Harry Potter and its characters, story, and everything else is © J. K. Rowling.

Brilliant but Scary

▼ Chapter Thirty Five ▼

It had been a scant few days since the Yule Ball, and yet it felt almost like a past dream given how quickly the school had changed back. Hermione was off in her corner of the library while Harry was off practicing Quidditch again, though in this case a more normal practice rather than a mock game. He'd told her not to bother coming to watch given it was going to be nothing special. She had been tempted to go anyway, but the temperature outside convinced her to take up the offer instead and work on something else.

The sound of quill on paper was soft but steady at her table. She scratched away at her grimoire, working on something far tamer than her last attempts at spellwork. Her work on the contact incendiary had stalled in many ways, the work simply beyond her capacity at the moment, particularly because practical testing wasn't in the cards. Professor Snape had been rather clear on that point, and though she'd been sorely tested to press the issue she'd not wanted to lose access to the professor's library if he got fed up with her pouting.

So, incendiarius remained largely incomplete, and she'd been forced to move on to something else, namely something she hoped she could use in the upcoming dueling club. That way it could be tested in a practical, real world scenario, or at least as close as she was going to get. She had gotten out some of her more tame yet old texts, translated Chaldean spellbooks and some 14th century works as well. Basic striking spells served as a good basis for later work, and some of the best versions of those had been devised a very long time ago, rediscovered later on when texts from the Islamic world began to filter back into Europe.

Pausing, she stared at the page for a moment, looking at what she'd written before letting out a sigh of frustration. No, this wouldn't do. Several times she'd gotten well into writing out a charm only to realize she was basically attempting to achieve something that was already done, and unlikely to be done better by her. There was something humbling about crafting spells; Hermione was realizing that she was not nearly as clever as she thought she was. Then again, it wasn't as if most other students were even attempting spellcrafting, so even her struggles put her a step above, she supposed.

She dropped her quill and leaned back in her seat, letting her eyes drift to the window. It was a sunny day, a nice one really even despite the temperature. She considered packing things up and just going out to the Quidditch pitch, but Harry would be finishing before long anyway and would be looking for her right after he got done cleaning himself up no doubt. With another sigh she picked the quill back up and stared at the page, trying to think of something else to try.

It was maddening, really, to simply sit and hope that by sheer will something would occur to her. Hermione felt she might lose herself if that went on much longer. Luckily, she was saved by an unlikely source as Susan Bones slid into the chair across from her. Hermione looked up and tried to give a genuine smile, though the look Susan gave made it clear she was perceptive enough to realize it was a bit forced.

"Having a rough time?" she asked, glancing down at the book in front of Hermione. Following her look, Hermione sighed and nodded.

"Something like that," replied Hermione, dropping the quill again and leaning back in her chair. Her mind worked for a moment, trying to think of what else to say; it was somewhat odd at how not used to this she was, "How... are you?"

That Susan was able to give her a look of amusement and stifle a giggle without coming off as condescending was rather impressive. Maybe that was just a quality that Hufflepuff students all had; Hermione had to admit she hadn't felt judged or maligned by them, except perhaps when they thought she was sicing a basilisk on them. Which, while manifestly silly, she still at least understood in theory. It was very much unlike the brutish Gryffidor scorn or the highborn disdain some Slytherin proffered.

"I'm good, thank you," the Hufflepuff girl finally replied, folding her hands in front of her on the table, "Not relationship problems, at least, yes?"

"Hmm? Oh, no! No, just some spellwork that's proving difficult."

"Well, that's good, you and Harry are one of the only constants around here sometimes it seems."

A moment of silence passed between them. Hermione found herself at a loss for words, and Susan seemed softly amused again by her reaction.

"You two have scared some people, you know," the Hufflepuff girl continued, voice turning mischievous, "Some people think you're making Harry dark."

