Completed: 06/21/08 7:03 PM
Posted: 06/29/08 6:20PM
Title: Deception & Concealment
Rating: PG-13/T language, partial nudity, "adult themes/humor"
Disclaimer: I own nothing Harry Potter related, but anything you don't recognize is mine.
A/N: I should really stop lying. As soon as I give an ETP, all creativity goes out of my brain. I'm still not really happy with this chapter, but ah well. At least it's gotten the story out of the death and mayhem bit. Expect some "just live, Hermione" chapters to follow. :
Hermione awoke to find herself tucked securely into her hospital bed and the curtained screens drawn all around her. Despite the moonlight filtering from the windows above her head, she felt as though she'd only just closed her eyes. The searing pain from before had dulled to a muted ached and it was easier to think without it. Her left eye was freshly bandaged; she squirmed a hand out of the iron lock of the sheets to run her fingers over the gauze and found that Pomfrey had managed to staunch the flow of blood and worse.
Already half-blind and in the dark, Hermione fell back on her hearing. A glass of something dark fizzed softly on her bedside table and a bird squawked outside. But there were no snores or rustles of cloth to indicate the Hospital Wing had any other patients, nor the sound of footsteps to suggest that Pomfrey was patrolling. Kicking, tugging, pushing, she slowly extricated herself from the starch-frozen sheets and mounds of blankets. The effort made her slightly dizzy, but she didn't think it bad enough to be a deterrent. The hospital gown bunched around her waist as she swung her legs over the side; she'd been stripped and her breasts unbound. If she couldn't get back to the future, she'd escape to Hogsmeade, head to London, and then remain there until she could manufacture a way home.
She was fumbling for her wand when one of the screens was jarred aside and Pomfrey appeared, lantern in hand.
Hermione froze. Her wand was still un-located and though she was not above employing physical means to subdue the mediwitch, it was far more likely she'd be Petrified for her troubles and trapped here regardless.
Nodding stiffly, Hermione pulled her legs back underneath her and looked away. "I don't suppose you swore the Vow before I passed out, did you?" though hoarse with sleep and thirst, the voice was her own. There was no point in denying what had been seen.
"No." Pomfrey half-shuttered her lantern so that only a sliver of warm orange light leaked out. "I was a tad busy restarting your heart," she quipped tersely. It was so like the mediwitch Hermione nearly laughed; it stuck in her throat.
"You're welcome, by the way," pressed Pomfrey.
Frowning hard enough to crease her forehead, Madame Pomfrey withdrew a small blue vial from the pocket of her dressing robe and pressed it matter-of-factly into Hermione's open hand.
Hermione paused, trying to ascertain the potion's identity with her good eye. "What is it?"
There was no hint of jest in the woman's face, just impatience. Though much younger than the mediwitch from Hermione's childhood, this Madame Pomfrey was just as brusque and decidedly more brazen than her future self.
"How long have I been out?" Hermione asked.
Pomfrey made a noise and gestured to the potion, waiting for her to obligingly swallow what was a truly foul-tasting potion before she would answer.
"What?" too shocked to argue, Hermione allowed the older woman to pull the sheets back to order and up over her legs. "That's—" she grasped for words "—not possible."
"Neither is playing a boy for six months," countered Pomfrey, prodding her to lie down. "Yet here we are."
Hermione's lips twisted downward, but she couldn't muster a retort – the "pumpkin juice" was taking effect. Pomfrey pulled the blankets all the way up to her chin. Turning onto her side, Hermione whispered, "Who knows?"
The answer was so unexpected that Hermione had started to ask again when Pomfrey interrupted her.
"Your body went into shock and I threw your companions out." She began to tuck the sheets in around her but Hermione didn't mind. "Admirable though their devotion was, conducive to medical procedures they are not."
Hermione squashed down the hope threatening to mislead her. "They weren't—"
"No Miss Granger. They were not here when I discovered you."
Hermione felt very, very sleepy. And extremely relieved. But doubt was inescapable and it lingered even after Pomfrey stood back, retrieving her lantern from the bedside table. Pomfrey seemed to sense this because she paused, hands on the screen.
"Your secret is safe with me," she swore quietly. "I am oathbound as a Healer – I will not reveal you."
