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Harry wasn't sure how long he was standing there. It could have been minutes, or an hour. He couldn't remember a time when he'd experienced so much pain. Even regrowing the bones in his arm in second year was a walk in the park compared to the way his body was screaming with every slight movement he made.
He carefully lowered himself to the cold floor, resting his back against the wall. He couldn't go back to the dorm like this. He wasn't going to worry them. He couldn't go to the hospital wing, either. Madam Pomfrey would know in a heartbeat what had happened. No, he just had to sit and wait for the pain to dull a bit.
He must have blacked out at some point because he jolted awake at a hand shaking his shoulder. [i "Sorry! It's just me,"] Colin Creevey knelt beside him, camera hung around his neck.
[b "It's fine,"] Harry wrapped an arm around his aching middle. [b "I wasn't expecting anyone in here."]
[i "I do early morning photography. It's when the light is best. Lots of interesting things to photograph around the castle, you know,"] the boy rambled on. [i "Are you alright, Harry?"]
The older boy nodded, forcing a smile. [b "Took a tumble down some of the stairs. My fault, I wasn't watching where I was going and they started moving."]
Thankfully, the blonde didn't question his response. [i Do you need help getting up? I can help you get back to the Tower,"] Colin offered.
At this point, it was Harry's best option. [b "That'd be great, actually. And we can just keep this between us. No sense worrying Ron and Hermione over an accident,"] he said.
It took a little careful maneuvering, but they were able to get him on his feet with an arm around Colin's shoulder. The height difference was helpful, allowing Harry to lean a little on the smaller boy. They moved slowly down the hallways, stopping any time Harry needed a quick break.
He was confident that they were going to make it back to the Tower unnoticed until he saw a flurry of brown hair and a Gryffindor tie. [b "Oh no,"] he groaned under his breath, seeing the rush Hermione was in and knowing it was definitely his fault.
The girl had not been able to really sleep because she knew that Harry had to face Umbridge and the part that was most infuriating was that he had to alone. Her own punishment became alone but she knew what she was in for..Harry on the other hand didn't and was going into it completely blind. And what really had the girl was the fact that she KNEW that the nightmare in pink would make it some kind of torture as that seemed her preferred method.
By the time she did fall asleep it was nearly sunrise and the other girls were getting up themselves. They were shuffling around and complaining about all the homework they still had to do. If she were in better spirits, the brushy haired brunette would have found it amusing. She would have even offered to help. But as it stood her mind was only on her best friend and what the hag could be doing to him. So with those thoughts in mind, Hermione was up and getting dressed for the day of classes even in it being so early.
When she came down the stairs, brown eyes were looking anxiously for Harry but he was not back yet. Ron instead waved her over to where he was sitting. [i "Relax..he'll be here. And when he is we can find out what happened to him. You're only gonna make yourself go grey faster if you keep worrying like this."] The Weasley boy said. He was honestly trying to tease her a bit and to get her to calm down. But it didn't work.
[b "One of us should have gone to wait for him..this was the worst thing we could have done..."] Hermione whispered. And before Ron could say anything else, the girl left Gryffindor Tower in search of her best friend. She was more than worried about him.
Harry's alarm went off an hour earlier than the rest of the boys the next morning. Groaning, he rolled and buried his face into his pillow. If he wished hard enough, maybe Umbridge would disappear and he wouldn't have to deal with her. When the second alarm went off ten minutes later, Ron chucked a pillow at him. [i "Don't make the rest of us suffer with you,"] he grumbled. [i "Go show her who the Boy Who Lived is so we can go back to sleep."]
Quite the pep talk. Harry dressed in the dark of the dorm and wandered down to the common room. It was far too quiet that early in the morning, which made it seem like he was walking to his doom. Shaking his head, he inhaled deeply and let out the breath. He'd faced Voldemort on multiple occasions. and traveled back in time to save his godfather. Dolores Umbridge would not intimidate him.
