Luna’s explanation made complete sense. It was, as she said, primitive to tamper with some letters, but it also showed just how easily Voldemort could get to him. Sure, he wasn’t able to enter Hogwarts grounds, but he could definitely still reach Harry. That scared him.
Harry was thoroughly pissed off with the whole situation. As if the dreams themselves weren’t bad enough, Voldemort had to mess with him while he was awake, too. He didn’t understand what benefit Voldemort was getting by doing this. Making him tired? Paranoid? Angry? None of that would matter when he had him pinned, about to cast Avada Kedavra.
Harry decided he’d had enough. He was still skeptical about practicing Occlumency by himself, and against everyone’s wishes, but this changed his mind. He didn’t care about whether or not the dreams helped the Order more quickly find the next target; they would always find out anyway. Harry wasn’t going to let Voldemort do this to him. He wasn’t going to get the satisfaction.
That night, when everyone was asleep, Harry went to the Common Room with his three, large, leather-bound books. He cracked open the smallest one (which was about five-hundred pages) and began to read.
It was tiresome, tedious work. There were a lot of theories and hypotheses to brush up on. He read maybe fifty pages about other wizards and witches who came up with ideas he didn’t care about before he got extremely bored. He skipped to the chapter about actually learning how to block his mind. The first step was to supposedly get a good night’s sleep. Well, he wasn’t sleeping, so that would have to be skipped. The second was to clear his mind every night before he slept. Harry felt this Occlumency thing would be a bit harder for him.
On and on he read. There was a lot of talk about sleeping. Harry tossed that book aside, reaching for the largest one. Again, there were mentionings of sleep. The third book said the same thing. He sighed heavily and ran his hands down his face. He couldn’t go to sleep. It just wasn’t an option. How was he supposed to clear his mind before he slept, anyway, if he knew what would be coming when he did?
Still, every night when everyone else was asleep, Harry would go down to the Common Room with his books. He figured he might as well master the theory since he couldn’t exactly practice it. He cast Energy Charms on himself every so often throughout the day to keep himself awake. They wouldn’t last very long, but Harry was so past the point of exhaustion it didn’t faze him. His mind was stronger than his body.
By the fifth night, though, the effects were prevalent. Everything hurt. His movements were in slow motion. He had a constant headache. He was extremely forgetful. He would zone out for minutes at a time and easily lose his train of thought. His eyes were perpetually stained red with deep purple bags underneath. His hair was even more unruly than it had ever been. His appetite was gone and he was losing weight. Harry had no idea you could lose weight in five days, but it was happening.
McGonagall had kept him after class one day to ask if he was okay. Of course Harry lied, but his appearance told the truth for him.
“Have you been to see Madam Pomfrey?” the professor asked with a hushed tone.
“I don’t… I haven’t, no.”
She pursed her lips for a while, looking Harry up and down. “Why not?”
“I’m just trying to…” He trailed off.
“Potter,” McGonagall said exasperatedly, “what are you doing to yourself?”
Harry stared at the wall behind her. He heard the question but it didn’t quite register that she wanted an answer. He continued to look at the wall despite the fact that she was now calling his name.
He felt a hand shake his arm. He slowly drew his eyes away from the wall and looked at Professor McGonagall. She was now standing next to him as opposed to sitting at her desk. He wondered when she’d gotten up. Her face was drawn into an expression of the utmost concern.
“Can you hear me?” she asked a bit condescendingly, as if speaking to a toddler or a deaf person.
“Of course, Professor,” Harry replied.
Harry had many conversations like that. Once he realized people were becoming concerned, he tried to avoid them altogether. He would spend his free periods in a secluded corner of the library and have meals only when his friends weren’t around. He wondered how he had only lasted four days last year; it wasn’t that hard.
