Rating: PG-13

Summary: Harry suspects Ron and Hermione know all of his secrets. Will he go to extremes to make sure they never tell a soul?

Spoilers: It's best to have read all the HP books.

Disclaimer: All characters belong to JK Rowling, her publisher and her many, many well-paid lawyers. I am NOT making any money off this, nor am I trying to infringe on anyone's copyright. Believe that.

Author's Notes: Sequel to "Ruined In A Day" & "Sea of Sin". I dedicate this fic to everyone who loyally reads my stuff, no matter what fandom it may be for. My hat is off to you for reading this crap!

Questions, Comments, Suggestions: Send to donnacsoprano76 AT gmail DOT com. All flames are read, laughed at then deleted with extreme prejudice.

"Blacken the sun
What have I done?"
- "Feel So Numb", Rob Zombie

"Let's have a black celebration
To celebrate the fact
That we've seen the back
Of another black day ... "
- "Black Celebration", Depeche Mode

"Black Celebration"
by Net Girl

"And, so, Mr. Potter, what would we have if we combined these two elements?"

Severus Snape stopped beside Harry Potter's table where Harry sat with Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. He folded his arms across his chest and his dark eyes narrowed on the top of Harry's head. As usual, Potter had not been paying attention during Potions class and Snape saw this as his chance to make an example of him.


"Harry," Hermione whispered from the corner of her mouth. She nudged him under the table with her foot, trying to get his attention. She glanced up at Snape, who grew impatient with Harry's silence. She wished Harry would pretend to care about what was going on in Potions class. Or any class for that matter.

On the other side of the room, several of the Slytherins whispered and snickered. This was one reason why they loved Snape's Potions class: the never-ending humiliation of Harry Potter.

Ron turned in his seat to shoot a hateful glare at the snickering students. If he wasn't a prefect, he would've told Draco Malfoy's entourage exactly where to stick their giggling. As though Harry didn't have enough to deal with already, the Slytherin contingent had to add to the stress.

"Well, your silence indicates that you don't know the answer," Snape announced after a considerable amount of time had passed. He walked back to his desk, arms dropping to his sides. "And because you don't, Mr. Potter, I'll be forced to take five points from Gryffindor -"

"A sleeping potion," Harry snapped, interrupting Snape's gloating. He lifted his head, and he met the rather surprised gaze of Snape. "If you combine the two elements, Professor, you'll have a rather potent sleeping potion."

The giggling on the Slytherin side of the room ceased. They stared at Harry, stunned that he knew the answer to Snape's question. None of them did, that was certain.

Ron breathed a sigh of relief then looked over his shoulder at the Slytherins and smirked.

Hermione slouched in her seat, also relieved that Harry had been able to answer Snape's question. She'd wondered if Harry had bothered to do any studying in the three and a half months since Christmas and the horrible murder of the Dursley family.

Snape's upper lip twitched as he regarded Harry, who was now smiling smugly at him. "I stand corrected," he tightly said. To say the words, it nearly caused him physical pain. "No points will be taken, then. Thank you, Mr. Potter."

"I could make one for you, if you'd like, Professor," Harry added when Snape turned away.

"Harry," Ron sharply whispered as he leaned forward at their table to get a better view of his friend. "What ... are ... you ... doing?" he mouthed. Snape had been made to look like a fool in front of the entire Potions class; it should've been left alone. Why did Harry insist on pushing the issue?

Snape turned, his eyes narrowing on Harry. "What did you say?" he asked, knowing very well what had been said. He was rather amazed Harry had the gall to even utter the words.

"Harry ... don't," Hermione warned. She glanced nervously at Snape. The Potions teacher looked ready to kill. Or, at the very least, issue detention. She placed a hand on Harry's arm and caught his eye, briefly. "Do ... not."

Across the room, Draco Malfoy sat back in his seat, watching Harry and his friends with great interest. Since the beginning of February, relations between the three friends were increasingly strained. They tried to convey the appearance of being The Three Musketeers but Draco knew better. And it wasn't much different with the rest of Gryffindor House.

Harry felt the need to challenge everyone one lately, especially the teachers, and it was costing Gryffindor a lot of points. Draco only enjoyed the show, however. It was fun to watch Potter verbally tear apart McGonagall or Flitwick. Even his vicious repartee' with Peeves the Poltergeist two weeks before was worth the price of admission. But the best part? Every time he opened his mouth, he cost Gryffindor points. And Potter didn't seem to care.

Harry sat back in his chair, his eyes never leaving Snape's. Maybe it wasn't worth it this time. Then again, Snape had gotten away with this behavior too many times before.

Why let him get away with it again? he thought. His smile grew a little wider. It's about time somebody put Snape in his place.

"I said, Professor, that I could make one for you, if you'd like," Harry replied, coolly and evenly. "It seems as though I always need to prove myself in this course. Perhaps this time I should." His head cocked to one side as he watched Snape continue to seethe. "Or is one humiliation enough for you today ... Professor?"

"A demonstration won't be necessary, Potter. And congratulations, you've just lost ten points for Gryffindor," Snape replied through clenched teeth. He turned again, feeling vindicated.

Ron groaned loudly and buried his head in his arms on the table while Hermione only shook her head.

"What's the matter, Professor?" asked Harry. He ignored the mutterings of his Gryffindor classmates. "Does it irritate you that I might actually know something in your class?" He leaned forward, his eyebrows rose as Snape whirled around. "Admit it, Snape. It irritates you, doesn't it? Just a little, right?"

"That's another ten points from Gryffindor, Potter," Snape growled. "And I would advise against you saying another word," he quickly added as he pointed a finger at Harry.

"Or what?" More groans from the Gryffindors. He glanced over to Ron when Ron made an odd noise that was muffled by his arms.

"Harry," hissed Seamus Finnigan from the table behind them. "Shut up!"

"Ten more points from Gryffindor," Snape said as he took a few steps towards Harry's table. He found himself grinning a bit now. He wondered how far Potter would take this before he did shut up. "Shall we continue, Mr. Potter? Maybe I'll add a week's worth of detention to the next one. What do you say to that?"

"Shut ... up," Hermione sharply whispered as she squeezed Harry's arm underneath the table. Losing thirty points in one class period was one thing, but a week's worth of detention with Snape was quite another. "Please, Harry, just ... be quiet!"

Keep your mouth shut, Harry. Ron desperately pleaded in his head as he squeezed his eyes closed. Not another word. Not another bloody word.

Harry stared back at Snape, seeing that gleam in the teacher's eyes. It only fueled his desire to respond, too. Hermione and the rest of the Gryffindors made it quite clear they wanted him to stifle it, though. After all, thirty points was a lot, especially at this late date in the school year.

Who cares what they want? said the voice. You're Harry Potter, you know. You do whatever you want. What's detention in the grand scheme of things? Nothing. As though that's a real threat, anyway.

Snape relaxed when it appeared he'd finally silenced Potter's smart mouth. He took one step back towards his desk when Harry's voice broke the tense quiet in the dungeon classroom.

"I'd say that considering your personal history, Professor, I'd have expected a much more creative punishment," Harry replied then when the teacher turned, he gave Snape a knowing look.

Dead silence.

Then, from the Slytherin side of the room, a single snort of uncontrollable laughter erupted from the most unlikely person.

Draco Malfoy.

All eyes fell on the blonde in the back of the room. Malfoy's hand was clamped over his mouth but he'd made no real attempt to hide the fact that he was the one who'd laughed, either. Goyle and Crabbe stared at Draco, baffled at the response, as well as the rest of the Slytherin students.

On the other side of the room, Gryffindor was equally speechless. It wasn't so much that Draco had laughed but more because who'd made the remark and the fact it was aimed at Snape. Draco had always been the darling boy in Potions class; he was the last person they'd have expected to find humor in such a statement.

Snape hid his surprise at Draco's reaction very well. The Potions professor narrowed his gaze at Malfoy, who still had his hand over his mouth but his eyes glimmered with vile amusement.