Hermione stared for a moment before a smile grew on her face and she let out a huff and a giggle, joined not long after by Susan. The pair shared the laugh right up until Madam Pince came and shushed them, giving the pair a scathing glare as she did. Hermione was torn between amusement and mortification; Pince had never had to shush her before. She forced the laughter down as the librarian stalked off, Susan doing the same, though the pair of them still had wide smiles afterwards even through the sheepishness.

"Is that a common thought with you Hufflepuffs, then?" Hermione asked, tone both playful and curious. Susan shook her head.

"No, not really. A few, maybe, but I think most think you're just a bit, um… unapproachable, I suppose?"

Susan paused again eyes looking up as if she was pondering how to explain something more. Her head bobbed slightly, before she shook her head and turned back to Hermione, "I think folks are just intimidated by you, and I think that you like it that way, am I right?"

"I never really thought about it…" Hermione replied carefully, though it wasn't strictly true, she supposed; she had tried to make herself unapproachable after all, that was how she got by in school, the way to get bullies and annoyances to leave her alone. She hadn't really thought about it since though. Her mind drifted back to that day on the train, the day she'd met Harry, and how she'd reacted to the others. She'd actually almost forgotten that the younger Weasley boy had been there.

"Neville told me about how you helped him," Susan said, as if reading her mind, "Years ago. He's never forgotten about that."

"I've started to notice that," Hermione quipped, realizing only after that it might come off a bit harsh to the boy's housemate. Susan simply chuckled, though.

"From what I saw, he spent more time looking at you than his dates, plural, at the Yule Ball," she said, shaking her head, "He can only blame himself, though. Should know better. I don't think either of the Patil twins are speaking to him."

There was silence again as Hermione stared, surprised by the Hufflepuff girl's candor. She was right, of course, but Hermione wasn't particularly used to other people being right and, well, understanding things. Despite Hermione's silence Susan just seemed amused.

"Folks notice things more than you'd realize," she said with a shrug, "Not everyone, not even most, but some do notice. Most just don't bring it up. It's not polite or proper or some such thing."

A pregnant pause followed, broken as Hermione spoke almost unbidden, "So, why are you telling me?"

"Because you're interesting."

Hermione found herself caught utterly flat footed by that. There was a gleam in Susan's eye as she said it, with emphasis on the last word. Susan clasped her hands in front of her and seemed to almost shiver for a moment.

"Do you have any idea how boring so many of the people here are?" she said, hands coming apart and almost slapping the table in front of her, so fast that Hermione worried Madam Pince would come by to scold them again, "There are a few, in big and little ways, but so many are just… tame."

"Well," Hermione began cautiously, weighing out her response. Susan seemed eager, as if she'd made her grand move and was hoping to see a worthy response. Resolving, Hermione continued, "Yes, actually, I have noticed it. Actually…"

She paused, glancing left and right before leaning in conspiratorially, "I noticed that when I got on the train in the first year. Everyone seemed common and normal. I thought it was because they were just raised around magic but I'm not so sure anymore."

The Hufflepuff girl almost fell back into her seat, letting out a long, contented sigh. Hermione realized she'd never really looked at her before, really looked. She saw now how she stood out from her peers; Susan was full-figured, and certainly more developed than some of the others in their year, with auburn hair and blue eyes and friendly, disarming features. In a word, Hermione thought she looked… comfortable. With herself, with others, and she seemed to inspire that in others. Or at least, she did in Hermione.

"You helped Cedric with the first task, right?" Susan said, straightening up in her seat, "That's why he was reading up about dragons before the first task, you told him when you asked to talk that day, in the halls. You and Harry are friends with Professor Hagrid, right? He showed you the dragons, I think."

Hermione watched as the Hufflepuff spoke, her voice growing faster and faster as she did. Hermione felt almost like Mafalda was there, and yet not quite; there was something about the way she spoke. She had an energy to things, an infectious glee. Susan paused just a moment before leaning in again.

"So… why did you do that, anyway?" the Hufflepuff asked, mischievous gleam in her eye. Hermione found herself smiling along.

"Fleur's headmistress found out about the dragons from Hagrid as well," she replied simply, straightening up somewhat, "I wanted to make sure our champion had a good shot of things."

