Chapter Seven

Nott Alone

She was running.

Running as fast as she could.

But the log kept getting further and further away.

There was hot breath on her neck and the sound of rapid feline footsteps.

She was going to make it.

She was going to make it.

She was going to make it. She was—

The paw landed on her shoulder, throwing her to the ground with its force. She scrambled to her hands and knees, only to be swatted again. McGonagall Cat was toying with her, Hermione realized. Because she hadn't felt the sting of claw, only the soft pad of the paw.

Oh, gods. She was going to die a slow, painful death.

McGonagall Cat raised her paw again, and Hermione closed her eyes, unable to watch her favourite professor, whether she was in the guise of a cat or not, end her life.

But the blow never landed.

She waited, her body trembling though she was paralyzed with terror.

No claws.

No paw.


She worked up the courage to open one eye, and instead of the dappled afternoon sunlight of the forest, saw the dimly lit interior of the log.

She was safe.

Bolting upright, she drew in ragged breath after ragged breath. Her heart was racing out of control, pounding painfully in her chest.

"Bad dream?"

The quiet voice startled her, and her heart rate accelerated. A shadow moved, and she recognized the speaker.

"Nott," she said, the word sounding like a curse. Pressing her hand to her chest, she tried to slow her breathing. Speaking had been a mistake. The tears that she'd been holding back ever since she'd made the mistake of thinking that the Quidditch pitch was the ideal place to study were suddenly pricking at her eyes, and she knew that if she weren't careful she'd be a blubbering mess within seconds. Pressing her lips together, she closed her eyes and counted to twenty in three languages. The nightmare was still at the edges of her consciousness, though, and closing her eyes drew the pictures into sharper relief, and this time the claws on McGonagall Cat's paws were extended, and—

She covered her face with her hands, pressing hard. It was just a dream.

She was safe.

She was safe.

She was safe.

She was betrayed.

Would she ever be able to banish the image of McGonagall attacking her? How would she sit in her classroom? Look her in the eye?

"The fire won't go out, you know," Nott said. "Professor Snape managed to charm it."

She shivered. If it had been Harry with her instead of Nott, he would have sat beside her and shared his blanket. If it had been Ron, he would have awkwardly tossed his own blanket over her shoulders and backed away, blushing.

Nott did neither.

And perhaps it was because he was so very different than Harry and Ron, her usual confidants, that Hermione found herself opening her mouth and letting words pour out.

"I just can't believe that Professor McGonagall would do that," she said, her voice shaky with disbelief. "She's a professor! A protector of students! And she—"

"—looked at you like you were lunch," Nott agreed.

"That's it!" Hermione exclaimed. "That's it exactly! It was as if I wasn't human to her anymore. Like I was just something to be killed." She shivered again, and this time she couldn't blame it on the cool night air. The fact that Professor McGonagall had not had her best interests at heart was almost as disturbing as the fact that she had come uncomfortably close to becoming a cat toy.

"I know Dumbledore cursed her the same as he did us, but it's hard to accept that anything could induce her to harm us," she admitted. "I suppose I thought that she would be able to fight it; that she wouldn't give in."

Nott nodded slowly. "I still can't believe that Professor Snape allowed himself to be cursed." He tossed a twig onto the fire and it flared briefly. Hermione knew that it couldn't have provided warmth so quickly, but she felt some of the cold terror that had been gripping her for what felt like hours ease.

"He's always been larger than life," Nott continued. "No one puts one over on him. No one. And yet…"

"And yet Professor Dumbledore did," Hermione said.

Nott nodded, his lips pressed together. "Professor Snape has always been a protector of the Slytherins. And this time—"

"—he failed."

Nott pressed his lips together as if he didn't want to admit that she was right. "I'm sure he wasn't expecting an attack from Dumbledore, of all people," he said. "I mean, Dumbledore's always been a bit barmy—"

"Hey!" she protested, but Nott ignored her.

"But I don't imagine he goes around hexing students and professors on a regular basis," he finished. "So it's understandable that Snape wouldn't see it coming."

She nodded. "I was in shock. It made no sense! He just whipped out his wand and…" Her voice trailed off. "He has a lot of explaining to do," she muttered darkly.

Hermione loosened the blanket she'd huddled under as the temperature in the log rose. "It's not her fault," she said, knowing that Nott would realize that she was referring to Professor McGonagall, "but I don't know if I'm able to forgive her."

She felt the tight band around her chest loosen as she voiced the thoughts that had been tormenting her. Nott jerked his head toward her, his eyes wide. His body seemed to stiffen as he contemplated her words.

"That's exactly how I feel," he whispered. "Not about Professor McGonagall," he clarified. "Frankly, she's not much scarier in cat form. At least she can't take house points while she's under the curse."

She snorted. Only a Slytherin would prefer McGonagall in predatory feline form!

Nott glanced at the other end of the log where Professor Snape was lying quietly, presumably asleep. "He's never let me down before," he said, his voice so low that Hermione had to strain to hear it.

"Feet of clay," she said suddenly.

"What?" He frowned. "Where? is this some new curse?" He stared at his own feet, as if expecting them to resemble a statue.

"No," she said. "It's an expression. A Muggle one, obviously. It refers to a well-respected person's mortal flaw." Shrugging, she explained, "I think we both have been forced to see our Heads of House as fallible human beings instead of infallible role models tonight." She shifted back to the comfort of her blanket, the warmth she'd felt only moments ago gone. "It's rather disconcerting, I must say."

"That's exactly how I feel," Nott repeated, still sounding surprised. "I didn't think anyone… I mean, the others are just so relieved that Snape is here to take charge that… Don't get me wrong—I'm glad that he's here, too. It's just…"

"You see him differently now."

He nodded. "Yes. I do." He closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall of the log, and she realized that he somehow must have moved closer while they were talking. She hadn't noticed any movement, but he was now close enough that even though they weren't touching, his proximity was heating the air around her.

"No one has ever understood me when I've talked about my feelings," he said, sounding surprised.

"No one?" Hermione wanted to question his statement until she realized that she could almost say the same. She was lucky in that Harry and Ron would generally listen to her, but she did often get the feeling that they didn't really understand what she was saying.

"Well," she said, covering her mouth as she yawned widely, "at least you know you're not the only one. I'm feeling the same way you are."

Nott smiled then, and she realized it was the first time she'd seen a genuine smile on his face. He was most often on the edges of the action, she remembered, not usually a part of the larger group. Did he chose to isolate himself because he thought that no one would understand him?

"You're not alone," she told him, even as her eyes slipped closed. When she felt him take her hand in his she thought about objecting, but the truth was that if felt awfully good to not be alone.


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Author's Notes

Characters from the Harry Potter series are the property of J.K. Rowling. The Smurfs were first created and introduced as a series of comic characters by the Belgian comics artist Peyo (pen name of Pierre Culliford) in 1958. They are used without permission and not for profit.

Graphics credits: Sparkly blue background from Smurfs images from film publicity stills. Cat is Microsoft clip art.

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