Title: I Am Not a Goldfish
Author: cathedral carver
Spoilers: AU past Deathly Hallows
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me.
Summary: Of impertinence, insomnia and the loneliest ones.
I am not a goldfish
So please don't stop and stare
I do not eat
I can not sleep
I will not brush my hair
Left in the dark I turn to white
Can't close my eyes
I sink down low
I'm troubled —
Hermione Jean Granger, age 7
I am four when I feel it for the first time.
I have been sent to my room — my parents are out for the evening — and horrid Mrs. P from down the street is watching me. I hate Mrs. P. She pretends to tolerate me. Grey hair and grey dresses and sharp, grey teeth and she calls me precocious in front of my parents and insolent to my face. Insolent is another word for rude and disrespectful. Cheeky, even. I know, because I look it up in the big, black dictionary that weighs as much as I do. Cheeky is all right. I like the word cheeky, the sound and shape of it in my mouth. Insolent I can do without.
I am lying in bed, bored, literally, to tears. Mrs. P has forbidden — forbidden! — me to move from this spot and because I am me, I obey.
But it's too early! I wail, kicking my heels against my mattress. I look at the clock on my wall. It's only seven o'clock!
You can't tell time, so stop pretending you can, she hisses as we glare at one another. It's high time someone took you in hand, she adds as she moves to shut my door. She jabs her long, bony finger at me: You are not an adult, though your parents may feel it necessary to treat you as such. I will not indulge such fanciful nonsense.
In the gloom I squash a tear against my cheek with my finger and concentrate all my anger on Mrs. P's pinched face. I picture her falling down the stairs, grey dress flapping over her head to reveal enormous, polka-dot knickers. I see her hair aflame, brilliant red like dragon fire. I watch her choking on biscuits, spewing crumbs, her face as grey as the rest of her.
Down the hall I hear her cough violently for a moment, then pound on her chest.
Goodness! she says, surprised.
I want to read! I bellow suddenly and she bellows back.
Go to sleep, impertinent girl. You can't read! You're four!
Impertinent is yet another word for cheeky. I think Mrs. P needs to learn some new insults for me. Then I frown and cross my arms because that's how much she knows.
I want to read because I can read and have been doing so for some time, now, thank you very much.
I want a book but I cannot leave my bed. It's a dilemma, which is another word for problem. My bookshelf is across the room. I can see all my precious books there, lined up precisely, alphabetically. I want The Velveteen Rabbit. I know exactly where it is. I close my eyes and hold out my hands, concentrating. I can feel its worn cover against my fingers, familiar and comforting as my hair against my cheek when I sleep.
I want that book.
I want that book.
I want that book—
And suddenly it's there, in my hands, as if it always has been. I'm too startled to make a sound. I lie very still, staring up at an object that was on the shelf a second ago and now is no longer there.
There, then here.
How did it happen?
I turn the book over and over in my small hands, wondering if it's real, or if I'm dreaming. I don't remember going to sleep, but mind-numbing boredom may have won out after all.
I open it and begin to read, so softly I can barely hear my voice: There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid—
Splendid is another word for wonderful.
Something blooms in my chest then, something warm and wondrous and so beautiful I can't breathe. I think of the garden under my bedroom window, of the flowers that appear at winter's end, tiny petals, sweetly delicate, pushing through dirty snow.
It feels good. It feels real.
I smile in the dark.
It feels like magic.
I am seven and I get my first pet.
I am seven and I write my first poem.
There have always been words in my world, but suddenly there are words in my head, so many words, and they need to get out.
I spend hours in my room with my books and my paper and my pens and the small blue, plastic fish tank that contains a plastic castle and a plastic plant. The fish is gold. I name it Bullion.
Bullion comes with a slim green book called How to Care for Your Goldfish. I read it, front to back, in 10 minutes.
The fish and I stare at one another for a long time as we try to figure one another out. When I think we have reached an understanding, I sit and write.
It's a poem, I realize as I scribble. A real poem.
I write that poem and I can't stop smiling about it. It's perfect. It's the most wonderful thing ever. It says everything I've wanted to say, but could not, at least not out loud. I can't wait to show it to someone.
I have no friends, really, at least no one I see outside school.
I've already read it to Bullion three times, but I'm not sure he heard, or cared.
My parents will have to do for now.
