Rated R for swearing, violence and suicide (and/or suicide-related issues). If this offends anyone, don't read. Thought I'd add that I own nadda. All characters, names and related indicia are property of J.K. Rowling. I am merely trying to share some of her goodness in a non-illegal way. :)
Chapter 20: Catalyst
Professor Lupin's brow knit together with worry.
Harry was clearly in pain. He could see it. He'd been stealing glances at the boy all through dinner and Harry's skin tone had steadily faded to an unearthly ashen tint, his lips looking as pale as death. His green eyes stood out sharply against the vampire-white of his face, the blackness of his hair sucking every bit of colour that managed to cling to the clammy flesh. Lupin wondered whether he should say anything: after all, Harry was sitting with his nose almost pressed to the surface of the Gryffindor table, the corners of his eyes wrinkled from squeezing them shut so hard. And nobody was noticing but him. He vaguely wondered what the boy must be feeling like to have people surrounding him who knew nothing of the toil inside…
However, Lupin had also heard a stiff hiss of anguish from the man that sat beside him. Professor Snape had made to grab at his arm as though going through some sort of convulsion, but at the last second had righted himself and now sat as stiffly as ever, although his already pasty complexion was possibly even more so than usual.
"Are you all right, Severus?"
The potions master grunted in reply and picked at his dinner with his fork. "I'm alive, Lupin, however depressing that must be. For the both of us."
Reumus studied his face a little while longer. Severus was very good at lying, after all, and nothing that resembled a fib betrayed him. But his eyes…they were far away somewhere, deep in thought, brooding…
Lupin chuckled half-heartedly and his eyes landed on Harry once more, who was now sitting and staring blankly at Miss Granger's goblet, Mr. Weasley chatting animatedly to him as though he were totally fine.
Reumus sighed. Something needed to be done.
He couldn't take it.
Harry looked up at his housemates, trying desperately to keep his face normal. They were talking happily with one another, and Harry stood up quite slowly, for fear of his legs giving out beneath him. The whole world swayed and the room suddenly looked much darker than it actually was. Harry gripped the table, fighting nausea.
Hermione looked over, a bright smile lighting her face, for Ron was dramatically recounting her assault on Draco in their third year. "Where are you off to, Harry? You haven't eaten any of your dinner!"
Harry plastered a grin onto his face and shook his head. "I'm tired," he replied. "Not hungry. I think I'll go up and start my homework or something…"
"You, starting your homework early?" Ron gasped, feigning surprise. "That's something I've never heard of before, Harry."
Harry's insides sank. He forced a laugh and shook them off, promising Ron a game of Gobstones when he got back. Waving back at them all, he strode quickly out of the Great Hall. He gritted his teeth at the many pairs of eyes that were trained on him, and he knew that the laughter erupting from the Slytherin table was at his expense. He was utterly and completely alone.
He felt numb.
Ginny wouldn't look at him or talk to him. He didn't know what was wrong, but he didn't care at the same time. She was a stupid girl, anyway. They all were. He had never felt worse in his entire life, and he couldn't explain to himself why things were so different today. He didn't know. He didn't know anymore.
The hallways were empty, and he was grateful. He was grateful for the fact that no one was there to talk to him, talk about him, make fun of him, lie about him, betray him, die on him, question him, yell at him, or hurt him. He was grateful for the cool of the air against his searing hot forehead. He liked the sound of his footsteps echoing off the stone walls, and the glow that the torches were casting over the floors. He felt safe. Secluded. Safe in the cold and darkness. He had changed so drastically and he knew it, but he also liked it. He liked the new Harry, even though nobody else noticed it.
Harry felt an ice-cold tap on his shoulder, and turned around quickly, plunging his hand deep into his robes for his wand.
"Careful, Potty!" Peeves cackled, floating eye-level in a cross-legged position before him. "I can hurt you, but you can't hurt me!"