"It appears you'll have company in detention, Mr. Potter," Snape stiffly commented. "Mr. Malfoy, I'm sure you'll find a week with Potter even more humorous." He shifted his gaze to Harry. "That is, if the two of you don't end up killing each other first."

Ron looked from Draco to Harry. Harry had absolutely no expression on his face. Blank. Empty. He thought the prospect of a week in detention with Draco Malfoy would've sparked some kind of reaction from Harry. Malfoy was the one person Harry loathed and to be stuck alone in detention with him? Nothing. Not even a twitch of an eyebrow.

"And the both of you have lost 10 points each for your respective Houses," Snape added. He didn't like gigging his own House, not even when it was well deserved. In this case, though, to have satisfaction for the blatant disrespect shown to him by Malfoy was more important to him than points. "If we're quite finished?" He looked from Draco then to Harry, who only shrugged. "All right, then. If you'll turn to the next page in your books we'll learn how to properly prepare this potion."

After class, Harry stacked up his books while ignoring the glares from his Gryffindor classmates. They were already angry enough with him for causing a scene with McGonagall in Transfiguration class the week before. His lack of respect only cost them a mere ten points that day, though. The Slytherins didn't quite know what to make of it. It was amusing enough but the way Harry had cut into Snape, it was almost surreal.

"If Harry doesn't keep his mouth shut, we'll be the first House in Hogwarts history to end the year with negative points," Ron muttered to Hermione as they left Snape's classroom. He glanced over his shoulder to see Harry coming their way. "I know he's having a rough time of it, but he's not the only one."

"You didn't hear him that day," Hermione whispered back quickly, remembering the emptiness in Harry's voice when he'd called her to tell her about the Dursleys. "Something's wrong with him, Ron. You know that as well as I do." She raised an eyebrow at him and he sighed then nodded in agreement. "This display with Snape only lends more credence to my theory."

"Oh, not this again," Ron grumbled. He fell silent while the rest of the Slytherins filed out of the classroom. For the first time, he noticed that Crabbe and Goyle weren't tagging along after Malfoy. He looked back to Hermione. "I'm not listening to that stupid theory of yours anymore, Hermione."

"It's not stupid. It makes sense," she said defensively. She cleared her throat when Harry joined them. He looked at each of them but didn't say anything. "Well, I guess you've filled your quota for the rest of this month, Harry," she greeted, hugging her books close to her chest. "Forty points. You'll never cease to amaze me."

"Like any of that matters?" he said then scoffed. He glanced back into Snape's classroom, glaring at the Potions teacher. "He could've taken all of the House points away, it won't change the fact he's a pathetic, bitter man who would've been better off sticking with Voldemort." He looked back to Ron and Hermione. "But I guess they all can't be like the Malfoys."

Hermione glanced at Ron. "He's done a lot for you, Harry. Professor Snape. You wouldn't even be alive if it wasn't for him. Remember Quirrell and the Quidditch game your first year?"

"Remember Voldemort and his trying to kill me when I was a baby," he shot back, gesturing to the scar barely visible on his forehead. "I've done more for him and everyone else in this school than they could ever do for me. I'm tired of not getting the recognition I deserve."

"You never cared about that before," Ron replied. "In fact, you always downplayed it. Why do you suddenly care about who did what so much, Harry?"

"People change, Ron." Harry shook his head then laughed mirthlessly. "Not that I could expect either of you to understand what I mean. Nobody can."

"Maybe if you tried talking to us instead of making superior remarks all of the time, we'd be able to understand," Ron told him, his tone straining to keep control. Some days, he wished he'd stayed out of Hogwarts. He was able to keep up with his courses at home. At least there he didn't have to deal with this. "Remember when we used to be your friends, Harry? The ones you came to when you needed somebody to understand you and your problems?"

Hermione put a hand on Ron's shoulder when he took a step towards Harry. That was all they needed, a physical fight on their hands. She didn't want to have to hit them both with a spell to knock a little sense into them. "Would you both stop it?" she snapped. She looked from Ron to Harry then sighed. "We're only concerned, Harry. We have been for a while now. And we really don't need to ask what's bothering you, it isn't hard to figure out."

Harry eyed her, suspicion growing. "And just what is bothering me, Hermione? Enlighten me, since you know so much."

She let the snide remark roll off of her. It had become second nature to her by now. Ron hadn't dealt with Harry as much as she had; she'd grown used to his manner.

"It's obvious it's ... " Her voice dropped a little. "... it's You-Know-Who. You've been decidedly different since we came back from the Christmas break, Harry. I can understand why. You were in the house ... when ... when it happened. He was there. He might've been in your room, and you didn't know it."

Harry looked away. The Voldemort-Killed-Them story withstood the test of time and all of the investigations done by the Ministry of Magic. It was so much easier to blame the Dark Lord for the murders than to suspect that poor, innocent, troubled Harry Potter could've even thought of such an act, let alone executed it. His alibi he'd fed to Albus Dumbledore right before leaving the school, too, was an ace in the hole. Dumbledore confirmed Harry's suspicions that it was Voldemort.

"You have to trust us to help you, Harry." She looked upon him with a sympathetic gaze now. "That's all we've ever wanted to do is help. Isn't that right, Ron?" She elbowed him when he didn't answer right away. "Isn't that right?"

He mumbled something that could've been a yes. He wasn't happy with Harry at the moment. After another elbow to the ribs from Hermione, he said, "Yes. Help. That's what we want to do."

"I don't need your help. Either of you." He headed up the corridor then disappeared as he ascended the staircase.

"Do you see what I mean?" Hermione said, gesturing to the stairwell Harry had just gone up. "I'm serious, Ron. I think he's been ..."

"What, bewitched?" Ron said, suppressing the urge to roll his eyes. "Do you truly believe that?" When she nodded, he let out a heavy sigh. "You've had a lot of strange ideas since we've known each other, but this one's by far the strangest."

"So what's your theory, then?" she asked, chin lifted in a defiant manner. "Can you explain to me why he's suddenly so belligerent towards everyone? You-Know-Who did something to him when he was at the Dursleys, Ron. I just know it."

Ron frowned. He had to admit that from what he'd seen of Harry in the last few weeks, it couldn't be an entirely crazy theory. "Okay. Let's say you're right. What do we do about it? What CAN we do?"

Hermione bit her lower lip, a frown on her face as she considered the options open to them. "We could go to Dumbledore, I suppose. He must've noticed by now how Harry's been. HE might know of a way to help."

Ron arched an eyebrow. "I don't know. Should we really involve Dumbledore just yet?" He didn't want to do that unless they absolutely had to. "We could try to do something on our own," he suggested. "Didn't you have a book on bewitchments? I think you mentioned having one."

"Oh, yes! Lyra Lancombe's Book of Bewitchments and Bedazzlings! It was released last year," Hermione replied, her eyes lighting up at the mention of the book. She beamed. "I was one of the first to obtain a copy. And it's even signed by Lyra Lancombe herself!" She saw the look on Ron's face then smiled as her face flushed. "Sorry. Are you sure we shouldn't take this to Dumbledore? We should at least contact -"

"We should be sure before we say anything to anybody, Hermione," he interrupted. He glanced around the dungeon that was now empty of all students. "Come on. We have the afternoon off. We can start researching and figure out what exactly is going on."

Hermione found herself smiling at Ron.

"What?" he asked, suddenly self-conscious at the way she stared up at him. "What is it?"

"Oh, it's amusing to hear you so excited about researching something, that's all," she replied. She shook her head and let her gaze leave his. "Well, I - I guess we should get to work, then." She was happy to have Ron back at school; she didn't feel so alone anymore. In fact, if she were honest with herself, she'd say she felt ... safer.

After Ron and Hermione left the corridor, Draco Malfoy stepped out from inside Snape's classroom. His eyes darkened at the two figures now hurrying up the stairs.

