Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Foreword: First of all, I would like to apologise for not having this chapter up sooner. Overall, my life has been rather hectic, leaving me only time to write one-shots every now and then or the occasional sentences and paragraphs for longer works. Now enjoy the story!
The Room and Halloween
Harry couldn't believe it. The door had unlocked. Admittedly, he would have been proud of such an accomplishment if it were not for the grave implications of possible consequences for doing so. He couldn't wrap his head around why he was successful whereas his cohorts had failed. Harry wasn't so arrogant to think that he was gifted—no, there had to be another reason why he was able to unlock it.
"I can't believe it!" Tracey shouted, astonishment overcoming her. "You actually managed to open it, Black!"
"This doesn't make any sense! We all used the same spell, why is it only Black is able to succeed?" Theodore asked, more to himself than anyone else.
Tracey glanced over at Theodore and frowned. "It's obvious isn't it? Black is just a great wizard!"
Harry rolled his eyes at Tracey's compliment. Though he was flattered, the Head of the Blacks didn't believe he was special. It took both studying and practice; something he did quite frequently with Hermione. If others had placed the same amount of effort into their studies like he and Hermione did, they would surely be called "great" too—even dullards such as Crabbe and Goyle.
"Well, let's go inside then!" Tracey announced with barely held excitement.
Harry whipped around, glaring at the reckless girl, and said, "Haven't I warned you that it may be dangerous?"
"Please, Black! Aren't you the least bit curious over what we may find?" Theodore defended Tracey, drawing Harry's frustration away from her.
There was no mistaking that Harry was very curious. He wanted to see for himself the secret as much as he wanted to just walk away. Harry knew his protective instincts stemmed from all those years with Hermione during primary school; she was a very curious girl then (and even now, come to think of it).
Once again, Harry relented. "Very well, but let's be careful, alright?"
Tracey and Theodore smiled, nodding their heads enthusiastically. Harry couldn't help but smile inwardly as they reminded him of his best friend. He took the lead in this venture, opening the door that was previously locked. It was dark as there was barely any light entering the room. Behind him, Tracey and Theodore pushed forward, urging Harry to enter.
He could feel his heart racing out of fear for the unknown. What if there was a deadly creature he learned from Defence Against the Dark Arts inside? Nervously, Harry pushed forward slowly. There was certainly an ominous atmosphere about.
Harry jerked and turned around, finding Theodore had shut the door.
"Sorry," he apologised quietly. "I didn't want someone see the door opened and investigate."
Though he disagreed with the idea (there could be a need for a quick escape), Harry couldn't fault Theodore for thinking cautiously. Sighing, he continued moving forward, his hand clutching his wand tightly. Before he could take another step, Harry felt soft hands clutch his wrist and pulling him back.
"Black, wait," Tracey whispered. "Do you hear that?"
The Slytherin party stopped in their tracks and opened their ears to listen whatever it was that caught Tracey's attention. Harry strained his ear, trying to find what she had heard. Then he heard it. It was soft, but Harry could definitely hear it. Something in the room was breathing. The breathing was slow but steady; he swore he could hear faint snoring as well. Whatever it was, it was sleeping.
"Oh, I know a spell so we could see. We learned it in class," chimed Theodore happily.
"No, wait!" Harry yelled in a hushed tone.
He was too late. Theodore had cast his spell. "Lumos!"
Theodore's wand ignited. The tip of his wand was suddenly basked in a bright, white orb, lighting the room and chasing away most of the darkness. It turned out the room was large, larger than any room they had ever been in before but still smaller than the Great Hall. In the centre of the room was a creature that was not only huge, but covered with fur.
"Is that a giant dog?" Tracey asked fearfully, suddenly clutching Harry's arm much to his surprise. "I'm afraid of dogs!"
Harry knew something about dogs. Dogs were man's stalwart companions. They were fiercely loyal and have been used to defend homes for thousands of years (or so he learned from his books). They had keen senses, making them great guardians. The sudden brightness of the room thanks to Theodore, Tracey's exclaimed surprise and fear, and probably their unfamiliar scent would no doubt alert any dog.
Sometimes, Harry hated when he was right.
The giant dog suddenly growled—menacingly at that. Slowly, its giant frame lumbered upward as the canine awoke from its slumber. Its legs shifted apart, taking on a defensive stance against what it perceived as intruders. However, it was not just a giant dog. A second growling commenced followed by a third. Harry nearly gasped; it had three heads!
"No, Tracey," Harry answered her calmly. "It's a giant, three-headed dog."
Harry suddenly took his hand and clamped it on her mouth, silencing her. "Quiet, Tracey!"
"B-black, w-w-what do we d-do?" stuttered Theodore behind him.
He could feel all eyes were on him, including the giant, three-headed dog. Tracey and Theodore were relying on him. Harry quickly began analysing the situation at hand, his eyes jumping all over the place. Strangely, he spotted what seemed to be a trapdoor underneath the dog's foot. However, he ignored that. That wouldn't be helpful at all at the present.
"Theodore," Harry addressed the boy calmly, "we're going to back away slowly. No sudden movements, alright? You open the door and then all of us can get out."
Harry didn't need to look at him to know that he nodded in agreement. Slowly, but carefully, the group started to back away slowly from the guard dog. Tracey was clutching his arm tightly, nearly shivering out of fear. As they slowly stepped back, the dog was edging closer and closer as it continued growling. It was so very intimidating.
"Black, it's open!" Theodore cried.
Not needing to be told twice, Harry pushed Tracey backwards, sending her into the arms of Theodore. The pair toppled onto the floor into the hallway. With a snap, Harry turned and sprinted. The dog's three heads barked loudly and gave chase. However, Harry was much too fast! He was able to exit the room and close the door before it got even close. His heart felt like he just ran a marathon.