They listen politely and dutifully, as they always do when I present them with my latest endeavour. My parents love me, they really do, but I'm not sure they truly understand me.
I am not a goldfish—
You see, I explain, when I get to the end and they're staring at me, befuddled, a troubling is a group of goldfish. I learned that from my book.
I feel quite clever, but they merely nod with their pretending-to-be-serious faces.
Well, I agree, dear, is all my father can think to say. You are definitely not a goldfish.
Nor do you brush your hair, my mother adds, smiling her wide, white smile. Very nice poem, though. Now come, Hermione. It's time for dinner.
It is time for dinner, isn't it? I can't argue with that.
I put the poem away and don't think about it again for almost ten years.
I am 11 when the letter comes. My heart pounds as I open it. The paper is thick and smooth and heavy and feels important. It thrums with some kind of energy that runs from my fingertips up through my arms.
Dear Miss Granger,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry—
My parents read it over my shoulder. I finish before they do and stand open-mouthed, disbelieving, yet realizing I knew all along it could be no other way.
Well, my father says slowly as my mother covers her mouth with one hand and digs painfully into my shoulder with the other. That explains a few things.
I laugh out loud and hug the letter to my chest. I can't stop laughing.
It explains everything.
I am 13 and nothing fits.
My clothes, my friends, my hair.
Some days I look around the school and hate every single person I see and feel quite certain that at least 90 percent of them feel the same about me.
Some days I look around the school and then I look at myself and I think: Someone made a terrible mistake.
I am 15 and kiss a boy for the first time.
I have grown a bit into my body, my hips, my breasts, and feel, for the first time, that I may be more attractive than I've been inclined to believe over the years.
I have learned a few things about my body and what it can do.
I don't hate everyone as much and perhaps not everyone hates me.
And Viktor Krum has very soft lips.
I am 17 when I realize I am an insomniac. I know, because I look it up.
Have trouble falling asleep. This can mean lying in bed for up to an hour or more, tossing and turning, waiting to fall asleep.
Wake up and have trouble falling back to sleep.
Wake up too early in the morning.
Well, really, what's the definition of too early? I simply see no point in lying about in bed for most of the morning. It's a waste of valuable time that can be put to much better use reading. Or, studying.
Feel grouchy, sleepy, or anxious. Unable to get things done during the daytime.
Most definitely not. I am never grouchy or sleepy. Anxious, yes, but I accomplish plenty during the day. Ask anyone.
It begins slowly, this insomnia. It shifts insidiously from the occasional sleepless night to two, then three. Eventually weeks have passed and I am hard-pressed to recall the last time I slept more than a few hours at a stretch.
The nights, I find, are very long.
Hours slip away: two, then three and finally four. I close my eyes, squeeze them shut hard as I can, as if that may signal my brain to let go. I write for hours, hidden under the blankets, write until my hand cramps and I can no longer hold a quill. I pace the dormitory as quietly as possible so as not to disturb my deeply slumbering roommates.
It's not as if I don't try. I beg Madam Pomfrey for stronger Sleeping Draughts. The woman simply tsks and tells me to drink Chamomile tea. She tells me to have a hot bath. She tells me I need to relax, that I work too hard.
One night, two, three. I once go almost four days with only five hours of sleep.
But somehow I keep going. I have to keep going.
Because now I get to my favourite part of the story.
The part with you.
So I go and go and go until I break down in tears one day. I am so bloody tired I don't even realize what I am doing and I drop all my books on the floor at the back of your classroom
I've told Ron and Harry to go ahead and they do, anxious as ever to remove themselves from your presence. I just need to be alone for a moment and being with you is as good as, isn't it?
I'm very quiet as I shove my books into my bag, so I think you don't notice me. I'm sobbing — very quietly — in a rather methodical, rhythmical way, tears sliding down my cheeks and dripping off the bottom of my chin. I don't fully realize everyone has left the classroom until I see, peripherally, your feet just beside my knees.
Miss Granger, you say.
I swipe the sleeve of my robe across my face but it doesn't help. Now my skin just feels wet and rather sticky, like I've just emerged from the ocean.
I hear your voice. It registers in my brain but I can't respond. Not yet.
Miss Granger, you repeat and there is no getting away. You have me pinned in your gaze like the sad, soggy specimen I am.
I look up. I look way up.
