Loneliness

Chapter 12

Disclaimer: I own nothing. Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling. Blah blah blah. should just put a blanket disclaimer on the site for all the idiots that could possibly believe we actually own these stories or make any kind of a profit.


By the time Christmas rolled around, Harry had returned all of the stolen items to their rightful owners. He did it at night, one by one, sneaking through Hogwarts like a ghost. Snape graced him with an encouraging nod every now and then, as the items were reported to have magically reappeared. During the times the Headmaster graced the staff table, Harry felt the old wizards eyes upon him, and searching them, found only curiosity. Meaning: Snape had not told Dumbledore about their late night chat.

Hogwarts students were given the option of returning home for Christmas, which most of them took. Harry, however, did not have a home. He couldn't just return to the mental hospital for a week or so. It didn't work that way. Dumbledore had informed him, during their very first meeting, that if he chose to come to Hogwarts, he would be living there for the school year, and, unless Dumbledore could find some other arrangement, maybe even for his entire time at the magical school.

Christmas Day dawned cold and empty for Harry. He was alone in the Slytherin dormitory; in fact, he was the only Slytherin student still at Hogwarts. The common room was deserted as he made his way down in his scraggly football pyjamas. He sat in front of the dying fireplace, cross-legged, and stared into the flames. They flickered before him, tempting him with their burning beauty. He reached out a hand and felt the heat. His palm grew hot, but he didn't care. Harry felt an affinity with the flame. He always had. He closed his eyes and imagined it coming towards him, twisting around his palm, and when he opened his eyes the flame was there, twinning through his open fingers. He envisioned a snake made of fire and the flames took form, coiling on his palm and staring up at him.

'Hi,' Harry said, and the snake bobbed its head, almost a nod. 'My name's Harry.'

The snake did not reply.

'Can you speak?'

Nothing.

'Of course you can't,' Harry said, disappointed. He closed his hand around the flame and it vanished, extinguished.

'You only speak in my dreams.'

Harry spent the rest of the morning playing himself at Wizard Chess, each game resulting in stalemate. When he grew tired of that, he went up to his dormitory, got dressed in worn jeans and a t-shirt, and then pulled his trunk out from under his bed. He unlocked the protective charms he had around it and opened the lid. Inside was a small fortune worth of books, and underneath that an old, cracked jewellery case, slightly charred on one side. He cradled the precious box in his hands, and then cracked it open, the joints creaking, stiff. Inside was a beautiful pearl necklace. He took it out, looked at it for a moment, and then put it in his pocket.

It was time for the Christmas Dinner, prepared for the few remaining staff and students at Hogwarts. Harry made his way there, and when he arrived, he quickly sought out his only friend. She was sat at the end of the table, nearest to the door, and furthest away from everyone else.

'Hi Hermione,' he said, taking the empty seat beside her.

Hermione had brought parchment with her in preparation. She wrote: Hi Harry, with a smiley face.

'Did you get a lot of presents?'

A few. My dad sent them when I said I wanted to stay here for Christmas. Did you get anything?

'No,' Harry said, and grimaced. 'Who'd send me presents?'

Oh. I'm so sorry. Sad face. But, here Hermione paused, and then scribbled, I got you something. She looked at him hopefully, as if fearing this might anger him. In fact, it did the opposite. Harry's heart felt warm. He grinned at her.

'I got you something as well,' Harry said, and then whispered, 'but let's not give them yet. I want to do it later. In private. Okay?'

Hermione wrote: Okay. Smiley face.

'Didn't your mum send you any presents?' Harry asked.

Hermione shook her head and looked down at her lap.

'Sorry. I shouldn't have asked.' Hermione had told him that her parents were divorced, but not much more than that. He knew it was a tricky subject though. He felt like kicking himself for bringing it up.

Hermione grabbed the parchment and quickly wrote: It's okay. Don't feel bad. I wasn't expecting anything from her.

Harry slipped the parchment over and drew a little sketch of two people hugging. He passed it back to Hermione and she smiled a real smile. The smile lasted for less than two seconds, but Harry saw it. Every time he made her smile, he counted it as a huge victory. Hermione glanced over his shoulder, blushed, and looked down at her lap again. Harry turned in his seat to see what had made her retreat into her shell. The head of Gryffindor was watching them with a curious expression on her face. When the old witch noticed him looking, she gave him an odd little smile and then turned back to her conversation with the Headmaster.

'She's not looking now,' Harry said quietly.

Hermione glanced up, to make sure, and then straightened in her seat. Why does everyone have to look at us?

'They're curious,' Harry said. 'We're an odd couple.'

Hermione blushed when he said couple.