So ... they think Harry's been bewitched by Lord Voldemort? he thought with a laugh and a smug grin. Potter had certainly fooled his friends for long enough. Now, they planned to intervene. Draco couldn't have that, though. It was also time for Weasley and the Mudblood to exit the picture.

Draco had the perfect idea of how to do it.

"I can't read anymore of this," Ron declared quietly as he shut Lyra Lancombe's book and tossed it onto the library table where he and Hermione sat. He rubbed his temples with his index fingers. "I can't read another story about what awful things these people have done to each other. I might go insane."

Hermione's quill stopped scribbling down notes on possible spells and potions that could've been administered to Harry. The list was quite long and they'd only been at it for a couple of hours. She pressed her lips together as she watched Ron massage his head.

"Here," she said, pushing her parchment and book over to him. "Why don't you do this and I'll do the research from the book?" She offered him a supportive smile. "My hand's beginning to cramp from all of this writing."

Ron nodded and the two of them swapped duties. As Hermione opened Lyra's book, Ron read over the work Hermione had already done. So many spells and potions were on her list. He rested his chin in the palm of his hand and stared at the perfect handwriting on the page. She'd been thorough in detailing why she believed the spell could've been responsible. Or how readily available certain potion ingredients were.

Hermione peered through a veil of bangs at him then lifted her head. "Are you all right?" she asked. She'd seen that expression on his face so many times before since he'd returned to Hogwarts. Such melancholy. She wasn't used to it, not with Ron. Her heart went out to him every time he wore that look. "Were you thinking of Ginny again?"

He nodded a little. "That book -" He gestured to the one Hermione now held. " - all of that death. The things that evil witches and wizards are able to do with such simple charms and spells. It's ... disturbing." He shuddered, remembering a rather chilling tale of a witch who'd bewitched an entire town of Muggles with a simple charm. They'd turned against one another because of it. In a matter of days, the village was home to nothing but mutilated corpses.

Hermione swallowed, glancing at the open book before her. She'd been through the pages once or twice before then, and, yes, it was disturbing. The darker side of their world always was. Sometimes, Hermione could understand why Slytherins were the ones most susceptible to it. The power of the magic was potent and it took very little skill to cast those basic spells and charms. Power without real knowledge was the most deadly.

"I can't help but think ..." Ron quietly continued, tone of his voice much different than before. "... that maybe if I'd been more skilled as a wizard, I could've saved her." He met Hermione's gaze. "Do you think I could've saved her? Honestly. Don't lie to me, either."

She sighed then shook her head. "No. It has nothing to do with your abilities as a wizard, Ron. Not even Harry could stop it. And no one can reverse death."

Ron stared at the table, the heaviness weighing down on his shoulders. "You-Know-Who was able to escape it," he softly replied.

"He's not Ginny. Thank God." She reached a hand across the table and rested it on one of his. "You couldn't do anything. I wish you wouldn't tear yourself apart over it like this. How were you to know how she really felt inside, anyway?" She swallowed back the growing lump in her throat. "What she did ... it wasn't a reflection on you."

"I should've known she was unhappy," he said as he gripped Hermione's hand tightly. "I was so wrapped up in my own troubles - prefect duties, course work. I always swore to myself that I wouldn't become distant like Percy. I did. And she's dead."

"You're not like Percy, and I mean that in the most positive manner," she countered. She squeezed his hand with both of hers now and offered him a smile when he finally looked up at her. "Listen, why don't we put this away until tomorrow? We could use a break from it, I think."

Ron only nodded. He felt a little better. At least Hermione cared.

Harry sat at the window in his room, gazing out on the overcast and darkening skies. Rain would come soon. He knew. He needed no Muggle weatherman to tell him so, he just knew. The young wizard had developed a keen sense for detecting brewing storms upon becoming one himself.

Since the end of Snape's Potions class, he'd been by that window, contemplating the events that had transpired. He wanted to strangle Malfoy for his outburst in class. It became harder and harder for Harry to keep up appearances where Draco was concerned. The fact the two had gone several weeks without a single confrontation went unnoticed by no one. Some thought Malfoy had finally learned to keep his mouth shut, while others had the idea something else was behind it. And that the something else led back to the night of Ginny Weasley's death.

Maybe I should make Malfoy disappear. He didn't even flinch when lightning flickered in the distance. I could certainly solve a lot of problems for a lot of people. And no one would miss the rat. Probably not even his own parents.

Kill Malfoy and the game is up, Harry, the voice warned. Isn't it a funny thing sometimes? That the person you despise the most is the one that you need the most?

Why would I need Draco Malfoy? The world would be better off without him, actually.

Keep your friends close, Harry, but your enemies closer. True, he's terrified of you but that makes him loyal, in his own way. His care for his own hide is your high card. Beware you don't play it too soon.

A soft knock came on the door. Harry didn't even move, nor did he turn around when the door opened up.

"Did I give you permission to come in?" he muttered.

"Wasn't aware I needed permission," Ron said. He stepped back out into the corridor when Harry looked over his shoulder. "May I please come into your room, Mr. Potter?" he politely inquired, sarcasm not lost on Harry in the slightest.

"What do you want?" was Harry's reply as he turned back to the window. The clouds outside grew darker as the approaching storm prepared to unleash its fury. A hand toyed with the handle and he kept an eye on Ron through Ron's reflection in the glass.

Ron stepped into the room again, the uneasiness settled over him. Upon his return to school, he'd requested a change of rooms that Dumbledore and McGonagall granted without question. Since then, he reentered his old room as little as possible. With the way Harry had been these days, avoiding the place wasn't a problem. All he could think of while there was the terrible scream Ginny loosed as she plunged to her death on Halloween night.

"I need to borrow a few quills and some parchment, if you can spare it," Ron answered as he approached Harry at the window. "I already asked Seamus and Neville. You know how Neville is about losing quills and Seamus needs all the parchment he can get. That bad habit of accidentally incinerating things."

"What do you need them for?" Harry asked, though he didn't sound the least bit curious.

"Hermione and I are working on a project. Together." He shifted uncomfortably, his eyes transfixed on the window handle that Harry still fiddled with. "I'm running low on supplies."

Harry laughed shortly. "Well, that's certainly understandable," he said the looked over his shoulder again. "You must've squirreled away gold coins for months to be able to afford that beautiful wand case you gave Hermione for Christmas, ay?"

Ron forgot about how uneasy the room made him and all of his attention was on Harry. "Let's not start," he said, keeping his tone cool and even. "Either you'll lend me the materials I asked for or not. I have more important things to do than go 'round with you again."

Harry stood and he approached Ron with an odd expression on his face. "Let me give you a bit of information, Ron. It isn't going to work." Off of Ron's puzzled look, he continued. "Hermione. The nice gifts, your pitiable ploys to get her to notice you in our last year, you're wasting your time."

"You don't know the first thing about it, Harry," Ron replied, calmly. It was with every ounce of strength in his being he managed to remain so. He'd promised himself he wouldn't go down this route again. He would do as Hermione said and ignore it.

Harry smiled. "You really don't believe no one notices the way you look at her? Even Neville has and he's not exactly the sharpest around." He rested a hand on Ron's shoulder, expression becoming one of pity. "Let me spare you the pain and inevitable degradation, Ron, because you're the best friend I've ever had." A pause. "She's never going to see you that way. Not ever. Give up while you're ahead."

Ron pushed Harry's hand from his shoulder. Part of him wanted to punch Harry hard enough to send him out of that blasted window. Lucky for Harry, the other part won out, the part that exercised restraint and common sense. What did Harry know of Hermione or the way she felt about anyone? He was so self-involved Ron was surprised he noticed anything outside of himself.

Without even dignifying the comment with a response, Ron simply left the room and slammed the door shut behind him.

"Was it something I said?" Harry called out. Thunder rumbled in the distance and a flash of lightning followed. He chuckled to himself then went to clean up before the evening meal. He needed to look his best that night.

