Dark Land

Chapter 9: Reflections

Though the experience was not entirely unfamiliar, falling uncontrollably into darkness was still quite jarring. This time however, before Hermione hit the floor, she saw it coming. A tiny speck of light soon became a small circle at the end of a long tunnel. Its circumference grew to life size the instant before she hit the ground. The dim Hogwarts' torches lit her way enough, so that she was able to use her hands rather than her head to break her fall.

She rolled slowly and somewhat painfully onto her back and saw Snape stumbling to stand. He seemed to wobble with no sense of balance. She realized, while looking around, that the earth spun and tilted for her as well. She weakly sat up, her stomach turning inside out. She put her hands to her head and took a few deep breaths to steady herself. When her confusion had subsided a bit, she lifted her head only to see a painting of a small girl on a pony waving at her.

She froze, staring at the animated image. A smile of understanding gradually appeared on her face.

The soft lights, the friendly waving pictures, the bright rugs and gently flowing tapestries, everything was full of movement and color. They had truly made it back home.

She breathed in deeply. The air was not stagnant. Small creaks and murmurs filled her ears, as the halls that she had thought deserted and desolate gave sounds she never realized before.

Hermione's musings were suddenly interrupted by a lightning crack and a blinding flash of green. Its brightness was intense, and Hermione arched back against the wall. She covered her eyes and felt a wave of heat rush across her face. She awkwardly stood up leaning against the wall for support and opened her eyes, but saw only spots. After rubbing her eyes and blinking a few times, she found that their spells on the spiral had indeed worked.

The two portkeys had fused into a lump of molten rock on the floor. Grey fumes were rising from the heap smelling like burnt rubber. Black scorch marks covered the floor radiating out from the central point where the two spirals had collided.

Hermione could not move or utter a word. She stared dumbfounded at the mess in front of her. All the stimuli of the past few seconds had been too much.

A low, cold voice from behind pulled Hermione from her shock.

"Go back to your Common Room, Miss Granger."

His lack of emotion and use of her proper name brought reality back, and she turned numbly towards Gryffindor Tower without saying a word.

As Hermione muddled through the long corridors, her body shivered with cold, though the hallways should have been quite comfortable this mild September night. Her eyes jetted from one tapestry to another glancing at a large painting of hooded monks who stared down at her. Everything that should have given her familiar comfort was so foreign. A panic began to build in her, as she neared the picture of the Fat Lady.

Hermione's mind raced. It had been three months since she had stayed in her bedroom in Gryffindor Tower. Three months since she had seen her friends, who were now just around the corner. Three months since she had spoken to anyone or anything besides Snape.

Hermione stopped for an instant and closed her eyes breathing in deeply. She had suddenly become aware that she would need a password to enter. It took her more than a moment to calm down enough to recall.

"Advena Formosus," and the picture swung open to reveal a very surprised Seamus, Harry, and Ron.

"That was fast. Where's Lizzy?" Seamus stepped forward as fear filled his eyes.

She suddenly remembered that she was to have returned with his sister and her friend. From where she was to have found them though, still eluded her.

Hermione stared blankly for a moment. "Everything has been taken care of. I'm sure she is fine." She tried to sound confident and reassuring, though she felt far from either.

"What happened?" Harry asked.

"I'm not sure, Professor Snape just told me to go back to my Common Room." It wasn't a complete lie.

Her eyes moved to her friends as she said this, and her heart leapt to her throat so that she could not breathe. Harry and Ron were everything wonderful that she had imagined they would be and more. When she had pictured them in her mind, they were always smiling motionlessly, much like a Muggle photograph. Now though, they moved changing their facial expressions so smoothly and frequently, Hermione could imagine a wide range of emotions within their souls.

She must have been staring, because Ron asked, "Is everything all right? You look like you haven't seen us for ages."

Hermione smiled broadly and laughed at the irony of his statement.

"I'm fine, really." She put her hand on his arm securing his presence in her mind. "I just need to go upstairs for a little while."

She most certainly did.

Everything felt so strange, and she was still shaken. Her hands and body were under control, but just barely. Her legs still felt unsteady and weak. Hermione needed to clear her mind, before she could carry on a coherent conversation with anyone.

She made her way up to her room. Crookshanks was lying on the bed and looked up at her as she entered. He stood up stretching and gave a tiny meow. All her feelings of love and joy at seeing her friends came to the surface. Although she had to remain in control around others, here she could express all of her thoughts and feelings. He was the one creature in whom she could confide. She grabbed him swinging the stunned cat around, before flopping on her bed laying the great orange furball on her chest.

