Beneath the Surface – Part 5

A Tip in the Scales

Lavender was furious she hadn’t been told about Ron’s poisoning. Hermione felt bad — she had been in a fog the entire weekend, and it hadn’t even occurred to her that no one might have told Ron’s girlfriend. Harry, however, didn’t seem concerned.

“He’s been looking for a way to ditch her anyway,” he shrugged at dinner that Monday.

“That still doesn’t give us a reason to disregard her feelings,” she said, knowing that she would be upset were she in Lavender’s shoes.

Still, her focus was on mending her relationship with her friend. She had spent most of her free time that day writing down homework assignments and deadlines, copying her meticulously taken notes, and creating a priority list. She went to see Ron — who Ginny informed her was now awake — on her Tuesday morning break.

He was up, eating breakfast from a tray across his lap. He looked paler than usual, his hair and freckles standing out in sharp contrast. His face lit up when he saw her.

“Hermione!” he exclaimed through a mouth full of eggs.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, dumping her bag on the chair next to his bed.

Ron swallowed, “Still lousy, but loads better. Madam Pomfrey wants me to stay under observation for the whole week. I’m going to miss Quidditch.”

Hermione had heard about that from Harry, including the unfortunate news that Cormac McLaggen would be subbing in for Ron. From what she had heard of the previous night’s practice, she was sure Harry was wishing she had done something a bit stronger than a Confundus Charm, but she was just glad McLaggen’s energy was being devoted elsewhere.

Hermione took a deep breath. “Look, Ron, we should talk.”

Ron’s face turned sober, “I know, I agree. I, er, want to apologize.”

“Oh!” she had been sure she was going to have to pull it out of him.

“I know I’ve acted like a prat for months,” Ron said, looking a little embarrassed, “I guess I was just…going through my own things and ended up taking them out on you.”

Hermione sighed and crossed her arms, hugging herself. “Ron, I don’t want to rehash everything but…this isn’t the first time you’ve lashed out like this. And not just at me. Harry won’t bring it up because he’s just happy when you two are good, but you can’t keep treating people like dragon dung just because you feel bad.”

The words had been building in her mind for months — years even — and it felt good to get them out. Ron looked surprised for a moment, but his introspection brought on by a near-death experience seemed to be doing him some good.

“You’re right. And I’m sorry.”

Hermione hesitated for a moment before saying, “And you might want to think about how you’re treating Lavender too. She seems to really be concerned for you.”

Ron squirmed, his ears turning red as he mumbled something under his breath. 

Deciding she didn’t want to push it, Hermione reached into her bag. “Now, I’ve got all your homework. I’ve copied my notes to help you understand certain concepts and have marked where you can find further information in your books. I’d prioritize the Transfiguration essay, McGonagall hinted that the Laws of Elemental Transfiguration would come up in our exams—”

“Merlin’s beard, Hermione, I was just poisoned!” Ron groaned, “Can’t a bloke get some rest?”

“Exams are only twelve weeks away, Ron, and they won’t wait for you to recover,” Hermione said, pulling his work out of her bag and placing it on his bedside table.

That Saturday was Gryffindor’s Quidditch match against Hufflepuff and the odds didn’t seem to be in their favor. Harry had spent the week doing his best to dodge Cormac McLaggen, who kept harassing him about making his position on the team more permanent. On top of that, Dean and Ginny seemed to be arguing worse than ever.

“He’s just always around,” Ginny complained as she and Hermione stepped out into the breezy grounds, “I just need a moment to breathe, you know?”

“Maybe you two just need a break?” Hermione offered, “Or at least a bit of time apart.”

“I think we need a lot of time apart,” Ginny muttered, more to herself than to Hermione.

“I suppose you’ll do what you have to,” Hermione said, internally wondering whether Harry would be happy if Ginny broke up with Dean for his own sake, or worried for the Quidditch team’s chances at winning the Cup. 