"Are we safe?" Tracey whimpered quietly, helping Theodore stand back up.
Harry nodded. "Yes, we're safe now, Tracey."
Without warning, the girl threw herself into Harry's arms and held him tightly. She was still shivering out of fear and Harry couldn't help but sympathise. Tracey admitted she was afraid of dogs. Seeing a giant, three-headed dog was no doubt frightening to her.
"That was a Cerberus," Theodore said between coughs. "Why is there a Cerberus here in the castle?"
Harry knew what a Cerberus was. At least, he thought he knew. He learned about them in Greek mythology in which it was represented as a giant, three-headed dog guarded the entrance to the underworld where the souls of the dead were kept. Apparently, they were real.
It may have been guarding something, Harry thought. It's the trapdoor!
He soon understood the connection between the Cerberus and the trapdoor. There was more to the secret than a guard dog. Something was being kept in the school and defences were needed for it. However, as he looked at Tracey and Theodore, Harry dared not tell them lest they put themselves in more danger.
"Come on, Tracey, let's go back to the common room," Harry said to her softly, dropping his cool mask a little.
Tracey didn't answer but nodded. She finally freed Harry from her hug, but didn't let go of his hand. Harry didn't mind giving her this much. Harry looked to Theodore wondering if he wanted to go to the common room too. He nodded; there was a tired look in his eyes.
Once again, Harry took charge of the party and began to lead them out of the corridor, having remembered how Theodore brought them to the Room (as he thought to dub it) in the first place. However, he suddenly stopped, having thought he saw the end of dark robes around a corner. Had someone seen them?
"What's wrong?" asked Theodore worriedly.
Harry shook his head. He was being paranoid. He checked again and found nothing.
"Nothing," he assured him. "It was just my imagination..."
After coming face to face with the Cerberus, Harry, Tracey, and Theodore made an unspoken agreement to never speak of it again. Theodore agreed that they had stumbled onto something dangerous and was more than content to halt his investigation. Tracey recovered from the scare easily enough—all it took was a kip followed by dinner to return to her boisterous self.
Harry, on the other hand, could not help but think about the trapdoor that the Cerberus was guarding. What was hidden in it, he often wondered. He also never told Hermione what he found either. She tended to worry and he didn't want to place that burden on her. When she asked him that day why he was late, he merely told her that practice had run later than usual. Though she believed it, Harry felt guilty for lying to his best friend, even when it was necessary.
The next few days also marked a change with Theodore. He found a companion in Harry and it was often that the two would talk about their favourite subjects. It was good to have a male friend. To be honest, he was growing a little nauseated with how his circle was made up mostly of girls. Though when he invited Theodore to his study sessions in the evenings Theodore refused. Harry thought he was bigoted like Malfoy at first but it seemed he was leerier spending time with Greengrass than with a muggleborn. He wondered what their relation was.
It was now Halloween morning. Throughout the corridors, everyone could smell the delicious aroma of the various Halloween treats wafting about. The Great Hall was tastefully decorated with pumpkins, bringing about the spirit of the holiday. However, many celebrated it as the day Voldemort was vanquished. To Harry, the day reminded him that his mother was murdered.
He never had trouble with the day before. Harry remembered festive evenings with Hermione when they were younger. However, this was the first year he was aware that his mother died on this day. He couldn't help but feel guilty of all the times he spent having fun when he could have been honouring his mother by mourning her. There was a dark cloud hanging over his head and Harry was certainly hoping the day would end soon. Thinking about his mother hurt too much.
"Harry, will you be okay?" asked Hermione, uncharacteristically shy. She knew him well and it was redundant to ask "Are you alright?" or "How are you feeling?" when she obviously was aware of what had happened on Halloween a decade ago.
"I will be," Harry told her, a melancholic taking root in his tone. "Professor Snape told me a lot about her recently. She was very bright. Just like you."
Hermione blushed. "I can't imagine that I'm as smart as her. From what you've told me, she was a genius."
He chuckled. Hermione was always so humble in the face of compliments and praise. He knew deep down that Hermione was happy about it nevertheless. They resumed their normal silence as they continued to study, but Harry's mind was far too busy to buckle down and read his books.
"I'm not looking forward to tonight," Harry remarked. "The upper years told me that there is a feast every year. I don't think I want to be part of something so celebratory. I would just dampen everyone else's festive mood."
His best friend looked at him with scrutiny, pursing her lips in thought. "If you don't want to go, then don't go. It's simple as that, Harry."
"I don't think I can." Harry frowned. "Aren't we all supposed to attend?"
She shook her head and replied, "That may be true, but I'm sure we can get special permission from our Head of House!"
"What is this 'we' business?"
"Naturally, it means I'll be skipping with you," Hermione stated as if it was the most obvious fact in the world. "I'm not going to let you spend Halloween alone if you're not feeling well. What kind of friend would I be?"
As much as Harry wanted to protest, he didn't. Truth be told, if he was going to skip the Halloween feast, Harry wanted Hermione beside him the entire time. No, not wanted, needed. No one else could fulfil the role Hermione had in his life. Harry smiled at Hermione, showing her that he was fine if she came along with him.
"Good! Don't you worry, Harry, I'll take care of everything."
In a rare moment of her educational career, Hermione couldn't wait until class was over. As much as she enjoyed learning Charms in Professor Flitwick's classroom, she could not wait for the school day to end. Not even the prospect of being able to start making objects fly, something Hermione had been excited for since she read about it, would quell Hermione's excitement in beginning her mission to make Harry smile today.
However, so busy was she in her thoughts, Hermione neglected finding a partner once Professor Flitwick called for the class to split up in pairs. Her usual partner, Fay, was swiftly taken by another classmate and before she knew it, Hermione was now stuck with him, Henry Potter. Hermione didn't know who she should be angrier with—herself for not paying attention or him for wanting to partner up with her.