What exactly, you ask, is the problem? Why are you huddled on the floor looking for all the world like a sodden kneazle?
I shove my last book into my bag, attempt to stagger to my feet. I fail. I keep crying. I can't stop crying.
I'm…just tired, I say and even to my ears it sounds ludicrous. I sound like an insane person and the expression on your face mirrors my suspicions.
Tired, you repeat.
I nod and sniffle and hiccough wetly. Hopeless, I am.
I hear you sigh. It's a resigned sigh. I know I irritate you. Knowing that makes me sad, so I cry harder.
Here, you say at last, extending your hand abruptly. You continue: I don't relish the notion of you catching your death from sitting in a puddle on the cold floor of my classroom.
I've never touched your skin before and I realize it is very white, your hand, and soft, and much, much warmer than I would have imagined, if I dared to imagine such things.
You pull me up in one smooth motion. I may be flying, or floating. But then I stand there before you, surprised and firmly anchored to the earth. I mouth the words thank you but I realize nothing comes out but air.
You're going to be late, you say into the silence. I nod. I try again.
You should try sleeping once in awhile, you say and though I know you are trying to sound detached and sarcastic, I hear something underneath.
Something sweetly delicate, pushing through.
I should, I say. And then, for the third time, Thank you.
You simply nod once and turn away in a fluttering wave of robes. A black sea. I could drown there, I think, and not care.
It's a small thing, this first gentle kindness, and though you may give it grudgingly, I carry it with me, close to my heart, for the rest of my life.
The dormitory becomes a cell near year's end.
One night, past midnight, something snaps and I realize if I stay in this room one more minute I will lose what's left of my mind.
I don't enjoy breaking the rules, but sometimes, once in awhile, one is left with no other alternative.
I sneak out, under cover of darkness, silent as a cat.
I walk the corridors for hours, tracing and retracing my steps and realizing, much later, than I am walking in circles.
The hours pass, as they do and the light changes, as it does.
Night after night it's the same: the whisper-soft sounds of my footsteps mingling with my whisper-soft breaths, my jumbled, sleep-addled thoughts, all repeating the same endless rhythm, again and again and—
One night, however, something is different.
One night I see you.
The sight of your figure moving silently ahead of me is enough to make me stop still in my tracks. What do I do? Do I turn and run? Do I pretend to faint? Do I—
Too late. You turn swiftly and see me, frozen, open-mouthed, staring. In six long strides you stand before me, your face an intriguing combination of rage and something else I can't define.
Miss Granger, you hiss in the dark. I can feel the soft weight of your warm breath on my face.
Professor Snape, I reply. I await my punishment. I can hear you breathing, or thinking, or both. You're standing very close. What will it be, I wonder: how many hours, how may cauldrons, for how many nights.
I console myself: at least it will give me something to do.
Why are you wandering the hallways past curfew? you say, and you don't sound angry at all. You sound curious.
Curiosity I understand.
I can't sleep, I say. I…try. I keep trying. I try very, very hard but…I'm failing. I'm failing at sleeping—
My voice sounds tremulous, as if I might cry, but I'm not close to crying. I'm too tired to cry. I close my eyes and sway slightly. I am so very tired. When I open them you are watching me with that look again. I await the inevitable tirade.
But you only sigh; I see your head lower slightly as you ponder how to proceed. What to do with me? I surely don't know and perhaps you don't either.
What to do with me?
You say: You've tried a Sleeping Draught I assume?
With a pinch of—
Yes, I say before you finish.
I've tried everything.
Come then, you say suddenly and your voice is the very darkness itself. Let's walk.
So, we do.
We walk all night.
We don't say a word.
We walk until my body is as tired as my mind and when you finally stop I see we are standing in front of the Fat Lady's portrait. I am, as they say, asleep on my feet. I want to say thank you but you gesture curtly at the entrance and I nod in reply and step inside.
I manage to find my bed and I fall and I sleep so long and so deeply Lavender shakes me awake in a blind panic because she thinks I am dead.
After that first night our nocturnal meetings become regular, expected and, for me, at least, greatly anticipated.
We don't talk much at first, do we? Not much, because even if we whisper our voices sound too loud in all the silence.
You're not one for mindless small talk, anyway, I've found.
