By Vincent "funvince" Nguyen

A Harry/Hermione Fanfiction

Hermione lazily propped her head up with her elbow and watched Harry and Ron once again argue whether Puddlemere United or the Chudley Cannons were the better team. Hermione had no real problems with Qudditch despite what her friends thought, but did her best friends really have to talk about it all the time? It was enough to drive any witch mad.

Fortunately for her nerves, Professor Glass entered the room and the class quieted down. Edward Glass was the current Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and since he didn't seem to be moronic, annoying, or just plain evil, the class quite liked him. Most of the Gryffindors were waiting for the other shoe to drop though. Dean and Seamus had placed a huge bet on 'Evil' because they thought that with the exception of Umbridge, evil DADA teachers tended to be the most competent.

Or in Parvati's words, "It's not that we want evil teachers, but we learned loads from the fake Moody, didn't we? And Quirrel wasn't that bad, especially compared to Lockhart! And Lupin's a Dark Creature and he was the best of the whole lot!"

Though Hermione had argued vehemently against lumping Professor Lupin in the 'Evil Teacher' category, she had to agree with the rest of it. Evil or not, Glass was a great instructor and Hermione found herself actually having fun in class, in addition to learning plenty as she was quick to point out to Harry and Ron.

Glass cleared his throat then said, "Class, we're going to do something different today. For the past few months, we've been reviewing basic offensive and defensive spells, like Reducto and Protego, in preparation for N.E.W.T.s and I think we can all agree we need a bit of a break.

"The problem with these spells is that they require quite a bit of power and concentration. What are you going to do when you're drained from firing off one too many Stunners? Today, we'll see how even common household spells can be used in a crisis. We will be using the Severing Charm for this lesson, and I know you've already learned this one from Professor Flitwick, but we'll be seeing how it can be used in combat."

With a wave of his wand, multiple floating dartboards appeared above the students' heads. "Okay, time for target practice. Divide into four lines and have at it! Remember, the further away the target you sever, the more points you get!"

The Slytherins and Gryffindors snapped into motion, jostling for position and trying not to get mixed up with people outside their House.

"Come on, Ron!" Hermione said as she and Harry stood up from their seats. "What's the hold-up?"

Ron's face turned red. "I'm just trying to remember the bloody spell! I know I know it! I used it three years ago. It's on the tip of my tongue..."

"Oh, Ron," Hermione said impatiently. "It's Diffindo." Then, as an afterthought, she added, "And please remember that it's Dee-fin-doe, not Dif-fin-du or Dee-fee-do."

"Why do you always have to do that? Why?" Ron complained. "I mispronounce one bloody charm in first year and you never let me forget it..." He continued his ranting to the bemusement of several onlookers.

Hermione caught Harry's eye and grinned. It was just too easy sometimes.

"Granger, don't you ever get tired of being a pain in the arse?" Malfoy drawled, walking up to the trio.

Hermione laid a restraining arm on Ron's arm and Harry laid his hand on Ron's shoulder. Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione saw that Professor Glass was on the other side of the classroom and therefore wouldn't be of any help. She looked directly at Malfoy and said, "Don't you get tired of having no life? What kind of loser would keep sniffing around us like a ferret?"

Harry and Ron laughed while Malfoy flushed with anger. Hermione deliberately turned her back on the blond boy and headed toward a line.

"Never turn your back on the enemy," Malfoy growled. "Diffindo!"

Hermione's right sleeve fluttered to the ground. She whirled around, her eyes blazing. "Oh, that's mature!"

Malfoy retorted, "You're the one always talking about the practical use of defensive mag- what the hell is that!"

Tattooed on Hermione's right arm, directly on the forearm right above the joint, was a black skull with a serpent protruding from its mouth like a tongue.

Almost as one, the students took a step back from her.

"Wh-what?" Hermione sputtered, staring at her arm in shock. "That wasn't there this morning!"

There was total silence in the room.

"I'm telling the truth!"

No one would meet her eyes.

"I'm not a Death Eater!"

Hermione looked desperately at Lavender and Parvati who stared back at her with horrified expressions. She immediately turned her eyes to her teacher silently begging him to take control of the situation, but Glass looked at a total loss of what to do.

She squeezed her eyes shut before she could see Harry and Ron's faces. Her head was whirling with panic. She couldn't think. In a shrill, squeaky voice she could barely recognize as her own, she yelled, "Say something!"

