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Chapter 7 : Through a Glass, Darkly
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The night has fallen amongst the living and the dying,
And I'll try to hold it in, yeah I'll try to hold it in
-World on Fire, Sarah Mclachlan
Chapter Seven: Through a Glass, Darkly
The strangeness was setting in. Unsurprisingly, the Slytherin dormitories were quite different from Gryffindor’s; not only were there heavy curtains to enclose each bed, but the beds themselves were separated from each other by thick silver and green velvet hangings. The result was that each student (she had no reason to believe the boys had it any different) had their own private space. She was grateful for it, and it was familiar to her, being an only child—but that was at home. She was used to being around her friends at Hogwarts, and while she wasn’t all that close to, say Lavender and Parvati for example, she also missed the basic human interaction she’d grown accustomed to over the past six and a half years.
After she’d been shown to her bed and begun transferring her clothes from the trunk to the small wardrobe that had been provided for her, she couldn’t stop looking over her shoulder and feeling as though something was missing. It took Hermione a full half hour of this behavior before she realized she’d been waiting for Ginny to come up and say good night.
It was all wrong.
She wasn’t sure if she could sleep without her overlarge t-shirt that sported the admonition to brush one’s teeth before bed. The gold tassel from the tapestry that surrounded her four-poster in Gryffindor Tower wasn’t there as she settled down on the unfamiliar mattress, and its absence made her wonder what she’d focus on to get to sleep. The brush Dumbledore had thoughtfully provided with her new things wasn’t anywhere near strong enough to tame her hair—she’d have to go to Hogsmeade and pick up a sturdier one—and the wayward curls kept tickling her nose. The last straw was the oppressive silence of the room—no girlish giggles from Lavender and Parvati to lull her to sleep. The irony of that wasn’t missed by Hermione, who had lost count of the times she’d told those two to stop it so she could get some rest—only to find out that she couldn’t get any rest without them.
With nothing innocuous to distract her mind into slumber, she was stuck with her own thoughts, which were just as disturbing as the differences between this room and the one she was used to. She was so conflicted, and though her unexpected sorting should have been at the top of the list, what she was most anxious about was the fact that somewhere across the castle, five Gryffindors were also settling in to bed. One she considered a colleague—even though she wasn’t a member of the Order of the Phoenix (yet, she thought with grim resolve); two others she had never even expected to be able to meet; yet another, whose presence in this time period made her heart ache with the loss of him in hers; the last she knew to be the worst sort of traitor—and yet the other four trusted him implicitly. They were all so close, but with her having been sorted as a Slytherin, they were almost as distant as the twenty years that should be separating them.
Hermione saw herself as a woman of action and study, but not necessarily in that order. She’d done her studying of these human subjects over the course of her years at Hogwarts, starting in her third year there. What she really felt like doing now was sneaking into Harry’s room and filching his invisibility cloak, in order to…sneak into Gryffindor Tower and… Right, she thought wryly, that won’t work. Besides, acting like Harry and Ron is what got me here in the first place.
Hermione knew that ‘acting like Harry and Ron’ would have to stop, mainly because she knew what both of them would be doing right now if they were in her place—desperately trying to get into Gryffindor Tower, perhaps even succeeding. In one night they’d probably have the timeline in so many knots that a dozen time-turners would be required to fix it. Not that either of them were irresponsible (at least, not always, she thought fondly), but Hermione couldn’t imagine it would be easy to think clearly when faced with the chance to save your parents’ lives, and by doing so, change yours infinitely for the better. Ron wouldn’t turn his nose up at the opportunity to rid the world of a lying rat—and somehow she knew that it would be futile to explain to him that doing so before he did his betraying would mean he was killing an innocent man.
Hermione allowed herself for a brief moment to imagine what life would be like if so many of the horrible events she knew would happen to those precious people asleep in that faraway tower had not happened.
Harry…oh god…she was crying now, the breath catching in her throat unexpectedly, warmth trickling past her tightly shut lids across her cheeks and into her hair. She told herself it was a gift to herself, a luxury she didn’t intend on indulging in very often. As she often did when she cried—not that she allowed it to happen much—her mind raced, and she could almost see the alternate scenarios against the blackness of her eyelids.
Harry at three, sitting on Professor Lupin’s lap and tugging at his graying hair as his parents look on indulgently.
Harry at five, in a Muggle playground with James on the monkey bars, Lily’s red hair gleaming in the sun as she throws her head back and laughs.
Harry at eight, squealing in delight as Sirius chases him in dog form.
Harry at eleven, waving goodbye to his tearful yet proud parents as he searches for a seat on the train with Ron—the two boys having become best friends years beforehand.
Hermione was nearly sobbing now, but what put her over the edge was the child she thought of next—Neville Longbottom.