Hermione bid Ginny farewell at the changing rooms, veering off to the stands on her own. She would be going to the match by herself again — according to Ginny, Luna had gotten the job as Quidditch commentator — and she couldn’t go with Blaise because it was far too public.

She took a seat behind Seamus and Neville, who were chattering away excitedly. The sun above shone brightly through the patchy clouds, the wind mild but bringing with it a slight chill. She watched the clouds glide through the air as people filled in all around her.

Down below on the pitch, the players began to file out in robes of red and yellow. They mounted their brooms and took off to their respective positions, hovering in midair. Hermione could just pick Harry out, shaking hands with the Hufflepuff Captain. Madam Hooch’s whistle screeched through the air.

“And that’s Smith of Hufflepuff with the Quaffle,” Luna’s voice floated dreamily across the grounds, “He did the commentary last time, of course, and Ginny Weasley flew into him, I think probably on purpose, it looked like it. Smith was being quite rude about Gryffindor, I expect he regrets that now he’s playing them — oh look, he’s lost the Quaffle, Ginny took it from him, I do like her, she’s very nice…”

Hermione smiled, brushing away a bug fluttering near her ear. Luna sounded like she was having fun.

“…but now that big Hufflepuff player’s got the Quaffle from her, I can’t remember his name…”

Wings tickled her ear. She tried to wave it away again, before realizing that it wasn’t a bug, but a piece of paper. She grabbed it out of the air, confused.

It was small, a scrap of parchment bewitched to flap like a small bird. She unfolded it, revealing a familiar scrawl in black ink.

I can’t see the match through your hair.

Hermione grinned, but didn’t turn around. She tucked the note into her pocket, suddenly hyper-aware that Blaise was just behind her.

Down on the pitch, McLaggen was shouting at Ginny, paying no attention to Cadwallader scoring for Hufflepuff. The stands erupted into cheers and groans as Harry flew off to shout at McLaggen.

Another note perched itself on Hermione’s shoulder.

That McLaggen sure is something, isn’t he?

She could hear the sarcasm in Blaise’s voice as she read it, could see his eyes flash mischievously, his face plastered with innocence. She took a deep breath and tried to focus on the match. 

The most entertaining thing, by far, was Luna’s commentary. The Gryffindor team seemed to be slowly unraveling with McLaggen on their side — even while Ginny, Dean, and Demelza did what they could to score points, he kept letting more in.

But Hermione had a hard time focusing. After the second attempt at getting her attention through a note had failed, Blaise had resorted to playing with Hermione’s scarf, using the Hover Charm to make the ends float up every once in a while. She knew he was having fun, and if she hadn’t known him, she would have been surprised by his playful nature. But she kept herself staring ahead as Luna mused about whether Zacharias Smith was suffering from an affliction known as “Loser’s Lurgy,” not wanting to give him the satisfaction even if it was amusing.

“Seventy-forty to Hufflepuff!” McGonagall shouted through the megaphone.

“Oh is it already?” Luna said, surprised.

She kept speaking, but Hermione was distracted by a sudden gust of wind, blowing straight through — and only at — her hair. She turned back to glare at Blaise, fighting to keep from laughing, and his face spread into a delicious smile, his eyes triumphant.

A loud gasp ran through the crowd, jolting Hermione back to the present. She turned, curious, and had to push herself up to see above the heads of Seamus and Neville, who were both standing. To her horror, she saw Harry plummeting to the ground.

Hermione turned and pushed her way out of the stands, hurrying to get to her best friend, Blaise’s games forgotten.

It turned out that a cracked skull was nothing by wizarding injury standards. To Hermione’s relief, Madam Pomfrey had mended Harry easily, and by that Monday both he and Ron were out of the hospital wing. That morning, she hurried off to collect them before breakfast, passing a bickering Ginny and Dean on the way out of the common room. 

She had to admit she was becoming more excited the closer she got to the hospital wing; this was the first time in months that the three of them would be together with no drama, at least not any of their own. Harry, in particular, seemed very interested in the details of Ginny and Dean’s fight, even though he tried to pretend otherwise. His cheeks turned a slight pink once she informed him that the argument had been about Dean’s amusement at Harry’s injury.