"'Hmm, and your Bulgarian annoyance getting last place counts as a happy blessing as well, I presume."

"Of course," Hermione said with a wicked grin, "And Cho can be more assured she has the most fanciable boyfriend in all of Hogwarts."

"And so stop going after yours," Susan finished, glancing over and out of the window for a moment, "Though I think now she thinks you're trying to steal hers."

"She's not very clever, for a Ravenclaw," Hermione said with a huff, folding her arms across her chest, "Not that it matters, She can think what she wants, as long as she keeps her eyes on what is hers and not mine."

"Well, hopefully she's not going mad," Susan said, still looking out the window, "Because it rather looks like she's talking to herself."

Hermione's eye quirked in confusion, and she shifted slightly to look out, following Susan's gaze. Sure enough, Cho Chang was leaning up against a tree, rather animatedly speaking to herself it seemed.

"I'm doubly glad I warned her off now," Hermione murmured, "The last person Harry needs in his life is someone crazy."

The sounds of magic clashing echoed through the chamber, odd shadows cast as bursts of power sent glittering sparks outward and upward. The combatants stood some distance apart, feet moving swiftly as they danced back and forth, wands alive with motion. A pair of stunners flew out, but Roger Davies reacted quickly, deflecting the pair down into the floor of the platform and used the motion to twist his wand around, sending out a burst of magic that resolved into a flock of crows. The birds dived at Davies' opponent, a boy from Beauxbatons, who twirled his wand in a wide arc and summoned up a whirling fiery shield, scorching the conjured creatures into ash.

Harry watched intently as the foreign student advanced on Davies, pushing the swirling ring of fire out so that it rushed forward towards him. Davies scrambled back, wand twisting around in a complex pattern.

"Ebublio!" he shouted, and his opponent seemed to move to react to the spell, only to be caught off guard when the bubble it formed did so not around Davies' opponent, but Davies himself. The ring of fire collided with the Ravenclaw, losing cohesion in a burst of steam as it contacted the bubble around him. A thrust of the wand later and that steam had coalesced into a whirling spout that rushed the student from Beauxbatons. He screeched in pain as the steam washed over him, tumbling down to the ground.

"Match!" shouted Snape, stalking over to the fallen boy. Several other Beauxbatons students also had approached, though Snape stopped them from touching the boy. Davies looked somewhat chagrined as he saw at his handiwork, but Snape seemed more annoyed at Davies' reaction than anything.

"Stop sniveling, Davies," he said, tone harsh. The teacher turned, eyes sweeping across the crowd while he did, voice elevating, "If you fight, you are accepting the reality of being hurt, of pain, of death. Even under controlled conditions. No one has been forced to be here, so you had best accept the reality of things."

Snape looked down at the boy, scoffed once, and then flicked his wand several times, the steam burns sealing up as the magic took hold.

"Take him to the hospital wing, for proper treatment. He will be fine with some ditany; it was simply steam, not dark magic," he said to a pair of his fellow foreign students. They complied at once, listing up the boy and helping him out the room. The whole crowd watching him go, Harry Potter included. He glanced over at his girlfriend; Hermione had a gleeful expression, the sort of look Harry was used to seeing on other people's faces when things got messy during a Quidditch match.

"Davies' use of unconventional charms was clever, but risky," said Snape, drawing attention back to him for only a moment, "Your thoughts, Professor Moody?"

The tone was overly formal, intentionally so, and so much so that it edged nearly into being disrespectful, Harry felt. The whole class turned to where the former auror was lurking, near the back of the classroom in a position to see the entire room. To Harry, that seemed somewhat superfluous; his magical eye allowed him to see behind him anyway. The man let out a grunt and pushed himself up from his resting position, both of his eyes unsettlingly sweeping in different directions before they finally settled together again… on Harry.

"Potter," he barked out, and Harry felt his spine stiffen a bit as it always seemed to when Moody put so much focus on him, "Why did Davies win?"

