A/N: Hello please don't kill me I know my last update was AGES AGO but I swear I had... so many exams. So many. But now I'm done, yay.
There was fog, thick and turgid and constricting, and her eyes burnt like the sun and her muscles ached with agony like torture and she couldn't see, couldn't breathe-
"Lumos Maximus," she whispered, her voice course, "Finite Incantatem."
The room burst into light as the fog cleared; her eyes cooled and her muscles relaxed. She sighed and pointed her wand at her opponent.
"Bad idea," he said, walking sideways on the combs of his feet, his wand confidently pointed in her direction. "You gave away your position twice- first by clearing the fog and giving me back my sight and then casting a light so bright I can see your freckles fifteen feet away. Again."
He shouted something and the fog returned, thicker and more turgid and infinitely more constricting and she thought she was being bottled up in a container and her head was pounding but she didn't, couldn't let it show because you don't show your enemy that you're scared, you nevergive it away-
"Again, Hermione, again!"
She whispered to not give away her position and cast a Bubble-Head charm, gratefully breathing in air- the charm had cleared her eyesight, too. She crouched, her hands propping her up, and started breathing slowly, as quietly as she could. Then, she stuck herself against the floor, her wand arm pointed forwards- she cast a minor Finite Incantatem in a circle, removing the fog two inches from the floor upwards. She looked around, and seven feet away- she spotted it.
Two feet in a duelling stance, walking slowly, like a predator stalking their prey.
"Stupefy," she whispered, pointing at the feet, and repeated the spell again a short distance in front of the target's direction.
The first spell missed, and the second hit his left calf. He screamed out in surprise, and the sound was followed with a loud thump as he hit the floor. She cleared the fog for the second time, and approached him, unable to wipe the victorious grin off her face.
When she cast a Rennervate, Harry Potter looked up at her and sighed. "That was stupidly clever."
Hermione stretched out a hand to help him get up. "Come on, one last time before the rest come in. I reallydon't think the Room will agree to ever let us in again if Seamus misfires and we end up with a third explosion."
Harry stood up, moving away from her and getting into a duelling stance. "You cast it this time."
She nodded, getting ready to cast.
"For Dumbledore's Army," said Harry, his eyes narrowed in preparation.
"For Dumbledore's Army," echoed Hermione, as the world around them started to haze out of focus.
Tuesday, 31st of October.
She threw the covers of her bed off, eyeing the small, makeshift calendar she'd written down on the same piece of parchment Madam Rae had given her upon her arrival.
Though it was a weekday, Master Gridlock had warned her that everyone would be celebrating- they would, predictably, have a busy day after the Ministry work hours had ended. She and Isimud were in charge of making sure any children that walked inside didn't play or eat with any of the poisonous ingredients- judging by how Isimud's face twisted at the request, Hermione understood that this was a common threat.
She went the bathroom to prepare.
Hand hovering over the cauldron, Master Gridlock hummed to himself.
"No, Master Gridlock, I honestly doubt this is the right one."
Isimud nodded. "I agree with Hermione. Those teeth look like they're from the wrong species, not even breed."
He tutted. "Trust me, kids, I've done this before-"
"If by this you mean explosion then yes, I've personally witnessed more of those than I'd have liked-"
"-I know these are Red Rat's teeth because I collected them myself, see, I was in Barcelona- not because I was on an expedition, no, I'd actually gone for love, see-"
"Sorry, Hermione dear, I'll tell you all about that later- but see, these teeth are correct because you see how the crown is shaped like a little star-"
"Yes, Master Gridlock, but a male Pygmy Panda has the same crown shape, but has a small dot patterned enamel, as you see, here."
Isimud and Master Gridlock both glanced at her, with concerned looks that seemed to say how would you know this? Isimud, however, seemed more amused than puzzled.
She flushed. "I-um, yes, see, right here-"
He lowered his hands. "Well, you beat me there, dear, I'll trust your judgement on this one."
