Chapter 11:

Memories From A Not So Distant Past

"This way . . . easy now . . . watch your head . . . ."

With an arm wrapped tightly around Hermione's waist, Harry gripped her forearm gently as he helped her through the Fat Lady's portrait and into the Gryffindor Common Room.

"Harry, I appreciate your concern, but really . . . I'm not an invalid." Hermione was laughing, but still allowed him to lead her, leaning heavily against his body.

She loved the way he felt against her—warm and familiar.

But more importantly, it was a tangible reminder that this was real—that he was real—and there was no more fear of waking up to find herself trapped in her nightmare.

For the last two weeks, Hermione had been confined to the hospital wing, recuperating from her endeavor in the Forbidden Forest. Every waking moment she spent dwelling on the past that she couldn't remember—trying to piece together the story, but never quite knowing if her memories were real or imaginary.

Her friends and Housemates had remained a constant staple by her bedside, doing their best to distract her with entertaining stories about their classes, the newest standings in Quidditch, and of all the newest rumors that were flying around Hogwarts—all except the one rumor that Hermione knew was on everyone's lips:

The rumor of what had happened to her and Draco.

She knew that rumors were flying around the student body . . . knew that everyone was talking about it, whispering their speculations . . . but her friends never brought it up.

She knew that they wanted to ask—she could see it their eyes—but something always stopped them, causing their conversations to die in uncomfortable silence until the subject was changed.

But even if someone confronted her on one of the many rumors, Hermione could neither confirm nor deny it.

She had spent days trying to piece together what had truly happened, but the memories were still locked deep within the recesses of her mind, and the only person that could provide the answers was the one person that that had only come to visit her once, so many night ago . . . and had left her wondering and more confused than before.

She wanted to ask her visitors about him—ask how he was doing . . . to see if he was alright . . . to see if he was planning on coming back—but she couldn't quite bring herself to say the words.

So instead, she listened politely, smiling and laughing until her guests left. And then, she was stuck with the demons that still lurked in her mind.

She lost sleep trying to force herself to remember, but the more she tried, to blurrier everything became.

So the days passed and she grew stronger—stronger physically as the cuts and bruises slowly began to heal . . . but not mentally or emotionally. She had so many questions, so many feelings running through her, but there was no one to confide in.

She was constantly surrounded by people, but they were people that hadn't experienced what she had experienced . . . hadn't felt what she had felt . . . people who just didn't understand.

She had looked death in the face and lived, although she still didn't know how.

But her friends had stuck by her, trying to understand as they constantly offered their support, until, at last, she was approved to leave the hospital wing.

And now, finally free, she was inwardly grateful for her friends' never-ending concern, although Harry and Ron seemed to take it to the extreme—both treating her as if she was so fragile she would shatter at any moment.

This afternoon, Harry had come and picked her up, insisting that he escort her back up to the dormitory.

She hadn't fought it—hadn't even questioned why Ron wasn't with him—but now, as she carefully stepped through the portal, she realized why.

Her Housemates were all waiting for her.

Streamers and balloons accentuated a large sign that draped across the back wall—Welcome Home, Hermione!

Home . . . .

Tears welled in Hermione's eyes as she slowly took in her surroundings.

She inhaled sharply and felt Harry's hand grip hers tightly—squeezing in gentle reassurance.

Ginny was the first one to meet her, engulfing her in a large hug.

"How are you feeling?" Pulling back, Ginny gently brushed the hair from Hermione's face.

"Fine . . . ." Hermione shrugged, floundering for words. "Ok . . . ." She bit her lip gently as the word finally came to her mind. "Better."

Ginny smiled and squeezed Hermione's biceps. "Well, you know where to come if you need anything."

"Okay . . . okay! Your time's up! Out of the way!"

A loud voice rose above the low murmur in the room, and suddenly, Ginny was being pulled out of her arms and replaced by the tall, lanky frame of Ron.

"Hey beautiful, how's it going?" His voice was low as he spoke directly in her ear.

Hermione pulled him tightly against her body. "This is amazing. Everything is perfect."

"I'm glad to hear that."

Bending, Ron kissed her cheek lightly before releasing her.

Hermione's world then became a whirlwind of movement as she was swept into hugs, kissed, and greeted by her friends.

Hermione tried to keep up, but quickly found that she couldn't. She could feel an unexplainable panic beginning to build in her chest as she was pulled tightly against the bodies of her housemates.

Yet, just as it was beginning to get overwhelming—when the faces were beginning to blur and she was no longer able to recognize who she was acknowledging—a hand gently grabbed her arm and pulled her from the horde.

