sleuth the location from Fred and George, though their suspicion made her nervous. While very nice people, the Weasleys were a pureblood family and would most likely not realize the harm of the servile nature of house-elves, or the oppression they face, lulled into a false sense of justification by the elves compliance to the social order. They didn't know any better, though. House-elves didn't know the taste of freedom, the joy of being their own masters, the pride of liberation. It was culturally acceptable to both house-elves and wizards alike, but Hermione wasn’t ready to excuse their blind beliefs. No, she would show them. Show everyone. She just needed to get into the kitchens.

The opportunity came one afternoon when Professor Vector canceled class due to illness, giving Hermione a free period. So, as Harry and Ron headed towards Divinations, Hermione descended from Gryffindor tower to the entrance hall. There were only a few students about, a few Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students, as well.

She descended a stone stairwell, winding down to a cozy corridor, lit with torches and decorated with colorful paintings of every food Hermione could imagine. And there before her sat the painting of a bowl of fruit - the entrance to the Hogwarts' kitchens.

Look at the colors!”

Hermione spun around, heart thrashing against her chest in fright as a small Beauxbatons girl smiled brightly at the paintings, running up to a portrait of pastries.

Look, look! A croissant, an eclair, a kouign amann, mille-feuille!” The tiny witch spoke in rapid French, so quickly Hermione could hardly keep up, but luckily the girl only seemed to be naming off the pastries in the picture. “They look delicious! Are there any here?” The girl turned to Hermione, but she was still baffled by the sudden appearance. More baffling was how familiar the girl looked. She couldn’t have been older than eight, still big-eyed and chubby-cheeked, but her hair was so fair, so bright. And her eyes were so…blue.

I don’t know,” Hermione finally responded in the girl's native tongue, looking about for a moment. “The kitchen is just there, I suppose-

“You speak French!” the girl exclaimed, flashing a beautiful smile. It was contagious, Hermione feeling the corners of her mouth curl. Oddly enough, this was the one thing the girl chose to say in English. Perhaps it was one of the few phrases she knew. “My name is Gabrielle!

“Hermione Granger,” Hermione returned, but the small girl laughed a laugh like little bells.

I know, silly! You are one of the Hogwarts champions! I saw you slay the dragon! Like in a fairy tale!

“Eh,” Hermione paused, translating briefly in her head before responding, “Not quite a fairy tale.” She certainly didn’t feel like the damsel in distress, nor the heroic knight battling for her lady fair. She had felt more akin to a pig to slaughter. “And I didn’t slay her. That would have been cruel.

Why? The dragon was mean!

Well, think of it from her perspective,” Hermione knelt, speaking with Gabrielle on her level. Her eyes were so blue, and Hermione swore she recognized her from somewhere. “The Swedish Short-Snout was protecting her eggs. She must have been very scared.

Dragons are scared?” Gabrielle whispered in wonder, her voice soft as if saying a secret known only between them. Hermione nodded, smiling wider at the girl’s obvious curiosity. It was refreshing, endearing even.

Oh, yes. And from that fear comes the aggression. That’s why she was so scary; because she was scared for her eggs. Anger is not a feeling, it is a reaction. Wouldn’t you feel scared in her shoes?

I never thought of it like that,” Gabrielle nodded, “Yes, I would.

“And what large shoes they would be.”

Hermione jumped to her feet at the voice, gasping in fright. There on the stairwell stood Fleur Delacour, with her silver-blond hair, powder-blue uniform, and her crystal blue eyes, a smirk playing about her lips.

Fleur, look at the paintings!” Gabrielle exclaimed, rushing to the Veela and grabbing her hand. “Come look! They are so pretty! They make me hungry!

Seeing them side-by-side, Hermione couldn’t believe she didn’t see it before - didn’t realize, didn’t recognize the hair, the eyes, the pointed chin, the small, delicate, curved nose. Gabrielle was Fleur in every way, only smaller. Both also had an affinity for sneaking up on her, it would seem. Hermione wondered how it was accomplished in such tall heels. She had heard those shoes click and clack against the stone floors time and time again as if marching to a cadence, but now of all times, they swore a vow of silence.

“Gabrielle, you know you should be speaking Eenglish,” Fleur chided, though her stern expression softened as Gabrielle groaned, tugging at Fleur’s arm dramatically.

But English is so hard!

“In Eenglish,” Fleur prompted. Hermione found this a bit hypocritical, as she had known the Veela to gossip with her friends in French. The bitter memory of Halloween came to mind. But she could understand the insistence, considering Gabrielle didn’t appear as versed in English as the older Veela. Practice made perfect. Gabrielle groaned again, thinking and translating in her head, before saying,

“Eenglish is ‘ard!”

“Yes,” Fleur nodded, “But you will not grow if not for practice. Now, introduce yourself to mademoiselle Granger.” The Veela gestured towards Hermione, and she had to stifle a laugh as Gabrielle looked towards her desperately.

“I do,” Gabrielle said, but then corrected herself, “I did!”

“In Eenglish,” Fleur said once more, and once more Gabrielle gave a defeated groan. The little girl stomped up to Hermione, pouting her puckered disapproval. The image of an eight-year-old Fleur sprang to mind, and she imaged it was the intimidating Veela approaching her with those chubby cheeks and desperate eyes. It tickled Hermione to no end.