Draco sat at the Slytherin table, watching Ron and Hermione chat with each other. They were careful about who heard them, he could tell, because how close they huddled together. He shook his head, scowling.

These two are only going to make things worse, he thought. He shifted his gaze over to Harry. Potter wasn't anywhere near his two friends this evening but he did take an interest in that end of Gryffindor's table.

"And I still can't believe he gave you detention for that, Draco," Pansy Parkinson said as she looked over to him. She followed his gaze to find Harry Potter was the person in his line of sight. "Draco?"

He snapped out of his daze and saw that most of his end of the Slytherin table eyed him. His behavior in Potions class had become a topic of discussion among his House. Most were confused at why Malfoy had reacted the way he did, even more so baffled by his lack of outrage over being given detention and by Snape, of all teachers.

"What?" he asked. "So I wasn't paying attention. What is it?"

"Don't you find it odd that Snape's turned against you?" Goyle asked. He narrowed his eyes on Draco, suspicious. "You practically ARE this House and he took points from us."

"And gave you detention with Harry Potter," Pansy added. She wrinkled her nose as though a foul smell had descended upon her. "Why aren't you even the least bit miffed about it? It was completely unfair!"

Draco only smiled. "Believe me, when I've finished with Potter, things will be very different." He smiled wider, a dark glow about his pale face. "Very different, indeed."

"What's bothering you?" whispered Hermione as she leaned over to Ron. She glanced back at Harry, noticing Harry stared at them. He had been for the entire meal. "What happened with him?" she asked, looking back to Ron. "You'd better tell me. I know spells that will make you talk."

He shook his head. "Just forget it," he whispered in return. He looked up the table to Harry, meeting his so-called friend's gaze then looked to Hermione. "It's not important. Do you think we'll be able to get into the Restricted Section over the weekend? As much as we're sneaked in there over the years, they've been clever in increasing security."

Hermione searched Ron's eyes for a moment. It irritated her that he insisted on keeping secrets, especially now. Harry had said something and whatever it was it had definitely upset him. He'd been different since she'd met him in the Gryffindor common room.

"We might not have to do that," she replied. "I've managed to narrow down my list quite a bit."

"Really? What have you narrowed it down to, then?"

"Well, I read something in Chapter Sixteen about the Espiritu Linkus spell," Hermione said, still careful to keep her tone low. She leaned a little closer. "It could be the one we're looking for. However, I wanted to read more about it before I say for certain. What do you think?"

He nodded. "Sounds like a plan to me."

"I remember reading about this particular spell in another book, too," she continued. She frowned as she thought on it. Her brow furrowed and she sighed. "I can't even remember an author. I should go back to the library this evening and see if I can't locate it there. I know the school has a copy of the volume I want, it's a matter of finding it. Hopefully, I'll find it tonight. That way, we can focus our energy on it tomorrow."

The tables began to clear of students.

"You check the library for this book," Ron said as they left the Great Hall with a crowd of Gryffindors. "We'll meet there tomorrow afternoon. If you find the book tonight, it'll save us from having to hunt for it."

"You mean save YOU from having to hunt for it," she corrected with a knowing smile. "But that's all right. What are you going to do until then?"

"Transfiguration homework." He saw the look that Hermione gave him. "What? I still need to pass my classes. I'm behind enough as it is." And after his exchange with Harry earlier, he wasn't so gung ho to help him. Punch him into the next time zone, sure. But helping wasn't high on his list of priorities.

"All right. Tomorrow, then." Hermione stood just outside of the Hall and watched Ron head back to the dorms with the rest of Gryffindor. She hoped that whatever was bothering him wouldn't be bothering him the next day. She needed his help more than ever. And so did Harry.

In the library, Hermione wandered up and down the darkened rows of books, mumbling under her breath as she read through the sea of titles on the shelves. At this hour, the place was deserted so she needn't worry about being interrupted or questioned by anyone on what she was up to. Most people wouldn't give her a second glance, anyway. The library was her home.

"A History of Blood Spells and Charms," she read as she pulled one of the books off the shelf.

She opened it and perused the pages, losing herself in the spells. Her finger ran down the length of the page, she shook her head when she didn't see the spell she searched for. A noise, which could've been a book falling off of a shelf, caught her attention. Her head snapped up and she listened carefully, waiting. When nothing else followed, she glanced up and down the row then went back to the book.

A few minutes later, another noise, much closer, startled her. Instinctively, her hand reached for her wand but froze on its handle without drawing it. She looked up and down the aisle again. A chill ran down her spine. She had the distinct feeling she was not alone.

"Hello?" she cautiously called out. "Is anyone there?"

Another noise came from the opposite end of the aisle and she bolted towards it, drawing her wand at the same time. Whoever or whatever it was that prowled the library would meet the business end of it. As she rounded the corner, she found no one. Licking her lips, she tightened her grip on her wand, eyes searching the darkness beyond for anything. The adrenaline rushed through her veins and all of her senses were on heightened alert.

I must be hearing things, she thought to herself. She put her wand back into the waist of her skirt. How silly am I to let the library spook me so.

Hermione turned around and gasped in surprise when she found Harry standing behind her. A hand flew to her chest, the beating of her heart so fast that she believed it very well would explode.

"Harry," she breathed when she found her voice. Her hand fell back to her side. "You startled me."

"Sorry," he said, a sheepish look on his face. "I didn't mean to."

She sighed. "I could've zapped you into another dimension, I was so scared," she admitted. "Why on earth are you creeping around the library at this hour?"

Harry glanced from the book in her arms to her. "Maybe I should ask you the same question." He took the book from her and read the title. "A History of Blood Spells and Charms?" He held it up so she could see the cover. "I wasn't aware we had an assignment on blood spells and charms, Hermione. Or are you working on a little extra credit?"

"It's for Ron," she told him. She took the book back and wrapped her arms around it. "For a report for Professor Flitwick's class. He could use the extra credit, and he might find this particular subject fascinating." She cocked her head to one side. "Now ... why are YOU in the library, sneaking about, Harry? It couldn't possibly be for class work seeing as how you never do any these days."

He smiled a little when she turned her back on him and pretended to take an interest in the volumes on the shelf. "Not many things will get me into a library anymore, Hermione. Only if I really want something, that is."

She forced a short laugh. "Well, I'll agree with that," she answered. She felt his eyes on her, and it was a most unwelcome and uncomfortable feeling. His tone, the look in his eyes, everything about him made her uneasy. She cleared her throat. "I have work to do, Harry, so if you don't mind."

She tried to take a step forward but his arm blocked her path when he placed a hand on the bookshelf behind her. She froze in place, unable to will herself to move.

"I didn't tell you why I'm here, though," he replied. He smiled again, less friendly this time. "Don't you still want to know, Hermione? Or is your curiosity only limited to certain subjects?" He waited a moment and when she gave no reply, he went on. "I wanted to apologize for the way I've treated you lately. I've been awful towards you."

Don't do it, Harry. This will only hinder our grand plans, the voice commanded. You have more vital matters to attend to! More vital than this!

Harry ignored the voice. His full attention was on Hermione as he waited for her to reply. She was so fragile. So alone. She didn't have anywhere to run, and no one was there to save her.

I've warned you about this before, Potter, the voice was more insistent. She isn't worthy of your trouble! She's not worthy of you. Are you listening to me? Don't do this!

Hermione swallowed. She remained calm and in control of her emotions. Part of her wanted to bolt but that would certainly arouse his suspicions. You can handle this, Hermione, she thought. You can handle this with no trouble.

"It's all right, Harry," she evenly replied. "You've had a rough year and I can't imagine the last few months have been easy for you." She glanced up at him, noting that gleam in his eyes as he looked at her. "Anyway ... I'd ... I'd better go. I have to drop this book off for Ron -"

Harry's other hand rested on the bookshelf, his arm blocking Hermione's path in the other direction. He'd effectively corralled her in front of him. "You shouldn't leave," he quietly said. "I haven't finished my apology yet."

