Hermione makes a bad deal.
It was like clockwork. We'd all file into our room and she'd be the last one up, dragging up the rear. While the rest of us chatted and dressed, she would already be in her private bedroom, in bed with the curtains drawn and blankets pulled over her head. She was the only one among us-the only girl anyway, in any of the houses-with her own room, a large bed, fluffy pillows, and thick blankets. The only one who could eat and say that she was full every night. The only one with any luxury.
Slowly the rest of us would calm down and fall silent. Someone would finally blow out the last candles and engulf us in darkness. The only light would be whatever the moon and stars could provide from the windows. I'd lose consciousness. It always seems like I'd only just closed my eyes....
Romilda Vane starts to scream.
It's a lengthy, high-pitched, tortuous sound, one that takes at least three of us to silence by waking the girl. Romilda Vane will stare around the room, disoriented, ready to attack, a ferocious turn to her lips. It's the saddest and scariest thing I've ever witnessed. All of us girls would pretend like we don't know what's wrong, like she's always been this way, it's natural. In the daylight hours, the fifth-years crowd her like before it happened. The boys flirt like she's a delicate, simple thing. It's a play and every Hogwarts student knows his or her part.
Romilda Vane is the victor of the first Phoenix Games. She won, while the rest of us watched her kill.
I only knew personally two of the people from that year's games. A Gryffindor, Cormac McLaggen, and a second-year Ravenclaw I used to tutor, Stewart Ackerly. Neither of them killed the other; Stewart died in the chaos that was the Cornucopia and McLaggen was taken out by a particularly vicious Slytherin. It was almost miraculous that Romilda won actually, since among the final two participants was that same Slytherin who killed McLaggen, Cassia Thurgood. Entering the arena, everyone's wands were confiscated, but this far into the contest and they had been returned and used without abandon. McLaggen had been discarded very simply: Avada Kedavra. Romilda on the other hand warranted a greater sense of bloodlust. Crucio. Sectusempra. A Bat-Bogey to make Ginny Weasley's look like child's play. Romilda Vane had been a puddle of flesh and blood by the time Cassia Thurgood was half-way through. Thurgood had stopped to admire her work. We all speculated that Romilda was done for. But the girl was more clever than we gave her credit for.Either clever, or extremely desperate. Ropes shot from Romilda's wand tip and strangled the Slytherin.
It was a few weeks before we saw the girl again, healed from the damage Thurgood and the others had inflicted on her. I couldn't decide whether to congratulate her or offer a shoulder to cry on. But the two of us had never been friends. When Romilda Vane returned to Hogwarts, she behaved as if the Phoenix Games had never happened. It was an unspoken rule for the rest of us to follow suit.
Last year, two year mates of mine, Dean Thomas and Dakota Sutherland, were the only Gryffindors I knew personally, as well as the Ravenclaw Cho Chang and a Hufflepuff, another kid I used to tutor, Adam Higgins. Cho got close, but she died in the end. Thurgood's younger brother, Carson, won. I hope that the Slytherin can handle his nightmares better than Romilda Vane does.
Something lands on my feet. I groan lightly, turning over. I was hoping to beat out Romilda's screams tonight. Instead I know that I am going to stay awake for half the night.
"Hermione get up,"
"God Ginny, I'm awake. What do you want?"
"You won't believe it!"
"What?" I don't think that I'm in the mood for Ginny's games right now.
"Guess!" I groan again. Ginny Weasley has two functions: painfully girlish and heartbreakingly depressed. Normally, the former was an excuse to cover the latter. It used to be that I'd ask my best friend what was wrong. She would tell me and we would find a solution together. That was back when there were simple solutions and simple problems. Within the last two years there have been things to occur that neither one of us wants to talk about. So rather than pry, I play along.
"Okay... you got an 'O' on your last-"
"No, Hermione! Does it always have to be grades with you?"
"No. Can it ever be about grades with you?"
"No." We laugh. "Okay, two more."
"You got that spell learned?"
"The mimicry one? No, not yet. Last chance," Ginny sings her last statement as if she were teasing me.
"Okay, okay, how about... oh! Ron actually apologized for-"
"Do you listen to yourself?" Ginny propels herself into the space beside me, spreads her blanket on top of mine, and gets comfortable beside me.
"I mean, my brother, Ron, apologizing?"
"Where was my head?"
"But no... Harry sort of... kissed me."
"I know!" Ginny pulls herself up to rest on an elbow. "I mean... I never gave up on him but... I hardly expected it. Hermione. He kissed me! Full on the mouth."
"And are you two... together?"
".... I don't know. But, Hermione!"
"Yes, Ginny, I know, he kissed you. Have you dated then? Going out?"
"We've sort of... been meeting. After hours and before you say anything, Hermione! We're only in the Gryffindor commons, talking. One time we did take a walk outside, but we made sure not to get caught, do not say anything!" I close my mouth. I would rather not fight with Ginny tonight, especially when she's so excited. I just wished that she and Harry wouldn't flaunt the rules like they do. "We just do little things, you know, like you and Victor Krum used to do. There's not room for much else." I can feel the heat in my cheeks when she mentions my old not-quite-boyfriend. Really I don't know what we were.
"Well, I'm happy for you Gin. Now while I'd like to keep up this little chat, you're talking about Harry. It'll be about as fun for me as it would be for you if I were talking about snogging Ron."
"Ugh, you had to say that, didn't you? That's disgusting!"
"The mental scaring!"
"I said I'm sorry!"
"But you're not."
"Hmm. You might be correct." Before I know it, my pillow has been snatched and my head falls to the floor with a soft but solid tmp. Ginny smacks me in the face with the missing object. I giggle. "Okay, I deserved that, didn't I?" Hair flies as Ginny nods fervently. She lies back down next to me and I assume she is planning to sleep with me tonight.