There was silence in the classroom matched by the silence in his head, That was a hell of a question. Harry frowned instinctively, eyes darting over to Hermione behind him. She seemed about to speak up, but stopped when she saw the bit of apprehension in his eyes. No, this was for him, after all.

Harry replayed the final moments in his mind, once, twice, three times. It was not until he'd processed the whole encounter for the fourth that he realized the silence was still reigning and all eyes remained on him. A flush crept up his neck, threatening to overtake him. He could feel Professor Moody's eye on him, perhaps literally given its magical nature, even though the man was turned. Perhaps more weighty, though, was the feeling of Hermione next to him. Brilliant, she was, seemingly always. What was she thinking, what was Moody expecting? Those two seemed to pulse in him, like the feeling he felt so often in his ring that he sometimes forgot it was even a thing, the steady thrum as Hermione felt his heartbeat, and he felt hers in turn. However, it was on thoughts of Professor Moody, on their talks all the things the man seemed to try to teach Harry, that the answer came from.

"Because he made a bad move," he said suddenly, almost blurting it out. The room was silent still, except for the Defense professor turning, a wry grin on his face. Harry shot Davies an apologetic look.

"Explain, Potter," Snape said, tone seeming to carry a tone of legitimate curiosity. Harry swallowed, trying not to focus on the incredulity in the eyes of his peers.

"Davies' move, using ebublio, was clever but dangerous, it restricted his own movements and reactions," he explained, voice becoming more confident and passionate with each word, "His opponent was not expecting it, and so it worked. It wasn't a smart move, and no one should ever try it in an actual fight."

A moment passed after he finished, and Harry looked again to Davies, giving him a chagrined look and mouthing an apology.

"Yes!" Moody thundered, turning around fully with a wicked grin, "And that's a lesson within a lesson! The inexperienced have a danger all their own because they'll do things more trained fighters know not to do! And you get used to it, get complacent and you lose vigilance."

Expressions in the crowd ranged from confused to awed, and more than a few seemingly favoring Harry with a strange new light. He steeled himself, not letting himself shrink under them. Hermione nudged him and he glanced over, feeling a flush of pride at the look of adoration she had.

"Well, then Potter," Professor Snape began, drawing attention to him, "Perhaps we should see a demonstration of your own talents, then."

It was not a question, that much was clear from the tone. There was a subtle harshness, though far less than some of the man's earlier invectives, from years past. Harry's head of house could be… or, well, was an abrasive and off-putting man, and while Harry suspected he'd never have an easy relationship (and was bewildered at the mentorship he seemed to have with his Hermione,) he at least endured the man. Particularly after the events of the shack. Harry simply nodded and mounted the dueling platform, understanding the intent.

"Now, who wishes to take on the illustrious Potter?" Snape continued, and Harry's eyes flashed across the crowd as hands shot up. He saw Neville's arm, an almost mad eagerness in the boy's eyes. Harry still did not quite understand Neville; Harry was beginning to think the other boy had it out for him.

For his part, Professor Snape did not seem to even consider it, eyes sweeping over the Hufflepuff without even a moment wasted, much to the chagrin of said Hufflepuff. The disappointment was plain on Neville's face, and Harry looked away before the other boy could catch him looking.

"If I may," a voice chimed in, slavic accent cutting through the murmurs of the crowd. Harry looked to find Igor Karkaroff gesturing for one of the boys from Durmstrang to step up. The foreign student was older than Harry, as most were. The boy was tall but not overly broad in a way that reminded Harry of a willow tree, an impression furthered by the long and wispy hair that fell down behind him and a face with an expression as hard and unmoving that it seemed carved out of wood.

"Very well," droned Professor Snape, "We shall have Mr. Potter verses…"

Harry's head of house trailed off as he motioned for the foreign boy to step up. His expression broke, becoming a self assured grin.

"Ivan," he declared boldly as he leapt up onto the dueling platform, "Ivan Ivanovich. Ivan Ivanovich Ivanovsky."