Steeling himself off, he left the safety of Gryffindor Tower before the others had risen from bed. There was an eerie atmosphere in the empty corridors leading to her office. His footsteps echoed off the stone while his thoughts echoed in his head. His hand itched where the fresh scabs formed the words she'd used to punish him. Harry's fists clenched at his sides, thinking of Hermione's own maimed hand. Umbridge could throw whatever she wanted at him. He was not going to break.
As expected, she was already at her desk with an obnoxiously patterned teacup in front of her. To her credit, she didn't even plaster the fake smile on for him. There were no false pretenses to be had. [i "Sit,"] she barked the command at him.
Unblinking, Harry did as he was told. There was a single chair perched in front of her desk, clearly meant for whatever she had in mind for him. With a flick of her wand, Umbridge latched the lock on the door. Before Harry realized her next move, his body rigidly froze in place, unable to move.
Umbridge rose from her chair. [i "Beautiful spell, petrificus totalus, isn't it?"] she taunted him.
His eyes stared straight forward. [i "You see, Mr Potter, I think it's past due that you are forced to keep your mouth shut. If it weren't for your attitude and savior complex, I wouldn't be facing opposition in this school. As Dumbledor's pride and joy, you have a powerful voice within these walls. I'm going to make sure that ends,"] she circled his chair, dragging her wand along his shoulders.
His mind was screaming but his body couldn't fight. He'd never felt so incredibly helpless. No matter how much he tried to command his arms and legs to move, they sat firmly in place against his will.
And then everything was on fire.
He couldn't even scream through the pain. Every bone, muscle, and cell in his body was in absolute agony, but his mouth was glued shut. Tears sprung to his eyes and dripped down his face. It was over after a few seconds, but it felt like eternity. [i "The Cruciatus curse is another favourite of mine. It always does the trick to ensure cooperation. I assume you're not a fool, Mr Potter, therefore I am expecting your full cooperation."]
She uttered the curse once more and the fiery pain was back. Black spots dotted his vision and he felt like he was going to throw up from the sheer pain of it all. Only when she ended the curse and freed him from his frozen state was he able to fall forward onto his hands and knees, vomiting onto the stone floor.
[b "Didn't know the authorities condoned using Unforgivable Curses on students in detention,"] he stammered through clenched teeth.
Umbridge knelt beside him, using her wand to tilt his head so their eyes met. [i "My boy, I am the authority. I will do as I see fit to ensure Ministry law is kept."]
Harry spat bile. [b "You think I'm not going to go straight to Dumbledor about this?"]
The sickly sweet smile was back. [i "On the contrary. I'm anticipating your silence will be kept, unless you want to see Miss Granger endure the same punishment you just did."]
Harry's stomach sank, and it had nothing to do with the curse. The image of Hermione helplessly strapped to the chair enduring the pain of a Cruciatus Cruse made him more sick than the torture. Umbridge knew how to play this game with him, and it had just taken on a new level of danger. [b "You're insane,"] he spoke through a clenched jaw.
[i "I'm perfectly sane, Mr Potter. I'm just very good at what I do."]
Rising to her feet, she walked towards her desk. The whole event had taken less than twenty minutes. [i "You're dismissed. I'd take a moment to collect yourself, if I were you. And don't forget what I said,"] she looked to him once more. [i "Any future disruptions and brazen outspoken behaviour against Ministry rules, or any mention of what happened here this morning, and Hermione Granger will suffer the same fate. The choice and burden is yours, Mr Potter."]
Every muscle in his body was screaming, but he pushed through the pain to storm out of the office and down the hall to the boy's lavatories. His knees nearly buckled but he braced himself on the sink, leaning down to stick his head under the cold flow of water.
Umbridge had succeeded in regaining control.
She wasn't at all good at flirting and felt extrememly silly the moment her head checked back in. But with her best friend of the last five years seeming not to notice or being in the same place it helped. And to her again she found his being awkward cute. Why couldn't she keep it together tonight?
[b "You'll be okay tomorrow. Remember you're brave and you're strong. Just please be careful in what she says. She will be trying to get under your skin. I know she did mine when I had to face her alone tonight."] The girl whispered, brown eyes on Harry as she gave a small smile.