“My name is Gabrielle Delacour,” The child said slowly. It was not as enthused as her first introduction, but Hermione smiled all the same and nodded.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Gabrielle,” she responded.

“Is there, ah,” Gabrielle began, looking about before pointing to the painting. “Eclair? Mille-feuille?”

“Gabrielle,” Fleur said as a warning, but Hermione shook her head, raising a hand in the girl's defense.

“No, that’s alright,” she said to the Veela, offering a small smile. “We use the French word in English.” Which was true, though not the entire the truth. There was an English word for it - Neapolitan. Hermione was under the impression Fleur knew this, a thin eyebrow rising in question, but the Veela held her silence and Gabrielle nodded in agreement to Hermione’s claim, the girl eager for validation. “I’m not sure, but there should be some at dinner.” Gabrielle seemed pleased, but Fleur shook her head.

“No, no, Gabrielle. Mozzer would murder me if she found I ‘ad given you treats like these,” Fleur waved a hand at the paintings, some of the pastries in the picture shifting and shaking in indignation. “Wiz ze size of ze food ‘ere, I would ‘ave a pig instead of a sister!”

But Fleur! I-

“Eenglish,” Fleur said again, persistent, yet never impatient.

Gabrielle growled but said nothing. Hermione watched, awkwardly, as the siblings had a small staring contest, each raising a thin, blond eyebrow, challenging the other’s determination and facial muscles before Gabrielle grumbled something in French and made for the stairwell.

“Ah, ah!” Fleur called back, “What do you say to mademoiselle Granger for speaking so kindly to you?” Gabrielle came to a full stop on the stairwell, stomping her little foot with a huff. Then, with poise and grace, turned to Hermione and said,

“Zank you for zpeaking wiz me, mademoiselle Granger. ‘Ave a beautiful day.”

“I will,” Hermione responded. “You as well, Gabrielle. It was a pleasure.”

“It was a pleasure,” Gabrielle repeated slowly, perhaps trying to remember the phrase for next time, before turning her back and stomping up the stares, still grumbling in French. A smile crossed Hermione’s face, watching the girl’s retreat. She admired Gabrielle’s energy. Children had such an affinity for learning, hungry to consume as much knowledge and experiences as they could. Many lost this hunger as they grew, sated by apathy and dulled by routine. Hermione could see her peers atrophying with every passing year, sticking to the same old experiences, information, beliefs, and people. This made them feel safe and comfortable, but never thrilled. Never heightened. Never alive. There was still a hunger in Gabrielle, Hermione saw. Still hope.

It was then Hermione realized Fleur had not left with her sister. Instead, the Veela looked at Hermione, tilting her head and flashing a smile.

“Do you ‘ave sisters or brothers?” Fleur asked.

“No,” Hermione confessed, “No, I think my parents thought one was enough.”

“Do zey allow you sweets?” Fleur asked, gesturing again to the painting of pastries, the desserts still looking rather offended by the Veela’s earlier comments.

“Oh,” Hermione hesitated, taken aback by the sudden inquiry. Never the less, she responded, “No, not very often. They’re dentists, you see, so they rarely allowed me sweets. Fearing cavities.” Fleur stared at her for a moment, and Hermione began worrying she said something wrong. What could she have possibly said? That she wasn’t allowed sweets? Fleur had just denied her little sister such. “I have had sweets, don’t get me wrong,” Hermione said quickly, trying to backtrack, suddenly nervous. Why was she so nervous? It was the same Fleur Delacour; the same haughty, unpleasant, vain French tart. But at the same time, it wasn’t. This Fleur wasn’t complaining. This Fleur had a little sister. This Fleur was responsible with her little sister, telling her no sweets and speaking sternly, yet patiently. This Fleur left a strange, fluttering sensation in Hermione’s stomach as those blue eyes stared, lips curling into a smile. It was a nice smile. Not mischievous, not condescending, but pleasant and…pretty? “Sometimes I would even sneak them, though we rarely had them in the house.”

“I am sorry,” Fleur interrupted. Hermione was thankful, feeling that she had been about to ramble. “I do not know what zis is. Zis word - Denteest?”

“Oh!” Hermione gasped, realizing her mistake. “Oh, I see! I’m sorry, I didn’t even think- You see, a Dentist is a healer. For teeth.”

“’ealer for…Teeth?” Fleur repeated slowly. “Did zey do zis?” She pointed to her own mouth, gesturing to her upper front teeth. “To you?”

“To me?” Hermione rose a hand to her face, bewildered, but realization struck when her fingers brushed her bottom lip. “Oh, my overbite!”

“Yes,” Fleur nodded, her shoulders visibly relaxing when Hermione understood her meaning. “You ‘ad ze cute large teeth, and zen you did not. Zis was because of your parents?”

Cute?

“Cute?” Whatever filter Hermione usually had in place failed her at that moment, possibly the worst moment, in front of the worst person. “You think my teeth were cute?”

“Yes,” Fleur nodded, puckering her glossy lips as she giggled, “Like a little Tamia.”

Tamia.

Chipmunk.

The flutter in Hermione’s stomach plummeted. For a glorious moment, Hermione thought she might get to enjoy a decent conversation with Fleur Delacour. Something beyond the teases, the mocking, the prodding. Her overbite may have been shrunk with a spell, but the memory of children mocking her, throwing acorns into her hair, stuffing sticks in their mouths to imitate her front teeth - those memories were still there, larger as ever. To have them repeated by Fleur at that moment, Hermione felt sickened and retreated from any hope she had had for a civil encounter. 

