A/N: Um, hi there…*dodges tomatoes and grenades*. I'm so sorry for the extremely ridiculous delay. I had a really terrible, trying year, and so fanfiction got put on the back burner. Thank you all so much for the reviews! I was totally blown away by reviews, favs, and alerts. You guys are rock stars. One thing I wanted to clarify is that Draco is supposed to come across as creepy at the moment. There is a method to my madness, I promise, and it's not that I think creepy guys are romantic. The romance won't be in the story for quite some time.
Disclaimer: Is this really even necessary?
Sunlight sneaks through my curtains, and I press my pillow over my eyes. I'm ready to shout down to my mum that I'll be down for breakfast soon when I remember where I am. I'm back at Hogwarts, training as a tribute for the Hogwarts Games. I groan at the idea of my mum's undercooked pancakes- something I could very well never be able to pretend to enjoy again.
Three weeks have passed since I've spoken to Draco. I'm avoiding him as skillfully as Anthony and Mandy are avoiding me. If only the purpose of the Games was to avoid my opponents, I could have a good shot of winning.
I stretch and prepare for the day, thinking of what Remus and I can work on today before remembering we won't be training today. Despite being kept up half the night from the anxiety welling in my stomach, I had forgotten.
Today is the Ranking Day. Today, I will be given a number that shows the Wizarding World how much worth I have. Am I a good gamble or should they place their galleons on a safer bet?
I know I can do this. I'm top of my class for a reason, and my dueling has been improving thanks to Remus. Still, I can't be too confident.
I shower quickly, ready for the day to end already, and head downstairs after dressing. I am the first to arrive. As minutes tick by in my mind, the rest of the tributes solemnly make their way down the stairwell. We don't look at each other. We don't speak. Minister Potter enters the room and speaks, but I can't focus on what he's saying. He leads us down out of the dorm, down the corridor, down the staircase. Down, down, down. I notice, though, that he doesn't say goodbye to any of us, not even his son, but I attribute it to the pain of knowing his son might not make it out alive. But then I tell myself that I'm being absurd because Minister Potter's arrogance is a thing of legends.
"Greetings, tributes," Dumbledore cheerily shouts as we enter the Great Hall. No one responds. The rest of the student body has already finished their meals. We are led to our table, once again reminded of the separation between us and our classmates. "Today you will demonstrate your skills. Students, please make your way to your first class of the day."
A collective whine goes through the Great Hall. They want to watch, but they know they're not allowed. Ranking is the one thing that isn't recorded. I have a few theories for why that is, but it's never been proved one way or the other. Even the books I've read skim over the issue, probably too afraid to publish the truth or any information relatively close to the truth, afraid to upset the precious Ministry.
Ranking is done by the number of tributes. Since there are twenty-four tributes, you can rank anywhere from one to twenty-four. Twenty-four is obviously the worst, and one is ideal. I'd prefer a one (but would settle for a two or three happily), but I have two main things going against a high score for me: this isn't an ideal world, and I'm a muggleborn, which while they pretend it doesn't lower your score it does.
The top twelve is ideal because it means that, obviously, you're in the top-half of the tributes and more likely to attract sponsors. That doesn't mean people can't or don't sponsor lower ranked, but there's less urgency about it.
Once the Great Hall's been cleared, Dumbledore taps his wand against the Goblet of Glory, which glows red. Gryffindor's first. My nerves patter in my stomach this morning, so I don't mind not going first. Since it's alphabetical, order's already decided, which amps up my nerves because I don't think I'm ready for this.
The cup glows yellow next: Hufflepuff, and then it glows green for Slytherin. Lastly, which I'm starting to think keeps happening, the goblet glows blue. I'll be the second to last person out of twenty four people to go. I didn't want to be first, but I didn't particularly want to be so close to last either.
We clear out into the hallway, a strange, special passageway made for us with four long benches for us to sit on while we wait. How considerate of them to at least allow us to sit while the minutes of our lives slip through the hourglass.
Katie Bell's first up and she keeps her chin up as the doors shut behind her.
"So, Granger," Malfoy asks from his reclined position on the Slytherin bench, "prepared to die?"
The Slytherins snicker as if this is top-grade material except for Potter, who doesn't seem to find Malfoy as funny as the others, but as I look at Malfoy, I see that there's no smirk or sneer on his face. It's just blank, void of anything, which is rather unsettling.