Hermione and Isimud sighed in relief, and their postures relaxed.
"But I'm actually quite sure these should work, maybe give it a better colour-"
"Master Gridlock, NO!"
Hermione tried to reach over to stop him, as Isimud automatically shoved himself under a worktable in protection, but it was too late- Master Gridlock had reached into the jar of candy instead of the jar adjacent and promptly threw in a handful of bright orange candy corn into the cauldron, resulting in-
The loud bang shook the entire desk, shoving Hermione and Master Gridlock backwards- Hermione felt something hard shove into the back of her shoulder, just as her bottom thudded on the floor.
She wasn't even bloody surprised, anymore.
"You never listen!" Shouted Isimud, rising up from under the worktable. He looked livid, eyeing the cauldron as he cautiously stepped around it. "Never! Not once!"
"I am a master potion-eeer, of course I am curious as to what certain ingredients can do-"
"I am a child- I'm 'curious' too but I have enough common sense not to mix Halloween candy with volatile ingredients-!"
"Then you miss out on all the fun, young lad, see, you would have never seen such exciting potions if it hadn't been for-"
"Well, for every exciting potion I see, I also happen to experience at least ten explosions! Where's the fun in that? For Merlin's sake, you don't put food in there…"
"It was… it was you who was stealing my lunch, wasn't it? To put it in your crazy potions!"
Master Gridlock backed himself into the shelves. "Isimud, son, you know this isn't true-"
"I spent hours making that sandwich!"
Hermione tried to stand up, but promptly groaned in pain.
"Well I spent hours making that potion!"
Hermione called out to Isimud for help, but he seemed too distracted.
"And I starved to near-death that day!"
She called out again.
"What?! I bought you lunch every time I had to use one of your little meals-"
Master Gridlock stopped mid-sentence, his mouth open in a similar fashion to a fish. His moustache twitched uncomfortably on his face.
"Hermione dear, are you quite alright?"
She breathed deeply, attempting to control her racing pulse. "No, I am not, thank you very much for asking, my shoulder hurts and I cannot get up."
Isimud ran to her side and offered her a hand. She took it, rising gingerly from the floor. When she looked at him, he was smirking- an entertained, laughing smirk.
"What?" she huffed.
"You're off the bonkers hilarious when you're mad."
She let go of his hand and massaged her shoulder. "No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
"No, I am not."
"Yes, you are," he countered, his voice mocking.
She glared at him.
"Hermione, dear," interrupted Master Gridlock, shoving his way past Isimud, who whimpered in irritation, "Are you alright? Do you need me to look at it?"
She rolled her shoulder once, ignoring the spark of pain. "No, it's alright. It might bruise, but I think that's it."
"I have some bruising salve, if you'd like, dear-"
"No, please, Master Gridlock. I have some back in my room. Thank you."
He looked at her for a few long moments, as if expecting her to change her mind. Then, "alright, then, no problem. Do tell me if you need any help."
He headed back to his office, as Hermione attempted to inspect her shoulder by massaging it.
"Oh, Master Gridlock?"
"Yes?" he replied, his head poking out from behind the door.
"Are there any errands I need to run, at the moment?"
He paused, his finger twisting the ends of his moustache. "Yes, dear, there is, actually- I need you to run by Honeydukes to get me an order I placed, just a collection of various treats for the day, for all the kids and whatnot- if it's too heavy for you to carry, given your shoulder's current predicament, I'm sure Isimud would be more than happy to help." He nodded in a sense of finality. "That is all."
She smiled in confirmation and looked at Isimud- who was busy cleaning up the mess behind the cauldron accident, pretending as if he hadn't heard Master Gridlock.
"I'll see you later."
He didn't look up. "Oh, pardon? Yes, alright, cheers."
She rolled her eyes and walked out.
"But my son's allergic to liquorice!"
The saleswoman nodded in understanding, clearing her throat. "I understand, Madam, but these are the only ones we have-"
"But he's allergic. Do you want him to die?!"
