It was getting late, rain pattering against the window of the library in complete dark. Every time Hermione glances out at a particularly vicious sounding gust of wind, she can only see her own face, tired and annoyed, looking back, the desk lantern shimmering behind her.
Mirrors were thought to be entrances to the world of the Fae for millenia, a belief that existed both in muggle and wizarding societies alike. Even better than a mirror, the thinnest place of access between the worlds was supposed to be a dark reflective glass, water somehow involved with it.
She had read that in a book at some point. Something about common myths between wizards and muggles and where they deviate from each other. The book said the world of the Fae wasn't real at all, even for wizards.
As she looks back at her pale face, slightly warped by the glass, the darkness of the night turning her eyes black, she wonders if it was somehow true. If it could be real.
Maybe there is a Fae version of me in there, looking back, dark eyes, fair, hair not as bushy. A prettier, meaner version of me, delighted that I'm so close. And if I knew the words, the order of them, the right movement of my wand - no, this would be ancient magic, before wands, just hands and will - I would be able to switch with her. She would grant my wishes, but at a terrible price.
But what would my wish be? Voldemort gone? Protection for Harry? Maybe protection for all muggleborns-
As she thought of all this, the keen worry she always feels flares, and she swallows. She doesn't want to think of real things, she wants to think of the Fae, of a meaner, prettier version of herself, of what she would want her to do.
She shuffles closer to the window, staring out into the inky blackness through her own eyes.
I'd wish that Pansy Parkinson would trip on the top of a flight of stairs, tumble down, so that she gets bruises everywhere, so that when she lands she would be arse up, her pants showing to everyone, granny panties, gray and baggy. We'd all laugh, everyone in the hallway, more people coming out of classrooms to come and look.
I'd wish that Malfoy would say something cruel under his breath, something that makes Harry's shoulders stiffen, that makes Ron's ears turn red, something that makes me feel sad that such thoughts exist in a real person. I would turn towards him, arms over my chest, my eyebrow going up in a sarcastic arch like I wish it would, and I would verbally tear him apart. It would be like the slap in third year, but better. Because Malfoy would cry, would run away and really think about what he's been told for once, have second thoughts about me being second class. Harry and Ron would slap me on the back, Ron in particular would look proud, and Harry's smile wouldn't be fake for once.
I'd wish that Harry would try to do something in that stupid book of his and it would completely back fire, and Slughorn would tsk him, and Harry would have to look down at his burnt cauldron and he would have to admit that I was right all along.
I'd wish that Lavender would burst into the common room in tears, her foot stomping, Parviti rushing to her side asking what's wrong. She'd wail to the whole room that Ron dumped her before Parviti drags her away, making shushing sounds, trying to comfort her, but mostly just doing so out of embarrassment. Ron would then enter, and he'd make eye contact with me, and -
Lightning flashes, a bright jagged light in her eyes that's still there when she blinks. She shakes her head and looks back at her notes for the potion essay with a sigh. Time to come back to the real world then.
She's not sure how long she works, words pulling together slowly, slower than she wishes they would be. This essay feels like a trap, like a slowly sinking sand trap, and by the time she's done she'll either be eighty or buried to her nose.
She wishes sometimes that she wouldn't try so hard. Who really cares what Slughorn thinks of her? Of her potions ability? Why does she always get a little thrill out of things like the Slug club? To the way that professors defer to her naturally when the class gets stuck.
I should get a small percentage of their income, shouldn't I? The way that I help them teach their classes.
She frowns, flips the page of her book, runs her eyes down it for anything useful.
Merlin, I'm in a pissy mood. I can be in a pissy mood sometimes, can't I? At least I'm not taking it out on anyone.