"You're so clever, Malfoy. Remind me again why the hat didn't sort you into Ravenclaw."
It's not my best comeback, but I'm nervous about the ranking.
Malfoy watches me for another minute and then stares at the door.
This is the most we've spoken since the night I punched him in the face and he gave me the books, which I should thank him for because they were rather informative. I'm sure they were books from his family's library, since as a pureblood, he's blessed with the type of wealth that gives you a library in your own home filled with ancient books.
Since we haven't spoken, Malfoy hasn't made any more offers for an alliance, which I've started to realize I should have thought about longer because Malfoy's a deadly dueler.
At the end of the bench, Mandy's biting her nails like she does when she's nervous. We still haven't made up. I already apologized once. I refuse to apologize again. I still have some pride. Anthony's still mad at me, too. I'm probably going to have alienated all my friends by the time the Games actually start.
Katie Bell comes up, shaken and fatigued, and leaves for the dormitory without uttering another word to any of us. Seamus Finnigan is next. He takes only five minutes and emerges with a victorious grin on his face. Neville Longbottom drops his wand four times on the way to the door, and squeaks as beads of sweat pool around his ears. Twenty-five minutes elapse before he leaves. Next is Parvati, whom I silently wish good luck. When she leaves, her eyes are panicked. Ginny Weasley only takes three minutes, and leaves with a wide smile on her face. Ron Weasley, however, takes sixteen minutes, and leaves with a flustered, flushed complexion.
Then the Gryffindors are all gone, and I'm more jealous of them than I have been in my entire life.
Hannah Abbott squeezes Justin Finch-Fletchley's hand before she enters. She leaves somewhat proud. Susan Bones takes eighteen shaky breaths before she can force herself to go in, but she leaves much calmer than how she entered. Eleanor Branston cries on the way out, and Owen Cauldwell beats at the door, begging for another chance. If the Gamemakers hear him, I'm sure it'll count against him. Justin Finch-Fletchley leaves without looking at anyone, completely emotionless, and Zacharias Smith gives a haughty, boasting laugh as he waves a mocking goodbye. I've never liked him.
Millicent Bulstrode is next and looks angry going in and angry coming out, although I think that's just her default facial expression. Vincent Crabbe frowns on the way in, and like Millicent, I'm pretty sure that's the only expression his face has. Astoria Greengrass finger combs her hair and whispers something to Malfoy, who smirks and nods in response. Her smile is closed-lipped, but present when she's finished. Malfoy smooths back his hair, and leaves with a satisfied sneer-smirk. Pansy Parkinson doesn't frown or smile or flinch going in, but her grin is ecstatic and slightly twisted when she's done. Potter, however, seems a bit nervous, and doesn't look any happier when he's done.
Then, Terry's up, and I realize how close it is to my turn. We wish Terry good luck, but he only nods. When he's done, he comes up to us and mouths something but can't find words, and ultimately leaves. Mandy pastes on a too-bright smile to show us that she feels fine even though it's clear she doesn't. She's in tears when she leaves. Anthony is next and startled by Mandy, He keeps turning his head back around to see if she'll come back but she doesn't.
Only Luna and I remain.
"Today would be a beautiful day for jellyfish catching," Luna says.
"Definitely," I say, and then mutter to myself, "if only they're the kind that'd kill me quick and easy."
"It'd be hard to tell," Luna, who somehow still heard me, says. "Besides, they're rarely fatal in the Magical world. It's only Muggles who haven't discovered the antidote to all jellies' stings."
There was a girl in the house across from my family's when I was younger, and her name was Serenity. She wore moccasins and cut her own hair. She prayed for snow in summer and did rain dances with hoola hoops. There was something a little funny about her, but I told her all of my secrets when I was younger.
Luna reminds me of her.
It's hard to sit here and realize that the time is winding down. Even if I do make it out of the Games, will it be worth it without my friends?
Finally, Anthony walks out with pursed lips. He gives us a shrug and leaves.
I make my way to the door and close my eyes for a moment. Despite earlier being irritated about being second-to-last, I'm pleased now since I can allow myself the minor vulnerability before I get myself together and enter the Great Hall.
"Hermione Granger, Ravenclaw, Muggleborn," Dolores Umbridge speaks the last word as if she's chewing a Cockroach Cluster. "Sixth year."
I step forward, ignoring the ominous shutting of the oak doors behind me.