"Now, don't forget that nice wrist movement we've been practicing!" squeaked Professor Flitwick, perched on top of his pile of books as usual. "Swish and flick, remember, swish and flick. And saying the magic words properly is very important, too—never forget Wizard Baruffio, who said 's' instead of 'f' and found himself on the floor with a buffalo on his chest."
Hermione didn't need Professor Flitwick's warning. She had read up ahead of time and practiced with Harry just the previous evening. There was no worry that she would fail in making a simple, lightweight feather move up skyward. As she glanced around the room, she could tell that many of the other students weren't doing so well.
"If you need help, Granger, I'll be more than glad to lend a hand!" Henry, her partner, offered pompously, attempting to flash a dashing smile her way.
"Honestly, Potter, I don't need your help with something basic as this," Hermione answered him with a scoff. She looked sideways, eyeing Ron Weasley trying and failing, making a fool of himself by waving his long arms like a windmill. "Your friend, on the other hand, does."
"Ugh! Why isn't this working?" Ron shouted, disgruntled.
Ron's partner, Neville, chuckled. "It's because you're saying it wrong."
"Well, then how do you say it?"
Hermione turned to Ron and smirked smugly at him. "It's Wing-gar-dium Levi-o-sa, make the 'gar' nice and long."
"You do it, then, if you're so clever," Ron snarled.
Hermione simply smiled at the challenge, flicked her wand, and said, "Wingardium Leviosa!"
Suddenly, Henry and Hermione's feather rose off the desk and hovered about four feet above their heads. Hermione once again grinned triumphantly at the red-haired boy's direction, making him roll his eyes and scowl at being proven the less proficient one in magic.
"Oh, well done!" cried Professor Flitwick, clapping. "Everyone see here, Miss Granger's done it!"
Henry, in particular, took a noted interest in Hermione's feather and smiled at her. "Wow, you're really brilliant, Granger."
Hermione decided it was best to ignore him. Professor Flitwick gave her more points and the class ended. Ron, a very prideful boy, was in a bad mood. As Hermione was packing up, she heard him complain to Henry and Neville, "I don't know how you can stand her, Henry. No one else does. She's a nightmare, honestly."
An insecure part of herself was hurt by Ron's words, but she decided to pay no heed to it. Hermione had dealt with rivals throughout her entire academic career. Harry had always reminded her that they were just jealous that they were not as smart as her. Hermione took her bag and pushed her way through Henry and Ron, her nose was turned upward to show they were beneath her.
As she hurried to her next class, Hermione overheard Lavender Brown loudly telling off Ron. "You take that back! Hermione is a nice girl! She helps me with my schoolwork!"
In a graver tone that was a stark contrast to his usual joviality, Henry told Ron, "You shouldn't make fun of her, mate."
"What? You're taking Granger's side too!" sputtered Ron.
Hermione laughed, she had no sympathy for Ron. By the time she reached the next class, Ron looked reasonably abashed and looked rather awkward. Henry tried to give her an apologetic smile, but she mostly ignored him. The girls were trying to comfort her, thinking that she had her feelings hurt, but she honestly didn't care about Ron's opinion about herself.
Once class ended, Hermione was the first to leave the classroom. As the corridors started to fill with students, Hermione pushed through the crowd and rushed in the direction of the dungeons, hoping that Professor Snape was in his office and not teaching a class. She heard her name being shouted but she was too focused on her mission to hear them.
The trip to the dungeons didn't take long, having learned to navigate the magical, but often frustrating, staircases and avoid Peeves, who have been targeting the Gryffindor first years more than anyone else lately with his annoying pranks and jeering. As she walked to Professor Snape's office, Hermione couldn't help but notice the stares and sneers directed at her by the members of Slytherin out and about. The Gryffindor-Slytherin rivalry was quite fierce (though Hermione was fairly sure that some looked at her with disdain for more bigoted reasons).
Despite the rather unwelcoming glances made her way, she maintained her driven stride. Unfortunately, her determined focus made her lose awareness of her surroundings. Hermione felt her ankle caught onto something, interrupting her hurried pace and making her fall forward. Fortunately, years of practicing fencing allowed her to catch herself before her face connected with the stone floor. Still the force of the impact stung the palm of her hands.
"Ha! Granger got caught by a tripping jinx!" cried the familiar snotty voice of Draco Malfoy.
Hermione stood up and glared at the blonde prat. He was laughing at her along with the two oafs that always seemed to be by his side. The other Slytherins that caught her falling were laughing as well, but mostly the lower years—perhaps the older students thought it was above them?
Malfoy looked around him and frowned, appearing disappointed that only a minority of the Slytherins were joining him in his mocking chortling. "Why aren't the rest of you laughing?"
As if on cue, the sea of students milling about the corridor parted as a menacing Professor Snape was making his way through. While Professor Snape was known to look constantly dour, he looked far angrier than the norm. His calm features were replaced by a intimidating scowl and a piercing glare. He looked like he was on the war path.
"I suppose you find it funny that you think you could get away with placing a hex on another student?" asked Professor Snape, closing on Malfoy and his two goons.
"Are you thinking of lying to your Head of House?" he spat, interrupting Malfoy's protest.
Malfoy paled, stuttering, "N-no, o-of c-c-course not!"
As Professor Snape dealt with Malfoy, Hermione looked around her, notably confused by Professor Snape's ire. She strained her ears to listen as there were others like her that were baffled as well by Professor Snape's behaviour and thought to ask the older students. Luckily, she was able to catch a few bits; evidently Professor Snape was at his foulest on Halloween.