"Frankly, I don't know whether to be impressed or appalled," Malfoy said slowly.

"Shut up! You did this, didn't you? If anyone's a Death Eater here, it's you!" Hermione cried, pointing a trembling finger at him.

Malfoy silently rolled up both his sleeves. His arms were bare.

That's when the whispering started.

"Hermione Granger is a Death Eater?"

"...perfect cover! Who'd ever suspect?"

"I knew she couldn't be that smart! She probably traded her soul..."

"Don't be ridiculous!" Hermione snapped. "This is obviously some sick joke! Ron, Harry, you believe me, don't you?"

She turned around and nearly jumped out of her skin. Ron stood three inches away from her face and she had never seen him so angry. His face was dark with rage and his eyes held no warmth. Even the 'Scabbers Incident' had not produced the scowl being directed at her now.

"How long?" Ron growled. "How long has this being going on?"

Hermione shrunk from him. "Ron, you can't believe this! I would never betray you and Harry!"

"Funny you should mention Harry," Ron said, his voice low. "It's always about Harry with you. Harry this and Harry that. It's like an obsession. I always thought you were just overly concerned with Harry's safety, but it was more than that, wasn't it? You were gaining his trust, making him think you cared about him."

Ron advanced toward her and she stumbled back into a desk. His eyes were still cold, but they were now glistening. "You were our friend, Hermione! How could you do this? Did he offer you knowledge? That was always your weakness. Is that why you helped Harry in the TriWizard Tournament? You and Krum were probably working together! Did you help Harry get into the Chamber of Secrets so You-Know-Who could kill him? Were you just pretending the whole time? Answer me!"

Hermione was shaking her head numbly, unable to believe her ears. Her entire body shook with fear and disbelief. This was the stupidest thing she ever heard. She knew Ron had always been reluctant to share Harry's friendship with her, but for him to believe her capable of such malice caused her actual physical pain. No one could possibly believe this, but to her horror, people were nodding in agreement. She squeezed her eyes shut to avoid the prying eyes, trying desperately not to cry.

Green eyes filled with hatred appeared in her mind. Did Harry think she pretended to be his friend too? The answer was probably written on his face, but she couldn't look at him. She refused to look at him.

The tears she had been holding back ran down her face, and suddenly, she couldn't think. She couldn't breathe. Her heart felt like it would literally explode. She had to get out of here NOW!

Hermione was halfway to the door before a voice cried out, "STUPEFY!"

The first thing she saw when she woke up was the moss-stained limestone of the ceiling, which told her that she was currently in the dungeons. She felt quite uncomfortable lying on the damp and hard floor, so she tried to shift her body and heard the rustling of metal. She experimentally tugged and was unsurprised to find that she was chained to the ground.

"Good evening, Miss Granger," a voice sighed.

Hermione's eyes flickered toward the voice. She saw an old woman slumped in a rickety, wooden chair and it took her a moment to recognize her at Professor McGonagall. But she didn't look like McGonagall. The Transfiguration professor always sat ramrod straight with an aura of sternness surrounding her. Frail was not a word associated with the Deputy Headmistress. She radiated strength despite her age; she certainly didn't look old. Not like she did now.

"Hello, Professor," Hermione said politely, resisting the urge to demand an explanation. "Was it really necessary to lock me in the dungeons?"

McGonagall looked uncomfortable. "I'm afraid that under the circumstances that it is necessary. The only alternative would be to call in the Ministry and I think we can both agree that is a bad idea for the time being."

Hope began to rise inside Hermione. Maybe not everyone had turned against her. She asked, "Then what's going to happen to me?"

"As you know, Professors Dumbledore and Snape are out on Ministry business and will not return for two weeks," McGonagall replied briskly. "Since they are the only people in the castle capable of determining the truth of the matter, nothing will be done until they return. You have my word that until this is resolved, all information pertaining to this issue will stay within these castle walls. The owlery has been closed off and the fireplaces will be monitored closely until we get to the bottom of this."

These words should have comforted Hermione, but she experienced a sinking sensation in her stomach when she realized that McGonagall refused to look her in the eye.

"You don't believe me, do you?" Hermione said softly.

McGonagall raised her head and Hermione saw pain in her eyes. "I... don't know."

"Is it so hard to believe I was set up?" Hermione asked, her voice cracking.