“That’s it,” Hermione said bitterly. “I’ve had enough of you. If you’re quite done being nasty, I have business to attend to.”

“Wait a moment,” Fleur snapped, but she had already turned to leave, making her way towards the kitchen entrance. “What do you mean by zis - nasty? I said you ‘re cute!”

“Cute like an invasive species of rodent in France that carries rabies and Lyme disease, yes, I’m flattered!” Hermione retorted, trying to get as far away from Fleur Delacour as possible. The Fleur Delacour that was haughty, unpleasant, and vain. No matter what other characteristics Fleur held in the complicated dimensions of her ego, it was always this Fleur that drove Hermione mad in the end. She didn’t know why it mattered, why Fleur’s comments upset her so, even something as minor as being compared to a chipmunk. Draco Malfoy had mocked her before, so had Pansy Parkinson, so had Lavender Brown, so had plenty of people before Fleur Delacour. But for some reason, her words hurt more than most. It was that strange effect Fleur had on her, the same effect that made Hermione question the nature of a Veela’s thrall, if it truly could affect women. No matter the explanation, the results were always the same. Fleur said her cruel words and Hermione was left to lick her wounds. Not this time. This time, Hermione would leave with her pride intact. She would not allow herself to be affected by Fleur Delacour.

At least, that was the plan.

That is until the most undignified, most frustrated growl escaped the Veela’s proper, pink lips.

The sound startled Hermione, but the disappointment was still thick in her stomach, sickened, so she turned about and squared away against the Veela.

“Why is it everyzing I say upsets you! You!” Fleur waved a manicured hand at Hermione, “Everyzing upsets you!” Her voice rose, echoing off the stone walls, scaring a festive picture of pears, which darted behind their decorative bowl. “I say you ‘re cute, you ‘re insulted! You lie about your boyfriend,” the Veela practically hissed the word, jaw clenching as if it sat bitter on her tongue. “When it is even written in ze newspaper, yet you ‘re upset wiz me for saying such!”

“For the last time,” Hermione shouted, “Harry is not my boyfriend!”

“Yes, zat is ridiculous!” Fleur matched her volume. “Ze boy you spend ever minute wiz could not possibly be your boyfriend! Do you zink me a fool? Even mademoiselle Chang zinks you ‘re more zen friends!”

“Mademoiselle Chang,” Hermione repeated, mimicking and mocking the Veela’s accent, “knows nothing of my life, nor Harry’s! Our relationship is no one’s business but our own! He was my first true friend, the first one of my peers I could rely on! He saved my life!”

“Zen why is he not here, hmm?” Fleur waved a hand about, gesturing to the empty hallway. “He 'as not been around lately to cling to - to 'ide behind! Where is he now?”

It stung more than it should. But Fleur always seemed to know when to parry, when to lunge and just where to thrust her words to pierce Hermione’s heart. Hermione wished Harry was here. She wished he had been with her, adventuring with her, trying to find the kitchens with her. But he was with Ron. The prodigal friend had returned, and Harry was absorbed in the relief of having his best friend back. Logically, Hermione realized she may have been unfair to Fleur. May have been a tad sensitive. Fleur may not have meant any harm in her Tamia comment; however, now Fleur aimed to hurt. It hurt more than it should have, but Fleur’s words hit Hermione square in the chest. Tears stung her eyes, but she gritted her jaw and ground her teeth. She couldn’t think straight, couldn’t conjure a retort, heat rising in her face, hands shaking. At that moment, Hermione couldn’t filter her words. She said her hearts desire.

“Go away.”

It came in a growl, an unrecognizable sound, but it came from her mouth all the same. Her tearful brown eyes glared into Fleur’s crystal blue and, without a word, the Veela turned on her heels and marched up the stares. So like Gabrielle’s storm off, but it was not as funny, not as warm or endearing. Hermione didn’t know why, but it hurt more to see Fleur leave than stay and fight. She felt pierced, stabbed, and wretched for it. She stood there, listening to the clack of the Veela’s heels until they just echoed in the distance. What was wrong with her? Something had to be drastically wrong. Why did she feel so strongly when it came to the Veela? What kind of hold did Fleur Delacour have on her? Hermione felt utterly exhausted, her emotions motion sick from the roller coaster.

With a shaky sigh, wiping the tears from her eyes, Hermione turned to the portrait of the bowl of fruit. Extending a shaking finger, she tickled just below the pear, which giggling and hopped away from the offense. The portrait swung open, and her encounter with Fleur fled her mind, eyes falling on a familiar pair of large, green eyes. A smile spread across her face.

“Dobby?”

Chapter Text

“Alright, shut it! Shut it!” Harry screamed over the wails and shrieks, seconded by a groaning Ron and just about everyone else in the Gryffindor common room. Hermione pushed the egg shut with both hands, clasping the lock with a sigh. No matter how they opened it, no matter how hard they listened, no matter which way they tilted it, the egg screamed. It made less and less sense each day. She fell back into her arm chair, giving a huff of frustration. Frustration was all she felt the last few days. Discovering Dobby and Winky was hardly as uplifting as she had hoped, seeing how all of the other house-elves ostracized them and their liberation as abnormalities instead of potential improvements to their own lives. Not only that, but the image of Fleur Delacour stomping off in those bloody heels hadn’t left her since their last, and arguably worst, spat.

