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Afflicted with Filth

Chapter Text


The sky has no colour.

No slate or stone or spruce. Just a sea of dull grey that birds of black and clouds of white wade through in a perpetual, unchanging loop. And it's strange, she supposes, how a sky like this is more real to her than a sky of blue.

(But her life is strange. She is strange. So, in the end, is it really?)

In the distance, the sound of a train rumbles. It forces her attention back down to the platform where an approaching figure contrasts heavily against the harsh whiteness of their surroundings. Though she doesn't smile when she eventually  ̶(eventually, because her mind works against her)  ̶recognises him, a part of her lightens at his arrival.

(She scratches herself in her sleep, she's been told. It stops when he's in her dreams to keep her company.)

In comparison, he imparts a smile that one would strongly consider charming. To her, however, it only seems as such because it's aided by his naturally handsome appearance. The curve of his lips is sharp and practised; a survival mask made for Hogwarts. She expects it to become perfect as he grows into himself more.

"I have to, Hem," she remembers him saying. When, though, she can't recall. "One has to adapt to their surroundings if they want to survive. And so, survive, I shall."

Perhaps it should frighten her; how she can see through all his masks and find his true face underneath. After all, he's not overly fond of being so transparent. But he is familiar, even when he sometimes tries to act like a stranger. Even when he occasionally attempts to intimidate and dominate her as he does with his peers at school.

He doesn't like feeling weak and she's one of the few capable of making him feel just that. Unsurprising, considering that they've known one another for seven years. (It's him who keeps count; who reminds her that the twenty-first of July is both an anniversary and a birthday.)

"Hi, Tom," Hem absently greets as he looms over her with his superior height. The fact that she's still a child  ̶(in comparison to an early adolescent who's quite tall for his age)  ̶and currently seated only emphasises their size difference, which forces her to crane her neck to meet his intense gaze of walnut brown. Maintaining eye contact, she pats the empty space beside her as she tends to do when he's the one who's late and refuses to sit for a noteworthy amount of time.

The figurative frost around his shoulders thaws while his expression reluctantly softens. He soon sighs, "Hello, Hem," and gracefully  ̶(but also dramatically)  ̶moves to occupy the rest of the bench. It doesn't budge under his weight, for concepts like time and mass don't seem to work as they should in this place. Lots of things don't work as they should in this reality. She supposes it's fitting.

Neither of them really work as expected; her more so than him, much to his displeasure. The chemicals in his head make him excel  ̶(mostly; there has to be a downside to bottling all that anger)  ̶while hers gleefully ruin her way of life.

(He wants her to be so much more, she understands, but she only knows how to be a disappointment.)

Tom always opts to sit so close to her that she would feel the textured material of his clothes and the warmth of his body rub against her if they were awake. (And if she could feel properly.) But they aren't  ̶(it's hard to tell the difference, sometimes)  ̶so the fabric feels smooth and ethereal while the heat is replaced by a numb absence. Neither of them particularly mind, both being of the opinion that the mere presence of the other is enough to relax them on a visceral level.

He wouldn't want to admit it, of course, but he knows there's no point in denying when she already knows. It bothers him, actually, and the fact that it does is yet another thing that he wishes he could keep to himself. Hem supposes that, when one is so used to hiding their true feelings, it would make sense for them to be uncomfortable with being laid bare. Even if it's Tom and even if it's her.

(She doesn't know what she's hiding. If she's hiding anything at all. It wouldn't be a surprise if it turns out that the gaping emptiness within her is hiding nothing because there's never been anything there to begin with.)

But the way he snakes his arm along the backrest behind her neck is as instinctive as the way he props his elbow to play with her unruly curls. Like the way he twirls his wand when in thought  ̶̶(he does that, right?)  ̶he does the same with her hair.

(Sometimes, she forgets which was first; her hair or his wand. But then she remembers that he didn't get a wand until after the wizard with the strange clothes set his wardrobe on fire.)

Hem doesn't know how long it is before he breaks the silence that's settled around them with a sharp sigh. (Here, her voice is hers, but silence is both a burden and a comfort. She suspects that it always will be.) Feeling her eyes begin to droop, she leans into him.

"You're starting school soon, no?" he queries, gently tugging on her hair once he realises that she's close to falling asleep in this reality. Falling asleep here means waking up there, and Tom doesn't like to be left alone in this space.

Left alone with his thoughts, surrounded by unrelenting white; it's not healthy for his mind, even if his body heals as it rests.

(Her mind is fractured. Broken. It's easier for Hem because her sense of time is essentially non-existent and she only has to deal with scratch marks that have always marred her skin.)

It takes her a few minutes  ̶(maybe, possibly)  ̶before she replies, "With my sister… She only turns twelve after the school term begins." Hermione was ecstatic to learn that they'd be going to a magical boarding school together. Their parents are somewhat mollified that neither of them will be alone, but they worry. They're always worrying.

(They should stop. The muted guilt gnaws at her insides and she has so little within her as it is.)

Tom hums in acknowledgement. "Beauxbatons or Hogwarts?" is his next question. His hand steadily moves closer to her skull, perhaps in a futile attempt to detangle more of her hair. It elicits a tingling sensation that dances across her scalp and she feels the muted urge to shiver and scrape it away.

"Hogwarts," Hem whispers, closing her eyes and opting to listen to the quiet, steady rhythm of his heart.

Maybe she and Hermione would've gone to Beauxbatons if Theia  ̶(if mum, it should be… But it's wrong; it feels wrong ̶decided to move back to her homeland rather than visit every holiday. But while Hem has no particular preference, something unnameable tells her that Hogwarts has always been the only option.

His heart thumps loudly for a single moment before he murmurs, "Good," into her hair. And though he wants to say more, he doesn't. It wouldn't do to say that she'll like it there or that it'll make him feel closer to her if they're attending the same school.

The first is a lie and the second is a truth he's unwilling to give.

. . .

 . . . 

Diagon Alley is bustling with life and magic. The people are dressed in eccentric robes and hats, moving about like a sea of obnoxious colour. They're loud, voices mingling together to create a white noise that buzzes within her eardrums.

Hem isn't good with crowds. They overstimulate her dulled senses. It's only the medicine and Hermione's firm grip on her hand that usually manages to keep her somewhat afloat.

(She still feels like she's drowning. It never goes away, not really.)

"Isn't it wonderful, Hem?" breathes her sister, whose attention flitters about with every new and wondrous thing that others find to be a mundane part of their daily lives. "Oh, I'm so excited! We'll be able to officially practice magic! What do you think the other children will be like?"

"It's a flawed system, in my opinion," Tom's voice echoes. "Those raised among muggles only learn of their true nature at eleven or twelve. What about all the years before? It's as though our introduction to the wizarding world is more of a courtesy than a right, don't you think?"

Hem doesn't reply. Her sister smiles at her, comforting and understanding as is expected of the protective elder sibling.

(If she could, she'd ask Hermione to stop giving her something that she doesn't deserve.)

. . .

 . . . 

"Willow," mutters the wandmaker. "Phoenix feather core  ̶quite the spitfire, this phoenix was  ̶and nine and three quarters in length." He holds the dark piece of wood as if he's going to break it. "Rather stiff," he nods to himself, as though he expected it to be so. "Here." Abruptly, he holds the wand out to her with both of his hands before proceeding to stare at her with piercing, speculative eyes of powder blue.

Hem watches in a disconnected manner  ̶(as per usual)  ̶as her hand reaches out to take it while a vague feeling she thinks to be anticipation begins to bubble beneath her skin. Then, something within her sings and the urge to cry until she's a mess on the floor threatens to overwhelm her.

(She doesn't know how she's still standing.)

"Ah," the elderly man sounds with a pleased gleam in his eyes as an illuminate, emerald thread materialises from the tip of her wand and snakes around her forearm before dissipating. "There we go. Such a beautiful wand, that is. I've always said that those with the greatest potential are often chosen by the willow. You may have some trouble with the inherent detachment of the phoenix feather, but I have faith." Ollivander opens his mouth as though to say more; instead, he tilts his head and studies her as she slowly comes to the realisation that her vision has been blurred by tears.

She doesn't know how long it takes before she hears someone whisper, "Holster," while she absently wipes her face. Her nerves tingle in that subdued manner that she's used to; it tells her that Hem should be feeling more than an indistinct sense of something without texture touching her skin.

It's a shame that she can't tell it that she already knows and that the times when her senses function as normally as possible are sporadic and unreliable.

In response, he smiles at her, something cool brushing against her face as he bows in a decidedly whimsical fashion. "Of course, Miss Granger. Arm holster, yes? Might I suggest one for your sister as well?" And maybe he would've said something else about potential, but she'll never know now.

Then Hermione, excited by the practicality of wand holsters, steps up to the counter to pepper the old man with questions that he's only too delighted to answer.

Clutching her new wand to her chest and feeling it thrum against her palm, Hem wonders if she'll ever feel that sense of belonging again.

. . .

. . .

"How did you know about the wand holsters, Hem?" Hermione asks as they sit at a booth inside Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. Their parents are talking with Professor Sinistra  ̶(that was her name, wasn't it?)  ̶about the school curriculum while also marvelling at the magical displays of edible foods.

Staring down at the bowl of ice cream that changes colours like Christmas lights, Hem blinks in an attempt to rid herself of the oncoming visual snow. She feels like she's floating again, away from life and her mind.

(Maybe she'll float away, stuck in the sky and among the clouds. The blue, blue sky that she'd prefer to be grey.)

Someone grabs her hand, trying to bring her back to the ground. Brown skin that doesn't see enough sun, like hers; unmarred, unlike hers. Hermione. (The sister that loves her while she feels like her family are strangers.) Under her sister's immaculate nails, there's no skin and blood to be found.

"Hem?" she calls, tentatively. Soothingly. Theia and Matthias and Professor Sinistra have stopped talking, Hem thinks. "Hem, focus on me, please."

The ice cream is still shifting into different hues. Her mind tries to give her the names of specific tints but it stutters and freezes.

"I'm sorry, Aurora," apologises Theia. Fabric shifts. "It's been a long day for Hemera; we'll need to be getting back home now." Worried again, Theia  ̶(mum)  ̶is. Always worried. Her accent becomes a touch heavier when she's like that. "It was lovely of you to show us around, of course. We would've been lost without you."

Hem is gently pulled out of the booth, both her hands taken so she can't scratch at her wrists or neck. So, she blinks away the fog in her mind and the dots in her vision as her body refuses to be her own and the world refuses to accept her. Everything feels both weightless and not. Yet still, she manages to walk without conscious effort. Autopilot.

Hermione's hair. Shimmery robes. A brief exchange of French. "Je garderai un œil sur elle."

"I've got you, sweetheart," a voice assures her. (Who?) "I'm here. We'll go get some ice cream that doesn't change colours, how about that?" Matthias, her mind gradually informs her. (Dad.) "Not that it wasn't spectacular, but magic folk seem to have an innate need to make everything move. I'd probably be the same, though, so I can't blame them too much."

Hem focuses on his voice; the constant that fights against the temporary. She focuses on Hermione's voice, her normally prim words tempered by her genuine joy of sharing something strange and thrilling. Theia's laughter as she banters with her husband and questions her eldest daughter on what she thinks about something or other. 

But she hears it; the undercurrent of concern that unites them just as much as it tears at her existence. She feels it. Will she be alright, surrounded by magic and all its overwhelming wonders? Will she be alright, surrounded by children who possess magic and underdeveloped brains? Children who wouldn't understand why she can't talk or feel or think properly?

(She doesn't know how to say sorry without sounding like a liar. So, she supposes it's a good thing that she can't say anything at all.) 

. . .

. . .

Despite her unintentional disinterest, Hem asks, "Where do you think I'll go?" because he's fond of talking about his school. To him, it feels like a place where he belongs despite the subtle snubs of being a supposedly  ̶(he insists on having a magical parent, dead or alive)  ̶muggle-born orphan. He says it's not as volatile as the orphanage, just that people expect him to be inferior because of his heritage and that they're surprised when he consistently shows that he's anything but.

Tom abhors the orphanage and those within it. He disdains the ill-maintained building he was born in; the adults that come by and don't actually care to adopt anyone; even the children, who are too helpless to thwart the abuse that no one cares about because they're unwanted. He condemns them all.

"They can force their chores upon me, Hem, but I'll never let those dullards violate me like they do with the others. I'll shatter their kneecaps and break their hands before I ever allow them to even breathe near me."

Eliciting a hum of consideration, Tom eventually answers, "Ravenclaw, perhaps. You're intelligent, individualistic and creative; traits they embody." He tugs on her hair, his fingers properly entangled as he forces her to look up at him. Hem blinks when he frowns down at her, most likely aware of the fact that she doesn't think herself intelligent, let alone individualistic. Even creativity is debatable; she draws only because it was recommended that she find hobbies to keep her grounded. "Regardless of your mental debilitations."

Hem reaches up to brush her fingers against the lining of his jaw before she's truly aware of what she's doing. His eyes narrow, and he deliberately refuses to flinch, but he leans into her touch and searches her soul for answers. Tom's gaze has always burned, too acute for most people to maintain eye contact with even if only for a few seconds.

(What does he see when he looks at her, she wonders? What is he looking for when he tries to take her apart? How disappointed is he when he doesn't find it?)

"But do you really want me in Ravenclaw, Tom?" Hem murmurs in question, meeting his eyes and watching the emotions flicker across the surface before disappearing into the unreadable depths. She doesn't expect an answer. "What about the other Houses?" For this one, though, she does.

He doesn't reply immediately, opting to grab her hand with his free one when she tries to take it back. Their fingers intertwine, a possessive edge to the action as she takes in how pale he is in comparison to her. No warmth.

(It's alright; she can't feel warmth even when she's awake.)

"Hufflepuff and Gryffindor don't suit you," Tom finally replies, his voice soft. He places their joined hands on her knees. (She often hugs her knees to her chest to make herself as small as possible.) "Your brain doesn't let you possess those traits, I'm afraid." A rather articulate brow is raised at her when she slightly raises her own. She doesn't have half the sass that he does. "Not that it's much of a loss. I doubt you'd fit in with either even if you were mentally healthy."

She twitches when his nails scrape her scalp. "Slytherin doesn't suit me, either," Hem whispers, and she feels his grip on her hair and hand tighten minutely.

His lips thin in vexation. "No," he agrees with a sigh, albeit reluctantly. "That could change with time, however. The Sorting Hat is partial to placing students into Houses that will help them reach their potential, after all." Then, to finish off that statement, he gives her an overly pleasant smile that she thinks to be a touch ominous.

And despite what that kind of expression should elicit, Hem can only feel something akin to endearment.

She would smile at him, if only she could. But alas, even her face is not her own.

Chapter Text

Hem has never been fond of going to King's Cross Station. Her family attributes it to the fact that it's too much for her mind; all the colour that intensifies and the life that feels misplaced. Bouts of accidental magic during her episodes have conditioned them to find alternative modes of transport whenever they can, despite the varying inconveniences.

(Sorry. Sorry. So much trouble because of her and her inability to be a normal child.)

They're not entirely wrong, she supposes. It is generally too much for her to process properly. They just aren't aware of the fact that she expects  ̶(that she needs ̶a King's Cross Station that is a pure, painful white with no signs of life except for a boy with a jagged soul and a girl who doesn't know how to exist.

Somehow, to be witness to its polar opposite feels blasphemous. (It's wrong, it's wrong, it's wrong.) To Hem, it's as though her sanctuary has been desecrated by the liveliness of humanity, curious as that is. The sounds she can't quite make out ringing in her ears; the mix of scents that she can't identify paving way to an oncoming headache; the constant state of motion as people move to and fro to reach their destinations, causing her vision to blur.

No. She's not very fond of it at all, so her family herds her as quickly as possible to the supposed platform of Nine and Three Quarters.

"Right, so," Hem hears a vaguely familiar voice begin, "I do believe that we're just meant to run straight at the brick wall here and hope that magic lets us through. Quite ingenious, I'll say; what, uh, muggle, would think to do that?"

Glancing around with a well-known haziness in her headspace, Hem automatically takes notice of how the crowd around them seems to unconsciously avoid this particular spot and anything near it. That would make sense. Hermione's mentioned something about spells that would prevent people from noticing things they aren't actively looking for.

"J'espère vraiment que ça va marcher," sighs another, more feminine voice. "Alright, Hermione, take my hand. We'll go first."

Hem blinks, turning in time to watch a woman with voluminous curls take the hand of someone younger before running at the brick wall in front of them. Her brain then decides to finally remind her that the two are her mother and sister just as they disappear behind the wall.

An impressed whistle jolts her back to reality, prompting Hem to glance up at the man beside her. "Magic's rather amazing, isn't it, Hem?" he chuckles, smiling down at her as he takes her hand in his own. The slate grey of his eyes  ̶("You have your father's eyes, Hemera, did you know?")  ̶dim slightly as they both notice that she's been scratching at her wrists again. They tried bandages once.

She accidentally set them on fire and she thinks it's rather strange of her magic to have given her the courtesy of not burning to death.

"C'mon, sweetheart," the man  ̶(dad, Matthias, dad)  ̶coaxes, smile deliberately brightening. "Our turn, hm?"

. . .

. . .

"Veille sur ta petite soeur, d'accord?" Theia imparts to her eldest daughter, a watery smile upon her dark, pretty features. She's hugged both of her daughters numerous times at this point, with Matthias smiling fondly at her antics and acting as though he's not as worried about them as she is. "Don't let anyone bully either of you and make sure that Hemera gets her medicine from the headmaster, yes? Write to us if you need anything."

In response, Hermione nods, resolute despite her own glistening eyes and wobbling lip. "Je le ferai," she promises, grabbing Hem's hand with a firm, steadying grip. She can almost feel the warmth. Almost.

It takes a while before Hem processes that this is supposed to be a big moment between the Grangers. The two sheltered, home-schooled daughters about to go off to a magical boarding school where neither Theia nor Matthias can watch over and spend time with them whenever they're free. Where they can't protect them from all the troubles of the world or of childhood itself.

Hem tries to conjure up some kind of emotion, something other than the ever-present numbness  ̶(and guilt that's seeped into her bones)  ̶that comes with breathing.

She fails, though that doesn't come as a surprise. As a mere passenger tied to a body she can't truly recognise nor fully control, one might say that she's bound for failure. Going to a magical school with magical people  ̶(children, mostly; that doesn't sound great)  ̶that follow a curriculum she can't afford to go through at her own pace will likely only confirm it.

"I suppose it'll be difficult for you to actively pay attention," sighs the memory of Tom. "However, you still manage to learn passively and retain a large amount of information despite your conscious mind stuttering so often. Perhaps you'll need some direction from your sister, but I'm certain that the first-year curriculum would be simple enough for the both of you. And you have me to bother if things become truly strenuous."

Hem flinches when someone gingerly grabs her face, her gaze snapping up to the image of Theia bestowing upon her a fragile smile. (It must be hard to know that her child flinches under her touch.) "Prends soin de toi, my Hemera," she says, brushing Hem's hair out of her face to press a kiss against her forehead.

It tingles. (Is she breathing?) She doesn't like it very much. (Shame froths against her back.)

"Je vais essayer…" a soft, raspy voice whispers. When Theia blinks in surprised delight, Hem realises that the voice belongs to her and that she's fairly sure she's just lied to her mother's face. After all, when has she ever tried to be anything other than a disappointment?

So, while her family smiles and wipes away stray tears, she remains blank-faced and lost to the world. Does it count if all she's trying to do is not drown?

. . .

. . .

The compartments are surprisingly spacious, something that Hermione remarks upon and theorises as to whether the train has a charm that increases the size of interior spaces implemented. Hem is still trying to blink away the mental imprint that the vivid red of the exterior has left. Her mind likes to play with her perception of reality too much.

"I'm going to go find a prefect and ask how long it'll take to get to Hogwarts, alright, Hem?" Hermione squeezes her hand  ̶(a strange sensation of dull pressure)  ̶and maintains eye contact until Hem slowly nods in understanding. Satisfied, she gives a prim nod in return and assures her that she won't be too long before whipping around and leaving the compartment like a whirlwind.

Hem soon finds herself sitting by the window, her legs already dragged to her chest and secured by her arms. It's a default position; one that someone at Hogwarts will presumably try to condition out of her. Teachers probably won't like it if her feet are on the seats.

Idly, she wonders if Tom has boarded the train to Hogwarts in his life. A small part of her wants to nap, to maybe meet with him during a rare moment where the sun is in the sky. But she knows that he wouldn't be there, guarded as he is to ever fall asleep in a precarious position.

"I won't see you when I go," someone  ̶(her, right?)  ̶stated, the words ringing true despite the miniscule possibility of it being otherwise. "Have you ever wondered if we're in separate but parallel realities? Or that we're perhaps only figments of the other's imagination?"

Maybe it's fate that ties them together. He wouldn't like that, though. Too whimsical for his tastes.

(No, they won't see each other. But it'd be nice, wouldn't it?)

She remembers Tom's penetrating gaze searching for something again. He was conflicted with something internal when he murmured, "I'm still researching."  His grip on her hair tightened, perhaps enough to hurt. "But you're real, Hem. Just as I am. Never forget that you are real."

Who was he trying to convince? Her? Him? Maybe both. He wouldn't like to entertain the possibility of the girl in his dreams being nothing more than a phantom his mind had conjured up. Hem doesn't think that she'd like to, either.

"Do you  ̶" a voice starts, then abruptly cuts off, prompting a violent pull from her wandering thoughts. "Do you, uh, mind if I sit here? The other compartments are starting to become quite full and I'd, ah, much rather less people than more."

Hem squints, clearing her vision as she scours her surroundings only to find a thin boy standing awkwardly by the compartment door. She stares, despite wanting to look away, the startling green of his irises beginning to set her retinas aflame. But she blinks until the illuminate hue begins to fade into something a little less surreal.

Rubbing her eyes with one hand, she catches her other hand gesture to the opposite seat without her permission, much to his visible relief. His shoulders sag and he breathes out a sigh, throwing her a grateful smile before he moves to sit in the place she's directed him towards.

Hermione's not likely to mind his presence, but it can't be said for certain that he wouldn't mind either of the Granger siblings in turn. Neither one of them is very good at socialising since one is said to speak too much and the other too little. According to their relatives, at least. Theia and Matthias have never been appreciative of the redundant remarks.

"Thank you," he says, blinking at her from behind round-rimmed glasses and seeming rather out of place. She's probably the same, curled up in a corner as she is like she's attempting to hide away from the world at large. It wouldn't be much of a stretch.

After a few moments  ̶(minutes?)  ̶of silence, Hem becomes aware that he's become increasingly uncomfortable and she realises that he said something to her. She attempts to voice a reply, but her mind goes against her  ̶(typical)  ̶and the silence continues. When he seems to shift and fidget, she registers the fact that she's also been staring at him for an indeterminable amount of time in complete silence.

They're going to hate her, Hem reaffirms to herself. They're going to dislike her because they won't be able to understand that she can rarely speak of her own accord and that her mind is made of mud. She'll unnerve them and they won't be as nice as her family because she'll be little more than a perplexing stranger in their eyes.

(She can't find it in herself to care. Even though she knows that it'll bother Hermione, protective as she is.)

Hem finds her attention directed towards the window after a moment, unsure of when she turned her attention away from the boy who's surely questioning his decision to sit with her. But then, out of nowhere, he exclaims, "Um, hey! Stop that!" and her wrists are seized.

Startled, she tries to swallow the panic that bursts forth  ̶(kick it away, push it! Make it stop! )  ̶ because it'd be bad if she were to hurt him, wouldn't it? The train hasn't even moved yet and she's on the verge of kneeing someone in the chest and setting them on fire.

(No screaming, no sound aside from static. Like watching a television show, Hem watched as the man bled.

"He shouldn't have startled you like that," Tom hissed. When?)

"Sorry…" Hem hears herself rasp  ̶(she thinks)  ̶eyes stuck to green that shifts in brightness  ̶(is it jade? Emerald? Forest green?)  ̶and in emotions. Unguarded, she thinks, bemusement and concern  ̶ (that's strange, why does he care?)  ̶swirling and mixing. Tom's eyes aren't like that.

He blinks, gaze sliding from her face to her lips  ̶(she picks at the skin with her teeth until it's raw)  ̶then to her neck  ̶(she scratches until she bleeds and she can't feel any of it)  ̶then finally to the length of her arm. (His touch makes her skin buzz. Weird. Are his palms calloused?) The tension in his shoulders dissipates, his grip on her apparently loosening as he examines her arm with a mild frown of profound sadness that she can't comprehend.

Too many self-inflicted scars, maybe. Too many. Tom's eyes darken  ̶(they're already so dark, it's impressive)  ̶every time he glances at them. He never says anything, though. Sometimes, she wonders why. What does it remind him of? What scars does he have under his clothes?

"No," whispers the bespectacled boy, one of his thumbs caressing one of her many scabs while his eyes sweep over the clusters of marks and scars on her wrists. "I'm… I should be the one who's sorry. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." His hands slide, almost absent-mindedly, from her wrists to her hands as he says, "I can, uh… I can go if you want me to."

Hem unexpectedly exhales, something dull prodding at her chest as her breath seems to have been stolen. He's not supposed to understand.

(But he does. Not entirely, not wholly, but it's there, regardless.)

Unbidden, her hands move to actively reciprocate his touch and then they're holding hands. It's strange, she realises, but she might be able to call it nice. Calming. It reminds her of ethereal stations and handsome boys that smile too sharply.

When he raises his head to meet her eyes through unruly bangs, she shakes her head. The smile he gives her is soft, genuine and utterly blinding.

"Then I'll stay."

. . .

. . .

When the boy's belated realisation of their unanticipated display of intimacy finally comes into play and he hastily pulls away from her, Hem thinks she might feel some kind of amusement. It bubbles underneath the surface, trying to force its way through her glass interior and mostly failing. But she knows it's there.

He's red all over as he stutters out, "I'm, well, my name's, ah, Harry. Harry Potter." He tries to give her a sheepish smile, but it's more like a grimace and he runs his hands through his black mess of hair as he endeavours to regain his composure. "Do you… Well, I mean, I can show you my scar." A wince as he seems to rapidly process how peculiar that might sound. "Y-you know, since I've seen yours and all. It, um, only seems… right?"

He's trying, Hem thinks. Social interaction also doesn't seem to be his forte, either, but he's trying. It's curiously endearing. Is this what it's like to try?

So, she gives him a sluggish nod and smothers the speck in her chest that she suspects might be hope.

There's plenty of time for her world to fall apart again, after all.

Chapter Text

Jelly slugs are nice, Hem decides. Even if her tastebuds don't work effectively  ̶(like everything else)  ̶the mindless chewing is capable of producing a vague sense of tranquillity within her. Food usually has to have a rather strong flavour or lots of seasoning if she's to taste it, but Theia maintains that too much sugar and salt is bad for her.

Matthias likes to indulge her, however, often sneaking condiments to her when his wife isn't looking. Hermione usually tries to hide her smile and play innocent, but she's never been much of a liar so Theia would find out and give them all the side-eye. But it's something one might think of as a loose family tradition and so the moments are typically regarded with fondness.

(Hem would think of it fondly if she were capable. As it is, it's like watching someone else be a part of a family she doesn't belong to.)

Perhaps one of the benefits of being away from the two elder Grangers is the opportunity for sweets and the like, though Hem is aware that Hermione will still only eat them on the rare occasion. She's always been rather rule-abiding, mainly because their authority figures were their parents and the rules in question were meant to instil good habits like brushing their teeth twice a day. Having a mould of teeth  ̶(both healthy and rotten)  ̶staring at them in the bathroom all the time tends to enforce the benefits of that particular rule.

Hem should feel grateful in that regard, she supposes; if not for them, she'd likely never look after her personal hygiene even if in a rather automatic fashion. She should feel grateful for a lot of things, actually.

(But she can't.

They don't deserve to have a daughter that can't thank them and mean it. They deserve better than that, but life isn't fair and it never will be.)

"So, this Selection Mutism thing," starts an unfamiliar voice. Hem lifts her head to find a ginger-haired boy with his mouth half-full with sweets. Then her gaze falls to the ugly rat in his lap, the little creature gnawing on the large abundance of sweets that Harry's bought.

(Something feels off about the rat, she manages to discern, but she can't pinpoint why. Or is it just her psyche messing with her again? Who's to say that the pets of wizards and witches wouldn't be just as intelligent as their owners?)

The rat squeaks, apparently discomforted by her staring. The name Ron Weasley floats to the surface of her mind. That's right. He came by soon after Hermione returned, surprised to find Harry present and talking to her little sister about the methods of cooking without getting burned.

(Her memories are dispassionate and without feeling, like recordings of a life that isn't hers.)

"Harry Potter?"  her sister had repeated, processing."Harry Potter from the books? The one who vanquished You-Know-Who?"

Harry winced,"There are books about me? Really?"

"Oh, yes,"  Hermione smiled as she sat."Lots of books retelling how you survived a Killing Curse to the face as a baby. There are also books about how you've slain dozens of dragons and saved damsels from centaur camps, but they're obviously fiction. You're clearly just a boy and not some godly wizard of vast power."

"I… Thank you? Have the two of you known, ah, magic all your life, then?"

"Oh, no! We're muggle-born, actually. We've only recently known about the wizarding world; there were just lots of advertisements about books featuring you in Diagon Alley, so I was curious. Dad's always said that I've a voracious appetite for knowledge."

Hermione, from Hem's left, lifts her chin and promptly corrects Ron with, "Selective Mutism." Bookmarking the current section of her book, she closes it in order to fully embrace the urge to explain. It might actually seem foreboding to some. "Selective Mutism is a childhood disorder typified by an inability to speak in certain circumstances. Specifically, it is a consistent failure to speak in certain social situations where there is a natural expectation of speaking. For instance, a child may be verbal at home but unable to speak in a classroom environment."

Confused but trying to comprehend, Ron frowns and tentatively asks, "So, she can speak but she's too afraid to…?"

Mildly pleased, Hermione's back straightens as she nods in confirmation. "Yes, essentially. However, Hem's condition is a little different because she's also got Depersonalisation-Derealisation Disorder, which is a diagnosis assigned to individuals who persistently experience feelings of detachment, either bodily or cognitively, from themselves or from their environment. They're basically disconnected from reality so it's hard to function normally." Hem blinks as Hermione places a sympathetic hand on her back, her voice lowering to something more sombre as she continues with, "That means that whenever Hem speaks, she's usually not fully aware of it. But most of the time, she can't really speak at all, even if she wants to. There's more to it all, of course, but this is the bite-sized version and I don't want to scare you away with the full version."

"Merlin," breathes Ron, looking over at her with a mildly bemused but mostly pitying gaze. It doesn't really resonate when he takes a bite of chocolate the next moment and remarks with a full mouth, "That's got to be rough. I get losing your voice when you're scared, but all the time? Inconvenient, I'll say."

"Yeah," Harry agrees, his voice softer. When he looks at her through his fringe, it's with a new understanding. "Won't that make school hard?" he queries as he offers her another jelly slug. Hem accepts it without thought and he smiles before adjusting his newly fixed glasses. She hadn't noticed that they were broken even before Hermione had the need to repair them with a recently learned spell.

Hermione sighs, "Yes, actually. She has a prescription of medicine that'll get sent to the headmaster, but even those don't help as much as they should. It's theorised that, because she's magical, muggle medicine is less effective. We don't know how being in a magical environment will affect things." Solemn silence drapes itself over the compartment, then, but it quickly disappears as a determined expression contorts Hermione's face. Her shoulders square off before she declares, "But we're going to make it work. Hem deserves to learn about magic just as any other witch and I won't let anyone say otherwise."

And it's strange, Hem thinks, how a certain feeling of camaraderie passes between the three of them, as though the three acquaintances now have something akin to a common goal.

(Funny, isn't it? How it's about her and she  still  feels like she's not involved; stuck behind a glass wall, the damsel to be protected.)

. . .

. . .

She does eventually fall asleep, lulled by the rhythm of the train and the white noise of the other occupants of the compartment. A dynamic seems to already be forming between the three of them, even though they're still learning about each other's idiosyncrasies.

A part of her is pleased by her sister's swift achievement of making friends. Hermione has always been expressive, so it's clear that she's excited to interact with new people who are willing to listen to her. Excitement tends to make her even more verbose, but Harry and Ron seem to be actively trying to follow along. The latter's questions spur her on and he tends to be conflicted on whether he should regret asking or continue listening in fascination. Harry picks up on it, lips quirking with mirth.

(Another part of her is bitter, hidden underneath the muck of detachment. Hem wants to feel excitement, too. Hem wants to feel.)

Resting her chin on her knees, she stares at the immaculate ground; surrounded by white silence.

(She was wrong; Hem doesn't like to be left alone here any more than Tom does.)

Her brain helpfully reminds her that she's never been partial to naps.

. . .

. . .

"You woke her up!" exclaims Hermione, her voice shrill with annoyance. Hem blinks rapidly, finding her sister defiantly standing in front of a blond boy. "Honestly, have you no manners? You come barging in here, demanding to know if Harry's the Harry Potter before promptly insulting him on his choice of company and waking my sister up! How dare you?"

Bushy hair frizzing up and arms flailing wildly, Hem realises that Hermione is genuinely angry; a state of being that's rather unusual for her.

The blond boy, flanked by two other, more unfortunate-looking boys, sneers at Hermione like she's scum beneath his shoe. Or, well, he's trying. He seems to be a little taken aback by the sudden aggression.

"How dare I?" he soon hisses, stepping forward in a supposed attempt to be intimidating. "How dare you!  Who are you to criticise me?  What's your name? You surely can't be from a respectable family with that hair and those teeth."

Hem blinks, feeling rather lost. She glances at Ron and Harry, both of whom are watching the tumultuous exchange with something akin to morbid fascination from the sidelines. She seems to be the only one still sitting.

Her sister's buck teeth are cute, though, in Hem's opinion. They're the type that don't cause any dental problems, so Matthias and Theia don't see much of a need to do something about them.

"I'm Hermione Granger," Hermione formerly introduces herself with dramatic flair as she flips some of her hair over her shoulder. "And before you ask; yes, I am muggle-born. Both my sister and I are." Hem can't see from her angle, but she assumes that her sister is smiling with all her teeth. "Now," she pulls out her wand, "I'll kindly ask you to get out before I try out all the hexes I've been learning over the summer on you."

The pompous boy glowers  ̶(nervously, she notes, but he's trying to hide it)  ̶at the wand aimed at his chest, the two boys beside him restless as they seem to wait for orders. Looking around the compartment, he eventually meets Hem's gaze. She manages to catch the surprised twitch of his eyes before he purposefully narrows them and dismisses her entirely. Odd.

"You'd better watch yourself, Potter," he warns, straightening up in order to look superior. At least, she thinks that's why. "Associating yourself with blood traitors, mudbloods and half-giants…" A look of pure disgust contorts his face as he glares at Hermione. "Well, don't say I didn't warn you."

Then, in a flurry of movement, he turns and exits the compartment with his apparent minions in tow. Some kind of tension that Hem doesn't feel seems to loosen soon after, for Hermione's arm drops and her shoulders sag as she breathes out a shaky sigh of relief.

Ron and Harry look at the older girl with awe while she closes the door and sits back down like she hasn't just threatened to hex someone.

"Merlin, Hermione," breathes Ron, sounding winded as he practically collapses in his seat with the dark-haired boy following his example. "That was brilliant. Utterly terrifying, but brilliant. Remind me to never make you my enemy, yeah?

Harry nods, emphatic. "Yeah, you were great." He soon gives Hermione a speculative look. "Have you really been learning hexes all summer?"

Hem's sister flushes under the attention, lowering her gaze and smiling sheepishly as she waves a dismissive hand. "Oh, well, they're mostly jinxes. Relatively harmless. But that's not all I've been learning, of course!" she adamantly defends, as if they'd accuse her of not learning enough. "I've been reading over the entire first-year curriculum, actually. It's all very interesting. I just…" She blows an errant curl away from her cheek, a frown soon marring her face. "He seems to be such a foul boy, that Malfoy. I suppose I didn't think that he would be cowed by jinxes but I didn't want to actually threaten to use a curse. It seemed a little excessive."

"I wouldn't be surprised if he already knows a few himself," Ron curls his lip as he scowls at the door as though expecting Malfoy's face to pop up in the compartment door window. "His family was one of the first to come back to our side after You-Know-Who disappeared. Said they were bewitched. My dad doesn't believe it; he thinks that Malfoy's father didn't need an excuse to go to the Dark Side."

A little dramatic, Hem thinks, to call the opposition the 'Dark Side.' It reminds her of Star Wars, actually, and from the quirked lip on Hermione, her sister thinks so, too.

Hem wonders if things in the wizarding world are really so simple as Light and Dark. Tom will have an opinion, surely.

Chapter Text

The journey of finally arriving at the station and going on a boat ride to witness a majestic castle is supposed to be a wondrous experience. At least, Hem assumes so from the awed expressions and gasps of her peers.

Unfortunately, her mind decides that it'd like to float away now, so her attention to her surroundings is lost as she endeavours to smother the onset of another episode. Hermione will be awfully upset if something happens, and Hem doesn't want to ruin a once-in-a-lifetime moment for her. Or for any of the other children, for that matter.

"It was… something extraordinary," reminisced Tom, eyes in the distance as he played the memory over in his head. "It's hard to name the exact feeling, but I knew from the moment I looked upon the castle that it would be something I'd consider home. I'd never had a home before, as you well know, so it was quite…" The corner of his mouth twitched. "Magical."

Someone grabs her hand before pulling her down and towards them. Hem comes to the slow realisation that she would've had a curtain of ivy stuck to her hair and face if they hadn't.

The boy next to her  ̶(Harry. His name's Harry)  ̶gives her a shy smile when she turns to him. She's dimly aware of squeezing his hand in thanks and his smile brightening in response. Her mind slowly begins to settle, gradually finding its way back to the ground while she blinks away the visual snow and the overly illuminate moonlight.

"You alright, Hem?" he whispers, leaning closer to her. He startles when Hermione abruptly whips her head and smacks Ron right in the face with her ample amount of hair, causing the ginger-haired boy to sputter in indignant shock.

Giving her a squinty look of observation, Hermione's expression soon softens into clear concern, evidently ignorant of Ron's disgruntled stare. "Don't worry, Hem," she comforts, reaching over to place an encouraging hand on Hem's knee. "It's nearly over. We'll be Sorted, eat some food, then go to bed. Then we can go to the headmaster tomorrow to get your medicine."

Hem can do little more than a slight nod before she finds herself standing in a room with a high ceiling amongst the rest of her year mates. Hermione mutters something about which spells she's learnt in order to pass the supposed Sorting test, while Ron and Harry are looking at her with increasing horror.

"Please, stop," pleads Harry with a grimace. Ron wildly nods his head in agreement.

Hermione blinks, eyes widening in surprise. "Oh! Sorry," she apologises, cheeks colouring to a reddish hue. "I have a habit of muttering when I'm nervous. I really don't want to fail. That'd be just horrible."

"S'alright," Harry replies, looking a little green as he adjusts his glasses. "I'm, uh, nervous, too. Don't really know any spells yet…"

Ron looks to the other boy with wide eyes, "Nervous? I'm bloody terrified, mate! Fred said that we might have to fight a dragon or something."

"That doesn't sound plausible," Hermione says with a frown. "I'm fairly sure we'd all die against a dragon, so I doubt anyone in the wizarding world would find that beneficial to society, no?" She crosses her arms in thought, then, probably trying to figure out if they really would be willing to do that. After all, the Grangers are new to this world and abnormality is their normality.

(Shame. She doubts that'd apply to her. Even wizards and witches don't seem to have brains like hers.)

. . .

. . .

"Granger, Hemera!"

Hem jolts, thrown off of her train of thought. As a response, her mind clears just enough for her to remember that they're being Sorted. The bright lights of the Great Halls are blinding her while the curious gazes of an entire school are piercing her skin like needles.

Her eyes eventually flick towards the stern, bespectacled woman  ̶(who's she, again?)  ̶whose gaze lifts from her roll of parchment to sweep over the dwindling crowd of First-Years. When her gaze settles on Hem, it subtly softens and the severe-looking woman gives a coaxing nod. (So she knows? Wait, what does she know about?)

When her body refuses to move and whispers begin to break out like flies buzzing in her ears, Hem vaguely feels a hand place itself flat against her back. Gently, it pushes her forward, allowing her legs to automatically move towards the stool.

Numbly, Hem sits, her gaze lowered so as to avoid the overstimulation the visual of a crowd burning holes into her flesh would inevitably cause. Then her vision darkens  ̶(which is nice; she's going to need specialised glasses at this rate, what with all the light)  ̶as the ratty hat is placed on her head.

'Well, well…' starts an unexpectedly deep voice that echoes and scrapes against her mind. 'Quite the mess of a mind you have, my dear,' it observes, quite bluntly at that. She can't disagree, at any rate.

(Get it out. Get it out.)

'No response? Not even in your own head?' queries the Hat. 'Very well. So long as you'll allow me to try and find a place for your frazzled soul. You've quite the intellect, you know, regardless of your mental setbacks. Rather impressive, indeed, when one considers how afflicted your mind has been the from very beginning. There's a House for the perspicacious, you know.'

Hem is reminded of Tom's words, then, and she wonders if it can see those particular memories. (Are they memories?) But she assumes not, for the sentient object would likely remark upon it. How much can it see? How hard is it to wade through the mud that is her mindscape? It doesn't tell her.

'Stop scratching your arm, my dear,' it orders, somewhat airily so. She listens, unsurprised by her lack of awareness nor by the Hat's casual order. 'Now… Aside from your wit, it would seem that you've the wisdom of someone beyond your years… And you're creative, no doubt; those sketches of yours diamonds in the rough.' It hums, contemplative. It sounds like she'll be in Ravenclaw. Hermione might end up there. 'Ravenclaw would appreciate your talents, yes… But you have no interest to learn for the sake of learning, now, do you? Apathy pumps through your heart, corrupts your blood and your flesh while it rots your bones from the inside out. It is only the brilliant self-preservation of your subconscious and the love from your family that keeps you from falling over the edge; never to return.'

That doesn't sound right. (But it doesn't know about Tom, does it? Somehow out of sight, somehow out of mind.) Hem doesn't bother correcting it. It doesn't need to know.

'Oh, yes. Unfortunate, indeed. Lacking in ambition and courage, you've become far too resigned to the misfortune thrust upon you. But I can see such potential… Do you see? Something untapped and hidden, begging to be realised. And should it be, I am certain that you will become something truly great. Of course… You need to be challenged in order to reach it. Yes, I believe it is so.

'Well, then, my dear, it's time for you to go and carve a place of your own in the cruel, cruel world. And there's no better place for you to do that other than SLYTHERIN!'