McGonagall sighed heavily then replied, "If you did not take that Mark willingly then why didn't you inform any of your teachers?"

"I didn't even know it was there until today! I would have told you if I knew!" Hermione pleaded.

The older woman closed her eyes. Her arms visibly tensed. She said, "To believe that, I would have to believe that He Who Must Not Be Named managed to breach Hogwarts' defenses before you went to class today for the sole purpose of branding you. For he is the only one who could have imprinted the Dark Mark on your arm."

Hermione couldn't believe this was happening to her. Why was no one considering the alternatives? Maybe she had been kidnapped then Obliviated. Maybe she was a Death Eater, but she had been coerced into it. She wanted to say all this and more, but she knew there was no point. Because this had nothing to do with sense or the type of person she was.

"Professor McGonagall, why don't you want to believe me?" Hermione asked quietly.

"Trust you to get to the heart of the matter," McGonagall said with a ghost of a smile on her lips. "I want to tell you that I consider you the best student I've had in years and my skepticism towards you is not personal. I do not want to believe that you would turn your back on everything that is decent and good, but..."

McGonagall sighed again. "But... I honestly thought Sirius Black killed James and Lily. I honestly thought he was capable of it. I could point out the activities in his youth that showed that as close to James as he was, he didn't always appreciate James shooting down his ideas as too reckless and dangerous. I didn't think Sirius was evil, but it was easy to see him getting in over his head and unable to climb out of the hole he dug.

"Imagine my shock when I discovered that it was really Peter Pettigrew who betrayed the Order. Peter was such a sweet boy and even now, I can hardly believe he was capable of such atrocity."

McGonagall took off her glasses and massaged her nose. She murmured, "I never thought Severus Snape would turn back to the Light. I never thought Percy Weasley would turn his back on his family. I knew he was ambitious and rigid, but to the point of being blind and disloyal? I thought he was better than that."

A single tear ran down the older woman's face. McGonagall stared off into the darkness where the torches did not reach and said softly, "Albus used to tell me his suspicions of a young man named Tom Riddle."

Hermione gasped at this though she didn't mean to.

"I told him-" There was a sob in her voice. "I told him that he was being silly! I found Tom to be an extremely intelligent and polite young man if perhaps a bit reserved. And he was intelligent, more so than this old fool of a witch."

"Why are you telling me this?" Hermione asked. Her heart was breaking at the sight of the woman she respected most in the world sink into despair.

McGonagall wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and got to her feet. With a touch of her customary curtness, she said, "I thought that after everything you have done for this school you deserved better than to be locked away and abandoned. The circumstances require that you be imprisoned. It does not require that you wake up alone without even an acquaintance to ease your worries and tell you why."

Before Hermione could say anything, McGonagall walked toward the door. She opened it then hesitated for a long moment. Finally, she said quietly, "I will pray that you are telling the truth, but I can not give you unconditional acceptance. I no longer trust my judgment on these matters. I am sorry, Miss Granger."


"Yes?" McGonagall asked, half-turning.

Hermione lifted her head off the ground to look her teacher in the eye. She said, "Even if you don't believe me, thank you for giving me a chance. And thank you for being here when I woke up."

McGonagall gave a slight nod then exited shutting the door behind her, leaving Hermione alone with only the flickering firelight for company.

There were no windows or clocks in her cell for her to tell the passage of time by, but judging by the height of the torch flames, it hadn't been more than a few hours. If that was true, what would two weeks feel like?

Hermione felt empty inside. She knew she should have been crying or cursing over her fate, but she couldn't summon the energy to do either. She wanted to resent McGonagall and her friends for even thinking that she could be capable of such betrayal, but she couldn't.

Because that was the nature of betrayal. If one saw it coming then it wasn't really betrayal, was it? Harry could never be betrayed by someone like Draco Malfoy because that would imply there was something there between them to be betrayed in the first place. But for Hermione Jane Granger to sport the symbol of everything the wizarding world despised and feared... Such a violation of trust and friendship would produce a pain so intense that only an Unforgivable could possibly match it. That was what she had felt when Ron looked at her with such contempt.

And it was the natural reaction of any animal to avoid pain. Even if her friends didn't want to believe it, they would automatically barricade their hearts against her in the fear that it could be true and they could not take such pain again.