She hadn’t gone to dinner that night. She didn’t want to face the blond. Not yet, at least. Hermione had been avoiding her for days, but she would have no choice eventually. Her stomach squirmed at the thought of seeing those crystal blue eyes, seething in anger, frustration, and arrogance. Not because of the chipmunk debacle, not because of any complaint or snide remark, not even because of Fleur’s infuriatingly unwavering belief she and Harry were dating.
Hermione felt guilty.

She knew she had let her insecurities get the better of her. A juvenile sense of indignation within her yearned for justification. A chipmunk?! How was that a viable compliment? And Fleur certainly was no angel, hurting Hermione where she was most vulnerable, for she was certain those pointed insults were slung purposefully. But Hermione knew her behavior was uncalled for and provoked the Veela. Fleur’s frustration was palpable, perhaps bubbling under the surface all this time.

Why is it everyzing I say upsets you?!

That was the real question, wasn’t it? Hermione tried to think back to all the times she felt insecure around the blond, self-conscious, or irritated. Back then, she felt valid in her resentment. Now, she spied moments of speculation, moments of potential misunderstanding. Had this been the source of Fleur’s wrath? The frustration of not being understood? It was hard for Hermione to accept. Every word felt like a jab because every word Fleur uttered sounded so snide. Perhaps it was the way she said them. Or perhaps it wasn’t the way she said them, but the accompanying body language - that thin, questioning eyebrow, that irrationally irritating smirk, the tick of her hips, the pout of her lips, the flutter of her skirt-

Hermione shook her head, realizing her thoughts had derailed into something entirely different.

When had she begun noticing these small traits of Fleur Delacour? When had she become so consumed? She couldn’t pinpoint a specific time or place but felt it had always been there, her eyes attracted to certain nuances in the Veela’s body language, absorbed in her behaviors. Hermione liked to think she was a self-assured sort, composed, unperturbed by those seeking to ruffle her feathers. Yet to have someone strut into her life, in powder blue five-inch heels, no less, and have such an effect on her - it was jarring, to say the least, how turbulent her emotions became around Fleur. Everything from the indignation, the self-consciousness, to the butterflies in her stomach, and the strange, resilient hope they might get on.

“Come on, Hermione,” Harry said desperately, “We have loads of time before February and a thousand other things to worry about.”

“I told you if we went together we wouldn’t have to worry about dates,” Hermione muttered bitterly under her breath, but Harry didn’t hear her. He and Ron had gone hunting for dates every evening, with little result, and it was clear they were eager to leave the common room behind to go about their chase. After McGonagall informed Harry and Hermione they would need dance partners, Hermione recommended they attend together; however Harry seemed adamant about dispelling rumors they were in a relationship. She knew why, of course.

Harry like Cho Chang, though he would never admit it. She was happy and hopeful for him, and Cho was a smart enough girl that might compliment Harry’s brash sense of heroism, but the whole affair left her in an awkward position. Sure, boys had asked her to the Yule ball. She was rather shocked by most of the proposals. They were from boys she had never spoken to, or else boys who mocked her at some point or another. She knew why they were interested, at least - wanting their fifteen minutes of fame and a whirl around the floor with a Triwizard Champion. She was determined she would be the one to ask, to ensure it was at least an honest partnership, but part of her felt hollow at the idea. She didn’t want to ask someone just to have a partner. She wanted a Cho Chang, so to speak - someone she knew she would enjoy attending with, someone she liked. But she couldn’t think of anyone that would make her blush, and laugh, and dance, and feel like the only woman in the world. Hermione Granger knew she wasn’t the prettiest, wasn’t the best dancer, wasn’t the most interesting, but she still wanted that night where someone looked at her like she was.

“Hermione, you alright?” Ron asked. Normally she would have found this sweet, even charming. Ron rarely demonstrated compassion, but the last few days, ever since their adventure to the kitchens, Ron asked this question again and again, and again and again, she responded,

“Yes, Ron. I’m fine.” She repeated this as if scripted, but not without a measure of irritation.

“Alright,” Ron huffed, “No need to get your knickers in a twist.”

“My knickers would be quite unraveled,” Hermione snapped, “if you ceased inquiring every two seconds.” Really, what was so off about her? Since reconciling, Harry and Ron had reveled in their revived friendship and Hermione had accepted she would be left behind with her books as they skipped merrily into the sunset, business as usual, but Harry and Ron’s attention on her had intensified the last few days. Harry was far more subtle, perhaps because it was within his character to be more empathetic, but Ron’s inquiries stood out like a hippogriff in a bookstore. Perhaps she should have been pleased with their concern, but there was something off about the attention. It was suspicious, tense, circling about the perimeter, testing the waters, waiting for something. What that something was, Hermione couldn’t say, but she was getting sick and tired of the odd looks and awkward pleasantries.

“Fine!” Ron snapped back, “That’s the last time I ask you how you are!”

“That. Is. What. I. Am. Asking!” Hermione hissed, hoping the articulation of every word would pierce through his thick skull. She twisted at her waist, looking away from Ron’s reddening face to gaze about the common room. There were only a few Gryffindors about. If she had to guess, Hermione supposed most others would be scrambling to get last minute homework done before Christmas break. That was the usual pattern, though Hermione had never suffered this particular dilemma before. There were a few first years, Lee Jordan reading by the fire, and Parvati and Lavender whispering over their homework. Nothing was odd about their whispering, it was their favorite medium for sharing secrets and gossip. No, the oddity was in their faces, in Lavender’s obvious discomfort and Parvati’s manic behavior. The second Parvati caught sight of Hermione she sprang to her feet despite clear protest from Lavender, bee-lining for Hermione’s position.

