AN: Is this thing on? Can you hear me in the back?
Back before she had ever heard of Hogwarts, Hermione had often asked her parents if they could do anything about her front teeth. Her parents eventually figured out that she wouldn't be put off by a flat no for an answer and instead sat her down for a brief lecture on dental surgery and orthodontics. Armed with this knowledge, Hermione could take a pretty good guess at the extensive medical work, pain, and recovery time that would be involved if a muggle doctor had to fix the effects of the tooth-growing jinx. When Madame Pomfrey simply tapped her teeth with a wand and told her to say when they had reached the proper size, it was only natural that she was so impressed by the magical medical treatment that she was a bit late with the instruction.
At least, that's what she would tell her parents if they ever broached the topic.
While the actual medical treatment was over in seconds, Madame Pomfrey did instruct Hermione to remain in the hospital wing for an hour for observation. That scotched any chance of making it to Transfiguration, and left Hermione stuck with nothing but her textbooks for company. Her friends had left the hospital wing in a rush after Madame Pomfrey had made it clear that only injured students would receive a medical excuse for tardiness. Hermione wouldn't have minded the prospect of an hour for study if she hadn't already read each textbook twice over.
It didn't take long for the satisfaction at having her teeth fixed to fade, allowing the simmering resentment caused by needing such treatment in the first place to return to the front of Hermione's mind. For all of the problems she'd faced at Hogwarts, no one had really had a go at her appearance in years. She knew she wasn't particularly attractive-teeth too big, hair too frizzy-but those concerns had faded into the background compared to the stress of dealing with the rest of Hogwarts as a Slytherin and to the rest of Slytherin as a muggleborn. She'd almost forgotten how it felt to be picked on for her looks.
It hurt. It was the kind of thing that, had it happened her first day in Hogwarts, she would have run off to have a good cry. Now she just wanted to hex the stuffing out of the berk who had had the gall to attack her while her back was turned. Her parents would have told her to turn the other cheek. To content herself with the knowledge that she was a better person than whoever was picking on her, and that in the long run she was bound to live a much happier life. Her parents had not spent years enduring casual insults based on their ancestry. They had barely understood the need for Hermione to defend them from the hag in Diagon Alley. Even if she were inclined to take her parents' advice, she wasn't sure that she could. She rather doubted that Draco Malfoy subscribed to such a philosophy, and her hold over Draco and consequent protection from his father depended entirely on his perception of her. To see somebody provoke her and not suffer a swift and terrible reprisal might give the boy entirely the wrong idea.
That train of thought led to a more practical problem. What could she even do to retaliate? Tweaking the Griffyndor quidditch team was satisfying, but it hardly felt like enough. The problem was that Hermione had more experience being the victim of casual violence than the perpetrator. She had only a vague idea of what was socially acceptable, and even that knowledge came more from dealing with other Slytherins than the castle as a whole. Would she need to do something funny, somehow? Hermione would be the first to admit that she didn't have a mind for pranks, as she'd never seen the humor in bullying.
For that matter, was she even capable of avenging herself on whoever had jinxed her? Hermione knew she was the best duelist of her year, but taking on older students was an entirely different kettle of fish. She wouldn't fancy a duel against Glenys Dibble under most circumstances. Some kind of ambush might work, but then again it might not. She could be hurt, or even suffer detention. She could just imagine the talk Professor Snape would have with her parents if things went wrong.
Hermione knew that stewing over the matter while she was still angry was a bad idea. She felt a moment of irrational regret that she couldn't bounce ideas off of Tom Riddle. Say what you want about the Dark Lord, he knew how to play Slytherin like a fiddle. Shaking her head, Hermione cracked open her potions text and tried to shift focus, looking to see if she needed to make any revisions to her earlier revisions of the notes she took on her first read through.
She had a hard time keeping her attention on her book. Part of her was apprehensive at the idea of being drawn into yet another grudge match, but another part of her was almost excited for the challenge. Her focus kept slipping from the words in front of her and she only managed to finish a handful of pages when Blaise arrived in the hospital wing.