Professor Snape snapped up from his dressing down of Malfoy and glared balefully at the crowd of onlookers. "What are you all doing milling about like buffoons? Move!"
Although his words were still quite calm and barely above his usual pitch, there was a forceful authority behind it that brokered no argument against him. All of the students started to scatter, either heading to their common room or some other part of the castle since classes were over. The only students that remained in the corridor were Hermione, Malfoy and his stooges.
"Well, what are you waiting for? Malfoy, my office now!" the Slytherin Head of House hissed at Malfoy.
With a fearful nod, Malfoy hurried away with Crabbe and Goyle in tow, not even sparing a look at Hermione as he left. Speaking of the girl, Hermione gulped as she realized she was now alone with the professor that just sent nearly all of his students running with a few words and a menacing look. Never before did she feel intimidated in his presence. Harry had nothing but praise for his Head of House, but Hermione was definitely sure he had never seen this side of Professor Snape before. She worried if her mission was already doomed for failure.
"Granger," Professor Snape addressed her, still appearing irritated and angry. "I believe you Gryffindors have no business being in the dungeons this afternoon. What are you doing roaming the halls here?"
Hermione felt his forceful stare upon her causing her to tense up. She knew what she wanted to say, but it was a matter of actually saying it! Professor Snape was just too intimidating! An awkward silence fell between the two and Professor Snape appeared to be growing impatient.
"Very well, you are dismissed. I'll let you off with a warning, but if I catch you again, I will dismiss points," he said, moving to walk away.
Mustering up her courage (she was in Gryffindor), Hermione hurriedly said, "Professor Snape, can you give Harry and I special permission to skip the Halloween feast held tonight?" Her cheeks flushed, she had said all that very quickly.
The Potions professor paused, stopping mid-step. After a moment of silence elapsed, he asked, "And why didn't Black ask me instead?"
Hermione blushed, and nervously responded, "I told Harry I would take care of everything. Today is upsetting for him and I wanted to help him..."
Professor Snape whirled around and faced her, staring at the young witch with a calculating gaze. "Very well," he said. "Black has my permission. However, as you are not in my House, you will need to ask yours."
She beamed; there was no need to worry about getting Professor McGonagall's permission. Hermione knew that the Gryffindor Head of House would understand if she asked. "Thank you very much, Professor!"
He nodded curtly before he once again turned—dramatically, of course—and left, presumably to his office to deal with Malfoy. Not wanting to stay in the dungeons any further and risk meeting other Slytherins, Hermione made it her mission to dash out of there as soon as possible, ignoring the curious glances the students made as she passed by.
Fortunately, Professor McGonagall's office was on the first floor of the castle at the bottom of the Defence Against the Dark Arts tower. The stern Transfiguration professor made sure that her first years knew exactly where to go if they ever needed her for some reason. Hermione made it a habit to know where each of her teachers' offices was located. It helped her a lot in the past.
Hermione approached the door to Professor McGonagall's office, fully confident that the Deputy Headmistress will give her permission to skip out on the Halloween Feast to tend to Harry. Without any doubt in her mind, Hermione rapped her fist on the door and patiently waited for an answer.
To Hermione's surprise, the door swung open, revealing Professor McGonagall at her desk with her wand out; she had used magic to open the door. "Miss Granger," she stated with pursed lips. "This is a surprise. Have you come to question the grade I gave you for your previous assignment?"
Hermione blushed, remembering that she visited Professor McGonagall before to discuss how to earn extra points. She shook her head, denying her claim. "No, not today, professor, I was just hoping I could talk to you about something."
"Very well," Professor McGonagall consented, beckoning Hermione to come in and take a seat on the chair in front of her desk. "How are you faring in Hogwarts? Has it been difficult to adjust?"
She shook her head, softly smiling as her mind brought back memories of the most enjoyable moments the school had given her so far. "I'm doing well, professor. I am excited to learn everything Hogwarts has to offer and I'm getting along well with everyone." She frowned, remembering Henry, Ron, and Neville. "Well, not everyone."
Professor McGonagall nodded. "Yes, I can see how three young boys can be a bit aggravating for a mature girl such as yourself. Sadly, only time will tell if they grow up to be responsible, respectable men like their fathers."
Hermione watched the old woman carefully, vaguely wondering if the usually stern professor had actually softened a bit. She could definitely sense a wistful tone in her words.
"However," Professor McGonagall continued. "I'm sure that isn't why you came here, I presume?"
"Yes! Is it mandatory for all students to attend the feast tonight?" she asked, deciding to lunge straight to business.
"You are correct, Miss Granger. The feast is a celebration of You-Know-Who's defeat ten years ago and was made a holiday by the Ministry because of it in addition to Halloween. The Headmaster urges all of us to be present."
The girl frowned, not liking the way she phrased it. However, Hermione didn't waver and decided to ask, "With your permission, Professor McGonagall, may I be excused?"
Professor McGonagall stared at her, her lips thinning, and her eyebrows raised high in surprised. "Miss Granger, I believe I have just told you that all students are to attend."
"Of course, but perhaps I can have special permission to not go?"
"Absolutely not!" Professor McGonagall stated resolutely. "Just because you do not want to go mean that you can have permission to!"
Hermione bit down on her bottom lip, realizing it would be hard to convince Professor McGonagall. Still she was confident that if she explained her reasons, she would be allowed. "But Professor McGonagall, I have an entirely good reason for not wanting to be part of the feast!"
"Then state your reasons, Miss Granger." Professor McGonagall levelled a blazing gaze at Hermione, watching her with hawk-like scrutiny.
"Harry Black's mother was killed on Halloween! He doesn't want to be part of the feast this year because of that! He needs a friend to be with him while he's grieving! I need to be there for him!" Hermione pleaded, hoping it would make the professor understand why she needed her permission.
