the common room of Gryffindor tower held little interest for him. Without the
amusement of Fred and George, the friendly chatter with Ron, or even the
constant quill scratching and paper ruffling of Hermione, it just didn't feel
himself wandering the corridors around the school, alone and lost in thought.
Was the magical dog that had attacked them in Hogsmeade
yesterday some freak occurrence or part of something more sinister? It was true
that Ron was hurt much worse than Harry, but that didn't mean Harry wasn't its
how he would live out the rest of his life? Harry thought about Mad-Eye Moody
and his seemingly endless collection of devices and tactics designed to keep
him safe from enemies. He pictured himself with his own hip flask, eyes darting
around everywhere as he almost continually checked his Sneakoscope
for signs of activity.
realized something else in that brief imagining. He saw himself alone. Was that
because he feared growing so paranoid that he could not trust even his friends
or because he worried that, as with Ron, they would only be hurt by remaining
close to him?
decided that he would not allow that. Not now, at any rate. He thought that Ron
would appreciate a visit, if Madam Pomfrey would
allow it. Thanks to strange venom from the dog's bite Ron's leg was expected to
be slow in healing, but surely he was up to a visit.
considered this, he heard the sound of footsteps echoing in the corridor behind
him. He turned around to see the unusual site of Hermione sprinting at him.
in front of him and hunched over, out of breath. She held her left side as if
it pained her. "Harry!" she started.
what is it?" Harry asked. "Did you find something at the library?"
But not here." She panted. "We should go somewhere secluded."
there're loads of places around here for that."
Harry, we can't talk about it in the school. Just follow me, all right?"
nodded, trusting his ever-resourceful friend had good reason.
Hermione led him quietly down the
halls, outside, and across the grounds towards Hagrid's
cabin. Perhaps she wanted him to hear what she had to say as well.
did not stop at the cabin. They continued on past it towards the Forbidden
Forest. Harry, not one to pay the
restrictions on entering much heed, was nevertheless curious.
the way out here?" he asked. "Are you that sure someone would listen?
I thought that Hogwarts was protected from all those magical bugs and
stuff--you told me so yourself, remember!"
without slowing or turning to face him. "I can't tell you anything here,
Harry, so just be patient."
noticed now that Hermione was holding her left arm unusually still as she
walked. Maybe she'd hidden something inside her sleeve?
quickened his pace a little so that he was walking beside her. They were at the
edge of the forest, beginning to penetrate more deeply.
far are we going?" Harry asked her.
the path ahead, Hermione replied with a curt, "Further."
minute later, Harry was surprised to see one of the reclusive thestrals watching them from behind some leaves. The
winged, horse-like creatures were visible only to those who had seen death. Harry
knew thestrals were attracted to the smell of blood,
but he and Hermione were fine. Sure, Harry had gotten scratched up a little
yesterday, but Madam Pomfrey had mended those
looked at Hermione again--had she been looking at the thestral,
too? But now she seemed focused on their path as she'd been before. Maybe she'd
heard it or something.
minutes later, they were still walking while the forest grew steadily darker
and more overgrown. They'd gone deeper than this before, but it still seemed a
little excessive if all they wanted was a private conversation.
stopped. "Come on, Hermione. This has got to be good enough, and I want to
get back to the common room before it gets dark, don't you?"
when he started talking, but didn't turn to face him until he'd finished. Her
expression looked unusually cold. Something else wasn't quite right. Something
about her eyes, maybe.
right." She said coolly. "This is far enough. Let me show
you...." Her voice trailed off as she reached into her robes.
extracted that hand suddenly, clutching her wand. Except it wasn't her
wand--hers was a bit shorter and lighter in color. This wand was almost pitch black.
And it was
pointing at him.
spoke in an aloof manner, her voice gradually changing pitch as she spoke.
"Don't make this hard on yourself, Mister Potter."
was now somewhat bland, between a male's and a female's. The loose folds of her
robes seemed to be clinging to her body as though the whole outfit was trying to
wrap itself tightly around her.
watched, gaping, she and her clothes began to turn a sort of bland grayish
color. In short order, Harry stared not at Hermione, but at some creature he'd
never seen before. It was average height with a build between an average man's
and an average woman's. It wore no clothes yet its body was totally
featureless. There was not a single strand of hair anywhere on its body or its
was its face. More poignantly, its lack thereof. There
was only a protrusion that vaguely resembled a nose as well as indents where
there should have been eyes. It reminded Harry of a very large piece of clay
that had been cast in the vague shape of a human.
one other important feature. Its left side had a gash that seemed scabbed over
with black blood. A gash not unlike the dog from yesterday had fled with.