He confirmed her expectation regarding their homework assignment (a brief essay on a topic Hermione had mastered months ago) while she confirmed his expectation regarding her health. With the preliminaries out of the way, Hermione got down to brass tacks.
"Who hexed me?" she asked.
Blaise shrugged. "Beats me. Both teams had their wands out. Spells were bouncing off of shields and flying everywhere. The professors didn't even bother sorting things out. Everybody on each team got a week of detention."
Hermione blinked, taken aback at the injustice. "But that's completely unfair! The Gryffindors obviously cast first. We were acting in self-defense."
Blaise nodded. "That's not even the worst part. They're also not going to let either team practice for a month."
It took Hermione a moment to figure out the significance of that punishment. "No practices... when Gryffindor has already been eliminated and we're going to be playing for the cup. Figures."
"That's how it goes sometimes, I guess," Blaise said. "Flint's been pushing right up to the line ever since he became captain. The professors weren't going to cut him any slack once he stepped over it."
"Hang on, hang on, back up," Hermione said, "you're saying I was hit with a tooth-growing jinx by accident?"
She was upset at the unjust treatment of her house Quidditch team, of course, but at the end of the day Hermione was only a fan of the team. Whether or not Slytherin won the Quidditch Cup wouldn't really affect her as an individual, while a loss of personal reputation could have dire consequences. It would be nice if she could write the jinx off as an unhappy accident, but Hermione had a hard time believing it was a coincidence.
Blaise cocked his head and examined her. He seemed puzzled by the question. After a moment he shrugged again. "Looks that way. Why, what would you do if you did know who it was?"
"I don't know," Hermione admitted. "This business with Malfoy has me all out of sorts."
"I've been making him do his homework, making him practice dueling, making him behave decently," Hermione said, "and I just worry that if he sees somebody hex me and get away with it he's going to think it's safe to run and tattle to his father."
Blaise snorted and shook his head. "You're not looking at it from his point of view."
"Oh?" Hermione asked. She couldn't imagine letting herself get bossed around the way she did with Malfoy.
"His grades are up, Slytherin beat Gryffindor at Quidditch, his father is finally proud of him for something he's accomplished on his own... the last thing he wants to do is admit that it's all your doing," Blaise said. "At this point you could probably blackmail him by threatening to reveal the truth to his father."
Hermione laughed. "Don't be ridiculous."
"That may be a bit exaggerated," Blaise admitted, "but the basic point stands. You still thrash him every time you duel?"
"Of course," Hermione said, feeling vaguely offended.
"So he's afraid of you, he's afraid of his father, but his life is going well so he has something to lose," Blaise said. "The mess in the Great Hall doesn't change any of that."
Hermione couldn't shake the lingering feeling that Blaise was being too optimistic. She rather doubted that Tom Riddle had ever taken such a laissez faire attitude to being attacked. Still, perhaps she could wait and see what happened before taking any drastic action.
"I guess you're right," Hermione said. "I still can't believe both teams got the same punishment. Did Gryffindor at least lose more points?"
"Actually, they took fifty from Gryffindor and fifty five from Slytherin," Blaise said. "On account of your spell coming after everything had died down."
Hermione swelled up with anger, then heaved a long-suffering sigh and let herself fall back on the hospital bed. She felt the flush of energy drain out of her as she stared up at the ceiling. After a moment she pulled herself back into a seated position and faced Blaise.
"You know what, fine," Hermione said. "That's just fewer points for Dumbledore to give Gryffindor at the end of the year."
Hermione didn't think that "wait and see" was a very good plan, but she would go along with it until she came up with something better.
Hermione's plan to carry on as she had been doing went well right up until her next meeting with Colin and Justin. More precisely, until she walked into the classroom to find Justin missing and Colin seated with all of his materials still stowed away in his bag. Colin looked a bit twitchier than usual even before Hermione fixed him with an irritated glare.
