Disclaimer: These characters belong to the admirable J.K. Rowling, her publishers, and Warner Brothers. In no way am I trying to infringe on any of their rights.

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With a sudden start, Harry sat up straight in his bed. Breathing harshly, he pushed back his heavy blankets and hunched forward, pulling his knees up to his chest. He vaguely remembered what he'd dreamed - there had been running, and anxiety, and he hadn't been on time - but the details escaped him. He ought to be grateful. Most nights weren't so lenient on him. But nevertheless, he felt hot and sweaty, and the blankets stuck to him uncomfortably, scratching against his bare skin, and suddenly he wasn't too happy with the way the drapery around his bed shut out the world. He pulled them aside.

Blurry-eyed, he reached for his glasses and pushed them up his nose, continuing the movement to brush back the tangled fringe from his sweaty forehead. He swung his legs over the side of his bed and bent forward a moment, resting his head against his knees. Then he stood and pulled a jumper over his head, hearing the faint crackle of static as his hair disarrayed itself even more than usual. Padding softly over to the door, he threw a somewhat envious glance at Ron, who had fallen asleep with both his curtains and mouth open, and who was breathing deeply and steadily. With a barely audible click, Harry closed the dormitory door behind him.

Making a brief stop at the bathroom where he splashed some water into his face and scrubbed his eyes - ineffectively- from sleep, he looked at himself in the mirror to find a white-faced, heavy-lidded and ruffled boy looking back at him. He could hardly recognise it as his own face. Oh, the features where there, the same as always, the eyes green, the scar above his brow, but the person he'd been - or had thought himself to be - was gone. There was just tiredness and withdrawal now. He didn't much care either.

"Are you alright, dear?" the mirror wheezed worriedly at his vacant stare. "You ought to be in bed, you know."

"I know," said Harry. He turned from the mirror and made his way downstairs.

In the empty common room there was one hearth that still had a valiant little fire burning, though it was nearly at its end. Harry wandered over to it, threw in some woodblocks and watched the fire crackle and pop, roaring a little higher and warmer. He climbed onto the two-seater in front of it and stretched, content to just watch the flames lick at the wood and throw disfigured shadows around the dark common room. He propped a cushion between his head and the armrest, and stared. He was used to staring. He'd done it a lot over the summer, lying in his bed at 4 Privet Drive, staring at the ceiling, waiting for his summer to be over so he could be elsewhere. Only, for the first time in his life, he hadn't been sure if coming back to Hogwarts was exactly what he wanted. He'd always been so happy to go here. Why did things have to change?

The creaking of a stair warned him of the fact that someone else would be joining him soon. He didn't bother to look up. If it didn't concern him they would ignore him, and if it did they'd make themselves known. Either way, he wasn't bothered.

"Harry," called Hermione's voice softly. She appeared next to the couch and looked down on him. She was wearing a blue bathrobe and on her feet where pink fuzzy slippers. "What are you doing?"

Harry wearily looked up at her. He'd be so much more comfortable if they'd leave him alone. There was nothing wrong with him that they could help with.

"I'm just sitting here," he told her, his voice a bare whisper. "What about you?"

She walked around the couch and pushed his feet off the far end and seated herself. Looking at the fire she said honestly: "I've been worried about you. I thought you weren't sleeping, so I placed a little spell that would wake me if you'd come down here at night. To see if I was right. This was the first night I used it."

"You were worried." said Harry, disinterested. "So you're keeping tabs on me."

It hadn't been a question, but Hermione nodded anyway. Her face was careful, her posture both confident and shy. Clearly she felt that what she was doing was right, but she wasn't sure it would be appreciated. She needn't have worried about that. Harry could hardly find the energy to push himself up straighter, let alone berate her for keeping check of his sleeping patterns.

"I only just woke up," Harry said. "I just wanted to sit here for a bit. I'll go back up in a bit."

Hermione sighed and put her hand on Harry's foot, rubbing her fingers softly against his ankle. He looked blankly at the movement. He wasn't used to people touching him for no other reason than to show affection. He wasn't sure if he liked it.

"Really, I'm fine," Harry told her. "I'm just going to sit here for a little while. You can go back to bed."

"Harry," she breathed his name carefully, her fingers never ceasing their gentle rubbing, her eyes meeting his. "Have you been coming down here every night since the start of term? Can't you sleep at all?"

He couldn't really deny the first question, so he went with the second one. "I sleep." Harry said. "I slept just now."

"Then why are you here?" she asked. "Why aren't you in bed?"

Harry shrugged. His eyes felt gritty, his head was heavy on his shoulders, and his body was sagged bonelessly into the couch. Still, he knew he wouldn't sleep again this night. Was it because of what he might see when he closed his eyes, or because of what he might let himself feel if he wasn't fully in control?

"It's just nice down here at this time," Harry said. "Quiet, and still, and I don't have to think about anything or deal with anyone. I just like it."

Hermione gave him a soft half-smile, and he knew she was looking at the bluish bruising under his eyes and the translucence of his pale skin, and that she didn't buy that at all. But she kept quiet, and still, and she didn't make him deal with her anymore than that. She rested herself against the backrest, and pulled her legs up next to his. She stared into the flames with him. And where at first he hadn't wanted her there, after a while he got used to her, and even vaguely appreciated her silent companionship.

Her fingers never stopped stroking the skin near his foot, and he tiredly put his head against the cushion supported by his arm, and dozed.