"Madam, these are free of charge, you don't have to take one of them!"
"But I want to! Get me something that isn't liquorice!"
The saleswoman clenched her fist, covering her mouth. "Look, I-"
"Is everything alright, here? Can I help you?"
The woman looked elated at the appearance of a new worker. When her eyes landed on the Assistant Manager badge, she nearly screamed in joy.
"Yes, finally, someone with a brain! This woman wants to kill my son, alright, and she won't…"
Hermione waited in line as the assistant manager walked alongside the woman and her son, then walked up to the counter.
"Good morning, how can I help you?"
The saleswoman looked tired, her smile forced. Hermione smiled back.
"Good morning- I'm here for an order for Master Gridlock."
The saleswoman opened a binder, searching for the name. Then, her eyes stopped suddenly, then widened.
"I am so sorry, miss, but we've forgotten to do that order! We've been preparing hundreds since yesterday and seems like this one just slipped off my mind."
Hermione stared at the woman for a few long, long moments. "When can I come pick it up?"
The saleswoman hesitantly looked around the shop- there were dozens of people filing in, and most of the staff were under heavy pressure. "Well…"
"This is horribly inefficient of you," said Hermione, her mood soured, "and you need to remedy it right away. I understand if you might have been overstaffed but I can list at least three different techniques you could have used to speed up your rate of preparing and packing, and I am sure one of your superiors can, too. This isn't the first Halloween you've celebrated." She stepped away from the counter. "I'll come back for the order as soon as possible. Please owl Master Gridlock once you're finished. Good day."
The woman stuttered for a few moments, her face reddening, but Hermione instantly walked away. She headed for one of the displays near the back, knowing that exiting through the door would need proper planning and strategy to avoid being run over by the masses of children and parents.
She started fiddling with a single wrapped chocolate on display when she heard a knock. She looked up abruptly, peering at the stairs leading to the storage room, then looked away.
Again, a second knock.
Hermione dropped the candy, and tried to find a member of staff near her to check- then a shuffle sounded, and then the noise of an object being shoved-
"Stop this, Hermione, it's not your place to go look." She took a deep breath, clenching her arms. "You're in enough shite as it is, already-"
A loud squeak rung out, and Hermione's heart sped up. She looked at the noise's direction, eyes shifting.
She took small, careful steps towards the staircase, and just as she was about to climb them, another noise sounded from the back. She ducked and walked further in, breathing as quietly as she could.
When no other noises sounded, Hermione straightened and briefly contemplated her surroundings.
Then, she fell.
She fell, and the interior of Honeydukes faded into blackness and the noise of the crowd blended into nothingness and she wanted to scream, to shout but her throat had stopped working, refused to work and for a few moments she was simply falling and falling-
She landed, tumbling onto her wrists, and her shoulder screamed in pain and her heart started to beat with an irregular, jumping rhythm speeding like water rushing by the rocks in a stream; she stood up and massaged her shoulder for the second time that day.
"Don't say a word, or I'll slit your fucking throat."
The sharp edge burned on the skin of her neck- her heart pounded faster against her sternum, and the time turner contrasted coldly on her chest. She tried to reach upwards, to push it away-
"Seeing that I'm the one in… control, here, that wouldn't be such a smart move."
She recognized that voice. That rough, lazy voice with dragged out syllables and rolled r's.
"What are you doing here, then?" he asked, his mouth next to her ear, making her shudder- he hadn't realized that she knew who he was.
"Don't ask me," she replied, moving her head away, "but shouldn't you be in class?"
He laughed, then, but provided no answer. "Ingenious." He tightened his grip on her arm.
They were silent for a few moments, as Dolohov ran the sharp edge over the stretched skin of her neck.
"Is this how-" she cleared her throat. "Is this how you got into Hogsmeade last weekend?"
"No, it isn't."
"Are you aware that this has got to be against the rules?"
