Fred sat alone in the Gryffindor common room, trying spell after spell to heal his hand. His face screwed up in agony, he finally gave up, and buried his face in his unharmed arm, finally allowing himself to spill the tears he had been holding in the past four nights. He had no idea how late it was anymore. Umbridge kept him later every night, and by now the scars had gone so deep that the white of bone could be seen. The words "Education is everything," were etched into the skin on his hand, and he still had six more days of the pain of tearing open the same scars. He swallowed, trying to stop the tears from coming. It wasn't just the unbearable pain of his hand, it was the words that were cut there, the words that not only Umbridge had forced upon him, but words he had been hearing constantly for the past year. The day he had been given the detention, he had finally lashed out at the same concept everyone had been forcing on him for so long.
"In order to be successful in any way, a complete education is key." Blah blah blah. The toad went on and on about how important it was to pass their N.E.W.Ts, and Fred stared at the ceiling in frustration. Didn't people realize that there were more futures out there other than wearing a suit and carrying a brief case everyday? His gaze flickered to George, who obviously wasn't paying attention to a word Umbridge said, absentmindedly doodling logos for different products. "You will go nowhere in life without flourishing in school." she finished with a sickly sweet smile, and her eyes scanned slowly over he and George.
"That's not true," Fred protested loudly, and the rest of his classmates turned their heads to stare at him in mild surprise and anticipation. George seemed to wake from his trance, turning to look at Fred with raised eyebrows.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Weasley?" she squeaked, a look of content on her face.
"You can go somewhere in life without 'flourishing' in school," he retorted, imitating her voice in the word flourishing. A few quiet giggles could be heard throughout the classroom. Umbridge's eyes flashed.
"15 points will be taken from Gryffindor, Mr. Weasley, for your inappropriate lack of respect. And as for your argument, I am quite sure that you, of all people, being a Weasley, would understand what I mean when I say that a person's fortunes rely solely on their education. A witch or wizard with a low-scale occupation will undoubtedly be less..." she paused, as if searching for the right word, then continued with a twisted smile. " Prosperous." Anger flared within Fred, and George sat up straighter in affronted defiance.
"You think just because our family isn't exactly rich-"
"'Isn't exactly rich' is quite an overstatement as I've heard it Mr. Weasley. And it all proves that the success of-"
"So what you're saying my father's stupid then?" Fred argued, his voice raised and his fists clenched on his desk.
"Well, to believe all that Mr. Potter's been coming out with about-"
"Harry is right! You-know-who is back and anyone who doesn't believe him is a-"
"ENOUGH Mr. Weasley!"
"Delirious old codger like you!" He finished, and felt an encouraging, somewhat proud nudge from George.
The room was completely silent, and Fred met Umbridge's gaze without wavering. It was a few moments before she finally spoke.
"I think detention will do you good, Mr. Weasley. Ten days, beginning tonight. I'll see you in my office at 7:00.
So what if he and George were following a different path than most? Harry had thought it was a good idea. He had been the one who had given them the money for it. But everyone else... Even his own mother! Disappointed in their choices. He still remembered that summer, when Ron had found out he was a prefect. Mum had said, "Oh that's everyone in the family!" George had laughed it off, saying some joke about next-door neighbors. But when she said that, something jolted within him. Had his parents actually given up on their success? Had they honestly thought, hey, they won't go anywhere, they don't count? Fred angrily wiped at his tears. It was the first time he had cried in a long time. He quickly felt like a wimp and continued to try spells to heal the wounds. Nothing was working, like the cuts had some enchantment to not be healed. Most of the spells, in fact, made the pain worse.
Suddenly, he heard the creak of the portrait door open. He sat up straighter, putting his wounded hand in his pocket with a wince and carefully wiping his eyes once more. Who could possibly be returning to the common room this late?
"Fred?" a voice asked from behind him, and he turned around to see Hermione Granger, and he felt a little bit better. Hermione could be a stick in the mud sometimes, but overall she was pretty cool. "What are you doing up?" She asked curiously, walking closer and sitting down in the chair opposite him. She looked exhausted, and she dropped what looked like 50 books onto the table.
"Oh, I was just um... What are you doing up?" He asked nonchalantly, and she eyed him suspiciously, but answered nevertheless. "I was in the library. O.W.L.s you know... a lot of studying to do." He looked down at her pile of books with the best smirk he could pull together. "I can see that." He hoped to death his eyes weren't red or puffy, because he still felt on the brink of tears. She stared at him for a moment, scanning his face, and he looked down at his feet, trying to make it seem casual.
"Are you all right, Fred?" she asked with a bit of curiosity and also concern.
"Me? I'm fine. Just a little tired." He responded quickly, but her stern gaze didn't leave his.
"Then why are you still up?" She challenged, and he cussed at himself in his head for his mistake.
"Erm..." He began, but before he could even come up with anything, Hermione interrupted him.