But really, why should I care, hmm, why should I care about the opinion of Slughorn, when he thinks I'm second best in potions anyway? Just because of Harry and that stupid book and that stupid Half-Blood Prince. What a poncy name, anyway. Besides, he was the one who told Voldemort to make seven Horcruxes-
She sighs, flips to another page, jots down something promising. She compares it with the information in her notes, has a jolt of realisation. She feels the familiar rush of understanding, and moves to the parchment next her notes, filling in another couple of paragraphs in her two foot essay.
Grinning a little, she rubs at the back of her neck and stretches.
Right, I got a little too mean there, even for the mood I'm in. It's really not Slughorn's fault that Voldemort was terrifying and Voldemort, even at the age of sixteen. I mean, how could he have possibly known that he was serious? And to hold that shame for so long. I was being uncharitable. To say the least.
But still. To know, to have that idea that the most evil man in the world has -
Harry is a Horcrux, isn't he?
Hermione reads over what she had of her essay so far, ignoring the way her hands have started to shake. She circles some sentences here and there that she thinks might be stronger in a different part of the paper.
Don't be silly. What a strange thought to have. Anyway. Anyway. For Slughorn to have that knowledge in him all that time. To suspect. I wonder if he ever gave thought to what they might be, too? Probably not, as he avoided the topic so strongly-
Oh my god, he's a Horcrux, his connection with Voldemort -
She clears her throat, blinking rapidly. "No." She says under her breath. She glances out the window, lightning striking in the distance again, brightening for a second the silhouette of the tops of the trees. She blinks away the after image, turns back to her notes.
She needs a different book for the next part of the essay. Maybe two more paragraphs and she'd be half way done, and that would be good enough for the night. She stands up, grabbing the lantern on the desk and starts looking through the titles on the shelf behind her.
Oh. That one. No. No. The index says that it is mostly about how mushrooms change them. Ah, maybe this one? It looks promising. I'll grab another just in case. These two should do.
She sits down, flips to the promising sections of the book. Her heart is still beating fast. And even though she tries, even though the words she's looking at on the page hold in her mind for a while, she can't seem to keep them.
Slughorn. Does he know about Nagini, about Voldemort putting a bit of himself into another living creature? Does he know that's possible? He clearly knows more about the whole process than I do. I can't find anything, obviously. Obviously. Would he know? Would he know if it's possible to somehow accidentally make one? The magic, that ancient magic, it's always so imprecise, all hands and will. He's soul would have to have been so unsteady already. The idea of making more than one Horcrux was so unbelievable to Slughorn, what strange things are possible, he probably couldn't even guess. I couldn't possibly guess. I couldn't possibly.
Hermione lowers her head in her hands, her mind silent, she can only hear her own breaths, can only feel the heel of her hands pressing against her eyelids, harder and harder, until it's almost painful, until there are little squiggly bursts, until -
"Miss Granger? The library is closing. Do you want those books to check out?"
She jumps in her seat, turning to stare at Madam Pince blankly. She's looking back, impatient, her hand on her hip, the other tapping against the bookshelf. Her eyebrows start to rise. "Miss Granger?"
She shakes her head, her shaking hands grabbing her books. "Y-yes Madam. Let me gather my things-"
The librarian gives one stiff nod, glancing her over almost curiously, before she steps away, her unpleasant voice scaring other late night studiers.
Her mind is still empty. She rolls her scrolls, places them neatly next her notes in her bag. Tightens the lid on the inkwells. She carries the books to the check out desk. A magic quill notes the titles and her name.
She wanders the halls. It's almost curfew. She finds herself leaning against a cold wall in the seven floor.
The sleeve of her cloak bunches as she slides down the rough stone into a lopsided crouch.
"Oh Harry. Harry, no. Please." Her voice is a terrible broken whisper. She wants to put the words back into her mouth as they leave her. She doesn't want to speak the evil, in case it becomes true. It can't be true.
It all fits. It makes perfect sense, doesn't it? The prophecy, their connection. Voldemort doesn't know. Because then he would, what? Kidnap him? Lock him away somewhere. He wouldn't be trying to make a spectacle of his death, would he? He would be killing himself, as well.