"Fuck off, Peeves," Harry hissed, storming down the corridor. Peeves, thankfully, didn't follow, but his laughter rang through the halls, causing the sparse hairs on the back of Harry's neck to stand on end.
Draco Malfoy's frown could have been seen in any far corner of the world; it was so pronounced. The space between his eyebrows was wrinkled in annoyance, his eyes dark and glittering.
"What's the matter?" Goyle asked, his fork poised in the air half way to his mouth. "You look angry."
Draco didn't answer. His eyes followed the slumped form of Potter as he left the Great Hall, looking thoroughly exhausted. Malfoy's ire grew and he suddenly felt a strong urge to follow the wizard out into the corridors. He would have liked nothing more than to show him how he felt about him right now…and he didn't doubt that Potter wouldn't enjoy it in the least.
He blamed Potter entirely for the recent capture of the five Death Eaters, including Crabbe's father. Since the men had stood trial and had been sentenced to life in Azkaban, Vincent Crabbe had completely closed in on himself. Draco's own father had narrowly missed being captured, and the mere thought of a Malfoy locked back up in the wizard prison like an animal sent cold shivers down his spine.
He knew that Potter had nothing to do with the capture directly, but he was involved with Dumbledore, and anyone who was friendly with that fool of a man deserved death. He gritted his teeth and drummed his fingertips on the wooden table.
"Shut it, Goyle," Draco snapped.
Gregory was quiet for a moment. "Potter again. Isn't it?"
"I hate him."
Malfoy's eyes narrowed even further as the Granger girl got up and made her way out of the Hall as well.
"Hate her, too."
Malfoy sighed. "Who else, Goyle?"
The boy shook his head and went back to devouring his dinner.
Draco fumed. "How dare they get away with imprisoning the Dark Lord's followers…that sodding Dumbledore…"
"Draco," Pansy said, her voice low. "Your father told you not to do anything that might get you into trouble."
"Piss off," Malfoy retorted. He stood up. "I'm going after her. I have to do something. I can't just sit here and allow them to go on as though nothing's happened! They must be punished."
He stalked off towards the doors. With a small gesture and a heated glance to Crabbe and Goyle, Pansy followed suit.
Ginny plucked a petal from the rose she was holding and threw it into the lake. The black water claimed it gently and the petal swirled around a few times before it was carried out slowly on the water, barely visible against the evening darkness. The flower loomed blood red against the small waves and Ginny shivered a little and pulled her robes more tightly around her, the chilled November breeze playing with her hair.
She had been so stupid.
Hermione was crying. She couldn't believe herself.
Laughter tore through her ears and she knew that she'd finally cracked. They'd gotten to her core. She had promised herself that they'd never get to her core. But she stung, and she knew that her guard had finally fallen.
Promises were stupid.
"Awe, look!" Pansy cooed from somewhere to Hermione's right. "The Mudblood's crying!"
More laughter. Someone hit her on the face and Hermione hissed.
"Fuck you all," she managed to say, her voice quivering.
"Oh, Mudblood," Draco breathed into her ear, sending chills down her spine. "You should know by now that talking like that to us doesn't go over well."
"She's being brave," Pansy giggled. "Venturing into the corridor's all by herself!"
A hand wound itself into her bushy hair while another grabbed her right arm in a vice-like grip so painful that Hermione was sure would leave bruises. Judging by the hands on her arm, they were Pansy's.
Hermione wouldn't open her eyes. She silently damned herself to hell for allowing herself to break down and cry in front of these tyrants, but not a drop more would squeeze itself from her closed eyelids. She bit her tongue to enforce the law, tasting the metallic flavour of blood. She'd come after Harry, but they'd followed. And they'd gotten her first.
"How long as this been going on, Mudblood bitch?" Draco asked. "Three months? Almost four? I must say you've got nerve for holding out this long. No one else ever has."