It hurt that McGonagall refused to even consider an alternative explanation for the Mark on her arm, but who said she didn't? Maybe she came up with a dozen alternatives and disregarded them as wishful thinking. It was only natural to want to believe in the innocence of one's friends, but one had to face facts no matter how painful, right?

Was this what Lupin went through when he read the Daily Prophet the morning after that tragic night? Did he try to rationalize a justification for his friend's acts? Did he come up with one outrageous scenario after another trying to understand how Sirius Black could have killed the Potters and thirteen other people?

At some point, Occam's Razor would come into play. The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct. Cold logic had to intervene or one would go insane. It was nothing personal against her character. That was the nature of betrayal. When everything one thought was true about a person was stripped away, then they had to rely on the evidence in front of them. It was the sensible thing to do.

And even to her admittedly biased judgment, the simplest, most likely explanation was that she was a traitor.

Sometimes, Hermione really hated being sensible.

Oh, God, she was doing the same thing! She was trying to rationalize and ignore the fact that the people she had known for seven years had betrayed her. That was what they did. But in their minds, she had betrayed them first. Who was wrong here? She didn't know what to think anymore. Hermione wanted to hate them, but all she felt was sadness. She missed her comfortable bed, she missed her books, and most of all she missed her friends. Hermione sniffed miserably. Apparently she could still feel something after all.

Hermione refused to cry. She wasn't going to be here forever. Eventually, her innocence would be proven and she would be released. Dumbledore would come back, read her mind, and see she was telling the truth. She consoled herself with that thought for a few minutes before she realized that she was being premature.

If the Headmaster was feeling extra cautious, he would have Snape make some Veritaserum to ensure that she wasn't practicing Occlumency against him. Since the Truth Potion required a month to brew, she could be in here longer than a mere two weeks. She would still get out, just not as quickly as she would like.

Hermione jerked her chains in frustration. What was to be gained from doing this to her though? What was the point?

The answer that came to mind was so obvious that she could have cursed herself for her dim-wittedness. The point was to hurt Harry, of course. It was always to hurt him.

Even in the best case scenario where Dumbledore required no further proof of her loyalty, two weeks were a long time. Time enough for doubts to fester and completely destroy her friendship with Harry, if it wasn't destroyed already. Even after she was found innocent, things wouldn't be the same.

Harry would never be able to trust her like before, now that he had opened himself up to the possibility of her betrayal. She had seen it happen with him and Ron. Harry's relationship with Ron had never fully mended after the Goblet incident. They kept things from each other when they once told each other everything. There was nothing obvious about it, but there was a slight barrier Harry had in place to protect himself against future betrayals by Ron. He probably didn't even know it was there.

Hermione knew Harry kept secrets from her and Ron, but she didn't think he kept those because he didn't trust them. After this, lack of trust in her would probably be the reason why. Worse, Harry would feel guilty over doubting her. He would withdraw from her even if he didn't mean to, desperately afraid of getting hurt again.

Tears prickled her eyes. She couldn't bear the thought of him hurting because of her. She had already lost Ron, she couldn't lose Harry too!

Sleep was the last thing on her mind, but she was never more thankful for it when it finally came.

"Hermione... Hermione..."

Hermione woke up with a start. Ignoring the aches in her limbs, she lifted her head with a lump in her throat. When she didn't see anything, she lowered her head with a sigh. She wondered if she was already starting to hear voices. She was about to try to get back to sleep when she heard a rustle and her eyes snapped open.

The air shimmered then flipped inside-out revealing Harry Potter and his Invisibility Cloak.

What did one say in a situation like this? Hermione could only stare at the sight of the bespectacled boy speechlessly. Harry had never looked like a healthy boy despite his years at Hogwarts, but he seemed so small and pale that her heart couldn't help going out to him. His face was unreadable and his normally sparkling emerald eyes were dark and lifeless.

Was he here to yell at her? Did he want to see the traitor with his own eyes? Hermione briefly considered proclaiming her innocence, but decided that was too much of a prisoner cliché. She was not going to beg Harry to believe her.

"Why are you here, Harry?" Hermione finally asked.

"I had to see you," he said quietly.

"And why is that?" Hermione asked. She turned onto her side so she could face him better. "I'm assuming that this is not a social visit." She was proud that her voice didn't shake.

Harry sat down beside her and wrapped his arms around his knees. He said, "Because I have a question to ask you."

He gazed directly into her eyes and the force of his stare kept her from looking away. He asked, "Are you a Death Eater?"