Experience told her otherwise. Oaths could be broken, trusts betrayed. The lantern shuttered shut and Hermione sighed softly into the dark.
"I wish I could believe you."
She awoke at a proper hour the next morning, sunlight replacing moonlight in a bright swath across her bed. She squirmed and stretched under the subtle warmth of the skylight above and turned her head into her pillow before the tickle in her nose became a full blown sneeze. To open her eyes now, would be to ruin the tranquil peace of the moment. Never since she had come to the past had she been free for so long of the harsh bandages – crushing her ribs, hampering her breathing – and she reveled in the freedom.
"Awake again, I see."
Hermione tensed but didn't open her eyes. She breathed in deep – the smell of starch and antiseptic, but also the crisp tang of air from an open window – and rolled over. Pomfrey was still there when she opened her eye, hands on her hips and leveling a most stern look on Hermione.
"Drink your medicine – and no arguing, now."
Hermione pushed up to her elbows, her eyes falling dubiously on the dark potion that was still fizzing on her bedside table. As she eyed it, the black gunk bubbled and popped, letting off a foul stench. "You expect me to drink that?"
"Not that," snapped Pomfrey and thrust a smoking glass into Hermione's hand. "That. And what did I say about arguing?"
Hermione actually blushed. "Sorry," she mumbled. Now forced into sitting up, she threw back a great deal of the potion before she could think better of it and was surprised when it tasted mildly sweet; the smoke frothing against her lips like hot chocolate. Swallowing, she gestured to the black potion. "What's that for then?"
"It's not for drinking." Pulling her wand from the waistband of her Healer robes, Pomfrey leaned over and prodded the gunk, rather indelicately given the content; a bright brown eye bumped against the side of the glass before sinking back to the bottom. Hermione's jaw dropped.
"You've got to be kidding me…"
Pomfrey shook the glass 'til it was properly fizzing again then pocketed her wand. "Someone did a fair number on you with that Conjunctivis Curse. The only way to work on it properly was to take it out."
Hermione's hand went instinctively to her eye, fingers probing the bandaged hollow in her face. She aimed for nonchalance, though her voice cracked. "You can get it back in, right?"
Pomfrey bristled with indignation. "Do not insult me, Miss Granger. It won't be of much use if I don't fix it first."
She forced her hand back into her lap; her nails grazed the lip of the cup she still held. "Can you...I mean, is it fixable?"
Pomfrey hesitated. It was the barest of pauses, but Hermione caught it nonetheless and drowned her sudden spike of fear in the last swallow of her potion. "Several Healers from St. Mungos have been by – ridiculous, though! As if I need help treating my own patients." She shook her head at the idea, fussing over Hermione. "You'll be fine lass, none to worry."
She set the empty potion glass on the table and tried not to touch the damaged side of her face. Her fingers itched to probe the eyeless socket now a potentially permanent fixture of her face but she resisted. She also fought back the urge to retch. "How long until I can be released?"
"Is that the only question I'm to be asked?" snapped Pomfrey. "Professor McGonagall, Dumbledore, your friends, you – if people would stop pestering me—"
"Dum-" Hermione choked on the name. McGonagall.
"You can be sure that when this is over, Granger, we'll be having a very serious talk."
Would she even have a chance to sneak out? To get to Hogsmeade and apparate away? London was no longer an option – too close, too near Dumbledore's reach. She'd go to Germany; hide in the forests of the centaurs. It would be dangerous – they despised wizards, especially now – but what better place to hide from the headmaster's interrogation. She could go to Egypt. It had always been a central hub for merchants and traders and the nefarious underbelly of commerce; there she could disappear. Blend into the sand and the caravans and vanish completely. Yes. She would go to Egypt...
"They snuck in that first night – those boys of yours," the older woman was saying. "Left you that before I could run them off."
Hermione's eyes followed the gesture, but only at another impatient wave from Madame Pomfrey did she lean over the edge of her cot and gently draw open the drawer of her bedside table. Hogwarts: A History lay inside.
Despite her deep-seated panic, an unbidden smile blossomed across her face. Her fingers danced fondly over the leather bindings, catching in the embossed letters and idly thumbing through the crisp pages. The parchment crinkled under her nails and let off a puff of musty scent. She pulled it onto her lap. "They must have been furious..." she murmured.