"Really, Harry, you needn't do -"

She was silenced by Harry shoving her against the bookshelf while pressing his lips to hers. The book tumbled onto the floor as Hermione placed her hands to his chest in an attempt to push him away. She wasn't strong enough to free herself, unfortunately. Still, she tried. Few times did she feel as helpless as she did in that moment.

Harry paid no mind to Hermione's futile resistance. This wasn't Ginny Weasley; this was different. He wasn't playing a game and he didn't care what that damned voice said. It didn't matter. Not this time. He had the one thing he really wanted at school right there - and he wasn't letting her get away from him.

Hermione couldn't properly fight back with the way Harry had her pinned against the bookshelf with his body. And his kiss, it was the most unpleasant kiss she'd ever experienced. It caused pain, physical and emotional. Void of any true passion, it merely elicited the feeling that she was merely an object, something to be owned and had.

Slowly, her hands slid over Harry's shoulders and he mistook it as a sign she'd finally given in to him. His grip relaxed and his own hands slipped underneath her already open robe, arms pulling her closer to him. Meanwhile, Hermione's fingernails dug into the tender flesh at the back of Harry's neck and continued to do so until she drew blood.

"Ow!" Harry suddenly pulled back from her, one hand reaching back to where Hermione had scratched him. He withdrew his fingers and stared at the fresh blood that stained them. Before he could ask her why she'd done that, a hand brutally struck him across the face.

"That's what I think of your apology!" she declared, angry tears in her eyes. Quickly, she scooped up the book from the floor and ran down the aisle, disappearing around the corner before Harry could even process what had happened. Crying, she kept running - out of the library, through the corridors of the school until she reached the painting of the Fat Lady.

"Password?" the painting prompted, not at all interested in the tears of the young student before her.

Hermione couldn't even remember it. It didn't matter, however. She was so choked up she wouldn't have been able to say it. Leaning forward against the wall, she continued to sob into her arm. Tears slid down her cheeks and splashed onto the floor. What had come over Harry? She'd never been so terrified of him in her life as she was in that moment in the library.


She gasped suddenly as she stood straight, backpedaling from the direction from which the voice originated. It wasn't Harry who stood there, but Colin Creevey. He held up his hands when he noticed she'd reached for her wand.

"Are you all right?" he asked. He glanced from her hand on her wand to her tear stained face. "Hermione?" When the elder Gryffindor only broke down into tears once more, he put an arm around her waist and let her lean on him for support. "Come on. It's going to be okay. Whatever it is."

After Colin gave the password, he helped Hermione into the Gryffindor common room.

Snape stood at the front of the Potions classroom, his eyes flicking between Malfoy, who was seated in the back corner of the room, to Harry, who slouched lazily at the front table on the Gryffindor side. He'd been looking forward to this detention all weekend. One side of his mouth curled into a sly smile.

"I'm sure we'll have a productive time of it together," he announced as he strolled up the row of tables in Draco's direction. He folded his arms across his chest as he passed Draco, who continued to twirl his quill between his fingers. "You'll find my detentions are much different than those hosted by Hagrid."

Harry sensed Snape beside him. He remained slouched in his chair, a fingernail picking away at the edge of one of his books. He wished Snape would shut his mouth and get on with his so-called detention. The man's tendency to gloat had bored him since second year.

"So ..." Snape stood at the front of the room once again and let his arms drop to his sides. "I'll leave you to your own devices for the duration of this detention." He grinned when he saw the confused/surprised reactions from both Potter and Malfoy. "You two will punish one another far better than I ever could."

Harry turned in his chair to look at Malfoy. Draco blinked twice then met Harry's gaze. Instantly, Draco's manner turned aloof and cool, as though Snape's announcement meant nothing to him. Harry snorted softly then turned back around and he continued to pick at his book, scowling.

"I'll check on you later," Snape said as he breezed through the classroom, black robe fluttering behind him. He stopped in the doorway, turned and smiled at them once more. "Hopefully, I won't have to dispose of any remains when I return."

The door slammed shut, making Draco jump in his seat. Harry only chuckled as he shook his head.

"Snape may very well do so," he commented then looked over his shoulder at Draco. He grinned wider when Draco smirked in response. "I'm surprised you didn't try to get out of this, Malfoy. Our last detention together was ... well, I believe I recall you screaming like a girl at one point."

Draco kicked his feet up on the table and scoffed at the very notion he'd screamed at all, let alone like a girl. "Your memory is a bit rusty, I think, Potter," he replied. "And why would I get out of this? It gives me good reason to be in the same room with you." He glanced at Harry. "You have that aversion to talking to me in public and all. Makes it damned difficult to tell you anything important."

Harry laughed sharply. "Important? Never has anything important come out of your mouth since we've known each other, Draco," he said. He lost interest in the book and sat up straight. "I don't expect that to change now."

"Is that what you think? That I haven't anything of interest to tell you?" He clicked his tongue and sighed dramatically. "My, my, you don't value my services much, Harry. I'm feeling extremely unappreciated."

"Services?" Harry turned around in the chair. "What services, Malfoy? Unless you count being an irritating idiot as a service, I haven't any idea what you mean."

"I have been keeping close watch on those friends of yours," Draco replied. He paused and stared at Harry, waiting for some sort of response. No reaction from him at all though. "You know who I'm talking about, right? Weasley and the Mudblood."

Harry involuntarily flinched at the name applied to Muggle-born witches and wizards. For some reason, when Malfoy said it, it was even more deplorable. It probably had to do with the sense of inferiority Draco slathered all over the word.

Draco crossed his legs at the ankle and leaned back in his chair. "They've spent an awful lot of time alone together, in the library." He raised an eyebrow - still no comment from Harry. "After a bit of detective work, I discovered what it is they've been up to. And, surprise, Potter, it's all about you."

Harry's jaw tightened. Since that night in the library, Hermione avoided him completely. He was sure she hadn't mentioned the incident to Ron, too. If she'd had, Ron, so desiring to be Hermione's white knight, would've defended her honor by now. Without a doubt, Ron would've only succeeded in getting killed or seriously maimed had he confronted Harry.

Draco sighed once again. "They think you've been bewitched by You-Know-Who," he continued. "I heard them talking. They believe he's used some sort of blood spell on you, I can't recall which."

"So?" Harry snapped. He remembered the book Hermione had in the library that night: A History of Blood Spells and Charms. "What does it matter if they think that? Have they any proof? No. It isn't even true, anyway."

Draco shrugged. "Doesn't matter if it's true. They believe it. And they've been discussing going to Dumbledore as well." He stretched his arms over his head, his neck cracking a bit as he did so. "Yes. That wouldn't be good for you, would it? Ministry of Magic would be all over you, then, ay?"

"They couldn't prove a thing, either," Harry shot back, glaring at Malfoy. One of his hands gripped the back of the chair, tightly. "I'd suggest you shut your mouth, Draco, before I come back there and do it for you."

Draco relaxed again, locking his hands together behind the back of his head. "I'm only telling you things I've heard. It's your right to know them. If you want to leave it be, fine, that's your business. Don't say I didn't warn you, though, when the Dementors have dragged you away to Azkaban."

"What are you talking about? What makes you think that will happen?" He's been talking, he thought, speaking to the voice that had been his only friend lately. You should've let me get rid of him when I had the chance. He'll ruin everything.

Draco remained cool in the face of Harry's eruption. "Isn't that what will happen? You said yourself you're not under You-Know-Who's control. If I'm right, that also means you killed Ginny Weasley and the Dursleys of your own volition. If that isn't an offense to land you in Azkaban, I don't know what is."

Harry was at the back of the room before Malfoy could even take his own feet down from the table. Seizing Draco by the robe, he yanked the blond wizard from his chair then slammed him hard against the wall.