Hermione opened and closed her mouth soundlessly. She sputtered, "D-do you think I'd confess if I was one? What do you think I would say?"

Harry's stare didn't waver. "Answer the question, Hermione."

A dozen questions whirled through her mind, but she knew that this was not the time to voice them. Hermione gathered up every ounce of conviction she had then said slowly and deliberately, "I am not and never have been a Death Eater."

Harry suddenly looked like she had cast a Cheering Charm on him. He crossed his legs and his eyes became warm again. "Okay, then."

Those two words should have filled her with joy, but they didn't. Disbelief and shock ran through her then were quickly replaced with blistering rage.

"Okay then? No, not okay then! What the hell are you playing at, Harry Potter? Not more than a few hours ago, you were part of that lynch mob! Or do you think I missed the complete and utter silence you gave on my behalf? And now you just waltz in here and tell me you believe me? How does that make even the slightest bit of sense?"

The anger she felt frightened her. She wasn't so much angry at Harry as she was angry at Harry shattering her expectations of the world. She had understood her situation and though she hadn't accepted it, she had been resigned to it. And now, once again, Harry Potter came and changed all the rules. She was being utterly stupid, but that didn't change how she felt.

Harry grabbed her hand and miraculously, her anger dissipated. He said hesitantly, "I'm going to be honest with you."

"That never comes before anything good," Hermione said darkly. Perhaps she had a little bit of anger left after all.

Harry simply looked at her patiently and when she didn't say anything more, he continued, "When I saw your arm, it... hurt... so much. I really did believe that you were a, you know." He looked at the ground, unable to meet her eyes. "I want to say it was shock. I want to say that I never really believed for one second that you were a traitor. I could mention Wormtail, but I don't want to make excuses. I had to let you know how sorry I am. How sorry both Ron and I are."

"Where's Ron then?" Hermione asked. That wasn't the question she wanted to ask, but it was the only one she could voice without breaking down in tears. It was safe and it gave her time to think.

To her disappointment, Harry released her hand and looked sheepish. "He's keeping watch in the hallway. He's too ashamed to talk to you right now. You know how it is when he's angry. His mouth gets disconnected from his brain. He gets these stupid theories stuck in his head and you have to give him a swift kick in the pants before he'll admit he's wrong."

"I'm familiar with Ron's temper tantrums," Hermione replied dryly. She didn't really want to talk about the redhead. The wounds were still too fresh for her to forgive him instantly.

"Why do you believe me?" she asked. Harry's words had touched her, but she was concerned that Harry was again acting impulsively and hadn't really thought this through. That he had latched onto the idea of her innocence like a drowning man lunging for a life preserver.

The question forced Harry to look at her. He said, "Well, for one thing, you're one of my best friends-"

"You can't believe me just because we're friends!" Hermione cried, rattling her chains in her distress. "Remus and Sirius were friends and that didn't stop them from doubting each other. Peter Pettigrew were your parents' friend and look how that turned out!"

Harry looked taken aback then he seemed bemused. "It's almost like you don't want me to believe you."

"It's not that. I want that more than anything in the world," Hermione said softly. Part of her mind screamed at her to drop the issue and just accept her good fortune, but she needed to know, to understand Harry's reasoning. That was simply who she was.

She said, "I don't think you really believe me. I think you're just desperate and tricked yourself into thinking you do. You said it hurt to see the Dark Mark on my arm. It probably hurts less if you pretend that it's not there." Hermione stretched her arm out to him. "But it is there. You can look for yourself if you want."

"I'm not pretending," Harry said evenly. "You don't know how hard it was. I didn't want to think about you. I wanted to forget you existed. But I couldn't. I couldn't stop thinking about you. Every memory I have of Hogwarts has you in it. Finally, I gave up fighting it. I'm used to pain. Hiding from it doesn't make it go away. It's better to accept it."

"Oh, Harry," Hermione said sadly, dropping her arm to her side.

"And... I thought I deserved this pain. I knew I must have done something for you to do this. I knew this had to be my fault sometimes. I must have driven you to it somehow. I couldn't believe I had to find out about it from Malfoy of all people!