Would he have been more confident if he’d been the ‘chosen one?’ Or would the pressure of what would happen to him instead of Harry make him even more nervous? Neville’s parents had been tortured into insanity by Bellatrix Lestrange, so he wouldn’t have his mother’s dying sacrifice to protect him. Hermione thought of the shy young man he’d grown into, the way he’d come into his own during their DA meetings and in the greenhouse with his beloved plants. She compared his happiness with Harry’s—for her friend was happy, for all that he had the weight of the wizarding world on his shoulders—and asked herself if she could really be the judge of which future was best.
If a powerful man like Voldemort had so desperately wanted to hear the prophesy, and a valiant group like the Order of the Phoenix had been determined to prevent him, then no matter what she did in the past would change its underlying truth. Who was she to choose an uncertain future for Neville in order to attempt to save Harry from the life he’d known? How was she even to know that Voldemort wouldn’t simply attempt to kill the Potter family at a later date—and, she horrified herself with the thought—succeed, where in the past she knew, his power had been nullified by Lily Potter’s sacrifice.
She guessed that Professor Dumbledore was right, after all—she wasn’t going to try to change anything—because, awful as it all was, the unknown could be much, much worse.
Hours later and still Hermione could not sleep. Her brain was too full of questions and incomplete answers to allow herself to relax enough to drift off. She’d spent most of the time analyzing everything she could remember about the Sorting Hat, the criterion for acceptance to each house, the average time it took to sort each student, and now she was focused on the behavior of the others in the room, trying to find a clue. Not for the first time that night, she wondered just how sentient the Sorting Hat was. How much of their essence had each of the Founders poured into it? Was it intuitive enough to recognize her predicament—and more importantly, if it was, would it deliberately place her as far away from temptation as possible?
If it had, she really wished it would have asked her first—she would have infinitely preferred Ravenclaw.
It hadn’t even bothered to ask her, though, as it had done the first time. She’d been expecting Ravenclaw at the time, having read everything she could get her hands on about Hogwarts starting the day she got her letter—and the unanticipated suggestion that Gryffindor was where she truly belonged had excited her and surprised her so much that she’d readily accepted. Harry had confided in her that he’d been given a choice, as well—and that he was almost daily thankful of his choice, just as she was of hers. She would have enjoyed Ravenclaw more than he’d have liked Slytherin, but even then at thirteen (when they’d been talking about what a git Malfoy had been again), she had been able to see why they’d both been sorted to Gryffindor.
Which was what made her current situation so confusing.
She tried to approach the problem logically, offering suggestions to herself and then rejecting each as she proved them implausible. She had been the last to be sorted, but the time between her and the girl before hadn’t been long enough for the real Sorting Hat to be swapped out.
Hermione had just about convinced herself that she’d been placed in Slytherin on purpose, when she’d realized something significant.
She was Muggleborn.
Somehow she doubted that even the authority of Albus Dumbledore was enough to supercede the essence of Salazar Slytherin contained in the wrinkled old hat.
Somehow, even with that troubling thought as the last on her mind, Hermione forced herself to sleep, knowing she would have ample time to devote to this mystery during the time she had to spend trapped in the past.
It seemed as if she’d barely shut her eyes when the unmistakable sounds of movement woke her. The very rightness of this comforted Hermione—she’d had the habit of waking every morning to the same sounds for almost six years, having gotten used to sleeping in a dormitory since she was twelve. A realization struck her, and she got out of bed with a highly amused look on her face. The first few weeks of being Head Girl, she had almost always been late to breakfast—and only now did she realize why. As Head Girl, she had a room to herself, and not even Crookshanks could make enough noise to wake her.
Her smile faded slightly as she heard low whispers coming from the other side of the canopy that surrounded her bed. Dealing with Severus Snape had been unnerving, the thought of dealing with Lucius Malfoy was disturbing—but the prospect of dealing with her fellow Slytherin roommates was downright terrifying. Hermione had never been any good at interacting with other women.
Steeling herself against showing any weakness, Hermione wrapped herself in a robe that a kindly house elf had left hanging near her bed. She tried to distract herself from the familiar feelings of guilt she associated with house elves—she’d given up on her crusade to liberate them, but even happy pseudo-slaves made her feel guilty—and found that the colors of the robe itself served quite well in that regard.
Silver and green, ugh.
She composed her face into a polite smile and stepped past the heavy tapestry to meet her new classmates. As she suspected, the girls stopped whispering the moment she appeared, which undoubtedly meant they had been talking about her. At least even Slytherins know it’s impolite to talk about people behind their backs, she thought, immediately berating herself for thinking like a stereotypical Gryffindor. The three girls before her looked like normal teenaged witches, if a slight bit better dressed, even in their nightclothes.
The one in front was a striking black girl wearing silver silk pajamas with what looked like Tarot symbols scattered across it in Slytherin green. Her arms were crossed as if it were very important to her to appear unimpressed by the new girl. To her left was a plump, pale skinned girl wearing a robe identical to Hermione’s, and a similarly colored scarf around her head. She was looking back and forth to Hermione and the first girl, as if unsure what her opinion should be. The third girl studied Hermione with genuine interest in her clever dark eyes. She was already dressed, wearing bellbottom jeans and a purple peasant shirt—the sight of which made Hermione feel a bit better. The unrelenting display of Slytherin pride was starting to get a bit nauseating.