Next to Umbridge, Minister Potter sits. On his right, sits Alastor Moody, Alice Longbottom, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Gwenog Jones, and Xenophilius Lovegood. I try not to make eye contact with Mr. Lovegood. I know him the best, as Luna's father, than any of the others.
On Umbridge's left, sits Bellatrix Black, Narcissa Malfoy, Lucius Malfoy, Severus Snape, Bartemius Crouch Junior, Alecto Carrow.
I realize that Rosmerta's gone, reminding me that she was chosen for Susan and Zacharias's mentor and therefore had to give up her Gamemaker position this year. Rosmerta's always been kind to me at the Three Broomsticks. Sometimes, when she's in a good mood and I help her out with the proper freezing charms, she gives me a free Butterbeer. It would have benefited me if she was a Gamemaker.
Bellatrix Black picks meat out of her teeth with a silver fork, and Alice Longbottom appears to be drifting off to sleep. Minister Potter and Alastor Moody are talking about new regulations for the Auror Department. Mr. Lovegood is explaining to Gwenog Jones how Freeple Zoxslingers are the reason why brooms can fly in the air without hitting the ground, and she's politely feigning interest.
Finally, Umbridge lets out a little, "A-hem", and everyone quiets immediately. "Elves!"
With that, three little pops ring out through the air. When the smoke clears, three house elves stand in front of the table.
"Your task," Umbridge says, "is to show us your skills by using these things to demonstrate."
At first, I don't get what Umbridge means. But then, the terrifying quickness of revelation hits me, and I get it.
Then I wish I didn't.
My stomach turns and for a moment, I swear I'm going to throw up. House elves are treated so abominably by purebloods. They may not be people, but shouldn't they have rights? Being forced to be tortured for this inhumane competition is disgusting.
I can't. I can't do this. It's not right.
I turn back towards the doors, but I know they won't open until I've done what the Gamemakers expect of me.
I could use something weak like a Stunning Spell, but really it's the principle of the matter.
When I get out of my own head for a minute, I realize that the elves are talking.
"Dobby is very sorry, sir," the middle house elf mutters to himself. "Dobby will shine your shoes properly next time, Master Malfoy. Dobby is so very grateful you have given him another chance and have not used the whip this time or ordered him to iron his fingers. Dobby does not like ironing his fingers, but will do it for you, sir. Very sorry, very sorry, very sorry, sir."
The house elf on the left sniffles, sucking her long thumb, as tears leak out of her eyes. "No, no, no, please, Master, not again. Winky has done nothing wrong! Winky has been good!"
On the right, the hunchbacked house elf stared up at Bellatrix Black. "Kreacher lives to serve the Noble House of Black. Kreacher is honored to be chosen for this duty for the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black."
I force myself to take a deep breath, even though I know what's happening here is so wrong.
No, I decide, I won't let this stand. They'll pay for this.
I illusion the air in front of me to block the Gamemakers from seeing me. Then I reach down and grab my sock, transfiguring it to a rat. Quickly, I throw the rat in Lucius Malfoy's direction, causing Mr. Malfoy to leap back and Mrs. Malfoy to sputter in fright. Bellatrix Black cackles gleefully, but everyone just stares at me. Malfoy sends the rat flying with a spell.
"Dobby!" Mr. Malfoy demands. "Get that thing out of here."
"Yes, Master," Dobby says with an impressively low bow, "right away, sir."
I aim towards Dobby. "Finite Incantatem."
The rat morphs into a white sock with pink toes.
Mr. Malfoy stares at me in fury, drawing his cane in my direction. "You lost me my servant, girl!"
I have the vaguest feeling that if he wasn't giving me the most terrifying glare, the fact that he hides his wand in his cane might amuse me.
I don't hear his words as he mutters them softly, but shout, "Protego!"
The rest of the Gamemakers gape at me as if I've lost my mind and they're wondering what I'm doing out of St. Mungo's.
I flee to the door, not turning around so I can keep my eyes on them, murmur a spell to burst through the door's sealing charm, and then because I'm still furious and want to add to it all for good measure, I point my wand in Mr. Malfoy's direction again and shout, "Avis!"
The flock of birds surround him pecking at him and chirping merrily. I sprint, not giving Luna a glance, and smack my hand over my eyes.
What did I just do?
I couldn't help it. I just got so angry at them for treating those poor house elves like inferior creatures. It's like when everyone made fun of Luna and I cursed her shoes so that if anyone tried to steal them, they'd have THIEF marked in their face in permanent dots. People left her alone after that, though.