Slowly she picked up the other book she had left on the coffee table the night before and looked back to her best friend. [b "Sleep well, Harry."] Hermione said and once he had gone up to his dormitory, she did the girls'. And as had become a game to Lavender and Parvati, they began to bombard her with questions.
Harry knew he looked downright bashful and dopey. He could feel his face burning hotter than the fire roaring across the room. His flirting skills were severely lacking, but by some miracle of Merlin, Hermione seemed to either not notice or was fine with it. The sheer thought that he was successfully flirting with his best friend of the last five years made him lightheaded.
It certainly didn't help that he shot to his feet the moment she mentioned going to bed. [i Head out of the gutter, Potter], he scolded himself. Swaying slightly on the spot, he felt the head rush from moving so suddenly. [b "Bed. Right. Early day and all,"] he was back to being a bumbling idiot.
He prided himself on being headstrong and focused but having a date with Hermione Granger looming on the horizon, he didn't know how to handle himself anymore. She'd been so brilliant with handling Umbridge despite the trauma the woman was causing. He wasn't ashamed to admit that he was intimidated. The witch was incredibly out of his league yet somehow willing to go on a date with him.
[b "I'll see you in the morning then. I'll need a word of encouragement before marching off to my demise with the pink nightmare,"] he stammered a laugh, tripping on the coffee table as he began backing towards the staircase to the dormitory. [b "Sleep well, Hermione."]
She was only just aware of the words that she had spoken. Her exhaustion was catching up and so the filter on her mind it seemed was not fully working. She was a bit out of it and so when he squeaked out repeating her words, Hermione giggled and nodded. [b "Yes, cute pout."] IF she remembered later she would really be kicking herself for not being more careful and letting slip some of her feelings.
After a few more seconds, silence fell between them. The girl chanced a look his way and blushed as he was hiding his face in his book. Cute, he was cute when he hid. Before he could catch her staring, Hermione let her eyes fall back on the book and was TRYING to regain herself. But she couldn't seem to.
When she heard Harry speak, brown eyes went to him. Again she couldn't help a giggle that escaped and she nodded. [b "Maybe you should try it. Definitely a way we could unwind."] The girl found herself saying. But then she groaned when she realized what she had said and that they both would consider the Shrieking Shack more "friendly" than Hogwarts.
Slowly and a little shakily the girl stood, slipping her book back into her bag. [b "I think I'm going to head to bed.. You best do the same..."] She said quietly, cheeks flushed still.
Harry was sure his brain short-circuited. All coherent thoughts stopped only to be replaced with her words on a loop. [b "Cute pouting, huh?"] his voice unfortunately cracked in the most pre-pubescent way that he immediately flushed red.
Harry buried his face in his book, not willing to risk showing her that he was blushing as red as a Weasley's hair. She'd said it so off the cuff that he chalked it up to her being too tired to realize what she was saying. It didn't mean he couldn't be rendered stupid by the comment, however.
[b "I'll be sure to put all of my effort into delivering the cutest pout possible,"] he tried to joke. [b "Maybe I'll get us a full bottle of firewhisky to go. We can hide out in the Shrieking Shack and drink until we forget that our lives are systematically turning into a horror story."]
Harry let the book fall to his chest, risking a glance her way. [b "I just realized how absolutely tragic it is that the Shrieking Shack can be considered a place of peace and quiet compared to Hogwarts."]
He had made up his mind and she knew it too. And his stubborness was both something she loved about him and hated. He had already left her on her own once that night but she didn't mind it. The girl was used to it. But now it seemed he would be damned. [b "It's just light reading and won't take long.."] Again she tried.
When he still didn't budge, the girl moved to actually sitting in the oversized arm chair. Truth be told she was more than exhausted but she would not say it or act on it. She had also read the part to the book she had said she needed to read. It was just a coverup as her mind as always seemed to be going a mile a minute.
[b "She probably would. She's known to give into cute pouting."] The girl said with a laugh as she looked over to her friend. By now she had curled into the arm of the chair with her head more or less an inch from the book as she was looking at it but not really reading.
