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[b "She's capable of much worse, and I'd rather not find out how far she's willing to go,"] he admitted with downcast eyes.
Still shaken from the ordeal, he wrapped his hand in hers and held tightly. Screw whatever the other students thought. He needed to feel the warmth of her skin to find some resemblance of comfort. He felt more secure with her close by, knowing she wouldn't let anything happen to him.
His steps were rigid but Harry forced himself to stand up straighter as they entered the Great Hall. Every time he looked down, it felt like everyone was watching him but when he'd sneak a peak, the other students were talking among themselves without taking note of him. Paranoia was going to eat at him all day, he could tell.
Other than the slight tremor in his hands as he reached for small bits of food, Harry thought he was doing fairly well with keeping the pain hidden. It broke his heart to see Hermione upset, but the only way he could fix it was to pretend that nothing happened.
[b "Tryouts this evening, Ron,"] he broke the silence between them. [b "Anyone in particular standing out?"]
The redhead came to life at the chance to talk sports. [i "Ginny's looking strong as a chaser. Her and Katie had a good back and forth going. Pretty sure I've got keeper in the bag. Only ones that are certain are the twins. Still the best beaters on the field."]
[b "Gonna come out and watch?"] he looked to Hermione. [b "I'll stop by the bleachers to keep you company."]
Honestly she wouldn't have hurt Colin but just she was more protective when it came to Harry. Even more him than she was of Ron. So when the fourth year had left them, brown eyes were once more on her friend. She was studying him as she didn't trust him to be telling her the truth. Neither one of them liked to admit when they were hurting or not in the best shape. And as he held up the hand like he did, the girl only gave a look.
Before she could speak, the boy had made himself move the rest of the way between them and his hands were on her shoulders. Brown eyes locked to green as he spoke. It was like he was begging her to trust him. And the sad thing was..she did so much more than anyone else. But she hated seeing him hurt and not being able to do anything about it. Before she could speak those words though, Ron had caught up with her and was complaining about how quick she had been and how she had been a nervous mess.
[b "I was worried..and you know worry can make people faster.."] Hermione whispered, cheeks flushing as she spoke. And was because of her words did the girl look away and only listen to the words passed between the boys. Honestly she wasn't all that hungry. Especially having a sinking feeling that Imbridge had really hurt Harry.
She had been about to follow Ron, but Harry's hand was on her arm and he was holding her back. A sigh slipped from her and she gave a weak smile. [b "I do trust you Harry...but I can't help but worry about you either. What she did to me was probably nothing what she could have...or did to you."] She whispered and then gently tugged on him so that they were following their redheaded bottomless pit of a friend so he did not turn and whine at them.
Harry tilted to the side slightly as Colin stepped away, no doubt fearing the wrath of the Gryffindor girl. He made quick work of abandoning the two fifth years in the middle of the hallway, leaving Harry to catch his balance without giving away too much in his expression. [b "I promise you, it's nothing,"] he held his hand up like calming a feral animal. [b "I'll be right as rain by lunch."]
To prove it to her, he forced himself to walk the last few steps between them so he could rest his hands on her shoulders. [b "I just need you to trust me. Please,"] his eyes stared into hers, pleading.
[i "Bloody hell, when did you get so fast,"] Ron's voice broke through their moment, as he jogged over clutching the stitch in his side. [i "This one just took off in a panic. Didn't even wait for me."]
Harry plastered a smile on. [b "She found me. I was just telling her nothing really happened. I was getting ready to come find you guys to go to breakfast. I'm famished."]
It couldn't have been further from the truth. Harry was pretty sure if he tried eating anything, it was going to come right back up. Still, he hoped they wouldn't press the issue so close to Umbridge's office. [i "Right then, let's go,"] Ron straightened up, tucking his tie into his sweater. [i "Don't wanna get the last of everything."]
Harry had kept one hand on Hermione's arm, holding her back for a moment. [b "I don't want to lie to you, but I can't explain what happened just yet. For your safety, I need you to believe me when I say that I'm okay."]
Brown eyes were anxiously skimming the hall and stairwell. She was still mentally scolding herself about having left him to Umbridge. He had waited for her the night before, the least she could have done was be up early and wait for him. And with his luck the insane Professor could have really hurt him too.
It was a motion off to her left and two Gryffindor ties that had the brunette all but run their way. One look at Harry and her face paled because even in him trying to hide the pain she could see it lingering. [b "Colin, where did you find him?"] The Prefect asked as she was more than aware of their younger housemate and his early morning wanderings.
Colin looked to Harry as if asking what to say. But the sharp brown gaze that had fallen on him had him flinch. Even he knew it was a bad idea not to give an answer when Hermione gave that look. [i "Boys' bathroom outside of Umbridge's office. Said he had fallen down some stairs or something."] He mumbled and then gave Harry an apologetic look before scurrying off.
At those words, brown eyes were instantly on Harry and her hands were on her hips. [b "You never fall...or if you do it's not enough to hurt you. Oh Harry..what did that devil woman do?"] She asked quietly, biting on her lip.
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."]
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