He laughed, again, his breath hot against her cheek. "Yes. Yes I am."
She struggled, then his grip tightened, and he pulled her closer to his person. She gulped.
"So, Miss Grimshaw," he drawled, as if bored, "do you come here often?"
She hated how her voice shook, hated how her entire body was panicked-
His grip relaxed, and the feeling of the sharp edge suddenly disappeared. Hermione stepped forward and coughed, her breathing shallow and hurried.
"Is this how you normally greet people?" she wheezed, leaning on the stone walls. She couldn't see in the dark, but she was sure he was still somewhere behind her.
"No," he said, his voice just above a whisper, "but you're a bit… special, aren't you?"
Bang, bang, bang- and her heart stopped.
"Special?" She whispered, her hand trailing to touch the time turner- because even if it didn't make the tiniest bit of sense, even if the pendant was broken and dull and looked nothing like an actual one, she was never supposed to underestimate her enemies because the last time they did that- well. "I'm anything but."
"Would you like to see Hogwarts?" He asked, suddenly, and Hermione nearly jumped.
"Hogwarts, darling," he laughed. "If you haven't figured it out yet, this leads to and from Hogwarts. Riddle told me you've never seen it before."
She was silent for a few seconds. "How thoughtful."
And even though it was dark, sleet black, she thought she could feel Dolohov's eyes on her back.
If getting a knife to my throat is all it took to get into Hogwarts, she thought, then this was pretty easy.
"Alright," she said, turning to face where she thought Dolohov was standing. "I'd love that."
She heard the sound of something moving, then his voice was suddenly farther away. "I'm sure you will. Follow my voice, I can't cast a Lumos in here."
Hermione placed her hand on the rough, stone wall, and pushed away the hair from her ears. "Why not?"
He snorted in amusement. "One of our professors found this little… hallway, two years ago. She blocked it and cast a Detection charm- if anyone casts a spell in here, the professors know. The block was easy to get through. The charm," he said, "not so much."
She nodded, then remembered he couldn't see her. "Oh. Of course."
"You happen to know how to dislodge a Detection Charm, Miss Grimshaw?" He asked, his voice laced with amusement. "Countless people are sure to appreciate it."
She almost said yes, but then the facts that this hallway was basically an escape route for students and that a professor had blocked it for a perfectly valid reason dawned on her, and she closed her mouth.
"Didn't think so," he said, his voice sounding further away.
She clenched her fist and tried not to curse, quickening her steps.
"It doesn't sound that difficult to research," she said, suddenly.
"I'm sure it isn't, darling," he said, and his voice came from the left- so Hermione used both her hands to navigate, and found that he had turned instead of continuing forwards. "But one can't really be bothered when you've got so much on your plate, already. Being a Seventh year is no fun."
Then, she couldn't think of anything but the fact that she never got to be a Seventh year, and that she resented Dolohov and Rosier and the Blacks and each and every single one who could get what she couldn't, who didn't want it as much as she did-
She followed him out a small, wooden door, tattered and worn and moulded with age, and breathed.
"Welcome to Hogwarts."
They stood in an empty hallway. Dull grey stones spanned the walls, and a single, dying plant climbed across the lone window- she was severely unimpressed, even though she was already familiar with the interiors of Hogwarts.
"Sorry I couldn't bring you in through the front gates," quipped Dolohov, his tone droll, "but your visit wasn't exactly planned."
But then it hit her.
She was in Hogwarts.
She was in Hogwarts.
"I always thought it was tradition for families with big names to always be prepared," she said, running the tip of her shoes across the edges of the stone floors. They felt strange. Not as worn out, perhaps. Or not as familiar. "You never know what kind of unplanned visit you might get."
He leaned on the wall, and the edges of his mouth quirked, a bitter and laughing smile. "Oh, I'm always prepared, Miss Grimshaw."
Hermione nearly gulped. But instead, she nodded. "I'm sure you are." She straightened her back and extended an open hand. "Call me Hermione, please. I think after all of… that, you can move beyond your little Miss Grimshaw act."