Pomfrey's lips quirked up in a wry grin. "Livid."
Hermione laughed and was gifted with a rare chuckle from the mediwitch before the woman regained her composure and began fussing over her again. Hermione sat up properly, so Pomfrey could change the dressings on her wand arm – the blistered burns that had marred her now reduced to smooth and dark magenta skin under the witch's talented skills; she doubted if it would scar at all.
"That must have been some piece of magic you put up to keep the Marauders out of the Wing," she commented, gritting her teeth as a salve – that fluctuated between freezing and burning – was spread across her half-healed arm.
"I graduated from Hogwarts too, you know," Pomfrey reminded her gruffly. "And you don't get by working here for so many years without learning a trick or two."
She summoned a fresh roll of bandages from across the Wing and set about re-wrapping Hermione's arm from elbow to fingertips. When she was finished, she gave her patient a blanket to hold to her chest as she inspected her back – bruises and cuts that Hermione didn't remember receiving were apparently healing quite nicely. Hands twined together beneath her legs, Hermione rested her chin upon her raised knees, offering up the smooth curve of her back to Pomfrey's prodding fingers.
Her breasts were pressed against the tops of her thighs and nestled between them was the cold and angular shape of the Time Turner. So used to the dull weight of it she hadn't noticed until now.
Holding the blanket to her chest with one hand, she pulled the golden chain and its dangling ornament free while Pomfrey re-laced her hospital gown with deft efficacy. Staring through the gold and glass, to the tiny glittering flakes of sand, she wondered what might happen if she tried it again.
"You wouldn't let me take it from you—" Pomfrey's voice startled her. "—even half-drugged you fought me; luckily it didn't react dodgy with any of the spells I used or you'd not be here."
Hermione was uncertain how to answer. "It is...precious to me."
"Well I'd already riddled that out," was Pomfrey's derisive answer. She sighed – asking with a gesture to check the dressings on her upper legs. "I suppose I cannot divest you of all your secrets at once."
Hermione's answer was a bitter laugh. The mediwitch was thoroughly tending to her when the pair and the solitude of quiet Infirmary were disturbed by the cacophonic BANG! of the double doors being thrown open and ricocheting off the walls. Both women jumped, but Pomfrey was already up and hurrying around the drawn curtains when a yell for "Madame Pomf—" was cut short by sudden retching.
Curious, Hermione slipped silently off the bed and peered through a gap in the curtained screens. Pomfrey was dragging a sickly looking Gryffindor to one of the beds near the door – a first year named Timothy Newtgrass. He'd done a truly spectacular job of vomiting all across the entry way.
Hermione was just about to slip back into bed when she glimpsed the oddest thing. The door, which was in the process of closing, suddenly stopped moving for the smallest of instants – as if something was in its way. Then the heavy door was gliding shut and Hermione had to reassure herself that she'd seen it pause at all. But it had and therefore could mean only one thing: The Marauders.
Pomfrey returned almost immediately – having shooed the boy off with a potion – and was startled to see Hermione out of bed; however, her indignant cry was cut short as Hermione mimed silence with a finger to her lips. "They're here."
"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Pomfrey exclaimed as Hermione clambered quickly back into bed.
"It's alright," said Hermione. "I ought to talk to them for a bit. Or you'll never get a moment's peace," she added. Pomfrey looked less than pleased about the idea, but threw another blanket over the girl's thin sheets anyway, burying any vestige of Hermione's chest beneath lumpy brown fleece. Retrieving the empty glass from the table, Pomfrey shot her a stern look before making a retreat to her office, leaving Hermione to receive her invisible visitors.
She didn't have long to wait before the curtains parted of their own accord. With a gallant sweeping off of the cloak, the four Marauders stood at her bedside.
"Hullo," she said.
Sirius' face fell. "You're not surprised?"
She raised an eyebrow, fixing them with a look. "Did you pay that first year to fling open the doors like that or was he truly ill?"
It was Remus who answered, looking sheepish. "James promised him his autograph."
Hermione laughed. She laughed so loudly and so gaily that Peter fell off his stool and Sirius gave him a smack for being so loud.