"What's all this, then?"
She had been looking forward to this meeting all day. She enjoyed teaching and there were some fascinating nuances to the matchstick to needle transfiguration that were only noticeable after the spell had been cast a few hundred times. She had been excited about sharing that experience with the boys. Watching Colin squirm, though, Hermione felt her good feelings drain away.
"Well, you see, Justin's not coming," Colin said, not meeting her eyes.
"What happened? I do wish he could have told me so I didn't take the time to put a lesson plan together," Hermione replied.
"No, I mean," Colin said, looking down as he fidgeted with his fingers, "he's not coming any more. At all."
Hermione went still. She felt more shocked than anything at first, though anger was soon following on its heels. It had never occurred to her that Justin might simply stop coming to their lessons. Not after everything she'd done for him. She'd thought Hufflepuffs were meant to be loyal and hard working.
"He just quit? Without so much as a by-your-leave?" Hermione asked. She could feel a flush rising in her cheeks, but kept her tone level.
"I thought that was a bit naff," Colin said.
Colin stood. Hermione had a flash of anger she realized that he was about to walk out as well. She pressed her lips together, not trusting her voice at the moment.
"I'm all caught up and doing well in every class," Colin said. "I don't need extra instruction."
Hermione rather suspected that they had different ideas about satisfactory performance in class, but she doubted that Colin would find any argument along those lines convincing. Instead she tried to focus on more practical matters.
"I've taught you more than that, surely," Hermione said. "Look at how much better you can defend yourself thanks to me."
"I've only ever had to defend myself from you!"
Colin seemed shocked by his own boldness even as he finished speaking. He slung his pack over his shoulder and nearly broke into a run as he scurried out of the room. Hermione stood rooted to her spot, turning over his words in her mind.
The echoes of the door slamming shut had long faded when Hermione calmly walked to the door, cast a locking and silencing charm, then walked back to stand before the rickety old desk at the front of the classroom. Then she hit it with the strongest banishing charm she could manage. Dilapidated though it might have been, the desk was still made out of solid wood and hit the wall with a satisfying crash. Hermione levitated the largest piece back to her and banished it into the wall again. Then she began casting every destructive charm that came to mind, targeting the largest surviving pieces of the desk, interspersing the incantations with her opinion of her classmates.
"Those lazy! Useless! Good-for-nothing! Thickheaded! Mudbloods!"
Hermione only stopped when there were no more targets left. The desk had been reduced to splinters and smoldering piles of wood-like debris. She found herself panting, resting with her hands on her knees as she stared at the remains of the desk, still unable to understand what Justin and Colin could possibly have been thinking. After a long moment with no sudden flashes of insight she straightened up and began vanishing the pieces of desk littering the classroom.
She had always believed that muggleborns were just as good as anybody else when it came to using magic. That any difference in accomplishment was more down to nepotism and discrimination than any real difference in ability. She still believed. For the first time, though, she felt some doubt. She had offered Justin and Colin a golden opportunity, the kind of thing that she would have grabbed onto with both hands, and they had turned her down because it was too much work. They'd rather skive off with their friends than put any extra effort into their studies. If that was the typical muggleborn attitude then Hermione could hardly fault those old purebloods who wrote the Daily Prophet expressing surprise that someone from her background was capable with a wand.
Hermione had the classroom cleaned up and squared away-minus one desk-well in advance of the usual time their study sessions ended. Lacking anything better to do, she headed back for the Slytherin common room. As she walked she turned over all her interactions with the two petrification victims in her head, looking for something she might have done differently. Try as she might, she just couldn't think of anything she might have done wrong. Perhaps she needed an outside perspective.
She was pulled from such thoughts when she entered the common room and saw Dennis Creevy off in a corner with a group of other first-year Slytherins, immersed in a quiet game of gobstones. Hermione made a beeline for the group. One of the other firsties budged over so that she could crouch down across from Dennis. He froze as he met her eyes, though whether it was from surprise or from some insight into her mood she couldn't say.