Dolohov's mouth dropped open, surprised, yet amused- he stepped closer and shook her hand. "Charmed. Call me Antonin, then."
She narrowed her eyes and shook her head, grinning. "I'd rather not. Dolohov has a nicer ring to it."
He laughed. "What was it that you said? Incredible."
She nodded stiffly, crossed her arms, and looked around.
"Care for a tour, then?"
Hermione nearly nodded, then stopped. "What if we get caught? I really don't think professors find the idea of sneaking people into the castle funny-"
"Do you take me for an idiot?" He started walking. "I wouldn't show you inside if I felt like we would 'get caught'."
"Come on. It's a big castle."
Hermione looked over, widening his eyes in mock-fascination. "Truly? I had not seen it towering above the fields all the way from Hogsmeade. Not at all."
He turned his head around, slowly, making sure that his face expressed how much he did not appreciate her cheek.
They walked in silence for a few minutes, Hermione looking passively at the grey, empty hallway, before talking. "What were you doing trying to sneak into Honeydukes?"
"What were you doing sneaking into the back of Honeydukes?" She could hear the smile in his voice.
"You didn't answer my question."
He stopped, turned around, and cocked his head. "I don't see why I have to. Perhaps I was hungry. Perhaps I was hoping for something… sweet. Does that satisfy your curiosity, Hermione?"
The way he pronounced her name sent a horrified shiver down her hands, to her fingertips. She hated how her name sounded on his tongue. She forced a smile. "Absolutely not."
He started walking again, then fell back to her side. Unconsciously, Hermione pulled her sleeves down, covering her hands.
"This must be the second time I've seen you in that horrid jumper," he said, looking at it. "What is this, purple?"
"Rose." She said it too fast. "It's… rose."
He rolled his eyes and looked forward again, sticking his hands in his pockets. His leather shoes snapped loudly against the stone floor with each step. They took a left, walking into a larger area- the ceiling was higher, the windows wider, and the air generally less stuffy. "Lost your luggage in the trip, I would guess?"
She looked around, her heart beating faster. This hallway looked familiar. "I lost a lot of things in the trip."
Hermione felt like he was going to say something, but he didn't. He sped up. "Come on. Let me show you something." After a few seconds, Hermione realized why this hallway had looked familiar- they were slowly approaching her old- or her future- DADA class. She stopped in her tracks.
"Dolohov, do you really think it wise if we-"
"Wise my arse," he laughed, motioning her forward. "It's the middle of the period. No one's going to pay attention to the halls."
"No one's on patrol?"
"Not here. Get a move on."
Hermione was about to say no- Dolohov was being incredibly rude and bossy- but realizing that she would probably need connections within Hogwarts at some point, Hermione pretended not to be annoyed and followed.
They stood outside the classroom, the door slightly ajar. A seventh year class sat inside, the first two rows attentively writing down notes while the others in the back seemed less interested- Dolohov smirked and waved to someone inside.
She followed his eyes, and her heart fell.
Inside, Tom Riddle was sitting in the front row- each of the Black cousins were sitting to his sides- but Riddle's eyes were locked onto hers.
He had seen her.
Suddenly, the door slammed open- Dolohov's eyes widened but Hermione had quickly moved behind the door. She peeked through the slit. Everyone's eyes were on Dolohov, Riddle's were on her- or what he could see of her- she ignored him.
"Why, Antonin, great of you to join us."
"Why, Professor Merrythought, great of you to expect me!" At Dolohov's reply, the class erupted into laughter.
Professor Merrythought frowned, though it was obvious she was hiding a smile. "Get in class, Antonin. You're horribly late."
"Anything for you, madame," he said, bowing with extreme exaggeration. Seemed Dolohov was an utter class clown, if not simply a fool.