One night our arms brush against one another's as we walk. It doesn't bother me but you pull away as if you've been scalded and you glare at me as if I'd done it on purpose.
Another night our fingers touch, lightly, in passing. You glance down at me, but don't pull away as violently this time.
On yet another night, after I've been startled by Peeves knocking over a statue, I dare to take your hand, let my fingers wrap around your palm. Your skin is smooth and warm; your fingers twitch beneath mine and I can feel your eyes on me, speculative, but you sigh, resigned.
We walk that way for hours.
Oh, the things I end up telling you during those walks! Things I've never told a single person.
It's so much easier to talk to you in the dark.
I broke my cousin's doll when I was six. On purpose.
I'm the one who stole the potions from your storeroom in second year.
Sometimes I think I'd trade some of my brains for bigger—
Miss Granger, you interrupt. Perhaps you should consider confiding in a girlfriend. Keeping a journal. Writing heartfelt, sentimental poetry.
I dive in.
I am not a goldfish, I begin. I hear a sound like a cough. You are trying, very hard, to not smile.
I was seven, I say and you nod briskly and wisely hide your smirk. I begin again. You don't interrupt, which makes me think you actually like it, which pleases me.
You see, a group of goldfish is called a—
A troubling, you say. I huff out an exasperated breath.
Is there anything you don't know? I realize I sound cheeky and I'm relieved when you simply raise one eyebrow and don't reply.
You're the only one I've recited that poem to, besides my parents. And the fish, of course, I babble. See, I didn't have many friends back then. Well, I don't have many now, really, but it's all right because you can't miss something you've never had, can you? I ask. Can you?
And something about the way your hand twitches beneath mine then makes me stop prattling. My breath hitches in my chest. I don't dare look at you, but I swear, I swear, I can feel your eyes on me.
Oh, yes, you say as we watch the sun rise, blood red fingers caressing our tired faces. You can.
I remember this particular night in such minute detail only because it was our last.
Good night, professor, I say when we stop. The Fat Lady sleeps on, snoring lightly in her frame.
You glance down the hallway, at the window and smirk. Oh. It's no longer pitch black and I feel the weight lift from my heart. I don't have to try to sleep. It's morning. I grin. I can feel the smile stretching across my face and you smile in return.
Good morning, you say.
I lean up impulsively before I think better and kiss you, on the lips. We stand like that for a full five seconds. I know, because I count. You don't pull away, but you don't kiss me back, either.
Insufferable, you say, very quietly, when I move back.
Later, much later, when I'm wrapped in blankets, waiting for sleep to come, I smile because I realize insufferable is actually just another word for Hermione.
After you die I don't see you again for five years.
I hear the rumours; we all do, but I don't allow myself to hope that somehow you escaped, somehow you survived.
When I am very tired, or after too much elderflower wine, I dare to think about you and where you might be right now. Teaching in a faraway school, perhaps, or working in a potions lab in a foreign country. Disguised, perhaps, in hiding, moving about only under cover of darkness.
It comforts me, to think these things.
Every time I set foot in my classroom. Every time I scan the faces of my students, both new and familiar, expectant and bored. Every time I wander Hogwarts' halls, sometimes for hours, often at night, I see your face and I wonder.
I think about you more than I ever imagine possible.
Yes, you are always there, wraith-like, existing on the fringes of my consciousness, and sometimes, when I am very lonely, I talk to you.
Sometimes you reply.
When I finally find you again, it's night.
I've never lost my habit of night wandering and neither, apparently, have you.
I am in Diagon Alley, hunting down a copy of Moste Obscure Charms and Spells. I've heard rumours of a new store there, specializing in copies of rare and unusual books. I am eager to find it, as my evenings at Hogwarts are generally dull and generally solitary in nature.
I am wandering, as I am wont to do, concentrating solely on lighted store fronts and the solid thunk thunk of my boot heels on cobblestones when:
I see you ahead of me.
Long swooping figure. Long black cloak.
Suddenly, I can't breathe.
Suddenly, I recall the first night I saw you in the hallway at school, when I was suffering from the terrible bouts of insomnia. I freeze. It has to be you. It has to be. You turn ever so slightly and I see your profile and I smile, a heat in my belly swelling up and out to every appendage. Of course it's you. You pause for a moment, then continue on your way. I make my feet move, make them follow you. Your path is hesitant and unsure, as if you're simply browsing, simply…lost.
