Chapter One: Song of the Highest Tower
I said to myself: let be,
Fear and suffering
And let no one see you:
Do without the promise
Of higher joys.
Let nothing delay you,
Have flown to the skies
And morbid thirst
Darkens my veins.
Fear and suffering
- Arthur Rimbaud
To everyone who knew her, Hermione Granger was the girl with the corkscrew hair and the crooked teeth. Not a single thing about her was straight, or so the running joke at Hogwarts went. For the past four years, Hermione had tried to belie these rumours with her straight A's and her straight-laced demeanour. But lately she had faltered, receiving a poor grade on a Potions assignment and earning herself a detention with Professor Snape after she contested his slanted marking rubric. Just today: she kept trying to tell herself. I've only screwed up one day out of three hundred and sixty five this year. That's 99.7 percent. Almost perfect. But for Hermione Granger, this almost perfect record was insufferable. And, of course, underlying this asinine perfectionism was something much worse and far more sinister.
"Filthy mudblood dyke," Draco Malfoy's familiar invective rang in her ears as she stared at a more contented of herself in the Mirror of Erised. In the quixotic reflection, Ginny Weasley lovingly caressed the trembling girl. Soft kisses coupled with doting whispers moved the dejected witch to tears. At night, Hermione sometimes dreamt that Ginny was her wife, that the two girls had married in an exquisite same-sex ceremony attended by loyal family and friends, that the couple had moved to a charming yellow house in Surrey and woke up together winter mornings in the same double bed, shielded from the rest of the world by Tudor-style windows rendered opaque by labyrinthine patterns of frost. Until now, Hermione had never quite recognized this as a pipe dream, a flight of fancy, a castle in Spain, never to be. This fantasy had meant everything to her. She had hoped for a brighter future, a happy ending, albeit slightly different from those detailed in the fairy tales her Muggle parents had read to her as a child. As much vitriol as she had faced in the drafty corridors of Hogwarts from her peers, she had, until now, believed that one day they would no longer be poles apart. They would have their lives, circumscribed by white-picket fences, as she would have her own, ordinary in its simple joys and limitations. But Ginny's rejection had destroyed her aspirations of normality. There was simply no room in her imagination for a future as a lesbian witch reviled by the only girl she had ever loved. Her ticket out of her personal hell had turned out to be null and void. Her life was over but the self-deprecating tragicomedy dragged on. She would end it. Tonight.
Hermione was due to report at Snape's dungeon office at eight o'clock sharp and she was already fifteen minutes late. Reason enough to kill herself, she thought with a twinge of black humour. Turning her back on the Mirror of Erised, Hermione started her long trek to the Astronomy tower. This was to be her final hour.
"This is to be my final hour," she reminded herself as she jostled her way through hoards of students biding their time until curfew.
"Hey, look Ginny! There goes your girlfriend!" Padma Patil sneered, pointing at the wisp of a girl skulking through the evening foot traffic.
Hastily, Hermione turned around to face the redhead.
"Goodbye, Ginny," she whispered almost inaudibly, her voice choked by raw emotion. Without thinking, she reached out to touch Ginny's shoulder.
"Unhand me, you morgny lezzer!" Ginny lashed out, her eyes flaming with fear and rage.
Lingering in the shadows of the Entrance Hall, Severus Snape heard this commotion as he scanned the crowds for his errant student. He reached the Grand Staircase just in time to see Hermione Granger dashing up the flight of steps, leaving an unruly pack of homophobes in her wake.
Bewilderment immobilized him for a moment as he watched the fifteen year old's angst-ridden escape. Most likely, the Gryffindor brat was simply bunking off and had started a senseless argument with these girls on her way to wreak havoc with her regrettable choice of friends, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. His robes billowing ominously, Snape steeled himself for the maddening chase before him and set off after Miss Granger.