Crabbe and Goyle guffawed from somewhere to the left. Someone struck her face again and Hermione's teeth sunk deeper into her tongue. She would not cry any more. She wouldn't…she wouldn't…
"Oh the poor darling," Pansy said maliciously. "She's crying again…"
Harry stopped in his tracks and listened hard, for he thought he'd heard laughter ring down one of the adjoining corridors.
Sighing, he resumed his trek, and met nobody until he'd finally reached his destination.
Opening the door of Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, he breathed a sigh of relief. Oh, he'd needed this isolation - this confinement. He needed to be completely alone. Something was going to happen soon. He could feel the familiar sensations in his mind, behind his eyes, in his very skull. A pressure so intense it was maddening.
He stopped in the middle of the room and looked around, spotting no one - as usual. Even Myrtle was quiet. Everything was quiet. He loved the quiet.
A searing bolt of pain shot through his head. His face flushed and he broke out into waves and waves of cold sweat. Gritting his teeth, he would not scream. He wouldn't.
A scream echoed down the corridor outside and Harry was about to turn his head, but found that he couldn't. He was helpless. Harry dropped to his knees.
"I know you're there," he managed to say through a clenched jaw.
Ah, but you're not so sure you want to rid yourself of me, are you?
"If you want to kill me, do it now!" Harry growled. "Either leave me or kill me! I don't care anymore!"
That's it, Harry. That's it. Do you feel the anger? The hate? The pain? Of course you do. Keep dwelling on it, Harry. Feel it. Live it. Only then will you give in to it.
Harry groaned as a wave of anguish washed over him anew, making him want to throw up.
Any help that comes your way - dismiss it. They do not really care, and you do not need it. You have nobody.
"I do have help," Harry moaned, squeezing his eyes shut. "Professor Snape. You know this. I do have help!"
Ah, it was the girl. The only reason you have people watching you is because of the girl. The little griffin. Remember her?
"What are you talking about? What girl?"
The queen of swords, Harry.
Harry's mind was blank. He couldn't get around what was being said. "The queen of..."
Suddenly and against his own will, it was as though a movie had begun to play in his head. Pictures and sounds flashed by his eyes, even though he squeezed them closed and shook his head violently to try to send them away.
Ginny sat cross-legged by the Gryffindor fire, wearing a Falmouth Falcons shirt and violet pajama pants. A tarot spread lay around her on the floor.
The image skipped and the Queen of Swords card filled Harry's vision. "This is the reversed Queen of swords," Ginny's voice stammered. "S-she is a woman in your life who has an intent to go behind your back and betray you...she will cause you a lot of pain and/or a lot of embarrassment."
Again, the picture changed and there was the Great Hall, decorated for Halloween. Harry and the rest at the Gryffindor table were just getting up to leave for the night, Ron and Hermione bickering as usual.
"Are you coming?" Harry saw himself say.
Ginny looked uneasy. "Oh no...I've...I've got to talk to one of the Professors about something."
And then as soon as the memories had started, it was all over. Harry knelt on the floor still, cradling his head in his hands, comprehension dawning.
The little griffin, Harry.
She backstabbed you, Harry. Told your secrets. How does that make you feel?
Harry had had enough. Enough of everyone and everything. He shuddered and trembled, his head hurting so badly that it made him want to expel whatever he'd eaten for dinner. But even the cold stone did nothing to soothe the wretched pain; it only became worse.
And in his bruised, broken mind, Harry thought: Death would be so much better than this.
Draco grinned and stepped away, and Hermione crumpled to the ground.
"You've kept our little secret so well, Mudblood," he sneered. "I knew you would."
"Piss off!" Hermione sobbed, trying to stop trembling. "Or I'll - "
"Do what?" Draco lashed. "Go to Dumbledore? I'd like to see you try it, you filthy Mudblood whore. Do as you please, but remember that if you dare, your fucking parents will be dead as soon as the words leave your tongue."
The Slytherin's departed, their many footsteps growing fainter, their forms swallowed up by the darkness of the hallway.
All was silent.