Ron looked between them, already knowing Harry's decision. [i "I've already beaten you twice tonight anyway. I could use the extra sleep. You two can sit and be nerds with your books,"] he joked. [i "Night."]
Harry stayed firmly where he was. He'd left her on her own once already tonight, and he was damned if he was going to do it again. He leaned back and rested his head against the couch, feeling the fire warming his feet. [b "Read as much as you'd like. I have my own book to occupy myself with."]
He'd been rereading the Quidditch book she'd gotten him the year before on his birthday, and it was his luck that it was still sitting in his bag by the edge of the couch. Stretching out on the now empty sofa facing her chair, he laid back and crossed his feet, the book settled on his stomach strategically so he could watch her without her knowing.
She looked exhausted. More so than he could ever remember seeing her. She wasn't even this stressed in second year while making the Polyjuice potion all on her own. She was starting to get shadows under her eyes, a clear indicator of how little rest she was actually getting. That weekend Harry was going to do everything in his power to show her a fun time so she could take her mind off of everything causing her distress. Namely the pink nightmare with a target on them.
[b "You think Madam Rosmerta will sneak us a couple drinks of firewhisky in Hogsmead? I bet if I pout enough, we might get something stronger than Butterbeer,"] he grinned.
The girl managed to rewrap her hand but was mentally kicking herself as she realized that Harry had seen a small part of it. And she could see his mind working and the guilt in his eyes. Well she could before he had looked away and refused to meet her gaze. [b "It would have only gotten you into more trouble...and she would have added even more lines. I don't blame you for not putting up the fight. That woman is more than exhausting.. So really, don't worry about it."] The girl tried. She only hoped he would listen and stop beating himself up over it.
Her eyes went to Ron as the boy spoke, a small smile coming to her lips. It was one of the most sensible things that he had said. That and she knew he was trying to help her get Harry to bed. Even if he still had ordered his Queen across the board. [i "You both know it's true..."] Ron tried again.
Hermione's eyes had gone back to her book after that and she stiffened. Ron would get bored and be off to bed. Harry on the other hand would not leave her and would stay if she did. She had learned that just last year. [b "Give me an hour and then I will go up to bed...but please you and Ron go.. It's late."] Hermione tried aa she slowly looked between the two boys, eyes lingering on Harry.
His stomach turned to knots once more as he caught sight of the bottom edge of her raw skin. She truly had gotten the worst of it tonight. Not for the first time, he considered marching over to Umbridge's office and unleashing all of his build up anger on her, cursing her into oblivion. This thought, however, only made him feel guilty. He didn't want to be like Umbridge or Voldemort. Hurting people isn't who he was.
When it came to Hermione, however, he was willing to make exceptions.
[b "I'm not worried about sleep right now,"] he answered. [b "I'm worried about you. I didn't want to go to bed before I made sure you were alright. I'm sorry that I wasn't more help when she kicked me out. I should have fought harder to stay."]
Harry still couldn't quite meet her eye. He felt horrible for having left her there. He was supposed to be the Boy Who Lived, unafraid of anything. Yet he allowed their professor to order him out without so much as fight.
[i "You'll both need sleep,"] Ron interjected, ordering his queen to move across the board. [i "Those hands will feel rough tomorrow, and it might take a while for you to even get comfortable enough to sleep with the pain."]
Harry looked to the girl beside him. [b "I'm only going to bed if you are. I am more than willing to sit here all night if that's what you're planning to do. I can see your brain overthinking from here."]
The girl had brushed off Ron's question by distracting him with the chess board, KNOWING he would be easily focused back on the game. That and she did like to play indirectly by helping Harry like she did. Brown eyes still never came up as their red haired friend grumbled and the other boy pointed out he still had not touched the board in the sing song voice.
Only did she look up when Harry was sitting right beside her and asking if she was alright. The girl knew that he had been worried and didn't mean for him to be. [b "It still stings quite a bit... but nowhere near as badly as it did earlier. And then you had Malfoy being his usual self. Making me deal with the other students as he watched..."] Hermione said quietly and looked to the salve tin that the boy had been holding.