Catching herself in time before she falls off the stool, Hem blinks in rapid succession as the Sorting Hat is removed and she's violently assaulted by the dazzling light of the Great Hall. Feeling as though she's stuck, Hem finds Hermione, Harry and Ron gawking at her with varying expressions of bewilderment and shock. But her sister catches herself, trying to bestow upon her a loving smile that's too filled with worry to be very effective.

Then the sound of only a few people clapping politely from the Slytherin table jumpstarts her brain and forces her to make her way over.

Tom will be so very pleased, she thinks. She's always thought his best smile is the one where it's a little crooked, a little imperfect, but unequivocally genuine. It makes him look more like boyish and human than the carved masks that he's so partial to wearing.

(The first time he smiled at her like that was when she told him that she could set fire to things with her mind.

"Like me," he breathed, giddy. "We're the same!")

. . .

. . .

The food's nice, Hem decides. She can taste a fair amount of flavour even before she piles more salt and pepper than what's strictly necessary. The company, however, could be better, since Hermione, Ron and Harry were all Sorted into Gryffindor.

(She knows Hermione's going to worry all night, wondering if she's okay and who's going to help her if something goes wrong. They were supposed to be in the same House; the same dorm; together.Once again, life reminds her why disappointment is so familiar to her.)

"Ugh," groans the blond boy  ̶(Malfoy; is it derived from French?)  ̶from the train. "I can't believe they've let a mudblood into Slytherin! My appetite is spoiled from just sitting at the same table as her." He waves a hands towards her like he wants her to shoo, which she would like to do because her senses are blistering.

(Focus on the food. Just the sense of taste. Focus on it.)

Snickers stand out from the background noise around her. Mocking, malicious, some forced for appearance's sake. It falls off of her shoulders, surprisingly, the words and sounds meaning little to her. (Did she really expect it to hurt?) She hears a scoff from somewhere to her right and a mutter of, "Of course, he has to be a little twat, doesn't he?" It's a young, feminine voice. One of her year mates?

"Mudblood," Tom hissed. "A derogatory term for those of purely muggle heritage. They're seen as dirt in the eyes of the pure-blood extremists; stealers of magic from 'real' wizards and witches, things like that. It's not commonly used in polite company seeing as it's considered a rather vulgar word."

"Did someone call you that, Tom?"

He smiled, its appearance saccharine and menacing. "Just once. They know better now."

"Malfoy," calls an unfamiliar voice. It sounds older. Androgynous. "You'd best not use that word in public; you wouldn't want to tarnish your reputation, yeah?"

An aggrieved hiss and the scrape of a fork against a plate. Her fingers twitch. "What, are you defending her?"

"I'm just saying," replies the same voice. "That word isn't received well in polite society. I don't care what you say in private, though." They seem to think before adding, "Besides, she's one of us now, whether you like it or not. Professor Snape doesn't like it when infighting can be seen by the other Houses."

In order words; don't get caught, and no one will say otherwise.

Hem wants to sigh, but instead, she lifts her head to address the scorching tingle that's broken out on the side of her scalp. Her eyes sweep over the High Table  ̶(that's what it's called, right? Hermione said something about it, didn't she?)  ̶before landing on a man with a turban twitchily gaping at her with something akin to bewildered alarm.

When their eyes meet, the man literally lurches back with a strangled yelp, startling and drawing the attention of both his colleagues and the student body. With a high-pitched, highly anxious attempt at a laugh, the nervous man desperately waves them off and assures them that nothing's wrong. It doesn't really work, but no one seems to want to question it.

Unsure of how to process that, Hem soon finds herself under the scrutiny of another man  ̶(one with an unusual amount of oil in his hair)  ̶that's seated beside the turban-wearing one. His dark, searing eyes narrow at her with suspicion, but she only stares back, wondering what it is that he's looking for.

His eyes seem to narrow more upon the realisation that she's not looking away, as though finding her subconscious course of action noteworthy in some  ̶(probably unflattering)  ̶fashion. (She can't be that interesting, no?) Then, without warning, their impromptu staring competition is broken when he turns away to supposedly reply to something said by one of the other professors.

And Hem, after a bemused blink, returns to her dinner and thinks about whether or not she'll be able to sleep tonight.

. . .

. . .

Hem supposes she should feel grateful that she's only sharing a dorm with three other girls rather than all seven of the other Slytherin girls in her year. That sounds like a bad idea, honestly, and the girl with the alliterative name  ̶(Parkin? No, Parkinson, right?)  ̶looked at her as though she was something dirty and foul. She won't be surprised if said girl starts heckling her during the year.

The identical sisters  ̶(with brown hair so straight that it's imposing and matching flat expressions)  ̶are quiet as they prepare for bed, their movements in sync and somewhat jarring to look at. They ignore her and the other girl  ̶(blonde hair, notably pretty, with a pert nose dusted with freckles while honey irises survey Hem's form with a prickling amount of intensity)  ̶which is fine, since any attempts at conversation would be unintentionally rebuffed.

After they finish brushing their teeth, the twins enter their respective beds before swiftly closing the curtains simultaneously. That kind of coordination is impressive, really.

"I've noticed something about you, Granger," remarks the other girl still sitting up while Hem slides off her tights to replace them with knee-high socks. She can't sleep without them. Every time she tries, the sensation of fabric brushing against her legs sets her off and then she'll just not sleep at all. It annoys Tom to no end.

("Really, Hem? You left me here because you tried to sleep without socks and failed?")

Glancing over at the blonde, Hem blinks, trying to remember her name with little success. The girl doesn't seem to mind her silence as she sits on her bed, leaning towards and examining her like she's an interesting puzzle. It'd be discomforting under normal circumstances.

She doesn't reply.

"You've got a wild thing about you, did you know?" continues the girl with a smile now upon her features, teeth white and immaculate. Theia and Matthias would be pleased. "I mean, your relatively shabby appearance enforces that impression, but I mean to say that it's in your eyes."

Hem contemplates sleeping with her arm holster on. Will that cause any problems?

"My name's Sally-Anne Perks, by the way. You don't speak much, do you?" Sally-Anne tilts her head in thought, still staring with a peculiar gleam in her eyes. "Or is it… You can't speak much? Even the Carrow sisters were whispering among themselves in the Great Hall."

Absently scratching the side of her neck, Hem gives a distracted nod. (Probably?) She decides to sleep with the arm holster on and see how it feels. If she'll feel anything at all. It might stop her from scratching her left wrist, at least. Her right, on the other hand, is still in danger of being assaulted by her nails.

(What does it matter? There's already too much to count. A few more won't hurt. Not her, anyway. Just her family, who are helpless because everything they've tried hasn't worked.)

"They're cold, you know," says Sally-Anne. Her smile is approving, for some reason or another. "Your eyes, I mean. I thought you'd be timid; that your eyes would be full of easily discerned vulnerability." She waves a dismissive hand before settling further into her bed and beginning to plait her hair. "I was mistaken. The way you were staring at Professor Snape doesn't really match that particular description."

Sally-Anne ties her the end of her plait. "You just don't care, do you? About being placed in Slytherin, away from your sister, or Malfoy being a little twat and kicking up a fuss about said placement." Hem blinks, something niggling at her brain, telling her that there's a connection to something, somewhere. But it eludes her, and she lets it go.

Reaching over to turn off her lamplight, the blonde-haired girl  ̶(observant; aggressive; possibly dangerous)  ̶gives her one last smile. Strangely enough, it does seem to be sincerely pleasant. "I thought I'd let you know; Headmaster Dumbledore was watching you, too. You must be someone interesting if the normally genial man  ̶so says my brother, at least  ̶peers at you with such calculation." The light disappears. "Goodnight, Granger. I hope we can be friends in the near future. I'm very good at blink interpretations."

Blinking at the curtain that's hiding the mysterious girl's form, Hem lets out a forceful breath, pushing back the urge to drown. Did she really need to be so thoroughly analysed?

She's been able to stay afloat all day with some effort; it'd be annoying if she failed now, just as the day's supposed to end.

Chapter Text

She can't remember where anything is. Not consciously, anyway, but it'll take a while before her subconscious memorises all the routes to get to her destinations. Being a snake means that other Houses tend to avoid her on principle, while her own House has marked her as a pariah, so they, too, give her a wide berth.

It wouldn't be all that surprising to find herself wandering aimlessly, but Sally-Anne and her older brother  ̶(whose name currently escapes her)  ̶have prevented that with their almost lackadaisical inclinations to stick by her. The former more so than the latter, though, since they're in the same year. It would be rather risky for their reputations if not for the apparent fact that the Perks are already notorious for being truculent blood traitors.

Hermione and the others can't help much, to their displeasure, since they don't know where the entrance to the Slytherin common room is. After all, they can't help her to her next class if she doesn't show up for the first one.

Her dormmate doesn't even seem to be particularly bothered by the fact that her own persecution has gotten worse due to her association with a mudblood. "Oh, please," scoffed Sally-Anne once she caught Hem idly examining the bruise on her cheek. "This is nothing. I get into fights all the time with my brothers at home  ̶two of them go to Durmstrang, for Merlin's sake  ̶and these arseholes don't hold a candle to them."

Curiously enough, though, the brother doesn't seem to receive the same treatment. She manages to catch some sharp barbs exchanged between the other older students, but mostly, Sally-Anne's brother is left alone. She supposes that, as a Fourth-Year, he'd have already carved his place within Slytherin.

"I'm curious, Hemera," starts the strong-willed blonde as she leads the two of them to the first class of the day. Hem doesn't know what it is. (Who is Hemera, again?) "About how you know the Shield Charm. It's not in this year's curriculum and Weston says it's a moderately difficult spell to learn. It's dead useful; how do you put it on your clothes?"

(Oh, that's right. She's Hemera.)

"You've mastered the Shield Charm?" Tom asked, gaze acute upon her form. He'd barely looked away at all since she told him she was Sorted into Slytherin. In fact, he had barely blinked, too. It would be rather unnerving to a normal person, no doubt.

Inclining her head, she answered, "Yeah… Hermione helped me with it over the summer." Her sister thought it was a great idea, even as she questioned how Hem even knew about it since they didn't have any books mentioning it. She didn't answer, and Hermione let it go easily enough.

Her wand's good for nonverbal spellwork, apparently, which is favourable since she's not able to even whisper incantations on most occasions. She herself seems to be suited to nonverbal magic, much to Hermione and Tom's immense pleasure. It may or may not be a small blessing granted by her magic, but Hem doesn't feel all that mollified. (It'd be great if magic could fix her head entirely, but no. Even witchcraft has its limits.)

Tom gave a sharp, pleased nod. "Good. Use it every day on your clothes, your belongings  ̶anything that you find valuable  ̶until it becomes second nature to do so. You're a target now." The walnut brown of his eyes lightened with vicious anticipation as his fingers tightened around her curls. "Time to survive, Hem."

To be surrounded by children with magic and a lack of awareness as to how cruel they can be is a precarious situation, indeed. She doesn't think it's been too long since school started  ̶(she could easily be wrong, however)  ̶but the amount of jinxes and hexes thrown her way has reached an impressive number, most likely. Not that she's been counting  ̶(not that she can, with the way her head is)  ̶so she can only presume as much with the numerous times she's had to recast her worn Shield Charms.

She might have to minimise her time in the Slytherin Dungeon. Going through the common room and to her dorm is always a rather unsafe journey, especially if Draco is present since he likes to try and establish his dominance all the time.

He doesn't like it when she looks at him, she's noticed. His favoured jinx to use against her is one that's meant to blind her  ̶(he's always aiming for her eyes, she's noticed)  ̶but she's wrapped in layers of the Shield Charm and it tends to ricochet onto some other unsuspecting child. (The light of it bothers her, though. She only learned that she once severed two of his fingers with a jinx she doesn't remember learning after Sally-Anne cackled about it in their dorm.)

Sometimes, she wonders if it's because he's disgusted that someone so inferior would dare to meet his eyes or if it's because of something a little more personal than that. He sneers at her, but sometimes he twitches like he's uncomfortable. Regardless, it's his problem more than it's hers.

Her brain prods at her skull, telling her that Sally-Anne's asked a question that she can't answer. So, to compensate, Hem pauses to unholster her wand before pointing it at the other girl's robes. (Are they friends? What constitutes as a friend, anyway? Maybe they're allies.) One might think nothing's happened since it's meant to be invisible until something hits it, but she can feel the familiar, instinctive pull of magic from within her.

Blinking in surprise, Sally-Anne looks down at her clothes before speedily looking back up with an excited, childlike gleam in her eyes. "What a surprise! Thank you! I suppose this is your way of saying you can't exactly tell me?" A nod, which is responded to with another nod of acknowledgment. "I suppose I should've been more mindful of my questions. My aunt  ̶she's mute, you see, her tongue was cut out by a Death Eater during the war with a curse  ̶often informs me that it can be difficult for her to communicate with people since writing is a lot slower than talking. Maybe we should get you a book to write in for communicative purposes," she muses.

And somehow, Hem is reminded of a less strait-laced Hermione; one who likes to wear cherry red Doc Martens, studded bracelets and style her hair in a French pigtail plait. It's probably why they get along relatively well even if one favours hard academics and the other just likes to take people apart in her head.

"No matter," dismisses Sally-Anne, grabbing Hem's hand to resume their trek to class. "Let's go to the library later, then. Or maybe I can ask your sister since we have DADA with Gryffindor right now. Professor Quirrell never takes points away for talking during class; he'd have too much trouble stuttering it all out. And everyone knows that he avoids you like the plague, even if he gives you creepy stares when you aren't looking. Aren't you just the enigmatic girl?"

Sally-Anne grins at her, brows raised cheekily. Hem wishes she could say that she's not very interesting at all and these weird attitudes from her professors are decidedly unwelcome.

Even though she does have atypical dreams where she communicates with a boy who's possibly from an alternate reality and a mind like mire.

Not that they'd know about the first part. (Wouldn't that be terrifying if they did?)

. . .

. . .

The dynamic between her Slytherin companion and the Gryffindor trio is somewhat tenuous, one might say.

Ron was apprehensive, at first, when the younger Granger sister that he had just met was Sorted into Slytherin, but that soon changed when the elder sister told him off for thinking Hem was going to suddenly become some kind of sneering bully.

"She can barely find it in herself to care about anything, Ronald Weasley! Why would she waste her time and effort harassing others for an emotional response she's incapable of feeling?"

Harry seemed to be contemplative, but he gave Hem a welcoming smile the next time she showed up with green on her robes. Hermione, of course, ever the supportive sister  ̶(she doesn't deserve this, please, stop)  ̶told her that she'd teach her all the jinxes, hexes and their counterspells that she currently knows for self-defence when and if the Shield Charm ever fails.

(Sally-Anne also likes to show her various hexes, but they're a little Darker than Hermione's repertoire.

"You never know when you need to puncture someone's lungs so they cough up blood. Can't cast spells effectively if they're doing that, now, can they?")

Hermione can be terrifyingly vindictive when it comes to those she cares about, as Harry and Ron have learned.

"You know, Hermione, I thought you'd be all bookish and rule-abiding. I mean, you're definitely bookish, but," Ron waved a hand, trying to articulate his thoughts, but his bushy-haired friend caught on before he strained himself.

Eyes still glued to her DADA book, Hermione responded, "Well, rules are important, mind you, but I've learned that not everyone cares about that. The world can be very cruel, especially to people who aren't easily understood." Her face darkened as she turned to the next page. "And if my following of those rules means my sister gets hurt because others disregard them, then I'll happily break them."

Sally-Anne smiles roguishly at the ginger-haired Gryffindor, who regards her with a suspicious squint. Even if Ron thinks Hem's alright, it doesn't really extend to the rest of the House. It's something the other Slytherin girl immediately picked up on during their first meeting.

"Fellow blood traitor," she greets, smile widening as Ron's face scrunches up. She decides to give him a reprieve as she greets the other two Gryffindors. "Hermione," her smile becomes more genuine, but that disappears back into mischief when she turns to the bespectacled boy of the group and intones, "Boy Who Lived. Nice to see you looking so suitably ordinary for a celebrity."

Harry grimaces, running a hand through his messy hair in discomfort. "You really enjoy getting under people's skin, don't you?" he remarks as they all to take a seat to settle in before class starts. Hermione is with Hem at one desk  ̶(she insists, and the other Slytherin of the group knows not to push it)  ̶Ron with Harry and Sally-Anne at the desk in front of the two Grangers. A quiet brunet ̶(something Nott, maybe; a Slytherin boy. He has a nice side profile)  ̶often sits next to her, some unspoken rule in place as they ignore each other completely.

"Force of habit, I'm afraid," nods the blonde with mock solemnity. "One needs to have a certain amount of impertinence in the pit of snakes. You'd think one of us Perks would've landed ourselves in another House by now, but no. It's probably the fault of associating with muggle biker gangs. Dad does so like his motorcycles, you see."

Ron, confused, asks, "What the hell is a biker gang?" which elicits a joint explanation between Hermione and Sally-Anne that seems to short-circuit his brain while Harry listens in bemused amusement.

Hem listens for a bit, but it soon becomes white noise when she focuses on doodling in her sketchbook. Later on, she realises it's a rather severe sketch of a boy with black eyes staring up at her, all hard edges and dark undertones. It must have been unconsciously imbued with magic, for the boy tilts his head slightly every so often. But he never blinks, eyes focused intensely on whatever's in front of him.

She gives it to Harry at the end of the lesson, who blinks rapidly in shock, like he's seldom received gifts in his life. "Really?" Hem nods, and he beams. Something akin to a needle pokes her chest. "Thanks, Hem! I really like it."

"Your art's kind of scary, Hem," Ron observes from over Harry's shoulder. "Wicked, of course, but it's a little unnerving to stare at. Don't know why."

"I'd like some sketches, too, please," requests Sally-Anne. "In your own time. Maybe it can be a design on the side of a bike!"

. . .

. . .

Professor Snape covers himself in bitterness and hostility, evidently trying to find some kind of vindictive satisfaction by degrading schoolchildren. (What scars are hidden under his dramatic, billowy cloak? What's he lost and who does he see when he looks at Harry and Hermione? Or is she just overthinking things?)

It's clear that he dislikes everyone save for Draco  ̶("Probably because he's friends with the git's father," snarks Sally-Anne)  ̶but it's also rather obvious that he abhors the group of misfits that is the so-called Gryffindor trio. Sally-Anne is generally ignored, but he seems to also have something against Hem, so it's not unusual for him to sneer insults her way as well. They effortlessly slide off her back, though, which visibly bothers him.

But he usually appears to be mollified by the enraged responses from her sister, Ron and Harry, so it's most likely considered a win in his eyes, anyway.

(They should stop, honestly. It means nothing to her and the bickering is more annoying than the insults.)

As he stands in front of the class as opposed to looming over everyone, she inadvertently meets his eyes. Again, his eyes narrow and, for some reason, Hem has a tendency to maintain eye contact if the other person doesn't decide to look away immediately. It's probably a habit picked up from Tom.

(She has a fair few habits adopted from him, it would seem. Once or twice now, she's caught herself twirling her wand between her fingers.)

But then she blinks and Professor Snape's turned away, off to harass one of the Gryffindor pairings. Half of her expected him to call her out, to try and make her uncomfortable by forcing everyone's attention on her.

Then Hermione asks her to pass over some kind of leaf and Hem tries not to blow up their project. It'll be take some time before she can internalise all the intricacies of potion-making.

. . .

. . .

When Hem revealed to Tom that, after the Sorting, she hadn't gone back to the Great Hall since then and so she might've been unintentionally starving herself, he was furious. His ire is not often directed at her, but it happens on occasion. Usually when she's causing herself more harm than the usual scratching. He didn't even give her time to mention that Sally-Anne smuggles food into the dorm every so often to share it with her.

"I can't believe you!" he hissed, incensed enough that he stood above her in the blink of an eye, her head tilted up to what would be a painful degree as he roughly seized her face in his hands. "You  ̶ How dare you?" And his eyes were so very dark, tempestuous emotions flickering in and out with his distress. (Anger. Desperation. Fear. Why fear?) "I won't have you starving yourself, Hem! I won't allow it!"

She hadn't responded, instead opting to grab his wrists as he worked out his rage. Something that was rather swift, for he stilled, eyes boring into her own and gradually softening, even though what he found was lacking.

(He wants her to care. He needs her to care, she knows, but she can't and she's sorry. Somewhere within her, she knows she's sorry.)

"There's a way to enter the kitchens," he murmured after a prolonged silence, the rest of his vexation draining out of him. The timely manner of it all would be perturbing to some. "If you won't go to the Great Hall, then go to the kitchens." His thumbs brushed against her cheeks for a while, but eventually, he let out a sigh and released her, standing back to his full height and running a hand through his hair. "Oh, Hem, have you ever seen what starvation does to people? How it ruins them?"


Tom gave her an imperfect smile, his cracked mask repairing itself as he stared at her. "I don't know what will happen if you die, Hem. If I'll still dream of a white King's Cross Station but no curly-haired girl with cold, blue eyes to keep me company. And, since I plan to live for a long time, I'd like it if you would take some precautions so that you can do the same."

"Here we are! The Hogwarts kitchens," announces Fred  ̶(it is Fred and not some other name, right?)  ̶after tickling a painting of a pear that giggled and turned into a door handle. The Third-Year boy  ̶(alongside his brother, who stands on her other side)  ̶gestures grandly towards the room, where small creatures are bustling about. House-elves, supplies her mind.

The elves nearby pause in their tasks, turning towards the three students with giant, owlish eyes before they immediately begin to swarm at them with greetings. Hem jolts, alarmed by the abrupt bustle of sound and movement, but the twins quickly shield her. Which is considerate of them.

"Whoa, careful there," starts Fred.

"Our ickle snake startles easily," continues George. "She's not very fond of the inferior lifeforms up in the Great Hall, see. Too much sound  ̶"

"And movement  ̶"

"From said inferior lifeforms." They both wink at her from over their shoulders. She'd smile, but they don't seem to mind her lack of a response.

After numerous apologies that the two boys have to wave off, Hem soon finds herself sitting at one of the tables with the two of them on either side of her. There're all sorts of food in front of them, and she knows they won't be able to finish it all. It doesn't stop the other two from trying.

Still, it's been a while since she's had a decent meal, so she eats an ample amount while Fred and George talk in between bites about various options for their next big prank. Their presence is comfortable; their chatter soothing even as they have a curious habit of occasionally continuing each other's sentences.

(Would that be a sign of co-dependency? What would happen if one of them died?)

Eventually, as Hem takes a sip of her Cambric tea  ̶(an American term, so says Hermione)  ̶a small voice whispers, "Thank you," which makes the conversation between the two brother stall. (It's her voice.)

"Did you hear that, Fred?" gasps George, who sounds notably incredulous.

Fred leans back, pressing a hand to his chest and sounding breathless as he replies, "Did the silent snakelet just thank us, George?"

"Why, I think she did," George smiles, his expression genuinely pleased from what she can tell when she turns to look at him. "First, she surprises us by asking if we know the way to the kitchens  ̶in French, mind, but luckily we're fair at it  ̶and then she surprises us again with a verbal thanks!"

"We're not worthy!" Fred exclaims, expression matching his brother's. "I don't think you've even said a word to Ron yet, have you?"

Not intentionally, she doesn't say. Active attempts at verbal communication is usually a hit or miss scenario. And, like George reminds her, sometimes she slips into French when she should be speaking English and vice versa. Ron doesn't usually address her directly, anyway, not in a way that generally warrants a response like a question.

"Well," Georges begins, the both of them draping an arm over her shoulders. It's an affectionate gesture and she doesn't know how to feel. "You're very welcome, at any rate. We'll keep the fact that you clearly like us more than ickle Ronniekins to ourselves." He looks over at Fred after winking at her. "Right?" His tone almost makes it sound like a warning.

Fred lets out an exaggerated sigh. "Yes, fine," he agrees. "It's probably for the best. He gets jealous easily and he'd probably take it out on you even if it isn't your fault. That won't stop us from giving him devilish grins, though, will it?"

Snacking on the fruit fool that's appeared on the table, Hem listens to the two of them joke. It's nice, in a way. A small part of her is glad that her assumption about their prankster ways  ̶(Hem can't recall how she learned that; maybe Ron mentioned it)  ̶probably meant that they'd know secret passageways and the like was right.

The rest is focused on the dessert that she's eating.

Chapter Text

"You're sure that you don't want to go to the Hallowe'en Feast?" questions Sally-Anne, whose French plaits are smattered with tiny, glowing pumpkins that spit seeds at anyone she dislikes when they pass by. She dislikes just about everyone, so people have taken extra care in avoiding her today.

Hem yawns, on autopilot as she adjusts her messenger bag on her shoulder and makes her way to the entrance.

"Alright, then, suit yourself," the other girl shrugs as they both exit the common room with others following. "I'll bring back something for you. You like candy apples, don't you? Wait, I'll just ask Hermione." She waves as they begin to separate, purposefully ignoring the annoyed hisses of the other snakes that try to get past her. The seeds seem like they'd hurt, but luckily, Sally-Anne likes her. For some reason. "See you later, Hemera! Try not to get lost, yeah?"

Lifting a hand, Hem flutters her fingers for a moment in a weak form of a wave. It's the best she can do.

. . .

. . .

Hem finds herself sitting in one of the dungeon's alcoves, bag beside her  ̶(the strap is still over her shoulder since she's left it behind a few times before)  ̶as she inattentively sketches the Bloody Baron, who, at some point, has sat down beside her in silence. Hem doesn't really take in his features on a conscious level, but the paper is eventually marked harshly with a three-quarter view of his gaunt, silvery face while he stares at nothing in particular.

She doesn't seem to do light lines, it would appear. With how carelessly she draws, one would expect it. But the lines are hard, like she's holding the pencil too tight and putting too much pressure on the paper. Hem doesn't feel any of it, but the writer's callus on her fingers are there as proof.

"I've heard from somewhere that art is a reflection of the artist," Harry commented while watching her sketch. It was probably during DADA. "What do you think your art reflects, Hem?"

(Faces that don't smile and eyes that penetrate the soul. Animals in cages; a goldfish dead inside a fishbowl. A train station, a bench and a boy in black.)

"Rien de bon."

Being near a ghost is curious, she decides. It's hard for her to sense a change in temperature, but she manages to feel the coolness when around the spectres. (The Slytherin ghost is the only one that she apparently spends any time with, though. Why he appears to gravitate towards her; she's uncertain of the answer.) Maybe she's actually freezing, but the ability to feel something for a change is welcomed.

The abrupt smell of something foul, however  ̶(and it must be truly nauseating, if she can smell it so strongly)  ̶is not.

Snapping her head up, Hem feels the rumble of the ground as seemingly giant footsteps vibrate from just a little further down the corridor. The Bloody Baron's wide, black eyes meet hers, silently grounding her while also destabilising her as her mind panics and triggers the process of drowning her.

"Go," he rasps, his chains rattling loudly  ̶(too loud in her ears, piercing ̶when he stands as the creature draws closer. There's the sound of something being dragged along, something large and heavy that scrapes against the floor. "Go!"

Hem jolts, spilling out of the alcove and into the corridor. It takes her a moment to right herself, and a few moments more to fathom the fact that she's not standing alone.

( It's too close. It wasn't supposed to be that close. How did it get that close?)

Dull, tiny eyes upon a small head that's rather disproportionate to the rest of its grotesque, greyish body locate her with a hazy blink and a confused grunt. As though it's taking a while to process the fact that she's in its line of sight when she wasn't only moments before. By its side, her mind identifies a giant, wooden club that could crush her easily.

(She bleeds red, just like any other human. Even if pure-blood elitists think her veins are filled with mud.)

Said giant, wooden club moves, about to lifted so that it can squash her under the force of it. It's then that her head abruptly fills with a bubble of fuzz and snow, her ears ringing and the frequency rapidly rising in volume.

(Dragged down to the depths of the virulent sea of her mindscape, Hem drowns.)

. . .

. . .

Tom frowns at her, frustrated. That's the word. "Why are you like this?" he hisses, hands in her hair. He's pulling her curls so hard. It should hurt, but it doesn't. Weird. "Why don't you answer me when I talk to you? You're not shy, so you can't use that excuse. I know what shy girls are like." His eyes are dark. Too dark. "They don't last long here; those scum like it when they're bashful."

"I don't know," Hem whispers. She stares and stares. He doesn't seem to like it very much. What's the word? Aggressive. Angry. "My brain… doesn't like me. I don't like it." It's terrible. What did she do to get a brain like this? Hermione has a good brain. Why is hers bad?

His face  ̶(Tom's face)  ̶scrunches up. Upset? But he… His eyes are lighter than before. (What a strange boy. Why's he in her dreams?) "You talk as if it is separate from you."

"That works," she replies. She doesn't know how long it took to do just that. His lips thin. "I'm ill; the doctor says so. Men… Mentally. Head isn't right. Doesn't work the way… The way it should."

Her hands are tiny. Theia  ̶(that's the lady's name, right?)  ̶gets sad when she looks at them. Not smooth. Not clean. Hem tries to hide them away. She doesn't want the nice lady to be sad. She doesn't want any of the others to be sad.

(But they are. It's her fault, isn't it?)

Tom talks. He asks things. But she can't reply anymore. Her tiny hands grab his thin wrists and he calms down.

"They say the same about me," he admits. Later. "That I don't work the way I should."

. . .

. . .

Hem gasps  ̶(and it's an odd, odd sensation)  ̶feeling off-balanced and cold and clammy. White fills her vision and the static sings in her ears. Where is she? What's happening? She can't breathe; she can't hear. Is she moving? Yes. But why?

A pained roar that vibrates horrifically throughout her entire body rips through the static. It brings the ringing back. Her mind manages to clear enough for her to realises that she's trembling, stumbling through a large corridor of some sort. Something's behind her, making the place rumble as it seems to flail about. Something breaks.

Giant? No, corrects her head. It's a troll.

(Why is it so close? Why is it so close to her?)

Hem nearly trips, but she manages to catch herself with the wall near her. She stops.

It's not until the creature's footsteps sound like they're aggressively advancing, like it's trying to chase after her, that her body breaks into a run. She doesn't know where, and the haze in her mind hasn't completely lifted yet  ̶(does it ever completely lift?)  ̶so a destination never comes to mind.

(Where is she?)

She's not fond of running. The blur of movement boggles up her head more than usual and no one in the Granger family is all that active. They tried tennis once. Hermione swears that Hem was actually rather good at it  ̶("You have great reflexes, Hem! Even if your stamina is lacking, but that's to be expected." Her sister beams proudly)  ̶until someone in another court accidentally sent a tennis ball flying towards her head.

It didn't hit her, in the end. All Hem remembers is a crater with a burnt ball in it and a tennis net on fire. Theia and Matthias decided that they'd be getting their exercise by walking through secluded parks, instead. That's not as bad.

(She ruins everything, doesn't she? Her lungs are burning. Her legs hurt. Is she on fire?)

. . .

. . .

Maybe it's trying to follow the sound of her footfalls echoing off the walls; or perhaps it has a strong sense of smell that ignores its own stench. As it crashes into the walls as if blinded, debris no doubt littering the corridor, Hem's body comes to an abrupt stop just by a set of stairs. (Where is she?) Panting and attempting to blink away the spots in her vision, she turns towards the giant creature without thought.

(The dungeons, answers her head. Finally.)

The time it takes for her to comprehend the fact that it is, in fact, blinded and without its club  ̶(she thinks there was a club; could be wrong)  ̶is much longer than usual. Granted, she's in a rather precarious situation, no?

Pencils of varying sizes  ̶(it's not normal for pencils to be so long-looking, is it?)  ̶have been jammed under its fingernails and in its eye sockets, Hem notices. (Its blood is murky and weird. Is that what Draco thinks her blood is like?) It moans in agony, trying to claw the foreign objects out but only making the wounds worse by ramming them further into its flesh.

(Where are the pencils from and how did they get embedded into the troll?)

It doesn't stop staggering forward and Hem's frozen while her brain processes the fact that it'll crush her against the wall with its repulsive feet soon enough. If she doesn't move, that is. Which would be a good show of self-preservation.

What would dying be like, though, she absently wonders? Will she go to some sort of afterlife to be judged for her actions in life? (What has she done with her life?) Become a ghost? Being one doesn't sound very pleasant, really. The Bloody Baron looks so very sad all the time, especially when he gazes at another ghost with stab wounds marring her torso.

Being alive isn't all that fun, Hem understands, but she can't imagine being a spirit stuck to one location would be much better.

(Hermione wouldn't have to worry about her anymore if she's gone. Theia and Matthias don't have to waste resources on her dull existence. She'd be dead, and they'd mourn her, but they wouldn't have to worry about how she'll survive in the cruel, cruel world.)

Then again, there might be something about needing to have a strong emotional attachment to the location and/or strongly fearing death. (Maybe.) She probably wouldn't be able to become a ghost in the first place, then.

(Harry and Ron would be shocked and crestfallen, but they'd get over her. They've only known her for a month or two, right? The same goes for Sally-Anne, Fred and George… All of them. They'd move on relatively quick. She's only a mentally ill girl with no importance in the world, after all.)

It's getting closer now, gaining speed as it leaves destruction in its wake. Is her perception of time messing with her again?

"I don't know what will happen if you die, Hem. If I'll still dream of a white King's Cross Station but no curly-haired girl with cold, blue eyes to keep me company. And, since I plan to live for a long time, I'd like it if you would take some precautions so that you can do the same."

Hem's bounding up the stairs before she's fully aware that she's doing such a thing.

There's a terrible crash behind her, but she doesn't look back.

Chapter Text

The Bloody Baron must've gone to get help at some point, since Hem nearly crashes straight into a professor, with the bloodied ghost and several other professors behind them. There's an abrupt cacophony of loud, concerned voices  ̶(please, stop)  ̶that then bombards her already frayed senses and almost makes her want to go back to the troll.

It, at least, only grunted and roared in pain as it destroyed everything around it. Which is somehow more preferred than shrill tones stabbing her eardrums and adults crowding around her to survey for any sort of damage upon her form. (Why are their robes so obnoxiously coloured?)

"Step back!" commands a feminine, vaguely recognisable voice. A dark-skinned woman quickly comes into sight, shielding her from the others. "Give the girl some space, will you? I'll stay with her; the rest of you should go deal with the troll."

And after some quick verbal exchanges, they do just that, whizzing by her with their wands drawn and their robes aflutter.

But the turban man  ̶(Quill? Quirrell. Why does he look at her so intently?)  ̶lingers, wide eyes set upon her as though he's both horrified and utterly fascinated. (But why? What about her warrants such an attitude?) But then Professor Snape smacks him in the back of the head and practically drags the twitchy man towards the dungeons. Her Head of House briefly makes eye contact with her as he passes, but then she blinks and he's gone.

Then, like a puppet cut from its strings, Hem drops to the floor, her legs giving out. She'd lay on the floor right then and there, but the professor that's stayed with her  ̶(Aurora? Theia likes her)  ̶helps her up and proceeds to lead her somewhere. Probably the Hospital Wing.

. . .

. . .

"She's alright," states the nurse while Hem sips on something called a Calming Draught. She doesn't like it very much; it makes her limbs all sluggish, like it's mixing with the sludge that's already present. "Aside from fraught nerves, she's barely got a scratch! And thank goodness for that; the poor girl could've been killed! How could this have happened, Albus?"

Putting the bottle on the side table, her head droops unexpectedly and she nearly hits the wooden surface with her face. But she manages to avoid such a fate by abruptly pulling herself back until she's lying flat on the bed, legs dangling over the edge.

With heavy-lidded eyes blankly staring up at the ceiling, Hem thinks it wise to not consume any more Calming Draughts from now on.

"Oh, you poor dear! You're exhausted." The nurse approaches, beginning to tuck her into bed properly even though Hem wouldn't have cared, either way. In all honesty, she should probably return to the dorm because following a routine is automatic and breaking from it can bewilder her mind.

Something soon twinkles in her peripheral, so she turns to find the headmaster by the end of the bed. He's giving her a peculiar, somewhat penetrating stare and she's unsure of why she feels like he's wary of her. Does he think she'll have an episode and melt someone with accidental magic?

"You must be someone interesting if the normally genial man  ̶so says my brother, at least  ̶peers at you with such calculation."

Then again, it's not that much different compared to when she comes to his office to retrieve her prescription medicine. Even though he has friendly, one-sided conversations with her and allows her to eat as many sherbet lemons as she likes, his eyes are usually trained on her in a fashion that one would likely find uncomfortable. (Sometimes, they're trained on her hand as she absentmindedly twirls her wand between her fingers.)

"I can't imagine what it'd be like if Dumbledore was my headmaster," sneered Tom, unconsciously pulling her closer to him. "He'd likely have me expelled, just because of how blatant his dislike of me is. The sentiment is reciprocated, in truth. He knows nothing of my life nor of what goes on in dingy muggle orphanages, but he figured it was a good idea to set my wardrobe on fire  ̶which can be a traumatic experience for normal children  ̶and tell me to apologise to whomever I stole from. He didn't even bother to know the full story! Just assumed that I was clearly the only guilty party." His face contorted into a dark, fierce glower, hand clenching her hair so tightly that his knuckles were probably white. "Does he treat every child that does something he considers wrong like this? With suspicion and vague distaste?"

Hem closes her eyes, unable to keep them open any longer.

"I'll endeavour to rectify the situation immediately, Poppy," assures the headmaster, his elderly voice calm. (Something about it is grating.) A soft shuffle of fabric. "In the meantime, we'll have the dungeons repaired while the students finish their supper before returning to their dormitories. Miss Granger's sister and friends can visit her in the morning, I assume?"

The nurse  ̶(Poppy? Poppy Pomfrey, that's it)  ̶elicits an acquiescing sigh, "Yes. I'll keep her for the night; I'm afraid she'll collapse on her way back. I hope you've gotten rid of the horrid beast by now. You wouldn't want to startle any other Slytherin student that might be wandering the halls."

"Oh, yes. It was, perhaps fortunately, dead by the time the professors appeared to confront it. You see, pencils had been curiously lodged in its eyes, and in its attempt to remove them, the troll had inadvertently ended up stabbing itself in the brain."

A muted part of her wants to snort at that, but the rest of her is already shutting down of the night.

. . .

. . .

Tom is visibly struggling with his conflicted emotions.

On one hand, she's survived an encounter with a troll  ̶("There'd better be no lasting damage. You're not hiding any wounds, are you?")  ̶which is now dead  ̶("Good riddance," he hisses, teeth actually bared with vindictive triumph)  ̶but on the other hand; she's survived an encounter with a troll  ̶("A troll shouldn't have been able to just wander into Hogwarts like that, Hem! Someone must've let them in." His expression implies that he'd like to have a word with that particular person)  ̶but it was a rather close call.

(She won't tell him just how close. He might actually punch her, not that she'd feel it. But even if she can't feel it, it's not likely to be a pleasant experience.)

"When I said that you had to survive, Hem," he eventually murmurs, his body too still as his elbows are propped on his thighs and his hands are tensely clasped together. He's been like that for quite a while now, face expressionless while he stares into the distance. It happens, sometimes, when he's in need of thoroughly sorting his thoughts. He'll pace at first, usually, subconsciously trying to walk off the excess energy, then he'll sit down with a statuesque stillness and think. "I was thinking more along the lines of you establishing your place within the hierarchy of cut-throat, pure-blood children. Encountering trolls and starving yourself wasn't meant to be part of the equation."

Hem rubs her eyes and rests her chin on her knees. Yes, she assumes they wouldn't be.

He turns to her, then, his lacklustre expression impressively emphasising clear disapproval when he simply raises a single brow. She blinks at him. Just once, but the mask cracks, anyway, revealing a scowl. "Why do you insist on doing this to me?" he demands with a curled lip, suddenly on his feet and leaning over her, arms braced against the backrest and practically trapping her with his intense, thunderous glower.

"Doing what?" she absently prompts, despite already having an inkling as to what he means. Hem's hands reach up, her fingers automatically brushing against his jawline. It's an established thing; one she can't remember doing for the first time. But it provides a vague sense of comfort and calm within her. It does the same to him.

His lips thin, most likely because he still wants to be annoyed with her.

(When he's older, his features will be so much sharper; so much more polished. He already receives a great deal of attention as it is, which he uses to his advantage, of course, but he's always rather disgruntled with the hassle of Valentine's Day. It's always mildly entertaining to listen to him complain about having to reject every one of them while sparing their feelings. He's not very fond of touch and affection from people he has no care for; which is essentially everyone.)

Tom's face hardens after faltering momentarily, but his head is still slightly tilted towards her touch. "You're well aware of what I mean," he responds. He doesn't want to say.

(She knows it's irritating to care about her. Always worrying; always fearful of the possibility that he'll have no one if she's gone.

He cares for no one except himself and her and it bothers him to no end.)

She does, both to his pleasure and not. He's never been partial to helplessness, but she makes him feel just that when she tells him of the dangers she's been put through; either caused by herself or some outside force. It doesn't help that he's usually further incensed by her lack of care for it all. He'd like it if her self-preservation was more of a conscious effort than an automatic one.

But Hem's not afraid of death. Apathy took that away and made it seem tempting instead of terrifying.

"It would've been nice if you were in Gryffindor," groaned Ron, dirt smudged on his cheek from somewhere. "Hermione would probably fret about you less, then."

"Excuse you, Ron! I'm allowed to be concerned for my sister, thank you very much."

The problem is that she's not brave. One has to first feel fear before they can be brave, after all. And it's established that Hem can't usually feel in general, so she was never going to be Sorted into Gryffindor.

(Like the atypical feeling that says it was always meant to be Hogwarts; she has a feeling that it was also meant to be Slytherin.)

Moving her hands to the side of his neck, Hem pulls him closer until their foreheads touch. He lets her, his eyes glued to hers and burning. Searching. But she breaks it off by closing her eyes and listening to him breathe. His breath caresses her skin. There's no temperature.

"Still here," she whispers, his breath hitching in response. It'd be almost unnoticeable if they weren't so close. "Still alive."

And then she's standing, face forced against his collarbone as he holds her to him in an unyielding, proprietorial grip. (It'd be painful, no doubt. He holds her like she'll burst into stardust if he lets go.) His chin is digging into her skull, but then he shifts and it's apparently replaced with his nose and lips.

Slowly, her arms move to wrap around his midsection. Something in her shakes  ̶(it's bubbling and unfamiliar)  ̶but she can't identify what it is. He's never hugged her before. It's strange. She wonders if he's curious as to how it would feel in the real world.

"Keep it that way," he whispers back into her hair, the hand pressed against the back of her skull trying to pull her further into him. "You're not allowed to die, Hem. I forbid it. "

(That's a shame. One might say that she has an unfortunate habit of defying expectations.)

Hem doesn't reply. She probably wouldn't be able to, anyway.

. . .

. . .

"Oh, my god, Hem!" exclaims Hermione, who seems to be doing her best to not burst into tears and sprint straight at her like a bullet. That would yield unfortunate results, definitely. "I'm so glad you're alright! I was worried sick when the Bloody Baron, of all people, burst into Great Hall snarling about a troll in the dungeons!"