“Hermione!” Parvati smile, though there was a forcefulness to it, the expression not quite reaching her eyes, nor perking her ears. She hugged her divinations book close to her chest, so tightly Hermione was surprised the pages didn’t burst from the pressure. “Can I have a minute? I need to talk to you.”

“Oh,” Hermione paused for a moment, hesitating at Parvati’s clear distress; the stiffness in her shoulders, the vice grip on her books, the strain from trying to keep a happy face, it made for a worrying sight. Not to mention Lavender Brown nervously bouncing behind her, looking as if she needed a restroom. The peculiar tension reminded Hermione of Harry and Ron’s behavior. Was all of Gryffindor infected? Was there something in the water? “Yes, I suppose. What’s the matter?” Parvati hesitated, eyes darting to Harry and Ron before answering.

“I think it’s best we discuss this privately.” This, unfortunately, caught Harry and Ron’s attention. It was the opposite effect Parvati had intended, but Hermione knew nothing was quite as captivating as something someone didn’t want you to know. Secrets titillated the imagination and she could see Harry and Ron’s soaring.

“Very well,” Hermione said quickly, noting Ron’s mouth quake, his words bursting to escape before he might filter them to be more polite. She handed her egg to Harry, who took it without a word and stood to leave. She wasn’t quick enough, however.

“Why can’t you talk here?” Ron asked, eyes darting back and forward between Hermione and Parvati.

“Because it’s none of your business, Weasley,” Parvati hissed in an odd display of aggression.

“Is this about what happened in Divinations?” Hermione’s head snapped to Harry. He was pointing a finger at Parvati’s textbook. Now that Hermione got a closer look, it was titled Unfogging the Future. The required reading for Divinations.

“What happened in Divinations?” Hermione asked.

“Nothing!” Ron interjected, waving an annoyed hand. “Don’t get her worked up about it. Trelawney’s batty, anyhow!”

“It wasn’t nothing, Weasley!” Parvati snapped. “Professor Trelawney isn’t batty, she’s gifted!”

“Exactly what are you talking about?” ” Hermione turned to Parvati, her chest tightening with apprehension, fearing the answer but needing it all the same.

“She said you were going to die!” Lavender exclaimed, eyes wide, clutching her bookbag to her chest, “Because of your dreams and all of the night terrors!” Parvati swung around, slapping her friend on the arm, who recoiled with a shriek.

“Lav!” the twin hissed. “I’m sorry, Hermione. I told her not to say anything.”

“What did Professor Trelawney tell you,” Hermione said, her tone even, but her mind was spiraling.

“Some nonsense about glens and dark creatures,” Ron shook his head, laughing, though Hermione’s stomach lurched at the words. “The usual rubbish. I mean, if she were actually ‘gifted’ Harry would be dead ten times over.” Ron nudged Harry, perhaps prompting him to agree, but he was watching Hermione. His green eyes bothered her at that moment. They were too green, sometimes. Too striking. Too piercing. “Harry and I, we were just having a go at our homework-”

“You mocked the professor!” Parvati interrupted, but Ron simply shook his head again.

“Yeah, because she’s only satisfied if we predict our own deaths! Anyhow, so she got a bit huffy and said we’d better be careful because death was looming over Hogwarts. We thought she was going to say something about Harry, but it was you! She said,” Ron widened his eyes and hunched his shoulders, an ominous expression casting over his face, though he simply appeared constipated. “‘Death has cast its shadow over Miss Granger! I have seen it! A dark creature of death in a green glen of the beyond! The scent of lilacs and spring rain!”

“I see,” Hermione said, though through gritted teeth. That con woman. That utter loathsome, withered worm of a witch. Just because Ron and Harry were having a go, just because she felt self-conscious, devalued, and mocked, Trelawney felt it was acceptable to share Hermione’s private information with the class, to reach for some claim to validity? Rage was building within her, and she felt the need to march to the top of the North tower. She would rip away whatever sherry bottle Trelawney was nursing and strike those obscenely large spectacles off of her gaunt, shallow face. “You’ll have to excuse me,” Hermione said as calmly as she could, rising from her seat, “I think I need to have a civil conversation with Professor Trelawney.”

“Oh, come on!” Ron laughed, “It’s not true, is it?” Hermione didn’t reply, and didn’t deign to do so when Ron reiterated a little more seriously, “Is it?” Instead, she made her way to the portrait hole, marching through as soon as the Fat Lady swung open.

“Hermione, wait!” Parvati called, and she heard a flurry of footsteps in her wake, but all she could think of was pushing Trelawney off of the North tower. Not to kill her, no - absolutely not. She only wanted to dangle her there until she learned her lesson. Then if she didn’t learn her lesson, perhaps-

“Hermione, hold on!” Harry called after her, and only then did she stop her frantic march. She finally looked back, finding Harry, Ron, and Parvati in her wake. Lavender Brown had stayed behind, it seemed, but this didn’t surprise Hermione. She was more surprised Parvati followed, still that look of distress adorning her face. “Have you been having nightmares like Trelawney said?” He asked simply, but of course he did. Harry was hardly indirect, not when there was action to be taken, trouble to fix.

