“I am no one special. Just a common man with common thoughts. I've led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but in one respect I've succeeded as gloriously as anyone who ever lived. I've loved another with all my heart and soul and for me that has always been enough.”
-Nicolas Sparks, The Notebook
It seemed so surreal to be going back to school after the year that had just passed. Everything felt different. Strange. One moment the castle had felt secure, like a safe haven, and the next its walls had crumpled to an onslaught of madmen. There had been a reason that Albus Dumbledore had thought Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry impenetrable enough to host the Sorcerer’s Stone seven years ago. Now, the reason seemed lost in a dizzying array of thoughts and emotions which were too meshed together to really tell apart from each other. Just because the darkest wizard ever known had been silenced forever, didn’t mean that his legacy wouldn’t continue on with every tear that fell for those who had lost their lives and each doubt or insecurity someone felt late at night when images of masked figures tearing into their houses jarred them from their sleep. You may be able to rebuild a castle or cottage, but that doesn’t mean that you can rebuild someone’s trust in it.
“You’re going to catch your death if you stay out here any longer, Hermione,” Ginny Weasley scolded as she hurried up behind her long-time friend as the curly haired brunette simply stood there in the rain, staring thoughtfully up at what used to be considered her home away from home. “You’re already soaked to the bone.”
“What?” Hermione asked absentmindedly, blinking once before turning her dark brown eyes toward the redhead. She reached a hand up to touch one of her wet curls while wearily taking in the impatience cascading off of her friend. At least Ginny had the hood of her robes drawn up and over her head.
“Come on,” Ginny huffed, tugging her hood up higher before grabbing Hermione‘s arm and pulling her toward the large oak front door which led to the Entrance Hall. It wasn’t very unusual lately for Hermione Granger to lose herself in her thoughts. Actually, it had never really been all that strange for her to stare off into the distance for long periods of time simply thinking. It had only gotten worse following the war.
After entering the castle one would have been amazed to think back on how only a few short months ago the entire hall had been smashed to pieces and covered with bodies, bits of stone and countless shredded paintings. The fact that it appeared exactly as Hermione had remembered it from the end of her sixth year said a lot about the professors’ abilities when it came to magic. The memory of the Battle of Hogwarts was the only thing keeping Hermione from falling for the illusion of security and peace that was portrayed throughout the room. Certain bits of the pass weren’t very easy to rid yourself of.
“What are you both waiting for?” Ginny’s brother, Ron, bellowed, waving dramatically from the doorway to the Great Hall where he stood directly to the right of his best mate, Harry Potter. Harry had his arms crossed over his chest, looking every bit relaxed while Ron fidgeted from foot to foot as if he was just itching to run off into the Hall and the very effort it was taking to keep him rooted to that spot was painful. “Professor Sprout is just about to bring in the First Years for sorting.”
“As if he really cares about anything but the feast that follows the ceremony,” Ginny muttered quietly to Hermione, causing the girl to grin wistfully. The tilt of her lips was only a tiny reminder of what was once a rather brilliant smile that could make any one of her friends flush with pride at being the person to put it there. Times had changed.
“I’m surprised he hasn’t already ran off for a peek into the kitchen to see if he could convince one of the House Elves to let him have a bite ahead of time,” Hermione whispered back, shaking her head to herself as she tugged her book bag higher up on her shoulder.
“Oh, he already has, actually,” Ginny whispered with a smirk, “Kreacher wouldn’t have any of it. Said that his ‘master’ would have waited respectively for his turn, and so could Ron.”
“Poor Kreacher. He really misses Regulus,” Hermione said, frowning sadly. Just because she now understood that the House Elves actually liked to work didn't mean that she didn't still have a soft spot for them. Kreacher's devotion to a boy whom had been deceased for decades, tugged at her heart.
“Could you two take any longer?” Ron asked when they reached him. “The food will get cold.”
“Honestly, Ron, the food won’t even be on the tables until after the sorting. Where have you been for the last seven years?” Ginny bit out while scowling at him as Harry and Hermione shared a knowing look between them. Ron's appetite had gotten on all of their bad sides at one point or another. “Thank goodness McGonagall isn’t naive enough to actually think you’d be fit for Head Boy duties.”