The bushy-haired girl is then promptly by her side despite not having ran towards her, reaching over to give Hem a relieved but purposefully gentle hug. Hermione wouldn't want to overwhelm her with an overly fierce hug. Two boys have accompanied her, Hem notes; one with dark hair and one with light, but both possessing bright hues that make her squint. (Ron and Harry.)

When she looks at them, they both bestow upon her genuinely relieved smiles. It almost hurts to look at them.

Hermione soon releases her to sit on the edge of the bed while the boys continue to stand beside her bed on the other side. Harry opens his mouth to say, "I'm really glad you're okay, Hem. We were trying to leave when we realised that you were the one in danger, but the prefects and teachers wouldn't let us." To her confusion, his eyes  ̶(so vivid, stop it)  ̶shine with guilt, as if she expected him and the others to come to her rescue and that he's sorry to have disappointed her.

(A miniscule, bitter part of her hisses at the thought.)

"Suppose it doesn't matter in the end," Ron pipes up, an excited smile on his freckled face. "You seem to have managed just fine. There's talk about how you killed the troll all by yourself, did you know? Their hides are usually resistant to magic, so everyone reckons that you must've used some kind of really powerful spell to kill it!"

Her sister purses her lips in disapproval. "They're being quite annoying about it, honestly. I'm certain they're going to try and bombard you with questions, but I'll jinx the lot of them if I have to." She huffs, hair thrown over her shoulder. "It's a good thing there aren't any classes on Friday, otherwise they'd be annoying you all day in class. For now, however, you're safe; Madam Pomfrey made sure that only friends could come visit you before you leave."

"So," Ron leans forward, anticipatory. "How did you manage to kill it?"


The ginger-haired boy waves Hermione off, "Oh, come off it, Hermione. You're curious, too, I know you are!" He turns to Harry, then, looking for support. "You want to know, too, don't you, Harry?"

Harry grimaces as his slightly overprotective friend shifts her warning glare from Ron to him. He gives a sheepish, apologetic smile as he rubs the back of his neck in discomfort. "Well… I do," Ron looks triumphant, "but Hem can't really tell us off the bat, now, can she?" Hermione nods, satisfied, while Ron's face falls with the realisation. Turning to Hem, he gives her an encouraging smile. "You don't have to tell us straight away, but…"

He trails off as she leans to reach into her bag before pulling out a spare pencil. (Is something missing?) Hem lifts it to them, hoping they'll be able to figure it out on their own when she uses her free hand to point up at her eyes.

"A pencil?" Hermione questions with a scrunched face. "You killed the troll with a pencil?"

The green of Harry's eyes brightens with comprehension as he looks between the object in her hand and her eyes. "Multiple pencils!" he asserts, looking to his Gryffindor friends. "She must've aimed for the eyes or something, right? And didn't you say that trolls are dreadfully stupid, Ron?"

"Oh, my god!" Hermione gasps, catching on. "It would've tried to get them out but its hands would be too big!"

"Wait," says Ron, lifting his hand as his face scrunches up with thought. "So, you're saying that Hem flung muggle pencils in the troll's eyes, it tried to pull them out, but since it's so stupid, it only jammed them in until they stabbed the brain?" He looks at her specifically, then, hoping for some confirmation.

Hem nods, covering her mouth as she yawns and puts the pencil back in her bag. (Ah, that's it. Her sketchbook's missing.)

The three of them startle her when they burst into laughter, even though Hermione is trying to smother it with her hands. Hem blinks at them in indistinct bewilderment, but then she realises that it'd probably be a rather absurd thing to learn. Instead of her managing to kill it with some unknown, powerful and probably Dark spell; the creature killed itself via slapping small, mundane pieces of wood further into its head. (Did she lengthen somehow lengthen them as well?)

Tom found it amusing, too, actually, after calming down somewhat. "Unorthodox, but effective. I'd be proud of you, but I'm still preoccupied with aggressive indignation." He was still proud of her, regardless. Just one more emotion  ̶(it must be so annoying, having more than one emotion that he can fully feel)  ̶to add to the storm of his mind. She even saw his lips twitch upwards against his will.

"Brilliant! You're brilliant, Hem! Fred and George are going to bust a gut; they wanted to visit you, too, actually." Ron takes a breath or two before continuing, "But they had Care of Magical Creatures. Told us to give you their regards, though. I think they're going to plan a prank in your honour."

"I think Sally-Anne's going to capitalise on the whole incident on Hem's behalf," Harry theorises with a mirthful smile while he cleans his glasses. "Maybe the guys in Slytherin will leave them alone for a bit. Except for Malfoy, most likely. He has issues."

That's true, Hem thinks, after remembering who Malfoy is supposed to be. Sally-Anne will have fun with that, no doubt.

Hermione slips her hand into Hem's and squeezes.

Chapter Text

The white noise of the common room gives way to silence the moment Hem steps through the entrance. Unfazed, she observes how most of the First-Years are present  ̶(though Draco is nowhere to be found, surprisingly)  ̶with only a few upperclassmen lingering about. Which is understandable, seeing as the majority of them have class at this very moment.

Hem soon spots a blonde girl with a manic gleam in her eyes and a matching grin staring at her from one of the leather couches. (Sally-Anne.) "Hemera! It's good to see you're alright," she greets with a louder volume than what's strictly necessary. Hem assumes that it's because she wants everyone present to hear her clearly. "Actually, you seem more than alright! You look like you didn't even get a scratch  ̶"

"Except from herself," someone else interrupts, which elicits a few pointed snickers. That seems like a pointless thing to say, though, but Hem could be wrong about how insults are supposed to work. Maybe it's supposed to hurt her feelings that someone's noticed and called attention to her self-harming tendencies? Embarrass her? Or is it to amuse themselves?

(Is she overthinking it? It would seem so. She's always more fatigued when she wakes up after dealing with Tom's emotional outbursts.)

Perhaps it's because they're seen as a weakness and snakes are always looking for the weaknesses of people around them. To them, all the scars and scabs and dried blood might be a sign that she's weak; mentally unsound. (Which is true, at any rate.) That sounds plausible.

(Is that what Tom sees when he looks at them?)

Sally-Anne blinks  ̶(quite sassily, at that; it's a talent)  ̶looking over to whoever spoke while Hem debates on whether or not she should just ignore the show that's being put on and go take a shower. She doesn't move, in the end.

"From the troll that was raging about as it tried to kill you," she finishes, making uncomfortable, unblinking contact with the other student. When she turns away, looking rather satisfied as she lifts her chin, Hem assumes that her dormmate  ̶(friend? The word sets her on edge. Why would anyone want to be friends with her?)  ̶has won the impromptu staring contest. "Well, I can't be too surprised; I do know how impressive your repertoire of spells is, after all. I'm just curious about which curse you used to take down the insipid creature." Then she stands, tilting her body and gesturing towards the entryway to the dorms with a saccharine smile. "Tell me in our dorm?"

She probably won't, but Sally-Anne's likely not expecting one. Not from Hem, anyway. Hermione, Harry and/or Ron will probably inform her the moment she appears in their faces to demand for answers. This just seems to be more of a way to deny their curious audience an explanation. So, with an unexpected yawn, Hem makes for her dorm, the pure-blood girl following after her and probably smiling aggressively at everyone as she does.

"That Slytherin friend of yours," remarked Tom with a soft, contemplative tone. "Sally-Anne, yes? She knows how the politics of the House works. It wouldn't be surprising if she decides to announce her connection to you to the rest of your Housemates in a more official fashion after this. If she does, she'll be effectively establishing herself as your… second, so to speak, although most will consider her of higher status due to her blood status. When you're unable to speak, she'll speak on your behalf; from what you've told me of her, she won't lead you astray." His eyes lowered for a fraction of a second. "You're quite lucky, Hem. Keep her close."

"By the way," Sally-Anne starts as she matches Hem's pace. (It's not hard, really.) "My brother put all the desserts I brought back for you in a Stasis Charm. When you've finished freshening up, I'll share them with you, yeah?"

Hem glances at the other girl, who looks at her with a genuinely friendly expression. "Thank you," someone  ̶(her; her voice ̶murmurs.

Sally-Anne positively shines as she replies with, "You're very welcome," and Hem supposes Tom's right; she is quite lucky.

(It just never feels like it, unfortunately.)

. . .

. . .

Not much changes in the days following the troll incident. She's still a pariah, obviously, but they're apparently warier of her now. At least, that's what Sally-Anne says. Hem doesn't pay enough attention to her surroundings most of the time, so she can't always be too sure as to how people have decided to treat her.

But she supposes that she can see the way some try to ignore her while also giving her a wider berth; how some sneak her glances and quickly look away when she turns to them. They usually refuse to turn away if they're caught looking, attempting to establish their dominance  ̶(because everything's a competition, evidently)  ̶but failing because Hem's quite excellent at impassive stares. It would be accurate to say that her spontaneous opponents eventually turn away out of perturbation.

"Weston says I'm too antagonistic when I look at people I don't know or care about. It's true,clearly  ̶he used to do the same  ̶but that got me thinking about how to describe yours better. Do you think a predatory stare works? I know they say that's a psychopath's characteristic, but, well, itfits,no? Oh, we should get to class now, shouldn't we?"

The malicious pranks, jinxes and hexes have temporarily decreased as well. It's alright, but most of the snakes weren't trying all that hard to bully her to begin with. Trying to harm her even though she's constantly shielded seems to be more of an obligatory action, in her opinion. Although, some see it as a game of sorts; whoever can successfully cause her injury is something to be proud of.

(They target her because they don't want to be a target. She can't blame them for trying to fit in. They have more of a chance to than she does.)

"I don't think you know how mysterious you are, Hemera," states Sally-Anne as they sit on her bed, a pile of sweets bought from a shop in Hogsmeade between them. (Weston bought them. Didn't he?) Hem went straight for the jelly slugs. "People are simultaneously intrigued and cautious around you as a result."

(Why is she talking about this? What started it?)

She points a raspberry liquorice wand at Hem's chest, who blinks at it. "Let's see… You don't talk  ̶as far as they know  ̶which gives others the impression you don't find them worthy to speak to. You barely react to anything they do aside from staring at them or retaliating with the occasional spell, which sets them on edge because they expect retaliation at some point. They think you have a dangerous repertoire of spells; the fact that they're not sure how dangerous is already enough to make them wary. The Shield Charm certainly helps with that. And, of course, you managed to kill a troll  ̶don't blink at me like that, they don't know the real reason  ̶by yourself. That's not all; I could go on all day about all the little details I've picked up, but that's the bare bones of it. It's more than enough for people to take notice of you."

Hem can't disagree with that, even if she'd prefer to remain anonymous. (That'd be something; being invisible in a pit of snakes.) She's been close to having more episodes because of unexpected events, but there's usually someone to grab her hand and ground her. However, it's only a matter of time before she's alone and her brain takes the chance to run wild, leaving her with the reality of having cursed someone when she returns.

"Like this," Tom directed, showing her the wand movements. "That's how you cast the Conjunctivitis Curse. Although… my version is a touch stronger than the original."

"You're doing this on purpose, aren't you? Sticking curses into my subconsciousness so that I can accidentally use it on someone."

He smiled, so blindingly innocent that it made her squint at him. "I have no idea what you mean, Hem."

Sally-Anne bites the edible wand  ̶ gracefully, somehow)  ̶and waves a dismissive hand. "But, naturally," she starts after swallowing the bitten piece, "we mustn't forget that you're muggle-born. Your sister's just about the smartest in our year and you're thought to be some kind of budding duellist, but the fact that you don't have magical parents will always make them hesitate." A sharp smile, then; amused and mocking. "Not to mention the fact that your allies are mostly comprised of notorious blood traitors. Not even being Harry Potter's friend helps much. So, associating with you  ̶and in turn, me  ̶would be akin to social suicide until you've properly carved your place within the hierarchy."

The thing is, though, is that Hem doesn't care about any of that. She doesn't care about showing her superiority or becoming some kind of leader to pure-blood minions like Tom's in the process of creating. (Or has he done that already?) They all see potential in her that she can't see herself and it's…

Well, it's vexing. (She doesn't want to keep disappointing people.) Hem rapidly blinks away the visual snow and ignores the slight ringing in her ears.

"I wouldn't worry too much about it," continues her more talkative dormmate. (The twins, Hestia and… Flora. Probably. They only talk to each other, and in hushed tones. It's a somewhat pleasant arrangement.) She passes Hem a box of crystallised pineapples, which she accepts easily enough, as those are nice, too. They won't try to burn a hole in her tongue, at least. (Why is that a viable sweet?) "We likely won't get anyone willing to join our little clique until next year, but you're in people's peripheral, at least. Maybe as something akin to a dangerous animal they don't know how to put down, but, you know. Whatever works. It's honestly quite likely that they'll see you as my pet of sorts simply because I'm a pure-blood despite the whole blood traitor aspect."

Hem thinks she can appreciate Sally-Anne's blunt honesty. (She isn't fond of people dancing around the subject, trying to spare her feelings. What feelings are there to spare, after all?)

"By the way, Weston's gotten himself a Ravenclaw girlfriend. I wonder if she knows he's asexual. Hopefully, that's not a problem or I'm going to have to hurt someone."

. . .

. . .

Finding herself occupying the newly repaired alcove  ̶(is it the same one?)  ̶and sitting next to an unsociable Bloody Baron, Hem finds a boy standing in front of her. Another Slytherin, possibly in her year because he's vaguely familiar but her mind's not being helpful.

They stare at one another, assessing. Brown hair; brown eyes. Neat side-part with a bit of a fringe and a slightly gaudy ring on his right middle finger. (His hair doesn't have much of a wave; not like Tom's. Still pretty, though.) So put together and sophisticated; the boy reminds of her of a darker, but somehow softer version of Draco. (It's probably the lack of sneering that gives her that impression.) Maybe he's a pure-blood, too. The ring seems to implicate that.

He pulls out something from his bag  ̶(it looks expensive… and like dragon skin?)  ̶which turns out to be a sketchbook. "This is yours," says the boy as he presents it to her. She glances down at it, the gold of her initials illuminate against the black cover. (Hermione's idea.) "Your sister doesn't draw," he adds.

That's right; they have the same initials. But her sister has never been much of an artist since she's a perfectionist and the lack of it in her attempts at art frustrates her to no end.

Hem continues to staring, rather against her will, because she'd like to take her book back now and let him be on his way. Her body thinks that's a bad idea, apparently, so she's forced to watch him in silence.

The silence grows, no doubt becoming more uncomfortable for the poor boy as he's stared at by a mute girl and a ghost covered in blood and chains. His fingers twitch, but he maintains eye contact; it's a rather impressive attempt to hide his discomfort. He appears to be determined to do so.

"Merci," a voice whispers, finally breaking the stillness between them. His eyes noticeably widen while her hand eventually  ̶(finally)  ̶reaches out to take the book  ̶(her book)  ̶from him.

He recovers quickly, a speculative glint in his eyes now, but he nods to her, all the same, "Je vous en prie. I'll take my leave now. Granger." Then, he nods politely to the House ghost, "Sir Baron." When the spectre nods back, he turns on his heel and swiftly disappears down the corridor.

She and the Bloody Baron watch him go before the latter turns to the former and rasps, "I'm surprised he didn't tamper with it."

Looking down at the book in her lap, Hem agrees; it was the perfect opportunity to get her.

. . .

. . .

Hermione tells her that their parents have sent them a letter during Potions. Which isn't anything new  ̶(or is she remembering wrong?)  ̶since Hermione often updates them on their daily lives at the magical boarding school. Hem doesn't even try to write her own letters anymore; the first time she tried, she stared at the parchment for three hours  ̶(Sally-Anne swears)  ̶and still hadn't written anything. The second time, she started doodling after writing down her parents' names.

"They say that Professor Sinistra and Headmaster Dumbledore informed them personally of what happened," informs Hermione as she multitasks with enviable ease. They're brewing the Forgetfulness Potion, which has been, ironically, memorised by Hem. Well, in a more muscle memory fashion than a conscious one, but it still counts. Hermione likes practice tests and Hem doesn't really have a reason to say no, so it was expected.

"They were really worried, but now they're just glad you're okay." Hermione leans over the cauldron as she stirs. "I think they were mollified by the fact that Dumbledore's hired a specialised healer just to make your time here easier. It's really nice of him, actually. I wonder what they're like."

(They're always worried. Always. Why do they have to keep doing that?)

"I wrote them back, but I think they'd really appreciate it if you could write to them, you know." Her sister gives her a feeble, somewhat apologetic smile. "I know you don't like writing letters, Hem, but I'll help you, okay? It'd make them happy."

Hem only gives an absent nod; they deserve that much, at least. (They deserve so much more.) But in the end, all she writes is two truths and one lie.

I'm alive. I'm fine. Sorry for making you worry.

Chapter Text

Hem has a feeling that going with Sally-Anne to watch the Quidditch match between Slytherin and Gryffindor is going to be a bad idea. Wind howling in her ears, the cheers and jeers of the audience while fast-moving objects fly by and the sunlight bears down on her retinas; it doesn't bode for a very calming environment.

But it's Harry's first match, and though he would understand  ̶("I guess you wouldn't like flying much, huh? You weren't bad during the lessons, actually, before Neville flew off and broke his wrist," Harry remarks)  ̶a part of her wants to support him even if the rest of her is urging her to abort.

(Is it really so hard to act like a friend? But that's a stupid question. There's only one answer.)

So, she takes her medicine during breakfast in the kitchens with a mild hope that it'll be strong enough to keep her brain under control. Its effects are stronger in the beginning, before weakening as it wears off after a few hours, where she'll have to take it again. Maybe Sally-Anne's presence will also help temper the unpredictability of her body and keep her above ground.

"Ready to watch us win the match, Hem?" smiles Fred, swiping a bit of bacon from her plate as he sits on her right. "Because we're going to win the match. You can count on it."

George replaces it only a moment later after taking a seat on her left. They don't have to come to the kitchens to keep her company. Not Hermione, Harry, Ron, Sally-Anne, Fred or George. But they do, usually when they don't have something pressing to attend to in the Great Hall.

(Hem still hasn't figured out why the Weasley twins like her. She still hasn't figured why anyone likes her.)

"I bet you're hoping we do," George continues with a grin. "Even if you're green. Your House team is basically rubbish, anyway."

"We're ignoring the fact that they've consistently beaten Gryffindor for the past few years," adds Fred while he butters some toast. "Shouldn't count when their strategies are always dirty."

"So, it should be obvious why you'd root for us lions instead." Then they both wink at her, and she wishes that she could smile at them. "Don't worry, your hopes and dreams will be fulfilled. Oliver says we've got the best team in years."

(Hem doesn't have any dreams. And she's never been very good at hoping for things.)

. . .

. . .

"Oh, Merli  ̶ Hemera!"

Something heavy and with a startling amount of strength slams right into the first layer of her Shield Charm. The force of it shatters her invisible shield  ̶(two, three layers? No, four. One left; she should make it seven or ten layers next time)  ̶and knocks her back while the object rebounds off. Hem's ears are ringing as the sound of shattered glass loops in her mind, the noise of wind and yells drowned out by its increasing volume.

It's too bright, she thinks. It's blindingly bright and Hem can't see or hear or feel anything. (Is she bleeding?) Back in the bubble. Back in the glass cage that blocks her off from the rest of the world.

(She can't breathe. She's suffocating.)

. . .

. . .

"It's okay, Hem," a girl sniffs, arms wrapped around her. Protectively. That fits. (Who is this?) "You're  ̶ You're okay… The doctor's okay. E-everyone's okay."

(No, he's not. He's bleeding. Who is he?)

"You just got startled, is all," the girl leans back to give her a watery smile. Watery, because her face is wet. Hem remembers various shades of brown  ̶(she thinks, maybe)  ̶russet brown, warm beige, hickory brown. Colours for art. (Hermione. Her sister.) "He wasn't trying to hurt you."

A man, bleeding from the forehead. He's staring at her, mouth open  ̶(gaping?)  ̶while two other adults talk to him. Talk at him? He's staring and staring and staring.

"I  ̶ I can't treat your daughter anymore," he mutters, but he's staring at her. Did she do something? He looks scared. Is she scary? "I… I won't tell anyone about what's transpired here today  ̶client confidentiality  ̶but I'm afraid Hemera's case is… above my  ̶ my ability."

The woman starts to cry into her hands, and the other man's eyes are all shiny. Is he going to cry, too?

(Why's everyone crying? Is it her fault again?)

. . .

. . .

A spot of black against the white. It's growing bigger, as though it's coming closer to her at a rapid pace. (That's odd.) She stares, until something in her screams and panics while it's drowning within the muck, but a smidgen breaks through to the surface and grabs her by the hand. (Probably. Her hand is moving on its own.)

Her vision abruptly fills with blue  ̶(azure)  ̶and the sound of something exploding shakes her head around. (Or is her whole body shaking?)

"Did you see that?! The Granger from Slytherin  ̶also known as the Troll Slayer, as dubbed by the Weasley twins  ̶has just blown up one of the bludgers! Fair play, it was trying to kill her  ̶what was that shield thing, by the way?  ̶so you can't blame  ̶ Oh, look! Potter's back on his broom after it went wild! And he's going after the snitch! What is with today's match? Did one of you slimy snakes tamper  ̶"


"Sorry, professor  ̶"

Hem is trying to blink away the blue, but it's not working, and she flinches violently when something  ̶(someone?)  ̶grabs her wrist. Her head snaps up too quickly for her vision to adjust.

"Just me, Hemera," assures a young, feminine voice. It's just familiar enough for her brain to calm somewhat, the defensive ball in her chest dissipating at the edges. (Magic?) The hand begins to direct her somewhere. People are following. (Or are they? Stares are burning into her flesh. She can't tell if they're meant to hurt or not.) "C'mon, let's get you inside where rogue bludgers can't bludgeon you. Oh, Boy Wonder's swallowed the Snitch! Happy  ̶if unorthodox  ̶endings all 'round!"

The voice calms her, even if it's a little shaky. Through the fog of her mind, Hem remembers. (Sally-Anne.) Is she worried?

"Out of the way, Malfoy! We don't need your prat boy vibes right now, yeah?" A flash of platinum blond. It pushes through the blue for a moment.

(From azure, the vibrancy bleeds away to a baby blue.)

A mocking, vaguely high-pitched tone laces the words, "What's wrong with your mudblood, Perks? Can't she  ̶ Ouch!" It cuts off with a pained yelp as something sparks in her ears. "You filthy, savage blood traitor! How dare you?!"

"You'd best sod off, mate," warns Sally-Anne, a peculiar change in her voice. A cockney accent? (Wait, what's that?) "Let's see you block a bloody bludger and then blow it up, ya puffed up twat! Where was your Shield Charm when I flung that hex at ya, hey? Do ya think you'd have survived a bludger to your unsightly face, ya fu  ̶"

"Sal," calls another voice. Masculine. Older? "Hemera's sister and her friends have been trying to get your attention for the past two minutes. And I think the professors want to make sure she's okay." It sounds mildly amused.

"Oh, right, thank you, Weston." The change in accent disappears. "Well, come along, Hemera; let's go give Harry our congratulations when he's no longer surrounded by peasants, yeah?"

. . .

. . .

"I think someone's trying to kill Hemera," Sally-Anne casually theorises as Hem takes a sip of her lemon balm tea. "I mean, it can't be a coincidence that a troll was let loose in the dungeons and so close to where Hemera was. And it was quite clear that the bludger was bewitched to specifically target her while someone tried to kill Harry via the force of gravity."

Hem stares into the fireplace, both entranced and bothered by the sight but unable to look away. Its flickers cause bright spots in her eyes that she has to blink away.

"It was Snape," supplied Ron. "It's got to be; he was staring right at Harry, muttering a curse or something. I bet he's the one trying to kill Hem, too! Merlin knows she and Harry get under his skin just for existing near him. Luckily, Hermione was on a warpath  ̶"

The half-giant  ̶(Hagra? Hagrid)  ̶waves a large hand from her peripheral, forcing Hem to instinctively duck away and nearly smack her shoulder into Harry's. "Rubbish," he scoffs, while she steadies her tea. She wouldn't want to spill any on herself, let alone Harry or Sally-Anne. "Why would Snape do somethin' like that?"

She misses a few sentences, voices muffled. When the voices come back, Hem finds herself nibbling on a raspberry liquorice wand. Probably from her fellow snake. The girl always has sweets on her and Hem wonders how she manages to fit it all in.

"I can't believe you didn't tell me about the three-headed dog hidden in the castle!" Sally-Anne accuses, hands waving about as she squints at Ron and Harry in exaggerated betrayal. "A three-headed dog named Fluffy that you found on a midnight stroll! Merlin's tit, what a time to be alive! And here I thought I had an exotic pet in a Jarvey called Bob." With a miffed sniff, she leans back in her chair. "Bob killed himself when I was eight because he was, and I quote, 'sick of our shite.' Rest in peace, Bob." She looks to the ceiling of the hut. "May you be happy in whatever afterlife your tortured soul is currently occupying."

Ron's face quite clearly indicates his feelings of baffled concern for Sally-Anne's mental health. (Funny.) Then, opening his mouth, he asks, "Do you realise how odd you are, Sally-Anne?"

The girl in question bestows upon the boy an overly pleasant smile as a response. "You should meet my family, Ron. Then we can compare which is the cooler blood traitor family  ̶it's mine, obviously, but I'll give you a chance  ̶because I'm a little irked that people consider the Weasleys the more infamous family." She elicits a dramatic sigh and adds, "I mean, I suppose it's because most of my siblings have decided to go to Durmstrang instead of Hogwarts  ̶my little brother, Keith, will probably choose the former next year  ̶so we're not as well-known. In Durmstrang, we're the blood traitor family, but since the Perks are pure-bloods, our family get to stay despite everyone wanting them expelled. And it's likely because we're rich while the Weasleys are known for being impoverished."

"Uh, not that I'm not interested in all that," Harry interrupts as they make their way back to the castle. (When did they leave?) "But I think it's more prevalent to figure out who Nicolas Flamel is and what his connection to whatever Fluffy's guarding is. We'll have to ask Hermione when we see her at dinner."

"No, go on and have some tea with Hagrid and the others. I'm going to write to mum and dad," Hermione sighed, looking so very tired. All the righteous anger has been drained away. "They deserve to know. Oh, I hope they don't consider pulling you out." But Hem saw it; the flash of consideration before it was aggressively pushed away. "Maybe the specialised healer's presence and the fact that you haven't been hurt badly by either incident will help convince them? Either way, I suspect we'll have an eventful Christmas this year."

Sally-Anne looks at the green-eyed boy with an expression that seems to question whether or not he's an idiot. "He's an alchemist, obviously. The one who created the Philosopher's Stone. Didn't you know?" she informs them, before abruptly gasping with wild excitement in her eyes. "Wait, does that mean that the Philosopher's Stone is in the castle? What the shite!"

"Wait, go back. What's a Philosopher's Stone?"

The other Slytherin girl frowns at the two boys, as though she's reassessing their intelligence. Nevertheless, she explains, "It's only considered among alchemists  ̶my mum's one  ̶to be the symbol of perfection within their profession. It can turn any metal into gold and produce the Elixir of Life, which can lengthen one's lifespan indefinitely. So long as they keep drinking it, that is." Folding her arms, Sally-Anne tilts her head in consideration. "Well, I suppose it makes sense that you wouldn't know, now that I think about it. I probably wouldn't have known either if not for the fact that my mum has mentioned him at least once a month my whole life."

"Of course!" Ron and Harry exclaim together. "Now it makes complete sense why Snape would want it," mutters the former. "Slimy git."

"Still on about that, are you? I told you, if anyone's suspicious, it's Professor Quirrell!" The boys give Sally-Anne sceptical looks, to her irritation. She curls her lip at them and continues, "Just because someone has a stutter and a nervous disposition doesn't mean that they're incapable of secretly planning to off someone for their own purposes, you know? I have a cousin who cries when he looks at his own shadow, but he swears he's going to dominate the world via the power of unicorns. He even has a horn or two of one and stabs us when he's annoyed. Blood everywhere, I tell you."

Hem found him  ̶(who? Quirrell? Yes, Quirrell)  ̶goggling at her, his face a touch more sickly than what her mind remembered. (Where did she see him?) Then there was a flash of something else, something darker and more feverish and  ̶


Something else in the depths of his eyes, then, but it was too unstable, like emotions were constantly switching between like a slideshow rapidly going through the slides to the point of incomprehension. Then he was gone and time moved.

(He reminds her of Tom. If he was unequivocally deranged to the point of no return. Why is that?)

. . .

. . .

Fred and George sit on either side of her, strangely solemn while she eats her dinner  ̶(coq au vin? Theia likes cooking it)  ̶and absently watches the house-elves bustle about. Hem notes that she's partial to the kitchens  ̶(Hermione was concerned about the wellbeing of the creatures the first time around, but they aggressively stated their contentment, so she just vowed to research more)  ̶despite the possibility of the little creatures swarming her whenever she arrives.

"Miss Mera's back, she is! Don't all bother her now! Only one!"

"Treamy will go! Treamy will attend to the missus!"

The comfortable  ̶(to her, at least; or maybe she just doesn't care)  ̶silence is eventually broken when both boys break it with a simultaneous, "Sorry."

Hem blinks, bemused as she lifts her head to look between them. They're avoiding her gaze, apparently ashamed for doing something to her. What that is, she's currently unaware of. George, however, seems to catch onto her confusion when he sneaks a glance at her.

"For, you know, not protecting you from the bludger," he reveals, discomforted as he rubs the side of his neck and shifts his gaze to the side.

It doesn't really explain much, in her opinion. What makes them think that she expected them to protect her?

Fred sighs, "We're beaters, Hem. The bludger's our responsibility and we were too focused on Harry to notice that it was trying to bludgeon you to death."

Hem continues to chew on a piece of chicken, looking between them and wondering how one would usually respond to the situation. (All hypothetical, of course. Most of the options, she can't do.) Probably accept the apology or wave it away, as it's no big deal. (It would've crushed her face with the force that it had, says Professor Sinistra. It would've killed her instantaneously.) Maybe tell them that she doesn't blame them, as it wasn't like anyone expected it to go after her the way it did.

She offers them each a bit of her dinner, instead. They blink at her  ̶(do they practice the synchronisation or is it instinctive? Has she wondered this before?)  ̶before frowning in thought. Probably to decipher her actions.

"Is this your way of saying that you forgive us?" queries George with an uncertain, but hopeful  ̶(why?)  ̶tone of voice. Hem slowly nods, and there's a prickle of something pleasant  ̶(the mire within her immediately tries to asphyxiate it)  ̶when they both grin at her at her confirmation. Fred drapes one arm over her shoulders as his brother leans over to eat the food from her fork.

"Many thanks," Fred chuckles when he does it next. The moment he swallows, he admits, "We were worried you were going to just stare at us until we went away. Which we wouldn't blame you for, but… Well, you know." He shrugs.

George drapes another arm around her. "We're glad you're safe, Troll Slayer," smiles George, and her responding, dull blink elicits a burst of laughter from the both of them. "Our little Slayer of Unseemly Trolls  ̶"

"Destroyer of Rogue Bludgers  ̶"

"Master of the Invisible Shields  ̶"

"Ickle Snakelet the Silent, Hemera Granger!" They finish together, their free arms lifted dramatically while Fred remarks, "You do know that we're planning a prank in your honour, right? We're trying to decide between the Great Hall or the dungeons. I'd say both, but who knows how long that'll take."

And then they're back to their usual antics, scheming about new ideas and experiments to be tested out.

Hem wonders if this is what it's like to have brothers.

Chapter Text

Tom doesn't care for Christmas. Well, he doesn't really care for holidays in general, really. The orphanage doesn't have enough money to make a special occasion out of them, so it's just another cold, miserable day with the addition of people with better lives joining in on the festivities outside of the orphanage. It seems to be a common thing for younger children to watch it all from the windows, wishing for a family to celebrate with.

(Before she appeared in his dreams; did he do the same?)

Some of the older kids  ̶(the ones who have yet to lose their hope for the world)  ̶try to make it a happier evening for themselves and/or the younger kids. They try to find solidarity in their shared statuses as the unwanted. Which works, depending on which child they go to. Tom, of course, has ignored their attempts to include him multiple times over the years and they've learned to leave him alone. (It also helps that he scares them.)

Now, however, he spends his holidays at Hogwarts, enjoying the general quiet of the castle as only a handful of students tend to remain. But Tom still doesn't actually care for Christmas. With the change in environment and his choice to associate with pure-bloods who have all these unspoken rules, there's an obligation to exchange gifts with even acquaintances. It's polite. But it's also a touch difficult when he's essentially poor.

"I've figured it out," he told her with a slight smirk. (Was it his second year?) "I can deal with the mild condescending behaviour so long as I don't have to send unnecessary gifts."

Whenever the Grangers go to France to visit Theia's side of the family  ̶(Matthias rarely talks about his relatives)  ̶Hem sees the flicker of envy in his eyes when she tells him about it. It's unspoken that it annoys him on some level; how she has parents that can take her to France whenever they please. It takes only a few hours to travel between countries via various methods of transportation, but in Tom's case, it's not even an option for him. Hogwarts is his only escape.

But family gatherings aren't an escape for her  ̶(she can easily admit that she dislikes them)  ̶so the annoyance is usually discarded quickly.

It's not surprising that Hem isn't all that partial to holidays, either. Christmas, especially. (Does her birthday, whenever that is, count?) Christmas involves presents, after all. (It's always an effective way of making the guilt that's rotting in her bones burn like acid.) There's an expectation for gratitude  ̶(she can't feel that)  ̶and it's only sometimes when she's able to say her thanks  ̶(it's a lie, she's lying ̶because it's more common for her to just remain silent.

(Sorry. She knows they're trying. They mean well. But she doesn't care.)

Myles and Juliane  ̶(her grandparents?)  ̶are always nice about it. It's almost annoying  ̶(more people to feel concern for her existence; stop it)  ̶how considerate they are. Iris  ̶(Theia's sister, is that it?)  ̶and her family  ̶(the husband, the three children; is she missing anyone?)  ̶however, aren't as accommodating. Hem feels nothing in regards to the rude remarks, but it's always a point of tension because her parents don't appreciate being subtly insulted.

"Vraiment? She still isn't fixed?" questions Iris, who waves her hand in Hem's general direction. Which is at the dining table, where she's doodling absently. "I thought the magical people would've done something by now, non? And your eldest still has buckteeth. Aren't you and your husband dentists, Theia? Why aren't they gone? I'd have gotten rid of them immediately if my little girl had them."

Theia glares down at the cutting board, a shiny knife in her hand as she cuts the vegetables with too much force. "Ce n'est pas si facile," is her terse reply. She neglects to say anything more.

Sometimes, Hem has to swim through her thoughts to remember why her parents do this all the time; putting up with the criticisms about all the Granger family's individual  ̶(or collective, depending)  ̶imperfections. It's not fun  ̶(she assumes)  ̶for anyone to be questioned about why they aren't perfect. Theia and Matthias don't even try to respond in the same manner, which is to target the children and blame their faults on the parents. It's petty and it would hurt their niece and nephews' self-esteem  ̶(even if they have inflated egos, kind of like Draco)  ̶if they were to do that. Iris seems to be unaware about that particular fact.

But then she eventually sees that, in the end, they're family. Despite it all. Iris and Theia love each other in their own ways. They grew up together, after all. Bonded as siblings would normally bond. (Why can't she have that?) It's not readily apparent, and the delivery is usually rude, but Iris wants her sister to be happy. And how can she be happy when her daughters aren't perfect? When one is a bookworm with buckteeth, the other a mentally ill mute, and they're both witches?

"Iris was always fond of magic as a child," Theia chuckled over the sound of liquid being poured into a glass. Hem was hidden behind something  ̶(a wall?)  ̶trying to listen to the woman's voice rather than the ringing. "I think… Je ne sais pas, I could be mistaken… But I think she questions why Hemera and Hermione were chosen and her children weren't. Why we weren't."

Yes, Hem thinks. She doesn't care much for holidays at all.

. . .

. . .

Hem and Hermione are the first ones to wake up on Christmas day. It's just as well, it'd be chaos with their cousins awake; they'd try to play with the owls and some of them bite. That would then lead to Iris getting offended and demanding death in French while all the other adults try to de-escalate the situation.

The first avian to arrive is a horned owl that looks half-deranged with its one twitchy eye. It stares into her soul before she offers it some of her croissant.

"Oh, it's from Sally-Anne," says Hermione. The appearance of the owl makes sense now. "It seems she's given us some…" Hermione squints at the two objects before blinking in surprise. "Are these magical versions of a Walkman? Oh, that's wonderful! I shouldn't be surprised that her family would be able to figure out how to convert muggle devices. Maybe they'll work at Hogwarts, like the radios. Wouldn't that be nice, Hem?"

Depends on the music, honestly. And the volume. And whether or not she'd be able to deal with surprises that'll pop up on her because she won't be able to hear anything else. (It seems like a bad idea.)

There's a letter with the gifts; one with a suspicious smudge that looks vaguely like dried blood. Glitter piles into her lap when she unfolds it, prompting Hem to stare down at the mess and wonder about the purpose of it all. But her question is answered when the glitter apparently comes to life and rises above the two sisters so that it can sprinkle back down. All over the two of them.

Hem tries not to let the overly bright glimmers in her peripheral bother her while she reads.

Dear Hemera and Hermione,

Happy Christmas! Please, ignore the red stain on the letter. My cousin  ̶do you remember the unicorn one? His name is Cornel  ̶was trying to read my letter and I was not pleased about that, so I tried to get him to shoo, but he stabbed me in the hand with his unicorn horn! Little arsehole. I punched him in the nose, so rest assured; I got my revenge.

I suppose I could've removed the blood, but I thought it added character. Don't you think?

Anyway, I'm fine. Let me tell you a story, yeah?

I was wondering what to get the both of you for Christmas; maybe books and a knife? But I was walking in London with Weston, Easton and Harper ̶ the latter two go to Durmstrang and Easton's Weston's fraternal twin ̶ when I saw people walking with the portable music things. And I thought, 'That's a wonderful idea! Those two probably like music and practicality.' So I threatened Harper to buy some for me.

It took us a few tries to convert it into a more magical object, but we eventually got it. I'm very proud! I mean, I didn't do anything, but I got the idea in the first place, so. It counts. Mum and dad say hi and that they'd like to meet you both. They didn't expect me to make any friends, but I'm always surprising them.

Also, thank you for the liquorice wands, Hermione. And Hemera, my family loves your art. Dad's thinking of sending you some proper supplies so you can experiment with other mediums. He might even commission you! My whole family might. Don't worry, they'll pay you if they do. We're not poor like the Weasleys.



. . .

. . .

"You're still going to attend Hogwarts, aren't you?" Tom queries, holding her to him with a more possessive edge than usual. Hem supposes it can't be helped; she's nearly died twice  ̶(the accidental starving bit doesn't really count, in her opinion)  ̶since starting school.

She hums, which doesn't really confirm nor deny anything.

Theia and Matthias  ̶(they deserve to be mum and dad, don't they?)  ̶opted to talk about it after Christmas, away from vitriolic sisters who have a habit of eavesdropping. So, it wasn't until the Grangers came home that they all sat down and talked about it. Hermione was mostly there as moral support, apparently having had a talk about her own education at some point before.

"We're so very concerned for you, my Hemera," Theia stated, placing a hand over Hem's. (Stop that. Stop it. Stop it.) She can't really feel the warmth that another person's touch is meant to have. "And I won't lie to you; we've definitely thought about pulling you out." The woman sniffed, averting her eyes as though she was ashamed to admit it.

Matthias shifted from beside his wife, which brought Hem's attention to him as he leaned forward. "But in the end; it's your decision," he smiled warmly, but she only felt cold inside. "We've already sheltered you enough, and we wouldn't want to sabotage your future as a witch because of our own desires."

"Is that a yes?" Tom asks, his breath bushing against her curls since his face is leaned in towards her head. If she tilts her head, she'll probably knock his chin.

Hem doesn't reply immediately. But she does eventually mutter a, "Yes," just as his body was on the verge of becoming too tense.

"Good," he responds, and she feels his body loosening in tandem with the grip in her hair. "I'm still irritated that you're managing a rather… exciting life," the disapproval is clearer than the white of their environment, "and I suppose you could have transferred to Beauxbatons if your parents pulled you out but still wanted you to learn how to be a witch. But I'll readily admit that, regardless of recent events, I still want you to remain at Hogwarts. There are aspects to the castle that I'm certain only a handful of students besides myself know, after all."

He doesn't know whether Beauxbatons would challenge her potential like he wants it to be. He doesn't know that school as well as he knows Hogwarts; as well as he knows Slytherin and the way it works.

Then Hem realises that the French school wasn't even an option. They didn't even mention Beauxbatons and she knows that they would've done so if they knew about it.

"Dumbledore came to talk with us personally," revealed the man  ̶(Matthias)  ̶as Hem fiddled with the tablecloth. "He apologised, of course; said that he'd endeavour to improve the flaws in the castle's system and that he'd personally hire a trained professional to help you cope with all the trauma. He was even kind enough to say that the trained professional would come here and tutor you himself if you decided to leave."

Something feels off. (He wants to watch her, doesn't he? Keep her in his sights. Can't do that if she's in Beauxbatons. Can do that if he's using someone else to watch her for him. What does he want? What does he see?) But it could all just be in her mind. (It's not clicking together.)

"Have I wished you a happy birthday yet, Tom?" Hem questions, the words spilling out on their own while the muddled theories of paranoia try to fog up her head. She needs it gone.

"No, Hem, you haven't," he sighs. "Go on, then; astound me with the sheer emotion within your utterly deadpan voice."

Chapter Text

It would seem that, over the Christmas holidays, Draco has learned how to do the Shield Charm. He's taken to bragging about his achievement to his minions and raising his voice just enough so that anyone in his general vicinity can hear about it. When Hem is around, he shoots her a smug smirk as if to say, 'You're not so great, after all.' But she doesn't know how he thought she might've been great in the first place.

But then she remembers that Sally-Anne has been boasting about her, and it all makes sense. They have a peculiar dynamic, in Hem's opinion. It's come to her attention that most Slytherins actually prefer the blonde girl over the blond boy, but because one is a blood traitor and the other is the Malfoy heir; they can't exactly make their preferences known at this point.

It must be hard to be so conscious of all the controversial political moves that one can do just from saying the wrong thing or associating with the wrong people. Draco is a brat, but he's a brat with power and just agreeing with someone dubbed a supposed blood traitor could get them into trouble.

"It's really not so hard," Draco gloats, self-importance so ingrained into even his tone of voice that it'd be strange to hear it differently. (It'd be curious to see him just act like a boy who doesn't have a desperate need to prove himself.) "I practically learned it in my sleep  ̶ Ah!" The boy abruptly yelps  ̶(a high pitch that momentarily pierces her ears)  ̶and evacuates from his seat just as a flurry of quills embed themselves in the backrest. It draws the attention of the entire common room.