"Hermione! I, uh-"
"Tell me," she said, cutting him off, "how does one go about brewing the boil cure potion?"
Dennis blinked, then looked down at the gobstone in his hand before looking back up at her. "What?"
Hermione crossed her arms and leaned forward slightly, never breaking eye contact. "You might begin by listing the ingredients."
"Oh, right," Dennis said, laughing nervously and scratching the back of his head. "Well, there's snake fangs, horned slugs... and... porcupine quills?"
"Not bad, but don't forget the nettles," Hermione said. "Now, what would you do after you've gathered everything together?"
Dennis nodded, then began reciting how to brew the potion. He was a little hesitant, and a few of the steps came out sounding more like questions than statements, but Hermione was pleasantly surprised that he managed to get through the whole recipe without leaving anything out. He also gave an adequate response to her question regarding the common usage of bobotuber pus and porcupine quills.
"Not quite textbook," Hermione said, "but close enough. Now, charms."
Dennis was able to levitate his gobstone on command, although his control was a bit wobbly. He remembered the basic principles of charms that Flitwick taught to first years, as well as the safety directions. He was able to cast all of the required spells, more or less. He showed a similar grasp of transfiguration. Even Hermione wasn't cruel enough to force anybody into an impromptu History exam, and she frankly didn't care that much about astronomy. Instead, she favored him with a smile once they finished their review of practical magic.
"You're getting a bit lazy with your wand flicks. It should be a crisp motion with a bit more of a vertical component than you're giving it. And on your twists you need to make sure not to let the wand drift from side to side. Otherwise, if you keep up this level of effort then your final grades should be satisfactory," Hermione said. She looked around to see that they had gathered quite the crowd of first years. They wore expressions ranging from concerned to outright frightened. Hermione ran her gaze over all of them before addressing them as a group. "I hope the rest of you could do at least that well. The time for gobstones is after you've mastered the required material."
With that she stood and swept away from the first years to make her way over to her friends. Blaise gave her a friendly grin as she approached. Daphne seemed absorbed in a fashion magazine of some kind, while Millie had her head down over her homework. At the next table over Draco and Theo were engrossed in a game of chess, surrounded by the rest of her yearmates. Hermione had always thought of chess as a quiet game, marked by quiet concentration and punctuated with the click of pieces being moved. She still hadn't fully adjusted to the more raucous atmosphere of the wizard's game, where the pieces all felt free to give their opinion and spectators cheered on their friends. Her attention was drawn back to her own table when Blaise spoke up.
"Having fun terrorizing the firsties?"
"No. Well, maybe a little," Hermione admitted. "I just wanted to prove to myself that there was another muggleborn taking their studies seriously."
"What brought that on?"
Hermione looked down at the table for a moment before looking up and meeting Blaise's eyes. "Justin and Colin quit our study group."
That brought Daphne's attention off of her magazine as she looked up at Hermione in surprise. "Really?"
"They said it was too much work," Hermione said, throwing up her hands at the ridiculous idea. "And everybody always says muggleborns are lazy and don't really understand magic and, I don't know..."
She trailed off when Blaise began to chuckle. He ignored her glare while he got the laughter out of his system, finally gathering himself and flashing her a quick smile.
"So you're saying that no pureblood would ever drop out from your training schedule?"
Hermione flushed, remembering when her Slytherin friends had done just that. "Well, no, I guess not."
"Face it," Daphne said, "when it comes to studying, there's no mudblood and pureblood. There's just Hermione Granger and then everybody else."
Hermione kept her eyes locked on Professor Snape's face. Breaking eye contact would break the legilimency connection between them. Ordinarily that might have been a good thing, but it would rather have defeated the purpose of the day's lesson: her first proper attempt at occlumency. Just thinking about it sent a little bit of excitement through her and made her think of other firsts like her first victory at the spelling bee, her first spell, and her first sight of Hogwarts. Hermione noted the urge but did her best to let the thoughts go and remain focused on the present.
