There was an all-consuming fire raging through her veins, burning as it was pumped viciously round her body by her thumping heart. Her teeth ground together and her fingernails dug painfully into her palms as she clenched her hands into fists. She could hear her breaths grating down her windpipe – short and fast they came in low growls that echoed her determined footfalls.
She wanted to lash out at anything and everything. She wanted to use her bare hands to tear and be torn; to use the instincts her muggle parents had bore her with. She could feel her body flush with the wild fury that was pulsing deep in the pit of her stomach.
Hermione had never felt so enraged before, ever, and it thrilled her in ways that her life as a witch never had. But at the same time it was scary the power that was coursing through her. It was raw magic, she knew – the kind of fundamental power that no one could be taught. She could almost feel it coiling about her; writhing over her skin like scorching flames.
The thrall of it had Hermione obeying without question. Her course was predetermined and she marched her way to the Gryffindor Tower in search of her quarry. And yet, she knew that the fire raging through her was the result of a lucky-shot hex. She wanted to fight but she knew it was pointless.
The inferno curse was very little considered in the wizard world. The effects were, after all, temporary and the counter-curse was simple too – in most cases a bucket of cold water sufficed. But now Hermione was experiencing it firsthand, she was beginning to compare its power to the imperius curse.
The inferno curse conjured a raging fury in the victim. Fighting its affects only caused it to increase in potency. Any exertion of will stoked the flames, and to relax was impossible for even the most powerful of wizards. There was no possible way of stopping the anger from swelling and there was no way of refusing the will of the caster.
Thoughts of why this curse had been placed upon her only made her muscles tremble with anger, to the point where her cloak quivered even though there was no breeze.
Draco Malfoy. The abhorrent little ferret from Slytherin house had rounded a corner on her and she'd been too slow to draw her wand in defence. Draco had been waiting for Hermione to come his way with a group of other Slytherins in tow. Malfoy thought it would be funny to see Harry beaten to a pulp by a girl. And a mudblood girl at that.
The curse had hit fast and true and Hermione was spitting with rage before she could even make out the other faces that gathered around while Draco relayed her target.
"Granger, Granger, Granger… 'Ought to know better than to walk about on your own." He drawled. "Filthy little Mudblood like you might get hexed." There was a round of riotous laughter to follow Draco's statement. "How about you go and take your frustrations out on your Ickle-Mudblood-Loving-Potter. Now."
Hermione couldn't stop herself from turning on her heel and marching off to Harry. The people she passed in the halls gave her a wide berth as she stormed by, completely thrown by the open hostility that was teeming from a usually passive girl.
"Woozely Watsit!" Hermione yelled at the Fat Lady, practically foaming at the mouth now. The portrait of the Fat Lady swung open faster than it usually did and Hermione didn't stop to comment on the mutterings coming from the framed portrait. Although she did make out something like 'ignorant girl' and it only served to heighten her rage at the injustice of it.
Thankfully, the common room in Gryffindor Tower was empty, bar one.
Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, was settled comfortably in a very worn chair, his nose buried in a Quidditch book and his skin aglow from the heat of the fire. He hadn't even glanced up to see who had entered – far too engrossed in the book he'd been given by Hermione. She'd given it simply because she'd seen it whilst in Hogsmeade and thought he might like it.
Harry sighed subconsciously, his thoughts drawn away from the book, even though his eyes still scanned the pages. Hermione… She'd been doing so many things for him lately, things that she never used to; buying him a book for instance. Although it wasn't out of the ordinary for them to exchange gifts, it was just usually done over special occasions, like Birthdays and Christmas. Not because she thought he might like it.
Hermione's attentions could not have been bestowed on a more eager person though. Harry had been harbouring peculiar feelings for his friend for almost a year now. It had simply started out as an opportunistic development; Ron had been going through another bout of stony silence and Harry had gone to Hermione for company. It didn't take him long before he realised how much he enjoyed being able to spend time with his friend without Ron's antics.