Before stepping in, he suddenly stopped, and looked outside, opposite the direction where Hermione was standing. "Uh, Peter- I'll meet you in the Quidditch field. Over by the old boys' changing room."
Someone in the back of the class piped up. "No one uses the old changing rooms. You planning to do something inappropriate with Pete, Dolohov?" The students fell into light laughter, and Dolohov's eyes narrowed.
"Why don't you come along and join us, Hitchens? Maybe you'll see for your goddamn self-"
"Language, boys!" Shouted the professor. Realizing that 'Peter' was meant to be her, Hermione silently stepped the other way, and began walking. The sounds of the class quickly drowned out as the door was shut.
Hermione walked through the relatively familiar hallways with anything but ease. She stuck herself to the walls, walking quietly and carefully, hiding her face behind her hair, trying to avoid eye contact with any portraits that may be passing by. At length, she wondered why in the seven hells she was actually going to Dolohov's rendezvous point, but again had to remind herself that she needed connections within Hogwarts. She sighed. Why couldn't it have been a Potter? A Weasley, even? A Prewett? Names that weren't typically Slytherins.
Still, she wouldn't have known. That wasn't how she was supposed to think- that wasn't how she would ever think. This was what she was given. This was what she would work with.
Almost half an hour later of sneaking around the hallways and avoiding any classes by any means possible, Hermione managed to sneak out the open gate into the courtyard, sprinting in the cover of large trees towards the Quidditch field minutes before the period ended and students started to filter out of their classes. She spent almost ten minutes hiding behind a towering oak tree to make sure there weren't any flying classes about to commence in the field before running inside. The old changing rooms weren't difficult to find, seeing as a large sign labelled OUT OF SERVICE was plastered on the door. She walked inside, ducking underneath the wooden boards nailed onto the door, and sat down on the nearest bench.
She sighed. She needed a plan. A better one.
Somehow, she'd only been around for ten days yet had managed to get herself into so much shite- and with each passing day her hopes of doing something about it seemed to fade away. She recalled having just decided to save up enough money and stay in a muggle village until she had figured things out, but the likeliness of that seemed to decrease every day.
Hermione pulled out the Time Turner from underneath her jumper- she looked at its dull colour, wiping it with her hands. When she turned it around, a single golden grain fell on her finger.
She held it upwards, attempting to aim it into the few light beams shining through the room, and saw that it was bright- extremely bright, entirely unlike the pendant itself.
She nearly screamed- but this time, it wasn't because of fear or shock or misery- no, if the sand… if the sand was still alright then there was a chance that she could-
Abruptly, footsteps sounded outside, and Hermione hurried to shove the pendant back inside her jumper, the single golden grain flicking to the ground, slightly larger than a normal grain of sand and significantly more noticeable. She threw her foot on it, pretending to have gone off balance for a second.
"Merlin's sake, Dolohov, knocking would have been nice-"
"Miss Grimshaw. Should you be here?"
Hermione stopped. Tom Riddle walked inside, looking around distastefully. He looked much less intimidating without his black robes on- his shirt was tucked in immaculately, and his tie, green and silver, reached just above his waistline. He was not smiling as he usually was when he talked to her.
"Riddle." She squared her shoulders. "Should you?"
He shrugged, walking further inside. "I don't happen to have class at the moment, so I should go wherever I please."
She didn't reply, looking away. Her foot was starting to hurt. She adjusted her stance without moving it. "You sound much more self-entitled when you're alone."
He raised his eyebrows. "You sound much less lady-like when you're alone."
She took a deep breath and stood in silence. For a second, she'd forgotten who she was talking to. For a second she forgot she had yet to know what he was truly capable of.
For a second, she'd forgotten that this was the man who would kill Harry's parents in exactly thirty-six years' time.
The mantra came back to her. Watch your tongue.
"It's great seeing you, Miss Grimshaw, but might I ask why you're… honouring us with your presence, today? And here, of all places?"