"Do you think that they're going to do it again? Send someone into that arena?" Her voice takes on that little girl quality that tells me that she's worried. Not necessarily about herself, but for someone else. Not a night goes by that I do not think about the Phoenix Games, not with Romilda's screaming. Not without noticing who's missing from the previous year and remembering why they aren't here. Every night I go to sleep wondering if I am going to wake up with sixteen more of my classmates missing. Nothing Headmaster Carrows tells us inclines either way. I readjust myself on the pillow so that we both have room and wrap an arm around her. Whether for my benefit or hers I'm not sure.
"I don't know." I say honestly. "I hope not. But look at us. We still don't know about our families."
"Professor Owens will help you, if you want him to. He's not like the others."
"You trust him?" Ginny nods.
"Mostly. You do have to pay though. The Patil twins have been using him to keep contact with their parents. They're still alive, but Mrs. Patil is missing her right arm. Mr. Patil's sister was killed." She let that sit between us before continuing. "Mum and Bill and Charlie are fine, by the way. It's all Professor Owens has been able to find out."
"Ginny, you paid him?"
"Yes! I couldn't take it Hermione, even if I would have got punished, the idea that they could have been safe.... I needed to find out."
I'm on the verge of hissing so I say nothing for a moment, calming down. "Ginny be more careful, you have to, please. You can't trust him. None of them. Please promise me you won't be so reckless again." In the dim light I could see the stubborn set to her eyebrows and mouth. "Ginny please," I press.
"Fine." I stared at her, hard. She knows what I want. "I promise that I won't be reckless. By your standards."
"Good. If Professor Owens is here, then he is for a reason Ginny. I wouldn't trust him."
"I know.... That's why I paid him for you."
"Ginny!" My voice shoots through several octaves and the girls nearest us cast dark or curious glances our way. "Ginny, why would you do that?"
"Because I knew that you wouldn't that's why." It's true, I wouldn't have. It's safer to speculate and worry. The idea of even attempting to get that information scares me. I don't know if I'm more afraid of the possible punishment or of the possible answer. Out of the four of us, Ginny, Harry, Ron, and myself, I am the rational one, the cautious one, the here's-a-plan-so-that-we-don't-get-into-trouble one. The safe one. Naturally Ginny's nerve freaks me the world out. It's silent between us again.
"Thank you." I don't say it until after the candles have been blown out. I don't expect an answer.
"You're welcome." I smile in the dark, smooth my best friend's hair, grasp her hand in mine. Ginny Weasley has always bee something like the little sister I never had (and sometimes regretted.), but that bond had not grown to its current strength until recently.
"Shh, you're supposed to be asleep!" We giggle, and in turn receive several sharp words from our fellow roommates. Before we fall silent for the last time, Ginny kisses my cheek, a near inaudible good night following. Mumbling a similar wish, I finally give into sleep....
Until Romilda Vane's cries break through. Not even several walls can prevent her screams from disturbing the rest of our sleep. Grudgingly I get up from my bed-if I can even call it that. A thin mattress on the floor with a single, very hard, flat pillow-and stomp down the hall. Two other girls are already there, making feeble attempts at shaking the terrorized girl awake. I tell them to stand back, seize Romilda's wand and use a very simple wand movement.
"Aguamenti." Water fountains from the tip, catching Romilda Vane full in the face. She startles awake, sputtering and shouting, only now she's conscious of it. I give the other girls a very sleepy and very dirty look that should say clearly, that's how you do it, and return to my bed. It's not easy falling asleep after that. I settle in next to Ginny, Romilda's screams still ringing in my ears.
"Your turn to promise me something," Ginny's sleep-filled voice interrupts.
"Promise me that you won't go in the arena. You'll stay with me?"
"I have no control over that, Gin."
"Please?" the little girl voice. I can't deny the little girl voice anything. It reminds me of how vulnerable she really is. Ginny puts up a good front but really she's more sensitive than I am.
"I promise. Now sleep." And she does. Sometime after the noise down the hall stops and the girls return to their beds I manage to sleep too.
I'm at the very edge of consciousness when something begins to feel... off. Not-right. Wrong. But I want to sleep so I just ignore whatever it is at the edge of my senses. I find Ginny's hand again, reassuring myself and calming down. Suddenly Ginny is jerking away from me. My grip on her hand slips then tightens as I try to prevent her from leaving me. I jump awake. I can't see any faces but two forms are standing over us, one holding a girl's limp body. She wears Lavender Brown's night gown. The other is pulling Ginny away, is my opponent in this tug-of-war. Somewhere in the back of my mind under the fog of sleep, I know that it's starting again: another Phoenix Games.
"No, no, no," half-asleep and only slightly aware of what I might be doing, I start pulling Ginny back towards myself, crying and moaning all the while. I don't know what I'm saying but at one point I must say something that they like because their grip on Ginny slackens and I pull my best friend and sister into my lap, rocking and crying, patting her hair, making sure she is alive. Somehow Ginny stayed asleep through the whole ordeal.
"Are you sure?" I nod, not sure what I am agreeing to. Then the form is holding my arm, a large needle aimed for the vein in the fold of my elbow. I snatch away. She comes closer. "You or the girl." Without waiting for my consent the cloaked form is grasping my arm firmly. They have injected the needle, pushed whatever substance into my bloodstream. I know without a doubt now what I have just agreed to. I broke my promise. But while I fall victim to the injection (some sort of potion I'd wager to put me to sleep) I briefly wonder which would have been worse? Breaking my promise to Ginny or knowing that I could have saved her from dying in the arena?