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Chapter 6 : The Forest
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The next week passed in a blur for Hermione. Between her NEWT level classes and her extracurricular lessons with Professor Snape, she was rarely found in the common room. This however, was nothing for her to complain about, since her continuous absence meant that her friends wouldn’t pester her with inane questions. Not to say that she didn’t appreciate their concern, just that she was not fond of being interrogated at every turn. Therefore, she carefully avoided the boys and ended up only seeing them at dinner every evening. Harry was concerned by her behaviour. He understood her instinct to withdraw from those around her, heck he felt the same way, what with everything that happened at the department of mysteries, and with Sirius and all. But what concerned him more, was the frightening amount of anger, and determination for revenge she seemed to be constantly suppressing. He felt anger and a thirst for revenge too, but certainly not to that extent! Mostly what Harry hated the most was how distant she was. Usually she would turn to him or Ron for anything…everything! Now, she seemed to withdraw into herself, and that was a very un-Hermione-ish thing to do.
Hermione knew of Harry’s worries, for she had become even more observant in her solitude. She found that now that she was silent for much of the time, she picked up on more of the subtle interactions of her housemates. She seemed to have slowly developed a skill for observation, and this, Hermione knew could only be an asset in the times ahead.
The days were difficult for Hermione, as she was constantly balancing all of her responsibilities and tasks. In order to maintain her sanity, she had taken to having early morning jogs around the castle grounds. She found that the physical strain allowed her to think, sort out her thoughts, and mostly to try to cope with the myriad of emotions that were wreaking havoc in her system. What had started out as quick half-hour jogs every morning, had turned into an obsession for Hermione. She now tended to jog for one and a half hours in the morning, a half hour at lunch, and for 2 hours before bed. This new, exhaustive exercise regime also proved to help her sleep, for by the time her day was done, and nightly jog finished, she was completely sapped of all energy. All of this on top of only sleeping for a mere 4 to 5 hours a night.
Soon the days turned to weeks, and everyone quickly realized that Hermione was irrevocably changed. She was near silent in class, and generally only spoke when spoken to. Her professors found her continuously withdrawn behaviour troubling, and her friends and dorm mates were afraid to so much as question her about it, for fear of being subjected to her fearsome wrath. Yet Hermione continued seemingly oblivious to all their opinions. She soon began to relish her lessons with Professor Snape, for no matter what turmoil she was faced with, he treated her the same as always. He was fair in a twisted way. He didn’t make exceptions for her, if anything, he pushed her harder now that she had seen the reality of the war. This was a welcome relief to the continuous coddling she received from the rest of the staff and the careful caution from the students.
Before she knew it, it was December, and the first hints of winter were emerging. The weather turned cold, matching her mood perfectly. She was feeling particularly bitter one Sunday morning, and decided to go on a jog to calm herself down before her Occlumency lesson at 1:00. It was 11:00 so she decided to skip lunch as she wasn’t very hungry anyways, and go for a nice 2 hour jog.
She changed into jogging pants and a long sleeve shirt and made her way outside. As she stepped out of the front hall, the cold instantly hit her with a biting chill. Ignoring this, she went down the front steps and took off at a slow jog towards the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Running the perimeter of the forest always gave her a strange sense of peace. Perhaps it was because she knew she was on the edge of the dark unknown both figuratively and literally. Whatever the reason, the forest always comforted her in some way, not to mention it was a nice long stretch, and served as the outermost boundary of Hogwarts’ grounds. This meant that it was not only secluded, but had that slight hint of danger that was irresistibly enticing.
Hermione jogged steadily for an hour before she stopped for a short break. She continued to walk along the forest when a sound from the trees caught her attention, disturbing the eerie peace of the morning. She stopped short, in order to peer into the depths of the forest, not knowing what creature was approaching. When the noise faded, she assumed it was nothing, and was about to start jogging again when all of a sudden a large, distinctly male hand enclosed around her upper arm in a vice-like grip. Startled, she lashed out, turning quickly thrusting the heel of her hand out towards her attacker’s jaw, and simultaneously bringing her knee up to hit him in the stomach as she wrenched her arm free. All of this happened with such speed and accuracy, that her attacker must not have expected as he immediately stepped back a pace. He had not meant to startle her so much, and hence was not expecting such a brutal defence.