"If you breathe one word, Malfoy, you know what will happen to you. The Dursleys?" He grinned maliciously as he pushed Draco against the wall even harder. "I wouldn't even be that kind to you. I've often wondered ... what it would be like to strip the flesh from a person's body." He licked his lips, his eyes glimmering darkly. "That must be the most excruciating agony known to man."

Draco held his hands up and did nothing to resist Harry's violent attack. He looked deep into the eyes of the Boy Who Lived and found someone totally different in them. This one, he was more like Draco - a true Slytherin. The ends justified the means, victory at all costs, and trust no one but one's self.

"I won't say a word," he calmly assured. "Haven't you figured that out by now? I'm not your enemy here, Harry. I'm not the one spending my nights in the library, researching and plotting against you. I'm not the one you should be angry with."

Harry's grip loosened on Draco as he considered what he'd said. As much as he hated to admit it, the rat did have a good point. If Hermione and Ron weren't stopped, everything would be ruined. He couldn't have that.

"Now you're getting it, Potter," Draco said, a smile appearing on his face as Harry backed away. He smoothed down his robe and clothes then folded his arms across his chest as he leaned against the wall. "I'm all for the new you. By all means, keep on the way you've been. I haven't had this much fun in ages. You probably haven't either. The other two, however ... "

Harry backed away from Draco, unconsciously headed toward the classroom door. They'll tell Dumbledore or the Ministry. I can't let that happen. Can I?

Of course not, Harry. You don't deserve Azkaban. You deserve the undying loyalty of all those around you. Obviously, two have decided they're not loyal. You'll have to do something.

Do what?

You already know the answer to the question, Harry. Don't ask me again.

Drawing his wand, Harry threw open the Potions room door and vanished into the corridor.

Draco slid down into his chair, kicking up his feet on the table and he leaned back, quite proud of how easily he'd accomplished what he'd set out to do. "It's only a matter of time now," he said to himself. He looked around the Potions classroom, grinning. "Only a matter of time ..."

Ron turned the page in one of the many books Hermione had pulled off of the shelves earlier. He read over the list of counter spells, trying to locate one that would help Harry. They'd been at this all weekend with very little luck. Either the spells were too advanced for Hermione and Ron to perform or particular potion ingredients required were not available to them.

And then there was Hermione herself. She'd been distracted from her work and refused to talk about what was troubling her with him. He hadn't pressed her to tell him since he'd not been forthcoming with his own problems when she'd inquired.

No doubt it's related to Harry, he thought as he looked over to Hermione. She was hunched over a book, her form illuminated by the lamplight they shared. He averted his gaze when he remembered what Harry had said to him about her. It hurt too much to think she'd never care for him in that way.

Hermione sighed heavily and shut the book she'd been searching through. "I can't find a blasted thing that we can use to fix this mess!" She sat straight and rolled her shoulders to work the tension out of them as she looked to Ron. "Have you found anything?"

He stared at the open book in his lap. "Nothing," he muttered then he snapped it shut. "I'm beginning to think we should go to Dumbledore. We're pretty certain of what's happened." He gestured to the mess around them. "And we know we can't do anything about it."

Hermione didn't like to admit defeat or to think that there was a spell she couldn't undo but this time she might've met her match. They'd done absolutely everything in their power to set things straight.

"You're right," she quietly agreed then her gaze shifted to the floor. Her shoulders slumped as she accepted it. "I hoped it wouldn't come to this; that we'd be able to fix this ourselves. We owe Harry that much."

"We tried, Hermione," he murmured. He looked over the sea of books, parchment, quills and inkbottles strewn about them. So much work, so few results. "Besides, we can't let Harry go on as he has been lately while we try to prove ourselves. Something about him ... it's frightening." He paused and put the book aside. "He's becoming dangerous."

Hermione closed her eyes, the memory of that terror she'd experienced in the library came flooding back. Tears welled in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks then splashed onto the book in her lap. Her body shook with soft sobs.

"Hermione?" Ron asked when he heard her muffled crying. Her long hair hid her face so he couldn't see her. He crawled over the books and papers and settled down beside her, concerned. A hand gently touched her shoulder. "What's the matter?" He brushed her hair over her shoulder and saw the tears streaming down her reddened cheeks.

She lifted her head, her eyes meeting his. Through the mist of her tears, she could tell how concerned he was with her welfare. Genuine concern. Behind that, there was a warmth that was Ron Weasley - something she'd not seen in Harry for several months. Warmth.

All the fear and anger she'd bottled up over the weekend demanded release. The secret needed to be told to a sympathetic character. And so it flowed from her in a rapid manner. She feared that if she stopped to breathe she wouldn't be able to continue or she'd break down completely.

As Hermione spoke, Ron's expression morphed from one of concern to anger, anger at Harry for what he'd done to her. That's what she'd hid from him all weekend, and he knew why she'd done so. She hadn't wanted him to confront Harry over it. By the time Hermione finished her story, the anger had graduated to rage, a rage that bubbled just underneath the surface.

"I couldn't tell anyone about it," Hermione whispered, her voice had gone hoarse from the tears. Her wet eyes squeezed shut as she shook her head. "I couldn't believe it, Ron. That he would do something so ... so ... " She had no word to describe it. She opened her eyes. "I've never been afraid of Harry since I've known him. Not until that night."

Ron wrapped his arms around Hermione, drawing her closer to him as she dried her eyes with the back of her hand. She trembled. She was more shaken by the ordeal than she let on. "You don't have to be afraid of him anymore," he assured her. It was a challenge to be soothing when he was livid inside.

"Don't do anything, please," she whispered as she clutched his robe tightly with both hands. She leaned against him, resting her head on his chest. She heard the way he breathed, the rapid beat of his heart; it was as though he fought for control. "Promise you'll let Dumbledore handle Harry, Ron?"

He swallowed hard. He tried to force himself to say the words Hermione wanted to hear but he couldn't do it. The girl he loved, probably the only one he would ever love, had been violated. Blood spell or no, Harry's actions were unforgivable, in Ron's mind, at least.

"Ron?" She tilted her head back, gazing up at him rather concerned over his lack of response. She could see it on his face, could sense it in his hold, the building fury. "Ron, promise me you'll leave it alone?" She placed a hand on his cheek and made him look at her. "Promise me."

As much as he wanted to grant her request, he couldn't do it and still be able to look at himself in the mirror.

"Hermione, I can't -"

"Yes, you can," she firmly replied. She jerked her hand when he tried to avert his eyes from hers. "With the state Harry's in, if you go after him, he could very well kill you. If you care at all for me, you'll stay away from him."

"Well, well ..."

Harry's voice startled Hermione and Ron. They looked to the opposite end of the row in which they'd been seated most of the evening. Harry stood there with one hand resting on each bookshelf beside him. The fact that his wand was clutched tightly in his right hand got by neither of them.

"Isn't this just ... precious?" he finished with such venom on the words as he glared at the couple still clinging to one another. His hatred for them reached a new level. So that was why she'd rejected him the other night? For Ron Weasley? It was so sad, he almost laughed.

"Harry," Hermione breathed when she found her voice. "I ... I thought you had detention with Professor Snape?" Her eyes rested on the hand holding the wand.

Harry chuckled softly. "Oh, you thought so? Is that why the two of you are cuddled together in the darkness and solitude of the library, then?" He looked from Ron to Hermione, his grip on his wand tightening. "Of course it is. You couldn't possibly plot against me out in the open, could you?"

"Plot against you?" Hermione said as she let go of Ron but remained close to him. She took quick inventory of everything around them and made note of exactly where her own wand was on her person. She wanted to be prepared for anything. "What are you talking about? We aren't plotting against you."

Harry let his arms drop to his sides as he took a few steps towards his so-called friends. "If you're not plotting against me then whatever could you be doing?" He arched an eyebrow at Hermione. "Doesn't look like studying. Well, not for a subject they teach here at Hogwarts, at any rate."

"Harry, you don't understand -" Hermione began. She gave Ron a side-glance. He only glared back at Harry with equal hatred and his own hand tucked under his robe.