From opportunistic it had developed into an open preference. Without Harry actually realising, he was now seeking out Hermione, even though Ron was readily available. Although there were times where Hermione was a poor substitute for a male friend, she spoke to parts of him that Harry felt that no other could reach. She always seemed to be able to pry out his darkest fears without it ever being painful, she knew how to quell his temper and ignite his passion for life. With her, he held his heart on his sleeve.
Harry was no fool, just ignorant. And now he was in denial. The way he felt for Hermione was similar to the way Cho had made him feel. Although, in all honesty, Cho had never made Harry feel as though he'd trade in his broom to be able to feel the way he did when he was with her. Hermione did; she made anything possible.
'Love…?' Harry wondered to himself. Was he in love with Hermione? Being only in his mid-teens, Harry was loathed to use such a strong word, knowing full well that he probably couldn't understand what the feeling entailed. But he was so… In over his head with no desire to ever find a way out. He couldn't think of another word that would properly convey the feelings he could feel swelling in his chest. 'Young Love' perhaps…
Hermione watched Harry's eyes slowly glaze over and look at things that were far beyond the open pages before him. She felt like crying in despair – she didn't want to hurt Harry but she could feel herself falling further into uncontrollable madness. Would Harry ever forgive her? It was so unfair…
Hermione had worked so hard on getting Harry to open up to her. She'd spent all year trying to entice him closer. It had been like tempting a deer to eat from her palm. She knew that if she made a sudden move to air her feelings that Harry would bolt in confusion. And nothing would ever be the same again.
And after this… She feared that she would not even have his friendship…
Hermione's hand whipped out in an upward arc and tossed the book in Harry's hand so it flew up into the air, to land with its corner in the fireplace. It was so fast that Harry barely had time to widen his eyes in shock before he was pushed so hard that he toppled over backward in the chair. Hermione walked around the upended furniture and grabbed Harry by the collar, sparing a moment of surprise at how strong she was, and hauled him to his feet.
Harry was backed into the stone walls of the common room so hard that his head hit back off the wall with a thud he knew he would feel for days. His arms were uselessly at his sides and his glasses were perched precariously on the end of his nose as Hermione pressed right against him.
"Hermione! What're you doing?" Hermione responded by using her weight to spin Harry round and throw him half way across the room. He landed awkwardly and he yelled against a pain that shot right through his ribs.
'Harry…!' Hermione screamed in horror on the inside, feeling as though she was a mere spectator in her body. All she could do was watch as she threw Harry about like a rag-doll. 'Harry… Help me…'
By the fireplace, the book that Harry had been reading suddenly combusted in a rush of red flames that rose upward to lick at a hanging tapestry.
"Hermione, stop!" Harry stood to meet Hermione as she advanced on him, grabbing her wrists and barely restraining his friend who was thrashing like a wildcat. "What's the matter with you?"
Hermione twisted out of Harry's grip and raised a balled fist, striking her friend right across the cheek and knocking his glasses to the floor, where they shattered into tiny shards of glass. The anger burning within hid the pain of Hermione's poorly aimed punch and she raised the other hand to leave scratch marks clear over Harry's soft features.
'Harry, stop me!' Hermione practically screamed at Harry but nothing came out. She couldn't believe he was just standing there and letting her get away with ripping him apart; all Harry did was raise his arms to protect himself, not once lashing out at her.
The flames from the book caught hold of the tapestry and unbeknown to the two, they raging inferno began to creep across the room with an ominous crackling, swallowing everything it touched.
Harry grabbed Hermione just below her shoulders and pinned her arms to her sides, spinning her around and pinning her to the wall with his own body. "Hermione, what's wrong?"