His expression is one of abject horror as he gapes at the loveseat before it's quickly wiped off by a thunderous scowl that's sent in the general direction of Hem. He locks eyes with her  ̶(coin grey, she thinks)  ̶but that seems to be a mistake because he almost hastily looks to her left  ̶(what about her eyes bothers him? What do her eyes look like, again?)  ̶where Sally-Anne is regally seated by Hem's side, wand in hand and looking too innocent to be truly so.

She flutters her lashes and imparts a beatific smile before, "Well, would you look at that, Malfoy? Here I was expecting you to either already have one up or to immediately cast one nonverbally in response." The smile sharpens when she reveals all her teeth and adds, "Cute yelp, though. Very dignified of the Malfoy scion, indeed." She winks at him, and Draco's cheeks tinge pink as scattered snickers erupt around them.

Weston offers Hem more crystallised pineapples  ̶(which she takes without thought)  ̶while he and his two friends  ̶(another pair of siblings? They look related)  ̶smirk at the exchange between the two First-Years. "One of you is going to have to fix the chair, I hope you understand," he states, voice raised to cut off whatever Draco's about to say. "Professor Snape won't be pleased to find it damaged and you all know what a great experience it is whenever our Head of House is displeased." He smiles pleasantly, looking even more like his younger sister with it in place. Although, it's already quite obvious that they're related since they both possess similar features and colouring.

"We're basically the cooler version of the Weasleys; blond hair, brown eyes and freckles," remarked Sally-Anne, who said it like a fact as they all walked to Flying Lessons  ̶(or was it Potions?)  ̶together.

Ron scrunched his nose in disagreement. "How is any of that cooler than red hair, blue eyes and also freckles? Bill says that it's the rarest combination of all natural hair and eye colours!"

The girl in question flipped one of her signature plaits of her shoulder and promptly replied, "Because they're characteristics belonging to the Perks and we're cooler than everyone, so, you know. Step down from your high horse and admit defeat, please."

Harry and Hermione laughed while Ron was, once again, gaping at his 'fellow blood traitor' like she was mad. She's eccentric, for sure.

Draco rapidly pales  ̶(it's impressive, actually, what with how pale he is already)  ̶his head whipping towards the loveseat before dramatically pointing at Sally-Anne. "She should do it! She's the one who sent the blasted things at me, after all!" he exclaims, his lackeys  ̶(friends?)  ̶nodding and murmuring their agreement as they sneer obediently at the pariahs of Slytherin.

Sally-Anne raises her brows, unimpressed. "If you'd have just used the Shield Charm like I thought you would  ̶since you were bragging about it and all  ̶they wouldn't be there, now, would they? Besides," she tilts her head, "it should be easy for you, no?"

"My sister makes a compelling argument," nods Weston, smirking towards the younger boy. Smirking is a common thing amongst Slytherins, it would appear. "Surely, you should know how to do the Mending Charm? It's first-year material, after all. If you can do the Shield Charm, then this will be no problem for you."

The haughty boy glares at the Perks siblings, probably unwilling to submit despite likely knowing the Mending Charm simply because he doesn't want to agree or admit defeat. (She thinks she knows it. There was something she had to fix, right?)

Someone older than all of them finally sighs in exasperation, "Just do it, Malfoy. You're causing a scene and some of us have exams to prepare for and assignments to finish."

The Perks smile together, quite pleased with themselves as Draco groans but does as instructed.

. . .

. . .

The tall, reasonably handsome man stares down at her  ̶(his eyes are gunmetal blue)  ̶with the intensity of someone who can immediately unravel another's inner workings with a sort of unconscious effort. Her head tilts  ̶(at least, she thinks so; it can be hard to tell, sometimes)  ̶up towards him and a part of her wonders who he is and why she's been called to meet him.

He flips his long, luscious hair of ebony  ̶(it's so shiny, her retinas are reeling)  ̶over his shoulder as he turns to bestow a saccharine smile  ̶(Sally-Anne would marvel at such a sight)  ̶upon the elderly man seated behind the grand-looking desk. "You should've called me sooner, Albus," states the unknown man  ̶(unless she's forgotten him, which isn't implausible)  ̶his tone both pleasant and vaguely threatening. "Look at her." He waves a hand in her direction, eyes narrowing in on her wrists and neck for a moment or two. "She's clearly disturbed."

Accurate, but if Hermione or another Gryffindor was present, they'd be righteously offended on her behalf. Sally-Anne would probably nod in agreement and then proceed to list all the fun facts she knows about her mute friend.

"My apologies, Kenelm," apologises the genial old man, who doesn't sound very sorry as he grabs a sherbet lemon. He offers some to her by tilting the bowl to her for better access. (Despite all his apparent reservations about her, he does seem to approve of her willingness to accept the sweets when offered.) Hem takes a few and places them in her lap while she absently opens one. "Seeing as we were both quite busy with our own schedules, I'm afraid it was a touch difficult to ensure your swift arrival. But," he lifts his arms to gesture at the other man, "here you are now."

The man apparently known as Kenelm just about rolls his eyes before he returns his attention to Hem. The coattails of his tailcoat jacket  ̶(ebony, like the hair)  ̶flutters dramatically as he kneels beside her for further examination. (She presumes.) With more gentleness than his demeanour would imply, he lifts her hair out of the way so as to get a better look at her neck. It's probably a right mess, but Hem refuses to look into a mirror to find out.

(She never recognises who's looking back. "That's you," says a voice. But it's not her. Who is she?)

"It would appear that she frequently causes self-injury as a subconscious attempt to cope with stress upon her person," he murmurs, eyes cooling as he makes eye contact with her, one immaculate brow raised in question. "And no one's figured out an effective way to reduce such a tendency?"

Hem sucks on the sherbet lemon in her mouth and doesn't reply. His gaze is penetrating, demanding an answer that she can't give.

Dumbledore answers for her. "Her parents have tried various methods to little success. They have previously attempted to put salves on her injuries but it seems that the symptoms only worsen when they do so. I have a file of information you can go through, if it would please you."

(He has a file on her. In his desk? Does he have a file on everyone?)

Kenelm finally breaks eye contact with a sigh that sounds more like a hiss, removing his hand and returning to his full height. "Well, I just hope you and/or Severus haven't made any attempts to rifle through her head. That'd be most displeasing," he adjusts his jacket, "and regardless of how tiring it gets; I will lecture you on the importance of not tampering with fragile mindscapes."

There's a weird twinkle in the headmaster's eyes as he replies, "Oh, neither I nor Severus would be so willing to risk your wrath, I assure you."

"That sounds like a blatant lie," returns the younger man as he grabs the file and begins to skim through it. "No matter. I'll stay. But do be aware that I'll disappear sporadically to attend to other patients." A dark, unpleasant smile appears on his face, then. "It's astounding how idiotic those Ministry bastards operate. Do you know that there is a muggle study in place as they attempt to understand why large amounts of people around the world are suddenly experiencing black spots in their memories with no significant cause as to why? And that more than half of them eventually suffer from mental disorders such as anxiety and depression because the lack of certain memories erodes their ability to function properly in their daily lives? All this is because of shoddy Obliviations where the ones responsible don't even seem to see muggles as human."

From the vehement tone alone, it's obvious that Kenelm truly cares about the topic.

"'To keep the wizarding world a secret,' they say." He elicits a derisive scoff, "Please. Perhaps I should Obliviate some of them and show them how mindlessly they crush others' mental wellbeing. Like a giant trampling all over Occamy eggs; that's how they go about it. What do they care for the lives of muggles?"

And as he continues to bemoan the incompetence of the Ministry, its workers, and just about everything related to it; Hem has the strange thought that he and Professor Snape  ̶(who?)  ̶would probably get along smashingly.

. . .

. . .

They are friends, it turns out. (Is that supposed to be surprising? Why is that surprising?) It's a fact that seems to have thrown just about the entire student body into a confused, terrified frenzy as they try to process the possibility of their Potions professor having friends.

"I swear I saw the git smile at dinner yesterday," Ron gossips from his spot across from Sally-Anne, Hermione and Hem. Harry sits beside the ginger-haired boy and practically inhales his food. "It was horrifying! Percy and the twins swear that they've never seen him so… So…" He struggles to find a word before he eventually shrugs and goes with, "Well, you know… Not like he wants to hex everything and anything that breathes within his line of vision."

Harry adjusts his glasses before leaning forward to take another bite of his breakfast while Hermione responds, "I know! It's very disconcerting. But… Well… Do you think he'll maybe be a little less unbearable during Potions if he has someone to confide in? That'd be ideal, wouldn't it?"

Sally-Anne snickers  ̶(something about Kenelm seems to make her do that)  ̶as Hem chews on some scrambled eggs. "Not likely, Hermione. Kenelm Cheshire's known for being belligerent  ̶even though he's actually quite successful  ̶in the wizarding community. Mum tells me he's very serious about the preservation of the mind and that he'll never fail to tell you just why the Ministry is shite at their jobs." She dainty sip of her apple juice before, "I'm fairly sure their friendship consists of the both of them bitching to each other about their respective woes in life. Which is honestly great, in my opinion, but I doubt that it'll make our dear Potions professor any less of an arse."

The two boys wrinkle their noses while Hermione sighs in reluctant agreement. The darker-haired one says, "He doesn't sound very pleasant. And he's meant to be looking after Hem?" His glance to Hem is one of clear concern.

With a wave of dismissal, Sally-Anne reveals, "He's actually nicer than Professor Snape, or so I hear. I don't know if he's interested in terrorising children as much as his greasy-haired friend, but I suppose we'll just have to see, don't we?" She then gives Hem a gentle pat on the back. "But I doubt Hem will have much trouble dealing with him, either. Mum says that he's known to work on muggles and wizards alike with fantastic results, so he must not give much of a damn about blood purity and all that rot if that's the case."

"Well," Hermione starts, her shoulders loosening with relief. No doubt, she'll be the first to rise up if she thinks her little sister is in danger. "That's good, then. I was worried that he'd treat Hem unfairly like Professor Snape does."

"Wait!" Ron suddenly gasps, his mouth full of toast as his eyes widen with growing panic. "Do you think that he'll try to get Sir Cheshire to help him steal the Philosopher's Stone?"

Sally-Anne groans dramatically as the other two Gryffindors look at Ron with similar expressions of horror. "Oh, here we go again." The blonde girl looks to Hem while the other three rapidly talk among each other. "It's got to be Quirrell, if anyone, but whatever; I warned them. Is it a Gryffindor trait to be a stubborn arse? I mean, does no one else see how creepy he is when he's switching his attention between you and Harry in DADA? Or whenever he's passing by?"

Hem blinks at her as she gnaws on a bit of bacon. Apparently, she has a whole vocabulary dedicated to the language of blinking, for Sally-Anne seems to take this one as, 'No, what do you mean?'

The other girl leans in closer. "He's getting a little sickly, isn't he? And sometimes, he just stares listlessly at nothing when we're supposed to be writing; then you; then Harry; and back again. Sometimes he's legitimately nervous, but then the next moment, he's furious! But that disappears right quick. Merlin, isn't it ever so odd? Then when you look at Snape, he's the same cantankerous bat that he's always been."

With an idle curiousness, Hem wonders how long Sally-Anne's been watching the turban-wearing man. Then the thought disappears as the eccentric girl begins to recount her Christmas brawls with her brothers from Durmstrang.

"It's a family tradition, you see. I don't know how it began, but it's quite fun! I once broke my hand on Harper's face and it was the best day of my life for three years. I was four and very easy to please, mind you."

Chapter Text

"A dragon egg!" Sally-Anne exclaims, clutching her stomach in an evidently failing attempt to mitigate the pain of hysterical laughter. She holds onto a desk for support, but it's not working very well. "In a wooden house! Oh, Merlin's bouncing buttocks  ̶" an abrupt inhale cuts her off, and the girl's halfway to the ground now.

Harry, Ron and Hermione all watch the sight with varied expressions of vague concern and perplexed amusement. Hem has found a packet of jelly slugs in her robes, which she seems to have forgotten about at some point. But they're still fresh  ̶(probably, they don't look off)  ̶so she takes one for absentminded consumption.

"Uh, Sally-Anne…" Harry starts, uncertain as he pushes up his glasses. The girl in question raises a hand towards him from her spot on the floor. Harry's shoulders drop as he blinks and abides by the silent request to wait. "Well. Okay."

Hermione soon sighs, hair whipping about when she turns to her Gryffindor friends. "Well, you can't blame her for reacting like this," she reasonably remarks with a raised chin, gesturing to Sally-Anne with a sharp wave. "Honestly, what's Hagrid thinking, taking dragon eggs from strangers and illegally trying to raise them in his very flammable hut?"

"He's not, clearly," wheezes a flushed Sally-Anne, who's managed to calm down enough to speak. "Oh, it's so very suspicious, isn't it?" and then she snickers to herself, which is probably better than full-blown laughter because she looks ready to pass out.

Ron frowns down at her, seeing as she's taken to remaining seated on the floor by crossing her legs. "You think Hagrid's suspicious?" he asks, clearly dubious about that particular possibility.

Sally-Anne rolls her eyes as she pulls out a raspberry liquorice wand from somewhere. "No, you dolt. I meant the timing." When she scans the uncomprehending trio  ̶(Hem's expression apparently never changes. "If you ever smile, I won't be surprised if Sal faints and your face cracks," chuckles Weston)  ̶a sigh forces its way out of her. "Harry, didn't you say that Hagrid's always wanted to raise a dragon?"

The green-eyed boy blinks, not expecting to be singled out, but he nods, nonetheless. "Yeah, he told me the first time I ever met him."

"Rather forthcoming of him," comments the blonde as she leans back against the wall. (Where are they? Is it an abandoned classroom?) "He can't really keep a secret to save his life, can he?" There's a vague tone of exasperated mocking in her voice that appears to lightly ruffle the feathers of the Gryffindors despite the reluctant agreement that spills onto their faces. Sally-Anne is unapologetic. "What? You obviously know it's true. And it wouldn't be hard for someone else with even a little cunning to figure him out, don't you think?" She drawls out the question, raising her eyebrows in a coaxing manner that implies she's hoping they'll get into the same line of thought.

After a few moments of processing silence, they don't disappoint.

"Oh, my god," Hermione gasps, hands flying to her mouth while her eyes with shocked realisation. "The person who gave the egg to him! They must have known that Fluffy belongs to Hagrid!"

"It had to have been Snape," declares Harry, his tone decisive and his eyes blazing while Ron nods emphatically. "Hagrid said that only he and Dumbledore know how to get past Fluffy, but he was drinking, so he probably let it slip." He begins to pace about the classroom. Hem blinks away the white that's building around him, as though her mind is trying to get to the ethereal King's Cross Station  ̶(and Tom)  ̶when it can't. "That must mean that Snape only needs to figure out what Quirrell's defence is before he gets to the stone!"

A derisive scoff escapes Sally-Anne while she squints at the three Gryffindors, unimpressed with their assumptions. "You're assuming that he's  ̶I still maintain that it's Professor Quirrell  ̶already figured out all the other teachers' defences. Even if he has, I doubt they'd make it easy to just disable all of them except one." They appear to absently rebuff her by shaking their heads, which seems to trigger something in her as her expression slackens and the honey of her eyes become cold. "I see," she murmurs before lifting her head to look at Hem  ̶(who finds herself sitting on a desk)  ̶with a raised brow. "Well, sod it, then. Let's split, yeah? Seems like ya sister and her friends don't need any other hints; got that all figured out, haven't they?"

Hem blinks as her fellow snake gracefully stands, holding her liquorice wand between her teeth as she dusts off her robes. (Sally-Anne's hurt? Should she do something?) Her body automatically slides off the desk to stand beside her friend  ̶(Hem's a horrible friend; she shouldn't be friends with anyone)  ̶and she watches as a hand reaches out to gently pat Sally-Anne on the arm as a weak show of support.

She smiles brightly, anyway, one hand reaching up to take Hem's. "I've still got you, at least. I was going to redecorate this room to make it less hideous because it's like our own little hideout, but never mind that." Using her free hand to place her bag strap over her shoulder, Sally-Anne begins to lead them both towards the door. "Maybe we can go to that alcove you and the Bloody Baron frequent. Or the kitchens?"

"Hey, where are you two going?" Ron questions, evidently noticing them just when they're halfway out the door. This causes Harry and Hermione to both look up with similar owlish expressions. "We've got to figure out how to stop Snape from stealing the stone and make sure that Hagrid doesn't kill himself via baby dragons!"

(They don't need Hem. She's just… present. On the sidelines, in the little glass box that she's always been in but sometimes forgets about.)

Sally-Anne smiles sharply, chin defiantly raised as she replies, "Oh, you'll figure it out, I'm sure! But Hemera and I are going to do something more interesting; something that doesn't involve any idiotic Gryffindors with selective hearing. Alright? Brilliant! See you slags later." And with a half-hearted salute thrown the trio's way, she leaves the room with Hem in tow. "I swear to Merlin's balls, if it turns out that they're wrong; I'm going to laugh in all their faces. Might get some spittle in there for extra damage."

Hem thinks that, in the end, she doesn't care if it's Professor Snape or Professor Quirrell who's trying to steal a rock of immortality. (Does Tom know about it?) She'd just like them both to stop giving her peculiar, piercing glares whenever she's within their line of sight. (It makes her skin tingle and she doesn't like that sensation.)

One scowls at her as though he's suspicious of her entire existence while the other appears to just alternate sporadically. As though there are two people in one body and they're both looking at her.

(She would be concerned if she were able. As it is, her emotions remain out of reach.)

. . .

. . .

Kenelm  ̶(his name is Kenelm, isn't it?)  ̶situates himself in the loveseat opposite of her after finally ̶ (finally? How long has it been?) ̶ becoming satisfied with the way his office has been arranged. He gives her a smile that would be both welcoming and intimidating to some.

"Apologies, I can become rather anal about where things are placed," is his brief apology and explanation before he waves his hand to summon a tea set onto the coffee table between them. "Moving on; Albus," he tilts his head in thought for a moment before, "no, I'll refer to him as Dumbledore. You struggle with placing the names to people, I'm aware. As I was saying, he's left it to me to provide you with your fortnightly prescription. Yet it would seem that lamotrigine has become increasingly ineffective compared to when you first started using it. This has never been truer since you've started attending Hogwarts." He gestures vaguely to the room around them. "Ambient magic can interfere with the way your body reacts to muggle medicine, I'm afraid. I don't want to bore you with the details, so I'll simply tell you that you'll be weaned off of lamotrigine. Your parents are already aware of this and I'm sure they'll inform your sister soon enough."

Hem watches as he leans forward to pour both of them a cup of tea rather than have it done magically. There's a curious fluidity to his movements that makes her head a little fuzzy. "Severus and I are going to collaborate to brew a potion tailored specifically for you and your symptoms," he reveals as he gestures for her to take her tea, which she does. A stormy glint appears in his eyes, then. "Dumbledore should've had Severus start on it from the very beginning, the fool. It says in your file that you have episodes when you're overwhelmed with sensory overstimulation, which can make you a danger to yourself and to those around you when your magic rises up to defend you."

(It's nice to be reminded that she's faulty. Defective. It'd probably hurt her feelings.)

The man sighs, idly flicking his fabulous hair over his shoulder. "Listen carefully, Hemera; I will admit to you that it's unusual for me to work with children. Their minds function much differently than adults, and it only becomes more complicated when one considers the various types of mental disorders that affect said functionality of both ages." Kenelm fixes her with a firm stare. "However, you are admittedly a special case; not only because I was personally requested by Dumbledore, but because there's been no other record of a young witch with Selective Mutism and Depersonalisation-Derealisation Disorder." His lips thin in distaste before he takes a delicate sip of his tea.

Hem's body follows his example while his eyes take note of the unintentional movement. (She can't taste anything.)

"Because there's no record of a case like yours," Kenelm continues, his brow creasing with irritation, "it'll be difficult to treat you. The muggle world can't deal with the complications that come from being magical; while the wizarding world has no idea what either of your conditions are because they're ignorant arseholes who think themselves above muggle illnesses. But I promise you, Hemera," he leans forward, then, a fiercely resolute glint in his eyes, "that I will endeavour to improve your quality of life; no matter how long it takes and no matter how difficult it may be. Even if I'm unable to completely help you, understand that you will be able to experience more in life than what you're currently capable of."

(Can he do it? That doesn't sound plausible. Does she deserve to feel more? Can he do it? Don't hope for anything. It's alright. She can't hope, no need to worry. Can he do it? What does it matter?)

"Now, with that sorted," Kenelm smiles, leaning back and taking another sip of his teas, "let's get to know each other better, shall we? We won't try anything strenuous just yet; one can't learn everything about a person just from a file about them, and I'd like more information before we proceed."

. . .

. . .

It takes her a while to realise that she's never mentioned anything about the atypical behaviours of her professors to Tom. As he processes the information of Kenelm's presence and intentions, Hem also comes to the conclusion that she won't ever do so.

(But why? Why won't she tell him? What's stopping her?)

"Anything else of note?" he queries, eyes heavy-lidded as he's ready to wake up in the real world. (He likes to analyse why the people in her world do the things they do. Why certain events happen as they do and if there's something to be gained from it.) They don't see each other as often now since their respective Astronomy lessons have interfered with their sleeping schedules.

Hem thinks about the frostiness between Sally-Anne and the Gryffindor trio. Hermione seems to feel rather guilty for the change in dynamic, but Harry and Ron seem to be fairly unconcerned.

"They're probably glad that I'm not around to tell them that they're idiots for thinking it's Professor Snape," Sally-Anne grinned, all teeth and harshness. "Well, whatever. Let's just see how well they can ensure that Hagrid doesn't get in trouble and doesn't get himself killed. Honestly, I know Harry's fond of the man, but he clearly cares more about the allure of exotic magical creatures than he does about a regard for his and others' safety."

In the end, she doesn't have an answer and Tom can only sigh in exasperated defeat before leaving first.

Hugging her knees to her chest, Hem sits and waits for the next day to arrive.

Chapter Text

"Malfoy's been sending us smugger looks as of late, hasn't he? I've noticed because his face has been offending me more than usual and that's quite the feat."

Hem lifts her gaze from her sketchbook to find Sally-Anne  ̶(who? Sally-Anne; her friend)  ̶sitting to her left and apparently having a staring competition with the ghost  ̶(Bloody Baron? What's his actual name? Does anyone know?)  ̶sitting to her right. The alcove seems to have become a regular spot of Hem's that often has the House ghost coming to sit with her in complete silence. Although, sometimes, he does talk  ̶(does he?)  ̶when it suits him. Usually one line or so, which is something that she does, too.

"We'll consider it progress if you manage to speak two times with short intervals in between. For example, if you say hello to me and then tell me where you go during mealtimes within the next ten to twenty minutes. I will expect you to answer me but I won't disparage you if you're unable to do so. It will take time and effort before you'll be able to respond to verbal cues with more success than not."

"He knows something," Sally-Anne continues, her eyes beginning to water the longer she challenges the Bloody Baron, whose black gaze is unwavering. Being dead probably gives him an advantage since there isn't much of a need to blink at all. "Probably something to do with the Gryffindor trio, I'd sa  ̶ Alright, fine!" Tearing her reddened eyes away, Sally-Anne admits defeat and rapidly blink to return some moisture to her eyeballs. "You win, BB. Well done; I'm proud to call you a worthy opponent." 'BB' looks marginally amused by her declaration. Unless that minute twitch of his mouth is just an involuntary one.

Wiping her face, the defeated challenger proceeds to ask, "Do you think he knows about the dragon egg? It should've hatched by now, right? Maybe I should've asked what the egg looked like before I started giving them the cold shoulder."

"It's hatched," Hermione told her during breakfast  ̶(or was it lunch?)  ̶in the kitchens. (What day was it? What day is it?) "Oh, Hem, Malfoy saw it all. We're all so worried that he's going to go straight to Dumbledore, but he hasn't done anything yet." Her sister soon lowered her gaze, cheeks darkening as she questions, "Do… Do you think Sally-Anne could…"

The word slipped out before it even fully formed in her head. "No."

Hem can't find it in herself to care all that much, but her dorm mate  ̶(friend, she's a friend ̶has made it clear where they all currently stand. (Hem is in the middle; on neither side.) She wonders if it's silly to be so riled up because one side thinks it's one person and the other side thinks it's another. It probably is. (Or is she the silly one for not caring?)

Hem listens as a voice whispers, "Yes."

Sally-Anne whips her head towards her, eyes wide with surprise and delight. "Yes? He knows about the dragon egg that's become a dragon baby?" Hem must've nodded, for the blonde girl's expression lights up with manic mirth. "Oh, brilliant! They must've been so cautious if Malfoy managed to catch wind of it, I'm sure. He's about as subtle as my aunt's gaudy Christmas stockings." The spirit present raises a thin brow at them, possibly questioning the stockings or the idea of subtlety when he's right here. Sally-Anne smiles at him. "You wouldn't share our secrets, would you, BB?"

The Bloody Baron doesn't answer immediately, opting to slowly shift his gaze to Hem. She blinks as their eyes meet, the sheer lack of colour in his depths almost acting like some sort of black hole. But he doesn't stare into her soul  ̶(she has one, doesn't she?)  ̶for too long, soon dipping his head in a regal but rather subdued nod of confirmation.

"Your secrets are safe with my indifference," he rasps, still turned towards Hem rather than the one who asked the somewhat rhetorical question. She can only wonder what's caused him to gravitate towards her. Maybe he's just never found another person who's as quiet as he is and doesn't really mind his ghostly, bloody status.

Sally-Anne flips her plaits over her shoulders. "Alright, cool. Now I just have to decide if I'm gracious enough to save them from their foolishness." She pretends to think for about a second before, "Oh, look. I've decided that I'm not. Let's go get lunch, shall we?"

. . .

. . .

Ron is bitten by the dragon baby at some point  ̶("I would suggest that you get a calendar to cross the days off just before you go to bed," Kenelm advises)  ̶and Sally-Anne looks as though she's struggling between spiteful cackling and genuine concern.

She goes for something that's possibly a mix. "You look like shite, fellow blood traitor," she says by way of greeting as they come to stand by his bed. "Well, more than usual, anyway."

The sickly boy glares at the blonde, but its effects are much less severe. Not that it's normally very effective. "Oh, shut up, Sally-Anne," he snaps in a hoarse whisper. "If you've come here to mock me; Malfoy's already done that. Threatened to tell Madam Pomfrey what really bit me and everything."

They passed him on the way, actually. (They did, right? But who's Draco?) He was holding a book as he sneered at them and mocked, "Off to visit your fellow blood traitor, Perks? I do wonder how he got that nasty bite of his. I've never heard of a venomous dog; have you?"

"What's this strange buzzing noise in my ears, Hemera? Oh, Merlin, is it a fly? I do so hate flies. Shoo, you inferior nuisance. Shoo! Off you go now!" Draco seemed like he was about to retort but they passed by him too quickly and it probably would've been awkward if he said it when they were a good ten metres away from him.

Though, Hem did hear him hiss in vexation and mutter, "Stupid blood traitors and their mudbloods," before his footfalls became softer with distance.

Sally-Anne raises a single brow and replies, "And what really bit you, Ron?"

"You bloody well know what  ̶"

With a roll of her eyes, she interrupts him with, "What kind of dragon is it, you idiot? None of you ever did tell me."

Confused, Ron answers, "Norwegian Ridgeback. Why?" Then he registers the next part of her sentence and frowns. "And you'd have known if you didn't start snubbing us for no reason."

Blinking as she processes his response, Sally-Anne then directs a completely unimpressed expression at Hem as if to say, 'Can you believe the idiocy of these people?' When she turns back to Ron, a dramatic sigh escapes her. "Really? Did Hagrid just let it slip his mind that the fangs of Norwegian Ridgebacks are venomous? And I'm going to ignore the fact that you think my actions are irrational."

A bitter scowl contorts Ron's face as he lowers his head to look at his bandaged hand. "Seems so. He said I frightened it and that's why it bit me! The way he treats it, you'd think it's a puffskein or something. And your actions are irrational!"

"Unfortunate, yes," comments Sally-Anne, who merely tilts her head to the side and looks rather unconcerned. "I suppose I could've told you if I knew what kind of dragon it was, but I doubt you'd have listened to me, anyway. As it is, I'm thinking that Hagrid's a bit of a hazard."

"Hey!" Ron snaps, automatically defensive of his, Harry and Hermione's friend. (Is that true? Or is it more of a friend of a friend situation?) "He's not that bad! Just…" He trails off, shifting his gaze to the side once he realises that there's some merit to her words. Seeing as he's currently in the Hospital Wing from a dragon bite that Hagrid seems to have disregarded.

Hem doesn't have much of an opinion on Hagrid other than he's not very comfortable around students in green. Although, it does seem like the man is a little reckless.

"A bit of a well-meaning idiot that loves dangerous creatures a little too much? I'm all for a bit of rebellious adventure, but forgive me if I'm not personally all that fond of him. You literally could have died within the next day if you hadn't gotten it treated." The poor boy pales until he's looking even more green, and Sally-Anne either doesn't notice or doesn't care. It's more likely to be the latter. "Well, whatever. Now that we've confirmed you're alive and unlikely to drop dead in the near future, Hemera and I are going to go back to bothering Weston and his friends so we can learn more about hex-deflection. Bye!"

Then, with dramatic flair, Sally-Anne grabs Hem's hand and ensures that both their robes billow behind them as they go. Ron watches them go with a helpless expression, but he does wave and smile a little when Hem wiggles her fingers at him in farewell.

. . .

. . .

"Seems like Harry Potter's taken a dive in the popularity scale," remarks Weston with an amused tone as he helps his sister redecorate an abandoned classroom. (Is it a particular one?) His two friends  ̶(Miles and Dyson Bletchley, she thinks; cousins)  ̶snort at his remark, evidently considering said remark an understatement. "I do so wonder what it is that got him, his friends and ickle Malfoy in trouble?"

The elder Perk deftly tosses Hem  ̶(who's curled up in a corner to stay out of the way)  ̶a box of something before waving his wand to levitate some desks. Hem blinks, wondering where the object's gone before she looks down to find it in her hands already. It's crystallised pineapples, she soon realises. How is it that they've always got sweets on them?

"They're just about all idiots, so I'd say stupidity is a large factor," Sally-Anne responds, pointing her wand at a loveseat they found in some other room and muttering an incantation. It was rather dirty before one of the boys  ̶(she can't remember which one is Miles and which one is Dyson)  ̶cleaned it off with a Scouring Charm. "But I suppose it's a shame that he's being so harshly treated because he's Boy Wonder and all." The loveseat changes from a dull grey to a sleek black and the other First-Year looks quite satisfied with the shade. "Hermione and whoever that other boy is are just being ignored, really. Longbottom? Was that his name?"

"Neville Longbottom," confirms one of the Bletchley cousins. "His grandmother's terrifying according to my father."

Hem opens the box and pops a few pieces of the pineapple sweet in her mouth. In all honesty, she doesn't really understand why House points and the House Cup are such big deals. Perhaps it's because it's a good motivator for encouraging good behaviour and discouraging bad behaviour, but Hem thinks it'd be more effective if there was more to winning than just House pride and a cup.

But then again, there might just be an emotional factor that her brain is incapable of comprehending.

. . .

. . .

The Gryffindor trio is present during dinner in the kitchens. Harry and Hermione look fairly weary while Ron is looking better than he was before. Still sickly, but better. Sally-Anne greets them with her usual snarkiness as she sits across from then and beside Hem.

Harry frowns, clearly not in the mood for any cheek. "Can you not, Sally-Anne? Please?" His expression softens a little when he turns to address Hem, however, even giving her a slight smile. "Hi, Hem."

"Bonsoir," she murmurs, which appears to brighten his mood further seeing as he sits a little straighter and his smile broadens. (His eyes are too illuminate.) His mood falls again when Sally-Anne hums and reminds him that she's there.

Hermione and Ron's expressions shift into discomforted concern as they look between the two. Sally-Anne simply raises a single brow at him when their eyes meet, and she makes a point of maintaining eye contact as she abruptly stabs into her steak with her fork. It's a few seconds of awkward silence  ̶(ignoring the background chatter of the house-elves as they go about their tasks)  ̶before she lowers her gaze to focus on cutting the piece of meat with her knife.

"My apologies, Boy Who Lived, I'm always a bitch and it requires more effort than I'm typically willing to use to lessen the said bitchiness," she answers, finishing with a beatific smile. "But I'll try. Here, let me ask you something. Don't you have an Invisibility Cloak that's supposed to hide you during stealth operations?"

Hem's sister groans loudly at the reminder, quite obviously annoyed with herself. "Oh, it was so stupid of us! How could we have forgotten it at the top of the tower? We wouldn't have been found out if I'd have just remembered!" Hermione's wild hair frizzes up with her emotional outburst. "And poor Neville got involved just because he was trying to help."

"Well," Ron tries, looking between his two friends' sullen expressions. "At least you got to see Malfoy getting dragged by the ear by McGonagall. He has detention, too, so it's not all bad. Not to mention; we don't have to worry about Norbert anymore, thank Merlin." The three nod in agreement at that.

"That's right," Sally-Anne cheerily agrees. "You're just being ignored by the entirety of the school save for Slytherins because they're all mad that we'll likely win the House Cup again. But don't worry," she continues when the three of them visibly wilt. "I've made it my hobby to torment the little arsehole, so you can be sure that he's also not having a fun time. And even if it wasn't a very respectable hobby of mine, most snakes disapprove when another snake is caught doing something they shouldn't. Shows that they're not resourceful enough to remain unnoticed, you see. So, even if Professor Snape favours him; the rest of the House doesn't."

Hem cuts into her gravy-lathered steak after piling some broccoli and mashed potatoes onto her plate.

"Honestly, I don't know what he's doing. He's already powerful, yes, but one needs charisma and a personality that isn't synonymous with 'spoiled brat,' if they want actual followers. A few students were mocking him today because he was bragging about learning the Disillusionment Charm recently, but he didn't think to use it the night he was sneaking about after curfew."

"The Disillusionment Charm wouldn't be difficult for you to learn," Tom murmured in contemplation, head tilted up towards the sky. "I could likely also teach you the modified Silencing Charm that works on objects rather than people. If you were to put them on your shoes, no one would be able to hear your footsteps. Being in such a large castle unfortunately ̶ or perhaps fortunately, depending on the circumstances ̶ means that sound tends to echo."

"Do you think I sneak around after curfew all the time, Tom?" someone queried.

He waved her off, which told her that the question was hers. "If not now, then soon. You can't expect to be a snake without breaking a few rules, after all. And I do recall you saying that the other Houses as a collective are rather wary of yours; which is odd, as that doesn't seem to be the case in my reality. We're all rather amiable with one another."

Chapter Text

Hem's mind has been foggier than usual. It's unsurprising that it's taken her so long to notice  ̶(the dots either connect after a short delay or they get lost in the haze of her mind)  ̶but now that she's aware, it sets something within her on edge.

(Is she going to asphyxiate again? Drown? No. It feels like something else that she can't identify.)

It's like an ever-present sensation that won't go away  ̶(something's wrong, but isn't everything always wrong?)  ̶mixed in with the mire and making her all jittery. She might be scratching herself more, but she's not sure. The wounds on her arms and neck are always numerous  ̶(scratch away all the scabs until they inevitably become scars)  ̶so it's hard to tell what's different.

"Hemera! Focus on me," a stranger  ̶(or is it someone she knows? Does she really know anyone?)  ̶calls, pushing through the fogged up glass. But it's faint; muffled. "Focus on my voice, Hemera. Merlin, am I impressed with your survival ability if this is a frequent occurrence." A snap of something  ̶(fingers?)  ̶echoes in her mindscape. "Come back to the ground, Hemera. It's rude to float away while I'm having tea with you."

(Who is Hemera?)

A blink. Then another. Gradually  ̶(it feels like a while, but who knows?)  ̶the white snow in her eyes melts somewhat, allowing her to spot a glaring hue of gunmetal blue. Then a shiny ebony. (Hair?) Light olive. (Skin tone?) Her mind stutters, but it eventually realises that she's looking at the semblance of a person. (A man? Does she know him?)

"That's it, you're doing well."

(What does she do well at? What is she doing well at? Where is she?)

Then, as if pushing her way through some kind of mist, Hem's vision clears  ̶(the colours are both dazzling and dull; she has to squint)  ̶and the ringing she isn't fully aware of slowly fades out. She feels heavy, as though her body will refuse to move even on autopilot.

"Hello, Hemera," the man  ̶(Kenelm; Kenelm who?)  ̶greets with a strange smile  ̶(it looks a little sad, but it doesn't fit him for some reason)  ̶while she realises that his face is closer than she expects. Like he's kneeling in front of her. Something's different about her angle. (Is she lying on her side?) A hand gently pushes away the hair that's always  ̶(always?)  ̶situated between her eyes. Her body shivers; it's a peculiar sensation when people touch her face, but she can't really describe it.

The hand soon leaves her face. "Welcome back. I suppose it's to be expected that weaning you off of lamotrigine would provide some side-effects, but I'm certain that can't be the only reason why you're dipping." His strange smile sharpens, but she can't tell if he's amused or annoyed. Maybe both? "Severus says that you've sent three different students to the Hospital Wing within the past two weeks or so. The latest one having occurred only just yesterday. Do you remember?"

That doesn't sound familiar. (Or does it?)

Kenelm does something  ̶(a spell?)  ̶that begins to make her body feel both warm and cool. She's not sure how to process it, but it seems nice. Relaxing, almost.

"According to your friend, Sally-Anne, you have quite the mastery over the Shield Charm," his voice sounds distorted for a moment, as though she's listening from underwater. "As such, she tells me that you don't typically react to relatively trivial jinxes, hexes or curses that make contact with your shields because they tend to bounce off or dissipate entirely. Not unless they're aimed within your line of sight, as the light from the spells is a particular trigger for you." He raises a brow at her, possibly to have her do something to confirm it. She only manages a slow blink. "Now, two of them seemed to have made the unfortunate mistake of doing just that, but the third one…" His expression turns cold.

"What the bloody shite, mate! Who sends the Blastin' Curse at a First-Year?! That coulda killed her, ya right fuckin' bastard! Merlin's tit, Hemera, are you alright?"

"I  ̶ I didn't know, I swear! I was told it was just a curse that pushes people over!" Red. Lots of red. Ruby. Garnet. Wine. A horrible, pained sob. Buzzing in her ears and electricity in her veins. "Please! I didn't know! Just  ̶ Just take me to the Hospital Wing, please! Please  ̶"

Hem closes her eyes. (Who told them? Why?)

Someone  ̶(Kenelm?)  ̶sighs. "Well, aren't you just a frustrating child of mystery?" he murmurs, a hand tucking her hair behind her ears. "But I'll admit that you're managing to worm your way into my decrepit heart." Fabric shifts and rustles. "This is why I seldom work with children."

. . .

. . .

"Severus," greets someone as a door opens. Hem tries to open her eyes. Her eyelids decide they'd rather not listen. "Has the boy told you anything?"

"It would seem that he can't quite remember who requested that he assault Miss Granger with the Blasting Curse." The door closes. Soft, barely audible footfalls. "I have concluded that his memory has been tampered with."

Paper shuffles. "You're still suspicious of Quirrell? Well. I can't deny that the man is deeply perturbed. If he's working for the Dark Lord, I can understand Harry Potter as a target. But Hemera? Even with all her idiosyncrasies, it shouldn't warrant such vehement assassination attempts. It's personal."

"Indeed," drawls the other voice. "I have yet to figure out Miss Granger's significance. I'd have thought her blood status an attribute, but if that were the case, Miss Granger from Gryffindor should have been similarly targeted."

A sharp, wry chuckle escapes the other. "One mystery after another. I see why you and Albus have been so cautious of her."

. . .

. . .

A large portion of the school has learned of the incident Hem can't quite remember properly. (Is she sleeping properly? When was the last time she saw Tom?) Lots of differing rumours circulating, but the one Hem is aware of is the one where she purposefully attacked the boy so viciously for no reason other than she's a sadistic snake. Or perhaps that she's finally snapped from all the threats on her life.

"It was self-defence!" Hermione roars  ̶(or screeches; her voice does become rather shrill at times)  ̶startling the nearby students that're whispering as they pass. They're not being very subtle, are they? "You hear that? Self-defence! She wouldn't have reacted that way if the prat hadn't snuck up on her and tried to blast her into pieces! How dare you insinuate otherwise?" With her wand in her hand, Hem's sister looks ready to start throwing some hexes herself, which makes the other students scurry off in a hurry. She makes a point of ignoring the one who says that it might just be a violent muggle-born tendency. "Twats."

Sally-Anne nods in approval as she leads the way to the abandoned classroom that's now called the Chimaera Den. ("Head and body of a lion; the tail of a snake. If we make it particularly Hogwarts-like, it can have eagle wings and another badger head!" Sally-Anne theatrically declares.) The boys are already waiting for them there. "They always do have to find a way to vilify Slytherin, don't they? But whatever, I just think I've had enough experiences of witnessing Hemera's shields shatter and watching as she retaliates in a blind, automatic panic. As great as drama is, my best friend in genuine distress isn't fun."

Hermione sends the blonde-haired snake an immensely thankful but equally apologetic look. "It must be horrifying," she remarks, squeezing Hem's hand before she lowers her gaze. "But I'm… I admit that I'm glad you're always with her, at least. Even if you can't help immediately, you pull her back to reality… Oh, I don't know what I'd do in any of those situations. Sometimes, I  ̶" Her elder sister blinks sharply, and they all stop with the realisation that she's trying to blink back tears. "I feel so horrible, Hem," she admits in a whisper. "Every time you're in danger, I can't help you because I'm too far away or ignorant. And what kind of big sister can't protect her little sister when it counts?"

(Stop it. Please. Please.) It's not Hermione's fault that someone is determined to kill her. No one really expected Hem to be that much of a target during her first year at Hogwarts. (She brings misery wherever she goes, doesn't she?) Perhaps by Draco  ̶(who?)  ̶and those like him, most likely, but actual attempts of murder via trolls, iron balls and naïve upperclassmen were highly unanticipated.

"I don't think anyone will blame you for not being omniscient, Hermione," Sally-Anne replies as she reaches over to awkwardly rub her friend's back. "Besides, I think you'd do admirably in protecting Hem if she didn't already have an albeit shaky and mostly unaware handle on things. Not to mention the fact that she knows so many spells and has been able to keep up  ̶kind of  ̶in class because of you."

Hermione sniffs, trying to rid herself of her tears before someone comes along. "Still… I should've, I don't know…" She shuffles in discomfort for a moment before, "I should've done something more to protect Hem after the first time when she was attacked by the troll." Hem blinks as her sister looks at her directly with wet eyes. (Hem dislikes it. She dislikes it when people cry for her. When they worry about her. She's not worth it.) "I just wish that you didn't have to go through this; especially during your first year."