“You haven’t told them?” Parvati asked, surprised, but caught herself, covering her mouth with her free hand. Harry and Ron’s eyes instantly flew to Parvati, receiving whatever affirmation they needed from her slip. “I’m sorry,” Parvati recovered, “I didn’t think - you three are always together, I just thought you might have mentioned it.”

“You’re fine, Parvati,” Hermione said calmly, though her insides twisted and burned, having her secrets exposed in such a way. She had wanted to tell them anyway, had wanted to seek their help and comfort - so why did she feel so exposed and defensive when the truth now came to light? Maybe it was Ron’s eyebrows, how they instantly furrowed in hurt, or how Harry’s expression softened, looking to Hermione with those green eyes. “No, I didn’t tell them. Enough has been happening this year, I didn’t think we needed one more thing to worry about-”

“So you decided to worry on your own?” Harry said, and Hermione suddenly felt like a child. A child getting caught in a lie, trying to reason her way out of apologies.

“Yes,” She pushed on, pride getting the better of her. “What with the tournament and your…family concerns,” she finished, not wishing to elaborate in Parvati’s presence. “I didn’t see the point in needlessly worrying you over dreams and anxieties. I’m quite alright.”

“No, you’re not, Hermione,” Parvati countered. If not for the tears in the other girl’s eyes, Hermione would have screamed at her. But her surprise over Parvati’s genuine concern triumphed, quieting her anger. “You hardly sleep and when you do it’s only because of a potion and you sleep for half the day. You toss and turn, you sweat through your clothes, bloody hell, Hermione, you screamed through a Silencing Charm!” At this, Parvati took hold of Hermione’s hand, squeezing it tightly. “You are not alright. And that’s okay. So long as you ask for help!”

“I am getting help,” Hermione responded, though feebly. “Professor McGonagall and Professor Dumbledore know, as does Professor Trelawney.”

“So, hang on,” Ron interrupted, face reddening. “It’s important enough for Dumbledore to know, but not us?!”

“And what would you have done, Ron?” Hermione snapped back, “Stood at my bedside with a dream-catcher?”

“I- maybe!” He faltered.

“Ron’s just worried, Hermione, and it’s not nice to find something this big out like this,” Harry defended, “We’re your friends - we want to help you.”

“It hasn’t felt that way, lately,” she confessed with a sigh, looking from Harry to Ron. “Between school, the Triwizard tournament, your spat - there hasn’t been very much room for me. Besides, it’s nothing I can’t handle myself. No matter what Trelawney says, these are simply dreams. Death looming over Hogwarts - it’s poppycock.”

“Professor Trewlaney said she read about these signs before,” Parvati said, “And all of those cases ended in death!”

This gave Hermione pause. Read about them. In a book? A book she could find value in. A book would perhaps give insight on her situation. Perhaps Trelawney was simply dressing things up, trying to impress others, but the book might hold actual answers. As many times as she said she was alright, as many times as she said they were just panic attacks and anxiety fueled dreams, a whisper in the back of Hermione’s mind said otherwise. At this point, stuck between sleep deprivation and panic attacks, she felt she had nothing to lose.

“Alright, then,” she nodded. “ I’ll get the book.” Hermione looked to Harry and Ron, hesitating. “I won’t be long-”

“Bugger that,” Ron interrupted and Harry nodded his agreement.

“We’re going with you,” Harry said, already walking up the corridor towards the North tower. “Real or not, it’s a problem, Hermione. We’re your friends and we’re going to help figure this out. Besides,” he flashed her a lopsided smile, “it’s nice not being the one with the problem, for once.”

“No, that’s not necessary. I’m sure you both want to go search for dates-”

“None negotiable,” Parvati added, looping her arm through Hermione’s and guiding the startled bookworm after Harry. “Now, when did this all start?”

At that moment, all Hermione wanted was to cast them all aside. Their pushing and prodding did nothing to quell Hermione’s defensiveness, her wish to handle this herself, to insist this was nothing that needed their attention or concern. She was close to voicing her opinion, anger rising, but she stopped just a breath away. With a sinking feeling, all she could see was angry crystal-blue eyes, and Hermione knew she was repeating her mistakes. She was being foolish, wanting comfort without being vulnerable. She was being selfish, turning away friends who only wanted to help. So, swallowing her pride, she allowed Parvati to drag her along, starting at the beginning.

Hermione regaled the motley band with the tale as they crossed the castle to the North Tower. Halloween, the nightmares, telling McGonagall, the dark figure in the glen, the night she woke screaming through a Silencing Charm, how the figure called itself the ‘Giver’ and how Trelawney told her she couldn’t fight death.

“Lately the dark figure hasn’t been there,” she confessed, “I’ve just been in the glen myself or…perhaps not always. I’m not sure, sometimes I don’t remember what I’ve dreamed, only that I have dreamed and that, perhaps, I’m not alone. I’ve woken in a sweat, hot and reeling, but nothing as bad as those panic attacks.”

“That’s dark!” Ron was gaping at the end, “That’s bloody dark, Hermione! How could you keep this from us?!”

