Chapter 2

Hermione should have been worried. Should have been fighting a wave of guilt, but all she could manage at the moment was impatient curiosity.

The day hadn't started well. The time turner that had seemed like such a good idea at the time was beginning to give her a serious headache. Worse, the electives she had gotten it to take had not turned out to be worth the effort.

The classes, like everything else in the school, had sounded so interesting sitting in front of her on the sign-up sheet. Divination, ancient runes and arithmomancy – the possibilities were endless.

Unfortunately, divination seemed to be code for get high on incense in order to better make things up and the spell creation aspects of the other two classes were both needlessly complicated and laughably primitive. Why create a ten dimensional vector to hold a single gesture when a simple transformation she had designed as a first year required only a four-dimensional construct?

Still, all of this was nothing new to her. The world that had seemed so promising two years ago had, much like the mundane world before it, proven insufficient to hold her interest. Everyone around her seemed to be afflicted with a permanent state of brainlessness and things crawled by at her dim-witted classmates pace.

She had mastered the first, second and third year content before her first year was out. By half way through the second year she was approaching the average fifth year in skill and, as far as a few cautious discussions had shown, her theoretical knowledge was so far beyond the students and adults around her it didn't even bear considering. She tried. She really did. She was patient with her classmates, patient with her teachers and, after that dreadful incident with the troll in her first year, had learned to keep her mouth shut.

It was terribly lonely at times. But, thankfully, only at times. The one good thing to come of her time here came in the form of two boys. Not equals – that, she had learned long ago was too much to ask for, but at least people who accepted her, companions who had taken a stand for her time and time again when no one else could be bothered to offer her more than jealous disdain and contempt.

Of course, after today, the world might have something else to offer her - fear.

It started during another interminable session of divination. In the front of the class the professor, who more and more seemed to be an untalented charlatan, droned on about the mystic impact of tea leaves. Intermixed with the semi-coherent lecture were anecdotes of personal prowess of truly dubious providence.

She found it almost insulting really that this fraud thought Harry could be undone by a mere grim when the year before he had fought a sixty foot snake whose barest glance could kill. As the dramatic death predictions continued unabated for the tenth minute she toyed again with the idea of quitting. She hated admitting failure, but there was a fine line between pride and stupidity, and staying in this class was rapidly approaching the latter.

She had enough side projects going at the moment that the extra hour would be a blessing. Balanced against the net total of zero things she had learned thus far in divination and the answer seemed like a foregone conclusion.

One more class. The stubborn part of her mind repeated for the third time that week. Sighing, she mentally steeled herself and agreed. It could get better, after all, and she did so hate to look like she was giving up.

"I hope the tea is at least decent." Harry murmured to her right as he broke through her thoughts and gently held out a steaming mug of tea. Taking it, she smiled, "We should be so lucky. Wouldn't count on it though – warming charms aren't the best way to keep the flavor in."

"Bloody tell me about it. Don't know how Ron's family manages it with that same pot on all day. Tastes like boiled socks by four o'clock." He replied, taking a cautious sip and grimacing, "Not quite to boiled footwear, but holding your nose wouldn't hurt."

Watching her friends face as he forced the burned tea down she cursed her stupid pride that hadn't let her quit every day of the last three weeks. Today, though, she promised with renewed determination as the putrid tea crossed her lips, this was the absolute last day, barring a miracle.

Someone must have been listening, because as the last wretched drops of tea disappeared, the leaves stared back at her in the most beautiful pattern she had ever seen. A swirl of what was unmistakably flame climbed the side of her cup, pierced in its midst by a single, unblinking eye. The dull color of the tea leaves was forgotten as the strange symbol shown with mid dizzying beauty. Its colors seemed to writhe almost too quickly for the eye to follow and the shape itself appeared to be constantly in motion and yet, somehow, unchanging.

She did not know how long she had stared down at it, teacher and classmates forgotten. She knew only that she never wanted to lift her gaze. That, for the first time since she had picked up her wand two year ago, she felt at home.

Her rapture was interpreted by a powerful scent of incense followed a moment later by the most unwelcomed and un-dulcet voice of Trelawny.

"And what have we hear? The voices have told me that you would see a…" Whatever the voices had revealed to the incensed-addled loon was lost when her bug-eyed gaze strayed down to Hermione's cup.

For a moment the professor froze, eyes impossibly wide behind her too-thick glasses. Then she screamed, her voice shaking the shrouded walls of the small tower.

For a moment the class was frozen. Wondering, an uncharitable part of her mind thought, if this was another faux-fit, another grand-mal nothing. But then blood began to pour from the professor's eyes and there could be no doubt.

It had ended as abruptly as it stared. The professor's life and screams of her classmates, cutting off with an almost eerie synchronicity as the blood ceased flowing and the willowy form of Trelawney toppled to the ground, eyes empty red holes grotesquely magnified behind her glasses.

Stunned silence and quite sobs lingered on the wake of the horrible crash of a body hitting the ground without the slightest resistance.

Harry had, of course, been the first to recover, offering her shoulder a quick squeeze before sprinting from the room in search of help. He returned with the headmaster himself not five minutes later, both panting and out of breath.

Dumbledore had looked truly shaken for the first time she had ever seen as he stared down at the unmoving body of the professor. A quick motion of his wand and the resulting downturn in his face told all she needed to know – dead.

They had, of course, examined her cup. But there was nothing left to examine and all the wand waving in the world failed to recall its form or show again the symbol. They didn't think to use the time turner hidden beneath her robes and she didn't remind them.

After the failed investigation the whole had class had unceremoniously been led to the hospital wing for a round of calming draughts. She should have needed hers. Should have been thinking of the death of another living, breathing human not a foot from her face.

But the only thing she could focus on was the symbol. It was seared in her mind. She could have drawn it for them in seconds. She should have done so and the rule-abiding side of her psyche writhed uncomfortably at the thought of her lie by omission.

She tried to assuage it with careful rationalization. It could be dangerous to them. Dangerous to her.

But it was simply a rationalization. She didn't draw the symbol because she didn't want to. This was her mystery. Her ray of light and hope in a lonely, boring world. Her friends would be told at some point. Once she had the answer. And maybe then, when he had gotten all she could from the mystery, they could turn it over to the professors to muddle over.

Maybe. Or maybe not, she thought as the calming draught slowly lulled her to sleep. Questions about such a late revelation could be uncomfortable.

A matter for another time, she thought as sleep overwhelmed her mind. Behind her rapidly fading vision the symbol lingered and, at the edge of her mind she thought she heard laughter. Wonderful, terrible laughter.