Hem can't reply. She wants to say that she knows and that she's sorry, but her mouth won't move and no sound comes out. But eventually, Sally-Anne coaxes them to resume their trek to the Den and the moment to comfort her sister is over.

(The numb guilt reminds her of its presence; that it's rotting her bones and flesh.) Her friends and family fret over her while she continues to remain impassive about the fact that someone wants her dead.

(Would it be better if she were?)

. . .

. . .

"I feel it, Hem," Harry whispers, almost feverish as he sits in the corner with her and mirrors her by hugging his knees to his chest. The others are in the middle of the room, revising for the upcoming exams, but Harry's forehead hurts and Hem can't concentrate, so they're sitting together and eating sweets. Or Hem is; the Gryffindor boy seems to be too worked up about something to eat.

"My scar's been burning since that night in the Forest, back when I saw Voldemort feeding on a unicorn." A scowl of frustration contorts his face while he lifts his glasses to rub his eyes. "I can't focus on revisions when I know that something wrong is going to happen."

She blinks when he turns his concerned, slightly pained gaze to her. "I think he's after you, too, Hem. I don't know why, but it's obvious that he's trying to kill us both." He was attacked not long ago, she remembers. (How long ago?) But it wasn't as violent as hers, as Hermione had Stunned the offender before they could even say the incantation. (They don't remember, either.) "Just…" He reaches over and intertwines his fingers with hers. "Be careful, alright? Please? "

"I'll try," she whispers  ̶(it's her speaking, right?)  ̶even though it feels like a lie. (It always feels like a lie.)

Harry smiles at her. It's a little stressed around the edges, but it's soft and genuine and her chest prickles  ̶(it hurts)  ̶with something peculiar. "Good," he returns  ̶(Tom?)  ̶before adjusting his glasses atop his nose. "We've been lucky that you haven't been badly injured all the times before, but luck doesn't last forever."

No, she thinks. It doesn't.

. . .

. . .

Sometimes, one of them is awakened unexpectedly via an outside source. When that happens, they always feel a strong but not painful tug in their chests before they disappear into the real world. It's a strange, jarring sensation that Hem's never been fond of. Hermione used to try and wake her up when they were younger and Hem would attack her in a blind panic. (But her sister always hugged her; comforted her and told her it was okay because it was just her. Even when she was bleeding and hurt.)

The tug on her chest burns and she elicits a violent gasp at its abrupt arrival. (Pain is weird. It's weird and she doesn't like it  ̶)

"Hem?" Tom queries, cautious concern lacing his voice. The sensation grows stronger, and he seems to feel it, too, for he's abruptly standing in front of her. "Hem! Hem, look at me! What's wrong? Tell me what's wrong!" He grabs her face and tilts his up in a rough motion.

Her insides are on fire, but she sees the unadulterated fear and the helpless anger through her blurred vision. (He looks more like a child than ever, doesn't he?) "Tom," she gasps. His nails dig into her skin and there's a feral air about him as he tries to keep her here. "Someone's  ̶"

But she doesn't get to finish her sentence.

Chapter Text

Hem seldom feels pain to the point that it overwhelms her. Her pain receptors don't work as well as they should  ̶(or is it just her brain that doesn't work?)  ̶so the sensation of being hurt is only distinctly unpleasant because her mind tells her that it's probably supposed to. Sometimes, she'll feel whatever's hurt throb  ̶(sting, ache)  ̶somewhat, but in the end, it doesn't affect her as much as it would others.

However, there's something fundamentally different about the blistering pain that's erupted within Hem's chest and leaking towards the rest of her body. (It hurts. Why does it hurt?) It feels like it's deeper than it should be  ̶(but how did she get injured there?)  ̶and it's as if something inside her is being pulled in two different directions.

(How does that work?)

But eventually  ̶(how long has it been?)  ̶it begins to subside, the dull mire of her senses slowly wrapping themselves around it until it's numbed enough for her to notice other sensations that prickle her body. Parts of her seem to be aching, like she's been lying on something hard and cold for too long. To her, though, it's better than whatever made her feel like some unknown force was tearing at her soul.

"Finally," chuckles a tired, masculine voice. (Is it echoing?) She gradually pries her eyes open, only to be greeted with relative darkness save for a dim light in her peripheral. Then something shifts in the black. "You're awake."

The world around her gradually becomes brighter, prompting Hem to blink a few times in rapid succession before she manages to make out the shapes of candles. A figure is standing to her left, blocking off some of the light and becoming somewhat of a silhouette. It's a strange shape since the head looks rather disproportionate. (Who is it?)

Sitting up, Hem feels herself frown as a section of her head aches. (A migraine? Or just a headache?)

"I must say, Miss Granger," the voice starts, sounding louder as the figure stalks closer to her. Glancing around, she realises that she's been lying on a desk  ̶(how did she get here?)  ̶before her attention is grabbed by the clearer image of the person in front of her. "All these attempts to rid the world of you, and yet… In the end, it's you who we need."

The first thing she registers is a turban  ̶(it's a turban, no? Does she know someone that wears a turban?)  ̶but the second is the strange expression of the man wearing it. His eyes are dark enough that she can't make out the colour, and the ill-looking pallor of his skin only seems to add to the acute, disturbed fashion that he's staring at her with. (Was he always this close?)

He soon reaches out, her skin beginning to tingle  ̶(it's odd and she doesn't think she likes it very much)  ̶as his hand cups one of her cheeks. Hem makes an attempt to move away from the touch  ̶(she probably shouldn't let weird men touch her)  ̶but then another hand has her other cheek, forcing her to keep still.

"Where is Lord Voldemort's body hidden, Miss Granger?" asks the stranger, whose irises now seem to glow with a reddish hue. (Are red eyes common among wizards and witches?) She blinks, but the image doesn't go away. "Or should I call you Hemera? Hem, perhaps? I think that, after all we've been through, I can call you Hem, no? Miss Granger only reminds me of your sister."

(Who is he?)

The man smiles to himself  ̶(or at her?)  ̶looking strangely delirious as he does. He brings her closer to the edge of the desk where he's standing, practically dragging her by her face and only stopping when her hands and knees are pressed against his chest. (When did they get there?)

"Do I make you uncomfortable, Hem?" he murmurs in an apparently rhetorical question, his tone of voice almost affectionate as he addresses her. (But why? How does he know her?) "I hope not. I've only attempted to kill you three times, you know; it could've been much worse, but…" He elicits a shaky exhale, his breath fanning her face and making her skin itch as her hair tickles her face. "I've been busy, see? Trying to find a way past the defences to the Philosopher's Stone; trying to find the body that my master has hidden here in the castle. Of course, I was also trying to kill your friend, Harry Potter."

He tucks her hair behind her ears, one hand moving to stay by her neck while the other grasps her chin and lifts it up so that's she's facing him better. "You don't recognise me, do you, Hem?" His smile becomes oddly fond, then, as though her spotty memory is something that he's well aware of and thinks of as endearing. "Well, that's alright. I know how you are."

(Does he?)

Hem blinks, temporarily breaking eye contact to glance at her hands. (Staring makes her head hurt more.) She can't feel it, but her fingers are clutching to the fabric of his robes and  ̶

"Look at me!" the man abruptly shouts, causing her to jolt in alarm as he roughly forces her to meet his eyes again. The red hue has darkened  ̶(and yet it's dazzling in its brightness)  ̶with fury and madness and whatever else that she can't identify immediately. (They're moving too quickly.) A snarl contorts his face as he looms over her and orders, "Don't look away from me, Hem."

It's different to Tom, she thinks. Tom's an adolescent boy, even if he's tall for his age. He cares for her, despite it all, and he doesn't possess an intense, irreversible insanity that oozes off his very form. Tom might not be the most well-adjusted of people, but he's not mentally unhinged like whoever this is. (Just damaged. Like everyone else in the world.)

She should be more scared about this, she's aware, because this man is a stranger and he's dangerous to her. He's tried to kill her multiple times, if what he says is true. But her mind has never really comprehended fear all that well aside from blind panic caused by a fight-or-flight response. (Or is she mistaken?)

"I'm Quirrell," chuckles the man, scowl forcefully gone and replaced by a manic cheer. "Quirinus Quirrell. Your Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, remember?" Something begins to caress her neck. (It feels like a thumb?) "Don't you see me looking at you, Hem?" he queries, leaning forward even more so that she can see the anger that morphs his face again. "Don't you ever see me?!" His grip on her noticeably tightens and there's a vague feeling of things digging into her skin. (Nails?)

"Don't you see me wishing that you'd come to talk with me; that I'd be the only one who would hear your voice?" And then his face becomes despaired  ̶(the erratic, insane emotions are starting to make her eyes sting and her ears ring)  ̶the expression so genuine that she can only frown with bewilderment. "You have no idea, do you?" he whispers. "That he's inside my head, constantly thinking about how I'm supposed to retrieve his body and the Stone; about killing Harry Potter the Chosen One and you. It always comes back to you, you see?" The desperation returns, a pleading edge to it as he stares at her unblinkingly. "Because you should know where it is, shouldn't you? About where his body's hidden? Please, Hem, I need to know. Please, I won't try to kill you anymore, I promise."

Hem stares at him, uncomprehending. (What body? Who's in his head? Why does he want to talk to her? What body? Whose? Why?)

"I…" a rough whisper starts, and she watches as his face lights up with dangerously unstable joy. "I don't  ̶"

And then it promptly disappears. "Don't lie to me!" he hisses, violently shaking her for a moment  ̶(it makes the ache in her head pulsate with displeasure)  ̶before he stops with a vice grip. Hem shuts her eyes in order to mitigate the abrupt motion. (Her ears are ringing as static fills her head.) "You have to know where it is, Hem! He said that you would! I can't get past those blasted defences aside from the bloody dog! I can't even get to my own defence because the other professors' are in the way! This is the only other option!"

The words, "What body?" force themselves out of her mouth before she can swallow them. (Why would she know about a body? Whose body?)

It seems to be a bad idea when something swiftly smacks her in the jaw.

. . .

. . .

"  ̶m sorry, Hem, I'm sorry, I apologise, please," mutters a voice  ̶(Quirrell?)  ̶as she struggles to remember what's happening. (Has she ever felt so terrible?) Someone's hugging her  ̶(they're squeezing her)  ̶as they seem to rock back and forth. "I shouldn't have done it, I know. I lost my temper. We're wasting time when you're unconscious. But you shouldn't have lied to me. He's angry, too, you see? If you won't do it for me, do it for him. You care about him, don't you?"


"Do it for Lord Voldemort," Quirrell continues. She's not sure if he knows whether she's even conscious or not. (Did he knock her out?) "He only wanted you dead because you make him feel things that he doesn't want, don't you get it? You know this. You've always known this."

Hem feels herself frown. Who's Lord Voldemort? (That's a horrible name.) She doesn't know anyone  ̶(or does she? There's a prickle of something in her head, but it's not connecting)  ̶that has such a specific opinion of her. (Yes, she does.)

"Tom?" rasps a small voice. It seems to echo in her ears.

Quirrell stills immediately. She's uncertain how long it is before he's suddenly in her line of sight, with his sickly face and ruby eyes. (It clashes with the purple turban thing and it's making her eyes water.) His visage is somewhat blurred, but she tries to clear it by blinking. It doesn't work much.

But she notices something about his expression. It's crazed, but it's intent while a sharp gaze stares into her soul and keenly searches for something. (Tom searches for things in her eyes. But his eyes are walnut brown.)

Hem watches as her hand reaches out, and he's so very still. So statuesque  ̶(Tom does that)  ̶until her fingers brush against his jawline and his eyes are aflame. "I was weak," he declares, his tone eerily calm while his arms trap her body and his eyes trap her soul. (It's not Tom. Tom's prettier. Younger. The boy in the white King's Cross Station that she only sees in her dreams.) "When I went by Tom Marvolo Riddle, I let you become a weakness to me." And then he's silent for a while, glowering at her with dark, heated emotions that make his eyes seem molten.

How strange it is, to be so hated by someone. He wants her dead, it's clear. (But he wants something else, too, doesn't he?)

Then, finally, he continues with, "When you disappeared from my dreams and left me with nightmares without a word; I realised just how much." He tilts his head, leaning into her touch, and there's a desperate sort of longing in his glare before it's violently smothered away. "In the end, I managed to rid myself of my weaknesses; of any reminder of them. Then here you appear to me, in your filthy mudblood form, daring to remind me of the weak little boy that I used to be."

She can't understand what he's on about. (It's all so very dramatic, isn't it?) "You're no longer Tom?" she whispers in question as she stares at a face that would never have originated from the boy in her dreams. (Tom doesn't actually think muggle-borns are inferior. They're magical, after all. But muggles aren't.)

He smiles at her, all jagged and cruel edges sharpened by instability. (Insanity probably does that to people. Has he blinked yet? Has she?) "No, Hemera," Quirrell  ̶(not Quirrell? Not Tom?)  ̶murmurs. "I haven't been Tom for a long time."

(It's not Tom. But it is? Another version? How?)

"You're real?" Hem breathes, her ears ringing as her sluggish mind tries to process. (How long has she been drowning?)

"But you're real, Hem; just as I am. Never forget that you are real."

(She doesn't feel like she is.)

"Oh, yes," Not-Tom confirms with a conflictingly amiable tone, the mad glint blazing once more in his eyes and smile. "Very real." Grabbing her outstretched hand, he begins to squeeze it. She can only feel a vague throb before her body automatically tries to pull away. (He's crushing her hand, she realises.) But he doesn't release his grip. He barely budges. "Tell me, Hemera… Will you finally reveal where my body is if I were to put you under the Cruciatus Curse?"

"I'm curious if the Cruciatus Curse would actually do anything to a person with dulled pain receptors," Sally-Anne remarked to Hermione. "Not that I'd actually bother to see for myself; I'd much rather just punch someone in the face than watch them writhe about. That seems really boring, honestly."

"That's… an interesting theory," Hermione replied with an uncertain smile. "I'm not sure. Maybe it would just take a little longer before the victim feels anything? You know we're supposed to be revising about something completely different, don't you?"

Hem feels as though something within her is coiling up  ̶(it's salty and bitter and acidic; it's trying to burn through the mud)  ̶as she mutters, "Voldemort is a dreadful name, Tom."

But it fits, she supposes. This Tom seems like a dreadful version.

(Do they live in the same reality, after all?)

Chapter Text

In the beginning, it doesn't seem to hurt. All she currently feels is the slightest niggle of something foreign invading the mud in her body, and while she does; her gaze remains focused on the ominous, blazing red that's intently focused on her in turn.

A wry, mangled gleam appears as his lips curve into a derisive smirk before she hears, "Of course… It would take longer for you to feel its effects." It's a deceptively calm sentence, laced with irrational hate and strangled affection. "But don't worry, Hemera, you'll experience it properly before long. Care to tell me what I wish to know before then?"

Hem lowers her eyelids but doesn't shut them completely. The foreign feeling is wading through the fog, the mire and the sea; building and building into something foul and malicious. Her head. Her jaw. Her hand. He's hurt her and he's going to hurt her more. (But even now, her brain just doesn't care. Even as a something dark hides away and hisses, it's not enough.)

She wonders if Tom is still in their shared space, pacing and aggressively running his hands through his hair as he attempts to understand what's happened. Or if he's also woken up, unable to stay due to the harsh nature of her sudden departure.

(Walnut-brown eyes. Porcelain skin. Sable-black hair. Tom. His many masks and his many emotions.)

Her chest feels hollow, for some reason. (It always feels hollow, doesn't it?) It feels like everything else is being pulled in, acting like a black hole and leaving her with nothing. (Why does she feel like that?) When she stares at the stranger  ̶(acquaintance?)  ̶with the purple turban  ̶(it's really undermining his intimidation factor)  ̶it feels as though the hole in her chest grows bigger. (Has she lost something?)

Her body is starting to tingle, random warm spots bubbling up within her flesh.

"I've always hated your silence," Not-Tom  ̶(Voldemort? How is she supposed to remember that?)  ̶hisses, wand still pointed at her chest. "The mentally decrepit little girl without a voice; without emotions… Pathetic. How pathetic I was to be so attached to you."

(Vollie. Volde. Vol. Dem. Demi. Mor. Mort. Morty. Morty works. Tom and Not-Tom; Morty. He probably wouldn't like it. No, he definitely wouldn't like it.

Good. )

Hem feels her body twitch involuntarily. "You're… attached to the… turban man," she breathes out, the words once again making themselves verbal without her permission. (The bitterness builds as the pain does. She should stop antagonising him, shouldn't she?) But she doesn't disparage the dissonance within her. Not now. Not when his eyes  ̶(not walnut brown; ruby)  ̶flare with outrage. "Without a body… of your own…"

(Tom would be offended to know that Morty thinks of him as pathetic. Morty's lost his body, after all. That seems sadder than a boy who cares for someone. Will she tell him if she lives?)

An inhuman screech escapes him, then, and he appears to put more force in his wand-pointing  ̶(how does one point harder?)  ̶as a result. "When I rip the truth from your flimsy, pitiful mind, Hemera, I promise that I will take my time killing you with the very body you've hidden from me!"

(She only has one body, last she remembers. Unless she has two somewhere?)

The sudden, agonising  ̶(she's never felt the need to use the word; isn't that odd?)  ̶ripple through her body prevents her from replying.

. . .

. . .

"Oh, what a handsome boy!" Theia praises, peering at the sketches with surprised delight. That's the word. "Matthias! Come, look. Our youngest is such a talented artist."

Hem lowers her gaze to the sketch in her lap. A boy stares up at her, eyes shaded in but it doesn't fit. All sharp lines and yet it's still soft. (Somehow.) He scowls at her with a mix of suspicion and curiosity  ̶(where did she learn those words?)  ̶unsure of what to make of her. To her left, a sketch shows him sitting on a bench, staring into the distance with a peculiar intensity.

All around her. Papers filled with a boy named Tom in a station that isn't supposed to be white. (Is it?)

"Very nice, if a little aggressive," compliments Matthias as he appears beside the lady. (His wife.) His gaze slides over to her, kind and pleased. "Does he have a name? I hope you're not going off to visit boys, Hem. I'm not sure I'm ready to let anyone near either of my beautiful daughters."

She blinks.

Tom. His name is Tom.

But the answer doesn't come out. Her answers hardly ever come out. They don't want to. Everyone else makes it seem easy. So why is it so hard? (It's just her. Just her and the silence.)

"I'm Tom. Who are you?"

(Who is she?)

. . .

. . .

Her throat feels strange, Hem notices. (Is she sweating?) Her ears are filled with static again, and her vision is a pure, blinding white. When she inhales, coughs wrack through her body  ̶(smoke?)  ̶and there's a numb realisation that her body is shaking erratically.

"Hem!" someone yells, sounding muffled and far away. (Who's Hem? Her? She's Hem, isn't she?) They sound concerned. Terrified. They cough. (Or is that another person?) She flinches as something  ̶(someone?)  ̶collapses by her side and begins to touch her as if checking for something. (Injuries? She's injured, right? Or is it in her head?)

A shaky exhale. "Hem," they murmur, shaken up from something. "Hem, it's me. It's Harry. Are you alright?"

(Harry? Who is that?)

"Get away from her, Potter," another voice growls. They're further away. (And winded? Pained?) An object thuds against the floor. (Multiple objects? Rubble?) "I'll deal with you once she's given me what I need."

Hem closes her eyes, willing the white to fade away as Harry  ̶(her friend, Harry; the boy with the green eyes and the kind smiles)  ̶protectively holds her against him. "What do you want from Hem?!" he demands, voice cracking with his heightened emotions. "What did you do to her?!"

Another hiss. (It something burning?) More objects clattering to the floor. "Get away from her, you filth! She's mine to do with as I please!"

Harry tries to move her, but her body seems to reject the attempt and he reluctantly listens. "She's not an object, you crazed weirdo! Wait… Are you… Are you the one who's been trying to kill her?"

"And you, dear boy," returns the other person. (Morty?) "But it would seem that Quirrell is as incompetent as the trolls he communicates with… No matter. Give her to me, Harry Potter, and I will offer you the chance to save your own life." A considering pause, then. "Join me, and you won't meet the same fate as your parents."

The arms around her tighten; her flesh  ̶(everything)  ̶twinges in a fair amount of discomfort. "Never," Harry declares, the vibration of his resolution transferring to her. (Is she leaning on him?) "As if I would ever join Voldemort! He killed my parents! And you tried to kill me and Hem!"

"Ah… But don't you see, Harry? I am Lord Voldemort…"

Hem tries to listen, but their voices begin to muffle and fade, and it's then that she realises that she's falling into the sea of her mind.

. . .

. . .

"How did you know, Harry?" a feminine voice queries. (Is it Hermione?) Their voice shakes, as though they're on the verge of tears. "How did you know where they were? It was in some abandoned classroom that would've taken you ages to find. Not to say that I'm not thankful that you did, but… Well, it just seems so implausible."

Fabric quietly shuffles. "I… I don't know," replies a slightly more masculine voice. (Harry?) "It was like… I was dreaming about it, you know? Like I was seeing through Voldemort or Quirrell's eyes and I… I could see him torturing Hem  ̶" They break off in a gasp before taking a moment to calm down in order to continue. "And then I woke up and just… ran. I guess it was because the Slytherin common room is in the dungeons that I ran straight there, but it was actually a miracle that I was nearby when she basically blew up the classroom. Quirrell was blown across the room, practically buried in the wall with his face half-burnt off. I think we were lucky that she managed to destroy his wand because he looked rabid."

"I soddin' told ya!" hisses another feminine voice. (Sally-Anne?) There's the sound of someone being slapped and a responding hiss of annoyance. "Merlin, fine. Lowerin' my voice. I soddin' told ya!" It's not that much quieter. "I knew it was Quirrell, the rat bastard creep  ̶ Shut up, Ron, let me gloat! But, of course, I obviously didn't account for his Voldiness to be stuck on the back of his head. No wonder he was such a nutter." A frustrated groan escapes them. (Her?) "I'm still pissed that he just essentially waltzed into our dorm and kidnapped her!" They snap their fingers. "Just like that!"

"Why did he even want her, anyway?" questions another slightly masculine voice. "Wasn't he after the Stone? Hem wouldn't have known how to get past the other defences."

Harry  ̶(it's Harry, right?)  ̶makes a strange sound of incomprehension. "He thought that she knew something, I think, but I'm not sure what. Not that she'd be able to tell him, anyway." A sigh escapes him. "I didn't get the chance to ask before he, you know, tried to murder me with his bare hands. Didn't seem too keen on me touching her, for some reason."

"Ew," utters Sally-Anne. (Probably. It sounds like her. Right?) "That sounds like he was jealous  ̶ Oh, Merlin's balls! You don't think he had a weird obsession for her, do you? Oh, it makes so much sense but it's so nasty! I mean, Hemera's pretty and all  ̶in a wild, exotic sort of way  ̶but she's eleven. I don't know how old he was, but definitely too old for her! It's probably a good thing he's dead, huh?"

"Miss Perks! You are disturbing my patients! That's it, you've had your fifteen minutes; out!"

The other masculine voice groans, "Ugh. Way to go, Sally-Anne."

"Well, shite, my bad," Sally-Anne snarks as feet shuffle about. "Let me just keep my composure as I process the fact that two of my friends  ̶one a lot more important than the other; sorry, Harry  ̶were nearly murdered in the dead of the night! Anyway, bye, Harry. Tell Hemera that we came to visit her when she wakes up, yeah?"

"We might see you at dinner in the Great Hall," murmurs Hermione  ̶(probably)  ̶as footsteps echo. "Or in the kitchens. If Hem goes with you, you'll take her to the kitchens, won't you?"

A sound of confirmation. "Sure, Hermione. I'll come by the Great Hall first if we do, though. But I think Madam Pomfrey wants to keep her here for a while. I'm not as badly injured as she is so I'll probably be discharged first."

. . .

. . .

Hem tilts her head as she takes in the pile of sweets that're situated on a table between her and Harry's respective hospital beds. The colours all blur together into one, which forces her to rub her eyes so that the surreal image will go away. When it eventually does, she finds that she's holding a glass of fruit fool in her lap.

"Fred and George apparently put that in a Stasis Charm for you," Harry informs her, sitting up as she grabs the spoon. When she glances at him, he gives her a lopsided but friendly smile. (Hem feels empty. Emptier than before. She has so little left in her. It's horrible.) "The whole school knows that we faced off against Quirrell. Not about Voldemort, though. I suppose that's for the best; I doubt they'd believe he was stuck on the back of his head."

Staring down into her fruit fool, Hem watches as it gradually disappears. (Is she eating it? Why can't she taste it?)

"Hem?" She raises her head to look at Harry. His expression is one of concern and of sheepishness. "I… Do you know why he was after you? He seemed to think that you knew something. Was it about the Stone or…?"

"Where is Lord Voldemort's body hidden, Miss Granger?"

The empty glass in her hands shatters. Harry jumps, startled, while Hem tries to feel something from the shards that have pierced her skin. (Nothing.) She clenches her fists  ̶(to what? Ensure that the shard embed themselves further?)  ̶and watches as red blooms from the wounds.

(Red like the ruby eyes. Red. Red.  Red.  If she could hate someone; would she hate him? Or does she already? Is it there, only hidden away, blocked by glass? But where would she hide it?)

"He was mistaken," a cold, hollow voice murmurs. She finds wide, green eyes staring at her with troubled bemusement. "Thank you for coming to find me, Harry."

Harry lifts the sheets, then, shuffling to the edge of the bed until he's standing. Walking towards her with some amount of caution  ̶(as though she'll lash out if he moves too quickly, which is likely)  ̶he reaches for her clenched fists, fingers brushing against the back of her hands in an apparent attempt to coax her fingers open. Hem isn't sure how long he stands there, waiting for her fists to unclench to assess the damage. But eventually, she exposes her palms to him.

There's a mild pull of confusion when she notices that his eyes are all watery. "I'm sorry," he whispers, beginning to gently pull the larger pieces out of her bloodied palms. "I'm sorry I couldn't get to you quicker, Hem. I'm sorry you had to go through all of this."

(Ever the hero, isn't he? Tom would scoff at it.)

She wants to say something. That she forgives him; that there's nothing to apologise for. She's sorry that he was and still is worried about her. (No one can leave her alone before something happens to her, can it?)

But the nurse appears, then, horrified to see what a mess Hem has made of herself, and so she says nothing.

Chapter Text

The moment she hears the rumble of the distant train, Hem finds herself standing; waiting for the figure that will contrast against the white. (Something is aching. Something other than the hole in her chest.) She expects to find him walking with his practised poise  ̶(but he's always walked like that, hasn't he? He's always been abnormally graceful)  ̶as his robes flutter around him.

And for a moment, he does.

But she sees the way he suddenly stills in the distance, as if unexpectedly petrified. Hem only blinks once to process the immediate lack of movement before she realises that he's suddenly sprinting towards her, almost a blur of black as he does so.

Another uncomprehending blink later; she realises that she's running to meet him halfway.

. . .

. . .

They crash into each other, so abruptly and forcefully that it surely would've hurt in any other circumstance. (But she can't feel anything in the real world, can she? Morty broke what's already broken.) Here, however; it doesn't.

It's a peculiar sensation when she finds herself swept off her feet  ̶(or did she jump?)  ̶and all her limps wrapped around him like some kind of demented koala while he swiftly regains his balance lest they both collapse to the floor.

Tom elicits a rough, almost strangled exhale into her neck as he fruitlessly attempts to pull her closer to him with desperate relief clear in his frenzied movements.

She doesn't know if she's holding him back just as tightly and just as desperately. But she hopes he knows that she's somewhat relieved to see him, too.

(The ache is fading. But she's still hollow.)

. . .

. . .

At some point, they both find themselves on the ground, still huddled together and trying to find some kind of solace in the numb physical contact. (It doesn't feel like enough. Their mere presence isn't enough to relax them anymore.) One of his hands is predictably entangled in her hair, absently pulling and twisting her curls while his other hand is flat against her back.

With their foreheads pressed together, Hem brushes her fingers along his jawline while her eyes remain closed. (Open them. Open them. There's no ruby red.) His breathes are steady and calm against her face, unlike before  ̶(how much time has passed?)  ̶when it was ragged and harsh.

"Hem," he murmurs. Young. Masculine. No breathy sibilance. No strenuous façade of sanity. "Hem… Look at me."

" Look at me! "

Hem doesn't look. Tom  ̶(Tom; the boy from her dreams)  ̶leans back, his hands sliding across her form until they've lightly cupped her cheeks. (His hands are smaller. Smoother. But not completely free of callouses.) She still doesn't look as he gently tilts her head up towards him. (He's being gentle. Odd.)

"Hem," he repeats, soft and coaxing. (Pleading.) His thumbs caress the skin near her closed eyelids. "Please, look at me."

Her fingers press up against his jaw  ̶(not entirely defined; not a man yet)  ̶and he easily leans into her touch. (He doesn't reject her. He won't crush her hand.) Hem can feel him staring at her with his typical intensity. It's enough to make her skin tingle in a vaguely uncomfortable fashion. (He doesn't have ruby red eyes. He's not Morty wearing the face of a sickly turban man.)

He's not usually so patient, but he waits in silence until she finally listens to his request.

(Is it too much of her to want this Tom in her reality? Why isn't he here?)

. . .

. . .

They're walnut brown. They belong to a handsome boy with neat hair that curls over his forehead. (It's messier than usual, however.) There's no irrational hate; no unadulterated insanity or manic joy. Tom stares at her, simultaneously conflicted and relieved  ̶(tumultuous emotions bubble beneath the surface, as always)  ̶as she finally opens her eyes to look at him.

(He looks tired. Stressed. Was he worrying about her?)

His lips curve up into a slight, genuine smile that no mask of his can replicate. "Hello, Hem," he greets her, head tilted to the right where one hand remains connected to his face. The other, she places on one of his wrists. (Her thumb caresses his pulse and she reminds herself that she's alive, too.)

"Hi, Tom," she mutters in response, voice hoarse and tired. (She can't remember if she was screaming. Is she even capable of screaming?) Her eyelids are heavy and they lower a fraction while his eyes darken and the corners of his mouth twitch downward in displeasure.

(He doesn't like it when she's hurt. After all, what can he do to help?)

In the ensuing silence, Hem eventually watches as her hands move to his chest, where they then clutch the fabric of his sweater vest. (A Hogwarts student, just like her. But he's not here.) With a sluggish blink, her brain reminds her of the moment she clutched Quirrell's  ̶(it was Quirrell, then, wasn't it?)  ̶robes.

"Fractures in her left hand. Torn muscles in her neck. A heavily bruised jaw and a split lip. Not to mention the mental damage caused via the Cruciatus Curse that was estimated to have lasted for seven or eight consecutive minutes." Kenelm smiled. It was a terrible, threatening smile that Professor Snape was completely unfazed by. "Oh, Severus. Are you up for a duel later? I'm afraid Quirrell's too dead and Voldemort too disembodied and hidden for me to bestow upon them my ire. Worthless leeches that they are."

She blinks when Tom's hands appear over hers, only just realising that they've left her face. He unhooks her grip from his clothes before intertwining their fingers together in a firm grip that's a shade away from being too tight. (Is he restraining himself even though he knows they can't feel pain here?)

Hem knows that he's watching her while she continues to stare at their joint hands. (They belong to an eleven-year-old and a fourteen-year-old. Right?) She knows that he's trying to figure out what's happened to her based on the clues spattered across her body and the clues in her movements. (But she doubts he'll figure out that there's a Tom that isn't Tom in her world; a Tom who thinks of him as pathetic.)

"Who hurt you, Hem?" he finally queries  ̶(demands)  ̶and there's barely restrained anger hidden underneath the veneer of calm that he's created. "Who put you under the Cruciatus Curse and why?"

Of course, Hem thinks. The fact that he would be able to identify the after-effects of the Cruciatus Curse on someone doesn't surprise her. Neither does it surprise her that she's unbothered by it. (She doubts she could be, anyway.) He's been learning about Dark spells and their uses ever since his first year at Hogwarts.

Hem lifts her head until she meets his perceptive gaze. He's frowning again, the depths of his eyes swirling with the typical emotions that arise whenever she's involved. (It hurts him to care about her.) Again, she's reminded how helpless she makes him feel. (Sorry.) He can only do so much with teaching her spells, after all.

(In his own, peculiar way, he wants to protect her. But he can't, so his only option is to encourage her to survive as he does; to dominate as he does so no one else would even dare to try and hurt her.

It's not really working out.)

"I can't feel anything, Tom," Hem rasps. (Will she tell him who it was? That it was a Tom but Not-Tom who didn't have a body of his own?) "My senses were already so dull, but now I can't feel at all. I can't taste anything or smell anything." (Her nails are filled to the brim with blood and torn skin.) "There was already so little of me to begin with, Tom, and he only took more."

(It's bigger than it was before. That ball of acid and salt and bitterness. Curled in a corner, it grows and she doesn't know what to make of it.)

Tom's eyes glint in a peculiar fashion, then, but she can't analyse it since he releases her hands in order to turn her around. With a bemused blink, she complies and soon finds herself in the new position of being hugged from behind while his chin rests on her head.

Leaning back against him, Hem brings her legs to her knees and begins to fiddle with his robe sleeves. (She feels strange. No one's hugged her like this before.)

The silence returns. For a while, it's almost nice.

. . .

. . .

Later, he breaks it with a quiet, "Is he dead, Hem? The one who tortured and attempted to murder you." His arms around her tighten, but she pays it little mind. (A part of her wonders if her errant curls aren't bothering him.)

It takes a while before she answers, "No." Then she tilts her head in thought and adds, "But I don't think he's alive, either. He lost his body somewhere, apparently."

The small huff of bewildered amusement that escapes him makes her less inclined to tell him about who Morty used to be.

(He'd react badly to the information and she's too tired to deal with another tirade.)

Chapter Text

"Well, you know, since Quirrell's dead and all, someone has to overlook the DADA exams," Sally-Anne explains, waving her hand here and there as she sits regally on the couch she's sharing with the Bletchley cousins. She talks without a care, as if unaware of all the eyes and ears around them. But it's clear to everyone that that's hardly the case. "So, Professor Snape is the temporary replacement while Sir Kenelm is overlooking the Potions exams. Of course, the entire student body was once again stupefied because everyone knows that the majestic, billowing bat is horrifically tetchy when it comes to his Potions."

"It's actually quite impressive how they elicit similar reactions in the Potions classroom despite the fact that one smiles too much and the other doesn't deign to smile at all," comments one of the Bletchley boys. (She's unsure of who is who despite their physical differences.) When she glances to the one with the bored expression, she thinks the one speaking might be Miles. "It's really no wonder that they're friends. I daresay they might be best friends, although the concept does seem awfully strange when regarding our Head of House."

Hem, curled up in a loveseat beside Sally-Anne's brother  ̶(Weston, her mind supplies; is he guarding her?)  ̶stares down at the sweets on the coffee table between them. (She hasn't been eating anything outside of the general mealtimes. There's no point in eating sweets if she can't taste them.) They're at once too dull and too bright, for her mind is struggling  ̶(it's always struggling)  ̶to remain grounded in reality.

(Reality isn't that great, though, is it? But it's better than getting lost in the muddy sea and coming back to chaos.)

She knows that the other snakes are watching her, their stares digging into her skin from all angles. (But nothing tingles. There's nothing when there should be something. Even if it's miniscule.) They're even warier now, which is understandable since she's been connected to too many interesting events in the past year. And since it's come to light that it was Professor Quirrell trying to kill her  ̶(and Harry, but he's the Boy Who Lived and trouble is apparently expected to come for him)  ̶for some inexplicable reason; they're even more curious than ever before. Especially now that he's dead and they don't know the exact details of how he died.

(Actually, she doesn't think she knows, either. Did he burn to death from trying to touch Harry or did the strain of Morty leaving his body inevitably kill him?)

After all, what would a fully grown man have to gain by murdering a muggle-born First-Year who has no prior history in the wizarding world? Why did he try so hard by bringing in a troll, bewitching a bludger and coercing students into using dangerous curses before finally confronting her, himself?

"Oh? Looks like you're still alive, Granger," a somewhat recognisable voice cuts through the common room. Hem glances to the entrance, finding a blond boy with a seemingly permanent sneer on his face as he's surrounded by his minions. "You're like a cockroach in that fashion, aren't you? And here I thought your filth would finally stop stinking up Slytherin, but I suppose Potter just had to come and prevent Quirrell from doing the world a favour for his own glory."

And some, like Draco, think the reason to be obvious. She's a mudblood witch in Slytherin; a place that she apparently doesn't belong in.

(She doesn't belong anywhere, really. But why does he seem like he's relieved and trying to hide it?)

With an absent sort of notice, Hem realises that a deafening, possibly tense silence has fallen around the common room. Unsurprising, she supposes, considering that he's literally just implied that the world would be better off if she were dead. Rather blatant of him, but he doesn't come off as the subtlest of people.

(Somehow, it tickles something within her and it might be akin to amusement. She doubts that he has much of an understanding of any of the pure-blood elitist ideals despite how often he refers to them. Perhaps that's why he seems so insecure and desperate to prove himself.)

Unconcerned, Hem is about to turn away and attempt to draw  ̶ =(she can't feel the pencil in her grip or the vague texture of the paper as she moves her hand across it)  ̶when a blur of blonde and black whizzes by her.

Draco's expression abruptly shifts into alarm just as the blur  ̶(Sally-Anne?)  ̶punches him square in the face, preventing him from being able to do anything except unceremoniously drop to the floor before Hem has time to blink.

There's a multitude of varied gasps of shock and horror, intermingled with outright laughing and poorly smothered snickering. One of the girls near the  ̶(unconscious?)  ̶boy drops to her knees in a panic, probably to assess the damage.

"I should've known that a simple punch to the nose would knock ya out, ya wanker," Sally-Anne  ̶(her hair's in a French plait, so it's her, no?)  ̶snarls, her fists clenched to her sides as she stares  ̶(or glares, more likely, but Hem can't see from her angle)  ̶down at her victim. But then she lifts her head and whirls around, as though she's about to address the rest of the room. There's a dangerous glint in her honey eyes; something wild and protective.

(Hem's not sure how effective it might be to their upperclassmen, but it's true that her friend has a presence.)

Sally-Anne then opens her mouth to declare, "If any of ya ever soddin' imply, outright state or make any sorta indication towards the notion that my best friend would be better off dead; ya'd best be careful, yeah? The Perks may be blood traitors to all ya pure-blood elitist twats, but everyone knows ya don't fuck with one of ours." Sally-Anne smiles, the visage dazzling and so wide that it almost looks painful. "But if you don't," the accent disappears, "we'll do our utmost to rectify such a tragedy, of course. Thank you for listening, have a good day."

The snakes behind her  ̶(Draco's minions? Goons?)  ̶look at each other, conflicted on whether or not they should make a grab for the girl who has swiftly decked the Malfoy scion  ̶(is that Draco's last name?)  ̶in the face.

Weston hums, leaning back in the loveseat and looking utterly unconcerned with her younger sister's intense declaration. But Hem catches the way he eyes the other First-Years, and the hard-faced girl among them  ̶(Pancreas? No, that's an organ, isn't it?)  ̶notices it, too. Unsubtly, she nudges the larger boys and hisses at them to just pick Draco up so that they can take him to the Hospital Wing. When they do just that, her and her female posse  ̶(probably)  ̶leave even though they've only just arrived. But not before imparting a glare at Sally-Anne's back, though, maybe as a silent declaration for revenge.

"He crossed a line with that one," Miles  ̶(or is that Dyson?)  ̶remarks as Sally-Anne practically skips back to their area, like the previous moment hasn't happened at all and no one's cautiously eyeing her. "I think he's lucky to have gotten off with just a broken nose, but it'd be poor taste for her to go any further while he's unconscious."

"Little twat boy," Sally-Anne sighs as she returns to her seat. "At least it shut him up right quick."

Dyson  ̶(or Miles)  ̶yawns, glancing around the room with a bored but perceptive eye. It seems to elicit a response from the rest of the House as they conspicuously return to their respective activities. "Next year will be interesting, I think. There's a clear power struggle here in the lower years. Will our infamous muggle-born witch finally start engaging in all the politics or will she remain as unnervingly aloof as ever?"

The other Bletchley cousin nods, pinning her with an assessing peer. "It truly doesn't faze you at all that someone has all but said they would rather you have died that night, does it?" he adds, lips tilting up when she maintains eye contact with him. (His irises are a nice hazel hue.) "What an enigma you are, Granger. So vulnerable and yet so impenetrable. Even I would be offended if some uppity prat ignorantly spouted such nonsense to my face like that."

"Indeed," Weston murmurs, prompting Hem to look beside her. He leans forward to pluck one of the sweets on the table. "I doubt Malfoy would appreciate anyone saying that to him if he were tortured and nearly murdered." Once he's popped the sweet in his mouth, Weston reaches over to grab Hem's closest arm.

With a mild feeling of bemusement, she looks down to find her nails digging at her wrists again. Ah. (Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.) They unhook at his tugging, and Hem takes the opportunity to try sketching. (She was going to do that before, wasn't she?) The end result is usually a surprise even to herself, so it's a fair way to pass time.

"Right!" Sally-Anne interjects with her usual exuberance. "Where were we in our conversation before something foul opened their gob? Oh, yes! Sir Kenelm and Professor Snape's awe-inspiring friendship. Do you think the 'Sweet n' Sour Sods' is a good nickname for them?"

. . .

. . .

The concern is starting to make her insides itch and bleed. (That's a lie. It's always itching. It's always bleeding.) Maybe the reason why people like Fred and George  ̶(the prankster twins?)  ̶are partial to her is because she reminds them of a feeble younger sister. Maybe it's an elder sibling thing that's ingrained in their heads. (So fragile, she is. Treat her carefully or she'll break. Won't she?)

"Are you sure she's alright, Hermione?" questions Ron as they lounge in the Den  ̶(What Den? The Chimaera Den?)  ̶to take a break from their exams. Hem takes them alone, however, in Kenelm's office. (It's quiet and she barely remembers doing them at all.) The blue-eyed boy eyes her with concern and a mix of apprehension. "I know she's usually stoic and all, but I'm getting all sorts of dark vibes, you know?"

Hermione pins her ginger-haired friend with a ferocious glower. "She's been tortured, Ronald," her elder sister grits out, appearing to be at her wits' end. "She has been tortured with an illegal spell that specifically targets pain receptors. Do you understand what that means, Ronald?" Ronald  ̶(Ron?)  ̶doesn't get to reply. "It means that the damage attained from such a spell is all mental!" Her voice quickly becomes shrill, her hair frizzing up as she waves her hands around in a wild, frenzied fashion. "And her mental health was already unstable beforehand; so, no, Ronald Weasley, my sister is not alright but there's nothing we can do about it except let Sir Kenelm make slow progress with her while we worry about exams!"