Slowly she gave a faint smile and took the tin, unwrapping her hand and putting more on it. But she was quick to try and wrap it again so her friend wouldn't see it. She didn't even want to look at her cut into hand. [b "You best get some sleep soon..the gargoyle will want you before breakfast..."] The girl whispered, blushing as Ron had now taken to staring at the two of them.
The boys were in the midst of bickering over Harry's move, deemed 'cheating' by Ron. [b "You can't cheat in wizard's chess!"] he chucked the rook back at Ron. [b "We don't even touch the board."]
Ron was about to respond when they heard the portrait door open, and watched her walk in. [i "Alright, there?"] the redhead asked, forehead creased with worry as she sits with them.
In typical Hermione fashion, she brushed off his question by pointing out his next move on the board to Harry. [i "Well that's definitely cheating!"] Ron aimed an accusing finger.
Harry just smirked down at her and winked. [b "Still not touching the board,"] he replied in a sing-song voice before ordering his bishop to take the knight.
Leaving Ron to grumble and contemplate his next move, Harry slid onto the floor with her. [b "Seriously,"] he whispered. [b "Are you alright? I nearly followed you with the cloak again."]
He reached out to take her wounded hand, making sure that the bandage is still secured properly. Thankfully, it didn't appear to be bleeding through. [b "I have the salve if you need more,"] he turned hurriedly to snatch it off the arm of the chair. [b "I kind of...squeezed it a bit too hard,"] he held the misshapen tin in his hand.
If she could have gotten out of it, the girl would have avoided her patrol with Malfoy. Because when she got to the vile blonde he was smirking like the Chesire Cat. It was obvious he had heard what had happened and kept making remarks about how some should learn to keep quiet. Or that rules were there for a reason. Just about anything he could say to get under her skin, Malfoy was. Very clearly was he doing it on purpose to try and get a rise out of her so that he could go abd run to the gargoyle.
The minutes of the hour seemed even more muderously slow than was usual. And she had to constantly try and get her mind on ANYTHING just to block out her patrol partner. Malfoy was even so bad as to put the telling other students what to do on her just because he was enjoying seeing her miserable. In fact, he was being more a prat than was usual.
As soon as the hour was over, Hermione went back to Gryffindor Tower as quickly as she could. And it was when she slipped into the common room did she see Ron and Harry at a game of chess. A faint smile traced her lips as she went over to where they were sat with their game and took a seat on the floor, leaning against one of the chairs and had one of their class books in her lap. [b "Wouldn't make that move there. He's trying to set you up for an early pitfall.."] The girl said, not looking up from her book.
Harry opened his mouth to argue about her going off with Malfoy after being tortured for the last hour, but she was down the hall before he could form words. Gritting his teeth, he squeezed the tin can of salve in his fist until it began to dent. He didn't want her to think he didn't trust her, so he couldn't even get his cloak to follow her.
Ron was waiting in the common room when he returned, forehead already creased. [i "How bad this time?"] he asked.
Harry lifted his hand, which wasn't as agitated with the layer of ointment coating it. [b "Hermione got it worse. That gargoyle sent me away and gave her extra lines to write, so it was practically to the bone."]
Slumping into one of the leather chairs, he took his glasses off to rub his eyes. [b "The woman is clinically insane, Ron. Even Madam Pomfrey said that she's never seen punishments like this used in a school before. It's stuff I'd expect to see in Azkaban."]
Ron's face flashed with sympathy. [i "I shouldn't have questioned the two of you about being defiant with her. This is wrong. And now Hermione's off dealing with Malfoy for the next hour. She hasn't had the best day, has she?"]
Harry huffed a laugh. [b "Hasn't had a single good one yet, I'm afraid."] He paused and glanced at Ron. [b "Although I asked her to Hogsmead this weekend, so maybe that'll cheer her up a bit."]
The redhead pumped a fist dramatically in the air. [i "My little Harry's all grown up. I remember you being this high, like it was just yesterday,"] he pestered, holding his hand barely a foot off the ground.
Harry threw a pillow in his direction and reached for the chess board they'd stuffed under the couch. [b "Might as well kill time while we wait for her,"] he said while setting up the pieces.
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