Hermione stomped down the corridor, a stack of toast clutched in a napkin in her hand. Oh, she was furious. That git, she fumed, trying to slow her breathing so she could calm down. It wouldn't do to see Harry in this state. No doubt he was panicking and angry at Ron and furious at the whole situation—and Harry had a tendency to say or do reckless things when he was angry.
She knew she shouldn'tve gone to the library last night, but she just couldn't help it. When Harry's name had popped out of the Goblet of Fire, she knew it was bad. When she saw the look on Harry's face and saw without a shadow of a doubt that he hadn't been the one to put his name in, she knew it was really bad. Someone had done this, and considering how many people had died during the Triwizard Tournament, she didn't think it was anyone who had some great affection for Harry.
So when Harry had been called back with the other champions and the rest of the students retired to their common rooms, she had nicked down to the library. It would likely be a while before Harry had returned to the tower, and she wanted to be useful—find out all she could about the Triwizard Tournament and whether there was a way to break the binding magical contract, as well as everything there was to know about the Goblet of Fire itself.
What she found wasn't good. The Goblet of Fire was an extraordinarily powerful magical object—which meant a student likely couldn't hoodwink it. This was no joke of Draco Malfoy's. No, this was the work of a powerful dark wizard—and Hermione could think of one in particular who would like to see Harry dead.
She shivered again at the thought, remembering how Harry's scar had hurt him this summer. She bit her lip, anxious—perhaps they should go to Dumbledore about that right away.
Of course, Harry would never go for it. Stubbornly independent, Harry never wanted to admit he needed help. Luckily for him, Hermione had no problem forcing him to accept hers. But even if Dumbledore knew, it's not like it would really change anything: If she suspected You-Know-Who, he likely already did too, and besides, the magical law was clear that there was no way out of the Triwizard contract.
She startled as she heard giggling. A couple of Hufflepuff fifth years were passing, giving her curious looks. She figured she must look a bit ridiculous, internally fighting with herself. She blew a bit of hair out of her eye, focusing on the issue.
She had learned last night that Harry would likely have to compete in a competition You-Know-Who likely entered him into in an effort to harm him. And, by the time Hermione returned to Gryffindor Tower to talk with him and Ron, Lee Jordan had informed her that both of them had retired to bed a while ago. Hermione had thought about marching up there, but if Harry really had managed to get to sleep—a feat after the disastrous night he'd had—she didn't want to wake him.
And so, she had gone down to the Great Hall this morning bright and early, expecting to eat a quick breakfast, before settling down in the common room to wait for them. What she had found in the Great Hall surprised her: Ron was already there, sitting with Seamus and Dean.
"Good morning," she'd greeted as she'd plopped down beside Seamus, and the three had nodded their greetings through mouthfuls of eggs and sausages. She scooped some onto her plate, looking around. Neville was halfway down the table, sitting near Lavender and Parvati, and Angelina Johnson and Alicia Spinnet were a few seats down on the right, but Harry wasn't anywhere.
"Where's Harry?" she'd asked. Ron grunted noncommittally, and silence greeted her before Dean answered, "He wasn't awake yet."
"I suppose he probably wouldn't want to eat amongst all this anyway," Hermione said, waving her fork around at the Hufflepuff and Slytherin tables, where she could hear whispers of some very unpleasant things being said about Harry. "We should probably take some breakfast up to him," she added, looking at Ron.
"Why?" Ron asked stiffly. "Don't think he'd enjoy the glory?"
"If he didn't want all this attention, then he never should've put his name in the Goblet of Fire."
"You don't actually think that," Hermione replied sharply. "Did you not see his face when his name was called? He was absolutely astonished! He had no idea his name would come out of that cup!"
"Maybe because there weren't supposed to be four names," Ron retorted. "But you know he put his name in—you're not stupid. He told us how he'd do it, too, how he'd wait for everyone else to be asleep. Probably took the cloak out last night and did it."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "The cloak wouldn't have any effect on Dumbledore's age line," she sighed. "And besides, Harry doesn't exactly need any extra attention, does he? You know how much he hates people staring at him and making a big deal—why on earth would he do this?"
It was the wrong thing to say. Ron could be a bit touchy about all the attention Harry gets. Oh, he handled it well most of the time—he had to, to be Harry's best friend the past three years, but from time to time, his jealousy cropped up. This was apparently one of those times.
Ron's ears turned red. "Well then what's your explanation?" he sputtered.