"That got me to thinking, you know. Malfoy just happened to use the Severing Charm on you? Why not something nastier if he was going to be stupid enough to attack you in class? It's rather convenient that you were exposed in the most dramatic way possible, isn't it? It was like something that Aunt Petunia would see on her soaps on the telly! And then there was the look on your face when Malfoy cut off your sleeve! Maybe you're one hell of an actress, Hermione, or maybe something weird was going on."

Harry jumped to his feet and started pacing back and forth. "I told myself I was being stupid. All of this was circumstantial. I tried to go to sleep, but those damn questions wouldn't leave me alone! Then I started to wonder why I was ignoring all the evidence that pointed to your innocence. Isn't the evidence of your guilt just as flimsy?"

"That's very logical, Harry," Hermione said, sounding surprised. She really shouldn't have been though. Harry didn't use his analytical skills very often, but he did have them. He figured out the sphinx's riddle in fourth year. He had deduced the location of the Chamber of Secrets and figured out how the basilisk somehow didn't manage to kill anyone in second year. And he had been the one to wonder at the likeliness of Hagrid running into a stranger carrying around a dragon egg back in first year.

"You don't have to sound so surprised."

Hermione blushed. "Sorry. It's just that you're not really the introspective type. You have to admit that."

"A wise witch once told me that most wizards don't have an ounce of logic," Harry said, grinning. "I decided not to be one of them.

"You remember that?" Hermione asked.

"I remember lots of things you've said. And you say I don't listen." His smile faded. "And sometimes I don't. That's why Sirius died. Because I refused to think."

Harry kneeled down by Hermione and put his index finger against her lips to silence her protest. He said, "I don't blame myself anymore, but nothing will change the fact that whether I meant to or not, it was partly my fault. I promised myself that I would never let something like that happen again. I wouldn't let my emotions keep me from thinking."

Leaning forward, he said quietly, "So even though I was angrier than I had ever been in my life, I didn't forget my promise. And I owed you. For so many things, it's not even funny. You believed that I wasn't the Heir of Slytherin. You believed that I didn't put my name in the Goblet of Fire. You believed that I really did see Voldemort come back and I wasn't just off my rocker. You have always believed me. What kind of person would I be if I didn't even try to do the same for you?"

Hermione wanted to speak, but her throat seemed to have collapsed onto herself. Harry seemed to understand anyway and he gave her arm a squeeze.

"I found myself asking why you would even want to join Voldemort. What would be the point? Power? Money? Let's say you even gave a damn about those things. The Hermione I know would never take a shortcut. She's not afraid of hard work. You could be Minister of Magic if you wanted! Hell, if you wanted to take over the world, you could do it by yourself without some pathetic git like Tom Riddle!"

Hermione had no idea whether to be flattered or not. At last, she said, "You give me a lot of credit."

"No, I'm not," Harry replied firmly. "You're not Wormtail. You're not weak. You are, without a doubt, the smartest person I know. Evil or not, Hermione Granger bows to no one. She doesn't need to."

"Thank you," Hermione whispered. She furiously blinked back tears. Just because these were the nicest words anyone had ever said to her, that didn't mean she was going to start bawling like some damsel in distress. She cleared her throat then said, "It was very wonderful of you to come see me, but you should go back to bed. You're welcome to visit later if you'd like."

Harry gave her a quizzical look. "You don't really think I'm just going to leave you here, do you? We're going to find Dumbledore and get this whole mess fixed."

"That's not a good idea, Harry," Hermione said quickly.

"Why not?"

"Wouldn't you be more comfortable waiting for Dumbledore to come back and clear me? I know it's supposed to be innocent until proven guilty and all that, but it's perfectly reasonable to still have some doubts about me."

"I know you're not evil. You just heard me state why!"

Hermione sighed heavily. Why did she always have to play Devil's Advocate? Especially now. But she couldn't let Harry compound one mistake with another. She said, "Everything you've said hangs together well, but they don't really prove anything. I do appreciate you believing me, but releasing a prisoner based on nothing but conjecture and my word? What would Moody say if he saw you doing this?"

Harry peered at her suspiciously. "I get the impression that you think I'm overcompensating for something."

"I believe you believe me. I also believe you feel guilty for doubting me. You shouldn't be! You don't have to prove anything to me. There's nothing wrong with waiting for one hundred percent certainty!"

Harry gave a frustrated growl. "Hermione, I know you're the type of person who needs concrete, solid proof to believe something, but not everyone's like that. I don't need to wait for Dumbledore to tell me what I already know. I may have doubted you, but I never believed you were a Death Eater. I was just scared. But I'm not scared now. I know you and you would never, ever betray me."