“There’s no need for Ginny and Dean to spit up over it,” he said breezily, “Or are they still together?”

“They are, as far as I know,” she said, trying not to smirk, “But why are you so interested?”

“I just don’t want my Quidditch team messed up again!” he said quickly.

Hermione hadn’t planned on pushing him any further, especially not with Ron there, but Harry looked relieved when they were interrupted by Luna, who passed Harry a note from Dumbledore regarding his next lesson.

“Tonight,” he told her and Ron under his breath.

The day overall was a good one, even when it became clear that Lavender seemed to have an issue with Hermione and Ron being friends again. Hermione hadn’t realized how much she had missed hanging out with her friends, and so it put her in a good mood.

That night during Harry’s meeting with Dumbledore, she looked over his Herbology essay, correcting some of his sentences and drawing up a conclusion. He came to join her close to midnight, looking embarrassed.

“Dumbledore told me off,” he said with a grimace as he plopped himself down in the seat next to her, “The memory completely slipped my mind.”

Hermione passed him his essay with a raised eyebrow. “Well, he did say it was important…”

“I’ll do better from now on,” Harry insisted, “He said there’s not even a point in continuing lessons until I’ve got it.”

“So what are you going to do then?”

Harry shrugged, his eyes skimming over his essay, “I’ll figure something out.”

“Figuring something out” mostly seemed to mean a lot of reading and rereading the scribbles in his copy of Advanced Potion-Making. Trying not to be annoyed by it, Hermione spent her free time trying to think of a way to convince Slughorn to give up his memory. Speaking to him after a Slug Club meeting was out — she had checked with Blaise to confirm that Slughorn had stopped sending out invitations.

That Sunday night, Hermione noticed Harry poring over the Prince’s book yet again.

“You won’t find anything in there,” she said, unable to help herself. Here she was, trying to think up elaborate plans to get the information out of Slughorn, and meanwhile Harry was whiling away the time in some stranger’s notes.

“Don’t start, Hermione,” Harry said, “If it hadn’t been for the Prince, Ron wouldn’t be sitting here now.”

“He would be if you’d just listened to Snape in our first year,” she retorted, “The Imperius Curse is the only way to force someone to do what you want, and that’s illegal—”

“Yeah, I know that, thanks,” Harry said, still staring at the book, “That’s why I’m looking for something different. Dumbledore says Veritaserum won’t do it, but there might be something else, a potion or a spell…”

“I don’t think you’re going about it the right way,” she told him, “Dumbledore said only you can get the memory. That must mean you can persuade Slughorn where others can’t.”

“How d’you spell ‘belligerent’?” interrupted Ron. He was paying no attention to their debate, instead frowning at his parchment.

Hermione leaned over, distracted. Ron’s essay was riddled with strange spellings and mistakes. She pulled out her wand as she shifted the essay towards her and set out to fix it.

Just as she was handing it back to Ron, a loud crack echoed through the empty room. Hermione let out a little shriek as Kreacher appeared before them.

The house-elf bowed to Harry, “Master said he wanted regular reports on what the Malfoy boy is doing, so Kreacher has come to give—”

Crack. Dobby appeared next to Kreacher. “Dobby has been helping too, Harry Potter!”

Hermione stared at the elves for a moment, a mix of disbelief and frustration rising in her. “What is this?” she asked, turning to Harry, “What’s going on, Harry?”

Harry hesitated, “Well…they’ve been following Malfoy for me.”

Hermione suppressed a groan. Surely he wasn’t being so reckless, especially when he had a far more important job in the fight against Voldemort.

It turned out though, that Malfoy was up to something.

“Harry Potter, sir,” said Dobby, “the Malfoy boy is breaking no rules that Dobby can discover, but he is still keen to avoid detection. He has been making regular visits to the seventh floor with a variety of students, who keep watch for him while he enters—”

“The Room of Requirement!” Harry said, smacking himself in the head with his book. Hermione and Ron exchanged a glance. “That’s where he’s been sneaking off to! That’s where he’s doing…whatever he’s doing!”