"Hey, hey . . . enough with the mobbing. There's plenty of time to for everyone to say 'hi,' okay? Just let her settle in and relax for a minute."

Harry had strategically placed himself between her and the rest of the group, his hand still gripping her arm in a protective gesture.

"Yeah, you heard the man! Give her room!" Ron began pushing his way through the crowd, creating a path for Harry and Hermione to travel through.

"Thank you," Hermione said under her breath as they slowly made their way over to a couch.

Harry flashed his famous grin. "No problem. Are you thirsty?"

Hermione nodded.

"Okay, you just sit here with Ron, and I'll go get you something."

Sighing, Hermione sank down on the couch next to Ron and closed her eyes. She felt Ron drape his arm over her shoulders and she leaned into his body.

"You sure you okay?"

Hermione opened her eyes and looked at him using her peripheral vision. "Yeah. It's just a lot."

Ron shook his head, his eyebrows furrowing above his eyes. "I told them this was a bad idea—it's too soon."

Hermione shook her head. Sitting up, she faced him. "No, no it's not. This is a wonderful idea . . . just what I need. I just need a moment to sit, get something to drink, and then I'll be okay to mingle."

Ron opened his mouth to protest, but Hermione placed her finger gently over his lips, silencing him. When she spoke, her eyes were earnest. "I promise."

As if on cue, Harry returned, with three butterbeers balanced precariously in a triangle between his fingertips. Carefully, he passed them out before plopping down on the couch on the other side of Hermione.

Taking a sip, Harry tipped his head back and sighed.

They sat in silence momentarily, before Harry tipped his head toward Hermione. "So, you doing okay?"

Hermione swallowed her mouthful of butterbeer and suppressed a laugh. A small smile played on her lips as she rolled her eyes playfully. "Yes, boys . . . I'm fine, I swear."

Harry looked at her seriously, his eyes clouded in uncertainty.

Hermione felt the smile slip from her face as she tipped her head toward her dark-haired friend. "Seriously. I'm not going to break. I'll get through this because of wonderful friends"—she looked toward Ron and back to Harry—"like you both."

Harry took her hand in his. "I know that—we know that—Hermione, but we just don't want you to push yourself too hard."

"I know," Hermione squeezed his hand. "But hey . . . this is supposed to be a party, right? And I think that I have some guests to mingle with!"

Quickly changing the subject, Hermione finished her butterbeer in two large gulps, and placed the empty glass down on the table that was positioned in front of the couch.

Leaning, she quickly kissed Harry on the cheek and then Ron before standing and stretching lightly.

Ron furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. "What was that for?"

Hermione shrugged. "Just, thank you . . . both . . . ." She waved her hand in an empty gesture, "and not just for tonight, but for everything."

Harry shook his head. "You don't have to thank us."

Smiling, Hermione nodded. "I know."

Exhaling loudly, she looked briefly over her shoulder. "So, you guys coming, or what?"

"Nah . . . you go ahead. Enjoy your party. We'll catch up with you later, okay?"

With a final smile and a wiggle of her fingers, Hermione turned and was swallowed by the crowd.

The rest of the night flew by in a flash.

Talking and laughing, Hermione didn't notice as the hours quickly disappeared, bringing them deeper into the night.

She didn't even know what time it was. All she knew was that, surrounded by friends and love, she hadn't once thought about any of the events of the last few weeks. For a small moment in time, she was normal again . . . and not a broken shell of what she had once been.

Finally, though—like all good things—the night had to come to an end.

Speaking with Seamus, Hermione inadvertently yawned and Harry noticed.

Crossing the room, he gently touched her arm. When he spoke, his voice was low. "Hey, it's been a long day . . . what do you say we continue this tomorrow?"

Hermione looked up in surprise. "What time is it?"

"Late."

Looking around the room, it was the first time all night that Hermione noticed that the environment was significantly quieter. The crowd had dispersed for the most part, with only a select few older students remaining: Ginny was sitting on the couch, quietly talking with Dean, Neville was reading a Herbology article next to Luna, who was immersed in the newest edition of the Quibbler, and Ron was asleep on a chair in the corner, his head tipped back, mouth slightly agape.

And it was only then, that she realized how tired she was. Eyes burning, she rubbed them lightly with the back of her fingers.

Blinking, she nodded. "Yeah, I think it is about time to call it a night."

"Do you want me to walk you to your dorm?"

"No . . . I'll be fine."

Harry's eyes tightened in concern.