“Hey! I resent that,” Ron exclaimed, looking to his two best friends for support. “I’d make a great Head Boy.”
“Sure thing, mate,” Harry nodded, his smirk giving away his amusement. “You’re well-known for being organized, patient, and just. Not at all hot-headed.”
Ginny burst out laughing at the very idea before grabbing Harry’s hand and walking into the Great Hall in the direction of the Gryffindor table. Ron turned to Hermione when they were gone, raising his eyebrows as a slight frown pulled at his lips. “I don’t think he was being serious. Do you?”
Hermione could barely resist the temptation to roll her eyes at him before she followed the others’ example and just walked away. The moment she entered the Great Hall she tilted her head upwards. Like all of her other years at Hogwarts, the ceiling of the large room was enchanted to look like the sky. However, unlike previous years, it looked like a realistic adaptation of a sky, just not the current night’s sky. It had been raining and cloudy and not at all pleasant outside minutes ago. The ceiling, though, showed a beautiful starry night; not a cloud in the image. Perhaps McGonagall had thought it best to make the evening as lovely as possible in an attempt to ease the students’ minds about returning following the war.
“That’s new,” she said, taking a seat beside Harry at the Gryffindor table and pointing upwards when he looked at her questioningly.
“Much nicer to look at than in reality,” Ginny said from Harry’s other side, narrowing her eyes at Ron as he took a seat across from them all.
Everyone was seated, chatter bouncing off of the walls as each student greeted their fellow housemates and shared one animated story or another. It was funny just how normal the scene looked to Hermione. She was sitting there trying hard to remain calm and assure herself that things were different -safer- than they were not too long ago, and everyone else was carrying on as if the school wasn’t one massive burial ground. Ignorance was something that constantly grated on her nerves when thinking of those around her.
Just then, Professor Sprout rounded the corner and made her way into the Great Hall through the double doors in the back, followed by dozens of young First Years. Ron smiled brightly at Hermione from his seat, no doubt thinking about the upcoming feast which was drawing closer and closer with every step the new students took toward the front of the room and the Sorting Hat. Her lips turned up the slightest of bits in response -unable to not find his innocent joy for food endearing- while looking away from Ron and back at the ceremony at hand. She was just skimming over the other Houses’ tables as she brought her focus to the hat that sat on a plain old stool in front of the High Table, when she froze at an odd sight.
Hermione, as a Prefect for the current year, prided herself on knowing most everyone, even younger students than herself. If she didn’t know their names, then she at least had a pretty solid mental image of them in her mind which she could recognize them with if she needed to for any particular reason. She most definitely knew every single student from her year, which the boy who drew her gaze had to be in judging by his age. Strangely, however, she had never seen him before in her life and she was sure of it. She would have remembered him without a doubt if she had seen him prior to that moment.
“Harry,” she found herself whispering, forgetting about the ceremony in light of her stubborn curiosity. “Who is that boy sitting all the way in the back of the room at the Slytherin table? I’ve never seen him before.”
Harry turned himself in his seat to look in the direction she was covertly pointing. “Theodore Nott?”
“No, the other one,” she whispered impatiently.
“No, the boy with the dirty-blond hair who is sitting two people to the right of Zabini. He’s the last one in the row,” she tried to explain beneath her breath, glancing at McGonagall out of the corner of her eyes and then back to Harry.
Harry sighed. “There’s only one person sitting to the right of Zabini, Hermione. And we’ve known her since she first started throwing herself at Malfoy.”
“What?” Hermione asked, looking at him like he was off his rocker. “There’s clearly a boy there right next to Pansy.”
“Are you feeling well, ‘Mione?” Harry countered, narrowing his eyes at her as he slowly shook his head. “There’s no one there.”
“I’m fine,” she whispered in confusion, her eyebrows furrowed as Harry shrugged and looked away from her after one final frown. Hermione had been acting so off since the end of the war that he'd come to brush aside some of her antics as nothing.
