Tears of Phoenix

Chapter 31

January, 1976.

The chair's legs squeaked against the floor and she lifted her head, several tendrils of hair falling across her face. With a frustrated push of her hand, they no longer blocked her eyes and she finally found Snape, seated right across her.

It was silent. not a word uttered between them as they sat there, staring. A little hesitantly, she offered, "Hello?"

Of course, Hermione shouldn't have expected a 'Hi, hello - how are you?'

On the other hand, he shouldn't have greeted her with the invasion of her mind, clear in his search for her memories. Getting over the ache in her head quicker than ever, she kept her walls up, focusing on the gentle splash of water that hit the giant towers of grass.

She was sure she had the most poetic use of Occlumency, even in moments of panic and surprise.

"I guess you are not a lost cause, after all," he drawled, eyeing her carefully. His eyes dropped to her forearm and she froze, heart stuck in the back of her throat.

She should not be ashamed, she reminded herself. There was nothing wrong with having a scar—many more would come in the future, anyways. And yet, she could not get used to the awful sight that greeted her every time she looked at the scarred skin. The letters were not fading and they could barely be hidden by a Glamour Charm.

Shaking herself out of those thoughts, she pursed her lips in a pout before scoffing. "Of course, I'm not. I don't know what could even influence you to think that."

"Your group of friends," he answered flatly, as if the Marauders, of all people, could affect her efficiency.

Unable to hold back a snort, she replied, "If that were the case, don't you think I'd have managed to improve their studies as well?"

"Or perhaps, they lack the brains for it — of course, Potter made it clear of how brawny he is in our first year."

Her muscles tensed and before she knew it, she was leaning against the edge of the table, closer to Snape. "Don't talk about him like that."

"What? Think I'm the only one who believes that? Lily did too, until your best friend brainwashed her," he said, an off note buried in his low voice.

He's riling you up. Don't listen to him, Granger warned in her head, so Hermione drew a breath, settling back into her chair comfortably. "You sure sound heartbroken," she mused quietly, eyeing him appraisingly.

He ran his hand across his eyes, gave a humorless laugh. "I'm concerned."

She gave him a scrutinizing look, barely holding back the roll of her eyes. Sometimes, she forgot how easy it was to get lost in teenage drama; pining, jealousy and all. It sure made her feel old, for some reason.

"You don't have to worry about her getting hurt. James already loves her more than anyone in the world."

"Right." He sounded as though the words had been pulled from his throat by Padfoot's claws. Hence, he surely didn't mind changing the subject. "You told me to write during break."

"I did," she said, recalling how different everything was at the time, even though it was a month ago. "Things happened, so I couldn't follow my own order but hey, you didn't either."

He exhaled a loud breath. "Things happened for me, too—" Snape cut himself off, his eyes rooted above her head and just as she craned her neck, she was greeted with the call of her name.

"Hermione."

James was leaning against the staircase, hands tucked in the pockets of his Gryffindor robes, showcasing the proud colours of the House without a care of the Slytherin that sat across her.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, squinting her eyes at him as though she could see whatever he had in mind.

"I see how much I'm wanted here. It sure pains me, Hermione!" he cried, pretending to be vastly wounded, clutching at his heart dramatically before straightening up and walking towards their table.

Somewhere across the room, she could hear the loud reprimands of Madam Pince, but she found Snape's reaction much more worthy of attention. She had half expected him to leave immediately, but obviously the lack of pranks he'd been receiving from the boys had done him some good.

He was, after all, softening up to her too, so she couldn't wait to see Sirius braiding his hair. There was no way Hermione was going to let go of that bet.

Ignoring James as he plopped down in the seat next to her, she stared at the Slytherin and gauged for something - anything!

He narrowed his gaze at her and Hermione cleared her throat. Somehow, the silence that fell upon the three felt much heavier than any tension that had first been placed between the two rivals.

Finally, James was the first one to speak up. "Remus told me that I could find you here."

"Yes, yes," she waved her hand in front of him. "Whatever did you need from me?"

"Help in Charms, remember?" he asked, his brows furrowed.

Her eyes flickered to Snape, who was looking at the other boy with wide eyes. He sought out her gaze and asked, "You're helping him? And what of Lily?"

She made a face, resisting the urge to slam her head against the hard table. Unable to do so without looking like she'd lost her mind, she compromised with the grit of her teeth.

"It's tutoring, Snape. It's not like I'm going to seduce James with essays and have him hurt your smart, little redhead," she said in exasperation.

"My redhead," James corrected her, looking totally unapologetic for having butted in.

Snape's scrutinous glare flitted to her best friend, lips folded into a tight line as he stood and grabbed his black, worn out bag. His gaze met hers and she received a nod of acknowledgment, before he left their 'mind corner' in silence.

"What a git."

After a kick on his shins, she threw him a glare. "He didn't even say anything to you!"

"Ow! Whatever," he grumbled, leaning back against the chair and crossing his feet. "I'll try to be nice for Lily's sake."

And yet, Hermione had been asking him to do that for years, she thought sourly.

No - bitter thoughts were not allowed, even for her best friend and his relationship. At the very least, the redhead had begun to join them during meals, visibly trying to refrain from insulting them like she usually would.

You have to understand that Prof- Snape is her best friend, Granger argued. She's not going to be fond of your friends.

Mentally sending a noise of acknowledgement to the woman, Hermione shifted forward and looked at the pending homework that James had yet to complete. There was a lot to do.

An hour had passed with her going over their Charms textbook and James attempting to memorize each spell meticulously. She was rather glad that he hadn't tested her patience today.