“It’s my business, Ronald!” She snapped, though knew she shouldn’t have. He was concerned, worried, and hurt. It often came out like this, in defensive anger, but she was far from willing to tolerate the behavior. “I know I worried you, and I’m sorry, but this hasn’t been easy! I can barely get a moment’s rest. Every time I shut my eyes I fear waking in that bloody meadow and now everyone in our year thinks I’m going to die? Perfect. Wonderful. Brilliant! I’m going to push that woman off the tower - shawls and all.”

“Is there anything else you wanna tell us?” Ron snapped, “Haven’t grown another tail, have you?”

“Another?” Parvati squeaked, and for a brief moment, Hermione couldn’t help but let out a hysterical laugh. Perhaps it was the stress of the situation, or the wide-eyed Parvati looking absolutely baffled, but something broke in that moment and she laughed. From the relief she felt, the tension leaving her body with every laugh, Hermione knew the break in tension was much needed.

“That,” she chuckled, “is a story for another time. But no, Ron, I haven’t another tail. The only thing I’ve grown recently is homicidal intent.”

“Is there any way this is all true?” Harry asked, pausing half way up the North tower stairwell, turning to face Hermione. “Is there any chance Trelawney is right?”

“Don’t be preposterous,” Hermione laughed, though that whisper returned, causing her laugh to grow stale. That was, of course, an irrational fear. “Dreams are simply a reflection of our emotions and experiences. They reflect our thoughts and concerns.”

“Some Oneiromancy research indicates dreams access a different plain of reality,” Parvati countered, giving a firm nod. “That dreams are our magical minds reaching for further understanding. Some are more gifted in this magic than others.”

“Then why do muggles dream? They have no magic.” Hermione countered, but this didn’t have the effect she intended. Parvati had an answer.

“Perhaps their dreams are as you said - reaching for an understanding of their emotions. But magical minds reach through their magic for deeper understanding and we have the ability to reach outside ourselves.” Hermione had no counter for this. She hadn’t contemplated the differences between a magic mind and a muggle one. “What’s more, if magic is implemented on a muggle’s mind in some way, their dreams can reach farther, as well.”

“That…is very insightful,” Hermione granted, though it caused nothing but distress. She didn’t want to know what that meant for her dreams if what Parvati was saying had merit. As they neared Trelawney’s study, Hermione paused.

“I’d prefer this to be a private conversation,” Hermione said, causing the other Gryffindors to halt outside Trelawney’s study. “I don’t think someone as squirrelly as Trelawney would appreciate being cornered, as well. I need her to show me where to find that book.”

“We’ll wait out here for you,” Harry responded, causing her to smile. Always the brave defender. Hermione knew she had a tendency to idolize Harry, sometimes to unrealistic proportions, but his loyalty and bravery were something she had always admired. He inspired it in others, as well, Ron looking just as defiant to leave. Calmly, she responded,
“Alright, then. I’ll let you know how everything turns out. For now, I just need to get that book.”

“Whatever you need, Hermione,” Parvati said, giving Hermione’s hand a squeeze. It was strange. The sudden support was overwhelming. She didn’t quite know what to do, what to say, so she simply gave Parvati a smile, squeezing her hand in return. It appeared to be the right decision. Parvati still appeared distressed, believing every word of Trelawney’s ridiculous predictions, but Hermione’s appreciation seemed to quiet her anxiety somewhat. With a nod to Harry and Ron, she approached Trelawney’s study, rapping the door.

“Professor?” she called, hoping the seer hadn’t seen fit to drink herself to sleep this early in the evening. Light footsteps came to the door until it was opened and Trelawney’s large eyes peered town at Hermione.

“Ah, Miss Granger,” Trelawney said in her usual, dreamy manner. Hermione couldn’t tell if she had been drinking. Perhaps if she had this would be an easier task. “I see my crystal ball did not lie! You did indeed come back to the flock. I thought so, though I thought it might be sooner, given your predicament.” Hermione tried not to cringe at the self-satisfaction in Trelawney’s voice. “Better late than never, my dear! I’m sure there is plenty of time to rejoin the class!”

“I’m quite satisfied in Arithmancy with Professor Vector,” Hermione answered. “I was wondering if I might have a private word, however.”

“Oh,” Trelawney shrunk back, burrowing like a turtle into her shawls, eyes flying to Harry, Ron, and Parvati standing a little way down the stairwell. “I see. No doubt you need guidance. Of course! Of course, come in, Miss Granger. I am always here to help the students.”

“That’s very,” Hermione paused, pushing passed the pulsing irritation rising in her head, “very kind of you.”

Trelawney’s study was untidy and suffocating. As Hermione stepped inside, she choked on whatever sweet incense the professor was burning, which robbed the room of any sort of breathable oxygen. Books and scrolls littered every surface and, just as in her classroom, there were no chairs, simply cushions to sit on. No matter. Hermione hadn’t the mind to stay longer than necessary. Trelawney moved to her short desk, more of a coffee table, and sat at her crystal ball.

“Now, Miss Granger,” she began, opening her hands dramatically, gesturing to one of the cushions. “Have you been plagued with more dreams? Please, describe them to me. I may provide a guiding hand to ease you into your fate.”

“That isn’t what I came to discuss,” Hermione began, reluctantly accepting the seat offered. She sank down to the floor, now level with Trelawney’s wide, excited expression. “Parvati mentioned you had read a book with a similar situation as mine. I recall hearing you say something similar in the hospital wing. I wanted to ask where I might find that book.”