A legilimens couldn't simply read through memories like a book. Rather, he could experience the thoughts of his target as the target thought of them. In order to find any particular memory, the legilimens could nudge the stream of consciousness one way or the other. Occlumency was largely the art of recognizing and resisting such nudges. While it was possible to mask secrets by working through mental math problems and the like, it was all too easy for an untrained mind to slip up during such an exercise. It was also a rather obvious indicator that one was trying to hide something.
A proper occlumens cultivated a sort of relaxed mindfulness. The idea was to live in the present moment and to allow distracting thoughts of the past to fall away from the conscious mind. It all sounded a bit woo woo New Agey to Hermione but she did go to a school of magical instruction so she tried to keep an open mind. It was also hard to be dismissive when Professor Snape was glaring at you. Clucking her tongue softly, Hermione returned her focus to the glare Professor Snape was currently leveling at her rather than the one in her memory.
His skin looked terribly unhealthy. Sallow and blotchy. Hermione could only imagine the lecture Daphne would have given her if she had ever tried to leave the common room in such a state. She felt her thoughts drift in that direction. Rather than cast away the distraction, she decided on a whim to focus on the memory of a conversation from the previous year.
Studying in the girls' dormitory made for a comfortable, private environment, but it always came with the risk that Daphne would decide to start a conversation. The other girl never waited for Hermione to stop reading before she started to talk. In all fairness, Hermione would rarely stop reading on her own.
"I respect our head of house, of course," Daphne had said, "but he really needs to step up his game with Lockhart here now."
"Professor Snape teaches us well enough," Hermione had objected.
Daphne had waved her hand dismissively. "Don't act like you haven't seen Professor Lockhart's hair. Or that smile. That doesn't happen by accident. Meanwhile Professor Snape is just running a handful of Sleakeazy's bottom of the barrel product through his hair and calling it a day."
"I don't-" Hermione had begun, before being interrupted.
"I mean, not everyone can have naturally beautiful blonde hair," Daphne had said, bringing a hand up to fluff her own curls, "but he could at least make an effort."
Daphne then proceeded to describe in great detail the makeover that she would administer if she were ever given free rein over Professor Snape's appearance. The list of beauty products alone was daunting enough, but the sheer impracticality of their application was enough to make Hermione shudder, even at the memory. She felt a sudden urge to recall more important conversations with Daphne, but it was easy enough to turn her thoughts elsewhere.
Makeup charms. Skin care potions. The deplorable state of muggle cosmetics. The amateurish missteps of their classmates. All cheerfully described by Daphne over the years. It had become part of the background noise of much of Hermione's study time, now turned to a new purpose. It felt like they had reviewed days of memories but Hermione couldn't tell how much time had actually passed when Professor Snape grimaced and leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes and massaging his temples.
Though Professor Snape looked upset, Hermione wasn't particularly worried. Even Snape wouldn't take points or assign detention for impertinent thoughts. At least not for members of his own house.
"Congratulations, Miss Granger," he finally said, "I never expected to experience anything less interesting than a Hogwarts staff meeting."
She just smiled as he stood up without another word and swept off towards the other side of the classroom. Professor Snape might grumble, but she was pretty sure she was actually improving at occlumency. And, in any event, a mind-reading session that didn't end with any horrible secrets being exposed counted as a win in her books.
"Potter. I've been told that the definition of insanity is to try the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Despite that, I'm going to ask you once more to think with purpose while we perform this exercise."
While Professor Snape was working with Harry, Hermione's work was hardly done for the day. She had been firmly instructed that she was to use this quiet time, and indeed any quiet time, to practice her mindfulness. In theory the distractions generated by her own subconscious were similar to the influence of a subtle legilimens. It felt a lot like teacher-sanctioned woolgathering to Hermione. She preferred to practice more useful things when she had the choice, but of course when she was in the same room as Professor Snape she would do as he directed.