Professor McGonagall sighed, her eyes turning sympathetic. "Be that as it may, Miss Granger, I cannot give you two leeway despite the circumstances."
Hermione was gobsmacked! Professor McGonagall was being unfair! Her temper rising, the young witch continued her push for her goal. "But Professor Snape already gave Harry permission!"
"That is because Mister Black is part of Professor Snape's House. How he runs the affairs of his House is of no concern of mine, Miss Granger. Good of Mister Black to obtain his Head of House's permission, but you will not have mine."
"That is unfair, professor! Harry needs me! I'm his best friend!"
Professor McGonagall glared sternly at Hermione. "Miss Granger, may I remind you that I am your Head of House and the Deputy Headmistress. I will not put up with that tone."
Realising she had raised her voice against an authority figure, Hermione quietened, more to control herself than to avoid being scolded.
"I sympathize with you dearly," the professor said, smiling sympathetically at her despite the circumstances. "However, there are rules that must be followed. You are just a friend of the boy, not a family member. I cannot give you permission. I hope you can understand that. You are dismissed."
Nodding sulkily, Hermione slipped from the chair and silently left the office, not even bothering to bid a courteous farewell. Her mind swirled with disappointment. She had failed Harry. Though she managed to get his end to be free from the feast, she failed at hers. Hermione promised that she would be there for Harry tonight and now because of rules she was not allowed to!
Professor McGonagall was being unfair! She didn't understand how Harry needed her. They were best friends since childhood! They always had each other's backs no matter what! Hermione didn't know what her life may have been like without Harry. If it wasn't for him, then she probably would have been bullied because of her vast intellect or worse!
Why couldn't she just give me permission! Hermione shouted over and over again in her mind. With a sigh, she knew she had to tell Harry the bad news. That was definitely something she was not looking forward to. Hermione reached into her pocket and rubbed her thumb against the smooth metal of Harry's birthday gift. How could she have gone and disappointed Harry?
Morosely, Hermione dragged her feet to the library where she agreed to meet with Harry. At the very least, she was able to give Harry the night to himself. He didn't have to go thanks to her. Hermione quickly climbed the staircase and made it to the library entrance. She was surprised to find Harry already waiting for her at the door.
Harry waved at her, greeting her with a warm smile. "Hey Hermione, how was your day?"
She couldn't bear to look at him in the eye, and turned her head away to look at him, opting to hide her peculiar behaviour by rummaging through her bag and pretending to look for a book. "It was fine," Hermione said thickly. "We learned a new spell in Charms."
"I'm sure you managed to master it already I bet," he commented with a chuckle.
Hermione chuckled—nervously at that. "Of course, Harry! It is me, after all!"
"Hermione... is something wrong?"
Steeling her resolve, Hermione finally looked up and found Harry appearing worried. The cool mask he typically adopted was gone, revealing the Harry she had always known. It always seemed like he was different person now that they were in Hogwarts.
"No, nothing is wrong!" Hermione forced a smile.
Harry didn't look like he believed her, but he didn't push it. Instead he said, "Okay. I really can't thank you enough, Hermione. Today was hard. I couldn't stop thinking about my mother. Knowing that you're here with me is more than enough to make me feel better."
"Oh Harry!" she threw herself into his arms, hugging him tightly. "I'll always be here for you. You're my best friend!"
Hermione decided then that she couldn't care less if she had Professor McGonagall's permission or not. She was going to stay with Harry throughout the feast, forgetting about all the consequences. Hopefully, her decision wouldn't see her killed—or worse, expelled!
After spending so much time in the library with Hermione, Harry knew the schedule of Madam Pince, the strict librarian, very well through dedicated observation. Every day, the old woman would leave the library to have dinner, spending half an hour eating before she returned. When she came back, she would head straight back to her station, only bothering to check up on the students if they were being too loud.
Today, he and Hermione were using his knowledge to avoid the irritable-looking woman. The two of them took refuge in one of the hidden nooks of the library, commandeering a small table for them to use. It was comfortable and intimate, more than comfortable enough for Harry and Hermione. It was also far enough that they could have an easy conversation without reprisal from the unpopular librarian.
Harry, however, couldn't help but notice how fidgety Hermione was today. She wasn't like that this morning, having been her typical sunny self. To the normal observer, Hermione didn't appear strange at all. She still talked animatedly about her homework, her favourite topics, or whatever else came to mind. But Harry was her best friend and had the fortunate training of looking at people (courtesy of his businessman uncle, Vernon). Hermione was constantly biting down on her bottom lip—an action reserved when something was bothering her.
"Are you alright?" he asked her, keeping the worry out of his voice.
Hermione looked up sharply from the book she was holding, and nodded fiercely. "I'm fine, Harry. I should be the one asking you that."
He eyed her curiously, taking notice of her shifting eyes as they fell on the pocket watch he gave her for her birthday. The silver gleamed in the light. Hermione could not thank him enough for it when he had given it to her and always tried to find some excuse to have it out. Harry glanced at the time as well. It was ten after when the feast should have began.
"I'll be alright, Hermione. I haven't even thought of anything dour since we came here," Harry replied to Hermione honestly. Truthfully, he was sad when he thought of his mother, but the presence of his friend served as a reminder that he was not alone, significantly cheering him up.
Hermione beamed. "That's good."
He couldn't take it anymore. Harry knew Hermione was hiding something. A part of him felt a little guilty and hypocritical for wanting to know when he himself had something to hide—the Room—as well, but his concern for Hermione outweighed it.
Setting his quill down, Harry asked, "Can you please tell me what's making you so fidgety? I haven't seen you act this way since you ate all that candy last June after your mother told you not to."