And then she promptly bursts into tears, with Ron looking regretfully uncomfortable while Harry has the quick mind to work through his own discomfort by lending a shoulder. It's tense and awkward as Hermione clings onto Harry and cries into his shoulder while Ron awkwardly moves to rub hers in an attempt at comfort.

Sally-Anne sits beside Hem, watching the scene with an odd, indecipherable expression. But then her fellow snake tilts her head towards her and whispers, "You don't like it, do you, Hemera?" When Hem blinks at the blonde girl, unsure what's being referred to, Sally-Anne continues, "When people cry for you; worry about you; all that. You already have cold, flat eyes, Hemera, but I've noticed that scenes like this make them seem especially so. Or maybe it's a trick of the light?"

(Always worrying for her. It never ends. It never ends and she doesn't deserve it. She can't worry about them in return. Why won't they stop?)

So Hermione cries, unable to help her sister, and Hem ignores the guilt the stabs her when she thinks about how it's better that it's Harry who's hugging her. Of course, then the world goes against her  ̶(as it does, because reprieves aren't meant for her)  ̶by having her weeping sibling hug her next and promise her that it'll be alright. That they'll all get through this together.

Hem stares as the glass of pumpkin juice on the middle table shatters. The Gryffindors jump, but Sally-Anne goes, "Oh, whoops, silly me. Let me clean that up, hm?" and the moment passes.

(She can't feel Hermione hugging her at all.)

. . .

. . .

I'm alive. Sorry for worrying you again.

Kenelm is helping me. He'll give me a new potion to take as a replacement to the lamotrigine at the end of the year. He'll send a letter about how it's supposed to help. Or he already has. I'm not sure.

Sally-Anne says that she wants to meet the parents of her best friend. She thinks you're not going to let me come back for my second year.

I think you'll let me return to Hogwarts next year, though.

You said it was my choice.

Chapter Text

The well-kempt man before her  ̶(is it Kenelm?)  ̶bestows upon her a firm stare  ̶(it's not as aggressively intense as Tom's stares can be)  ̶that she's unable to look away from as he states, "It's in your head, Hemera." When she blinks with incomprehension  ̶(there're a lot of things in her head; most of which are unpleasant)  ̶he continues with, "I'm referring to your inability to feel the sensations of touch, smell and taste in any sort of capacity. It may be your mind's misguided attempt at protecting you from further negative stimuli, but it can't continue, as I'm quite aware of the distress it's causing you."

Hem tilts her head. Is she distressed? (Yes, probably. She's rarely aware of anything that pertains to her hidden emotions.)

Kenelm  ̶(it's Kenelm; the man with the shiny hair)  ̶elicits a sigh before his eyes are suddenly ablaze as he leans back and straightens in his seat. "I'm afraid I'll be busy over the summer holidays, so I'll likely be unable to personally check on your progress. Those bastards at the Ministry are being careless idiots again  ̶although, when are they not?  ̶because they're shaken up about Voldemort  ̶"


He blinks at her in mild surprise, prompting her to do the same in return. (Maybe. Sally-Anne's the one who tends to interpret her blinks with startling accuracy.) The corners of his mouth twitch upwards as he raises a single brow at her and slowly repeats, "Morty?"

After a few seconds  ̶(just a few seconds? Or was it longer?)  ̶of silence, Hem finally realises that she's the one who interrupted him.

"Morty," she whispers. (Forcing it out is distinctly uncomfortable.) The sound of her voice makes her feel odd. "I don't like Voldemort." Because it's a rubbish name that Tom  ̶(what version? The rubbish one?)  ̶probably came up with via an equally rubbish method. (Is it supposed to mean, 'flight of death'? Was that a conscious choice?) But she knows he doesn't like his name. He's never liked his name because there are too many Toms in the world.

"Thometheus is a name. I think."

"You think I still want to be referred to as Tom?" he responded with a frown of distaste. "Even if it's a nickname?"

She  ̶(it was her, yes?)  ̶replied with, "I'm not going to call you something else, Tom." She's horrible with names, after all. "You know that."

An indelicate snort escapes Kenelm, his eyes lightening with mirth. It's a mocking sort of mirth, though, so his eyes are still rather dark. "That's rather fitting. Severus always does his little twitch of annoyance whenever I refer to the cur by name," he reveals with a sharp, anticipatory smile. (Who's Severus?) "I'm sure he'll be very pleased to learn that I have opted to use a highly regal nickname for the benefit of my patient. Now, where was I? Ah, yes. the Ministry is filled with detritus and incompetence and I have to go deal with the fallout."

(He's the only one that matters. To her, at least. Granted, she only knows one Tom.

Does Morty count if they're somehow the same person but different?)

. . .

. . .

Hem's marks are average, apparently. (She can't remember how things are marked.) It doesn't seem so bad, seeing as she's managed to pass at all when it was more likely of her to fail. Hem wouldn't have cared, either way, but her family would most likely be disappointed. (When are they not? Some part of them must always be disappointed with her.)

Ron and Harry have also passed  ̶(with better marks than her, which is unsurprising; they're both smart in their respective ways)  ̶with Hermione and Sally-Anne tying for the top marks of their year. The two girls both congratulate and warn each other that next year there's only going to be one on top, which causes Ron to blanch at the very idea of the two girls competing via academics.

"I'm going to have to step up my game," Sally-Anne nods to herself as they make their way to the train. Then she tilts her head upwards with consideration. "Or perhaps not? You should've seen the look on Malfoy's face when he learned that a muggle-born and a blood traitor earned the top spot in our year. It sets a fun example, don't you think? I'll have to think about it, I suppose."

Ron scowls at the mention of Draco. He doesn't seem to be quite over the fact that the other boy said that Hem should essentially die for the benefit of everyone else. (Who told him? Sally-Anne?) Then again, Fred and George don't appear to be, either. It might be safe to say that Draco won't be safe until he's gotten off the train at King's Cross Station.

"This calls for drastic measures," Fred announced, apparently too riled up to even pretend to be playful. His smile isn't very friendly.

George, who was equally solemn, nodded. "No one says that to our beloved Troll Slayer."

"Excuse you," interjected Sally-Anne. "She's my Troll Slayer. I claimed her first, after all, so I demand to be involved in these events of retribution for the honour of my best friend. Or is demand too strong of a word? Perhaps I strongly recommend that you allow me to be involved for fear of bodily harm done to your persons."

The two boys grinned, their usual cheer seeming to have returned. Albeit, a little sharper. "Territorial, aren't you?" Fred remarked. "But, you know, so are we. We don't just collaborate with anyone."

"She's a Perks, brother mine," George theatrically sighed, placing a hand on his brother's shoulder. "We're going to have to include her or we might not get out alive. Her brothers  ̶and that one sister?  ̶have set a deadly precedent, according to ours."

"Of course, you'll get out alive," retorted the Perks in question. "I wouldn't deprive Hemera of two willing guardians, after all. And I don't want to deal with the trouble of hiding evidence for homicide. It's terribly inconvenient."

Fred and George laughed. "That's reassuring," snorted the latter, his tone good-natured despite the thinly veiled threat.

"You're a gem, Perks," added the former. "Alright, you win. It'll be a pleasure doing business with you, I'm sure. We'll admit that you do know your fellow snake better than us."

Hem blinks, thrown out of her thoughts as she hears Harry say, "I didn't think that we were going to win the House Cup, but I guess winning the Quidditch Cup gave us enough points to win. I'll have to ask Wood how many House points you get after winning the Quidditch Cup next year."

She must've missed parts of the conversation. (Not that they'd be all that interesting. Has she ever considered something to be interesting?)

"It was quite close, wasn't it?" Hermione murmurs with a thoughtful hum. "Everyone was worried that Dumbledore was going to award surprise House points to Slytherin at the feast when he stood up. I suppose they didn't know that Hem already received points for being brave during the… During the Quirrell incidents earlier."

(Hem doesn't know how to be brave and she doesn't think they should mistake apathy for it.)

Sally-Anne chuckles from Hem's left. "As if Dumbledore would do that for us. For Gryffindor, though, I bet he'd come up with something to award House points to you if Slytherin won," she theorises, flicking one of her plaits over her shoulder. "You can't deny that he's biased."

As the conversation turns to Professor Snape  ̶(who's that? Severus?)  ̶and his obvious bias for his own House, Hem doesn't mind as their voices begin to fade into white noise.

. . .

. . .

"Promise that you'll write to me?" Sally-Anne queries after giving Hem a hug. (It's in her head, Kenelm said. She'll be able to feel, albeit dully, soon. Probably.) When the latter merely blinks at the former, the blonde of them turns to Hermione. "Promise that you'll make her write to me when I write to the both of you? I don't want to have to resort to anything unsavoury. Not right away, anyway."

Hem's sister  ̶(it shouldn't feel odd to acknowledge, but it does)  ̶grins and nods. Two adults  ̶(Theia and Matthias? Her parents, no?)  ̶are standing behind her and conversing with a woman surrounded by children with matching red hair. (Ron, Fred and George's mum? It becomes too bright to look at them for long.)

"You'll write to Harry and Ron, too, won't you?" Hermione asks with an inquiring tilt of her head. Her expression becomes uncertain as she glances in the direction of where Harry's disappeared with his relatives. (They were afraid of him.) "Harry said that he'd have fun messing around with his cousin, but I think he'd appreciate having us write to him, regardless."

Sally-Anne scoffs, "Of course! I might even spice things up a little by making my brothers kidnap him for a little while. You never know. Maybe Cornel can stab Harry's muggle relatives with that unicorn horn of his. Someone's going to have to buy him a new one, I think. All the blood is starting to make it look unseemly  ̶the Scouring Charm can only do so much over time  ̶and he hates it when it doesn't sparkle while he's being a psychotic demon." She somehow manages to sniff delicately before, "It won't be from me, though. Twenty-one galleons spent on him is a bad investment."

"So, you do have friends!" interrupts a remarkably deep voice. The three of them turn to find a tall, blond man  ̶(young adult?)  ̶smirking down at them with a strangely familiar glint in his brown eyes. He looks a little roguish, his clothes fashionably casual and likely to blend in with both muggles and wizards. "Isn't that a surprise? And here I thought you were all joking. You're not blackmailing them, are you?"

Another scoff escapes Hem's friend. (Best friend? What's the difference?) "I am perfectly capable of attaining friends through legitimate means, thank you very much," Sally-Anne retorts, her lips curving up into an innocent smile. Then, turning to Hem and Hermione, she gestures to the man and says, "Hermione, Hemera; this is one of my inferior brothers. This one's called Lincoln. He doesn't live with us anymore, but he always finds time to bother us, anyway." Lincoln gives his sister a fond, lopsided smile while she's not looking. "Link; meet my best friend, Hemera, and my close friend, Hermione. Aren't they cute? Hemera's the one with the fabulous art."

"It really wasn't a commission that she tried to play off as being a gift from her friend?" he questions, turning to Hem. She wonders why Sally-Anne's family seems to be so surprised by her having friends. Or maybe it's an inside joke among the Perks. (She's unsure if the Grangers have inside jokes.) "Well, it'd be awfully sad, and Sal's never one for being sad. In any case," Lincoln makes of a show of bowing to the Granger sisters, "it's a pleasure to meet the both of you. I hope my little sister's not a burden to you. I know she can quite a handful, making others do things for her and all. My other younger siblings indulge her too much, I think."

Said sister simply waves her hand in dismissal while Hermione giggles and replies, "Oh, no. She's wonderful. It's nice to have someone that can follow my babblings, and she's always looking out for Hem, so I can't complain."

"Hermione? Hemera? C'est l'heure de rentrer," calls a feminine voice. (Theia?)

"I suppose that's our cue to leave as well," says Lincoln as he gestures for Sally-Anne to come to him, which she does after hugging Hem and Hermione one more time. "It was nice meeting the two of you lovely ladies." His gaze seems to linger on Hem for a moment, as though assessing her, but he soon gives her a peculiar smile before turning away.

Sally-Anne cheerily waves at them and bids them farewell, "Bye! See you whenever; write to you soon," before following after her brother. "Hey! Stop walking so fast with those egregiously long legs of yours! Where's your consideration for a lady, arsehole?"

Hermione shakes her head with reluctant amusement at her friend's eccentric antics before grabbing Hem's hand and pulling her along to their parents. "They seem close," she murmurs, an odd tone laced within.

Hem wonders if her sister wishes they could be just as close. (It's hard to do that with someone who's surrounded by glass, she knows.)

Chapter Text

At one point, they're smiling  ̶(shaky, fragile smiles that don't fool anyone)  ̶and going about their days as if nothing has changed. (But so much has changed. Hasn't it?) Then they're glancing at her from the corners of their eyes, or they're whispering to her that they're around if she needs them to be; that they'll listen to her if she needs to talk about anything. (About her trauma? Is she traumatised?) Back and forth, they flitter between the two.

Hem doesn't like it very much. (She doesn't like it at all.)

The potions Kenelm and Severus  ̶(Professor Snape? Severus Snape?)  ̶have concocted together seem to help in keeping her grounded, at least. Even when cutlery or dishes clatter unexpectedly and her family  ̶(the word should have more meaning to her)  ̶whip their heads towards her in uncertain concern. They never know if things like that will trigger an episode or some kind of explosive, reflexive reaction.

(She wishes they didn't have to worry about little details like that.)

"So, it should be fine to take just one every week?" Matthias queries from across the table, examining one of the potion bottles with an amazed sort of curiosity. The bottles are small and simple and made of glass, but are also unlikely to break if she or someone else were to drop them.

Kenelm made a point about this, she thinks. "I dealt with idiots dropping and ruining potions for years, before I realised that I might as well make it hard for them to casually destroy items of importance. One of the best investments of my life, truly."

Fiddling with the two pairs of Baoding balls that the caustic  ̶(but notably gentle when he wants to be)  ̶healer gifted her at the end of the term, Hem gives a vague nod of confirmation. They make somewhat pleasant, chime-like sounds when they're rubbed together as she rolls them in her hands. Apparently, they can be made with different materials like jade or marble, but Kenelm said something about the sound of the steel balls being an additional soothing trigger for her.

"Steel Baoding balls are typically heavier and shinier, but I've made some specific modifications with you in mind. I wouldn't want you to neglect using them because they induce a negative response when they're supposed to do the opposite. Do make sure to keep them on you, alright? I'll be rather proud if you manage to make some progress towards replacing your scratching habits with them by the time I'm able to check up on you. Although, there's no rush if you don't."

Matthias gently places the bottle in his hands back on the table before giving her a kind, almost apologetic smile that she doesn't quite understand. (Why would he be apologetic? What does he have to apologise for?) But instead of opening his mouth to perhaps explain said smile, he opts to remain silent, seemingly content to listen to the chime-like sounds that fill the silence between them. (Or is she the only one that can hear it? Didn't Kenelm say they were bewitched to be heard only by her?)

Deciding that she doesn't want to keep eye contact, she lowers her gaze to the small objects in her hands. If she thinks about it, she might be able to feel the cold, smooth texture of them before they fade from her senses. (She's not imagining it, is she? It's something, right?) So, she focuses on it, attempting to bring the sensation back so she doesn't have to look into his eyes.

But after a period of time  ̶(how long?)  ̶someone eventually inquires, "Will you tell me how it's been helping you, Hem?" which breaks the calm, almost meditative silence. (It seems like it'd be easy for her to go into some kind of trance.) With a conscious blink, Hem raises her head to meet slate-grey eyes. (They're too soft. Aren't they meant to be cold? Or was that someone else?) "The potions and all the other little trinkets that Sir Kenelm has given you, I mean." He  ̶(who?)  ̶sends her a gently encouraging smile. "He's sent a letter detailing the specifics of what they're meant to do, but I'd like to know what you think about them since they're meant to be helping you in particular. If you can, of course."

Hem absently notices the chiming sound stutter before it corrects itself while she tries to voice a response.

The potions do what her muggle medication was supposed to do, only with more effectiveness even with less intake. It works. Even when colours are too bright or she moves too fast or there's a sound that's too loud; it works. (What is she supposed to say?) The Baoding balls keep her hands occupied if she's not doing something else with them, and they're meant to reduce the stress that she can't feel. So far, they seem to be providing some sort of benefit, even if she's not all that aware of it.

(What is she supposed to say?)

"They're helping," is what she gradually settles upon. It's inadequate, but it's all she can do. (Should she be trying harder? Can she?)

The man  ̶(Matthias; dad, but that doesn't sound right)  ̶gives her a complicated, but strangely loving  ̶(why? Why does she deserve that?)  ̶smiles in response. "There's that, at least," he softly replies, more to himself than to her as he leans back in his seat.

For some reason, that only makes her feel as though she's disappointed him.

(That's nothing new, though, is it?)

. . .

. . .

Birthdays are a rather quiet affair among the Grangers. (It's her fault.) Even though they usually like to celebrate special occasions with an exuberance that she can't comprehend properly, birthdays are different because Hem has never been much of a grateful recipient to all the fanfare.

It took her years  ̶(did it?)  ̶to finally voice her gratitude  ̶(it was false; it's always false)  ̶to her family while they watched her open presents she couldn't appreciate. She remembers them crying even as they smiled and hugged her with enthusiasm, so pleased to finally be blessed with words that would easy for almost any other child to say. (It should be easy. But it's not.)

"Oh, je vous en prie," chanted the woman she was supposed to recognise as her mother. "You're always welcome."

Hem thinks that her twelfth birthday might be the worst  ̶(she's ungrateful and apathetic and she's sorry she's like this)  ̶because the household is wrought with more palpable anxiety than previous years. They fret about as they try to maintain some kind of normality and they grasp for some sort of comforting atmosphere that's meant to calm her instead of upset her.

It, of course, doesn't work all that well.

But it's not their fault that they don't know about the entire concept of her celebrating her birth  ̶(what is there to celebrate?)  ̶bothering her on some level. (Why would they know when she's never told them?) They don't know that it troubles her to know that her existence has dampened an annual event that her sister should have been experiencing to the fullest.

She's always disliked how Hermione has always insisted on a quiet birthday of her own because she doesn't want to seem like she's getting a grander celebration. But Hermione deserves a birthday with a giant, elaborate cake and lots of candles that she can blow out  ̶(the flames spontaneously grew once, didn't they?)  ̶while their parents sing that horrid birthday song to her. (Tom's never heard it before, has he?) She deserves to be pampered with presents that're covered in bright, eccentric wrappings and to shriek in excitement upon finding out what they are.

Instead, like Hem's birthday, it's typically simple and restrained. (It'd be easier if they just didn't do anything.) However, as it is now, Hermione won't even get to spend the day with Theia and Matthias because her birthday is during the school term and Hem won't remember to congratulate her for managing to be alive for another year.

(She's a terrible sister. A terrible friend. A terrible daughter. But no one blames her when they should.)

"Do you have a birthday wish, Hemera?" Theia queries as they all sit around the table, watching her while she stares at the modest sponge cake that's littered with soft-hued, edible decorations. It looks like it was neat and orderly in design  ̶(Theia and Hermione?)  ̶until someone  ̶(Matthias, maybe)  ̶basically threw random bits and pieces into it with childish abandon.

The sight seems to trigger something within her chest as a sharp pain begins to poke at her insides and she whispers, "No."

(She wishes they'd stop caring about her so they can be happy.)

. . .

. . .

"Happy birthday, Hem," Tom drawls, a sardonic smirk upon his mouth while he peers down at her. He's as much a fan of birthdays as she is, with a few differing reasons between them as to why. "But more importantly; happy eighth anniversary for inexplicably attaching yourself to my dreams."

That, unsurprisingly, is more genuine. (Is it unsurprising?)

"I think it goes both ways, Tom," Hem replies as she glances at the lock of hair he's curling around his fingers. He's made the decision to face her as he sits, with one elbow propped on the backrest of the bench. She faces him, as well, although her legs are still tucked to her chest. She can't imagine laying them out over his lap.

Tom's gaze shifts slightly at her words, and if he were any less of a refined being, he'd likely roll his eyes. Then, rather abruptly, his expression sobers up and he's soon bestowing upon her a rather serious, if contemplative stare that makes her blink at him in confusion.

It feels like a significant amount of times passes in silence before he eventually lowers his gaze to the bit of hair he's been playing with. "Perhaps it does," he finally returns, lifting the curls closer to his face and examining them with a peculiar intensity; as though the unruly curls might hold the answers to all his questions.


He blinks, evidently broken out of his musings. Hem tilts her head up as their eyes meet once more, that acute glint of his softening as a curious, muted affection appears. For some reason. "I was thinking that there could be a specific correlation between us that allows us to see each other as we do," he informs her, dropping the lock in his hand to take another by her neck. His gaze is focused on her chest  ̶(or her knees, who knows?)  ̶for a few moments before he blinks and continues with, "What that might be, however, is still a mystery. If I can figure it out, then perhaps it will be easier for me to narrow down my search for any entries that may enlighten us."

"And if it's not in the library or the Restricted Section?" She's fairly sure that he's already scoured a fair portion of the latter already with little success. Then again, the library as a whole is quite monumental, so he can only have gone through so many books. Unless it's different to hers. (But they're from the same reality. Aren't they? How does it all work?)

Tom elicits a small sigh, "Well, then, I'll have to just expand my search area if that turns out to be the case. We have time, at the least, so long as you do me the favour of remaining alive and functional." His lips quirk upwards when she gives him a bland blink in response. "Yes, I'm aware that it's quite difficult to be a functional human being, but I have nominal faith in your abilities." The lip quirk turns into a saccharine smile that might blind another person at such a close range.

She merely replies with a muttered, "Yay," because his smidgen of faith will surely help her on her journey to optimal functionality.

His fingers give a minute twitch, which is a possible indication that he's about to say something acerbic. The notion only increases in likelihood when his smile somehow brightens even more. It's almost off-putting. "Indeed," he agrees with too much pleasantry. "Yay. Why don't you tell me all about how wonderful your twelfth birthday must have gone, hm? I'm certain it went magnificently, what with your fretful family members hovering around you all day while they attempt to maintain a modicum of calm."

It's Hem's turn to elicit a soft sigh, then. She's not sure if she should tell him about Theia's seemingly abrupt decision to sit her daughters down and talk about what to expect now that they're young ladies.

In the end, she does, and Tom gives her an indecipherable stare that stays until she leaves for the night.

Chapter Text

Sally-Anne, of course, arrives with flair. In comparison to the modest homes of their neighbourhood  ̶(where do they live?)  ̶the near-obnoxious white of the sleek sports car that pulls up seems so obviously out of place. Hem actually has to blink in rapid succession in order to push away the surreal sensation the image brings.

"Hemera!" exclaims her eccentric friend  ̶(unless there's another girl in there or, at least, someone with a notably feminine voice)  ̶as she appears to practically just pop out of the side of the car. Dressed in stylish clothes that Hem thinks might be described as grunge  ̶(she can't remember why, though)  ̶Sally-Anne makes a blinding entrance.

On the other side of the vehicle, one of her older brothers  ̶(Lincoln? Weston isn't as tall, is he?)  ̶steps out in a similarly odd but dazzling fashion. (Maybe it's a Perks thing?) Then another boy appears, though this one is significantly younger and much more sullen in facial expression. Yet even he is no less fashionable; although, his style is a touch more towards elegance.

Hem blinks as Sally-Anne abruptly runs to her and embraces her with exuberance. "Oh, I've missed you and your inexpressive face! It's not the same to read your utterly lifeless and horrifically short letters, I've realised, even if they're still entertaining." Stepping back to face her, the lively girl swiftly examines her before remarking, "You're looking surprisingly well. Are you wearing lip salve? Your skin looks a little healthier, too."

Probably, she thinks. Lately, Kenelm's been sending her all sorts of things and encouraging her to try them. Since she has no reason to not, she's been trying them all. So far, there've no adverse effects except for the salve that was meant to go on her wrists and neck. That itches. Kenelm thinks the skin in these areas are more sensitive than expected.

"You have tits, too!" Sally-Anne exclaims next, her eyes focused somewhere lower. Hem looks down as well, confused by this statement, before registering lumps on her chest that she doesn't remember being present before. (Then again, she doesn't even remember what she normally looks like.) "And hips to match? Puberty's hitting you rather hard, isn't it? I'm growing, too, but my tits are still fairly small and I think one's larger than the other. Have you gotten your period yet? It's delightfully horrible, I'll tell you now. If you haven't gone shopping for the magical essentials already, we can buy some at Diagon Alley. Are you wearing a bra, by any chance?"

Hem doesn't get to respond  ̶(not that she thinks that she would be able to, what with all the rapid-fire questions)  ̶when someone goes, "Oh, hello!" from behind her. She turns to find Matthias  ̶(it's getting a little easier to match the name to the face if she's supposed to be more familiar with them)  ̶at the door with a bright, welcoming and somewhat awkward smile. He's probably heard something he didn't want to. "You must be Sally-Anne! It's so nice to finally be meeting you. My daughters have told me all about you."

Mostly Hermione, obviously. She's told them about all their friends and even their enemies. (Although, Hem can't really see Draco as an enemy. He's too… Draco to actually be called that, in her opinion.)

The girl in question beams back at him as if she wasn't just talking about female puberty, stepping towards him and holding out a punkish sort of gloved hand while Hem shifts to the side. "Thank you! It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr Granger," she returns, watching as Matthias blinks in surprise before recovering quickly to reach out and shake her hand with geniality. "I'm assuming Hermione and your wife are out?" she asks, making a point of glancing at the empty driveway.

(When did they go? Where did they go?)

"Yes, but they won't be too long, I'm sure," replies Matthias as he releases her hand and straightens his back. Height differences and all. The two brothers come to stand by their sister at that moment, prompting him to once again hold out a hand for the elder brother to take.

Said elder brother does take the hand as Sally-Anne gestures towards him and introduces, "Mr Granger, this is my elder brother, Lincoln Perks. The younger one is Keith, but he's currently in a horrid mood, so I wouldn't bother him with pleasantries at the moment. He might shrivel up and die from it just to be dramatic."

Keith blinks at being referred to, but is still somehow able to convey annoyance with just that simple action. Maybe that's how her friend  ̶(best friend? She's forgotten the difference)  ̶has a particular knowledge of the vocabulary dedicated to blinking.

And rather than being miffed by the mildly hostile attitude, Matthias merely broadens his smile with amusement and the two men present share a firm handshake. "Good to meet you, Lincoln. I'm assuming that Lamborghini Countach is yours? Is it the twenty-fifth anniversary edition or am I mistaken?"

Lincoln grins in response as he brings his hand back down to his side. Or in his jacket pocket. "No, you're correct. It was my cousin's before he graciously decided to give it to me. One might say he made a deal with the Lamborghini Diablo," he explains, his eyes glinting mischievously as though there's an inside joke there somewhere.

Matthias and Sally-Anne, at least, seem to understand the joke as they both chuckle. (Is it the Diablo bit?) Keith just shoves his hands into his pockets and glares at the doormat. Hopefully, it doesn't catch fire.

"Well, then, come in!" invites the eldest of them all, stepping back and gesturing for them to come in. "We can talk about the joys of cars that I can't have for practicality reasons inside, yes? Theia would pinch me if she learns that I made you all stand outside, after all."

Yes, Hem remembers. He's not fond of pinching and Theia has fairly long, immaculate nails that could probably take out someone's eye.

. . .

. . .

"Oh!" Hermione exclaims as she enters the car after Hem, looking around at the improbable interior space. "Of course, you'd use the Undetectable Extension Charm. I was wondering about how you'd fit us all in here. But isn't it heavily regulated by the Ministry?"

Lincoln shrugs from the front seat after he shuts the door and answers, "It's not like it's hurting anyone. And I hear the Weasley patriarch  ̶who works at that very same Ministry  ̶has it on his own car, so I'd say it's not too bad. That one even flies. I've yet to do that but it's on my list."

"It's not the worst thing we've done, at any rate," Sally-Anne adds, reaching over Hem to pass some kind of multi-coloured lollipop to her younger brother. Keith's  ̶(it's Keith, isn't it?)  ̶mouth twitches downwards, but he begrudgingly accepts it while Hermione settles in on his other side. "Oh, cheer up, Keith. You'll probably like Hogwarts just fine. You shouldn't have made the bet if you're that upset, you know."

Hem idly rotates the Baoding balls in her hand as the boy retorts, "I know that. I just don't see why I have to stay with the Weasleys with you all in the meantime. Weston isn't comin', so why can't I stay at home? Or with aunt Mary?"

"Because Wes is staying over at the Bletchleys," Lincoln responds, buckling in his seat belt. "East is staying with his Bulgarian girlfriend; Harper's probably dead in a ditch somewhere because he's pissed off Cornel again while aunt Mary goes onto revive his corpse. You know how it goes, little brother. We all disappear somewhere while mum and dad do questionable things with their newfound privacy."

Hermione grimaces, but Sally-Anne has that pleasant smile that implies the situation is not as it seems. Or that, perhaps it is as it seems, but with strange factors involved. The Perks family as a whole appear to be rather anomalous.

Keith glowers, evidently displeased with the information. "Well, then, why can't I stay with you or Wendy or Curt or Jett  ̶"

"Because we're busy with adult stuff," Lincoln casually interrupts. The bad-tempered boy proceeds to sulk in silence, seeming to realise that his goal to stay somewhere else is a lost cause. "You all have your seatbelts on?" he queries, glancing at the rear-view mirror to check on them. "Good. I'll slow down so you birds don't get sick, but it's still likely to be a fairly wild ride."

"That's good to know," Hermione replies with a nervous smile, unsubtly moving to look for something to purchase onto in case it gets too wild. "Also, Sally-Anne, it's just occurred to me that I've never asked you just how many siblings you have."

Sally-Anne returns, "There're ten of us," just as Lincoln starts the car. The thrum and the sound feels muted, which is likely a good thing since Hem's not sure just how good the potions are at keeping her brain calm. "Curt's the eldest. He's a magizoologist that travels all over the world so he rarely comes home. From there it's Wendy, Lincoln, Jett, Harper, Weston and Easton, me, Keith and then Bailey. Mum and dad have a problem, honestly. Luckily, we're filthy rich so all the expenses going towards raising us has never been much of a problem."

"Their problem is that they don't bother with contraceptive charms," Lincoln snorts. He tilts his head towards them and adds, "Dad likes to leave it up to chance and mum often plans out her future pregnancies with scary accuracy. However, I think she'll leave it at ten. Something about the symbolism of the number. She originally wanted to go with seven but that was apparently too typical for her tastes."

"It certainly sounds lively," remarks Hermione, though her tone is a little stiff and uncertain to match her current body language. It's understandable, though; neither of them is quite fond of being inside of fast-moving vehicles. Theia and Matthias apparently have a nostalgic fondness for them, for some reason. "Is… Is your family close with the Weasleys?"

It's Sally-Anne who answers this time with a flick of her plait. It's luckily not the one closest to Hem or she might have gotten hit in the eye. "In a way, I suppose. I remember the eldest Weasley  ̶Bill, I think it was  ̶coming over sometimes to hang about with Wendy. They were in the same year. I think they dated for a while, too. But, anyway, it's mostly the siblings going over to the others' place on the off occasion, really. We've never actually all converged together in one place, otherwise I would've met Ron and bothered the life out of him years ago."

"They don't know you're staying, do they?" Lincoln asks with a raised brow, his eyes flickering to the rear-view mirror to find his sister's overly innocent smile directed at him. Instead of reprimanding her, he simply shrugs and focuses his attention on the road again. "Your problem, Sal. You know that I'm going to be out of the country soon."

"I sent a letter to Ron," Sally-Anne reveals with a dismissive wave. "Don't worry about it. I'm sure he'll do well to explain that five children are coming over to stay for a week or two. His mother's the accommodating type, so it'll be fine."

Hermione whips her head towards the blonde girl at that. "Wait, what? I thought you said it was all sorted between everyone except Harry's relatives."

"That's what you get for trustin' her to do things in a proper fashion," Keith mutters, much to his sister's amusement.

. . .

. . .

From within the car, Hem watches as the overweight man's face is turning more purple the longer he's interacting with Lincoln, Sally-Anne and Hermione. Hem and Keith have opted to stay in the car while the others endeavour to rescue  ̶(or outright kidnap)  ̶Harry from his home. (Residency?)

"She's almost always talkin' about you," the younger boy eventually comments while he's focused on the screen of his Game Boy that he summoned halfway through the trip to Harry's place. She thinks the game he's playing is called, 'Castlevania: The Adventure.' According to Sally-Anne, at least. "Sal always fixates on things that interest her, though, so it makes sense. But I was wonderin' if you were actually all that interestin'."

Hem blinks at him, unsure of whether or not that deigns a reply. (And if she could formulate one in time.)

With a quick glance to her, Keith continues with, "I guess you are sorta interestin'. You really do look like you're dead inside and could probably watch the world burn without battin' an eye. It makes more sense now that you'd be stoic after murderin' a troll, nearly dyin' from a bludger and gettin' tortured."

Though it's probably not necessary, she makes an effort to say, "Thank you."

That seems to please him since a surprised, boyish smile shapes his mouth even as he continues to stare at the small screen. He resembles Sally-Anne quite a lot when he does that. (But it might just be that they all really do have common features.) "Weirdo," he huffs without bite. She's noticed that he gives off a rather easy-going vibe when he's not sulking. "That wasn't a compliment. You should thank me when I say that I like your art or somethin'."

She struggles to say, "I know," but she eventually manages to get it out. It feels like she's almost vomited them out, though.

"I'm tellin' Sal that you replied to me twice in a row," Keith grins to himself. "She says you rarely do that."

Hem doesn't reply to that. It's strange to think that someone outside of her family cares about her so much. (It's strange to think that anyone cares about her at all, really.)

Chapter Text

"I don't understand the logic behind the design choices that have been made," Keith deadpans, staring up at the misshapen house known as the Burrow  ̶(why it's called that, she doesn't know)  ̶with unimpressed eyes. "Is this the unfortunate result of being poor?"

Ron squints at the small, male Perks as he levitates one of Hem's  ̶(or is that Hermione's?)  ̶suitcases. "Definitely a Perks. Joy." He rolls his eyes but he doesn't seem to be substantially offended by the barb. Maybe he's just gotten used to it via Sally-Anne. (Maybe he's just gotten used to Sally-Anne.) "What is it with you lot and your constant need to point out how much money you have?"

"Sorry," apologises Lincoln while he leans on his car and looks completely unapologetic. "Force of habit. We need to assert our dominance at almost every opportunity. You should see what it's like when the whole family's together." His smirk becomes a smile full of unnervingly perfect teeth.

The only redhead currently amongst them shivers while Harry and Hermione share a grimace. Keith continues to look bored and Sally-Anne takes in their surroundings with a critical eye.

"My goodness!"

Hem turns with the others at the new voice, her eyes landing on a short, plump woman that's very likely to be the Weasley matriarch standing by the front door. Said matriarch scans the scene in front of her before shaking her head in apparent disapproval and yelling, "Fred! George! Come down here and help with the luggage!"

The sound of an explosion from within the house and a muffled, "Quick, George, the lid! The lid!" is the apparent answer to her call.

Whipping around, the woman process to shout, "Boys! If I come up there and there's a mess in your room again while we have guests  ̶" but she's interrupted by the second-floor window being flung open. Some kind of smoke wafts out  ̶(it's an odd, suspicious colour and seems to bubble somehow)  ̶and a partially hidden figure leans over the sill. It's the ginger hair that stands out the most.

"We're fine, mum, thanks for asking!" replies either Fred or George. "We'll be down in a sec!" And then Fred or George disappears into the smoke to presumably help his brother clean up the mess.

Their mother sighs and mutters to herself, which seems to prompt Lincoln into action as he pushes off his car and strides towards her. Ron watches the eldest Perks present as he goes, his gaze a touch speculative before he turns towards the others and gestures for them to follow him inside.

"Is he going to convince mum to accept some ridiculously expensive item?" he asks Sally-Anne, his tone mostly curious and a little too casual. "I remember her always making a fuss whenever one of your siblings came over and did that. Every time, too. Always said it was just your form of common courtesy since it was no trouble to buy them." The tone becomes a little bitter during the last sentence, but it doesn't seem to be directed at the Perks in particular.

He gets his answer when they draw closer to the two in question and see Mrs Weasley  ̶(is that what she's supposed to call her?)  ̶trying to reject the large bag of galleons  ̶(probably)  ̶that Lincoln's holding.

"Oh, I couldn't," she demurs. "It's far too much!"

Lincoln wears a patient, charming smile as he replies, "It's really not. Please, take it. It's going to be expensive to feed all the extra kids and I hear that the new school books for this year aren't cheap." Seeing the older woman on the verge of giving in, he continues with, "If you don't accept, I'm afraid I'll have to stay here to convince you even though I have an important appointment in Australia. People could be dying as we speak."

That seems to work, for Mrs Weasley sighs and accepts the bag before bestowing upon him a wry but grateful smile. "You Perks… Thank you, Lincoln. You know none of you have to have to give me anything for having you over, don't you?"

"Of course, but that doesn't mean  ̶"

Hem doesn't catch the rest of his response as someone exclaims, "Ugh, don't come near me, Fred! I don't know what you're covered in!" from her left. She turns towards the source  ̶(and absently registers the fact that she's inside the house even though she can't remember entering)  ̶to find Ron backing away from Fred, who's covered in murky-coloured soot and has his arms spread out for a hug.

The dirty adolescent laughs, "C'mon, just one hug! You'll feel great, if a little like your skin is about to peel off."

"You're always inexplicably covered in dirt, anyway, Ron," Sally-Anne remarks, her eyes casually surveying the interior around her. Harry and Hermione are looking around with a little more awe while Keith's gone back to playing on his Game Boy. "What's a little foul soot to add to your beauty regimen?"

"You hug him, then! See how you like it!"

"Are you sure your mother would approve of her son dirtying a lady so?"

"That's  ̶"

And as the Burrow descends into rowdy bickering, Hem takes the initiative to go back outside and levitate the rest of the luggage. Despite not being able to recall the incantation for the particular spell  ̶(did she learn it in class?)  ̶she seems to be able to do it with some conscious  ̶(but nonverbal, as always)  ̶effort.

Kenelm has said before that it's a good idea to focus on more conscious wand-casting  ̶(he has, hasn't he?)  ̶so this should count as her exercise for the day. (Or week, more likely. She still has trouble with the perception of time, after all.)

. . .

. . .

Sally-Anne, Hermione and Hem are staying in the old room of Bill and Charlie  ̶(whoever they are)  ̶on the third floor while Harry and Keith are staying in Ron's room on the fifth floor.

It's a fairly spacious room with messy diagrams of dragons on the left wall and a pile of books about curse-breaking by the right. A third bed has been conjured between two well-worn ones, but they're all neat and the sheets are freshly washed.

"I'm going to take the left," announces the blonde among them, who's already dumped half of her belongings on the left bed. "Hemera can go in the middle, yeah?"

Hermione nods in agreement, although her attention is obviously taken by the pile of books. "Do you think they'd mind if I read some of them?" she queries, her face contorted in a light, unsure frown. "Curse-breaking sounds awfully useful. I didn't even know it was a viable career option until Ron said Bill was one in Egypt."

"If they didn't want them read," Sally-Anne starts as she opens the nearest window, "then they shouldn't have left them there, all out in the open. And they're Weasleys, anyway, so I highly doubt the possibility of the books being cursed." She turns back around to gesture at the books and finish with, "I'd say to have at it."

Not entirely convinced, Hermione says, "Well… I'll just go check with Mrs Weasley to be sure," before leaving the room to do just that.

Hem places her things by the end of the middle bed while her best friend  ̶("I do hope you're referring to me as your best friend in your head whenever you recognise me," remarks her friend who insists on being something more important-sounding than 'friend')  ̶spruces up the place with her own eccentricities.

"What do you think, Hemera? Lemon lime or lavender? Or should we go with the candle that's literally named, 'The Kind of Scent You Need After You've Buried a Body'?"

. . .

. . .

Dinner is loud and raucous, but apparently it's not as bad as usual  ̶(according to George, anyway)  ̶since Hem is present and they don't want to accidentally set her off. She doesn't mind that much. (It might be because it's easier to sit at a lively dinner table with a family that isn't hers and feel like a stranger.)

Mr Weasley is a little weird with his intense enthusiasm for all things muggle, and he's been hounding Hermione and Harry nonstop about the non-magical culture  ̶(he was also asking about Hem's mental illnesses until his wife scolded him for being rude)  ̶since dinner's started.

"Enough of that, Arthur!"

"But Molly  ̶"

Percy is one of the brothers Hem hasn't seen before  ̶(it's been a while and her mind isn't telling her that she's supposed to know him)  ̶and he seems to be a fairly prim person. He talks in an overly sophisticated manner that Fred and George tease him for, much to his visible annoyance. It does seem like his mannerisms are more forced than a natural part of him, so that's probably why it's jarring to stare at him for too long.

"Must you?"

The twin brothers blink, look to each other, then turn back to their elder brother and decisively nod in unison. "Yes," they intone together. "We must."

Ginny, the girl sitting next to Sally-Anne, is constantly sneaking looks at an uncomfortable Harry from across the table. Occasionally, she opens her mouth as if to say something, but then she appears to lose her courage and opts to scowl at her dinner for five minutes before repeating the process. Hem can only wonder when Sally-Anne's going to point it out, since she has no qualms with embarrassing people.

"I hate vegetables," mutters Keith, who's sitting between Hem and his sister. "They taste like nothin'."

Hem takes a moment to agree with him before realising that her hand has grabbed the gravy boat and is proceeding to pour its contents all over his pile of vegetables. He soon blinks down at his plate, then up at her. She blinks back at him, just as bemused as she assumes he is. (Why did she do that?)

After what feels like a few minutes but should only be a few seconds, he eventually sighs and grabs the gravy boat from her to put even more on his dinner. "I didn't say I wasn't goin' to eat them…" His mouth forms a small smile, however. "But thanks."

"Je vous en prie," says a voice that she doesn't recognise.

"Merlin's saggy arse, did you just respond to Keith three times in one day?" Sally-Anne exclaims as she whips her head around to stare at Hem with raised brows. She then shifts her attention to her smirking brother, eyes narrowing into a suspicious squint. "What's so good about you, huh? Who did you sacrifice?"

Keith eats one gravy-soaked carrot before smugly retorting, "I'm a Hem whisperer. It's an innate talent."

Fred, George and Sally-Anne all dramatically gasp while the latter of the three returns, "You've got some balls to be declaring that to me, you little shite. I'll kick your arse, you know I will."

. . .

. . .

The ceiling of Bill and Charlie's room  ̶(who?)  ̶is littered with moving drawings that glow in the dark. There are dragons breathing fire and centaurs pointing at the stars and goblins baring their sharp teeth as they say things she can't hear. A lot of them are rough and look like they've been drawn by children, while a few of the others are sketchy but much more detailed.

Even when Hem closes her eyes and is surrounded by white, dragons and centaurs and goblins still dance in her vision.