First she spent a moment quietly observing Harry's lesson. He had a certain intensity about him that hadn't been there the previous week. Hermione still had her reservations at how easily Dumbledore had slipped Harry into the occlumency classroom, but say one thing about Harry Potter: he didn't give up just because things got tough. He clearly wasn't suited for the material and he clearly didn't care for Professor Snape, but Harry seemed determined to learn occlumency through sheer persistence if all else failed.
Hermione turned back to her own assignment before she drew Professor Snape's ire. It didn't take long for her mind to start to wander. She didn't try to stop it, as the exercise was about recognizing impulses more than it was about resisting them completely. Left idle, Hermione found her thoughts turning to the last few days of school.
She was still well ahead of the practical spellcasting requirements in all of her classes, although the gap was slowly narrowing. Hermione did have some free time now that she was no longer preparing material for her muggleborn study group, but human transfiguration and advanced charms weren't something she could practice without a teacher. Sometimes she really did miss Tom.
She had thrown herself into her dueling practice. She had the sense that she was starting to push Glenys in their practice spars. Certainly the effortless victories from the beginning of the year were a thing of the past. She still absolutely trounced Draco, of course. In fact, she had a suspicion that she may have overdone things a bit in their last practice session, likely due to her lingering anger over the mess in the Great Hall. Draco had been looking at her with a hint of real fear by the end of it. Honestly, though, he hadn't even been limping by the time they made it back to the common room.
Hermione had been getting more than her fair share of fearful looks lately, now that she thought of it. First Colin, practically running away from their practice classroom. Then Justin, cringing away from her during Astronomy. It was as if they thought she was going to drag them back to study with her by force, which was ridiculous. She'd get in trouble, for one thing. More than that, though, Hermione didn't intend to invest her time and effort in anybody who didn't appreciate it. Was she frustrated that Justin was a muggleborn who wasn't interested in magic, a Hufflepuff who was afraid of hard work? Of course. But she wasn't going to hex him over it.
On top of that, it would be doubly foolish to start picking fights while the school was still on edge over Sirius Black. The escaped murderer hadn't made any further attempts on Harry's life, but he was still out there somewhere. Waiting. Planning. Hermione rather suspected that the harsh punishment applied to the brawling quidditch teams owed something to the tension created by Sirius Black. She personally was just quietly grateful that this year's terror wasn't aimed at her, and she intended to stay well out of his way. Leave that excitement for the dementors.
Oh, the dementors. The terrifying encounter on the train was still vivid in her memory, but she'd managed to avoid the foul creatures ever since. She had also been spared any further visits from Tom Riddle's shade if you didn't count the boggart, which she did not. Hermione's best guess was that Riddle and the dementors were somehow intertwined, but it was a subject that she very much did not want to explore. Out of sight, out of mind, and out of range of the dementors was how she planned to spend the rest of the school year.
Professor Snape pulled her from such dark thoughts when he announced the end of their class session. Hermione packed her things and left the classroom, falling into step alongside Harry. For his part, Harry was still full to bursting with energy. Hermione had thought he had mellowed after the last talk about Sirius Black, and was a bit disappointed to see him so wound up. Though, as she sneaked a second look, the overall impression she was getting today was more focused than frustrated.
Harry hardly waited until they were out of earshot of Snape's classroom before he rounded on her, reaching out to clasp her shoulder as he started talking. "I've found him!"
"Found-" Hermione said, then caught herself. "Surely you aren't talking about Sirius Black."
Harry's face lit up, and Hermione felt her heart begin to sink even before he spoke.
"That's exactly who I found. There's a spot, right next to the Forbidden Forest. He shows up there every afternoon."
"I thought you weren't going to go looking for trouble?" Hermione asked.
"I didn't, but I found him anyway. I can't just ignore it."
"Then how..." Hermione said, then shook her head. "No. Never mind that. Why are you telling me this? You should have gone to the headmaster straight away."