She swallowed the lump in her throat and looked at him. Somehow, she felt as if she couldn't keep up with the pleasantries, at the moment. "I'm sure Dolohov- your friend- has already told you."
He smiled, and began pacing. Hermione cemented her feet to the ground. He stepped closer, then stopped in his tracks, his eyes fixed on something.
Hermione's heart stopped. She looked down, slowly, and realized she had failed to hide her Time Turner before he walked in- quickly, she shoved it inside her jumper, hoping that none of the sand would fall out.
"Tell me. What is that?"
Hermione looked up, stepping back. "Hm?"
"That necklace." He narrowed his eyes, forcing a smile. His voice was low, threatening. Hermione had to physically stop herself from backing away further. "Looks rather interesting, doesn't it?"
"It's…" she'd had an idea on the tip of her tongue, a quick lie she'd formulated, but stopped. Details give away lies. "It serves as a reminder."
He nodded then, respectfully, and started backing away. "All students should be in their class, at the moment. I'm afraid I have matters to attend to but I can have Alphard escort you back."
She smiled, shaking her head. "It's alright, I know my way there-"
He shook his head. A beam of light hit against his cheekbone, highlighting his face in straight-lines and severely contrasting his pale skin with the darkness of the room. "I insist."
Hermione widened her eyes in disbelief. This must have been the first time he was so… direct. "Since when do you fear so much for my safety, Mister Riddle?"
He turned around, heading for the door. "I am only doing what anyone else would do, Miss Grimshaw."
She pursed her lips. "It's rather… reassuring to know that you're concerned I may lose my way in this large campus, on my first visit."
He turned around, looking over his shoulder. "If this were to be your first visit, it is rather exceptional that you were to find your way from the Seventh floor to the Quidditch field with such ease."
She opened her mouth- then closed it again.
"Good day. Alphard will be here in a minute."
Her eyes glazed over as she felt her breaths slow down, as if her body had given up on her. Merlin. How could I have been so stupid? She felt her knees give in, and slowly knelt down to the floor.
Moments later, a knock sounded on the door, and a familiar voice piped up. "Grimshaw? Are you in there?"
She nodded, then hummed in reply, picking herself up. Distractedly, Hermione walked out the door, kneeling under the large sign and stepping out to the other side.
"Great seeing you on a Tuesday," he laughed. Seeing that she looked slightly off balance, Alphard stopped smiling and began walking, urging Hermione to come along.
She was an idiot. A complete and utter idiot. Had Dolohov known? Was this what he had planned the moment he walked with her into Hogwarts?
"I hope Riddle wasn't too harsh on you," said Alphard, interrupting her thoughts. "That never feels good."
She did a double take, looking at Alphard. "What do you mean?"
He raised an eyebrow. She shrugged, looking away. "You have a point. I'd just talked to Riddle last Sunday. He was a lot more… courteous." Somehow, she'd preferred the current kind of treatment more. It made it easier to dislike him.
Alphard looked at her, seemingly coming to the conclusion that she'd talked to Riddle before she'd ran into them on Sunday night. She clenched her teeth, having realized her slip.
Nonetheless, he did not comment on it. "You have to remember, though," he said, starting down a large staircase. "Riddle's not really what he seems."
"I know," she said, slightly too fast. She quickened her pace.
"He's been rather courteous, as you say it, as of late," he began, his olive green eyes reflecting the oddly bright skies. "But suddenly, you're sitting with us. And suddenly, you're on his territory. With no warning, whatsoever. Riddle is very… cautious- he always has a feeling everyone has an ulterior motive, that they're out to get him." Alphard reached into his pockets and extracted his wand, distractedly playing with it with his fingers. Hermione eyed it, a pang in her chest. "Your circumstances in Hogsmeade are sudden and unusual, and even though we are aware your family lives in the Americas, this country's traditions and values do not usually allow for your particular actions to happen on a normal basis." He shrugged. "Not all of the country is like this, of course, but Hogsmeade holds on to old pureblood traditions. I'm sure you understand."