He had all but mastered the theories of Occlumency. Harry felt he could probably recite them in his sleep, if he slept. He knew that to test it out he’d have to sleep, but when he tried, he couldn’t. He was constantly on the cusp of falling asleep during the day, so he couldn’t understand why that when he actually willed himself to sleep, he wouldn’t. Maybe his body had gotten so used to no sleep that it didn’t know how to do it anymore. He was skeptical that six days could outdo sixteen years, but he was no scientist.
He climbed out of bed and tiptoed to the door, suddenly envious of everyone in his dorm. He stood on the stone bridge connecting the girl’s and boy’s rooms facing the window. He leaned on it and stared out at the sky.
How did it come to this? Harry wondered. He was defying all the teachers and forcing himself not to sleep, making himself sick in the process. He looked at his hands; his skin was an even more ghostly shade of white in the moonlight. He sighed and put his head in his hands.
Perhaps Voldemort was winning after all. Harry had, for the most part, cut off his friends. God knows he was ruining his health. He had even managed to lose the one person he could never dream of losing. He was miserable.
In less than a week, Harry had managed to go from semi-okay to detrimental. He had practically screwed up his whole life. He felt his eyes burn and allowed the tears to spill over.
“What do you mean, you’re not coming to class?”
“Just that,” Harry said glumly. “I don’t feel well.”
“You know, that’s why Madam Pomfrey is here,” Ron retorted.
Harry sighed. “All she’ll do is tell me to go to sleep.”
“Isn’t that what you should do, though? I mean,” Ron paused and sat at the edge of Harry’s bed. “She can just give you the potion.”
“That’s beside the point…”
“All I’m saying is, you know what happened last year when you tried to stay up. You can’t do it forever. I don’t know what you do every night, but whatever it is isn’t worth… this,” he said, motioning to Harry. He was lying on his side, faced away from Ron, with his blanket pulled up to his chin.
“You’re going to be late,” Harry deadpanned.
Ron huffed but stood up. “I’ll come back at lunch, then.”
He left, slamming the door behind him.
Harry had never gotten this bad before. He looked awful. In fact, worse than awful, but Ron couldn’t think of a word for it.
Everyday Ron watched his friend deteriorate. It amazed him how bad it had become in just a few days. He didn’t know what to do, how to help. It was like Harry was already dead, just a shell walking around without a soul. Everyone noticed and was wondering how they could help the situation, but the only solution was to get him to sleep.
Ron, Luna, and Ginny were left to pick up the pieces, but there wasn’t much they could do or figure out without Hermione. It was obvious she saw what Harry was becoming and she was bothered by it, but she didn’t say or do anything. Ron suspected she was still bitter about the whole vow-of-silence situation, but he felt that there is a point when you push all of your differences aside and come together to fix a problem, and this was definitely one of those times.
“Harry’s not coming,” he vocalized as he sat down at the Gryffindor table for breakfast. He grabbed a slice of toast and set it on his plate, but didn’t feel like eating it.
“What do you mean, he’s not coming?” Neville asked.
“I mean just that. He said he doesn’t feel like coming to class today.”
“Wait, so he’s just skipping?” Ginny asked.
Ron nodded. He looked at Hermione, who was across the table. She suddenly became very interested in the bowl of fruit salad before her. Ron shook his head in disapproval.
“Is he skipping to go to sleep at least?” asked Ginny.
“Doubt it,” chuckled Ron. “He didn’t look like he was dozing off anytime soon. He’s probably going to lie in bed all day. I said I’d check back in on him during lunch.”
Ginny sighed. “Do you think it’s because of what Luna said?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Ron saw Hermione look up. “I don’t know, I really don’t. I hope not; I don’t want her to feel bad.”
“Well we have to figure it out because Harry can’t keep this up much longer.”
Neville nodded. “Yeah, didn’t he lose it after three days last year?”
The group murmured in agreement.
“I don’t know how he’s managed this long, then,” Neville finished.
“Me either,” Ginny said. She looked more upset than she should have been. Hermione was eyeing Ginny and biting her lip. “I think I’m going to talk to him again.”
“Why?” Hermione asked harshly to the surprise of everyone. She looked around, as if she, too, were surprised the words came out of her mouth. “I just mean, you’ve all tried talking to him already. Why beat a dead horse?”