Hermione met James' anxious eyes and smiled. "Of course," she said, surprised at how easily the lie fell from her mouth in Harry's voice. Pomfrey may have been optimistic about her bodily health, but she hardly felt fine inside. The Time Turner hung heavy around her neck.
"Takes more than a few scratches to take down a Gryffindor, eh?"
Sirius mustered half a laugh, but Peter looked more anxious than ever. "You had a lot more than a few..." he said softly.
Oh, Peter. Hermione shifted into a better sitting position, keeping her blankets close, and waited until she'd caught his eyes before smiling. "Pomfrey's not half-bad at this," she joked lightly. "So don't be stealing my chocolate frogs just yet, hmm?"
"James you didn't!" hissed Remus; Hermione couldn't help it – she burst out laughing again.
"If he'd have found my secret stash," she said, through a smile. "He wouldn't be telling you."
Sirius winked at her. Remus, having turned slightly pink, shot a glare at a grinning James who seemed quite pleased to have succeeded at his mission of making Harry smile. Truly, it was hard not to laugh when you had the Marauders at your bedside – not even able to stave off their squabbling to be concerned for more than a minute.
"Did it really take you four days to break Pomfrey's wards?" she asked, curiously.
"James got us thrown—"
"If Sirius would've just—"
"Tried chucking Wormtail through the win—"
"Completely Remus' fault—"
It took another five minutes for her to stop their bickering – during which Remus shot sparks dangerously near Sirius hair and Peter was talking so quickly his rounded face was turning purple. Obviously, their inability to break the wards was tantamount to injured pride and none were willing to take the blame for being bested by the castle's medi-witch.
"Okay, okay, I get it! Shut up, the lot of you, or Pomfrey will hear," she cut in, her last comment sufficient enough to silence them. "It's not what I really wanted to know, anyway. What I want is to know what happened on that balcony."
Chaos erupted. Everyone was talking at once and a second round of bickering quickly ensued as the quartet rallied around their own respective versions of the story, each appalled at how the others could have so grossly misinterpreted the events. She caught words like "Death Eater" and "jump" but nothing coherent enough to expand on her fractured memories. Finally, she'd had enough.
"Stop, stop! I want to hear it from Remus."
Peter sat down heavily on his stool; Sirius and James looked gob-smacked. For his own part, the lanky brunet seemed more relieved than shocked. Hermione supposed that after being friends with Sirius and James for seven years, he was accustomed to being the voice of reason.
"How much do you remember?" he asked.
For the first time, Hermione actually thought about what had occurred there and what had almost happened to her. Flickers and clips of sound filtered back through her mind but all she could remember clearly was the taste of blood in her mouth and the burn of adrenaline overloading her veins. She shook her head.
"Bits and pieces."
Remus dragged a stool up alongside her bed and cleared his throat. "We were chased out of the passage by three Death Eaters – remember? That's where you met us."
She did. Supported by James' shorter frame with blood streaking down his face, Remus had looked near death. She told him as much and the prefect smiled. "I'm much better now."
"We'd just come from charming the fifth floor windows," Peter supplied helpfully.
Just as she had then, Hermione spoke without realizing. "Tonks!"
"We're never gonna get the story out at this rate," interjected James.
Remus rolled his eyes and kicked James in the shins under the cot. To Hermione he said, "She's fine too, Harry. She got away."
"Not a scratch on her," confirmed Sirius. "And desperate to see you. Had to promise her half of Moony's chocolate stash to keep her from narking on us when James here told her she couldn't come with..."
He trailed off – caught unexpectedly off-guard by the pure, unadulterated look of relief that flooded Harry's face. Her lips mouthed the words "thank god" but no sound came out and Sirius felt his breath catch uncomfortably in his chest as Harry's relief bloomed into a brilliant smile. Vaguely, he was aware of the others speaking, of Remus taking up his story again, but his mind was processing everything in slow motion – like the fact that he might be in love with Harry.
Remus was talking again. "You came out of it and Sirius was, he was yelling..."
"I remember your face," she spoke as if in a daze, lost as she tried to muddle through her fractured memories. "The look you gave me – as if you were trying to tell me something..."
"I was." Remus hesitated here and when Hermione urged him to continue it was Sirius who spoke.
"Snivellus and Malfoy."
"They double-backed and followed us down," supplied Remus. "I don't know why."