She nodded. Pureblood traditions. Of course.
Hermione's head tilted upwards, and she realized the sun had moved a lot further than when she'd first come- it must have been two hours, and she had forgotten that she had a job. The rest of the journey was silent, and she thanked Alphard quietly when he checked the doorway into Honeydukes for her before letting her through. She stepped out into the still crowded shop, blending in with the masses and allowing herself a few minutes of thought before quickly stepping to the back of the queue.
Fifteen minutes later, she reached the front of the line.
The girl looked up, attempting a weak smile, which instantly fell off her face upon seeing Hermione. Instead, complete and utter horror seemed to take over.
"Oh, Miss, I was about to write to Master Gridlock-"
"It's alright," said Hermione- her voice was quiet, weak. The girl seemed to find it odd. "I'm here. Is the stuff ready?"
She leaned over the counter. "Yeah- is everything alright, Miss?"
Hermione didn't believe it at first- she'd been rather mean to the girl only a couple of hours ago, and yet she was being kind-
The girl nodded, then turned around, picking up a large parcel wrapped in small, black and orange ribbons that would normally help Hermione get into the spirit- but, in this moment, it could not. Hermione took the parcel, signalling to the girl that Master Gridlock would owl her the money, and proceeded to push her way out of Honeydukes.
She stood outside the door for three minutes before she began to move.
The night had gone well, in general. They had received more customers than usual, what people needed from a second-grade apothecary on Halloween was beyond Hermione, but she had no complaints. She and Isimud had managed to stave off the younger population from sticking their hands in ingredient bottles, and Hermione had finally gotten to see Isimud interacting with other children his age- it was obvious, then, that Isimud was well beyond his years, and not necessarily in good ways. Other children found him odd, and he resented them for feeling as such.
She could sympathise.
Master Gridlock did not comment on her lateness, and did not seem irritated at all. At the end of their shift, Hermione bid them goodbye, and walked towards the Three Broomsticks with a bag of leftovers in her hands. Occasionally, she would shuffle through it for pieces of chocolate, and shove them unceremoniously into her mouth.
The Three Broomsticks was filled to the brim- customers rolled in and out, apparently unconcerned that it was relatively late, on a work night. When she walked inside, heading for the stairs, a hand on her shoulder stopped her. Turning around, Hermione faced Shei, who had an apologetic smile on her face.
"Hermione, I have come to apologize-"
Quickly, Hermione shook her head, signalling that it was alright. "Bygones." She looked up at Shei, who seemed to have had a long speech prepared which had to be cancelled at the last minute. "Candy?"
Shei furrowed her eyebrows, looking at the bag, then at Hermione again. Hermione nodded, stretching the bag towards Shei, who hesitantly pulled out a small piece of candy corn from inside.
"Oh, those are good," said Hermione, her mouth full. "You'll like it. Here, take some more, and offer them to Madam Rae."
Again, Shei hesitantly reached into the bag, taking a handful at Hermione's insistence. Hermione tried to ignore Shei's puzzled and inquiring look, and instead pretended to be more tired than she was, and began to head upstairs.
She swallowed, then turned around, looking at Shei.
"Would you care to join me for breakfast tomorrow?"
Pursing her lips in consideration, Hermione considered saying no- but Shei had apologized. For whatever it is that she did. She didn't bloody know who Tom Riddle was- or who he will be.
Shei smiled, stretching her mouth in a beautiful grin, before turning around and leaving.
A/N: Hello again! I've noticed recently (well, my dearest reviewers noticed first which lead to me noticing, eventually) that Hermione's been rather... damsel-in-distress-y lately? This was my attempt to get through how utterly confused and desperate she was, and I apologize if I overshot a little bit! I am slowly extracting Hermione from the gutter. Many plans for this one.
Tell me what you think! I love your feedback, guys. It makes my stomach flutter. But instead of butterflies, they're like, rampant, angry, starving dinosaurs. That's how happy I am.