"I missed you Crooks, old boy," she sighed into his ear, while scruffing his neck with her hands.

Crookshanks replied with a violent purr.

As she lay on her bed absently stroking her cat's soft long hair, she fixed her attention up at her canopy. The scarlet and gold Gryffindor colors were so familiar and filled her with a sense of pride. She hadn't realized until this moment how much her house and her life meant.

Eventually her mind cleared enough that she went downstairs to join the others. She sat down in a big red chair next to Harry and Ron, who were setting up to play wizard chess. Just as she sat down, Professor McGonagall entered the room with the missing girls trailing behind. The girls wore mischievous grins and generally looked very pleased with themselves.

Seamus ran to his sister wrapping his arms around her hugging her tightly, before slapping her lightly on the head. Her grin faded, and she looked up at him innocently.

McGonagall crossed her arms and gave the girls a stern look as a silver headed ferret popped out of the small blonde's robes.

"Up to your rooms immediately girls and remain there."

The girls moved swiftly, heads hanging low, but began giggling the moment they started on the winding staircase.

The professor sighed at this sight and directed her attention to Hermione. "My dear, would you assemble the other students?"

Hermione nodded affectionately at McGonagall and made her way to the dormitories.

The Gryffindors came down the stairs quietly, fear and curiosity emanating from their bodies as they assembled in the Common Room. The students respected their head of house and stood waiting in anticipation for her to begin.

"There is no reason to worry," Professor McGonagall announced with confidence. "The situation has been handled. We thought there was an intruder in the castle, and for your own safety sent you here. Hogwarts is as safe as always, however since it is nearly 8:00; I would like you to remain in Gryffindor Tower for the evening."

Hermione had always emulated Professor McGonagall's mixture of caring and discipline. She would need to find that in herself once more.

As Head Girl, it was Hermione's responsibility to see that the students remained calm and orderly. She helped to disperse the students, walking several of the younger children up to their rooms.

"My very first year," Hermione assured the children, "a giant mountain troll ran loose through the corridors; broke into the girl's bathroom while I was there. It was frightening at the time, but the professors have always handled anything that has come along. I'm sure that they were being cautious tonight, and am pleased to hear that it was not a serious crisis."

The students stared in amazement, "A real mountain troll! Wow! I wish I could have been there."

Hermione laughed lightly at their innocence and youthful enthusiasm.

When Hermione returned to the Common Room, Ron and Harry were lying on the rug in front of the fireplace directing their chessmen into battle.

Harry was arguing with his last knight, who did not want to move. Reluctantly the knight obeyed trembling and cursing as he rode his horse into position. Harry was losing pretty badly.

Harry's face went from thoughtful intensity to frustration as soon as, Ron's bishop, who looked serene in the midst of a blessing, moved diagonally to Harry's knight. The bishop's face changed to a menacing smirk, as he slammed his staff down hard upon Harry's knight. The knight and horse crumbled into fragments, which floated to the side of the board.

Ron jumped back in excitement and gave a clap. His bright red hair bounced and shifted into a new position.

Hermione watched all these things, as she curled up in her chair looking down at the boys. All of the commotion two boys created during a game of wizard chess was incredible. Though the game was far from boring, she was much more interested in their actions and expressions than the final outcome.

Hermione wondered if the boys' expressions seemed overly animated to her because she had become accustomed to Snape's subtle changes. Everything was so alive. She sat watching in astonishment.

After a few minutes Ron had Harry in check and the game was soon over.

"Another game?" Ron asked as he returned his pieces to the board.

"We should get to sleep early. We have a Ravenclaw game on Saturday to practice for," Harry replied as he stood up. Hermione could sense that he had been through enough defeat for one night.

"I bet that greasy git, Snape, assigns some evil paper this week, so that we don't have time to practice."

Hermione winced at Ron's harsh statement of a person she was very much trying to keep out of her mind.

In an attempt to cover up her feelings she asked, "Can I come watch you practice tomorrow?"

"It's really early, 5:00 in the morning. The sun won't even be up yet," Harry warned.

"I know.  I just haven't watched you two play in a while. I promise I won't spy for the other team." She smiled at her two best friends.