'I didn't mean it like that. I mean, we're friends. And it's odd. Because we don't make friends easy. So the two of us together is… you know. And I don't think anyone has seen us talk in that special way we do either. She might have been looking because of that.'

I suppose so.

Further conversation was cut short by the commencement of the Hogwarts Christmas Day meal. Dumbledore stood to say a few words, as was his custom, and then with a final word and flourish the food was magicked onto the long table and the feasting began. There was much laughter, loud conversation, crackers being pulled with loud bangs. Harry could see Hermione retreating further and further into her shell as the noise and merriment grew. It wasn't long before she had stopped eating or replying to him, and was simply just staring at her lap, as still as stone.

Harry finished his turkey, stuffing it all into his mouth with a helping of stuffing and swallowing it after only a few chews. It hurt going down, but he didn't care. He leant close, but not too close, to Hermione and said, 'let's get out of here. Come on.'

Harry stood and Hermione followed gratefully. Harry felt Dumbledore's eyes on their backs as they made to leave the Great Hall. One last glance as he left, Harry and Dumbledore locked eyes over the crowd. The old Headmaster gave a small nod of approval, and then the door swung shut between them, breaking their gaze.

Harry would have to ponder that little look and nod at a later date. Right now, he led Hermione down into the dungeons and straight to the Slytherin common room. The deserted house would make a great place to exchange presents. After saying the password, Harry motioned for Hermione to go first. She took uncertain steps into the common room.

'It's okay,' Harry said, 'nobody else is here. It's just you and me.'

Hermione looked around at the small green poufs and long sofas that interlocked the main floor of the Slytherin common room, at the snakelike lamps and motifs decorating the walls and ceiling. She chose a seat with a small table next to it and sat to write: It's nice.

Harry chuckled. 'Not really, but thanks.' He sat down on a pouf across from her. 'So, you got me a present?'

Hermione ducked her head and gave a little nod.

'Can I have it now?'

Hermione reached into her shoulder bag and pulled out a rectangular box, wrapped in shiny green paper and tied with a silver bow. Harry took it with a smile. Felt it. Hefted it. Shook it.

Hermione scribbled a quick note and showed it to him: Open it!

Harry destroyed the paper with a few quick tears. Inside he found a book entitled: Hogwarts, A History, and a note. He read the note.

Merry Christmas Harry. This was the first book I read when I found out I was a witch. I really liked it. I hope you do as well. And I know you want to know everything about Hogwarts. Maybe this book will help.

Underneath that there were a few scribbles, much crossing out, and finally, at the bottom of the note, scrunched into what little space remained:

Your friend, Hermione.

'It's great,' Harry said, genuinely. 'Thank you.'

Hermione wrote: You're welcome. It took me ages to write that last part. As you can see, I kept crossing it out. She blushed as she admitted this. Can I have my present now?

'Why'd you keep crossing it out? We are friends.'

I know. It just felt, a pause as she struggled to find the correct word, silly.

'It's not silly,' Harry said.

Hermione drew a smiley face with a little halo and angel wings. My present?

Harry laughed and said, 'okay, okay.' He paused, hand in his pocket. 'I thought a long time about this. I want you to know how important this is to me. What I'm about to give to you, it belonged to my mum. I found it locked in a box in my aunt and uncles room when I was about five. There were a few other things in the box, but… this one… I want you to have it.'

Harry pulled out the pearl necklace and held it out to a gob-smacked Hermione. She blinked a few times, and then snatched up the quill and parchment and wrote quicker than ever before: I can't! I can't take that!

'Yes, you can. I want you to have it. Please. Don't say no.'

Why?

'Because… because when I'm around you… I'm happy. When I'm around you… I don't feel alone anymore. It's like I have a family. I just… want you to have it. Please.'

Hermione had tears in her eyes. She brushed them away with her hand, and then slowly stretched out her other hand to accept the gift. Harry gently let the pearls fall into her small hand. She sniffed and smiled.

'Put it on,' Harry said softly, tears in his eyes as well.

Hermione did. It was a little bit too big for her, the pearls hanging low on her chest, rather than hugging her neckline, but she would grow into them. She looked beautiful.

'Perfect,' Harry said, smiling. 'Thank you.'

Hermione scribbled: Thank you Harry. What you said. I feel the same way. No one has ever tried so hard to be my friend before. I know I'm hard work. But thank you. Thank you so much for being so patient with me.

'You're not hard work. You're you.'

Hermione spent the night in the Slytherin common room. She slept on the sofa. Harry slept on the floor below her. Sometime during the night, her hand slipped off the side and fell to touch Harry's chest. In their sleep, they both smiled, truly content for the first times in their lives.

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