"I understand perfectly," Harry interrupted. He stopped midway in the aisle. "You've taken pity on poor Ron and his inane crush on you." He looked to Ron, his eyes narrowing at him. "You've decided to make him feel better about himself. Even it's just for a while, right?"

Hermione grabbed Ron's arm as it moved. She knew he would cast the first spell and that's exactly what they didn't need. Harry was more powerful than the both of them, she was forced to acknowledge, and dueling was out of the question. Not to mention that she didn't wish to resort to it.

"Harry, we know what's wrong with you. We're not plotting, we're trying to help."

"Oh, right. Help me. That's what this is." He slid his gaze back to her. "I'd heard a rumor or two." He took another step towards them. "I have something to tell you both - " A smile spread across his face for the first time. " - I'm not bewitched by Voldemort. Everything I've done, I've done because it's what I've wanted to do."

Hermione quickly rose to her feet when Ron did. She was careful to place herself in front of Ron so he didn't have a clear shot at Harry.

"Harry, you just think that it's what you want," she countered, keeping her voice calm and even. "These blood spells are effective for that very reason. You believe it's what you want. Since You-Know-Who's return, you've shared blood with him and it would be easy for him to cast a spell to trick you. You're not yourself, Harry. Let us help you."

She's lying! hissed the voice. She's trying to confuse you. It's not Voldemort and you know it. This is who you are. When have you been this powerful, Harry? Never. Look at how nervous it makes them. They're terrified of you. They know how inferior they are.

Harry came closer. "You've helped enough, Hermione." His fingers curled tightly around his wand. "And I can't have you going to Dumbledore."

"Harry, if you do this, they'll know the truth," Ron warned. His own hand slipped out from underneath his robe, wand drawn. Harry didn't see it because Hermione was in the way. "You can't dream up a cover story fantastic enough to hide whatever you do here."

"Can't I?" He smiled wider, his eyes sparkling with a sinister glee. "I convinced the Ministry of Magic that Voldemort killed the Dursleys. I'm sure I'll be equally ... fantastic in explaining the demise of the two of you."

Harry raised his wand and in that same moment, Ron shoved Hermione out of the way, bringing up his own. Each shouted their words simultaneously and made it impossible for Hermione to tell what spells had been cast. An invisible force blew Ron backwards as result of Harry's spell. He slid nearly twenty feet down the aisle of books before coming to a stop. He lay motionless on the floor.

Hermione, leaning against one of the bookshelves, called out to Ron. She gasped, though, when the floor of the library violently shook beneath her feet. Her arms flew over her head as volumes rained down from the shelves. A little further away, Harry was affected most by it, knocked off of his feet in an instant. Before he could even think, one of the shelves tipped forward and all of the heavy texts buried the wizard.

Lowering her arms as the rumbling subsided, Hermione looked to the mound underneath which Harry was trapped. She saw pieces of his black robe poking out from between various books. Staggering to her feet once more, she made her way to where Ron lay.

"Ron?" On her knees, she leaned over him, her hands hovering inches away from his face. She was afraid to touch him. Small trails of blood ran from his nose and his ears. She could hear him breathing, labored breathing but he was breathing. Alive. Barely alive.

Taking off her robe, she balled it up then placed it under his head as a pillow. "Hang on," she murmured to him as she brushed her fingers over his face. She froze when noticed the splotches of Ron's blood on them. "I'll bring Madam Pomfrey and Dumbledore. Everything will be all right. Don't you dare die on me, Ron. You die on me and I'll ... I'll kill you."

If only I knew exactly what spell Harry used, she frantically thought brushing the back of her hand over her sweat-laden forehead. Why did it come to this? Why?

On the other end of the aisle, a soft groan came from the pile of books. The pile moved and soon one hand jutted out into the open. After a few moments, Harry, bloodied and filthy from the collapse of the books, sat up. He coughed and a pain shot through his chest. His left side was on fire and he knew he'd broken at least one rib.

"You've actually learned a useful spell, Ron. Imagine that," he muttered. A concentrated quake spell - quite a clever move on Ron's part, he had to admit. He lifted his head and spotted Hermione, her back to him, kneeling beside Ron as she tended to him.

Well, Harry, we can certainly tell who rates around here, the voice said, almost taunting.

Bringing up his wand, he winced at the pain in his side then he called out the words for a spell. Before Hermione knew what was happening, she was being dragged away from Ron's side and backwards to where Harry was. She snatched her own wand from the waist of her skirt. When she finally stopped, she turned it on Harry. Before she could say the spell she wanted, Harry beat her to it.

"Expellarimus!" And Hermione's wand was ripped from her hands, vanishing behind Harry somewhere.

Harry shoved the rest of the books off as he kept his wand on Hermione. She lay on the floor, propped up by her arms, her eyes steady on Harry. She was afraid to move. With no wand, and Ron near dead at the other end of the aisle, she couldn't see any outcome to this drama that didn't involve her own death. She blinked a few times as Harry stepped over the books to loom above her.

"You don't have to do this, Harry," she said quietly. She licked her lips nervously. Her heart pounded in her chest. The adrenaline rush was high. The tension of what would happen next hung like an anvil over her head. The choice was Harry's - he held all the cards. How he played them was another matter.

Kill her, Harry. Kill them both. the voice urged. Do it now!

Harry leveled his wand on Hermione. He gazed upon her, enjoying the sheer terror in her eyes as his finger tapped against the wand, considering the plethora of spells available to him to use.

Kill her! Do it! Stop dallying about, Potter. Kill her. She'll be the end of us if you don't. What about our plans? She'll ruin them.

She shook her head as Harry cocked his head to one side, as though in thought. "You don't have to do this," she whispered. A mist of tears in her eyes, her hands trembled slightly. "This isn't who you are, Harry. You're not a murderer. I know you. Don't do this. Please."

What are you waiting for? Kill her! Potter, listen to me! If you don't kill her now, it's over for us.

His wand raised again, mouth opening to form the words of a spell but he didn't say them. The girl before him was Hermione Granger, one of the best friends he'd ever had and he loved her more than anything. His gaze shifted up the aisle to where Ron lay dying because of him. Ron Weasley, the only other person in the world who'd done nothing but stand by him, no matter what. These were his friends.

"Friends Forever" the locket had read.

Slowly, his hand lowered and then opened to let his wand drop to the floor. "I can't," he softly said, in response to the voice. "I can't do it."

Idiot! it screamed at him. The voice was so loud it made him flinch. You'll be in Azkaban prison if you let them live, Harry! You know that as well as I do! Don't throw your chance for greatness away because of these two!

It's because of them that I am great, he thought back. Closing his eyes, he slumped down to the floor, one hand pressed to each side of his head. He willed the voice to leave. Demanded its departure from his mind.

You'll regret this, Potter! the voice declared, much more faint as Harry continued to will it away. You haven't any idea the pain you're in for ... you ... haven't ...

Harry opened his eyes when the voice was completely silent. "It couldn't possibly be worse than how I'd feel if I actually killed them," he said, unaware he'd even spoken the words aloud.

Hermione sat up fully. "H-Harry?" she cautiously asked. Her eyes narrowed at him suspiciously when he looked at her. Something was different in him. The stranger that had been in his eyes for months now was gone. "Is ... is that you?"

He looked at her for a few moments then smiled. The first real smile he'd given in ages. "Yes, it's me," he murmured.

She wasn't yet convinced. "How do I know you're not lying?"

"You don't," he honestly answered. He looked past her and saw Ron still lying in the aisle. "Oh no." Jumping to his feet, he bolted past a puzzled Hermione then dropped to his knees at his friend's side when he reached him. "Ron?" He felt for a pulse and found one, not very strong but still there. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry that I did this to you." He looked back to Hermione. "Get Madam Pomfrey, Hermione! Now! He won't last much longer without her help!"