Perhaps you have simply lost your way.
Then again, perhaps I have, as well.
You stop, at last, in front of a store I've never noticed before and I blink in surprise at the name: Devia Lacuna.
The very bookstore I was looking for.
At this late hour there are only three patrons. The young man tending the counter sees me, smiles and nods.
Hermione Granger, he says and I stop, stunned.
Yes, I say.
He looks vaguely familiar, but how I cannot say.
Graham Pritchard, he says, still smiling and nodding. He's making me very nervous but why, I don't know.
Hello, I say.
We've been expecting you, is all he says.
Really? I say.
Yes, he says. Please, have a look around.
I nod back and acquiesce.
It's glorious. Simply glorious. No wonder you've come here, I think. I could spend hours, here, days here.
I could live here.
I wander down the first aisle, my fingers brushing along the worn bindings, colours and scents and images filling my brain. I close my eyes, concentrating, breathing.
I open my eyes.
We see one another at exactly the same moment. I wonder if the expression on my face looks like yours:
Miss Granger, you say in a voice that is yours and is not. The snake bite, I assume, damaged your throat. Of course it did. You sound like yourself, but not, like you're speaking underwater, speaking to me through sheaves of hair, through cupped hands, from a great distance and yet right inside my head at the same time.
We are friends, and yet not.
We are enemies, and yet not.
We are not lovers.
I trust you are well? you say and I nod.
I'm teaching, I say. At—
I know, you say, but you don't elaborate.
And you? I ask, ever so polite.
This is my shop, you say simply. Your long, elegant fingers lift and indicate the surroundings, then fall again. You seem vaguely embarrassed. I want to kiss you before you move away, before you realize you should be proud, before you realize we shouldn't even be in the same room together.
It's perfect, is all I can think to say, and I mean it. A bookstore! Ambrosial! Garden of Eden!
Well, I say, turning the book in my hands.
It's late, you say.
Yes, I say.
I'm about to close, you say.
I nod. Of course.
I look at you, your face, the planes, dark and light, the hook of your mouth, the slant of your eye. And you, I realize, are studying the exact same thing on me.
Are you sleeping? you ask.
About the same, I say and I see understanding in the depths of your eyes. It undoes me, loosens something tied tightly in my chest, something I didn't even realize was tied.
We wander to the front of the store. You and Graham acknowledge one another. You simply raise an eyebrow and Graham smirks, carefully avoiding my gaze.
Good evening, sir, he says, gathers his cloak, and leaves.
Come, you say, extending a hand. Let's walk.
We walk until my body is as tired as my mind and when you finally stop I see we are standing in front of your store, the Devia Lacuna. I am, as they say, asleep on my feet. I want to say thank you but you gesture curtly at the entrance and I nod in reply and step inside.
You live above your store, having sold your house years ago.
The flat is small and warm.
You hand me tea and something happens when our fingers touch against the cool porcelain cup.
You nod at me, your eyes veiled and expectant.
So much I want to say and so much I'd like to hear.
I am waiting. You are waiting.
I finish my tea. I put the cup down and stand. You stand, too, and meet me, halfway. We both know what will happen, what we want to have happen.
I slide my hands up your chest. You watch me without moving and I see that look in your eyes, the same look I saw so many years before, before I was old enough to understand it.
Before I was old enough to know what desire truly meant.
This look, however, breaks my heart. I know, suddenly, looking at you looking at me, that you understand. You've been as lonely as I have been, for a long time.
Oh, I say, because anything else would be stupid.
Your hands touch my breasts. I remember them — your hands — holding my hands so many years before and that memory almost makes me come right then.
Instead I close my eyes and concentrate on you and your hands and what you and they are doing to me, my breasts my neck, my waist, my legs, my—
Hermione! you say in your funny voice. Oh! Hermione—
And I silence you with a kiss and realize Hermione is another word for love but when you say it, it feels like magic.
The sun is rising. It's no longer night, and I feel that old, familiar loosening in my chest.
It's no longer night and since neither of us has anyplace to go, we remain exactly where we are: your head on my chest, your hand cupping the back of my neck. I let my hand rest on your head, my fingers twine in your hair. I feel your breath skate across my skin.
I'm no longer troubled. I will never forget.
Your breathing slows, your heartbeat slows.