Later, when Luna, Terry, and I are sitting by the fire chatting softly, Terry brings up the topic I don't want to discuss. Luna saves me by talking first, a rare occurrence in a conversation with her.
"I don't think that went as well as it should have," Luna says, her voice dreamy like usual. "Daddy looked pleased, but sometimes I don't think people understand me."
I have to ask. "What did you do?"
"Well," Luna says. "There were three peliguinos in the room, and you know what they make you do. So I began to hum and dance the foxtrot, waving my arms around. I grabbed one of the peliguinos in my arms and began to demonstrate the birthing ritual of peliguinos. Then, when they least expected it, I drew my wand and placed a Tickling Charm of the Head Gamemaker."
Terry shakes his head. "The last part sounds not entirely terrible."
"I'm sure you did fine," I lie.
It's not that I don't think Luna's smart or anything. I do, but if that's what she did after I infuriated the Gamemakers, what score is she going to get? Anger, at myself, flows through me. What if my stupid foolishness gets Luna killed because of a low score?
Terry leans in. "When I go to the kitchens after doing prefect rounds, you know how there's always house elves serving, right? What they wanted us to do felt so weird. I kept picturing those three elves as the ones who hand me my hot chocolate."
I have to know. "Did you actually do it?"
Terry's eyebrows narrow in confusion. "Well, I didn't have a choice."
I bite my lip and decide not to argue.
"Why?" Terry asks. "What'd you do, Hermione?"
I take a breath before I speak and then I launch into it, "You know I care a lot about house elves' rights."
Luna nods, her hair shining ethereally as Terry rolls his eyes.
"Yeah, SPEW," Terry says. "What about it?"
"It's S-P-E-W," I say irritatedly. He knows what it is. He's just being rude. "I gave it up when I found out the elves liked their job, but Terry, that wasn't fair to them. That's exactly the kind of thing I wanted to create S.P.E.W. for. They should have rights."
"They're just house elves," Terry said. "It's not that big of a deal."
I click my tongue, knowing we won't agree.
"We're all creatures," Luna says. "Would you like if you didn't have rights?"
Terry stands up. "I'm going down to dinner."
He leaves swiftly, probably deciding to stay away from me for good.
At least I still have Luna.
But with her score, which is bound to be low, I can't help but wonder how much longer I'll have her for.
Tonight, in front of students and faculty and staff, we'll get our rankings. I'm not expecting anything above twenty. I can still work with that. No one's going to view me as a threat at twenty. Some people have used it as strategy before. So I keep telling myself that as I stare at Dumbledore, who's leading the school in singing the school song. It's all very disorganized, having people sing at whatever key they like, and rather silly too.
The cameras are here again tonight, and the twenty-four of us sit solemnly. Even the Slytherins, whom I would have expected to be excited, are quiet.
Umbridge walks to Dumbledore and hands him the envelope. Inside is a paper that gives each of a number, a sense of how much we're worth. It's an inverse relationship: the higher the number, the less valuable you are. It's all rather barbaric.
"At number twenty five," Dumbledore pauses dramatically. "Owen Cauldwell."
The tiny boy stands as protocol dictates, although no one applauds for him, and sits down in a hurry. It's not a surprise considering how young and small he is, and how panicked he was before he went in.
Okay, so at least I'm not the last spot. Anything from here on out has to be an improvement, logically speaking.
"At number twenty-three, Eleanor Branstone."
Again, not really a surprise.
"At number twenty-two, Neville Longbottom."
Ron Weasley and Seamus Finnigan are stricken by this news, but no more so than Neville. It's not surprising since the Slytherins have gone around calling him Squib since fourth year, but it's surprising because his mother is one of the Gamemakers. Surely, she could have swayed it in his favor.
"At number twenty-one, Susan Bones."
Poor Susan. She looked like she thought she had done so well. She gives a sniffle now and covers her face.
"At number twenty, Parvati Patil."
I can't look over at Padma. Even though people can still sponsor someone ranked at twenty, I don't think Parvarti's going to get any. She's always been more concerned with clothing and gossiping than studying and it's going to show.
"At number nineteen, Luna Lovegood."
It's not the best score, but considering what Luna did it's relatively decent. It's not a twenty four, at least.
My fingers itch as I think of how I irritated the judges.
"At number eighteen, Katie Bell."