Hermione narrowed her eyes, glancing sideways at Seamus and Dean. "I think it has something to do with what happened this summer," she replied meaningfully, referencing Harry's scar hurting him, as the two other Gryffindors glanced at each other, puzzled. "The Goblet of Fire is a really powerful object and it would take a really powerful wizard—"
"Oh come off, Hermione," Ron interrupted. "He's not—" He cut himself off glancing at Seamus and Dean. "Dumbledore would know if—"
Ron stopped talking, but Hermione caught his meaning. Dumbledore would know if You-Know-Who or one of his followers was hanging about the castle.
"He didn't last time," Hermione pointed out. Ron just stared at her.
"Look, this is stupid. Harry needs us, so just get over yourself and—"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ron asked, his voice raised and his ears reddening even more. Neville, Lavender and Parvati were all watching them with interest now.
"It means that just because you're jealous of Harry, doesn't mean you can treat him like this," she snapped.
"I'm not jealous," Ron sputtered, his face turning the color of his hair. Seamus snickered and Dean looked up at the enchanted ceiling, seemingly enthralled by the shapes of the clouds. "I just don't want to talk to people who lie to their supposed best friends!"
"When has Harry ever lied to you?" Hermione snapped. "When has he ever not included you in whatever dangerous thing he was planning to do?"
"When he put his name in the Goblet of Fire!" Ron yelled.
She sighed. "Look, I get it. It's not easy being the best friend of the most famous wizard our age, but do you think it's any easier for him?"
She glanced at the others. Both she and Ron knew how hard Harry had had it: No real family, no love or affection when he was living with the Dursleys, and there was the small matter of You-Know-Who trying to kill him repeatedly, but Harry would be embarrassed if he found out the details of his life were being discussed in detail in the Great Hall for everyone to hear.
"Real hard," Ron muttered, "a vault full of gold, a spot on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, everyone wanting to take his picture—how does he manage it all?"
Hermione shook her head. She knew Ron didn't really feel that way—he was just letting his envy get the best of him—but he was nevertheless stirring some violent emotions in her, and she let out a sound that was half sigh and half exasperated scream.
"Fine," she yelled, standing up and grabbing a stack of toast with her napkin. "Be an idiot!"
Which is how she found herself stomping up to Gryffindor Tower without having eaten any breakfast. She slowed her gait, having finally reached the Fat Lady. The portrait started moving, and suddenly, she was faced with Harry climbing out of the portrait hole.
"Hello. I brought you this… want to go for a walk?"
He was grateful. Hermione could tell by the way he munched on the toast happily, and the look of immense relief on his face when she told him she believed him when he said he didn't put his name in the goblet. They discussed Ron—Harry was as angry as she thought he'd be—and Sirius—she'd finally convinced him to tell Sirius what was going on—and returned to Gryffindor Tower where everyone insisted on giving him accolades for an accomplishment that wasn't his and that he didn't want. Ron was nowhere to be found.
Things didn't improve as the week went on. The Slytherins were their usual obnoxious selves, making those awful Potter Stinks buttons, but the Hufflepuffs and the Ravenclaws had decided to join in, treating Harry like some sort of attention hog who stole Cedric Diggory's glory. Ron's behavior didn't change and Harry was acting just as stubborn, forcing Hermione to either act as a go-between, creating very stilted conversation between the three, or choose one of them to sit with in class, in the common room and in the Great Hall. Since Ron often surrounded himself with Seamus and Dean, Hermione usually sat with Harry. This only served to make Ron angrier.
Then, of course, there was the incident with Hermione's teeth. Draco Malfoy had called her a Mudblood, and Harry, having finally reached his breaking point, had dueled the slimy git in the middle of the corridor. And Hermione had found her teeth growing as long as her neck—something Professor Snape pretended not to notice—and had found herself up in the hospital wing, getting her teeth shrunk. The one good thing, of course, was that Madam Pomfrey had managed to shrink them to slightly smaller than their usual size, fixing a problem that would have taken braces years to fix. Of course, she'd made Hermione stick around the hospital wing for dinner, wanting to check and see how her teeth worked.
Dinner had been what felt like ages ago though, and Hermione sat in the hospital bed, feeling rather stupid and wishing she was allowed to leave so she could finally start her Arithmancy essay.
"Hermione?" a voice called. Hermione turned to the other bed in the hospital wing. It was Neville, who had entered the hospital wing about an hour after Hermione, though they hadn't gotten a chance to talk as Hermione's teeth were still down to her chin, and Neville had appeared violently queasy. Now, however, he seemed to be doing better.
"Hello, Neville. Why are you here?"
"We tested antidotes in Potions today," he said. "It didn't go so well."
Hermione felt a pang of guilt. Usually, she was there in Potions to make sure Professor Snape didn't terrorize Neville too much—or attempt to kill his pet toad.