The four girls just stared at each other for a long minute.
“Good morning,” Hermione said cautiously, to cover the awkward silence.
“Good morning, Miss James,” said a cool voice from behind her. She had barely a moment to turn to face this newcomer—someone with a very good memory, she realized—before the speaker had swept past to stand with the other three girls in front of her. The effect would have hardly been more intimidating had it been performed by Minerva McGonagall. If Hermione had been in any doubt of her status in the pecking order, it was not a question now.
“I’m Cassia,” said the tall blonde woman—definitely not a girl, that one—imperiously. She gestured to the other girls. “This is Eunae,” an elegant hand was placed on the shoulder of the girl in front; Cassia had pronounced it like ‘Oo-nay,’ and Hermione was very curious to see how it was spelled. “Prynne” was next, as Cassia adjusted the collar of the purple shirt the black-haired witch was wearing, and “Olive” was last. The blonde had rested her hand on the top of the short girl’s head as if she were introducing a toddler. Olive tolerated this as if it were a common occurrence.
Hermione had nodded to each of the girls as she was introduced, and afterwards she looked to Cassia, who was clearly their leader. The look in her eyes was far from friendly, but not malicious. It could best be described as curious, and Hermione hoped that meant she wasn’t going to be treated like an outsider for the long months she would spend here.
Then she realized that if she thought she could keep up with true Slytherins at their own game, she was sorely mistaken: Cassia had addressed her with her last name, which could be construed as a sign of respect—though Hermione knew it was intended to show that she was an outsider. The problem was (and while it made her angry, she had to admit it was very slyly done), if she did not respond in kind, she would be insulting the people she’d be spending her exile with.
Except that during the introduction, Cassia had not included any last names.
Even knowing that some of her future classmates were undoubtedly the children of the girls in front of her, she couldn’t possibly hope to guess correctly. She stood silent for a long moment until Cassia raised an elegant eyebrow, waiting for her response.
“I’m pleased to meet you, ladies,” Hermione said, feeling an overwhelming urge to curtsey, and squashing it. It was impossible not to feel proud of herself for avoiding the nearly inevitable faux pas. She raised her eyes to Cassia’s, nodding to her in a gesture that she was sure the other girls would see as a sign of respect, but that the two of them knew was symbolic of ‘nice try.’ The taller girl’s face fell slightly, and as she had done during her conversation with Snape, Hermione reminded herself that they were all very young yet. She shuddered inwardly to think of what kind of a woman this imperious young lady would become.
“Well, this is all very enchanting, to be sure,” the dark-eyed girl in the purple shirt said firmly, “but I’m hungry.” She started for the door, with the girl whose name was Olive trailing behind her. “Coming, Cass?”
Hermione had to work very had not to laugh, as Cassia’s face took on a pained expression, and she shut her eyes briefly. Clearly she did not appreciate being referred to in such a way, especially not in front of ‘the new girl.’
“In a bit,” she said curtly. “Olive—surely you’re not going to breakfast like that.”
The short girl stopped dead in her tracks and looked down at her robe and nightclothes. A cry of dismay crossed her lips, and she rushed over to a nearby trunk, tugging off her scarf as she dressed hurriedly. Hermione turned away, not wishing to cause more stress by staring. She began to dress as well, trying not to grimace at the collection of silver and green outfits and finally choosing a combination that had a majority of silver and not much green.
“I’m surprised they let you stay in the Seventh Year dormitory,” a voice behind her said, loudly. Hermione turned as she buttoned her skirt, to see the dark-skinned girl named Eunae leaning against her bedpost, her arms again crossed. The question was puzzling—why wouldn’t they allow her to sleep with her classmates?
“I don’t know what you mean,” she said, swiftly making her bed and wishing the coverlet was crimson, instead of green.
“You didn’t earn it,” was the surprising reply.
“There’s a hierarchy,” explained Cassia from across the room. “Each dormitory is for a specific class. This is the best one.” Hermione wondered how this girl had allowed herself to sleep in anything less than the best in the previous six years. She was still confused, though. A Seventh Year was a Seventh Year, weren’t they?
“I fail to see—”
Eunae cut her off tersely. “As far as I’m concerned, this is your first year here, not your seventh.” She stood up and looked Hermione up and down with a sour look on her face, making her feel almost like a piece of meat. “But I’m not in charge.” With that, Eunae stalked out of the room and out of sight.
“At least I’m making a good impression,” Hermione said to herself, ruefully.
“If you say so,” a cool voice said behind her.
She turned quickly, having thought herself alone in the room, but all Hermione saw was the back of some expensive silk robes and a smooth chignon as Cassia left the room without another word.
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