"You can't know that! Everyone is capable of evil. Nobody's born evil, they become that way. How can you be so sure that I haven't changed when you weren't paying attention? You're making assumptions. That I'm as strong and as good as you think I am. You seem to think I'm some amazing superwoman, but I'm not. I'm human. It's quite possible that you're completely wrong about me."

"So you're saying that I shouldn't trust anybody? That I shouldn't even trust you?" Harry stated.

Hermione thought of McGonagall. She didn't want Harry to become a recluse unable to trust anybody, but in a war, one had to hold everybody at an arm's length. Harry learned that harsh lesson today. And so had she. So she said the five hardest words of her life. "Yes, that's what I'm saying."

"I think you're being silly," Harry said. "But let's run with this. Maybe you're right. Maybe I don't know you. Maybe you've been playing me for a fool all this time. For all I know, the real Hermione might be someone Voldemort would like on his side. I don't know that much about you. I don't know your parents' names. I don't know what your dreams are. I don't even know what you want to do after we graduate."

"You're right that the sensible thing to do would be leave you here until Dumbledore gets back. Even this attempt to convince me not to let you go could be a trick because you know very well that I'm going to let you go anyway. You're smarter than me after all. Is that what you're getting at?"

Hermione shrugged. She stared calmly at Harry waiting for him either to leave or yell some more. In truth, she had no idea what she was getting at. She just wanted him to stop staring at her like nothing had changed. Everything had changed.

Harry stood up and sighed. He said, "Hermione, you're doing one of those girl things where you don't say what you're really thinking. Well, I'm tired and my brain has never worked that well anyway. Are you still mad at me?"

"No! Yes! I don't know..." Hermione cried in frustration. "It's still good sense though. Get too emotionally attached to someone and you'll get paralyzed when something like this happens." Was she talking about him or herself? She muttered, "And it's not like you trust me all that much anyway."

"I do!" Harry growled.

"Stop saying that! It is one thing to suspect me if you didn't like me that much or you've always been a little suspicious or jealous of me. It's one thing to suspect me if you didn't know me that well and only talked to me in classes like Professor McGonagall.

"I know you mean what you say, but for you to keep telling me that you trust me completely and still think me capable of betraying you... What the hell does that say about me? Some part of you must think it's possible for me to be a Death Eater despite everything. You are the person who knows me best and you may not know my favorite color or whatever, but I'd think you know I'm a better person than that!"

"I made a mistake and I said I'm sorry!" Harry yelled.

"I know you made a mistake! I know you're sorry! I know it's stupid to feel like this, but I can't help it! You keep saying all these wonderful things, but... actions speak louder than words, Harry. At least Ron cared enough to yell at me. You didn't say anything. It's nice to know how much I mean to you!"

Hermione could barely believe the words coming out of her mouth. When had she become such a girl? But it felt very good to say these things. She needed to say them. Ever since she had been thrown in here, she had bottled up her anger and her hurt and she couldn't do it anymore.

Harry stood as still as a statue staring at her. His expression was once again unreadable. After a long, agonizing moment, he pulled his wand out of his robes.

"What are you doing?" Hermione asked. It didn't occur to her to be frightened. She trusted Harry completely. When she suddenly realized that, she mentally winced. You're such a hypocrite, she told herself.

Harry spoke a third-level Unlocking Charm and the manacles around Hermione's wrists popped open. He helped a stunned Hermione sit up then he put his wand in her hand and folded her fingers around it. He stood back and spread his arms. "Free shot."

Hermione stared at the wand in her hand. "Come again?"

"If you were really a Death Eater, here's your chance to do away with the great Harry Potter," Harry said, smiling grimly.

"That's not funny," Hermione said, dropping his wand. Harry picked it up and put it back in her hand, this time holding her fist tightly.

"I'm not joking," Harry said quietly. "You want to know what you mean to me? You want to hear how I hid under my bedcovers all day feeling like you had died? Hermione, you have held my life in your hands since I was eleven. I would never have made it this far without you. You know what I was thinking up there? I was thinking that if Voldemort had managed to corrupt you, then there's no hope of me killing him. I might as well give up right now."

Harry moved his face until it was an inch away from Hermione's. He said, "I came here tonight knowing there was a chance that I was the biggest idiot alive. And I didn't care! If you had turned out to be a Death Eater, I would have let you kill me because I refuse to live in a world where you are evil."