"How are your teeth?" he asked.
"Better than Goyle's face," she replied, gesturing across the room where Madam Pomfrey was attempting to rid Goyle's face of some truly awful-looking boils—not that it would help him from continuing to look like an ugly oaf, of course.
"Looks like Goyle got the worst of it," Neville grinned.
Madame Pomfrey turned to inspect them, questioning Neville on whether his stomach still felt queasy and asking Hermione if her teeth had rattled at all when she ate her apple. She leaned back, satisfied with their answers.
"You two can go," she waved them off, returning to Goyle with a harried look on her face. Neville and Hermione hopped off their beds and exited the hospital wing. They began the walk to Gryffindor Tower in silence before Neville suddenly broke it.
"How's Harry?" he asked. Hermione gave him a sidelong glance. Neville had always gotten on with her, Harry and Ron, but she hadn't heard him say much since this whole thing started. Neville's face flushed. "What I mean is, it's got to be hard, right? With everyone saying all sorts of stuff about him, and even the Gryffindors not listening when he says he didn't put his name in the cup."
"You believe him, then?" Hermione asked. Neville glanced at her, surprise etched in her face.
"Of course," he replied. "He said he didn't and you said he didn't, so… that must mean he didn't." There was a look of confusion on Neville's face as he worked through his own logic.
"Neville," she asked. "Have you told Harry that?" He shook his head.
They had reached the Fat Lady. Hermione muttered the password—Balderdash—and she let them in. She glanced around. Ron was across the room, playing a game of exploding snap with Seamus, but Harry was nowhere to be found. She and Neville settled into squashy armchairs near the fire, vaguely paying attention as Fred and George huddled at a nearby table over a piece of parchment, whispering furiously. She narrowed her eyes. That wasn't like them; they were usually the center of attention.
"No," Neville finally answered her, turning a bit pink. "I don't see how it would make much difference." Neville had never particularly had any confidence, which was a shame because he'd always been a stand-up guy.
"I think you should," Hermione said slowly, thinking back over the past few days. The only thing that had seemed to cheer Harry up was Hagrid telling him in no uncertain terms that he believed him, bringing the sum total of people who believed Harry at Hogwarts up to four: Hermione, Professor Dumbledore, Professor Moody and Hagrid. "I think it would really help Harry."
"Yeah," Hermione said, glancing at Ron. "It's really hurt him that people—well, Ron, especially—don't believe him, and I think it would go a long way if he knew you were on his side. And not just because you want him to win—because you actually believe him."
At the mention of Ron's name, Hermione noticed Fred glance up, though he still appeared to be focused on his conversation with George.
"Yeah, I've never seen Harry and Ron fight like this," Neville said. "They've barely said anything to each other up in the dormitory. It's making it right awkward for the rest of us if I'm being honest. Dean's about ready to start pelting them both with water balloons. Do you think they'll make up?"
"Of course they will," she replied automatically, with a confidence she didn't feel. Harry always somehow managed to bring her and Ron back together when they fought—whether it was something he did or just their shared fear for Harry's safety making them overcome whatever spat they were currently having—but she wasn't sure she could do the same for them. For whatever reason, she'd never been particularly good at connecting with people. The only reason she even had friends was because a troll attacked her three years ago. That's why it was so important that Harry and Ron fix this themselves, something she kept urging the both of them to do—earning snark from Harry and derision from Ron—but neither seemed to want to take that first step.
She shook her head, forcing herself to reframe the problem in her head. "It's just a little spat," she said. "Harry's too stubborn to actually talk to Ron and tell him how he feels, and Ron…," Hermione trailed off. "Well, he loves Harry, obviously, but he's always been jealous, hasn't he?"
Neville nodded slowly. "I don't really know why though," he said. "He's got all those brothers and Ginny, and two parents, and from what Harry's said about those muggles he lives with…" Neville trailed off, shuddering.
Hermione peered at him closely; he looked sad, and she was reminded of their first Defense Against The Dark Arts class this year, and Neville's horrified expression when Professor Moody used the Unforgivable Curses. She wondered again just why Neville lived with his grandmother.
"That's true," she said carefully, remembering also how carelessly Ron had talked about the Killing Curse after that lesson, going on about how the spider died just like that, before he cut himself off at the expression on Harry's face.
"Though," she added slowly, feeling the need to defend Ron a bit, "if you haven't known real loss, it can sometimes be hard to understand, don't you think? So Ron just sees that Harry gets all the attention from teachers and people on the streets in Diagon Alley, that he's a Quidditch star and he's got loads of money. It must be hard."