It was all in his voice. The emptiness was gone. In what seemed to be a miracle, Harry stood at the edge of the abyss then, at the last moment, stepped back into the light. He had returned to them. Satisfied enough by that, she left Harry alone with Ron so she could bring Madam Pomfrey back to help.

"How is he?" Minerva McGonagall whispered as she joined Albus Dumbledore in the infirmary. She gazed sympathetically through the dim light at Ron, who was asleep in one of the beds. He was almost dead when Madam Pomfrey administered the proper potion to him, a potion that Hermione had helped to prepare.

"He's still weak but he's strong inside," Dumbledore quietly replied, looking over to her. He sighed heavily as he locked his hands together in front of him. "Harry, on the other hand -" He shook his head. "I should've known much sooner, Minerva. Perhaps all of this misery could've been avoided."

McGonagall placed a hand on Dumbledore's arm. "Sometimes, Albus, terrible things are meant to happen so we can learn from them." She let her hand slip away when Dumbledore shifted his gaze back to Ron. "I'm certain Mr. Potter has learned enough lessons from this to last him a lifetime."

He nodded. Usually, he was the one giving the words of wisdom. This time, though, Minerva put things into perspective. Awful as it sounded, it was probably best for Harry to have traveled the path he had. As a result, he knew exactly what they were up against and why the war needed to be won. Only so much could be conveyed through words and even less could be understood.

"He has a long way to go to be who he once was," McGonagall added.

"He'll never be who he once was," Dumbledore replied as he looked down at the other professor. "And he'll always wish he were."

McGonagall's head turned when the door of the infirmary opened. Hermione Granger entered and headed for Ron's bed. As she neared, she slowed to a stop when she saw a chair pulled up to the side. In the chair sat Harry, slumped down and his eyes were closed. He was fast asleep. His own wounds had been tended to yet he remained.

"Hasn't left his side," Madam Pomfrey commented as she came up beside Hermione. She shook her head, an expression of sympathy and sadness on her face. "I've told him several times that Mr. Weasley may not wake anytime soon. Still, he stays." She patted Hermione's shoulder then shuffled away, disappearing into another section of the infirmary.

Quietly, Hermione approached the bed, giving Harry a glance as she passed by him. Settling on the opposite side of the bed, she took one of Ron's hands into hers and held tightly to it. His pulse was stronger and the color returned to his face. Life refused to leave. It fought to remain with him.

"I told you you'd be all right," she whispered. She blinked back a few tears. They barely saved his life, she knew. Harry told Madam Pomfrey what spell he'd used and she knew just which potion would counteract the effects of it. Her gaze drifted over to Harry.

He appeared so worn, like a person who'd just finished a draining task. Whatever had happened to him, it was over. He may have come to his senses but everything between them had changed.

She looked back to Ron. The fact he'd taken that hit from Harry's wand in her place didn't slip by her. Had he not shoved her aside, she would most likely have been killed. No doubt Harry and Ron would've returned the favor for one another after that. Her anger towards Harry returned. How could they mend the broken bonds? Was it even possible after all they'd been through? Could she make herself want such a thing? Could Ron?

"What are we going to do?" she sighed, thinking aloud more than anything. "What's to become of us now?"

Harry's eyes opened and he focused on Hermione. She sat on Ron's bed, Ron's hand in hers and a tired, melancholy expression weighed upon her beautiful face. The shame over the things he'd done, especially to his two closest friends, pressed on his conscience. The guilt hadn't yet descended upon him and he knew when it came, it would be unbearable.

He wanted to apologize to Hermione, to Ron, and to everyone he'd hurt in the last few months. What good would his words do for them? The pain he'd inflicted wasn't easy to heal. Those who'd survived his deadly trek in the Darkness carried scars that never faded. Words could not be unsaid, apologies couldn't take them back and memory didn't forget them. Not soon. Maybe not ever.

'What's to become of us now?'

Hermione's question was a good one. Harry's future was uncertain. Outside of Ron and Hermione, only Madam Pomfrey, Dumbledore and McGonagall knew what he'd done. If Dumbledore turned him over to the Dementors, Harry would accept it. As Draco said, he had done more than enough to earn himself a place in Azkaban prison. If that would bring a sense of justice to those he'd wronged, so be it. Whatever he had to do to set things right, he would do it.

Hermione's head lifted when she felt Ron stir in bed. Her heart fluttered with the hope he would open his eyes and tell her he would be okay. If only she could hear it from him, if only.

"Mmm," he softly moaned. His eyelids quivered rapidly as he stirred again. His hand squeezed Hermione's then he exhaled deeply and became deathly silent after it.

"Ron?" Hermione placed one hand to his forehead and slid it down to one cheek. He felt a little cool. A panic set in as she searched for a sign that he was still with her. "Can you hear me?" Her other hand wrapped around his wrist and felt for his pulse. "Ron?"

A moment later, his eyes slowly opened then searched through the darkness until he found her face. Her brow was furrowed with worry, eyes slightly red from crying but otherwise, she was fine. It was a nice vision to wake up to and he only hoped he wasn't dreaming again.

"Where ... am ... I?" he asked in a weak whisper. "Dead?"

She smiled a little as she brushed her fingers through his hair. "No, you're not dead," she replied. "I wouldn't let you die."

He managed something that resembled a laugh then replied, "Typical." He shifted in the bed and winced at the pain that shot through his upper chest. He couldn't remember much of what happened in the library. Things were meshed together - his dreams and reality. He couldn't sort out which was which at this point. "You ... okay?"

She nodded. "I'm fine." Her hand squeezed his gently. "If you hadn't been so brave, I wouldn't be, though. Thank you."

The words cut Harry deeply. I almost killed her. I almost killed both of them. The thought made him physically ill.

Ron murmured something.

"What?" She leaned closer. "What did you say? I couldn't make it out."

"Harry ... still alive?" he repeated. He took a few breaths. The talking drained him of what little energy he'd regained through the course of the night.

"Yes. He's alive," she replied. Her gaze shifted over to Harry, who quickly shut his eyes so she wouldn't know he was awake. "Only a few broken ribs." She pressed her lips together and looked at Ron again. "He's here, too."

Ron's eyes widened briefly and he shifted in bed again. Hermione placed a hand to his chest to settle him. He looked to his right. When he saw Harry in the chair at his bedside, he lifted up one hand but it almost immediately fell back down.

"He's sleeping." She placed a finger to her lips to tell Ron to keep quiet. "Don't worry. It's all right." She saw the fear in Ron's eyes and she understood. "He's ... he's not who he was. Whatever spell was over him, he managed to break free of it."

Ron squirmed on the bed again but Hermione kept her hand firmly in place until he finally stopped. "Why ... " he breathed, much more labored than before. "Why ... is ... he ... here?"

"He wouldn't leave you," Hermione explained. She glanced over to Harry again. As happy as she was to have their old Harry back, she wasn't comfortable with his presence in the infirmary.


"He knows everything. He and McGonagall, they know what happened." She felt his body relax underneath her hand and she finally withdrew it. "They're here in the infirmary with us, you haven't anything to worry about. He won't hurt you again."

Harry's eyes opened a little. He watched Hermione lean forward to place a kiss on Ron's forehead. In that moment, the floodgates of his guilt burst wide open. He'd hurt them in so many ways he couldn't make up for it all. Not even if he had an eternity to try. How could he expect their forgiveness for unforgivable acts?

"Go back to sleep," Hermione whispered as she sat back on the bed. Her free hand tucked the blankets around Ron. "You need to rest."

Soon, Ron's eyes drifted shut and Hermione felt his grip relax as he fell asleep. She sighed softly then shifted her gaze to Harry - flashes of her encounter with him in the library a few days before filled her mind. She swallowed hard and her jaw tightened as the anger she felt towards him flared.

"I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive you, Harry," she said softly, still unaware he was awake and could hear every single word. "Or if I even want to."

I don't know if I want to, either, he thought.

It hurt to care and he wished that he didn't.