Hermione, looked up hastily, wand in hand and several hexes on the tip of her tongue. It was only then that she got a good look at her attacker.
“Impressive response Miss Granger” Professor Snape drawled
Hermione’s eyes widened, almost imperceptibly. He was the last person she expected to be facing.
“Professor Snape! My apologies, I didn’t know it was you” Hermione replied cautiously
“indeed. Well…you of all people should know better than to wander so close to the forest. Besides, I believe your lesson will begin in 20 minutes or so?” he sneered, giving her a rather pointed look
“I am well aware of the time Professor, I was just about to finish my jog before I came to my lesson” Hermione replied coolly
“I see. In future do not jog so close to the forest” he said, “and Miss Granger, that is not a suggestion, but a direct order”
“yes Sir” She ground out, starting to get annoyed. “I’ll see you in a half hour Sir”
With that, she took off at a run, intent of finishing her loop before her lesson. That was just what she needed, she had finally reached a relatively peaceful state of mind, when he had to show up and put her back to square one.
‘more like square negative one’ she thought bitterly, as the memory of his hand closing around her arm led to more painful memories of her time as prisoner to the Death Eaters.
‘no…I will not dwell on those thoughts…they can do me no harm now…they will not break me’ she chanted mentally as she jogged. It was the same mantra she had chanted relentlessly during her time captive, and had served her well so far.
She finished her loop and ran up to the castle, slowing only when she reached the doors to the front hall. She quickly made her way to the Room of Requirement pausing as she flicked her wand over herself to clean off any remnants of her jog, and a quick spell to remove any lingering sweat. With that, she entered the room to find Professor Snape already waiting for her.
“finish your jog alright Miss Granger?” he asked politely
“yes Sir” she replied cautiously, wondering at this newfound civility
“good, let us begin”
Their lesson progressed normally, though she lacked focus today. She was only able to stop half his attempts rather than her usual 80% success rate.
“focus dammit!” Snape yelled frustrated at her lack of success
“I am” She replied equally annoyed with her own deficiency
“stop. Enough. Your attempts have not been this poor since early October at latest. What in merlin’s name has gotten into you girl?!” He sneered
“I don’t know, I’m just having a bad day. I’m sorry, I’m trying!” she replied more angry with herself than with him.
“if you aren’t up to the task then don’t waste my time” he growled “I warned you when this started, I don’t care for any of your pathetic excuses, I will stand for nothing more than complete focus and determination. Whatever petty problems you have, leave them at the door. Do. I. Make. Myself. Clear?” he bit out.
“Petty PROBLEMS?” She shouted in outrage “My problems are far from petty, how dare you say such a thing you insensitive bastard! I’m sorry if I’m having a bad day, and I am soo sorry my pain, anguish and loss is such an inconvenience to you. I am so VERY sorry I did not DIE in that miserable torture chamber they held me in. I’m so terribly sorry for being such a goddamn burden, so fine, leave me the hell alone because I honestly don’t care, it’s not like there is anything that can be done to cause me more pain anyways” She ranted angrily, tears streaming down her face, defeat and anguish written clearly in the dead brown of her eyes.
“you are not an inconvenience, if I thought that, I would not sacrifice so much of my time in training you. Nor are you a burden, and if you had died in that cell, no doubt we would have lost the war, because your precious Potter would not have been able to take that loss” He replied in an oddly calm voice. “I am not admonishing you for having a bad day, nor for submitting to memories of the horrors you’ve lived through. I may be cold and cruel, but I am not blind to true pain. I only impress upon you that you must overcome the urge to submit to those thoughts and memories regardless of how you are feeling in order to master Occlumency.”
Hermione had calmed by the end of his speech, feeling oddly relieved after her emotional outburst.
“fine. I’m sorry, I’ll try harder…shall we try again?” She asked timidly.
“very well” He replied as he suddenly plunged into her mind unexpectedly. He sifted through her thoughts for a few minutes before she was finally able to push him out again.
They continued in this manner for two hours, until she had tired too much to continue. They parted ways and she returned to her dormitory to shower. The rest of her day passed dully, and by 10:00pm she was thoroughly exhausted, too much even to do her customary before-bed jog. She collapsed into bed, intent on getting a good nights’ rest, especially after her hectic day. Apparently luck was not with her, as she fell into a fitful sleep riddled with nightmares of the horrors of the summer
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