“Because, Hermione, friends don’t just give up. Have you not seen him? He needs help, regardless of whatever’s going on between you two-”
“You have no idea what’s going on between us,” Hermione spat.
“I know enough to know the only reason he isn’t sleeping is because of you, and you haven’t had the decency in any part of the last nearly week to ask him if he’s okay!”
“Harry’s the one who said he didn’t want to speak to me!” she yelled agitatedly.
“And that really matters? Look at him! There’s a time and place for arguing and there a time and place for cutting the crap and fixing the issues at hand! We’ve all been trying relentlessly to help and what have you done?”
The two girls stared at each other. Ron and Neville caught each other’s eyes and shrugged. Ron was reminded of that giant fight they got into over the summer, over pretty much the same thing: Hermione not speaking to Harry. This time, it wasn’t exactly Hermione’s fault, but Ginny did have a point.
The Great Hall began to empty. Ron and Neville stood up and began to gather their things, trying to passively suggest that it was time to head to class. Luna came over and hugged Ron sideways and smiled at Neville. Hermione and Ginny were still glaring at one another.
“What exactly happened?” Luna whispered.
“Harry,” replied Ron out of the side of his mouth. Luna nodded in understanding.
Ginny shook her head and slung her bag over her shoulder. She bade goodbye to everyone, including Luna, and stomped out of the Hall. Hermione exhaled heavily as Ginny walked away. “The nerve of her,” she muttered angrily.
No one wanted to say that she did have a point. Neville, Luna, Ron, and Hermione exited the Great Hall. They were walking across the Entrance Courtyard when Ron stole a look at Hermione. Her face was drawn up into an expression of utmost contemplation.
“Damn it!” she cried out as she spun around and practically ran back into the school.
The three remaining students smiled at each other and continued on to class.
Harry hadn’t moved. He was lying in the same position he had been all night. He thought about getting up and doing something productive with his day off, but he didn’t feel like it. He didn’t even have the willpower to roll over. He was just so tired. Mentally, emotionally, physically: little everyday things were a battle. Harry knew it was mostly his fault, but it didn’t change the fact he was going through hell.
He stared at the dust in the beam of light coming through his window. His eyes strained. Looking everywhere, anywhere, hurt. Harry was probably dehydrated, but he didn’t care. He probably had some illness he didn’t know about too, but he didn’t care about that either.
Harry took a deep breath and held it, allowing his body to use up all the contents of his lungs. When the burn became too much, he exhaled sharply and did it again. He went on like this for some time, giving himself something to do that didn’t involve much brain activity or physical labour. It kept him conscious and that was all that mattered.
Soon, though, he got bored. Harry went back to his normal, staggered breathing and tried to empty his mind. It wasn’t difficult; thinking required brain power, something he didn’t possess much of at that moment.
He was staring blankly into space when he heard his door open. One of the boys had probably forgotten something. It was more than likely Neville. He continued staring at the wall and willed for him to leave. However, the footsteps got closer. Harry listened. They didn’t sound like Neville’s heavy, trodden steps. Turning over to see who it was was far too much effort, though, so Harry remained in his position.
The footsteps stopped at the side of his bed. Harry got that eerie feeling of being watched. The person was just standing there. Harry’s curiosity got the better of him and he slightly rolled over, straining his neck. He blinked a few times to let his eyes focus, and then he saw Hermione.
Hermione? It couldn’t be. The hallucinations must have started, that was the only option. Harry figured it was his subconscious playing tricks on him. He allowed his body to fall back into position and became still once more.
“Hello, Harry,” fake-Hermione said. Harry slowly closed his eyes. Why did his mind have to do this to him, that day of all days? He willed for the image of the girl he missed the most to disappear, but he still felt the sensation of behind watched.
“Harry?” she repeated, her tone one of worry now.
“You’re not real,” Harry stated monotonously.