She blushed, being reminded of the memory. Her parents were dentists, and they had a habit of not allowing their daughter to have sweets. Harry, of course, knew Hermione indulged on candy every now and then. The very last time was on the Hogwarts Express when they tried out the candy in this world for the first time.
Harry watched as Hermione's lips thinned. She closed her eyes. Then she let out a longwinded sigh. He smiled; he had her. Hermione glanced at him with an expression that read guilt all over it. A shy smile formed, and she put her book down.
"Umm, promise you won't get angry," she began, acting nervous. Harry nodded, promising he wouldn't. "You see, Harry, I managed to get permission from Professor Snape to let you not attend the feast tonight."
"Okay," he said, frowning. Where was the harm in that? Despite his appearance and his bias against Gryffindor, Professor Snape was a fair man from what Harry observed.
"But," Hermione paused, now hesitating to meet his eyes. "When I went to see Professor McGonagall, I couldn't get her to give me permission."
Realisation dawned on Harry.
"It's alright though, Harry. I'm sure Professor McGonagall wouldn't even notice. I mean, there are more than enough people in the Gryffindor table to even remember me. After all, she has the Weasley twins to be concerned about and..."
As Hermione rambled, Harry was completely silent. He started to pack up his belongings, placing his books in his bad, and rolling up the pieces of parchment he had laid out. Fortunately, he didn't take out the quills and ink just yet. Honestly, why did they even need quills and ink? A pen would have just been fine. Perhaps that's something to get later on.
"Harry, are you listening to me? Why are you putting away all your things?" Hermione asked impatiently.
Harry stood up, slinging his bag over his shoulder. He turned to look at Hermione, calmly stating, "I'm going back to the feast."
Surprised, Hermione stood up abruptly. "Why? I thought you wouldn't be comfortable attending!
"I won't be if I go, but what kind of friend am I if I knew you were going to be in trouble if you missed it?" Harry arched an eyebrow at her, a disapproving look on his face. "Hermione, I would love more than anything to spend time with you tonight, but you know how strict Professor McGonagall can be. I'm not going to have you risk incurring her wrath."
"Harry, I'll be fine! It was my decision to have gone about this without her consent; stop treating me like a child!" she argued vehemently.
"I know you can, but you fail to see that you could get in big trouble for this, Hermione!" he nearly shouted.
Hermione shook her head. "It will be fine! She will understand!"
Harry ran his fingers through his hair frustrated. He could not believe how stubborn Hermione could—actually, he could believe it. Nevertheless, he would stand by his opinion. Hermione was making a grave mistake for blatantly ignoring Professor McGonagall's ruling.
Despite Hermione's protest, she followed after him as he left the library. She glared daggers at him, upset at his adamant reasoning. Harry knew that she didn't mean to be abrasive, but she tended to act that way whenever she lost at something. She would get over it soon enough.
"If we hurry, we'll only be a little late. I doubt we would get in too much trouble if we arrive twenty minutes after it started," Harry said, trying to make light conversation.
Hermione ignored him, continuing her stay a few paces behind him as they walked. Harry frowned, but once again reminded himself that her temper would come down again by tomorrow morning. Unless he had done something truly heinous, Hermione tended to never hold a long grudge against him.
Still, Harry hated it when Hermione was angry with him. "Hermione, I'm doing this for your own good. You could get in trouble with Professor McGonagall. She would kill you if she found out you disobeyed her, or worse, expel you!"
His bushy-haired best friend sighed, but continued to glare at Harry. Putting her hands on her hips as she always does whenever she was about to make a point, she said, "Harry, I am not a little girl that needs hold hands all the time! I can make my own decisions and I was the one to decide to risk the consequences."
"Would you stop being so stubborn! I'm doing this for your sake!" he argued back, slowly losing his patience. Why couldn't Hermione just see he was doing all this for her?
"My sake? If you were doing this for my sake, then you wouldn't be taking me back to the feast! You're practically throwing me to the lion's den! Professor McGonagall would know I skipped and I would get in trouble regardless. She may not even know I'm not there!"
As they walked to the Grand Staircase, they continued to argue incessantly, never backing down from their position. It got to a point that Hermione refused to follow him any further, leaving them facing one another in the corridor as they had their spat.
"Do I need to remind you who nearly burnt down the classroom trying to boil water?" Harry made his retort.
Hermione blushed, narrowing her eyes fiercely at him. "You and I now both know that was accidental magic caused by my frustration. Don't exaggerate my inability to cook!"
"What is that blasted noise?" Harry cursed irritably. Ignoring the odd sound, he continued, I'm just saying you can be quite reckless sometimes! If I hadn't been there watching out for you, who knows what would have happened to you in school!"
His best friend suddenly paled and her mouth hung open in silent shock.
Upon seeing her expression, guilt tore Harry up inside. They bickered before, but he had never seen react like this before! "Oh, I'm so sorry Hermione, I—"
She shook her head. "H-h-harry, l-look b-b-behind you," she squeaked.
He frowned and turned around, wondering what caught her attention. His eyes widened, and he gasped. Standing in the middle of the hallway just metres away from them was a behemoth of a thing. As he breathed in the air, Harry nearly choked on the stench that he concluded was coming off of whatever it was in front of them. Its grotesque appearance was nauseating. However, beside its size, the scary thing about it was the huge club it was dragging with its hand.
They had learned about this creature in class: it was a troll.
Harry and Hermione were rooted to their spot, more scared than anything else. Many questions were being raised in Harry's mind: Why was a troll here? How did it get in? Where did it come from? When did it arrive? Who was responsible for this?
But despite the fear, Harry coped with a small ounce of humour. He remembered the promise he made to Hermione's father before he and Hermione entered Platform 9 ¾, and groaned in his mind. If only he hadn't made that silly promise, then perhaps none of this would have happened.
Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy, Harry wryly thought.
It was up to Harry to get him and Hermione out of this mess. With what he knew about trolls, they were known for their immense stupidity and prodigious strength. Unfortunately, their behaviour consisted of being dangerously violent and aggressive backed up with unpredictability. In short, Harry had no idea what to expect from this troll. It could simply ignore them or it could attack them. Whatever the case, Harry knew they had to get away from the troll and fast.
Nudging Hermione stealthily, he gently clasped his hand around hers and slowly pulled her away. She turned to look at him, panic in her eyes, but a gentle look from him calmed her down enough to understand his actions. Hermione gave him a resolute nod despite tears beginning to form in her eyes. They quietly began stepping away from the troll whom was comfortable to just stand there oafishly (reminding him of Crabbe of Goyle). If they could just make it to the stairs without the troll's attention, they could hurry to the Great Hall and inform the teachers.
They were nearly halfway towards the Grand Staircase when the troll grunted. Harry and Hermione stopped, turning to look at the troll. It grunted again. And it grunted some more. Then it began howling angrily and began waving its club as if it was just a light stick. It cast its gaze onto them, lapping its lips and roared.
One other thing to know about trolls: they have a taste for human flesh, and they enjoy taking it raw and are not fussy about where they find it.
Harry wasn't sure if he had shouted that or if it had been Hermione who did, but it didn't matter. He bolted from where he was standing towards the direction of the stairwell. Hermione was by his side, running just as fast and never letting go of his hand. They could feel the floor shake beneath them as the troll gave chase. Though it was slow because of stature, its long legs gave it a long stride that was capable of outpacing an eleven-year-old boy and twelve-year-old girl.
The two of them sprinted down the steps, trying to shake the pursuing troll. Harry looked behind him and found the troll at the top of the stairs, its eyes trained on them. Though it was large, the Grand Staircase was able to accommodate its mammoth size. However, Harry was sure that despite it being magical, it could not handle the being's weight. As the troll chased them, the staircase shook, nearly throwing Harry and Hermione off-balance with each step. It was a terrifying scene for the moving portraits that were witnessing it. Harry could hear their gasps and cries as they ran by.
"Hermione! Look there! The stairs are about to change! If we get on it, we can strand the troll!" Harry shouted as he pointed in the direction of the upcoming platform.
Hermione nodded. "Let's do it, Harry!"
Before they could reach the moving platform, it had already begun moving. However, Harry would not be stranded with the troll. He was going to protect both himself and Hermione. He urged Hermione to run faster and the two of them jumped with all the strength they could muster. The two of them landed in a pile with Hermione on top of Harry.
"We did it!" Hermione cried out in relief. She stood up, taking the time to help Harry up as well.
Unfortunately, celebrations had to wait. As Harry regained his bearing, his eyes caught sight of the troll suddenly leapt off from the previous staircase towards theirs. Hermione, whose back was turned to the troll, was unaware of what it was about to do. Reacting quickly, Harry wrapped himself around Hermione and pulled away, falling down a few steps as the troll grabbed hold of the banister.
Harry hoped that the staircase would break under the weight of the troll and send it plummeting to its death, but Rowena Ravenclaw was far too clever for that. Though the staircase shook, it held. Harry could do nothing but watch in horror as the troll climbed the banister and stood on the steps. It even had its giant club still. The troll was truly tenacious in its efforts to chase them.
Harry and Hermione stood before the troll, out of breath. Come on, Harry, think! How do you get out of this? He pressured himself, trying to come up with some way to escape alive. He looked behind them and saw that the stairs led to the second floor, but they wouldn't be able to outrun the troll. It was far too close to them now.
"Harry," Hermione gently whispered his name, making him look at her. "Do you trust me?"
"With my life, Hermione," was the automatic reply.
This time, Hermione took hold of him and they began running down the stairs once more. Harry thought it was a futile effort, believing that the troll would catch up to them soon. The troll grunted and gave chase once again, but raised its club and impatiently began smashing it about. They were able to get a few paces ahead of the troll, but it would not be enough.
Suddenly, the two of them stopped, and Harry turned to look at Hermione curiously. But before he could pose the question, Hermione grabbed him and started running again, this time towards the troll.
"ARE YOU MAD, HERMIONE?!" Harry shouted, losing his typical calm.
Hermione merely smirked and continued pulling him forward. Somehow they were able to dodge its massive club and go through the troll by running underneath its legs. For once in his life, Harry was thankful he was smaller than most boys his age. They continued to sprint up the staircase before they finally reached the platform on the third floor where it was then that Harry turned around to see what happened to the troll.
To his surprise, the troll was trying to turn around in mid-stride to get them, but it was far too clumsy and bulky to do it properly. Its legs crossed one another in an effort to turn, but the momentum of running downstairs caught up to it. It was unable to stop properly and instead of turning, it fell. Harry watched as the troll toppled over and began its painful descent downwards, shaking the staircase it did.
Finally, the troll stopped on the second floor landing with a resounding crack. Harry could not help but wince upon hearing the sound. He had heard it once before when Steven Lewinski broke one of his legs when he fell from the tree in the park two summers ago.
Harry watched as the troll tried to get up but was unable to on account of its broken left leg. Due to the fall, it was now misshapen with what looked to be a broken bone sticking out. But despite the excruciating pain it may have had, the troll persisted on trying to stand up. It was almost pitiable. Almost.
"It was all just a matter of physics and utilising what we know of the troll," Hermione suddenly said. "I took a chance and it worked..."
"Yes. I couldn't be happier." He placed an arm around her and pulled her close, giving Hermione a one-arm hug. "You're brilliant, Hermione."