Many in Slytherin harbored a dislike for Harry Potter, the quintessential Gryffindor. Hermione had always gotten on fairly well with him. He wasn't as bigheaded as she expected for a child celebrity, and while he was certainly competitive he was also a good sport. On the other hand, she really didn't understand his knack for finding himself in life-threatening danger while attending school. She also didn't want to get swept up in his wake. One harrowing experience in the Chamber of Secrets was quite enough for seven years of schooling in her book.
"I can't! Don't you see? This is my chance," Harry said. Hermione spared a brief thought to wonder why Harry was so reluctant to involve school authorities before shrugging it off to focus on persuading him to come to his senses.
"Your chance to what? Get killed by a madman? Have your soul sucked out by dementors? This is crazy, even for you."
One encounter with a dementor was also quite enough for Hermione. She avoided going too far away from the castle on the off chance that she might run into one. Navigating a gauntlet of the beasts, where the prize for survival was an encounter with Sirius Black? Not for her, thanks.
"Well of course I can't do it on my own. That's why I need your help. You're the best duelist in our year. You handled Lockhart well enough. And," Harry said, gathering momentum, "I reckon I can get you into my extra lessons on fighting off dementors. Professor Lupin likes me, you know. Quid pro quo, right?"
Hermione blinked as she was hit with several conflicting emotions. Pride at being praised, anger at the cavalier mention of Professor Lockhart, mixed with the old familiar resentment of the casual favoritism so often shown at Hogwarts. Most of all, though, she felt astonished at how badly Harry had misjudged her.
"It's one thing to exchange favors," Hermione said. She spoke slowly, but couldn't help but raise her voice as she continued. "It's quite another to go haring off on some suicide mission."
"It's not-Hermione, he killed my parents. I have to catch him. I have to look him in the eye and ask him why he did it," Harry said, a pleading note entering his voice for the first time. "Please, Hermione, help me."
Hermione took a step back.
"No. No, no, no," she said, shaking her head. "I'm going to tell Dumbledore about all this, right now."
"Tell-no, you can't," Harry protested. He started to reach out towards her but thought better of it halfway through the motion, leaving his hands hanging rather awkwardly between them.
"I can and I will," Hermione said. She could feel her resolve firming. She was willing to help Harry, yes, but right now the person he needed saving from was himself. "You know where to find a murderer, Harry. Dumbledore needs to know."
Harry gathered himself and simply held her gaze without saying anything for a long moment. She knew she should just turn and leave. There was no reason to delay in getting the information to the headmaster. Part of her, though, wanted to stay. She didn't want to force Harry to do the right thing, she wanted to convince him.
"Then why didn't you ever tell him about Tom?"
The words were spoken quietly, but with complete conviction. For her part, Hermione almost jumped out of her skin in shock. She just about kept her composure, ignoring the icy fingers running down her spine as she spoke.
"What did you say?"
"I remember," Harry said, tapping at his temple. "Snape says I'm rubbish at occlumency, but I've learned enough to start piecing things together. Not everything, but enough. I remember Tom acting like he knew you. And you knew him. Where'd Neville get that book from, anyway?"
Hermione drew herself up to her full height. It was less impressive now that Harry was taller, but he still took a step back as she took a step forward, jabbing at his chest with her pointer finger.
"How dare you!" Hermione said, the words coming out in a hiss. "I was fooled by the same dark lord that near enough took over the whole country. And now you're holding that over my head?"
"I don't blame you for being fooled," Harry said, spreading his hands with a shrug, "but you didn't tell the headmaster what happened, did you? Maybe he needs to know."
Another long silence stretched between them as Hermione stewed over his words. She couldn't help but wonder how long he had known. And why he hadn't said anything until now.
"Are you blackmailing me?"
He had the gall to chuckle at that.
"It's different when it's your secret being told, isn't it?" Harry asked. "No blackmail. Just asking a favor from a friend. Will you help me, Hermione?"
AN: Next chapter shouldn't take as long.