(Is she okay?)

Chapter Text

Watching Fred  ̶(or is that George?)  ̶disappear in violently green flames is surreal and Hem has to blink rapidly in an effort to rid herself of the visual snow it causes. It doesn't really work, so she tries rubbing them away with her hand.

(Her ears are starting to ring.)

Just as she realises that rubbing only exacerbates the discomfort, someone grabs her hand and gently pulls it away from her face before she can unwittingly damage her eyes. Hem manages to catch pale fingers intertwining with hers  ̶(Sally-Anne wears nail varnish, doesn't she? Where's the nail varnish, then?)  ̶through all the spots in her vision before she decides to keep her eyes closed and wait for her body to cooperate. (It might take a while.)

"Don't fidget," someone advises  ̶(Ron? Who's Ron?)  ̶from her left. (Who is he talking to?) "You might fall out of the wrong fireplace, otherwise."

"You might want to keep your elbows tucked in, too," adds another. (Sally-Anne?) "Harper broke one of his once because he was trying to rub the soot out of his eyes mid-travel. That means you might also want to close your eyes."

A new voice tentatively says, "I'm not sure if the Floo is a good method of transportation for Hem. It could trigger an episode and the fire's already agitating her." They're to her right but the voice doesn't sound close enough to belong to the person holding her hand.

Hem chances opening her eyes again to see if things have settled as yet another feminine voice replies, "Oh, dear, you're right." The world is tinted green and white with spots of black; she opts with staring at the ground lest anything else sets her off while she's waiting for the world to right itself.

"But Apparating isn't likely to be much better," an older, masculine voice points out. "And driving to London in the Ford Anglia or flying on a broom would take far too long."

"Not to mention the possibility of being seen by muggles. What are we going to do?"

As her vision returns to normal  ̶(as normal as it can be, anyway)  ̶Hem lifts her head just in time to watch Harry  ̶(who?)  ̶cough out some word and vanish into the fire. (Where did he go?) Unfortunately, the vibrant green sticks to the back of her eyelids like glue and she resigns herself to beginning the process once more.

(Has she taken her medicine yet?)

. . .

. . .

Hem has no idea where she is and why she's having a staring competition with a raven  ̶(or is it a crow?)  ̶that's sitting on the head of an abnormally large, orange cat. (Is it a cat or a tiny lion? Are cats meant to be so big?) She feels like they're both appraising her, as if they're deciding upon whether or not she's worthy enough to be in their collective presence.

"Oh, hello. When did you get there?"

Hem blinks  ̶(was she blinking before?)  ̶as she turns to find a balding man by a door and staring at her with polite confusion. They stare at one another for a moment before he takes in her whole appearance  ̶(what does she look like again?)  ̶and appears to follow some trail behind her with his eyes.

"Ah," he sounds, apparently having come to some conclusion. Looking behind her, she does see a trail of soot leading from the fireplace in the middle of the room and ending at her feet. However, Hem can't quite remember why that's supposed to make sense. "I suppose you must've fallen out of the wrong fireplace."

("I'll go by Floo," a voice interrupts before the concerned chatter about how she'll get to Diagon Alley can continue.)

A soft caw prompts her to turn back to odd animal duo as the man says, "Well, not to worry. It happens on the off occasion," and begins to bustle about the room. "Crookshanks and Munin aren't usually so accommodating, but they must like you. Oh!" At that, Hem looks to the stranger, who's looking at her from across the room with an excited and somewhat desperate expression upon his aged face. "You wouldn't happen to want one of them? Or both? They've been here for so long that they're basically permanent residents."

"Woodrow!" calls an unfamiliar, raspy voice from another room. Hem thinks both she and the man  ̶(is he Woodrow?)  ̶flinch simultaneously at it. "What's taking you so long to get the rat tonic?!"

"Sorry, Munson!" Woodrow calls back as he practically dives for a box in the corner. "There's a girl who got spat out of the fireplace!"

"Bring her out here, then!"

Woodrow pulls out a bottle of what she assumes is rat tonic before glancing to her and gesturing for her to follow him out. Hem, instead, watches as the cat  ̶(where did the bird go?)  ̶leisurely stretches and jumps off the table to stand by her feet; when she doesn't move, it stares up at her with a judgemental expression on its squashed-looking face.

So, perhaps because of a subconscious fear of the feline's wrath, Hem finds herself following the wizard  ̶(she assumes he's a wizard)  ̶out of the room. She regrets it immediately when she's greeted by the cacophony of animals sounds, senseless chatter and cramped spaces. (It probably smells something awful, too, but her sense of smell has always been poorer than even her other senses.)

"I've got the rat tonic, Munson," says Woodrow as he moves to stand by a woman managing the counter.

Munson snatches the bottle without even a glance and hands it to some child on the other side of the counter. "Sorry for the wait," she apologises with a monotone. "Make sure to make your rat sip on a few drops every three days, okay? Come back if there are any problems."

"What if she dies?" questions the child, although his tone is more curious than worried.

"Buy another one," Munson promptly answers.

The boy nods, apparently satisfied with that answer since he spins around and leaves. Once he does, Munson dusts off her hands and turns towards Woodrow  ̶(is that his name?)  ̶to snap, "What are you dawdling around for? Go see if anyone needs help."

"Right!" Woodrow yelps before scurrying off to do just that.

Unsure of what she's supposed to do now, it occurs to Hem that she's lost and that she's probably supposed to be somewhere else with other people. (The realisation that she's worrying people again is most definitely making something within her wither up and die.)

"Well, now," someone mutters as a body is inexplicably closer to her than before and things are touching her. (Cleaning her?) "So, Munin, your kind of girl is one covered in soot, bleeding from the neck and like she could kill in cold blood?"

Hem feels a bemused twitch in her brow as a caw that sounds uncomfortable close answers the voice and a black shape in her peripheral shifts.

A sigh follows the bird sound and the body near her steps back as the same voice remarks, "Typical. 'Bout time, anyway. Now, all we need to do is wait for another poor soul to buy Crookshanks. You don't happen to have a brother or sister, do you, miss?"

. . .

. . .

It's later  ̶(how much later? How long has she been here?)  ̶when Hem realises that she's inadvertently bought a raven  ̶("That'll be eight galleons for Munin. I'll give you free supplies for life if you promise to never give him back, okay?")  ̶that's currently cawing his farewells to the giant cat.

Said cat looks at his  ̶(at least, she thinks Crookshanks is male)  ̶friend with a strangely grave look before meowing his own farewell and disappearing back into the shop in a rather snobbish manner. Munin takes that moment to fly onto her shoulder, and Hem thinks that she must look rather odd with a large, fully grown bird on her small shoulder. (Is her hair in the way? How heavy is a raven supposed to be, by the way?)

As Hem turns around to be assaulted with the visuals of people bustling about Diagon Alley  ̶(where is Diagon Alley?)  ̶she wonders where she's supposed to go now. (How did she get to the Magical Menagerie in the first place?) If she starts wandering, she's probably going find herself someplace else where the people inhabiting it are less likely to be accommodating. There's also a high possibility that something's going to startle her and trigger some accidental magic that'll hit everyone in her immediate vicinity.

(She's already so tired and she's barely done anything.)

Munin cawing from a short distance away  ̶(when did he get there?)  ̶draws her attention, and she finds him perched on the armrest of an empty bench, looking like he's ready to pick a fight with the closest person. Which would be bad since he's hers now.

Hem walks towards him with the thought that sitting and waiting for someone to find her is probably the best option.

(Maybe he knew that. Ravens are supposed to be intelligent and familiars are abnormally so.)

. . .

. . .

"Granger," says a derisive voice that cuts through the white noise in her ears.

Hem blinks, her blurry vision focusing enough for her to realise that there's a boy before her with blond hair and a vaguely conflicted sneer on his face. (Who's Granger?) He's in the process of giving her a onceover, though his eyes linger on some lower part of her that prompts her to look down and see if there's something off about her clothes.

(There doesn't seem to be anything of interest aside from that fact that she's evidently wearing a sundress.)

She lifts her head when the boy  ̶(maybe? It could be someone passing by)  ̶elicits a harsh sound from his throat and quickly snarls, "Why aren't you with the blood traitors and your mudblood sister in Flourish and Blotts?" in an apparent, awkward attempt at conversing  ̶(debatable; his voice is rather hostile)  ̶with her. (Is she supposed to know him?)

It doesn't really work out when Hem simply scratches her neck and doesn't reply, leaving him to stand there awkwardly as he waits for a retort or something to work off of.

(Is his face reddening or is that just her?)

As the silence continues, she watches as he seems to become more uncomfortable with her unblinking gaze, his own shifting off to the side as he tenses, perhaps so he doesn't start fidgeting. (Her mind suggests something about pure-blood training, but she doesn't know why that would apply here. Is he a pure-blood? What's a pure-blood?)

"Ugh!" the blond eventually exclaims, his eyes snapping to hers in a defiant manner that confuses her greatly. "I should've known that you wouldn't have answered! What, Granger," he steps closer to her, then, and Hem is abruptly reminded of a taller boy with sable-black hair and walnut-brown eyes, "am I not good enough for you to speak to me? Even though you're just a filthy mudblood that should be kissing my feet for the privilege of existing in my presence?! Who do you think you are?!"

His voice has become loud enough to attract attention from the crowd and Hem feels so very bewildered. (Who is he and what is he talking about?)

He's leaning over her now, eyes flickering from her own to her neck  ̶(she's not actually sure, but something on her is obviously distracting him)  ̶as a wand slides into his right hand in a rather foreboding manner.

(There's something swelling in her chest and she thinks it might be magic.)

However, before anything particularly dramatic and possibly life-threatening can happen  ̶(Munin's about to poke him in the eye or something, she can tell)  ̶her possible assailant is unexpectedly shoved out of the way just as a masculine voice hisses, "Draco! What are you doing?" from somewhere in the crowd.

"Ya hear that, wanker?" snaps the girl with the French braids  ̶(Sally-Anne?)  ̶as she comes into view with her hands on her hips. "Daddy's calling. Better go before he decides that he wants matching black eyes with his clone."

Draco glowers at her as he rights himself, and for a moment he looks as though he's about to engage before looking into the crowd and thinking better of it. So, instead, he purposefully straightens his robes then imparts, "Wait 'til school starts, Perks. You and your mudblood will get what's coming to you, then," with a final glower before swivelling around to take his leave.

"I hope you trip and break your nose, you prat," Sally-Anne snarks to his back, which noticeably tenses. However, instead of whipping around to start a wizarding brawl, he powerwalks away.

Hem watches his back until he disappears completely. When she looks back at her best friend, she finds Sally-Anne grinning with an excited  ̶(and relieved?)  ̶gleam in her eyes.

"I'm so glad you're alright, Hemera," she sighs as she grabs Hem's hands and pulls her off the seat to look her over. "Everyone's been worried. Harry landed somewhere in Knockturn Alley but Hagrid found him before he could be gutted or something." She glances up before remarking, "I suppose it makes sense that you'd end up at the Menagerie. You did say, 'Chemin de Traverse,' after all. I wonder why you got a bird, but it does fit your enigmatic vibe."

Munin makes an odd trilling sound but she's not sure what that's supposed to mean. Regardless, he perches on her shoulder as Sally-Anne begins to lead her somewhere.

"Anyway," she starts. "Let's tell everyone you're alive before I take us to Magical Materials for Maturing Madams. My sister owns it, did I tell you? Curt was the one who chose the name, though. Wendy had the idea to introduce less medieval methods to deal with the horrors of femininity since the wizarding world can be so behind the times."

As the blonde continues to talk, Hem glances behind her as a delayed thought pops into her head.

(Does Draco feel unworthy when she looks at him?)

Chapter Text

Lately, every time she goes to sleep, there's a tight, discomforting sensation in her chest that doesn't go away until she wakes up. (It feels vaguely familiar and it springs forth memories of ruby red eyes.) But Tom's the one who broaches the subject first because he can feel it, too, for some reason.

"It's from your end," he says rather decisively. His voice is calm, but his eyes are dangerously intent and he stares at her with demands that'll go unanswered. "It was from your end last time." His brow twitches upwards even as his eyes darken further. Somehow. "You still haven't told me how and why that man elicited such a reaction."

("Because he's you," she doesn't say. He's Tom but he's not so he's become Morty and she doesn't know how it works.)

She doesn't know why it's happening this time; why it's weaker and less insistent but irritatingly constant. All she can remember is that it started sometime after the trip to Diagon Alley. (Somewhere around that, maybe. Draco's appearance couldn't have caused a change in her. Unless he did something? But that doesn't seem likely.)

"I don't know what it is," Hem replies as she reaches up to absently trace his jawline. (His head instinctively tilts towards her touch and it doesn't seem like he notices anymore.) Tom's gotten sharper and more handsome, lately. She wonders if the admirers will increase to dramatic proportions this year because of how well he's sculpting his façade. "It feels like it's trying to pull me away from you."

His eyes glint in that desperately possessive manner of his, his hand snatching hers as though she'll disappear from him again. "Will it?" he essentially demands, his voice soft but no less insistent. If she feels like she's being pulled away, then maybe he feels like he's trying to fruitlessly pull her back. (Doesn't he always feel like that, though?)

Hem thinks that the weird phenomenon isn't strong enough to take her away like Morty was. Not yet, at any rate. "I don't know," she answers. "Maybe." Hopefully, it won't hurt as much if it does.

He doesn't like her answer, of course, but there's nothing he can do to change it.

. . .

. . .

Trying to fit twelve people into the Weasleys' car seems to be a touch difficult, even with the expanded interior that makes the seating arrangement look rather surreal. Somehow, though, they manage after shrinking all the luggage and fitting six people both in the front and the back.

Munin and Hedwig  ̶(is that the name? Who does she belong to?)  ̶have opted to fly since the former doesn't like cages and seems to have some kind of vendetta against Ron's rat. The latter, on the hand, just doesn't want to deal with the raucousness of the car for hours on end. At least, that's what Harry says.

(Ah, that's right. Hedwig is Harry's.)

Hem sits in the front, between Sally-Anne and Ginny, fiddling with her Baoding balls  ̶(where they came from, she can't remember)  ̶and trying not to stare at the book in the younger  ̶(she thinks so, anyway)  ̶girl's lap. Really, though, she's probably been blankly staring at it this entire time.

(She's never seen it before, right? Why is it bothering her?)

"I can't wait to try out my new wand at school," an excited voice from the back exclaims. "It already feels loads better than Charlie's."

"See," says Sally-Anne, who's turned around to face the voice's owner. "Aren't you glad that I spontaneously organised this? I'm still surprised that you even managed to use the first one at all, really. It had the core sticking out of the end and everything. What did you even do to make it like that?"

Laughter from two individuals  ̶(probably, the sounds are identical and it's confusing)  ̶bursts forth as another, primmer voice answers, "Charlie, our elder brother, said that he found a pixie in the Forbidden Forest during his sixth year and it inexplicably decided to bite his wand. I have my reservations, however."

"Yeah, it was probably something more dangerous than a pixie," agrees someone else.

Hem catches Hermione's wild mane of hair whip about from the other side of Sally-Anne. "Wait, Ron; what's the wood and core of your new wand?"

"Uh, willow, I think. With unicorn hair as the core. Why?"

"Hem has a willow wand, too! Mine's made of vine with a dragon heartstring core. I bought a book about wand lore at Flourish and Blotts but I haven't had a chance to look at it yet."

Fred and George both exclaim, "Ooh, search for ours!" in simultaneous excitement. "You should whip it out so we can all see what our wand woods mean," suggests one of them. "We get dangerous when we're bored and mum's already giving us a dirty look from the rear-view mirror."

. . .

. . .


With a bewildered blink, Hem turns  ̶(where is she?)  ̶to come face to face with a boy whose brown eyes are much closer than she expects. She blinks. The boy does the same, his head tilting downwards as he hastily takes a step back. (The scenery is moving outside the windows. Is she in a train?)

"Granger," he says again after seemingly regaining his sophisticated composure  ̶(she assumes he's the one who said it the first time)  ̶and there's something about him that niggles at her mind. (Brown hair, brown eyes.) "Are you lost?"

She tilts her head at him, wondering if she's supposed to know him or if he's one of the many who knows who she is while she remains oblivious in return. He has a fringe and it hangs in his eyes and something about it seems off. (There's nothing wrong with it. He looks pretty. But it feels wrong and she doesn't understand why.)

He elicits a soft sigh after a significant amount of silence stretches between them. "I suppose I should've expected this," he murmurs, more to himself than to her as he subconsciously fiddles with the gaudy ring on his middle finger. Hem watches as his expression subtly becomes conflicted, like he's trying to figure out what he's supposed to do with her.

Opening her mouth, she catches the way his gaze darts to her mouth as she forces out the question, "Est-ce que je te connais?"

A sliver of pleased surprise appears on his face before it's smothered by bitterness. "No," he answers with an oddly self-deprecating tilt to the corner of his mouth. "You don't know me. Our last interaction was brief and the fact that you don't pay attention to the people around you is common knowledge, so I'm not shocked that you don't recognise me from class."

(Common knowledge amongst who?)

Bemused, Hem reaches out  ̶(to do what, she doesn't know)  ̶and she notices how he stills, eyes glued to her hand with a mixed look of trepidation and anticipation. He twitches at her touch as she evidently styles his fringe into something that vaguely resembles a side-part, but he doesn't move away from her.

Instead, he frowns at her, clearly as lost as she is when it comes to figuring out the reason behind her action. Then he blinks and clarity appears just before he remarks, "I've grown out my hair a little since then." His finger twitches as he glances to the side. "I… can't be bothered to style it anymore."

(Neat side-part. Gaudy ring. Brown hair, brown eyes. The answer's somewhere in her head, she knows it.)

"Sorry," Hem whispers, retracting her hand. She wants to say more, to explain that her memory is terrible because her mind is filled with the mud that's supposed to be in her blood, but her mouth stays closed. (Wait, why would there be mud in her blood?)

He blinks. "For not remembering me?" he asks, to which she manages a tilt of her head that could probably be interpreted as a nod. "It's fine," is what he says next, though his eyes are lowered and his expression doesn't exactly imply that it's fine. Running a hand through his hair to undo her impromptu styling, he softly adds, "It should be enough that you've actually spoken to me."

Hem's not sure what's happening with him, but it feels like his low mood is her fault. (She's trying to remember who he is, but all that comes up is, "I'm surprised he didn't tamper with it.")

As she tries to figure out how to apologise again, she catches his eyes flickering to somewhere behind her. "One of your Weasleys are here," he informs her as he seems to take in her entire appearance before finally meeting her eyes. The way he looks at her is complicated and she'd like to know why. "I'll see you, Granger."

And just like that, he ends their strange conversation by turning around and promptly making his way down the corridor. (A train corridor, right? Where are they going?)

Hem watches his retreating back until Ron  ̶(maybe)  ̶reaches her and asks her why she wandered off on him.

. . .

. . .

Hem blinks away the fuzz in her vision, only to blink again when she finds a lock of ebony hair between her fingers.

"Hello, Hemera," greets an unfamiliar voice from somewhere above her. Lifting her head and following the trail of hair with her eyes, she eventually spots a handsome, smiling face and gunmetal-blue eyes. "I hope you understand that I'm only allowing you to touch my hair because of my mystifying fondness for you."

Another blink from Hem as she tries to put a name to the face. After wading through a sea of names she doesn't recognise, she manages to find it. (At least, she thinks so.)


His eyes flash and his smile widens. "That is my name, yes," he replies, one hand reaching out to grab the hand holding his hair. "I'm pleased you've remembered. Now, come along; we'll have dinner in my office." Gracefully swivelling around, Kenelm begins to lead her down the corridor. (This time, it seems to be a castle corridor.) "I've already forced your friends to attend the Feast, otherwise they would have skipped it to eat in the kitchens with you. Thoughtful, truly, but Severus would think that his least favourite Gryffindor students were up to something again."

That's nice and all, but Hem would like it if she didn't have to jog just to keep up with being dragged by a tall adult with long legs.

. . .

. . .

"He's blinding," remarks Sally-Anne as she plaits her hair for bed. "Lockhart, I mean. It offends me. I'm wondering if I should collaborate with Fred and George or if I should do something to him on my own. Maybe both?"

Hem has no idea who she's on about, but she tries to listen instead of floating away somewhere. Munin, who's perched on her bedside table, gently pecks her hand every time she's on the verge of doing so.

(Is Tom waiting for her? Will they feel the discomforting sensation again?)

"I think Hermione might have a slight crush on him," her best friend continues, her eyes following the Carrow  ̶(is that right?)  ̶sisters as they walk to the bathroom with startlingly identical movements. Even Fred and George don't go that far. (They're likely to try, though, if they find out.) "It's honestly a little disappointing. I'd have thought her standards were higher. Next thing we know, she's going to fancy Ron."

Sally-Anne snickers to herself at that. Hem, on the other hand, wonders what it's like to have a crush on someone. (Tom wouldn't know, most likely. It's much more plausible for him to just think himself above the very idea of it, really.) She doesn't think it would be pleasant to be so emotionally fixated on a single person.

(Nothing for her to worry about, then.)

"Aside from that, Keith got Sorted into Slytherin  ̶there was no other outcome, obviously  ̶and he had a bit of a sulk when he realised you weren't at the table. Understandable, really; you're our only Slytherin friend aside from Weston  ̶the Bletchleys don't count  ̶so we had to sit amongst a bunch of plebeians. Malfoy, the git, noticed my brother's sour mood and decided to get a hex to the face by provoking him about it because Malfoy's an idiot. It's truly baffling, you know, since his marks last year were just below first place. Then again, there is a difference between street smarts and book smarts."

Sally-Anne ties the end of her plait and flips it over her shoulder just as their dormmates exit the bathroom. "Well, anyway, Keith now has a week's worth of detention and I'm honestly so very proud. He beat Wendy's score by three days. My score was during second week because I forgot about it, but never mind that."

That's weird, though, isn't it? How Hem has managed to have so many people call her their friend when she's little more than an empty shell that can hardly even speak?

(Tom should be able to explain that, at least. Crushes are out of his depth, but knowing what draws people to others is well within his frame of knowledge.)

Chapter Text

Hem feels a vague sense of foreboding when she spots Professor Lockhart  ̶(who?)  ̶as she walks into the classroom with Sally-Anne. He's obnoxiously dazzling with his flamboyant robes and he nearly smacks a student sitting at the front in the face with his overly dramatic hand gestures.

Sitting behind Harry and Ron  ̶(and some other random Gryffindor that Hermione gives her seat to when she sees her sister)  ̶Hem squints as static begins to dance in her vision. Professor Lockhart swishes his robes as he says something about smiling as banshees and the movement creates a painful shimmer that forces Hem to shut her eyes.

Under the desk, she focuses on the movement of her Baoding balls as the muffled sound of shuffling paper pushes through the white noise in her ears.

"Well, it's official, then," she hears Sally-Anne  ̶(it should be)  ̶declare from her left. "We're going to fail DADA and that's that. Do you think Dumbledore will wave his hand at the end of the year and give everyone full marks to make up for the sheer incompetency?"

More shuffling paper and the scratching of quills before Hermione replies, "It's not that hard! And that would be grossly inappropriate as the Headmaster, don't you think?"

Sally-Anne's tone is one of condescension when she responds with, "It's not a matter of the material being hard; it's a matter of it being bloody stupid and a waste of our time! He can just go have a wank in front of a mirror rather than inconvenience us with insipid quizzes."

Someone in front of her elicits a violent snort while titters erupt from behind her. The professor is humming something from the front, evidently oblivious. (Presumably, it's Lockhart humming. The voice is masculine enough to belong to an adult. It's just as grating as a whining child, though.)

"Sally-Anne!" Hermione hisses in outrage. Her face is probably red, but Hem doesn't think it's a good idea to open her eyes just yet.

"What's the likelihood of his secret ambition being able to successfully clone himself so he can finally be with the one person he truly loves? Because I think it's very likely and you can't convince me otherwise."

. . .

. . .

By the end of the class, the classroom has become a mess of broken equipment and pixie guts. Hem absently feels some type of goop sliding down her face, but she can't really bring herself to care. She's still trying to blink away the electric blue still stuck in her vision, after all.

(Is it progress to say that she can definitively say that she doesn't like Cornish pixies?)

The sounds of high-pitched screams and giggles are echoing in her ears and Hem only realises that the bell's rung when the other students are scrambling out from under their desks to make a run for the door. Standing as Sally-Anne's hand reaches out towards her  ̶(her best friend is covered in the muck but she's laughing like she gone mad)  ̶Hem thinks it would be a good idea to get an exemption from DADA.

Kenelm would help, wouldn't he?

("He's a fraud and I want to crush his throat so I never have to hear his voice again," an aggrieved but falsely pleasant voice all but declares. "But there's not enough proof to condemn him. Not yet, anyway. I'll eventually corroborate enough evidence since I happen to know a few patients that have had the pleasure of meeting him before.")

"So, two things I've learnt today," Hem manages to hear through the echoes in her ears. Something wet and fleshy makes an off-putting sound as it drops to the floor. "One; don't let pixies loose. And two; don't let pixies go near Hem."

Sally-Anne's almost deranged laughter follows. "A slayer of trolls and pixies! Oh, I love it!"

Hermione's the one who's the most concerned because this technically counts as an episode, but Hem just has an odd craving for ice cream and she wonders if that's a good thing.

. . .

. . .

"It's stopped," Hem remarks as she rests her head on Tom's shoulder. It shifts every so often when he detangles his fingers from her hair and starts again. "The weird feeling." It's been a few days of serene nothingness and it's been nice. (She's used to emptiness; not whatever that feeling was.)

She feels the vibration when he hums in acknowledgement. "For now, perhaps," he agrees. "You seem to have an unfathomable talent for attracting trouble."

(How angry would he be, she wonders, if he knew the finer details? How would he react if he knew that a large majority of her troubles have been caused by a version of him that's been corrupted with madness?)

Hem reaches for his free hand and he meets her halfway, their fingers intertwining automatically and she thinks she might be feeling content as she shuffles closer. (It's a little disconcerting.) When he starts to caress the side of her hand with his thumb, she stares for an unknown length of time before her thumb begins to stroke against his in return.

Eventually, his other hand reaches the back of her head and his nails gently scape along her scalp. A slight shiver shakes her body before she can even properly register the sensation. (It's not as strong as it would be in reality, but that doesn't change the fact that she can feel it a little in this dream world of theirs.)

Tom stills.

Then, after a few seconds of charged  ̶(why is it charged?)  ̶silence, he tugs on her hair, forcing her to look up and meet his gaze. She blinks when she does, unsure of how to decipher the way he's peering at her with darker  ̶(and more heated?)  ̶eyes than usual. When he continues to silently stare at her, she watches in return as he studies her face with a curious intensity that's different from the other types. (Did something about her appearance change?)

"Hem," he murmurs, perhaps unintentionally  ̶(he's distracted?)  ̶as he releases her hand to brush his fingers along the column of her neck before settling his thumb on her lips while the rest hook under her jaw. She's not sure what he's doing but she feels her chest tightening in confusion.

His brow furrows with frustration  ̶(why is he frustrated?)  ̶as he concentrates on her mouth. For some reason. (Maybe the lip balm?) This seems like it's lasting quite a while  ̶(her time perception might be getting better, lately)  ̶and the longer it goes on, the harsher his breathing becomes. He's not panting, of course  ̶(for even that is apparently beneath him)  ̶but he's obviously not calm and it's startling to unsettle her.


He blinks, eyes flickering to her own as his face shifts with realisation. The baffling gaze disappears behind his mask and an insincere smile of polite friendliness contorts his mouth before he replies, "Yes?" like he wasn't just acting extremely odd.

Hem feels like she's giving him an unimpressed stare. He seems to feel the same, for his smile becomes a touch more genuine when it widens and his eyes unconsciously soften with fondness.

She doesn't expect him to give her an answer after that, but he proves her wrong when his eyes lower to her mouth again and he says, "I was thinking," with an appropriately pensive tone. (There's something else, though; something dark and angry and longing.) His thumb is still moving languidly against her lips. The glass smile fades somewhat, although the ghost of it remains.

What he was thinking about in particular, she doesn't know, and he doesn't deign to elaborate further. Hem listens to his heartbeat for the rest of the night and lets the matter lie.

. . .

. . .

On the way to Kenelm's office, Hem passes by the hospital wing only to pause as she catches a familiar  ̶(is it?)  ̶figure sitting on one of the beds and puking out slugs into a bucket. Apparently catching her form in his peripheral, he looks up and immediately makes an expression of distaste  ̶(probably both towards her and himself)  ̶when they make eye contact.

He's alone, but a part of her mind is insisting that he should be surrounded by people doting on him like a pampered prince. (Who is he, again?) Another part justifies this mystifying insistence with the possibility that his friends  ̶(whoever he is)  ̶have already visited him.

Or maybe he just wants to be alone because vomiting up slugs doesn't exactly make for a refined figure.

Hem finds herself making her way over to him and watching as his eyes  ̶(steel grey?)  ̶widen with alarm. "What do you want, Granger?" he snaps, his shoulders tensing up with hostile wariness. He has to stop that when he violently vomits out another slug and the energy drains out of his shoulders.

Despite that, he seems to have enough energy to glower at her as she comes to stand near him. Tilting her head at him, she tries to wade through the memories to figure out who he's supposed to be. Eventually, a name comes up.

"Draco," she hears, which prompts a blink from the sickly boy in front of her. (Apparently, her mind has deemed it necessary to say it instead of just thinking it.) His expression into something of bewildered wonder and it looks much better than his typical scowl of forced superiority. (Does that ever get tiring?)

"What?" he blurts out, obviously taken very much off guard. Then another slug drops into the bucket and his scowl reappears as he eyes her like he's not sure what she's going to do. (She's not really sure either, really.) Hem expects him to say something about worthiness  ̶(she doesn't know why)  ̶but he remains silent, although his shoulders are bunched up and he looks like he's struggling to decide between spouting vitriol or demanding an explanation.

(She doesn't exactly have one. Hem doubts he'd be appreciative to know that she forgets him all the time. After all, he wouldn't expend so much effort if he didn't care about her in some way.)

The moment is broken when a voice behind her says, "Hemera? Why are you wasting your time with the Malfoy spawn?"

Turning around, she spots Kenelm standing by the door and looking at her with his usual smile and a raised brow. When she stays where she is, he stretches out a hand and gestures for her to come towards him with a twitch of his fingers.

So, with one last glance at Draco  ̶(who's now giving her a rather strange glare like he's offended by her sudden departure)  ̶Hem leaves the hospital wing and doesn't look back.

It's only when she's in Kenelm's office that she thinks to wonder why he's vomiting slugs in the first place.

. . .

. . .

After her appointment with Kenelm, Hem wanders the corridors and assumes that her body knows where it's supposed to go around this time. (If not, then someone will find her. Eventually. Munin always manages to find her, so it can't be too difficult.) Occasionally, she glimpses other students about  ̶(some are conspicuous in their attempts to move away from her even though they're hardly close already)  ̶but for the most part, her journey is solitary.

Then Hem happens upon a girl with mismatched socks and bedraggled, blonde hair talking to one of the many portraits on the wall. Said girl pauses in her seemingly one-sided conversation with the painted clown to look at the movement to her left.

"Oh, hello," she greets as Hem registers wide, silvery eyes and an absent-minded smile. "You must be the one the Bloody Baron follows everywhere." That remark receives a bland blink that apparently prompts her to add, "There's sufficient evidence, of course, seeing as he's not too far behind you."

And when Hem looks over her shoulder, she does indeed see the spectral form of the Bloody Baron a few metres away. Rather than sheepish at being referred to, he maintains his cold and brooding demeanour. Although, he does give her an acknowledging nod when their eyes meet.

While it's not all that strange for her to be associated with the Slytherin ghost, it is strange that it's apparently become common knowledge for him to follow her around everywhere. Especially since she wasn't aware previously. (Not that there's anything off about that aspect; she rarely pays attention to what's ahead of her, let alone what's behind her.)

"I also think you must be one of the unfortunate victims of the vox gliplies," the girl says when Hem looks back at her. She's a tad closer than before, but not enough for it to be startling. With a tilt of her head, she continues, "They're like wrackspurts, actually, but instead of floating into people's ears and making their brains fuzzy, vox gliplies go into people's mouths and steal their voice away."

Hem has heard of neither of these creatures  ̶(her mind isn't slogging through any relevant memories, at least)  ̶but she wouldn't be overly shocked if it turned out that she has both. (It'd make things a little simpler, really, that all her problems are caused by outside sources instead of internal ones.)

"Anyway," the unknown girl starts, smiling a little more and evidently unperturbed by the continued silence. "My name is Luna Lovegood from Ravenclaw. There's no need to introduce yourself, though I suppose you couldn't, regardless. But I'm very pleased to be acquainted with the Troll Slayer. Dad was hoping I'd get to meet you." Hem thinks it's about ten seconds of no response before Luna nods to herself and proceeds to ask, "By the way, do you happen to know the way to the Great Hall? I've managed to get lost on my way there, you see."

Hem doesn't. (She can't even remember what it looks like aside from blinding lights and too many eyes.) But she continues her trek to wherever she was going before stopping, and Luna takes that as a cue to follow her.

She's not really sure what the blonde  ̶(Sally-Anne's is more sandy and Draco's is more platinum while Luna's is a bit dirtier)  ̶talks about on their journey to somewhere, but her voice has a soft, dreamy quality that makes it easy to listen to.

"How fascinating," Luna gasps when Hem unfathomably tickles a large, painted pear and it giggles coyly before turning into a door to the kitchens. "It's not the Great Hall, but I'd say it's just as good." They enter together and are greeted by the many elves who're delighted to see a new face. Luna takes her times greeting them all while Hem drifts over to one of the tables.

She's not sure how much times passes before Luna sits across from her with more noticeable content to her vague smile. "I think I'll eat here from now on," she states, taking another glance around. "It's much homier than the Great Hall. Thank you for showing me."

It wasn't intentional. Hem nods, all the same.

Chapter Text

Luna, true to her word, begins to eat in the kitchens and leaves a fairly impactful impression on the others. (Sally-Anne finds her eccentricity fascinating; Keith doesn't care; Fred and George think her fun and the Gryffindor Trio are baffled but welcoming.) She often appears with bold-patterned socks and bracelets and earrings that seem to be fashionable only to her. (Not that Hem would know much about fashion, but the others have mentioned the peculiarity more than once.)

Hermione initially wasn't sure how to take her, for she seems to follow a type of logic that makes her seem like a mad conspiracist. (Hem doesn't know enough about the world to tell what's factual and what's not, so it doesn't matter to her.) But when Luna realises that vibrant colours don't mesh well with Hem, her accessories soften into pastel hues and that makes Hermione warm up to her much more easily.

And then one day, Luna enters the kitchen with no shoes.

"Lost your shoes, have you?" Fred says by way of greeting, though his voice is muffled by all the toast he's stuffed into his mouth. Keith, who's claimed a seat to Hem's right, looks at him like he's scum. Fred catches it and sends the younger boy a devilish wink as he makes a great show of swallowing his food like a true gentleman.

Luna slides into the spot beside George, who automatically starts piling things onto her plate. It must be a brotherly habit. "Thank you, George." She smiles the nearest twin before looking over at the other one and replying, "And I'm afraid I have, Fred. I do believe the nargles have stolen them."

Sally-Anne drums her fingers against the table, a considering hum escaping her as she stares at the younger girl with a speculative gleam. "Is this the first time the nargles have stolen your things?" she probes, the smile on her face sharp but not malicious.

With a tilt of her head, Luna takes a few moments to consider the question. "No, they usually steal my quills and inkpots," she answers, gripping the edge of the table and leaning back to look down at her feet. She's probably wiggling her toes. "Mischievous things, those nargles. I think they like to steal my things in particular because I know they exist."

But the way Fred, George and Sally-Anne share looks tells Hem that they think otherwise. They're probably going to plan on how to deal with these supposed nargles that keep stealing Luna's things.

(Children are cruel. Children tear down the different and it seems that even the Ravenclaws don't have what it takes to understand or even accept Luna.)

"Well," George starts, draping an arm over Luna's shoulder. She blinks at his hand with a pleased sort of fascination, as if being treated with such familiarity is a novel experience. "You've got us now, don't you? We'll figure out how to keep those pesky nargles away, won't we, Fred?"

The way Fred smiles has more of an edge than his brother's. (Hem thinks he's always been a little more jagged than George.) "I've already got some ideas in mind, actually," he agrees, a devious glint in his eyes when he glances at Sally-Anne. Sally-Anne smiles back with enough force to make it a touch unnerving.

Keith huffs, uninterested. He puts another sausage on Hem's plate. "You like the ones with bits of cheese inside, don't you?" he questions, to which she gives an absent nod in reply. (There are sausages with cheese in them?)

"I suppose this means I should start working on my own accessories, then," Sally-Anne mutters to herself. She picks up her cutlery and cuts into her own breakfast before asking, "Do you like flower crowns, Luna?"

The girl in questions immediately brightens as she exclaims, "Oh, I love them! Mum and I used to make new ones every week before she died, you know." Her smiles becomes more rueful at the mention of her mother. "I tried making some with dad as a way to remember, but he'd always break down in tears, so I stopped."

Fred and George are clearly discomforted, unsure of how to respond to that, but Sally-Anne merely nods and replies, "Flower crowns, then. I'll make some for all of us girls." She peeks around Hem to ask Keith, "You want one, too, Keith? I'll make it extra pretty for you."

"Shove off," is Keith's prompt retort. Luna says something about blue being a good colour on him, which then somehow devolves into Fred and George seriously considering the idea of flower crowns that could change into different flower types and squirted multi-coloured slime on anyone who passed by the wearer.

"Slime?" Sally-Anne sneers, unimpressed. "Is that the best you've got? I'd make them zap people."

. . .

. . .

Ever since Hem accidentally said his name  ̶(when did she say it? Why did she say it?)  ̶Draco's been giving her smug looks as if she's finally come to understand his worth in life. It's strange, really, because he shouldn't care about her opinion on him, but she supposes people are strange and emotions aren't logical.

(Is it better to be logical or to be emotional? What if she's neither?)

Sally-Anne notices it, too, and eventually decides to confront him in the common room because it's always the most dramatic spot to do things. (According to her, anyway. Something about it having the most eyes without the interference of the other Houses.) There aren't a lot of people currently present, but that doesn't stop her.

"Alright, I'll bite, Malfoy," she starts just as they're about to pass the little area Draco's gang has claimed for themselves. "What's made your existence more annoying than it typically is?"

Hem glances around, eventually spotting kids of a similar age scattered around. (The ones that don't mingle with the rest. They stay on the sidelines; waiting; watching.) A sharp-looking boy with dark colouring  ̶(dark skin, dark hair and dark eyes)  ̶and meticulously styled hair sits by a bookshelf, poised and unconcerned as his eyes languidly skim the page of the tome in his lap. A girl with amber eyes, auburn hair and delicate features is sitting next to an older student that looks distantly related, the both of them close enough to witness the ensuing drama without being conspicuous. The Carrow sisters  ̶(are they the Carrows?)  ̶have sectioned themselves off as well, opting to sit near the fireplace. They look somewhat eerie with the green glow of the flames complementing their flat expressions.

And then she notices brown hair and brown eyes that are already looking at her. (She knows him. Doesn't she?) He's not far from the amber-eyed girl but it's obvious that they're not sitting together. His gaze wavers when she makes eye contact, but he evidently steadies his resolve after blinking once or twice.

His lips tilt into a subtle, gentle smile in greeting. She wants to smile back. (She can't.) She tries. (She fails.) His eyes lower and Hem assumes it's to hide the hurt when the gesture isn't reciprocated. (She's sorry.)

"If you must know, Perks," Draco's voice cuts through her thoughts, prompting her to turn back to her best friend and their… rival? (What is he?) He's lounging comfortably in a black loveseat  ̶(almost all the furniture in the room is black, she realises)  ̶and smirking up at Sally-Anne like he's royalty sitting before a commoner. His eyes flicker to Hem as he continues, "I'm just pleased to know that Granger's finally realised her place in the hierarchy."

"What?" Hem blinks at Sally-Anne, who's squinting at her in confusion. Supposedly, her blink  ̶(accurately)  ̶translates to, 'I have no idea what he's talking about,' and the blonde turns back to Draco like he's barmy. "Are you pissed? What in Merlin's name has made you think that?"

A scowl quickly contorts Draco's face as soft sniggers flutter about the room. Sally-Anne is an outcast as much as Hem is, but Draco's not all that popular himself. "Because she spoke to me, that's why!" he snaps, sitting up and instantly shifting into something defensive. "Everyone knows that she's an uppity mudblood who thinks everyone's beneath her notice, but she's finally realised that I am not." He finishes that statement by lifting his chin, even though it looks rather awkward when he's still sitting and they're standing.

She'd smile if she could, but alas, she has to settle for Sally-Anne's derisive snort. "Yeah? And what'd she say, hm?"

A trace of uncertainty filters into his face before he determinedly answers, "My name." Again, he glances at her, but this time with a spot of defiance as if daring her to lie. (Why would she?) "You did, didn't you, Granger?"

Hem absently feels the attention shift to her as Sally-Anne demands, "When the hell was this?" and looks between the two of them like she's just been told that they've been meeting up behind her back for weeks. A soft exhale leaves Hem as a wave of weariness crashes through the numbing mud.

The silence grows as she stares at Draco, who's clearly unwilling to divulge when she said his name, seeing as it wouldn't put him in a very admirable light. Should she say it? (Could she?)

"Wait," Sally-Anne starts, holding up a hand. "It doesn't matter. My apologies, I was taken off-guard. Why don't you tell me why you think Hemera saying your name is something to be proud of? Did she say anything else? Something along the lines of, 'Draco, I'm dirt beneath your feet,' or did she literally just say your name because she forgot who you are and needed a minute to remember?"

The latter, of course, and she likely wouldn't have said anything else even if Kenelm didn't pick her up.

"Does it matter, blood traitor?" snarks one of the girls of Draco's group when the boy himself is absorbed in regretting the sequences of events that's led up to this very moment. (Is it Parka? Why does she feel like she's always getting it wrong?) "Granger's scum and so are you; everyone knows this." She flips her hair over her shoulder and it smacks into the face of the portly girl beside her.

With that act, any sort of impact that the insult has  ̶(which is honestly none; neither girls give a damn)  ̶is diminished and Sally-Anne laughs with the others around them. Weston and the Bletchley cousins are probably somewhere in the crowd as well. Keith and the other First-Years have class at this time. (At least, she thinks so. Everyone present looks older.) It's probably for the best, honestly. Unlike his sister, who likes to play around with her 'opponents,' Keith just immediately goes for the throat.

("He doesn't have a lot of patience, see. Most of it goes into his games and even then, you're likely to find him eventually setting something on fire.")