Hermione could see Harry’s wheels turning. He and Ron immediately devolved into theories of what Malfoy could be doing, how he had so many people working for him, and how they could get into the Room of Requirement to catch him in the act. Hermione chimed in every once in awhile, but her mind was elsewhere, on the Hogwarts Express at the beginning of the first term. Harry had talked about Malfoy posturing to the other sixth year Slytherins. Was it possible Blaise had known something about this?

She pushed the thought back. She knew Blaise’s relationship with Malfoy was cordial, but it didn’t mean they were confiding in each other. She had to trust that he knew nothing about what Malfoy was doing past his initial bragging. And besides, they had more pressing matters. She stood and stretched.

“I don’t think you should forget,” she told Harry as she grabbed her bag, “That what you’re supposed to be concentrating on is getting that memory from Slughorn. Good night.”

As she turned to the girls’ dormitories, she hoped he’d heard her, and that she would follow her own advice.

Things were stressful enough without Harry’s obsession with Malfoy. Tensions in the school had been rising steadily all year, but it seemed to be reaching a fever pitch as the Death Eaters grew bolder in the outside world. People were continuing to vanish, more than a few who were related or connected to students in some way. A third-year Hufflepuff was taken from the school because of their frightened parents, and a young boy had been arrested for trying to kill his grandparents. All at the same time, a good number of pure-blood Slytherins were teasing and bullying their classmates, making it clear whose side they were on.

“Your blood traitor family had better watch it, Weasley,” Nott called to him one morning just before Defense Against the Dark Arts, after it had come out that the Death Eaters were making house calls to some staunch advocates for Muggle rights. His threat had resulted in Ron letting off a few choice words and the deduction of twenty points from Gryffindor by Snape, who just so happened to arrive in the corridor after Nott’s offending remarks.

The name-calling from her classmates didn’t worry Hermione as much as the disappearances and killings did. On one of her prefect patrols, Hermione had run into a sobbing fifth year Ravenclaw, who had just found out his Muggle-born mother was missing. As she tried to comfort him, she thought about her own parents and realized that she had no idea how to truly keep them safe.

She began to bury herself in research, finding that having something to do helped to stymie her worry. When she wasn’t trying to find anything she could about Horcruxes, she nagged Harry about getting the memory from Slughorn. He didn’t seem to be getting any further in his assignment from Dumbledore, and as the month of March wore on, Hermione started to wonder whether Harry even cared.

“Of course I do,” Harry said, clearly offended when she brought it up one evening by the fire, “It’s not that simple, Hermione. Slughorn barely lets himself be alone in a room with me.”

When Horcrux research proved futile, Hermione spent her free time looking up protective charms. While she had put up the standard ones around her parents’ house over the holidays, she knew that they would be nothing should Voldemort come to call. She needed a true plan, especially when things got worse — but what could she do?

A thought had begun to bloom in the back of her mind, but it scared her, so she pushed it away. Instead, she looked up information on the Fidelius Charm, wanting to know everything she could about it. But after her deep dive she realized that it couldn’t work — her parents couldn’t afford to just stop working, to be in their house for who knows how long while things died down in the wizarding world. So then she’d looked up protective charms that were rooted in the person rather than the place, but the magic was too experimental. The only person she’d heard of who had had a semi-successful go at it was Harry himself, but that charm hadn’t been placed on him under the best of circumstances. 

Hermione found herself in the Memory Charms section of the library more than once, a knot forming in her throat. Once, while staring at Altering the Mind: Memory Charms for Beginners, she wondered if it might not be better to just tell her parents everything.

Her stress and subsequent spiral into the dark depths of the library meant that she hadn’t seen much of Blaise lately. She was becoming distracted, and even when they did get a chance to hang out, she was often diving into her book of the day at random moments, desperate to find answers to her constantly worrying thoughts.