"Ivanovsky. I would've assumed your family would send their kids to Koldovstoretz."

It had been Professor Moody that had spoken up there, tone harsh. Harry recognized the name; Koldovstoretz was a major magical school located in Russia, or at least that's what Hermione had told him. Which, of course, meant he assumed it was absolutely true. They were a mysterious bunch, having been behind the Iron Curtain for quite some time; there hadn't been much contact between Russian wizards and witches and their european counterparts for decades, and even now it wasn't exactly common.

The Durmstrang boy's face flushed, but it was Karkaroff that spoke up, "Things are still… unruly in the old country."

He did not elaborate, and Harry sensed there was some other undercurrent to all of this that was simply beyond him. He glanced over to Hermione but she seemed no less confused, and rather pouty about that fact as she always was when she encountered things she didn't understand. Harry had to smile at that, it was rather cute, really. He turned back and clambered somewhat ungracefully onto the platform, stifling the mild embarrassment as he did, and took his place across from the other boy who, it seemed had recovered from his own flash of embarrassment.

"Salute," Professor Snape said, and the pair snapped their wands up into position. Harry had only a moment to gather himself before the professor spoke again, giving the command to begin.

The boy was fast, snapping out his wand in a smooth and crisp motion. Harry barely heard the words of the boy's spell, not because they weren't spoken aloud, because they were, and more because the blood seemed to rush through his ears. Pounding in his head, he reacted on instinct and snapped up a shielding spell to deflect it. Several more followed as the other boy pressed hard, flashes deflected away; the Durmstrang boy's spell choices were rather mundane, really, seemingly choosing brute force over cleverness.

Unfortunately, it seemed to be working. Harry was shocked at how hard it was to react, but that was all he was doing and he knew, instinctively, that it wasn't going to be enough. Eventually he'd slip and take a stunner or whatever else the boy threw straight on. What could he do, though, while the boy was snapping off things so quickly? He could barely think, mind struggling to grasp at things that Moody, or Snape, or one of the other professors, or Hermione had told him. Something… anything to help him. His robes seemed to weigh at him, stifling and suffocating.

Ah. Maybe…

With a burst of determination and will, he forced himself to take a step forward, timing it between the moments of respite where Ivan was winding up for another strike. Each one took Harry a little bit closer, and the other boy seemed confused by this. Ivan was all Harry could see, his vision seemed to be like a black tunnel with only the other boy at the end of it. The flurry continued, and Harry counted out, knowing he had only a moment for this to work. The other boy's spell struck his shield, and Harry moved again.

In a flurry, Harry dropped and rolled, coming up as a blast flew over his head. Harry mouthed words and his wand was moving, but pointed at himself rather than his foe. As he came up he loosed his robes, Draco's lines about restrictive formal robes and learning to drop them making rather a lot of sense. He twisted as he rose, avoiding another blast and carrying him forward, hurling the robes towards Ivan. The boy seemed shocked, but not frozen, and his own free hand snapped out to bat them away.

Just as Harry hoped. As Ivan's hand swatted at the robes they seemed to come alive, wrapping themselves up and around him and then yanking him down as if suddenly weighing countless pounds. They boy let out a yelp as his arm was twisted and wrenched, by the robes. Harry felt a surge of pride as his wand travelled up; it hadn't exactly been his original idea, of course, merely a remembering of a set of robes that tried to strangle him that he'd found while helping clean up 12 Grimmauld Place, ones Hermione had insisted were just too fascinating to get rid of. Still, it had been a clever bit, he felt.

His wand reached it apex, and he shouted out, "Stupify!"

The other boy took the stunner directly and ceased fighting against the creeping robes. Silence reigned, and as the veil seemed to pull back from Harry he realized it was not merely his focus; everyone was looking at him, expressions mostly a mixture of awe and… fear? Except for one, the one his eyes seemed to instinctively find and lock on. Hermione, his Hermione, looked back at him with her beautiful brown eyes, expression beaming with pride and love.

He could only grin back.