She had an ulterior motive for asking to go; she longed to see the sunrise.

~~~***~~~

That night as she lay in bed, Hermione realized that having to wake up early to watch the boys practice would be easy, if she never got to sleep. Crookshanks laid on top of her purring and absently knitting in contentment. She was happy one of them was having such a good time. The little sounds that she had taken for granted her whole life now echoed in her ears. It would take her time to become accustomed to the noises of the real world once again.

Lack of sleep and distractions made her thoughts wander to things that she wished she could forget. She knew if Snape were there, she would find comfort in his movements and sounds easily drifting off to sleep. That was not an option however, and she jolted out of bed displacing her annoyed cat and paced her rooms for a few minutes. Why did she have to think of him? He certainly thought nothing of her. She gazed down at Crookshanks who was giving her a timid look, and she took comfort in his presence. She sighed and lay back down. Eventually she would fall asleep.

~~~***~~~

The trio walked through the moist grass of the early morning grounds on their way to the Quidditch pitch. The sun was still down, but a deep blue tinge near the horizon blended into the blackened sky.

Ron, with his wild spirit and attitude, was a Beater as George and Fred had been. Harry was team captain, and Hermione glanced over to see him muttering game strategies to himself.

A slight breeze played with Hermione's hair and rustled the swaying trees. She tilted her head skyward and watched the few faint stars left in the sky twinkle and glimmer. It was all so real and invigorating.

As soon as the other players had arrived, Harry began enthusiastically, "This is what we've been waiting for. This season will be our time! The Ravenclaws are a tough team and we've never played against their new seeker, so we need to be ready for anything."

Hermione sat on a bench and watched as a mixture of red, yellow, orange, and pink began to appear on the horizon. She looked around. The colors of her surroundings, though dull from the darkness were brighter than before. She watched all these things while ignoring Harry's inspirational speech.

Hermione watched the sunrise as the Gryffindors zipped about on their broomsticks like a swarm of insects. They were buzzing in some sort of organized play, but it was a confused mess to Hermione's eyes. Harry suddenly dove very fast towards the ground, pulling up at the last minute. The sun reflected off of the broomsticks and smiling faces as they cheered a successful play. It was all so beautiful. A warm breeze blew through her hair, the birds tweeted, and the players yelled. Her senses were filled.

As the sun began to show its face, Hermione was so inspired that sitting and watching were not enough. She stood up and idly strolled taking in the fresh morning air. As she rounded the corner to the lake, she was stopped short by a dark figure, his figure, looking out at the water. Snape's presence brought up strong feelings of panic and dread. She gasped and quickly turned to walk towards her room. He must have also wished to see the morning light, that had been absent from both their lives for so long.

She paced her room for quite some time, thoughts running through her head. How was she to act indifferent around him, when the sight of his silhouette made her react in such a manner?

"I am such a fool. What am I to do?" She pleaded with Crookshanks to help her find a solution.

She expressed all of her confusion, guilt, and panic to her cat, who responded by tilting his head sideways.

She took more than a little time to calm down, but slowly came round to reason. This morning had been a surprise. She would be prepared to see him next time, and so would remain calm and collected. Within an hour, Hermione could focus again and felt that her absence from breakfast might be interpreted oddly.

The Great Hall was filled with many delicious smells. The scent of maple syrup over pancakes with fried sausages permeated to Hermione, as she made her way to the Gryffindor Table. Breakfast was always lively and noisy, but today, Hermione found that there was far too much going on for her to concentrate.

As Hermione stiffened from all of the commotion, she was brought back to reality by Ron's voice.

"You missed the best version of the Daedalus Dive ever!" Ron exclaimed as he chewed and slurped loudly on his meal.

She had never noticed before how little thought Ron gave to table manners.

"It was wicked fast!" Ron flung his hand forward imitating a broom.

His sudden movements caused Hermione to flinch.

She remembered how confident and comfortable she used to feel talking and eating with her friends. Currently she just felt on edge.