Blaise seemed to become more tense as the month wore on, but wasn’t less affectionate when they were alone together.

“Looking for more extra credit from Snape?” he asked after Hermione had pulled out The Mysteries of Blood Magic for the fourth time in that hour. He had taken her free hand and was tracing patterns in her palm.

“Sorry,” she muttered as she skimmed the passage on requirements for familial protection through genetics. “I just needed to…” she trailed off, her mind wandering. It didn’t look like there had been any research on the effects of blood protection on Muggles. The lack of information could prove dangerous were she to try it on her parents. After all of this was done, perhaps she should work to reform Muggle Studies so that it actually looked at the effects of magic on non-magical people.

Blaise waved his hand in front of her eyes, “Earth to Hermione.”

She jumped, her cheeks warming, “I’m sorry,” she said, shutting the book with a sense of finality, though her fingers lingered over the cover. “I know I’m distracted.”

“You have been for the past couple of weeks,” he noted, looking down at her hand in his. He said it casually, but she could see the tension in his jaw.

“Things have just been…hard,” she said vaguely, knowing that she couldn’t explain the Horcruxes, or even that her plans for protecting her parents seemed to have hit a dead end. She didn’t believe that Blaise would run off to tell Malfoy anything, but still it was too dangerous. 

“I get it,” he muttered, winding his fingers through hers.

Still, the tension continued to rise. She gave his hand a squeeze. “How are classes?”

Blaise shrugged, “Same as always. History of Magic is a pain.”

Hermione nodded, “I’m surprised anyone is taking the N.E.W.T.s. It’s a fascinating enough subject, but it’s hard with Binns.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Honestly I wouldn’t be taking it if it wasn’t for my mum.”

“It’s not a requirement for the International Department?”

“No,” said Blaise, and when he cleared his throat he reached up to scratch his nose, “But she still doesn’t really believe I’m doing that. You know she’s been pushing me to do something that’ll make more money.”

“Yeah,” Hermione said, now wondering if anyone had written about the ways wizards had protected Muggles from Death Eaters and pure-blood fanatics in the past. “Still, it couldn’t hurt to have an understanding of historical wizarding relationships when you’re—”

Her watch let out a loud chime. She glanced down at it to see the wands pointing at the twelve and five, telling her that it was an hour before dinner.

“What’s that?” Blaise asked.

“I had to start setting alarms for myself,” she told him, sliding her book into her bag, “Things have been really hectic lately.”

“So you have to leave?” was it just her, or was there a hint of accusation in his voice?

She looked up sheepishly, “I told Harry and Ron that I’d go down to Hagrid’s with them before dinner. We haven’t really been down together in months since…you know. But Hagrid’s been having a hard time lately, so we thought we’d pop by to cheer him up.”

“Oh,” Blaise said, his face unreadable.

“I’ll be sure to bring you one of his rock cakes,” she said, pushing herself up from her seat.

Blaise frowned at that, “That doesn’t sound like anything I would be interested in.”

“They’re not so bad,” Hermione said with a smile before leaning over to kiss his forehead, “So long as you’ve got a good dental plan.”

Feeling vindicated by Blaise’s blooming smile, Hermione bid him farewell and hurried off to the entrance hall, where she’d said she would meet Harry and Ron.

It was another week before Hermione was able to get more than a brief moment with Blaise. Her breaks were often taken up by her research; she only occasionally allowed even Harry and Ron to join her in. Ginny had started coming to her more often to complain about Dean, and still, she was avoiding making the decision she knew she must.

The last Friday of the month was grim, dark clouds spewing rain nonstop, the lake beginning to spill over. In Potions, they were working on their first attempt at Veritaserum, which Slughorn didn’t yet expect them to excel in, but wanted a benchmark on which they could improve. Hermione found the potion extremely difficult, as the substances used were very sensitive to even the slightest deviation from the directions. Of course, this applied to all but Harry, who seemed to be brewing a near-perfect potion on his first go.