Katie's a star chaser on the Gryffindor quidditch team, so I think the score isn't very accurate even if her spell work was shoddy. If the arena is one where we're all required to be on brooms, well, she'll be a lot better off than I will.
"At number seventeen, Mandy Brocklehurst."
That's not fair, actually. Mandy deserves higher than that.
Of course, I realize, no Slytherins have been called yet. They're probably all docked in the top twelve, probably even better.
"At number sixteen, Justin Finch-Fletchley."
Which is ridiculous, since Mandy's behind him. I mean, come on, Justin's afraid of his own shadow and has this huge paranoia issue with thinking everyone's out to get him because he's a Muggleborn. I'm sure the Slytherins won't exploit that issue at all in the arena.
"At number fifteen, Hannah Abbott."
I hadn't expected her to do so well, but she had seemed proud of herself when she finished.
"At number fourteen, Terry Boot."
It's decent enough.
"At number thirteen, Michael Corner."
So close to cracking the top twelve. Plus, Michael's extremely handsome (it's hard not to notice), so that'll probably give him enough sponsors.
Which means, I realize suddenly, that I'm in the top twelve. I have to hide my grin in my cupped hand.
"At number twelve, Ronald Weasley."
I'm not sure if that's really where he should be placed, but I guess the Gamemakers saw something in him.
"At number eleven, Zacharias Smith."
I don't know why, but I've never liked Zacharias. Someone should have gotten his spot that was more worthy of it.
"At number ten, Anthony Goldstein."
We all shoot Anthony congratulatory glances.
"At number nine, Pansy Parkinson."
It's the first Slytherin to be named at number nine, which is rather impressive, but I'm betting the Slytherins are already dismissing Pansy in their minds, ready to dispose of her first out of all of them.
"At number eight, Ginevra Weasley."
I hadn't known she was so accomplished, and oh my, my name still hasn't called.
"At number seven, Millicent Bulstrode."
I doubt she got her score based on skill. No, I'm sure hers was due to her size and brute strength. After all, people can injure and kill others without wands in the Games. It's merely easier to use wands.
"At number six, Seamus Finnigan."
Again, brute strength and force, or maybe he accidentally set something on fire and the Gamemakers thought it was intentional.
"At number five, Vincent Crabbe."
Same with Finnigan and Bulstrode. Still haven't been called. Is this possible? Or maybe they're kicking me out of the Games and sending me to Azkaban for…disrespect?
"At number four, Astoria Greengrass."
I would have thought she'd have placed higher.
"At number three, Harry Potter."
Crap. If the Gamemakers aren't sending me to Azkaban or having a Dementor suck out my soul that means that I scored higher than Potter, which means he'll definitely come after me in the arena. The only people left are Malfoy and me. It hurts to draw breath as I wait.
"At number two, Hermione Granger."
Two. I'm number two. How unbelievable and incredible. I can barely notice the proud and slightly envious looks of my friends.
"At number one, Draco Malfoy."
I make eye contact with Malfoy, who stands as expected with a sneer like he's so above all of it, and then sits. His eyes stay on me the entire time like he wants me to know that he's bested me, which he sort of has. Although, I'm the top of my classes, so I'm not able to understand why I wasn't ranked first, but that's fine. I'm not jealous or anything. It's not like I need to be the best.
A two is great for sponsors, but I realize that I'm going to be a prime target and that I've currently have no alliance and shot down the only chance at one I had. Malfoy ranked number one. If he wants to come after me to get revenge for me turning him down, it's not going to be that difficult. Considering that the Gamemakers probably gave me a two to either make me a threat or for my spunk, I doubt either would hold up in a duel with Draco Malfoy, son of a prominent pureblooded family that's known for practicing dark magic. Plus, Malfoy'll believe that I'm a legitimate threat as the person ranked right underneath him. If he didn't have enough motive to attack me before, he does now. Plus, he'll no doubt be leading the other Slytherins, which means I'll have six at-least decent wizards and witches after me like a squad of assassins. Plus, Anthony and Mandy (and now Terry probably) aren't too pleased with me as it is.
Perhaps a two isn't so good after all.
A/N: So, I know it's a bit different than The Hunger Games, but I'm obviously putting my own spin on it. Also, you guys asked some great questions in your reviews, and I promise they have answers in the future. I'm so sorry to have been gone for so long, and I hope you review! Constructive criticism is welcomed and encouraged.