"To help their slimy Death Eater friends," growled Sirius.
He was duly ignored.
"They saved your life," Remus told her in earnest.
And then James, who had been unusually quiet up until now, shoved back the screen with an angry scrapping and walked off. While Hermione could only gape, Peter hurried to stand. "James! The cloak!" he hissed.
Peter stumbled back onto his stool.
"Pomfrey will have heard that," muttered Remus, who was already on his feet, picking up the cloak.
"Wait, wait!" she insisted. "What was that about? And you haven't finished telling me what happened."
"Tomorrow," he said. "I promise."
"Stop screeching, Henrietta," scolded Sirius. "Do you want Pomfrey to hear or what?"
"See you tomorrow" and Sirius' grinning face disappeared beneath the invisibility cloak.
"You can't just leave me…like this…" But all three had already vanished under the cloak, only the gallant sweeping aside of the curtains indicating there was anyone else besides her in the Wing. She listened to the soft whisper of their shoes against the stone floor as the curtain drifted lazily back into place, her mind whirling.
Hermione waited until the door clicked shut before she deemed it was safe to call for Madame Pomfrey. No sooner had she opened her mouth to do so, however, than James reappeared; he didn't give her a chance to speak. Without a word he dove forward and crashed his mouth into hers. He kissed her as he'd never done before and she had to grab his tie to keep from falling. It was as though he'd saved all his short, fiery kisses and was now passing them on in one burning hot meeting of lips. When he finally pulled back, she was left in a giddy daze; her lips burning.
It was a struggle to keep her eyes off the tantalizing curve of his mouth. "You'll be caught," she whispered, her voice wanton and breathless.
"Sod Pomfrey," he rasped. "I had to see you. Alone."
And then Hermione did something she probably shouldn't have: with her fingers still tangled in the silk of his tie, she pulled him half-over the bed and kissed him soundly on the mouth. Surely out of her mind, she yearned for him to touch her, to crawl up beside her and make her body burn. But he didn't. He met her mouth's ever maneuver in passionate symmetry but didn't touch her.
"I'm fine," she breathed across his lips; begging, urging.
A noise – caught halfway between a groan and a laugh – echoed in her ear as James hung his head, bangs brushing her shoulder. "Don't tempt me, Harry..."
Good Lord - she'd gone mad.
Very carefully, she lowered her hands to the bed and gently scooted back against the pillows and away from James' looming form. His cheeks were flushed and perspiration had begun to form at his temples. His hands clenched against the bedsheets and Hermione eyed him as though he were a feral animal preparing to pounce.
"Any chance you could...'hold that thought'?" he asked, wincing at the obvious wariness in her wide eyes.
"Bullocks." He grimaced and hung his head. "So...I just blew my only chance at molesting you..."
She had to bite her lip to keep a blossoming grin in check. "Yes."
"Bullocks," he cursed again.
"You're too much of a gentleman, Mr. Potter."
James snorted. "S'never been my problem before."
Hermione's soft laughter floated above them. She raked her wild curls out of her eyes and matched James' hesitant smile. "You should probably go..." she said gently. "Think of all the mischief they're causing without you."
"Are you trying to get rid of me, Harrietta?"
She smirked. "If only it was that easy."
He surged forward to kiss her again, but she dodged him, laughing. His lips grazed along her jaw as he missed and he nipped the soft skin there in retaliation. She snorted trying to hold in her laughter and pushed at his chest. "I should just let you get caught," she said amidst his many attempts to kiss her neck. "If you're in detention, then you're out of my hair."
James laughed too, catching her mouth while she was distracted and in the space of a breath nearly turned her into a puddle of mush. Nearly. "I wouldn't dream of depriving you of my glorious presence and godly good-looks." The damnable pride was back in his voice and if he'd been walking there'd have been a swagger in his step – but in this moment she didn't mind so much.
"Go away," she whispered.
"You're a hard sell, Granger," he whispered back.
"I'm in a hospital bed, you moron."
He blew out a great, exaggerated puff of air. "Gone," he conceded, pushing off the bed. He took a few steps and then spun around with a snap of his fingers; grinning like a fool. "But tomorrow..."
"You'll be back?"
"Well, since you asked..."
He gave her one last grin and disappeared.