Hermione sighed in exasperation. "Ginny's still down here, okay? Besides, I think you've got your hands more full with that one over there." Smiling, she tipped her head toward Ron, who was now snoring lightly.

Harry exhaled loudly. "I'll trade you Weasleys."

Hermione snorted. "Not a chance."

"Thought you'd say that . . . ." Harry sighed dramatically, but his eyes crinkled in amusement. "Well, you know where to find us . . . you know, if you need anything."

Stepping forward, Hermione hugged him tightly. "Stop your worrying. Just go and tend to Ron."

Harry tightened his grip momentarily. "Sleep well."

Parting, Hermione quickly said goodnight to Seamus and crossed over to Ginny. Bending, she spoke quietly in her ear. "I think I'm going to head up to bed."

"I'll come with you."

Hermione shook her head. "No. Stay, please. Have some fun."

Ginny locked eyes with her. "I'll come with you."

Hermione folded. She was suddenly so tired, that she was now grateful that Ginny was going to walk up to her room with her.

With a few final goodbyes, Ginny and Hermione left Harry, who was trying—unsuccessfully—to wake Ron, and slowly began the ascent up to their room.

Hermione didn't even remember changing into her pajamas, but before she knew it, she had crawled into her plush, comfortable bed—a drastic opposite of the small, firm hospital bed she had spent the last two weeks in—and pulled the covers up to her chin.

Sighing contently, her mind was suddenly on her day tomorrow.

She was excited to begin classes again; excited to have something to take her mind off of her recent experiences; excited to get back to normal.

But most importantly, she was excited to see Draco again. She had so many questions and she hoped with her whole heart that he had the answ—

Without warning, her eyes rolled—her body relaxing—as sleep took her hostage.

Breathing evenly, it was the first night in a long time that her dreams were not plagued with nightmares.

Getting back into a "normal" schedule proved to be much more difficult than Hermione had originally anticipated.

The day started well enough.

Waking early, the sun was just barely showing above the horizon. She felt well rested and dressed quickly, being careful not to wake her sleeping roommates.

Descending the stairs, she took a moment to take in the empty common room.

Evidence of last night's party still remained, and Hermione felt a wave of reassurance lift her spirits.

Crossing the room, she sat gently in the chair by the window, tucking her leg underneath her. Taking deep, calming breaths, she watched as the sun slowly cam up—changing the sky from gray to pink, to orange, and finally a brilliant yellow.

Closing her eyes, she let the sun warm her through the glass.

She never tired of it—the way her skin felt under its powerful rays; the way she felt alive because of it; the way that, no matter what, it always came back.

Lost in her meditation, she didn't hear the footsteps that were heading down the stairs.

"You're up early."

Hermione jumped violently, her breath hitching in her throat. Pressing her hand against her chest, she laughed nervously. "Neville, you scared me."

Neville Longbottom sat down across from her. "Sorry."

Hermione smiled, dropping her hand into her lap. "It's okay."

"How'd you sleep?"

"Good . . . ." Hermione sighed lightly, a smile suddenly crossing her face. "Great, actually."

"That's good to hear."

Neville fell quiet, turning his attention to the world outside of the window. Hermione followed his gaze, her eyes trailing over the sparkling Lake, the green grass, the large trees that bordered the Forbidden Forest . . . .

Swallowing, her mouth suddenly dry, she adverted her eyes. She cleared her throat hastily. "So, um, were Harry and Ron up?"

Neville turned from the window, his eyes locking with hers momentarily, and nodded. "Yeah. They should be down in a bit."

As if on cue, there was a thunderous roar of footsteps on the stairs as a flood of students came running into the common room, laughing and joking.

Hermione looked up just in time to catch Ron's eye. He was walking down next Harry, Dean, and Seamus.

Smiling, he waved.

Hermione waved back.

Gesturing, Ron yelled across the room. "C'mon, Hermione. Let's go get some breakfast."

Standing, Hermione quickly joined her friends.

She felt good—strong and confident—and ready to face the day.

Little did she know the feeling wouldn't last.

The feeling lasted just until she walked through the doors of the Great Hall. That was when the whispering started.

She didn't know why it bothered her, but suddenly, seeing the heads bent low at the other Houses' tables . . . knowing that they were gossiping in whispers about her . . . she suddenly felt self conscious and exposed.

Sitting hurriedly, she dropped her eyes to the table, her shoulders slumping. Rubbing her temples lightly with her fingers, she stopped as she suddenly grazed the gash that was healing—hidden just past her hairline.