Unable to force her attention back to the First Years now, Hermione simply spent the remaining part of the ceremony staring intently at the boy who she knew was there but that Harry now thought she was crazy for seeing. Maybe he had lost it. It would be very understandable after everything he had been through, after all. Plus, Hermione didn’t know what being crazy felt like, yet she felt as normal as she did when she looked at Ron when she looked at this new Slytherin. He was there, so was Harry just trying to pull her leg? To give her a good little scare?
It was just when the final student, a “Zucker, Mitchell,” had been sorted into Hufflepuff that Hermione’s heart jumped to her throat after the boy who she had blatantly been observing looked up at her all of a sudden. He seemed surprised, because his eyes went wide and he turned his head from side to side as if wondering if it was truly him that had her so intensely staring. Her cheeks grew hot as she flushed scarlet at having been caught, immediately looking away. In the back of her mind, though, she mentally listed the reaction on his part as a sign that he was real and Harry was being a complete dunderhead. She wasn't even going to give him the pleasure of getting a rise out of her over it, either. She was going to shrug it off and forget all about it. Indifference was better than any rant.
The feast seemed to pass by quite fast what with every minute being occupied by stories and jokes all around the group of Seventh Years that had made it through the war to return and try again. The group had grown in size considerably due to the doubling of the number of students in their final year. It was now made up of Hermione’s year and then those a year below them who had actually been meant to be Seventh Years instead of out of school all together by this time. Therefore, technically Ginny was in the same year as Harry, Ron and Hermione now. And it certainly made for an energetic conversation.
“I can’t believe we’re going to actually finish,” Harry leaned over to whisper, looking from her to Ron and back with a small smile as Seamus and Dean burst out laughing at some joke that Neville was telling them that involved a candlestick and Sugar Quills. “I really thought we were going to be done with Hogwarts after leaving for the Horcrux hunt.”
“Yeah, I’m so excited that we’ll have to spend yet another year working our arses into the ground in a classroom,” Ron said sarcastically, causing Harry to chuckle and Hermione to scoff.
“We should feel blessed to have the opportunity,” she said, her nose up in the air and her lips pursed. “Be grateful. No one will hire someone who didn’t finish their education. Especially not as an Auror.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ron said. “I know.”
Harry raised a glass of Pumpkin Juice to his lips, smiling behind the rim at his friend’s antics. Ron would rather sit at home with his mother’s cooking, not working at all, and never having to think about the future. Period. He definitely didn’t understand the need for their educations and probably wouldn’t have even joined them in their last year if Hermione hadn’t given him the reprimanding of his life when he had expressed his doubts.
“I think I’m going to go check the library,” Hermione said a few moments later, pushing back from the meal and reaching down to pick up her bag from the floor. She hated the thought of sitting around to wait for the normal announcements to be made. Surely McGonagall would want to tell all the students who the Head Girl and Boy would be for the year, and Hermione was still bitter that after all she had done during her years in the school, the duty hadn’t been handed to her. She had wanted to be Head Girl since she was a First Year and she couldn’t now because the opportunity had passed when she had dropped out of school a year ago.
“Already?” Ron asked, smiling knowingly. “What about Prefect duties?”
“We don’t need two people to do the job. I think you’re more than capable of doing it without me,” Hermione said, standing up from the table.
“Yes. Now, if you’d excuse me . . .” she muttered, waving distractedly before spinning around and heading toward the exit of the Great Hall. She couldn’t help but bite her lip in annoyance when her eyes immediately went straight for the end of the Slytherin table where the boy had sat before. She wanted to slap herself on the forehead when he wasn’t even there anymore. The space he had occupied was free and she seemed to catch Blaise Zabini’s attention with her staring, causing him to raise his eyebrows and smirk in that infuriating way that all Slytherins had about them. Wonderful.
Hermione looked down, glaring at the floor as if it were the cause to all of her problems. It was bad enough that she had been unable to stop herself from staring at some boy that she didn’t even know for all of supper, but it was probably worse to have a Slytherin think you were looking his way when you actually weren’t. Especially when the Slytherin happened to be Zabini.
The walk to the fourth floor of the castle where the library was took forever. Hermione’s mind kept on wandering back to the new student. Shouldn’t she have noticed his departure since she was constantly glancing his way? There was something weird about the whole situation.