"It matters, yes," Sally-Anne replies after catching her breath. Parkinson  ̶(that's it! Or is it?)  ̶is glaring at her, her face an unflattering red while the victim of hair assault just looks uncomfortable. "Why it does, however," her best friend slides her focus back onto Draco, a sly glint in her gaze, "is quite the mystery. Does someone have insecurity issues, Malfoy?"

The boy in question is immediately on his feet in response. Hem feels something thrumming as her wand slides into her hand. (Wait. Where did it come from?)

"You should probably stop, Malfoy," a new voice interrupts just as Draco and Sally-Anne look about ready to duel each other right here in the common room. They all turn towards the voice, and Hem blinks when she realises it's the same boy with the brown hair and brown eyes. He's fiddling with that ring of his, but there's something off about him. A façade? A mask?

"What's it to you, Nott?"

A wry smile appears on his face as Nott  ̶(she's heard it before, hasn't she?)  ̶peers at her for a few seconds. "Aside from Perks and her other friends, I'm probably the only one who's actually had a conversation with Granger," he responds, shifting in his seat in a subtle but purposefully haughty fashion. (The mask he's chosen doesn't suit him.) "She speaks French, did you know?"

"Merlin's left tit, Hemera," Sally-Anne exclaims in a whisper while Hem feels a small part of her wither and die. (What is happening?) "You talk to Theodore Nott enough for him to know you speak French?" She blinks at her best friend. "No? I suppose you must've spoken French from the start, then. Fred and George said that your first words to them were in French, after all."

"Are you insinuating that you're superior to me, Nott? Me? The Malfoy heir?"

"Just because the Notts aren't as desperate for attention doesn't mean we're inferior. For example, if I had an interest in quidditch, I wouldn't feel the need to buy my way onto the team."

"Luckily for us, you don't! A diricawl would have a better chance at flying than you!"

And as it devolves into some kind of absurd pissing contest between two acquaintances  ̶(it seems like they've known each other since even before Hogwarts)  ̶Hem continues  ̶(or starts)  ̶her trek to the entrance. She needs jelly slugs and to be away from these strange children who're trying to be miniature politicians with minimal success.

Sally-Anne follows, cackling all the while. "That was great! I wasn't expecting Nott to butt in, but even other 'upstanding' purebloods would get sick of Malfoy's rubbish, I reckon. He's one of the better ones, actually. He, at least, never bothers me when we sit next to each other in class and that's a small blessing in and of itself."

Hem hears herself hum in response. (Theodore's a nice name. She'll forget it soon, but it's good enough that she's learned it at all.)

. . .

. . .

"It's mind-numbing," complains Ron as they wait for Professor Lockhart to make his appearance. Hem doesn't have to attend, so she'll wait until class begins before wandering around. Maybe she'll find something new to draw. "It's all about his favourite colours, his favourite products, his favourite anything!"

"Don't forget his favourite re-enactments," Harry chimes in with a sneer while he cleans his glasses. "I don't know why he has to drag me into it every time."

Sally-Anne rolls her eyes. "Why wouldn't he? The man's a fat leech for fame."

Hermione clutches her bag as the other three continue to banter amongst themselves. She has an expression of dejection and doubt, which has led her to worrying her bottom lip. It's obvious  ̶(to Hem, at least)  ̶that she's unsure of how to reconcile her feelings about Lockhart.

(Feelings don't make sense, do they?)

Hem reaches out to touch Hermione's forearm, the contact making her head snap up in surprise. "Hem?"

She tries to force the words out  ̶(what would she say?)  ̶but it's hard and she feels as though there's something stuck in her throat. (How does she comfort someone? How is she supposed to understand when emotions like this are beyond her?)

In the end, Ron calls, "Hermione?" and Hem drops her hand as Hermione looks at her friend. "What's wrong?"

"Oh." Hermione blushes, her shoulders hunching as she tries to hide her face. "It's nothing… I just… Well…" Ron and Harry's faces scrunch up as they try to interpret that while Sally-Anne just waits with raised brows. With a frustrated huff, Hermione straightens her shoulders and tries again. "I just felt a bit sad, is all. I thought Lockhart was as experienced and talented as he is charming, but obviously… Well, I can't really deny that he's incompetent, can I? Not when he brought in the pixies and triggered Hem, or when he never actually teaches anything outside of himself."

Harry nods in understanding. "Yeah, I get it. You're just disappointed that he's not what you expected, right?" he replies, reaching over to give her a consoling pat.

Hermione gives him a relieved smile in return. Hem supposes it must've been hard for her to have such a differing opinion on a person compared to her friends, especially when their own collective opinion isn't exactly positive. (That'd be nice, though, wouldn't it? Having opinions on things and being able to express them.)

"I'm just glad you've finally seen the light," is Ron's input as he leans against the wall. "I tried reading one of his books and it's clearly all rubbish. Might as well just sell the books after the year ends so I feel like I've actually gained something out of all of this."

Sally-Anne starts rocking up and down on the balls of her feet before she states, "That's if he isn't outed as a fraud before then. The value of them are sure to plummet if that happens."

"Hello, my darling fans! So sorry I'm late; I was quite busy explaining to a student the exact nature of the Homorphus Charm, see!"

Hem takes that as her cue to leave, so she waves to her friends in farewell and sets off to nowhere.

. . .

. . .

Hem finds a surprisingly empty courtyard filled with various types of flora that she can't recognise and a multitude of fairies. In the centre is a sizeable fountain with a siren made of marble resting on a boulder in the middle, a large bowl held above her head as she sways and hums a soft tune. With every movement, curtain of water spills out of the bowl.

Following along the path that leads to the fountain, Hem soon notices some small, aquatic creatures in the water. Taking a seat on the fountain's edge, she watches as they swim towards her, likely curious about her presence. A lot of them look like small, regular fish with their eye-catching patterns, but some of them shimmer with a curious sort of iridescence before disappearing and reappearing in a different spot. Another few bleed their colours into the water as they make new patterns on their scales.

She even spots a group of cute, tiny octopuses huddled together as they seem to take turns in making their bodies glow. It attracts what Hem assumes to be water fairies, as they look similar to the usual fairies except with more aquatic features like webbed hands and feet.

One of the fairies touches one of the octopuses, which causes the eight-legged creature to suddenly and viciously latch onto the fairy. Hem blinks as the winged creature is literally sucked into the octopus like its mouth is a vacuum. Its body soon begins to ripple with a dazzling rainbow hue that might indicate satiation.

The other fairies are seemingly too enchanted to notice what's happened to their friend and heed the warning, for they do the same thing and end up suffering the same fate shortly after.

"Such is nature," the Bloody Baron rasps from somewhere behind Hem. Turning around to face him, she blinks away the residual spots of colour dancing about in her eyes to find the ghost hovering not too far above her. He's silent for a while as they stare at one another, but then he breaks eye contact to look around them with a touch of regret in his silvery face. "No one has come here in many years," he reveals, melancholic. "The path that leads to it is as fickle as the staircases."

Munin caws from somewhere to her left, probably as a way of saying that he'll lead her out if he has to. (If not, he'll have to find someone to fetch her.) She nods, catching him glaring at the fish in her peripheral. Hopefully, they're safe for him to eat if he decides he wants them.

Hem sits for a while, content to just be.

. . .

. . .

Eventually, she finds herself by one of the courtyard's pillars, her hand brushing against the stone as snakes made from the same material slither underneath her fingers. They have small jewels for eyes and they gleam like they're actually capable of seeing through them. Maybe they are.

Then the sound of something squeaking against the cobblestone  ̶(shoes?)  ̶breaks the peace and the snakes all lift their heads to look behind her. Bemused, Hem turns to see what's caught their attention. (As she does, she catches Munin bathing in the siren's bowl and the Bloody Baron staring morosely at blue flowers that look like butterfly wings.)

It's a girl with vibrantly red hair standing by the largest archway  ̶(Hem must've come through there as well)  ̶with a stupefied expression on her face as she gapes at Hem like she's never seen another person before. Hem, unsure of what to do, merely stares back. A moment passes before the other girl manages to make an aborted step towards her, a desperate  ̶(almost mad)  ̶sort of hope shining through the utter shock still etched into her features. (No, actually, maybe she's a little unhinged.)

Then, abruptly, the girl is power walking towards her, something about her gait and the fierce glint in her eyes triggering a memory of a boy in black surrounded by white. (Which is curious, since she doesn't look anything like him.)

When the girl is almost within reach, Hem feels herself begin to take a step back, and she sees the affronted flash in the girl's eyes  ̶(baby blue, like Ron's. They should be walnut brown, shouldn't they? But why?)  ̶and the way her arm snaps out to grab her in response.

She supposes it doesn't matter in the end, for the girl crashes into her, Hem's back slamming into the pillar  ̶(it's smooth and she hears hisses from somewhere above her as something nearby sounds like it's being detonated)  ̶while her vision blurs and her skin begins to feel like it's being poked viciously with needles.

Hands  ̶(presumably)  ̶snake their way around her neck to latch onto her hair and the back of her head before violently pulling her forwards. Hem shuts her eyes to block out the rapid, unfocused motion just as something smashes against her mouth  ̶(hard but also soft?)  ̶and she blindly grabs onto some kind of fabric. (Robes, is it? What's happening?)

Hem flinches as she feels something wet against her lips before said wet thing pries said lips apart in a rather forceful fashion. (That… She isn't being snogged, is she?) When what she assumes is a tongue  ̶(there's another tongue in her mouth, what?)  ̶begins to move around, she thinks that this is incredibly bewildering.

She pushes the form pinning her against the pillar  ̶(it's a girl, isn't it? Why is a girl snogging her?)  ̶in an attempt to make everything stop, but she gets one of the girl's legs lodges itself between hers  ̶(absently, she realises that this must look very compromising)  ̶and a throaty growl in response. (It's more cute than intimidating, though.)

"Don't," the girl warns against Hem's lips in a haggard whisper before giving her a brief but oddly affectionate kiss. "I've waited far too long for this, Hem," she continues, kissing her again  ̶(although, it's longer and more insistent this time and she thinks her bottom lip is being nipped between teeth)  ̶as the hands by her head loosen their hold and begin to wander down. The caressing touch aggravates the tingling in her skin. (Is she twitching? Shaking?)

Cautiously, Hem opens her eyes and tries to adjust to the image of red hair and blue eyes that are much closer than she expects them to be. (She shouldn't be surprised, really; eyes are usually part of the face just as the mouth usually is.) The unfathomably impassioned way those eyes stare into her soul somehow makes her think that they should be walnut brown.

(But why?

Is it because the girl is  ̶)

"Tom?" Hem nearly coughs out, her stomach abruptly tightening when ruby red inexplicably flashes in her mind. (Will this one attempt to kill her, too, she wonders?)

But these eyes are baby blue and though there's a hint of madness, it's drowned out by the manic delight that changes her  ̶(his, she supposes)  ̶face to the point that the girl  ̶(Tom ̶is grinning at Hem like she's a lost treasure. (It almost looks painful.) It's actually kind of off-putting because she can't really imagine Tom's face making that kind of expression. (Not the one in her dreams, anyway. Morty, probably, but with more enraged insanity.)

There's no warning for when Tom aggressively attacks her mouth again  ̶(Hem's never considered being kissed by anyone before, let alone a version of Tom wearing a young girl's body)  ̶while his hands travel across her body until one clasps her hip and the other slides under her shirt.

The moment his fingers connect with her skin, her body involuntarily elicits a violent shiver that makes Tom moan into her mouth. (Her ears are ringing and her skin is on fire and it's too  ̶)

"Hem," he rasps, reverent and feverish and she realises that she's clawing at his neck when blood  ̶(it has to be, right?)  ̶wets her fingertips and gathers under her nails. He pushes more of his weight onto her, practically suffocating her  ̶(she's panting and she's lightheaded and there's a possibility that she might faint)  ̶while he decides to assault her jaw and then her neck with his mouth. (And teeth?)

"Tom," Hem gasps as his hand nears her chest and his fingers begin to slide under the lining of her bra. (She often forgets that she's wearing one.) "Tom  ̶"

Tom bites the junction of her neck and the pillar in front of her explodes. "Yes?" she hears him reply through giddy laughter, and for some reason, that prompts her to grab some of his hair  ̶(it must feel weird to be the opposite gender)  ̶and pull. He grunts, but it only makes him laugh more before he places another kiss  ̶(this one's softer; tender)  ̶on the spot where he's bitten her in lieu of an apology.

Then, he leans back to face her. Hem blinks, visual snow ruining the quality of her eyesight, but she still manages to see the genuine  ̶(and frenetic)  ̶glee in his face. (Apparently, he can wear all the faces in the world and she'll still eventually recognise him.) And it's odd, she thinks, how he's content to simply gaze at her  ̶(she might describe it as acute in its adoration)  ̶instead of impatiently waiting for a response he might not receive as the silence drags on.

Once her breathing steadies  ̶(he's no longer crushing her lungs, although he's still got his hand under her shirt and has taken to caressing her skin with his thumb)  ̶Hem unhooks one of her hands from his neck to brush her fingers against his jawline. (Her insides are tensing again. A memory of Morty lamenting his weakness floats to the surface of her mind.) He leans into the touch, just as all versions of him have done before. (Even Morty did it before he tortured her.) Unlike other two, however, there's no emotional conflict or hatred in his eyes. But he has a feral energy about him, she notices, as though he's just found something that's been torn away from him and is willing to go to all levels of depravity to make sure he never loses it again.

(No matter which incarnation, Tom can't be Tom if he's not excessively intense in some manner, can he?)

"Hi, Tom," she murmurs. Her breathing is starting to pick up again and it might be because she's feeling something akin to happiness. (He's better than Morty, at least.)

His eyes glint  ̶(they're darkening now, but the emotion that's causing it is a mystery to her)  ̶and he leans in again until their foreheads are touching. "Hello, Hem," he breathes in reply. Then he's snogging her again like he'll die if he doesn't and grasping at her like she's liable to disappear at any moment and Hem loses herself in the bombardment of sensations.

(She doesn't know why this is necessary, but it's preferable in comparison to torture.)

Chapter Text

"You fainted," states a young, feminine voice as Hem finds herself on the ground with a girl kneeling between her legs and caressing her face with a strange amount of reverence. The girl's voice  ̶(unless it's Hem's, but that wouldn't make sense)  ̶is jarringly sophisticated and her tone is an odd mix of self-satisfaction, fondness and awe. (Why awe? Why everything, actually?)

Still, despite her bewilderment, Hem hears herself mutter, "Your fault," even though she's not exactly sure why that would be the case.

The girl gives a low chuckle in response, which is rather strange since that kind of throaty sound is fairly masculine. "I know," she croons, bestowing a soft, doting kiss  ̶(is her bottom lip stinging?)  ̶before resting her forehead against Hem's. (Tom, her mind whispers. Tom, in a girl's body, canoodling with her for reasons unknown.) "I admit I may have been too… enthusiastic," Hem catches the smug smirk despite the close proximity of their faces ruining her vision, "in my excitement upon seeing you." Another kiss before he whispers, "You caught me by surprise," against her mouth.

He elicits a shaky sigh, then, as if repressing the urge to shiver while she absently brushes her thumb along the corner of his mouth in an attempt to wipe the smugness away. Tom counters by kissing it, maintaining eye contact all the while because he evidently needs to assert dominance at every opportunity. (The potency in his stare makes her think that the gesture is a rather hefty promise. It's a little worrying.)

Hem feels herself tensing up, her stomach clenching as a low ringing begins to play in her ears. What is she supposed to do with a Tom that's so disturbingly affectionate? (Snog him until she faints, apparently. But what comes after?)

"Miss Granger," a familiar, notably masculine voice rasps from her left. Tom goes rigid while Hem turns to find the Bloody Baron  ̶(has she ever wondered what his real name is?)  ̶floating nearby, looking down at them with a slightly raised brow. It's impressive how such a small change on his face can express such a strong sense of judgement. "Are you well?" he queries, although his gaze is set on Tom, who seems to be miffed by the fact that they're not actually alone.

(It's a good question, though. She's not really sure. Is it good or bad to be utterly baffled?)

"Oui," she replies, her gaze sliding to Munin as Tom begins to nuzzle the side of her face. Her familiar  ̶(is he her familiar?)  ̶is perched by the edge of the fountain, glaring as suspiciously as a bird can. (Which is quite well, truthfully, but it might just be a Munin-exclusive ability.) Hem thinks he's likely to fly over at any moment and viciously peck Tom the moment she expresses dissent. "Merci."

The Bloody Baron stares unblinkingly for a moment while Tom  ̶(who's most definitely being purposefully obstinate)  ̶proceeds to give kisses along her jaw and her neck  ̶(it's much less aggressive than before, but it still makes her skin prickle)  ̶until he eventually intones, "You have History of Magic at quarter to eleven."

She nods in acknowledgement  ̶(what time is it, now?)  ̶and decides to risk pushing Tom away so she can stand. (Can she stand?) He's not very receptive, seeing as he seizes her wrists in order to stop her from exerting any more force.

"Tom," Hem sighs. His grip tightens and she hears him hum in response, but he doesn't stop his gentle attentions to her neck. (Is her neck really that enthralling?) "I'd rather not faint again." It'd also be nice if the feeling of overstimulation  ̶(is that what it is?)  ̶goes away, too, but that's not likely to happen if he doesn't stop.

Tom goes still for a long, probably tense  ̶(she can only assume)  ̶moment before he elicits a long, lamenting sigh and backs off enough for her to look at him without her eyesight blurring.

"That would be inconvenient," he agrees, releasing her wrists to instead intertwine their fingers. However, the action seems to irk him, his brow twitching downward and his mouth thinning when he glances at their joined hands. (Too small. Too feminine. They're not his and that bothers him. She doesn't think she'd be pleased to be in a different body, either. Not when she's not even used to the one she already has.)

It's then that Hem thinks it's probably a good time to ask, "Why are you a pretty girl, Tom?"

Blinking, he lifts his head to make eye contact. His expression is one of mild surprise before it shifts into something overwhelmingly fond with a touch of mirth. "As opposed to a pretty boy?" (As opposed to a madman with a hideous turban and eyes like fresh blood.) "Well, it's not as though I had much of a choice." Distaste and annoyance colours his features as his thumbs begin to caress hers in a seemingly subconscious manner. "It would appear my original plans were somehow waylaid, so I'm now unwittingly in the possession of one Ginny Weasley."

(Baby blue. Ron. Hair like fire. Fred. George. Weasley.)

"Ginny," she breathes, taking in the face that doesn't belong to Tom. (Ron, Fred and George's sister. That's a little awkward, isn't it?) "Why Ginny?" What did she do to get possessed by another version of Tom? (What did the turban man do to get possessed by Morty?)

Tom lifts her right hand to kiss the back of her hand. "Why Ginny, indeed?" he murmurs, his eyes looking off to the side with an ominous, speculative gleam to them. It only lasts for a moment, however, as he lifts his gaze to smile at her. It's effortlessly charming and she realises that he's perfected one of his masks. (They're all different ages?) "Regardless," he starts, standing and pulling her up with him, "the fact of the matter is that your presence changes things, so this body is no longer viable for my purposes."

That doesn't make sense. (Or is she missing something? She probably is.) Why would her existence make Ginny's body unviable? (What are his purposes? How is he here? Why is he here?)

"Hem," Tom sighs, his tone adoring as though he finds her obtuseness endearing. (Did she blink in confusion?) Letting go of her hands, he reaches out to flip her hair over her shoulder before gently tilting her head to examine her neck. The practised smile has becomes more of an imperfect smirk and she speculates that it's because he's successfully marred her skin. (She uncertain as to why that would be something to be pleased about.) "How could I bear to wear a Gryffindor's body when I know for a fact that you're in Slytherin?"

Ah. That makes more sense, although it's admittedly rather foreboding. However, it doesn't surprise her that he doesn't care about the ethics of his actions.

(It doesn't surprise her that she doesn't, either. That makes her a reprehensible person, doesn't it?)

. . .

. . .

It's surreal, having a version of Tom in a girl's body casually walk her to class. (Somewhere in the mire, apprehension begins to form. Will he hurt her after pulling her into a false sense of security?) He's healed the wounds on Ginny's neck and cleaned up his appearance, but has opted to leave Hem's own marks and dishevelment untouched.

"It's proof that I'm finally able to touch you," he told her before they left the courtyard. "I want everyone to see that you've been marked. I want everyone to see that you're mine."

"At the moment, I'm Ginny's," was Hem blithe reply. (She doesn't understand why he's so adamant about it. Who else would want to suck at her neck and shove their tongue in her mouth?) He wasn't much pleased with that response because it turns out that he's petty enough to be irritated by the technicality of Ginny actually being the one to mark her. Even though she currently has no influence over her own body and most likely would never spontaneously force herself on Hem if she was in control.

Sometimes, she wonders if anyone would actually like him if they knew him like she does. Then she remembers how he's magnetic enough that people would want to be near him and please him, regardless of all the warning signs that might flare up.

"Merlin's arse, Hemera!" a voice exclaims, throwing her out of her musings. With a blink, Hem focuses on what's ahead of her to see Sally-Anne and the other students gaping at her  ̶(Slytherin and Ravenclaw, right?)  ̶the former practically sprinting over to her side while the rest remain back. They're quite obviously attentive, though. "What the hell happened to you?!"

Tom adopts a concerned expression, and she absently wonders how well he knows Ginny's personality. "I found her walking around like this," he explains, grasping her arm and glancing at her in a pitying sort of manner. He's even changed the way he's speaking to sound less refined and a touch more girlish. It's very bizarre to witness. "I wasn't sure what to do because she wouldn't answer me and the Bloody Baron was just staring into my soul, but I couldn't just leave her alone."

Looking over her shoulder, Hem finds the Bloody Baron's dark eyes pinned on the back of Tom's  ̶(Ginny's, but she's not here at the moment, is she?)  ̶head. They flit over to her for a second  ̶(his expressions are rather minimal, but she gets the distinct impression that he's troubled)  ̶and he inclines his head before disappearing into the wall, perhaps to avoid being interrogated by her best friend.

Sally-Anne grabs Hem's face, then, turning her head about as she inspects the damage. "Merlin, Hemera! Were ya sexually assaulted?" she demands, her cockney accent slipping through in her nonplussed state. "Who did it?! I'll hex the shite outta the bloody bastard!"

Hem supposes this reaction is to be expected. (At the very least, she can only be glad that it's not Hermione. Hermione worrying about her hurts because of all the guilt that tries to suffocate her.) It's not every day that she looks like she's been ravished. (Presumably. She can't remember the last time she's seen her own reflection.)

If she doesn't clarify things, everyone will think that she's been molested  ̶(although, to be honest, that's technically true, isn't it?)  ̶and it's practically guaranteed that none of her friends will rest until the culprit  ̶(Ginny who's actually Tom, but no one would guess that)  ̶is found. Sally-Anne  ̶(and probably the rest of the Perks alongside Fred and George)  ̶would use some dubious methods to narrow down the search and Hermione would pester the professors  ̶(Sir Kenelm would nag them, too, or do everything himself)  ̶while irrationally blaming herself for something that's not her fault.

(It'd be easier if they didn't care. But life isn't easy in general, let alone when she has multiple versions of Tom skulking around.)

"I'm fine," Hem mutters, reaching up to gently touch Sally-Anne's wrists. Releasing her face, Sally-Anne instead grabs her hands while looking Hem with a rather acute expression of disbelief. Guilt pricks at her chest. (She's not good at reassurance. Then again, she's not good at a lot of things.) "I know them."

Sally-Anne blinks, processing the implications while Hem looks over her shoulder to find Draco  ̶(who, oddly enough, looks rather incensed)  ̶and his minions not so subtly listening in. Theodore's there, too, fiddling with his ring as he frowns at her. (Is she getting better at recognising people?) When she meets his eyes, he turns his head away, his face quickly smoothing into an unflappable mask.

Tom's grip on her arm tightens a fraction, allowing her to catch the way his expression freezes for a moment, his eyes glinting as he seems to survey something in the crowd.

"Do you mean to say…" Sally-Anne starts, slowly, bringing Hem's attention back to her, "that you, in fact, didn't get sexually assaulted because you consented to being snogged silly by a secret boyfriend or girlfriend?" She seems to be struggling with her mixed emotions of pride, astonishment, burning curiosity and a smidge of hurt. (Why hurt? Because Hem hasn't told her of this supposedly secret partner before now?)

Hem glances at Tom, hoping that he understands that this is his fault. When a gleam of amusement pushes past the manufactured surprise on his face, it's confirmed that, yes, he understands that he's a prat. (She can only imagine the sort of drama that he would force her into if they were together in his Hogwarts, where he has a certain degree of power and influence among the students.)

So, it's with an internal sigh of resignation that Hem's response is, "Yes."

. . .

. . .

History of Magic turns out to be the most raucous it's ever been  ̶(honestly, she can't really recall much about it)  ̶which is unsurprising considering her appearance and the ghost professor's  ̶(she still doesn't know his name)  ̶inability to control his class. Hem's glad for it to be over, although Sally-Anne now has detention at some point after hitting Parkinson  ̶(did she get it right?)  ̶with both a Jelly-Legs Jinx and a Pimple Jinx, causing tiny tentacles to sprout all over her face. It was a bit disturbing to look at, really.

"Worth it," Sally-Anne announced with a grin, flicking one of her braids over her shoulder as Parkinson  ̶(and a few other people)  ̶screamed behind her in terror. Draco appeared to be torn between being annoyed  ̶(no, that's not right. He was enraged, wasn't he? But why?)  ̶or being amused, which is rather unfortunate for the tentacle-faced girl. She seems loyal, if a little desperate for validation. (It seems to be a common trait among pure-blood children.)

Theodore stood beside them, his focus on the love bites all over Hem's neck even as he addressed her best friend with, "Has anyone ever told you that you're quite vindictive, Perks?"

"All the time," replied Sally-Anne, her tone implying that it should've been obvious. She does have an infamous reputation. "Mum says that my abrasive disposition wouldn't get me any friends if I kept it up, but I have Hemera, don't I? And because Hemera is my best friend, having some pug-looking twit call her a dirty slag is simply unacceptable. I wouldn't be surprised if she's jealous that no one would willingly want to suck face with her."

Hem watched as Theodore examined other parts of her with his eyes, looking rather respondent even though it was clear to her that he was trying to conceal it. "It's a rather bold move, though, isn't it?" he murmured, his hand twitching as if he was about to reach out. "Marking her in such a fashion for everyone to see." His met hers, the emotion within them mostly disapproving. The rest was inscrutable. "To me, it seems like your partner, whoever they are, is making a strong statement at your own expense."

("That's Tom," she wanted to say. But that would make things even more convoluted than they already are.)

"Hey, Hemera," Sally-Anne calls as they make their way to the kitchens. (Is that where they're going? Will Tom be there?) Hem tilts her head at her best friend, who has a fairly subdued expression on her face. "You would've told me eventually about your undisclosed paramour, right?"

A touch of regret with a hefty mix of vexation trickles into her chest. (It feels peculiar. She's not all that fond of it.) It would've been better if Sally-Anne hadn't added the last bit to her question, but what's done is done and Hem supposes that it's simpler this way. While she'd like to just admit that she doesn't have some hidden lover that she snogs in a broom closet  ̶(why a broom closet?)  ̶the truth is much harder to explain.

Because, of course, she didn't consent  ̶(Tom wouldn't care, would he?)  ̶but she doesn't really have an opinion either way, so how is she supposed to put that into words that make sense? And how would she say that there's a possibility that she doesn't care because it's the boy  ̶(man? Is this one a man?)  ̶from her dreams who's somehow manifested in the form of a female child who also happens to be her friend's younger sister? (Although, it's very much possible that she'd still be apathetic even if it wasn't Tom.)

"It's new," Hem replies, absently feeling something scratching the side of her neck. (She feels like she might start floating away soon. It's not pleasant.)

Sally-Anne pauses, prompting Hem to do the same. "New?" she queries as she grabs Hem's arm and pulls it away so she stops scratching herself. (She's scratching herself again?) "New as in today?"

Hem nods, staring down at her hand and trying to decipher the vague sense of disappointment that's bloomed in her stomach. (Why? How long has it been since she's hurt herself like this?)

"Oh!" exclaims her best friend, who's abruptly cheered up at the revelation. There's a sparkle in her eyes and the genuinely happy smile she gives Hem is blinding. "Oh, alright! Well, in that case, I'm being silly. Of course, you'd tell me! And while I really want to know who this possessive wanker is, I'll respect your boundaries. Or, well, I suppose I'll try to." Nodding to herself, Sally-Anne clasps Hem's hand and resumes their trek to the kitchens. "I'm not sure if Hermione will, though. She'll probably say we're too young to date, but it happens all the time. Wendy was eleven when she got her first boyfriend, although she scared him after a week because she has a very dominant personality and eleven-year-old boys are pansies." Sally-Anne whips around with a gasp. "Wait, Hemera! Are they older than you?"

A sigh escapes Hem, then, when she realises that something as simple as the age of her 'possessive wanker' is complicated by Tom's existence.

(The apprehension hidden in the mire of her mind grows bigger and she isn't sure what she's supposed to do with it.)

Chapter Text

Hermione doesn't react well, of course. She rushes over the moment Hem and Sally-Anne enter and proceeds to spit rapid-fire questions that can't be answered because Hem can't make out any of them. And even if she could, actually responding to all them is impossible with her current capabilities. (Not that she has much faith in improving any more than she already has.)

"  ̶re you sure that it's someone she knows?" Hem hears Hermione ask Sally-Anne, who's taken it upon herself  ̶(how different would things be if they weren't friends?)  ̶to assuage the understandable worries of an elder sibling. "And, well, even if it is, are you sure it's someone that she even likes?"

Sally-Anne gives Hermione a queer look. "She's dating them," she answers, purposefully slow. "Why would she date someone that she doesn't like?"

Hem looks over to the tables, where Ron, Harry, Keith and Luna are sitting. The first two have blatant shock painted on their faces while the latter two seem to be relatively unfazed. Luna looks mostly curious and Keith is just squinting at her.

"But how do you know that she's actually dating them?" Hermione demands with wild arms as Sally-Anne leads Hem over to the tables. Her sister follows, possibly unaware that she's moving at all with all her fretting. (Sorry.) "What if they're just threatening her to say it? And  ̶ And honestly, I think we're too young to date in the first place!"

"See, I told you she would say that," Sally-Anne laughs as they sit. Ron and Harry look between them with increasing anxiety as Hermione remains standing, her fists balled up and her face steadily becoming red.

A tight feeling constricts within Hem's chest just as Hermione bursts out, "This isn't a laughing matter, Sally-Anne!" and causes the kitchen to become hushed, the house-elves all pausing in their tasks to turn to the group. Sally-Anne simply blinks at her, clearly unfazed as one of her brows quirks up. (A rather taunting move, really, which isn't likely to help things. It's the way she copes, though, and it's just unfortunate that her method clashes quite heavily with Hermione's own.)

"Hey, c'mon, Hermione," Ron tries, reaching out to grab his best friend's sleeve. "It can't be that bad if Hem doesn't seem to mind it, right?"

Hermione shakes off his hand, turning her ire onto their redheaded friend, who instinctively leans away  ̶(into Harry, who's also leaning away)  ̶with a grimace. "Honestly, Ronald!" she shouts with a stomp of her foot, her face almost completely red at this point. "Out of all people, I'd have figured that you'd understand my concerns the most! How would you feel if Ginny suddenly showed up all dirty with a split lip and love bites?!"

When she feels some kind of odd sensation on her skin, Hem lowers her eyes to find one of her hand scratching at her wrist. (She's supposed to be doing something else, isn't she?) She stares, unable to look away as her nails tear at her flesh with increasing fervour. (Is her skin turning pink or red?)

"Of course, I'd be worried!" she hears Ron  ̶(Ron? Is it him?)  ̶shout back in indignance. "But if she said  ̶"

"Oh, please! Even if she provided concrete proof, you'd still say there's something wrong!"

A pale, delicate-looking hand appears in Hem's vision and gently pries her hand away from her wrist. Raising her head, she finds silvery eyes and a serene smile directed at her  ̶(Luna; she's wearing a flower crown)  ̶while someone on Hem's other side  ̶(Sally-Anne?)  ̶says, "Ignoring Ron's predictable reactions, it's you and Hemera we're talking about, isn't it? Why don't you try asking her a few questions that she can actually understand and answer instead of bombarding her with incomprehensible nonsense?"

It quietens down again, even as kitchenware clinks in the background, the house-elves around them hesitantly resuming their tasks.

Turning her head, Hem notices the three Gryffindors staring at her from the across the table with varying levels of disquieted and uncomfortable expressions. (Stop that. Stop it. She doesn't need this. It hurts. Why can't they stop?)

Eventually, Hermione begins to shift on her feet and wring her hands as her expression contorts into shame. (She shouldn't make that face. It's not her fault that she cares.) Then, taking a deep breath, she practically blurts out, "Are you actually dating them, Hem?" and winces, evidently intending to ask with more finesse than that. Still, Hem nods. (Still, Hem lies.) "Are you dating them because you want to?" Hem nods again. (Hem lies again.) Hermione pauses, seeming to forcefully take a moment to process. Once she does, she takes another breath. "Alright. Okay. Um… Well, do you have a genuine liking for them?"

"Yes," Hem hears herself answer. She blinks, not expecting to be so forthright by verbally responding. "I like them."

(Tom is a complicated, dangerous prat with too many masks.

She likes him, anyway.)

. . .

. . .

Thankfully, Hermione is appeased enough for the moment  ̶(she's really not, but she's trying her hardest to hold back)  ̶so they manage to have a relatively peaceful lunch until Hem spots an obnoxiously pink bit of paper fluttering towards her. It's leaving a trail of small hearts and glitter and Hem wonders if the sensation pooling in her stomach is horror.

"No!" Sally-Anne gasps, sounding like she's on the verge of incredulous laughter. "No, don't tell me your secret lover actually sent you that?"

It stops in front of her, its makeshift wings aflutter and spilling glitter into the food she hasn't eaten yet. Hem doesn't want to touch it for fear of it doing something alarming like sing to her. And perhaps because her lack of initiative was already put into consideration, it opens after a few seconds, allowing her to take in the contents while a breathy, androgynous voice recites,

"To My Dearest Hem,

How I miss you so. It feels as though it's been a thousand years since we last met.

Forever Yours, Secret Lover."

Then, the paper drifts somewhere above her and she hears a tiny pop before glitter and little hearts float down into her peripheral. (They're going to get stuck in her hair and she's going to walk around looking like a bewildering mess with all these unusual features to her person.)

Sally-Anne, Ron and Harry promptly burst into raucous laughter and Hem can only look down at her bedazzled food with a deep sense of resignation.

"Well, now," Luna starts, her dreamy voice somehow cutting through the noise their friends are making with their amusement. "This is a lovely gesture, don't you think, Hem? Very romantic. I think the hearts are even rose-scented."

Keith sneezes from Luna's other side and looks rather aggrieved to have done so. "Seems to me like they're takin' the piss. If they're not, Hem needs to drop them right quick."

Hem feels herself about to reply that they  ̶(Tom, the utter arse)  ̶likely wouldn't let her go even if she asked nicely, but that would only give Hermione more to worry about and she's already worrying about whether the glitter will trigger her. (Some has fallen onto her eyelashes and, unexpectedly, it's only mildly distracting.) So, instead of exacerbating things even further, Hem remains silent.

(It occurs to her, now, that this Tom may actually be much worse than Morty. This one is actually sane enough to realise the consequences of his actions and revel in them.)

. . .

. . .

They realise later that the glitter and hearts can't be removed via hand or magically  ̶("It's fortunate that you look very pretty, then," Luna remarks with a smile)  ̶but Hermione is determined to, at the very least, hide Hem's marks if she can't heal them outright.

"Why can't you heal them?" Ron asks, looking over Hermione's shoulder as she tries to focus.

Hem watches as her sister blows a stray curl out of her face in building frustration. (It's been a rough day for her, too. Hem wishes she could make Hermione happy.) "Healing is very advanced magic," she explains with impatience. "I don't want to risk hurting Hem by attempting a branch of magic I'm not familiar with."

"But you're familiar with charms that hide blemishes on the skin?" Keith queries from somewhere behind Ron.

Hermione worries her lip as she fidgets. "Well, no," she admits before purposefully flipping her hair over her shoulder and taking on a confident posture. "But it can't be much harder than healing charms. I'm placing magic over the skin, not pushing magic into the skin and changing it fundamentally."

"Dyson is quite good at healing bruises," Sally-Anne says. (Who's Dyson?) "And Miles is good at healing cuts. Weston says they had to learn since they brawled a lot to assert dominance when they were younger. We could go to them, you know."

"Later, maybe," is Hermione's blithe reply while she squints at Hem's neck with a look of concentration and disapproval. "Finding them would take too long and enough people have seen it already. Besides, wouldn't it be bad to show them to all of Slytherin?"

Sally-Anne's face pops into view over Hermione's other shoulder. "Honestly, everyone in our year should know by now. She did show up in front of both Ravenclaw and Slytherin," she reminds them, which only reminds Hem of the tiny tentacles. "Hemera doesn't care, at any rate, but I do feel obligated to stab someone if they call her a slag again. Although, Parkinson's an idiot; most people know that going after Hemera is a significant risk."

Having been told of their adventures during lunch, Ron's face lights up. "I have to remember that combining the Jelly-Legs Jinx and the Pimple Jinx sprouts tentacles on the face! I'll use it on Fred and George the next time they try to prank me."

Keith snorts and snarks, "Bold of you to assume that you're talented enough to fire off four spells at two targets consecutively and successfully."

His sister laughs as Ron tells him to shove off, but Hem is focused on the way Hermione looks like she's about to cry.

. . .

. . .

Hermione's odd behaviour continues when they're walking to the Chimaera Den as a group and she tells the group to go on ahead. Harry looks between the two sisters, notably the most concerned since he can tell there's a certain fragility to his best friend.

(Sally-Anne appears to be deliberately acting as though everything's fine, so it's likely that he hasn't noticed anything off with her.)

"It's alright, Harry," Hermione assures him, reaching out to grasp his hand and squeeze it in appreciation. "I just want to talk with Hem alone for a bit."

Hem sees him squeeze her sister's hand in return, giving Hermione a supportive and understanding smile. (It's odd that Hem thinks a smile like that would look strange on Tom.) "Take your time," he says, then glances behind him to see the others walking off. "Don't mind Sally-Anne. And Ron, I guess. You know they mean well."

That's true. Sally-Anne is abrasive at the best of times, but her current blasé attitude is more akin to a purposeful act than a truly genuine response. It's probably because she's aware that Hem dislikes people worrying over her. (What has she done to deserve such consideration, though?)

A deep, calming exhale escapes Hermione before she wearily replies, "I know."

With a few more seconds of meaningful staring, Harry finally releases Hermione's hand. Hem expects him to simply turn around and join the others, but he surprises her by turning to her and squeezing her hand, too.

Harry smiles as she blinks, processing. "I'm glad you're okay, Hem," he reveals. His gaze falters to her neck for a moment, which seems to break his calm demeanour as he looks to the side and uses his other hand to scratch his neck. "I hope they treat you properly."

Hem manages to reply with, "Thank you," before he finally sets off to catch up with the rest of the group. She watches their backs until they turn a corner, which then prompts Hermione to grab her hand and lead her to a nearby alcove.

For a while, it's silent while Hermione tries to seemingly sort her thoughts. Hem is content to wait, even as a bundle of anxiety starts to bubble up within her. (She just wants the day to end. Why does it feel so long? Is this because of Tom? Or is this just what most people feel with their own perceptions of time?)

A hand places itself over Hem's, signalling the end of the silence as Hermione breaks it with, "Hem, I… I know I might be overreacting, but I can't help be worried for you." She's worrying her lip again, her eyes focused on their hands. "I'm not like Sally-Anne; I can't just accept it at face value."

(Sally-Anne hasn't accepted it at face value, either. She probably won't accept it at all, but Hem knows her best friend would rather act like she has to avoid a disagreement of some sort. Even she has her vulnerabilities, after all.)

"Hem, please," Hermione continues, grabbing both of Hem's hands with a pleading sort of desperation. "Please, tell me the truth. You're not in any trouble, are you? They're really not threatening you to date them? I know I've already asked, but I wanted to ask again in private just in case you might be afraid to say it in front of everyone."

Hem ignores the ringing in her ears as she tries to focus on answering. (What is she supposed to say? Does she have to lie again?) "I'm not," she practically coughs out. "I'm not in trouble." (Not at the moment, anyway. That's subject to change whenever Tom is involved.) "They're not threatening me." (He wouldn't threaten her to date him. He'd simply declare that they're now an item and any dissenting opinions, regardless of whether they're hers or not, would be considered invalid.) "They've been my friend for a while before… Before this."

Hermione blinks before frowning in confusion. "Since last year? And even Sally-Anne doesn't know who they are?"

(Since she was four and he was seven. No one else but them at a train station of white.)

"Just between us," Hem says, her throat dry and her mind unsure. (The light from the window feels blinding.) "This… Snogging, dating… It wasn't planned. Spontaneous. I don't mind." (What is she talking about?) "I'm okay. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to worry you." (She never means to worry anyone. Everyone worries, anyway.)

"Oh, Hem!" Hermione sniffles, the glistening of unshed tears drawing Hem's attention before her sister embraces her. "I'm sorry, too! I didn't mean to force you into speaking so much. I'm just being overprotective, I think. It's… It's just scary, you know? We've always been together and now I feel like I don't know what's going on in your life."

Abruptly, Hermione leans back, her face contorted into a grimace. Thankfully, she's not actually crying. (Yet.) "I mean, not that I have to know, it's just that…" Trailing off, she elicits a tired, frustrated sigh. "With everything that happened last year, it just feels like you're always getting dragged into danger. And with how I am, I'm so anxious to know everything so I can at least try to do something to help. I just feel so useless! The whole point of being a big sister is to protect you because you're my little sister! If I can't even do that, then what use do I have?"

It's through the static in her ears and the snow in her eyes when Hem hears a sob and catches Hermione burying her face in her hands. Something urges for her to move, to comfort her sister who's become like this because of Hem. But she remains still, another part of her determined to bury itself in the mud where apathy permeates.

(Just stop caring. But Hermione can't. Emotions aren't logical. They aren't reasonable. It's not her fault.)

Hem tries to speak, to say something even minimally reassuring, but her mind has nothing to contribute. (Nothing very nice, anyway. It'd be better if Hermione had another sister, one who was easier to protect because they wouldn't be mentally ill or linked to a fragmented madman that tortured her with the intention of eventual murder.) Then, when she tries to reach out to provide some sort of physical comfort if she can't use words, her body refuses to cooperate.

(It's kind of funny, isn't it, that Hermione thinks she's the useless one when she, at the very least, has full control over her own body?)

So, in the end, they sit together in some alcove, one of them sobbing and the other struggling to stay grounded; the two of them connected by the idea that they're both inadequate.