"Show me your hand." She demanded, and Fred was reminded quite a bit of Professor McGonagall.
"What?" He tried to sound confused, but he could tell by the throatiness of his voice that he didn't.
"Put your hand on the bloody table," He quickly put his right hand face down on the smooth surface.
"Other hand," she said with narrowed eyes, and he pressed his lips together, meeting her glare and not moving. Finally, he gave up. She somehow knew already, and he wasn't going to get away with this one. He slowly pulled his left hand out of his pocket and laid it gingerly on the table, staring at the scars in disgust. Her eyes widened and she stood up quickly, pushing her books off the table. "You haven't tried any spells on it have you?" She asked hurriedly, and when he didn't answer she strode to the stairway to the girls' dormitories. "You stay right there," she warned asa she made up the steps, and Fred was to afraid to find out what would happen to him if he disobeyed her to move. Only a few seconds passed before she came back down the stairs, holding a potion bottle and a small bowl and placing them on the table. "Essence of Murtlap," she said distractedly as she sat back down, pulling her chair closer to the table. She poured the Murtlap into the bowl until it was almost full, a look of fierce determination on her face that he saw often while she was doing her homework or practicing spells. She pulled her chair in closer again, so she was hugged up against the table, and reached across it to daintily take his hand in hers, holding it gently while she examined the cuts in disbelief and sympathy. "These are the deepest I've seen..." she murmured to herself quietly. Fred liked the way her hands felt on his- soft and warm and small. He felt a slight raise in his spirits as she carefully rested his hand in the bowl of Murtlap. Although the sweet softness of her hands were gone, the Murtlap felt instantly soothing. He closed his eyes, relieved to be rid of the pain that had been with him constantly the path few days. "Better?" Hermione asked quietly, and he nodded graciously.
"Yeah, loads." He answered with a deep breath, opening his eyes and looking back up at her. "Thanks," he said awkwardly, and she smiled slightly. A few moments passed in silence, before Fred spoke again.
"How did you know?" he asked, gazing intently on the bowl of Murtlap but glancing up at her occasionally. Her eyes didn't move from his hand.
"Ron mentioned you had gotten in a bit of trouble with Umbridge. Harry's already had detention with her. Acted the same way you did. Too proud to let anyone know you're in pain. Not in a bad way though. The two of you are alike in that way- your pride," she said softly with a bit of admiration in her voice, and she looked up to meet his gaze. He quickly looked back down, feeling a hot flush reach his cheeks. "Harry's were never that bad though... How many more nights do you have?"
"Six," he muttered scornfully, hate for the toadish woman roaring in his chest.
"Six! How much deeper can she go?" She exclaimed in disbelief and appall, and he quickly lifted his right index finger to her lips, warning her to quiet down. He honestly really didn't want to be interrupted at the moment. "I would have thought maybe one or two, but six! You're not going to have any blood left!" She was still staring at him with the same sympathy and concern, and he refused to look up from the table. He sort of liked how she seemed so worried... Her presence was comforting, her voice soothing, and her touch brightening. "What on earth did you say to her Fred?"
"I called her a delirious old codger," he said distractedly, trying to remember the feeling of her hands on his. Her incredulous stare made him snap back to the real world, and he shook his head a little, confused by his thoughts only a moment ago. He told her the whole story and she chuckled a little when he finished.
"You and your pride again." He felt the same rush of heat in his cheeks. "Does George know?"
"Of course. We tell each other everything." he said quietly, although he didn't think George understood the extent of the pain he was being put through. "He stayed up with me the first two nights, but I 'spect he's been pretty tired lately..." He murmured, glancing at the stairwell to the boys dormitories. He turned his gaze back to her and realized with a start that she looked exhausted as well. "Merlin, that reminded me, you're probably zonked too. I'll just-" he pulled his hand out of the Murtlap and instantly felt a throbbing pain in his hand again. He winced, and Hermione bit her lip.
"I know, it's quite a bother, the pain won't actually go away until the scars heal. The Murtlap soothes it though and helps to quicken the process... I'm afraid the next few nights will be quite horrid for you. But I stay in the library studying late every night anyways, so I could help you along with it until your detentions are over, or until its not as painful." she said distractedly, quickly clearing away the bowl with a wave of her wand. Fred watched her intently, feeling a weird sensation in his belly that he didn't recognize.
"Hermione, I don't want to-"
"Honestly, Fred, I'd rather be going to bed a little later for a couple of nights than see you the way you were earlier." Her eyes moved to meet his, and her gaze told him what she meant. She knew he had been crying. He looked away shamefully, and he felt a rush of affection towards her when she stood up and didn't say anything about it. "I'll be here tomorrow night, and you don't have to worry, I won't tell anyone anything." He felt a comforting hand briefly on his shoulder before she walked up the staircase to the girls' dormitories.