The pair smiled at one another, both thankful that it was over. There was absolutely no way the troll could give chase to them now. Harry glanced over at the troll, frowning as he watched it still attempt to stand up. It continued to howl, but it was more out of pain than anything else. He wished it would stop that noisy racket. Almost immediately, his wish was granted.
The troll's club which had been dropped when it fell suddenly began to ascend into the air. The spell lifted the heavy club over the troll's head, the troll being unaware of what was happening. Suddenly the spell ended and the club fell, impacting upon the troll's head. The howling stopped. The troll collapsed, topping over forward. Someone had knocked it out.
"Who did that?" Hermione asked, fidgeting slightly. Harry was certain she wanted to go over to see who had cast the spell, but didn't want to risk being near the troll if it suddenly woke up.
"I did it!" Harry recognised that voice. "I knocked out a troll!"
"Henry Potter?" Hermione shrieked, making Harry wince from the shrillness of her tone.
Henry soon walked into view, walking up from the staircase leading to the first floor. His wand was out, and he was grinning from ear to ear. Harry wasn't exactly sure why his brother had arrived, but he wasn't complaining that he made the troll unconscious. The Boy Who Lived looked around his surroundings and spotted the two of them. Harry watched as he scowled upon seeing him, but smiled as he saw Hermione. The Gryffindor immediately rushed over to them.
"Granger, I'm so glad you're alright!" he shouted excitedly. "I couldn't find you at the feast! Then when Professor Quirrell came in talking how a troll escaped in the dungeons, I came looking for you to make sure you're alright! What are you doing with Black?"
Harry was stunned into silence! He gazed at his brother with newfound respect. He couldn't believe that he had been worried for Hermione enough to risk his life to find her, fully knowing that a dangerous troll was on castle grounds. Foolish as it may have been to set out alone, Harry understood the sentiment quite well. Perhaps his brother was not as pompous and arrogant as he liked to believe.
"We didn't need your help," Hermione stated resolutely, ignoring his question about Harry. "Harry and I broke his leg, he was fully incapable of moving. You didn't need to knock out the stupid thing! Speaking of stupidity, where are Weasley and Longbottom?"
Henry beamed. "When I saw the troll, I told them to go get the professors! They'll be here soon!"
Just as Henry had said, the professors soon arrived. Professor McGonagall was rushing up the staircase Henry came from followed by Professor Snape, who looked worse for wear, then Quirrell about ready to faint, with Ron and Neville bringing up the rear.
Professor Snape bent over the troll, studying it. Professor McGonagall soon spotted Harry, Hermione, and Henry, and immediately rushed over to them. To say she appeared livid would be an understatement. Never before had Harry seen her look so angry. Her lips were white, and her eyes were blazing with a cold fury.
"What on earth were you thinking of?" asked Professor McGonagall icily. "You're lucky you weren't killed! Why aren't you in your dormitory?" Her attention turned to Hermione. "As for you, Miss Granger, it appears to me that you hadn't obeyed my ruling from earlier. Had I not said you were not allowed to skip the feast? Were you roaming the halls with Black here?"
Professor Snape gave Harry a curious looking, silently asking him how he had gotten into the mess he was in.
Before Hermione could answer Professor McGonagall, Henry butted into interrogation, "Granger was at the feast, Professor! We were sitting close to each other. When we were being escorted to the tower, I got distracted by a few paintings and Hermione followed after me to scold me again!"
Once again, Harry was stunned into silence! Henry was trying to help him and Hermione?
"Though, I don't know how Black got here. If you ask me, I bet it was him that let the troll in!"
Well, it seemed Henry was only trying to help Hermione.
"I did not," Harry refuted calmly. "I was just in the library because I had been excused by Professor Snape. I soon got bored and decided to go back to the dorms when I came across Hermione, Henry, and his friends. Then the troll found us."
Professor McGonagall's lips thinned. "Is this true, Miss Granger?"
Hermione frowned, and nodded. "What Potter and Harry each said are true."
"Well, in that case..." said the Deputy Headmistress, "I am glad the three of you are alright. You must have gone through such an ordeal. You three were lucky, but not many first years could have taken on a full-grown mountain troll and knocked—"
"Killed." A voice from behind said. "The troll is dead. These first years killed a mountain troll. I'm impressed."
Professor McGonagall glared at the potions professor. Whatever she had been about to say earlier was now lost. Turning back to the first years, she said, "Return to your dorms at once. Professor Dumbledore will be informed of this. Five points to you three as well."
Henry rejoined his two friends, and looked over at Hermione expectantly. Harry could tell Hermione loathed to leave him behind, but knew she had to lest Professor McGonagall believes their story wasn't true. Hermione fell into Harry's arms and gave him a crushing hug. She pecked his cheek and smiled at him one last time before she followed after Henry and his friends.
Harry felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to find Professor Snape patting him. "Come along, Black. I'll escort you back to the common room. There will be some food there as well."
As the student and teacher walked together back to the Slytherin dungeons, Harry wondered for what purpose Professor Snape had left the other teachers to clean up the troll. It was unnecessary for Harry to be chaperoned back to the dorms.
"I'm impressed, Black. I would not have believed you capable of killing a troll if I had not seen it with my own eyes." Professor Snape didn't even turn to address him. "You truly have your mother's cleverness."
"It wasn't me," Harry admitted softly.
"Don't tell me it was that brat!" Professor Snape spat at the thought of Henry.
Harry shook his head. "No. It was Hermione. She was the one that made the troll fall down the stairs and broke its legs."
"I see." He calmed down. "Then it seems she is the cleverer one of the two of you."
Then once again, Harry caught the forlorn tone in his Head of House's voice that he hadn't heard since their conversation after the first Potions class, but his mind was too tired to think much of it. He just wanted to go to bed and rest. Hopefully, Tracey or Greengrass saved him some pumpkin pie.