Hermione took a deep breath and looked up at the High Table. Snape's seat was empty, though all of the others were filled. She was relieved that he was not there, not after her reaction this morning. She wondered if he was having as much difficulty adjusting as she. Really she just wanted to be alone, to be far away from all the noise and commotion.

~~~***~~~

That Tuesday, after breakfast, they had Advanced Potions with the Slytherins. Hermione, Ron and Harry walked to their potions classroom. She passed the grey walls and low arched ceilings. The dungeons were now as familiar to Hermione as anywhere in the castle. She had become quite skilled at potion brewing, having dedicated so much time and energy to the field recently. In spite of all these things, Hermione felt very uncomfortable.

As she entered the classroom, a tightness developed in her very core. She had planned to act confident, yet indifferent around Snape, but now Hermione found herself not acting like anything. Her nervousness grabbed hold of her so tightly that she dared not speak or raise her head to look around.

Hermione tried to focus all of her energy on her cauldron, as the green sludge within steamed making the damp dungeons even more humid.

Snape stalked up and down the rows looking over his students' cauldrons, making snide remarks every so often. He did not however, say a word to Hermione.

She could hear his harsh steps and the flapping of his robes. She imagined the way his black robes glided behind him and how he wrapped those robes around his body when he glared motionlessly. At this moment however, she did not know if her images were correct.

Hermione did not once dare to glance up at him, so she did not know if he ever dared a glance at her. She doubted it however, since he was currently reprimanding Lavender Brown, whose green sludge had taken on a decidedly orange tinge.

"Miss Brown, if you would have taken your eyes off of Mr. Thomas for two minutes and watched what you were adding to your potion, you may not have utterly destroyed it."

Lavender did not respond, though Hermione pictured her turning a bright shade of pink. She remembered that cruelty, though she tried to push the memory aside.

After class Hermione felt sick and shaky, but she had made it through a double lesson without incident. She hoped that things would become easier, that her discomfort and pain would ease, so that she could one day look at him again.

~~~***~~~

The rest of the week went by as a blur. Her emotions would jump from annoyance to joy to deep sadness without reason. Only her studies and daily routine kept her sane. Returning to her structured life was reassuring for Hermione. Focusing on classes and studying helped bring a sense of normality to her. She had always found it comforting to focus her mind on work, and so she did. She studied constantly and stayed much of the time in her room.

On Saturday after breakfast, Hermione walked down to the Quidditch pitch with Dean Thomas. The wind had picked up considerably. There were large puffy clouds overhead, but the blueness of the exposed sky and the freshness of the cool breeze made Hermione feel alive.

Dean was to be announcing the game, so they made their way to the front box. He pointed his wand at his throat and suddenly his speech reverberated throughout the stadium. Hermione chuckled as she looked at Dean.

"And the players enter the stadium in their traditional scarlet and blue robes," his voice echoed.

The two teams centered around Madam Hooch, who soon gave a loud whistle.

"AND THEY'RE OFF!"

"Ravenclaw takes possession of the ball straight away. Mandy Brocklehurst passes the Quaffle to Johnson."

The excitement of the game and students cheering was contagious. Hermione could feel the energy build within her. For the first time in a week, she beamed with happiness.

"And Peterson steals the ball."

"Greg is having a tough time of it, snagged between Terry Boot and Su Li, but Peterson dodges a nasty Bludger to....

"GRYFFINDORS SCORE!"

Hermione jumped to her feet clapping and laughing with the rest of her housemates.

Hermione knew she was beginning to re-adjust to the real world. Loud sounds and movements, which at first had caused her so much stress, now left her with a warm feeling of excitement for her friends and team.

The game was incredibly exciting. Gryffindor and Ravenclaw played a close game for hours until finally, Harry dove down fast and hard nearly crashing into Brendan Johnson, but sliding under him just in time to grab the Golden Snitch and win the game once more for Gryffindor.

As Hermione walked up to her room on Saturday night after the Gryffindor victory celebration, she realized that although some things had been difficult, a lot of things were wonderful. She felt she was regaining her optimism, and sense of direction. She was an ambitious learner and that, as well as her friends, had brought her back to some sense of normalcy. Things were definitely not perfect, but she would survive and be a better person for it.

Hermione moved her skirt from her desk chair, when something fell onto the floor. Bending down, she saw something shiny glimmer in the light. She picked up Snape's watch.

She had forgotten to give it back to him. As she touched it, all the feelings that she had been pushing to the back of her mind this past week came flooding into her heart. She knew then that she truly loved him, not because she was lonely, but because of whom he had been. Her memories of their time together, of his stories and actions came forth into her mind and she cherished them. Though she wanted the pain gone, she did not wish to eliminate her feelings. His harsh words and actions had made her doubt herself, but she now realized that he was a different person than he wished her to think. She knew that she could not have misinterpreted everything he said or did during their three months together.

She had to sit, or else she would have collapsed. Her throat tightened and tears came to her eyes as she touched his watch. She wept.

And as she cried, poor Hermione had no idea of the thoughts and feelings that were, at that moment, going through her Potion Master's mind.

In his rooms, Professor Snape sat at his desk gently touching a small silver hairclip. This particular clip was the same one that Hermione had carelessly left and, in a moment of weakness, he had picked up and placed in his pocket. As he sat silently staring at this piece, his heart was filled with love and longings that would not soon end.