The room seemed to quiet around her.

Staring blankly, her eyes unfocused, she was suddenly in the Forbidden Forest, her feet crunching lightly over the fallen Fall leaves.

She looked around—her heart beating painfully in her ribs.

All alone, she could feel her anxiety building. The sun sank lower beneath the trees, spreading jagged shadows around her feet.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she forced herself to breathe. This isn't real. . . this isn't real . . . this isn't—

The ground abruptly broke beneath her feet, causing her to plummet into the earth.

Her stomach lifted, choking her screams. She could feel the wind racing past her, pulling at her hair and robes.

It felt like she fell forever, but suddenly her feet hit solid ground, propelling her forward. Somersaulting violently, her body contorted briefly before her temple slammed into the floor, and everything went black.

With a gasp, she blinked—snapping quickly out her trance.

Harry slid quickly onto the bench next to her. "Are you okay?"

Breathing hard, Hermione swallowed thickly. "I'm fine."

"Hermione . . . ."

Hermione forced a smile. "I'm fine . . . really . . . it's just a bit of a headache."

"Do you want to go lie down for a little bit?" Harry rubbed her arm affectionately. "I can walk you."

"No . . . no really, I'm fine. I think I'm just going to go and get some air."

Harry stood when she did, preparing to help her over the bench, but Hermione held her hand out, stopping him. "I'm fine, really. But thank you."

Without waiting for an answer, Hermione turned and quickly made her way toward the doors. She could feel the eyes of her schoolmates on her back and she hurried away, her eyes trained on the floor.

Her head suddenly was throbbing.

What the hell is happening to me?

Stepping through the door and lost in thought, Hermione wasn't even aware of the crowd squeezing past her to get into the Great Hall until she physically collided with someone.

Gasping, she jumped back.

Keeping her eyes glued to the floor, she mumbled a quick apology, her cheeks hot and tried to sidestep the person that was frozen in front of her.

"Wait."

The quiet drawl stopped her in her tracks.

Lifting her head, her breath caught in her throat as her eyes were met with by a sterling silver gaze.

Draco stood before her, surrounded by Crabbe, Goyle, and Pansy.

He studied Hermione's face momentarily before turning to Crabbe. "You can leave."

"But, Draco . . . ." Pansy's whiny voice elevated above all noise.

Draco's head snapped in her direction, his eyes narrowed. "Now."

Pouting, Pansy crossed her arms tightly over her chest. Glaring, she pushed past Hermione angrily and stomped into the Great Hall. Crabbe and Goyle followed suit, shooting Hermione dirty looks of their own.

Draco watched until the door closed behind them before turning his attention back to Hermione.

"Are you okay?"

Hermione nodded, at a loss for words.

"Are you sure? You look pale."

Hermione swallowed. "Just a headache."

Draco's eyes shifted from hers uncomfortably. "I didn't know you had been discharged."

"That's because you never came back."

Licking his lips, Draco kicked aimlessly at an invisible spot on the floor. "It wouldn't have been good for you."

Hermione crossed her arms over her chest and lifted her chin in defiance. "How do you know what's good for me?"

Draco frowned. "Just trust me. You shouldn't dwell on this."

"Dwell on this? How am I not supposed to dwell on this! It's the only thing that I can think about, and I don't even remember what happened!"

"It's better that way."

Hermione grabbed his arm. "Why do you keep saying that? Why won't you just talk to me?"

Draco remained silent, carefully adverting his eyes.

Hermione pressed the subject. "Why did you stop me just now?"

Draco shrugged. "I don't know . . . to see if you were okay, I guess. But it appears that you are, so . . . ." He trailed off, unable to finish his sentence.

Sighing, Draco pulled his arm from her and ran his hand through his hair. "Look, I know that you don't remember this, but there was a moment when we agreed that nothing was going to change…no matter what happened down there . . . and I think that's exactly what should happen. We need to move on. We didn't like each other before and there's no reason that we should start now. I'm not the support system that you need."

Hermione's mouth hung open as she processed his words. She wanted to argue—wanted to tell him that he was wrong . . . that he was the only one that could help her—but was suddenly to angry to speak.

If he wanted it that way, fine. She could easily play his game: He could just go his way and she would go hers. She had friends that were a million times better and more supportive that Draco fucking Malfoy.

Frowning deeply, Hermione narrowed her eyes at Draco. "Fine."

Not waiting for an answer, she turned abruptly and walked away hurriedly—surprised when she felt a solitary tear escape from the corner of her eye and fall down her cheek.