CHAPTER ONE: OUTWARD APPEARANCES

A hand reached out, pushing the thin door open, hoping that hinges had been oiled so they would not squeak. When they made no sound, the boy grinned.

As faint light from the stairwell swept the dormitory enough to see, the boy took in his surroundings.

Five, scarlet colored, canopy beds took up most of the space, and each held a peacefully sleeping girl in them. But the boy was focused on only one bed. The one closest to the door...it was too perfect.

Slipping into the shadows, he walked stealthy across the wooden floorboards to the bed.

Taking a deep breath, he twisted his face into a smirk, eagerly awaiting the look on her face when she saw him there. Slowly, ever so slowly, he drew the bed curtains, with his one free hand, to reveal a bushy haired seventeen year old girl, lying contently with her eyes closed, the boy, listening to her deep breathing.

Grinning, his eyes alight, the boy bent down, one knee resting on the bed, the other foot steadying himself and slowly...slowly he drew closer.

And then...he raised his arm, the dagger slipping a little in his sweaty hand. The point of the knife gleaming in the dim light, he paused before preparing to plunge it into her skin, conflict evident in his eyes. But suddenly, the girl opened her eyes, "mm?" she whispered confused.

Panicking, the boy lifted the knife again and brought it down towards her in one swift movement.

Realization hitting her, the girl screamed and twisted to her side, the knife plummeting into the mattress, feathers flying up into the air.

Concentrating on nothing but the image of seeing that girl dead with his knife protruding through her ribs, the boy was stunned when the girl pushed him onto the bed, twisting his arms above his head in a lock position.

Struggling to get out of her grip, amazed at her strength, he twisted the dagger in his hand, in a desperate attempt to somehow harm her.

Gasping with pain as the blade brushed her skin, she gasped and grabbed her side, a trickle of blood seeping through her nightshirt.

"Ahhhh!" He roared, charging towards the girl...knife raised.

"EXPELLIARMUS!" a sudden voice screamed, sending the boy flying across the room where he hit his head on the wall and fell limp on the ground, no longer moving.

Hermione Granger let out the breath that she'd not realized she'd been holding in, sat shakingly on the bed, and lifted her eyes to the corner of the room where the voice had been heard. Raising her hand towards the person she whispered, "Come here. It's alright now"

And slowly, she heard the shuffle of feet as Hermione Granger emerged from the darkness.

Smiling sadly and glancing at the clock, it chimed 2:00 a.m.

Taking a deep breath and laying down on the bed, her elbows supporting her up, she waited, as her long hair became short, the frizzy ends becoming smooth, and her chocolate curls turning a vibrant red.

"Hey Ron" Hermione said softly from the shadows, but with the trace of a smile on her lips.

"Hey yourself." He grinned, "You have no idea how bloody good this feels to be me again. Being you was too weird"

She laughed softly, but her tone became serious very quickly, "We barely made it." She said

"I know, we got lucky he came in time. I don't know what I would have done with myself if that polyjuice potion had worn off"

"You would have stood in the corner and hexed him the moment you saw him" she said simply, making her way across the room to where the boy lay in a heap. "You think he's alright? I do hope we made the right choice"

She bent down and turned the boy over gently, smoothing out his raven hair.

"Harry'll be okay; he always is" Hermione looked up at him tearfully and nodded.

"You think we knocked Voldemort out of him?"

"Hope so"

"Harry?" Hermione called out

"Harry mate wake up" Ron said, poking him with his finger

Moaning, Harry opened his eyes, observing first Ron and Hermione's faces that were inches apart from his own--concern evident in both their eyes, and then the room. Feathers were everywhere, items overturned from when he fell, there was a giant slash in the bed, and it was obvious that Ron had been bleeding, a thin red line gracing his stomach that was becoming stronger, stained his green T-shirt.

"Ron?" He asked hoarsely "Why are you hurt? What happened? Where the bloody hell am I?"

"Shh...it's okay Harry" Hermione coaxed,

And then suddenly, everything came rushing back to him. Voldemort's voice urging him to take Sirius' knife...to kill Ron; but Ron wasn't in his bed. So he was to kill the mudblood...kill Hermione. He'd snuck up the stairs and into her dormitory where she'd woken up. He'd tried to kill her! And then...someone else had said a spell and the next thing he knew he was lying on his back.

Emerald eyes filling up with guilty tears he tried to talk but nothing emitted his mouth. "Hermione...I-I'm so sorry" He said, trying to sit up. Hermione pushed him back down gently.

"Shh...it's alright, I know you didn't mean to do it"

"No!" Harry sighed heavily and put his face in his hands "How can you say that? I tried to bloody kill you!"