“You’re not real. You’re a hallucination and I would appreciate it if you left me alone.” He began to acquire a headache. He put his hand to his forehead and exhaled.
Fake-Hermione was silent for a moment. Harry thought she’d gone when she said, “I’m not a hallucination.”
“I’m not stupid,” Harry said. He rolled onto his back and faced the hallucination. She looked incredibly real, tangible even, but Harry knew better. “Hermione hasn’t spoken to me in almost two weeks.”
She searched his eyes, making Harry uncomfortable. “You’re being ridiculous.”
“My mind is just betraying me,” he explained. He didn’t feel awkward telling it to her because, well, she’d be gone in a few minutes. “I miss Hermione the most; my brain knows that. She’s really the only one who can still make an impression on me; my brain knows that too. So in an effort to save itself, it produced an image of something it thought would help me. I read it in a book somewhere.”
Fake-Hermione hesitated a second before setting her books and her bag on Harry’s bed and sitting down next to him. Harry sat up. She pursed her lips and shifted her focus to him. “Harry, I’m real.”
“You’re not, and I wish you would just go now.”
“Stop! Just stop, okay? Hermione can’t even look at me anymore because she thinks I hate her. I don’t, God help me I don’t. But it doesn’t matter how I really feel. There’s no way you can be her.”
Fake-Hermione looked down. “How do you really feel?” she asked shakily.
“Like I said,” he shook his head, “it doesn’t matter.”
She took his head gently in both of her hands and forced him to look her in the eye. Harry gazed into the light brown orbs. Something clicked within him: it was always those eyes. Hermione was truly sitting before him. Harry took her hands and slowly pulled them away from his face, holding onto them all the while. Hermione’s eyes flickered down to their clasped hands then back to Harry’s face, but she did not remove them from his.
“It’s me,” she said almost sadly.
“What are you doing here?” asked Harry quietly.
“I’m here because of this, what just happened.” Hermione lightly squeezed his hands.
Harry suddenly remembered his deal not to speak with her. He wasn’t supposed to have any sort of conversation. He pulled his hands away and looked straight forward. “You have to go.”
“I’m not leaving.”
“No, you agreed, I listened. You’re not getting rid of me this time. If you want to stop talking to me again when I leave, fine, but we’re doing it on my terms.”
“So talk to me.”
He looked at Hermione stupidly. She simply raised her eyebrows at him.
“You know we can’t do this,” he mused.
“Why not? At one point you wanted to be cordial.”
“Yes, cordial, not you sitting on my bed having a full-blown conversation.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” she asked defensively.
“Every time we talk, it’s just…”
“It’s just what?” Hermione pressed.
“Us. Being friends,” he said. “It’s inevitable. Like this conversation we’re having? There’s no way it’s going to end with us still ignoring each other.”
She smiled ever so slightly. “Like you said, it’s been nearly two weeks. Do we still have to ignore each other?”
Harry looked up. “Yes.”
“Why?” she asked longingly.
He rested his head against wall behind him and looked at her. “We’re going to have this conversation, aren’t we?”
Harry blinked then looked forward once more. “Ron told me what you two talked about in the classroom that day.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hermione’s face redden. “Why?”
“What do you want me to say? That I enjoy watching you get hurt?”
“No. But I don’t want you to feel like my problems are your problems.”
“They are. That’s what being a friend is about.”
“No, Hermione, it’s not.”
She shook her head. “I don’t think you understand what’s it’s like to watch you go through all of this and not being able to do a damn thing. I’m useless.”
“You’re not,” he tried.
“But I am,” she replied sadly. “I can’t do anything or fix anything for you. And it hurts.”
“You don’t have to.” He looked at her, a heavy pit growing in his stomach. “You don’t realize how much you do just by existing, Hermione. I probably shouldn’t tell you this but,” he chuckled, “when you put your ear to my chest to listen to my heartbeat?” Harry shook his head, awe-like. “There’s nothing that compares to that. That, Hermione, makes me feel better than anything. And that’s all you have to do.”