“Find it or no, I fear your fate is sealed, Miss Granger,” Trelawney shook her head, pity swimming in her large eyes. “You must not ignore the signs. Your dreams are meant to lead you somewhere, somewhere wonderful and benign, but the evil presence that haunts you twists the road. You have lost your way, and the only road left to you is into death’s waiting arms.”

“I’ve had enough of this nonsense,” Hermione sighed, “I want to know where I can find the book. If you are so sure I’m going to die, show me evidence, show me something!”

“It wasn’t a book, my dear girl,” Trelawney said, her calm voice a contrast to her usual theatrics. Her tone alone startled Hermione into silence, but Trelawney’s next words struck her dumb. “It was a report from the Department of Mysteries.”

Hermione had read of the Department of Mysteries, though very little. Much of their operations were confidential. They dealt with the great mysteries of the world, such as love, space, thought, time, prophecy and-

Death.

A chill slithered up her spine, but she tried to appear unaffected as Trelawney continued her explanation.

“I was called upon to assist in a matter regarding Oneiromancy, as it is known I inherited the sight from my great-great grandmother, Cassandra Trelawney.” Hermione doubted this, however, did not believe it helpful to voice her suspicion. “And a dear friend of mine within the department entrusted me with his latest research project - an odd connection he had unearthed between death and dreams.”

“Is there a copy of this report at Hogwarts?” Hermione asked, but Trelawney shook her head sadly.

“I’m afraid not. But the report involved a series of diary entries of a Muggle man named Heinrich Heine, dating back to 1841. You see, death within dreams come in a number of fashions, however, there are usually common themes. Darkness, black dogs, fear and dread; however this connection that Heinrich Heine held was unique. Death, itself, appeared in his dreams, just as it does in yours. There is only one such story I know of that death takes such a personal interest and enacts its revenge personally. Surely you have heard of The Tale of The Three Brothers?”

“No,” Hermione shook her head, but this didn’t faze Trelawney. She went on,

“Heinrich Heine had been touched by something. In his memoirs, he attempted to publish a series of entries regarding disturbing dreams. The Ministry in France saw fit to confiscate them, deeming them a threat to their own statute of secrecy act, as the matter appeared magical in nature.”

“What sort of magic?”

“Dark,” Trelawney tilted her head as if contemplating those words. “You see, magic in nature is often benign. In wizards as in creatures, magic is, at worst, mischievous. It is always the intent of the wielder that determines the magic’s morality. The magic that manifested in Heinrich Heine’s dreams was found to be malevolent in its very nature, outside a caster’s influence. The magic itself drove Heinrich Heine to bed-rest for eight years, what he referred to as his ‘mattress grave.’ He was a healthy man, a man with a talent for words. ‘The haunting’ he called it. He would wake bare in a shop, light retreating from the darkness draping over the shelves, the counter, the windows, the mantle. Darkness draped over the very air he breathed. Some nights, he saw a creature void of light,” Hermione felt her heart pause, her blood freezing in her veins, at the words. “The creature offered a gift. A gift he was reluctant to accept. Night after night, he refused the gift. Other nights, he saw her.”

“Her?” Hermione whispered, fearing what sound she might make if her voice was given more volume.

“Her. That is all he said. She would whisper to him, dance with him, touch him, intimately.”

“A…her,” Hermione repeated, feeling unsettled by the concept. A woman in his dreams? She hadn’t dreamed of a woman. Or…

A sharp pain sprung into her head and she cringed, eyes squeezing shut. If Trelawney noticed, she gave nothing away. She continued, eyes darting dramatically upward, to an unknown space. It reminded Hermione of a cat - one that looks over your shoulder, eyes fixed on something you yourself can’t see.

“This her he spoke of, she was the one he blamed for all of his misfortunes. He was said to have died whispering of dust and a sweet perfume.” Hermione didn’t respond. She couldn’t hear the seer anymore. All she could hear was the thrum of her heart, all she felt was the cool, dew strewn grass beneath her bare skin. A wisp of a memory floated just beyond her reach, fingertips brushing the thought, the feel of lips upon her skin. They kissed her fingertips, her wrist, neck, face, lips. The weight of a body, lithe and strong, pinning her to the ground. Heat rose in her face as Hermione did all she could to remember, and with a jolt, she remembered feeling these sensations in the meadow with no light.

She had dreamed of someone.

The dreams she forgot, the ones that disappeared with the morning light, they were of someone and now all she had were pieces of a memory, a brushing of fingertips, hot breath against her face, soft skin melting into her own. She couldn’t see a face, she couldn’t recognize any features except the beautiful suffocation of close proximity, of being engulfed in their embrace.

There was a person.

There was a cause.

Hermione sprang to her feet. It was perhaps a bit too quickly, as she felt her head spin. Still, she said as levelly as she could.

“Thank you, Professor, I won’t intrude any longer.”

“Miss Granger,” Trelawney said, grabbing Hermione’s hand before she could retreat. Hermione felt jarred, ripped from her thoughts, torn from her revelation, eyes finally seeing the wide-eyed form of Professor Trelawney once more. The woman tilted her head, eyes appearing to peer into her soul. “Has the woman appeared in your dream?” She didn’t respond. Her head felt light, ethereal, mystified. The thrum of her heart returned, pounding in her ears as the messy bookshelves and cluttered tables began spinning about the room. The very ground gave way and she was falling, the glow of candlelight shrinking into darkness.