Neither can live while the other survives.
She blinks against tears that aren't there. None of this feels quite real. She feels so confused. In all her life, she never wanted to be wrong more than now. She wants to be called paranoid, and an over thinker. She wants exasperated sighs and accusations of hysteria. She wants to be dismissed out of hand.
"Miss Granger? Is everything alright?"
Dumbledore is crouched next to her, his eyes kind and worried, his wiry white eyebrows drawn together gently. He looks so calm, still, and the calm overrides the worry, it even overrides the kindness.
"Harry's a Horcrux, isn't he?" Her voice is still the terrible burdened whisper, something jagged and wrong. She said it out loud, the evil is real now. It always was.
Dumbledore's eyebrows raise. There is another flash of lightning outside, closer now. Thunder rumbles through the hall. Even still, she doesn't miss the way that for a second, for just a split second, there is true agony in his eyes.
And then it is all calmness. Calmness over agony, calmness over nothing.
"No, he is not, Ms. Granger. But let us discuss this terrible theory together. Maybe I will be able help alleviate these dreadful fears."
Hermione stares up at him.
This is what she wanted, isn't it?
She slowly stands, Dumbledore gently helping her up by the elbow, gently guiding her to his office.
They glide up, Hermione processing all the trinkets, all the gold and purple, just like Harry said, just like she imagined it to be, but more, before Dumbledore settles her in a comfortable high backed armchair.
He sits, his withered black fingertips pushing against his healthy ones. "I am surprised by this idea of yours, I must admit. But the longer I think on it, the more I can see how you might reach that conclusion, though it is erroneous. But please, tell me how you arrived there? First, however, would you like some tea? Or some chocolate? Oh dear, this is shock-o-choc though, has chilli powder, which might not be helpful. Or maybe it will? I couldn't decide that for you, obviously. Would you like some shock-o-choc?"
Hermione shakes her head, feeling a little like Alice in Wonderland.
She shakes her head again.
"Very well. Please explain."
She takes a deep breath, can only think of herself in the dark class, all pale and warped.
She wants to be wrong. "I- It fits, doesn't it? The prophecy-"
"I did not think you held much by prophecy."
She stares at him, all that calmness. "I don't really. But, still, it seems to be relevant-"
"It is only relevant because Voldemort makes it so."
She blinks at him. "Yes. True. But, also, their connection-"
"Is indeed mysterious. But not one of a soul, but one of deep magic. One cannot make a Horcrux by accident, Ms. Granger."
She licks her lips, feeling flustered. The lighting in his office is dim, somewhat surreal. Not in the way that Trelawney's classroom is, forced and showy, but somehow like stepping into a fairy-tale. Like looking into the world of dark glass.
"I had that thought too. But I thought. I mean, he is the first to make so many, isn't he? So we can't know-"
"We can know enough to know that he wouldn't have made one on accident."
She stares at him more. She had wanted to be dismissed out of hand, but apparently she is also bad at it. "But you told Harry that we are dealing with magics we've never seen before. The mix of his mother's love, Voldemort's curse backfiring, the number of fragments of his soul. Have you really never considered that their connection might be because of Voldemort's soul fragmenting again? If it was just complex magic, why are Harry's visions tied to Voldemort's emotions instead of his magic? I mean, if it was a magic connection, then should they feel each other most when doing powerful magic rather than-"
"What is magic, at the end of the day, but our emotions?" Dumbledore's looking at her over his half moon spectacles. He looks like a philosopher, like a robed, tall, clean reincarnation of Socrates, all questions and patience. And calmness. So calm.
"It -it's also a bunch of other stuff. Energy. Will. Intent. Something in us that manifests-"
"And can that something not also be ripped away? Can that something not be tethered to someone else?"