Suddenly, Hermione seemed to hit into something, throwing her off balance and causing her bag to drop to the floor off of her shoulder. “I’m so sorry,” she said immediately, blushing as she bent down quickly to grab the bag.
The person that she had slammed into didn’t say a word, causing her to look up in confusion. Her mouth dropped open attractively when she found herself face to face with the boy who had her so curious. He had dirty-blond hair, blue eyes that shown like sapphires, and a strong jaw. He seemed almost aristocratic. Kind of regal like how Sirius had always carried himself. You could somehow sense a strong family line by just looking at him, as well as money. His face in general was what really caught her eyes, however, for he was incredibly good looking.
“Are you alright?” she asked, tilting her head to the side as she observed him. His gaze was enrapturing in its intensity as he simply stared, as if in awe. His lips were parted just slightly, allowing her to note their perfect shape. The only flaw on him appeared to be a scar that ran from the end of his right eyebrow to just above his well chiseled cheek bone on that side of his face.
"I asked if you were alright," she said again, quirking a brow.
“You are able to see me?” he asked out of the blue, his voice deep and laced with bewilderment. The tone of it had Hermione losing focus for a second before realizing how asinine she was acting.
“Well, you’re not exactly transparent,” Hermione joked, tucking a curl behind her ear as she fidgeted with the strap of her bag.
“You do not understand, you are the first person to say anything to me in what has felt like a catastrophic amount of time,” he began before pausing for a second. “We should continue this elsewhere. Follow me; I wouldn’t want you to look mad while talking to yourself.”
Before she could even sputter a reply he had grabbed her by her upper arm and had gently tugged her in the direction of a dark alcove. Even through the material of her robes she could feel the coldness of his skin. And when he talked . . . it was like he was from another time or something. His words at certain moments were reminiscent of another decade. Who was he?
“I don’t understand,” she murmured, looking up at him with wide eyes.
“No one can see me,” he explained, his voice desperate for some reason that escaped her knowledge. “I saw you looking at me during your evening meal and I knew we needed to speak privately. You are the only one who has acknowledged my presence, let alone been able to feel me.”
“You don’t look like a ghost,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest and taking the opportunity to give him a once over. His robes were undoubtedly Slytherin and they were as clean and prim as any of the other snakes'.
“I am not a ghost,” he said, looking down at himself as if to make sure. “I am not certain what exactly I am, to be frank.”
“Did Harry put you up to this?”
“Harry? I’ve never quite heard a name such as that before,” he said, frowning. “I once knew of a Herald. He wasn’t a very pleasurable man to be around.”
“That’s nice,” Hermione nodded, not really knowing what to make of him. “I’m just going to leave now. I really want to get to the library before everyone is done eating. Fun talk, though.”
She turned to go, an astonished expression on her face as she started walking away from him. He most definitely needed help. Maybe she shouldn’t just leave. Maybe she should get him to the Hospital Wing straight away.
“You must believe me!” he shouted after her. “It has been ages since I first arrived here. Neither the ghosts nor the staff can see me. I do not understand it, but right now you are my only option. You are my first sign of hope.”
“Tell Harry that I said that he should leave the jokes to George.”
“George? I have a cousin-”
“What is your name, miss?” the boy called, striding quickly to catch up with her.
She sighed. “Hermione.”
“That is beautiful.”
“Flattery isn’t about to get you anywhere. I’m not really into fraternizing with those who are mentally unstable,” she replied, looking back over her shoulder at him with a scowl.
“You will come around, Hermione,” he said, smiling confidently at her despite her expression.
“Believe what you want!” she called, picking up her pace and running up the last flight of stairs until the library.
“I’ve got all of the time in the world!” she heard him yell in return.
When she looked back one last time, though, he was gone.
AN: This is just one of a few stories that I'm going to have going as a side project until I'm finished with Behind Your Smile. Sometimes you just need something to keep your imagination running while you think up the next chapter of a story, you know? Anyway, I won't tell you what the pairing will be in this story yet. I'm just marking it down as Hermione/OC. We'll just have to wait and see ;) By the way, the quote at the beginning of the chapter is meant for the entire story. Be sure to review!