Hermione stared at him with wide eyes. Harry's words finally pierced the wall she didn't even know was there. Ironically, it wasn't his logic that convinced her, but his reckless, irrational faith in her. He didn't trust her because it made sense or because he couldn't face the alternative. He trusted her because he chose to of his own free will, regardless of the consequences.

There was only one way to respond to such vulnerability. She locked eyes with the Boy Who Lived and said firmly, "I am not going to kill you."

"I know," Harry said. "That's how much I trust you." Then he did something he had never done before. He enveloped her in a hug.

Hermione broke down crying. To hell with looking strong. Tears streamed down her face easing the tightness in her chest. Depending on Harry like this, trusting him like this, opened both him and her up to the possibility of more pain in the future, but she felt safe like this and she was willing to take that risk. She allowed the pain she had been holding back to flow out of her while Harry rubbed her back and murmured, "It's okay... ssh... it's okay..."

She flung her arms around him and squeezed him tightly.

"Er... need... to... breathe..." Harry gasped.

"Sorry," Hermione said, releasing her grip slightly.

"I always knew your hugs were a diabolical method to murder me," Harry said with a smirk.

Hermione giggled. "You've caught me."

They stared at each other and there was no need to say anything. They both knew that they had said all that had to be said.

"Are you ready to go then?" Harry asked.

"Do you really think the Ministry's just going to tell us where Dumbledore is?"

Harry gave her a disarming grin. He said, "I am Harry Potter. I think I still have some influence."

It was probably going to be a little more complicated than that, but her heart felt so light that she didn't care. With Harry's help, she left a short note for Professor McGonagall. It wouldn't take a genius to figure that with both Harry Potter and Ron Weasley gone, Hermione Granger wouldn't be far behind, but she didn't want people thinking she had kidnapped them! They were going to think that anyway, of course. She hoped that McGonagall would give her the benefit of the doubt and only inform the Order and not the Ministry.

She followed Harry out the door and saw, like Harry said, Ron sitting against the wall with his wand dimly lit. Harry patiently held up the Invisibility Cloak while Hermione and Ron stared at each other.

Ron made the first move. He got to his feet and rubbed his arms nervously. He said, "About the things I've said-"

"Forget it," Hermione said quickly.

"No, not this time. I was a git. I should have at least heard you out before I started throwing accusations at you. I really am sorry," Ron said.

He really did look sorry. Hermione knew that she would need to have her own private talk with Ron later to clear the air, but for the moment, it was enough to have him standing there waiting for her. She said, "It's okay. We're okay."

Ron gave her a shrewd look then asked hesitantly, "Are we really?"

Hermione gave the question serious thought. She said slowly, "No, not completely." She looked over at Harry then back at Ron. "But we will be."

Harry flung the Cloak over them and the three of them walked off into the night.

Author's Notes

I've read many stories about Hermione being 'caught' as a traitor and everyone turning against her. This story was inspired from a particularly bad 'Hermione is caught with the Dark Mark' fanfic. Most of the time, we're simply told that all of Hermione's friends turned against her without being told why they're so quick to believe badly of her or being shown them having any doubts whatsoever on her guilt, and the results seems a little far-stretched. It's usually because the author needs Hermione to be ostracized in order to drive the plot and the characters have to be prevented from thinking too much about it at all costs.

This is not intended to disparage the well-written betrayal stories, of course, but I had to write a response. I wanted to explore the nature of betrayal in a more realistic manner. It's not simple. One doesn't just switch from like to hate in a heartbeat. It's much more painful and dirty than that. There are reasons to doubt anyone, but that's entirely different from writing them off.

The second main reason I wrote this was that I felt Harry often got the short end of the stick in these types of stories. Hermione's loyalty to Harry is rarely called into question. The reverse, however, is not true. Apparently, Harry will drop Hermione like a bad habit without even a second thought if he believes she has become evil. I hate that. I believe that despite his trust issues once Harry Potter becomes your friend, he's your friend for life. He won't just give up on you and leave you to rot. His intense loyalty to Hagrid, Sirius, and others leaves no doubt in my mind on that score. Why would Hermione be any different?

Before I go, I want to give a big THANKS! to my beta reader hearingdr from for checking my grammar and giving me encouragement in general.