"But that something else is the soul. It's been thought to be so, at least-"
Dumbledore sighs, stands and circles the desk, leans against it. "Ms. Granger. You can not accidentally make a Horcrux. The steps involved are complex and horrific. Voldemort would never have made Harry a Horcrux intentionally, and you can't make ones otherwise. Tell me, do you wish Mr. Potter to be a Horcrux?"
"Of course not. There very idea is, is too-"
"Then be happy, because he is not one."
Hermione wants to believe him. She wants to.
"Good. Good then. Thank you Professor. The idea struck me suddenly, and, and wouldn't let go. It was too much to even - even really consider. But. I really don't know how Horcruxes are made. I really did think that maybe it would be too much to be an accident. Splitting your soul, I mean. But. then. It's all so uncertain anyway. All of this between them. So. I'm really very happy to hear that that isn't possible at all."
Dumbledore smiles at her, a short one, but one that crinkles at the corners of his eyes.
She feels better, despite herself.
"Well then, it has gotten quite late. It's best that you head off to bed. I'm afraid that you've missed curfew. Please take this note should any professor or Filch interfere with your return."
He taps his wand against a small piece of parchment, which rolls itself, a purple ribbon tying around it.
She leaves, down the spiral staircase, through the empty quiet halls. The storm seems to be over, the moon shining out between clouds.
There are no professors or mean cats or mean petty men on the way back.
She slides in through the entryway. The common room is mostly empty. There is a seventh year, scribbling rapidly, muttering insanely to himself, his tie a wide loop around his neck. There's a first year sleeping curled up in a large arm chair in the corner, a spellbook sliding slowly out of his grasp. And then there's Harry, sitting low on a sofa in front of the fire, staring with a longing sort of look, his eyes tracing the flames.
He starts a little as she sits next to him.
"Wow, Hermione, did you just get in? It's well past curfew." He's grinning at her, a question in his eyes, a hint of a mischievous smile on his lips.
"I'd wish you'd stop doing that." Her voice is sharper than she means, than she feels. She feels almost as surprised as Harry does, by the look on his face.
His smile is gone, but the question is still there. "Doing what? Sitting here by the fire-"
"Smiling, like - like -"
"You want me to stop smiling? Blimey Hermione, I know I'm irritating you with the Half-Blood-"
"Smiling like you're a regular sixteen year old boy. Like you only have Snape, and Malfoy, and, and Quidditch to worry about. Like the biggest problem on your mind is whether or not Ginny and Dean are going to break up." Her voice comes out a harsh hiss, a mean whisper, desperate and tired.
Harry's frowning at her now, his arms tight around his chest. "Oh that's rich coming from you. Attack any blokes with birds lately, have you?"
She swallows, nods, pushes her hair behind her ears. "Fair."
Harry's arms loosen a little. He looks lost, it's not like her to just admit she's wrong. "I don't know what you want from me. Would you like it to be like last year? I was such a moody git, I just made everything worse. Now, Now, I have time with my friends to worry about things I should be worried about. Like whether you and Ron are ever going to be normal again, for example. Dumbledore's keeping me on track with the bigger picture, so I-"
"He's not what?"
"Keeping you on track, not really. I - I saw him. He - he-" There's a lump in her throat, a fire burning up it, to her eyes, to her sinuses. The moon is shining behind him, a faint white light, touching his cheek. She lets out a long breath that folds in on itself, despite her best effort, and condenses into a sob. She stares at the moon, lightly touching his face, which looks concerned, his arms uncrossed completely now, his hands moving towards her, hesitating, stopping, falling back in his lap.
"He lied to me. He-he looked me in the eye and lied. I know it."
"Wait, who are we talking about? Are you saying that Dumbledore lied?"
"Dumbledore. Harry. Harry."
The moon was so bright now, not quite full, a sliver missing. It will be time for Slughorn to harvest the flaxseed soon.
Harry's leaning in closer now, eyebrows furrowed.
"You're a Horcrux, Harry."