Hermione continued to struggle against Harry's grip and pushed so hard against him to get free that she propelled them both back onto the floor, she landing on top of him. Their lips met very off-centre and it wasn't really anything close to a kiss, other than that their lips were together. But the moment it happened, Hermione felt the anger suddenly release its hold on her. A wave of calm swept through her and the curse lifted. She was once again in control of her actions and she quickly levered herself up from Harry, admitting a pang at how she missed his lips against hers.
"Harry…" She stammered. "Harry, it was-"
There was suddenly another fire spreading through her as Harry leaned up and pressed his lips to hers once more. But this fire seemed to embolden her and she wanted nothing but for it to consume her completely. There was no fear this time.
Hermione could taste salt in his kisses, mixed with a coppery taste that came from the thin rivulets of blood trailing from the scratches on his face. But even under this she could taste something that was so Harry that she couldn't help herself pressing for more, wanting to take in everything that Harry was.
Harry couldn't believe it. It was so bizarre and surreal given the past minute, but here he was, kissing the girl that he'd been steadily falling in love with. And she was kissing him back! Her lips were so soft and tentative. Her fingers were grasping lightly at his robes, keeping him close and he willingly leaned up into her kiss. He could feel her tongue lightly touch his lip and it sent an electric pulse shooting through his every nerve.
Harry sat upright, his hands weaving into Hermione's robes and fisting them tightly. He placed one hand in the small of her back, pulling her closer as she moved to straddle his lap and allow them both to sit. His other hand wound its way up into Hermione's long honey-blonde hair, wrapping the soft tendrils around his fingers and drawing her impossibly closer.
Hermione couldn't help the sigh that escaped her slightly parted lips as Harry met her kiss with more enthusiasm than she could have ever dreamed of. As they sat up together, Hermione could feel Harry's hands wrapping about her and pulling her close. He wanted her and this, the realisation stoking the fires already burning deep inside her.
Regretfully, and not without a soft whimper, Hermione pulled away and looked into Harry's emerald eyes, the pupils dilated and the lids heavy. There was bruising already beginning to form around Harry's eye and she tentatively reached out to run her fingertips over the purpling skin.
"Harry… I'm so sorry. It was Malfoy and-"
"Hermione… Shh." He responded, placing a finger over her lips. He didn't want to hear her explanation. He would be forever indebted to the force that caused Hermione to come raging into the common room like a swarm of angry bees. Apparently it was what it took to create paradise.
They gazed into each others eyes for a few moments, revelling in their new connection, when Hermione suddenly glanced up. The fire from the book had spread clear across the common room and was hungrily consuming Gryffindor Tower.
The pair scrabbled to their feet and Harry stepped defensively in front of Hermione, protecting her from the dangerously close tongues of flame. And in a moment that was very un-Harry, a moment of clarity that only Hermione could inspire him, he withdrew his wand from his robes, pointed it at the fire and muttered an incantation under his breath.
The flames instantly receded back into the fireplace and the damage they had wrought was immediately repaired – even Harry's book. With the flames gone they could hear the frantic banging on the portrait and terrified screams from the Fat Lady. Apparently the smell of smoke and roar of flames had only gone unnoticed by themselves – they had certainly managed to attract everyone else in a two-floor radius.
Harry and Hermione glanced at each other quickly. Their hands intertwined and Harry pulled her up the staircase to his dormitory without a single word. He knew that when the Fat Lady finally allowed entrance into the tower that there would be an endless barrage of questions and exclamations. And right now, all Harry wanted was quiet, so he could be with Hermione.
News about the fire in Gryffindor common room spread around the school before Harry and Hermione made their appearance in the Great Hall. The pair were completely unawares of anything else around them – even the fifty points that Harry had gained for Gryffindor by dispelling the fire.
Hermione however spared a moment to glance at the sour expression on Draco's face and winked at him with a self-satisfied smirk. Far from making Harry appear a sissy, Draco had turned him into more of a hero.
Hermione turned back to Harry and the two took their seats at the Gryffindor table, still with their hands intertwined between them…