She heard a scoff coming from the next table. Both she and Neville turned to look at Fred and George, who had abandoned their writing and were now staring at each other, seemingly in some sort of silent conversation.
"What?" Hermione asked. They turned to her.
"It's a bit annoying," Fred said, "always having to hear about the poor destitute Weasleys."
George shook his head, standing up to join their grouping of armchairs, while Fred followed, shoving the piece of parchment in his pocket.
Hermione blushed pink, embarrassed at having insulted them or having them think she was in any way saying something bad about the Weasleys, who had always treated her so well. "I didn't mean—" she began.
"We know you didn't," George said, eyeing her closely. "Look, we know we don't have as much money as the Malfoys", George began—"Who does?" Fred interjected—"and we love our siblings dearly"—"Except Percy," Fred interjected again—"but the way Ron's always going on about how everything at our house is rubbish is a bit much don't you think?"
Hermione and Neville glanced at each other, not sure what to say.
"We might not have gold-plated toilets," Fred said, "but we get three meals a day, we go to Quidditch matches, we go on vacations; For Merlin's sake, Ron's got a stack of comic books sitting in his room and more Chudley Cannons paraphernalia than he knows what to do with."
"Does Harry have any of that?" George asked pointedly.
Hermione knew it was true. She'd had to send a box of snacks and a cake this summer just to make sure Harry was being fed thanks to Dudley's new diet, and as far as she knew, the Dursleys had never taken him anywhere. His Christmas "presents" were usually castoffs from his uncle, and judging by the size of Harry's clothes—which Hermione sometimes tried to shrink when Harry wasn't looking—everything he owned was secondhand from Dudley.
Neville, on the other hand, looked surprised. "Is it really that awful at his house?" he asked, looking around at all three of them, who wore matching grim expressions. "I know he said it was bad but… well, Harry doesn't really say much, does he?"
"I'm not saying Ron's right," Hermione said. "Just that I can understand where he's coming from. Obviously, I wish he'd handled this differently, but that didn't happen."
Fred and George exchanged a dark look before turning to her. "You think that even after the cat flap?" they asked.
Neville looked puzzled, and for once, Hermione agreed with him. "What cat flap?" she asked.
Fred and George exchanged another look, but didn't say anything.
"What cat flap?" she asked again, but George shook his head.
"If Harry didn't tell you—"
"Oh, come on," Hermione snapped. "Just tell me. I'll only yell at Ron and Harry until they tell me anyway, so you might as well."
Fred and George looked at her warily, as though she might just start yelling at them. Hermione, in return, did her best expression of Professor McGonagall, staring imperiously at them.
"Do you remember the summer we picked up Harry in our dad's car?" Fred asked slowly.
"You mean the summer you flew an illegal car halfway across England and are lucky you didn't get in any trouble for it?"
Fred ignored her. "When we got there, there were bars on Harry's window," he said, watching her carefully. For her part, Hermione was surprised—neither Ron nor Harry had ever mentioned that.
"And there was a cat flap on his bedroom door," George continued darkly. "It was obvious to the three of us that the muggles had locked him in there—even during meals. That must've been what the cat flap was for."
Hermione could feel the rage boiling inside her—at the Dursleys, at Harry and Ron for not telling her, and at all the adults in Harry's life who had let him return to that house again and again.
How dare they never tell her? Of course Harry wouldn't, she thought bitterly. He never wanted to give anyone any reason to pity him. But Ron? She had thought they were a team: Team Harry, helping him through the worst of his troubles. But this? She knew the Dursleys were bad, but had she known this… had anyone known this, there's no way they would've sent Harry back to that awful place summer after summer. She felt her rage give way to sadness and tried to hold back tears thinking of how lonely Harry must feel over the summers. Oh, he'd hate her thinking like this, she thought anxiously.
"Did you tell anyone?" Hermione asked.
"Dad," Fred answered her quietly. "He talked to Dumbledore, but I don't think much happened after that."
Hermione tried to calm herself. She glanced at Neville, and was startled when she saw him glaring at Ron.
"Neville?" she asked, and he turned to her, his face cold but his eyes a storm of anger and compassion.
"I don't know how anyone can see something like that," he spat, his voice starting out timid, growing stronger as he spoke, "knowing that the only reason your friend is living there is because his parents were murdered, and still act like a jealous prat over some stupid tournament."
He turned to glare at Ron again, and while he didn't say it, Hermione could sense what he was thinking: Harry deserved better. Neville Longbottom might be timid and scared, and he might be clumsy and a bit inept at all magic except herbology, but as she watched him in the common room that night, Hermione couldn't help but think that Harry had just gained an unwavering ally. And she was glad.