"Harry listen to me" she urged, eyes seeking his, "It was another one of Voldemort's tricks...I know that you would never--"

"Hermione and I have known about it mate. We've been waiting for something like this to happen." Ron interrupted

They received no response from Harry but a choking sound that confirmed their suspicions that he was crying. "Oh Harry please don't beat yourself up about this" Hermione begged, "Everything is fine. Nothing happened"

"I-I could have really hurt you Hermione. I would have never forgiven myself...I--"

"But nothing happened. Ron told me about what you've been saying in your sleep and we knew Harry, we've been doing this for a few nights already."

Harry looked shocked, "What have I been saying? Have the others heard?"

"It's kind of hard to decipher but I ended up getting: If no Ron then mudblood, be sneaky...while sleeping. And no, the others haven't heard, they could sleep through the end of the world."

Harry nodded, looking thoroughly miserable.

"Harry" Hermione began cautiously but with a stern voice "Have you honestly been practicing Occlumency?"

"I've been trying 'Mione. I'm just so exhausted lately."

"I know Harry but you have to try. You know that Ron would take the polyjuice potion to be me and I'd stay up all night waiting for you to come—we'd do it every night for the rest of term if we had to. But I'd rather not"

"No. You two shouldn't have done this. I'm so sorry"

"We didn't do this just for you. I mean I for one certainly don't want Ron dead. This way I was protecting Ron and he was protecting me." Hermione said softly, looking at Ron. He smiled encouragingly at her.

"Protecting each other from me" Harry said miserably

Neither knew how to respond to this, so instead they remained quiet

Harry sighed, "I'm tired. I'm going to go to bed. I'll put a restricting charm on my bed curtains in case I go out trying to kill everyone"

"Good night Harry" Hermione said, kissing his cheek

"G'night mate."

"Night" Harry mumbled, closing the door behind him as he headed down the stairs.

Ron and Hermione both sighed, each avoiding eye contact with the other.

"Well this sure has been an interesting night" Ron said finally

"Yes it has" Hermione agreed, standing up and examining the damage done to the room and her belongings. "He sure knew how to handle a knife"

"Yea. Need help straightening up?" Ron asked

"I'd love it, I'm pretty tired."

"Well it is two in the morning" He grinned

"Yes I'm aware of that" Hermione smiled

Picking up a few books that had flown from her dresser, she paused and looked at the bed again. "We got very lucky that you woke up when you did. H-He was so close to driving that knife through your heart." Voice shaking she continued, "I was going to shout out but I knew if I did it would just become a scramble for the knife and the chances were high that one of you would be hurt and--"

"Shh...it's okay" Ron said soothingly as he grabbed her shoulders that had been trembling. "You said it yourself, nothing happened."

"I know. I suppose I'm just being emotional but...it was so real. I saw his eyes when he walked through the door Ron; they were red. I was terrified;" Here she paused, and her voice trembled, "I-I've never been scared of Harry before"

"It wasn't Harry. It was Voldemort."

"That's just as bad."

"You should try not to be so afraid of him...we'll be meeting him sooner than you think"

Hermione's face fell and tears accumulated in her eyes. "Oh Ron don't say that"

Smiling sadly, Ron whispered, "You know it's true"

A single tear escaped Hermione's chocolate brown eyes, and she wiped it away hastily. She'd always hated crying in front of others, even if it was Ron. It was weak of her to do so. Desperately trying to look anywhere but at Ron's clear blue eyes that were trying to catch hers, she paused; unsure if she should voice the current thoughts that were running through her mind.

"I don't like to think about it; because when I do, all I see are you and Harry dead." She whispered.

"I know. I see you and Harry too" Ron said softly, emotion evident in his voice also.

"I dream about it sometimes" Hermione confessed, "They're worse than any other nightmares I've ever had."

"With Voldemort?"

"Not necessarily. Sometimes you'll get buried under a collapsing building, sometimes Harry will get hit with an unforgivable. It all depends."

"Is that why you wanted to stay up tonight?" He asked. She nodded. "Oh 'Mione I'm so sorry. You should go to Madam Pomfrey for some dreamless sleeping drought."

Embracing her in a hug, Ron waited for her agreement. She sighed against him. "No it's alright. I don't have them every night."

'Liar' she thought to herself.

"Are you sure? It makes sense to get some" He asked concern in his eyes, pulling away from their hug

"Since when have you been concerned with things that make sense?" she teased, "That's always been my job"

"Well I suppose spending so much time with you lately, you've rubbed off on me a bit" He replied sheepishly

Hermione smiled at him and yawned. "It's getting late Ron. I'm going to go to bed."

"Alright. I suppose I'll see you in the morning then."

"Yes you will"

Striding over to the door that he pulled open, he paused in the doorway and looked back at his friend. "Good night Hermione" He grinned

She smiled, "Good night Ron"

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(A/N: So.....? What do you think? It certainly is a switch from Draco/Hermione so tell me I'm doing it to your satisfaction. Thanks! Hugs, Haystack)