Hermione wiped a few stray tears from her pink cheeks. “I just… I don’t want you to feel any worse than you have to, you know? You’re already going through so much and I want to be able to take away as much of it as possible.”
“I know. And believe me, I appreciate the thought. But this,” he wiped her tears, “isn’t worth it. It’s not your responsibility.”
“But if I don’t do it who will? You take care of everyone else, but who takes care of you?”
Harry thought for a moment. He didn’t quite have an answer for her, so he averted the question. “I can handle it. You don’t have to keep everything in because you think it’ll upset me more, that’s stupid. You’re allowed to be angry and have problems.”
“I just want you to be happy. You’re my best friend.”
“I know. But sitting here watching you cry over me? That doesn’t make me happy.”
Hermione nodded. Hopefully she understood what Harry was trying to say and she would stop putting herself in this situation.
“I am so sorry for all of this. And I’m sorry I led you to believe I hate you. But please, please, never think I hate you. I couldn’t hate you even if I tried.”
“You don’t have to apologize. You didn’t know.”
“Neither did you.”
“Are we okay?”
“But you still don’t want to talk to me?”
Harry smiled sadly. “Give me a little bit more time. Please?”
Hermione sighed. “I miss you.”
“Me too. I just want to make sure we don’t end up back where we started, you know? You have a lot to work through and so do I. I don’t want to end up snapping at you again.”
“You were being a real jerk,” she stated. Harry laughed. He felt like he hadn’t laughed in ages. It felt good, especially since it was with Hermione.
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“No it’s not.”
There was a thick pause. Harry and Hermione leaned their heads against the wall behind them. They would steal glances at each other and smile. Harry was glad she understood now that he wasn’t doing this to be malicious, and that she was willing to give him the space they both needed. Ron was right the entire time; all they needed to do was talk.
“Did you mean what you said when you thought I was a hallucination?” she asked after a moment.
“That I’m the only one who can really make an impression on you?”
There was no point in lying. “Every word.”
They were silent for a while. Harry had to admit he liked simply sitting, knowing she was next to him. He suppressed a smile. Suddenly, Hermione kicked off her shoes and curled her legs beneath her. She unbuttoned her robe and tossed it to the foot of the bed.
“What are you doing?”
She didn’t respond. She scooted close to Harry and put her ear right above where his heart should be and draped her arm across him. Harry didn’t know whether to sit there or do something.
“Hermione,” he mumbled. But in reality he didn’t want her to move.
Hermione still didn’t respond. She remained fixed on him, as if attached by magic. Harry let a smile through. He appreciated what she was doing. Harry had meant what he said about her laying on him like that; it really did make him feel better.
“Your heart,” she said. “It’s beating really fast.”
“Are you okay?”
“Can you please try to go to sleep?”
“I’ll try,” he responded. “No promises.”
Harry absentmindedly stroked Hermione’s hair. She took his other hand and played with his fingers. He wondered if this was what everyday life would be like if he and Hermione were ever to be in a relationship.
He jogged up the stairs with a sandwich in tow. Hopefully Harry was hungry. If not, Ron had no problem eating it himself.
He hadn’t seen Hermione all morning. She surely didn’t go talk to Harry, so he had no idea where she could be. He assumed the library, as that was where she always went. Or perhaps she went to another abandoned classroom to cry. Ron hoped the former. He didn’t know how many more pep talks he had in him.
Ron knocked on the dormitory door lightly and called Harry’s name through it. He opened it carefully and stepped inside. “I’ve got this sandwich for-”
He stopped midsentence, his mouth hanging open in delight. It was almost too good to be true. Ron tiptoed to Harry’s bed for closer inspection. One of Harry’s hands was tangled in Hermione’s hair; the other was resting on his bed, Hermione’s lying in his open palm. Harry’s head was gently resting on hers.
Ron smiled, perhaps larger than he should have. “The bloody idiot did it,” he whispered to himself. He beamed at his friends one last time before taking a bite of the sandwich and exiting the room.