This didn’t irritate Hermione nearly as much as it might have earlier in the year, as she felt just as desperate as Harry for him to get on Slughorn’s good side. His work still didn’t help Slughorn’s frosty behavior much, and the three of them were quickly ushered out of the Potions classroom once lessons were over, Slughorn hurriedly wishing them a happy weekend.

“You see Hermione?” Harry said with a hint of smugness, “I told you it’s not that easy.”

“Maybe a Confundus Charm could work?” Ron asked, “We could try to get him while he’s fawning over Harry’s clearly inherited potions prowess—”

“You just need to persuade him,” she said, refusing to be dissuaded, “It’s not a question of tricking him or bewitching him, or Dumbledore could have done it in a second.”

“Yeah well I was hoping you would find something to help with that,” Harry admitted.

Hermione rolled her eyes, annoyance sparking, “You can’t just rely on me to — oh! I’ve got to go,” she’d glanced down at her watch and suddenly realized that she was late.

“Where are you off to?” Ron asked, suspiciously.

“The library,” Hermione lied quickly. Then, in a stroke of inspiration, she added, “You two are welcome to come with me. Perhaps Harry will find something to help him with Slughorn.”

Harry coughed awkwardly and Ron mumbled something about being busy.

Hermione huffed, “Typical.”

She left them, turning down a corridor that led towards the library, even though she wasn’t actually going that way. Taking a roundabout way was going to make her later than she already was, but there was nothing that could really be done for it if she didn’t want Harry and Ron to be suspicious of her. 

She’d missed Blaise, even in the midst of being so busy with work and — if she was being honest — being afraid they would get found out. He had risked sending her a note, asking her to meet in one of the courtyards, so she agreed.

It was pouring when Hermione stepped outside, so she pulled out her wand and muttered a small shield charm to stand in as an umbrella. Through the rain she could see a familiarly tall figure, standing under his own shield. She smiled, hurrying over.

“Hi,” she said, pushing up on her toes to kiss Blaise quickly on the lips, “I’m sorry I’m late. I got held up with Harry after class.”

Blaise seemed a little stiff, barely kissing her back. When Hermione settled back onto her feet she looked up at him, noticing the hardness in his eyes. “It’s alright.”

She raised her eyebrows at him, “Everything okay?”

He shrugged, but he wouldn’t look at her. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“You don’t sound it.”

“It’s nothing,” Blaise said tightly, “I just haven’t seen you in a while.”

“I know,” Hermione said, feeling slightly defensive, “I’ve just had my hands full with classes and trying to help Harry.”

Blaise’s eyes flashed at the sound of Harry’s name. “Well don’t let me stop you.”

“What?” she didn’t understand why he was acting this way, “I thought you wanted to hang out.”

“You don’t seem all that fussed to be honest.”

Hermione could feel pressure building in her chest. She didn’t need this on top of everything else. “I thought you would get it — things are getting dangerous. We have to be more cautious.”

“That doesn’t stop you hanging out with Potter.”

Hermione felt like she had been slapped. She had been so excited mere moments ago, but now all she felt was anger at Blaise’s obtuseness. Why was he comparing their relationship to Harry all of a sudden?

“Harry is my best friend.”

“And I’m your boyfriend.”

Hermione’s anger flared, and with it, tears began to well in her eyes. “Have you not been paying attention? This is so much more important than romantic relationships!”

Blaise shook his head, “You can’t tell me you believe that crap about Potter being the ‘Chosen One’. You’re smarter than that.”

Hermione started to respond but pulled back. She couldn’t talk to Blaise about this, not when it was dancing so close to information not meant for those outside of the Order. She shook her head, “That’s not the point. Everything going on right now is much bigger than you or me — and I’m actually in real danger. You’re just being short-sighted and selfish.”

Fury flashed across Blaise’s face. “Fine then. I’ll just go be short-sighted somewhere else.”

“You do that,” Hermione said scathingly. Her heartbeat was racing. She wiped her tears as she watched Blaise storm away, rain splattering off of his shield.

Part Six