It took exactly three minutes for the Gryffindor to simply move. Hermione sniffed and used the sleeve of her robes to wipe the blood from her nose. She breathed deeply and closed her eyes for a moment before gathering her scattered books and torn bits of parchment, stuffing them all haphazardly into her book bag. Her entire essay for Ancient Runes was destroyed; it would have to be written all over again.
Walking slowly down the hallway towards the nearest loo, she couldn't hold back the remaining sobs that forced themselves out of her throat. She raised an arm and pressed it against her mouth to muffle the noise lest anyone should hear.
She definitely didn't want that.
Pushing open the door to the girls' toilet that, thankfully, was not too far away, Hermione stopped short, her mouth hanging open in complete shock.
Harry turned his head sharply to look at her, his eyes widening in alarm. "Hermione!" he gasped, his voice raspy and choked. He was on his knees on the floor, but scrambled to his feet, his entire body quivering. "What're you doing here?"
"It's a girls' loo!" Hermione retaliated, clapping her hands to her nose to hide the injury, trying to make it look as though she were itching it. "Harry, are you all right? What on earth - "
"Never mind," Harry interrupted sharply, brushing past her towards the door. "I was in here talking to Moaning Myrtle - oh shit, what happened to your nose?"
Hermione turned away and began heading for the sinks, but Harry caught her arm and twirled her to face him again. He gripped her hands and forced them away, revealing the bloody mess underneath. Hermione's breathing quickened and her heart pulsed inside her chest.
"Harry, please! Whatever you do, don't go after him! Please, I'm begging you - "
The wizard's emerald eyes flashed in fury and, without saying another word, he stormed out of the washroom and let the door slam behind him.
Hermione felt like she was going to faint.
Quickly, she surveyed herself in the mirror. Her eyes were red and swollen from crying, her complexion very pale. Rolling up the sleeve on her right arm, she saw the beginnings of bruises on her skin.
Oh, these ones will be bad.
With trembling fingers, she snatched up a small towel hanging by the sink and held it to her nose to stop the flow of blood.
She cursed herself. Over and over in her head, she cursed herself and squeezed her eyes shut, feeling more mortified than she ever had in her entire life.
Hermione spun around and stifled the surprised cry that lodged itself in her throat. At first, upon scanning the room, she saw no one; then spotted the transparent Moaning Myrtle floating listlessly near the ceiling.
Hermione slumped over a sink in relief. "Myrtle," she sighed. "It's only you."
The girl's magnified eyes flashed. "Only me?" she demanded, crossing her arms. "Am I that unimportant to you? Of course, I wasn't too important with anyone else, either!"
"Listen, Myrtle," Hermione interrupted. "Were you in here the whole time?"
The ghost suddenly smiled and giggled to herself. "You mean, when Harry was in here? Of course I was."
"Then you saw what he was doing?"
Myrtle nodded. "Odd boy," she said, almost to herself, reminding Hermione of Luna Lovegood. "He visits here quite often, you know. Talks to himself. Screams quite a bit, too. I do wish he'd stop - it hurts my ears."
The bushy-haired girl didn't know what to think. She gave Myrtle a look of pure confusion and continued dabbing at her nose. "He talks to himself?"
"Oh yes!" Myrtle exclaimed happily, floating down a little further, pigtails trailing behind her. "Says the strangest things. Talks about death, too. He would make an excellent ghost, wouldn't he?"
Hermione left the bloody towel in the sink. Slowly, she turned towards the door and left without a word.
Harry stalked down the darkened corridors, his face flushed and warm, his green eyes wide, filled with hatred, and darting this way and that for some sign of activity.
His footsteps echoed angrily around him and he passed the library, the dark wood door shining in the light of the torches that flanked the stone walls.
And then there they were - the people he was looking for. A lump grew in his throat and he found that he was so angry, he couldn't even manage to speak.
So he didn't. His hand already held his wand, his arm outstretched, the Slytherin's walking cheerily down the corridor without knowing who was behind them.
And Harry liked it that way.