Letting out a heavy sigh, Hermione looked at the boy in front of her and tried to clear her mind. Her thoughts were starting to blurry, most likely due to her lack of sleep. Her knuckles massaged her lids, in unrealistic hopes of ridding the sharp pain that was starting to grow behind her eyes.

"You really need to get some sleep."

She blinked several times before her sight could focus on James, who was now staring back at her with an unfathomable expression.

She bit back a groan, knowing exactly that one day, she would no longer be able to hide anything from her best friends. Remus had already caught her once and there were some things that she hadn't even told Sirius yet.

The thought pulled at her heart, but she couldn't dispel her doubts; the possibilities haunted her mind - he could be at risk because of her.

And the last thing she needed was James to follow her around like a puppy, all because he had caught onto one of her lies.

"Don't worry about me," she mumbled, rubbing her eyes one last time before drawing her hands back to her lap.

Everything was catching up to her—There were so many things still left to do—Why hadn't Professor Dumbledore called her yet?—

She squeezed her eyes shut, lips swollen from how hard she'd bit them. She waited for Granger to whisper sweet words, alleviating whatever panic that had begun to grow. Yet, this time it was different.

My daughter is not weak. This wasn't Granger. The voice was deep and comforting, heavy with emotions. It could almost lull her to sleep. It's going to be okay.

Hermione was sure she was close to going crazy. She hadn't even realized James had gotten up, not until she felt his warm hands on her shoulders, lightly shaking them as he called out to her.

"Cub, are you okay?"

The squeeze at her heart urged her to open her eyes and she did—how could she not, when she'd heard such clear panic in his voice—and for the first time, she noticed the softest brown infused with green in his eyes.

Hazel eyes were very pretty, she decided, along with that maybe — just maybe, it really was going to be okay. Even when everything felt like such an absolute mess.

"I heard my father's voice," she explained, her voice void of emotion. It wasn't exactly a lie, though she'd heard it after being triggered by the guilt that was now starting to eat her alive.

He looked unsure, scratching the back of his head like he often had during the tutoring session, and reminded her of a brilliant way to change the subject before it took a bad turn.

"We can continue with Charms after dinner, okay?"

He nodded, a short huff escaping his mouth as he stretched his legs and stood up. "That'd be nice."

It was anything but nice.

When Hermione had offered to come back to it, she hadn't meant it with additional company.

Lily sat on the same side as James, looking up from her notes more than once to smile softly at her boyfriend.

They're adorable, Granger commented and she barfed in her mouth a little. They were anything but cute. At least, they weren't kissing in front of— oh, never mind. They just did.

Wasn't it Lily, who had complained about PDA and such?

Now, it was only fair that she immediately waved over at Benjy, who she found entering the library from the corner of her eyes. The boy beamed at her and merrily walked to their table.

"Hey there!" He sat on the seat beside her, dropping his bag to the floor with a thud.

She gave him a light laugh. "I was going to ask if you'd like to join us, but seeing the way you're already here . . . I got my answer."

"Right, sorry." Benjy stood up from his seat and looked down at her with a grin. "May I have this seat, Madame?"

"Of course, Good Sir," she snipped, biting down a smile.

When she looked back at the couple, their mouths hung open and brows almost shot up to their hairline.

"You look like you've seen a basilisk," she joked, unsure as to why she'd mentioned the creature, until Granger supplied her with the terrifying image of a large snake, with bright yellow eyes. Did fighting venomous, deadly creatures come with the whole defeating Voldemort thing, or was it more of a pastime for the woman?

"A what?" James shook his head, shifting his attention to Benjy, instead. "James Potter," he told him quite warily.

The seventh year rolled his eyes and said, "Benjy Fenwick and like I told Hermione, I'd be a fool not to know who the famous Marauders are."

Her best friend flashed a smug smile and ran a hand through his black, unruly locks. "I think I like you."

Lily cleared her throat, catching both boys' attention. "Lily Evans."

It took a moment, then there was a glimmer of realization in his eyes. "It's an honour to finally meet the love of Mr. Potter's life."

James groaned. "Don't call me that. I'm not as old as my dad."

Hermione mindlessly picked up a quill, intent on finishing up her essay as the chatter continued, but it seemed someone else had other intentions. Her brows furrowed when she heard Lily hiss, "James! Don't be so insensitive."

Her head shot up and she fixed her gaze on the Prefect. "Why do you think he was being insensitive?"

"Well . . . your dad—"

Hermione's face twisted on the side and she shook her head. "I'd rather not hear about him directly."

You didn't even know him at all, she wanted to say. But then again, who really knew him?

Still, the thought of him ached her chest and she wished her brother was there to ease it. Where was he, anyways?

He wasn't at dinner either, Granger pointed out.

"Hermione?"

Her head snapped back to Benjy and she flashed him an apologetic smile. "Sorry, I blanked out for a moment. Have you seen Sirius?"

He shook his head, so she turned her attention to the couple, who looked equally confused on the other Black's whereabouts.

"I haven't seen Padfoot since this morning," James noted in a slow voice, a small crease between his brows as he stared at her intensely. "Why don't you check the map?"

Hermione half-heartedly listened as Lily's questions began, asking about the map and such. She couldn't ignore the panic that started to blossom in the pit of her stomach, leading her to rise from her seat and grab her bag.

"I'm going to find Sirius," she told them as she drew a calming breath, hurrying to collect her belongings and stuff them inside.

"Should I—" James began, but when she threw a glance at him, his mouth seemed to be sealed shut, so she let him be. He had to stay with Lily, anyways.

A/N: Sorry for the delay! I was starting to wonder if you guys liked shorter chapters better, or do you prefer to read longer ones? I'm always ready to read any feedback! Forgive me if this chapter feels a bit stiff, as it has been long since I've written anything other than essays, lol.