Sense of Belonging

Chapter 25

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter (that magic belongs to J.K. Rowling).

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Isabelle did not sleep well that Christmas night, after her fight with Draco and an odd sense keeping her awake. She got up when the green light started to stream into her dorm room and headed straight down for breakfast. The four tables had returned to the Great Hall and only two others were already awake. One of the Hufflepuffs was sitting with their cat at the table enjoying a warm bowl of oatmeal. The Astronomy Professor sat up front, stirring her cup of coffee and reading a book. As soon as the Slytherin sat down at her usual place, an assortment of rolls, sausage, and juices appeared in front of her. How did Hogwarts always know?

Glancing around once more, she filled her plate with food and began to eat. The enchanted ceiling showed a clear sky, bright sunlight shining through the hall's giant windows. What were her plans for today? The library with Hermione, maybe go outside with Jett, help Madam Pomfrey with potions… Her options were limitless. Now all she had to do was wait for her Gryffindor friends.

Slowly the other students and professors joined those already in the Great Hall. The first Gryffindor was the eldest Weasley brother, the prefect. The two Ravenclaws came down together, the one girl blushing from whatever they were talking about. A few more of the Weasleys came down, followed by Potter. It had been almost an hour since Isabelle was sitting at the Slytherin table alone before her Housemates trickled in. Draco, Gregory, and Vincent (Iz really preferred their last names, she thought) sat down across from the younger Malfoy sibling without saying a word.

"Good morning," Iz offered quietly, passing her brother some pumpkin juice. He merely nodded, never having been a morning person.

"How's the stomachache, Goyle?" The second-year boy looked at her with a more confused look than normal. Maybe it had been Crabbe who had been sick?

Deciding she would try and talk to Draco later, she turned back to glance at the Gryffindor table. Where was Hermione?

Just then she noticed Jett walking in, a huge yawn as she made her way towards her House's table. Izzy stood quickly to intercept her.

"Hey, Jett. Good morning."

"Morning," was all the blonde-haired girl offered.

"Is Hermione sleeping in or something? Or did she already head to the library?" Iz watched as Jett shifted uncomfortably, glancing towards Potter and Weasley at the table. "What's wrong?"

"…Hermione's actually in the Hospital Wing. But you can't go to see her! She doesn't want to be disturbed – "

"What happened?!" The Gryffindor made no attempt at a response. "Was it something with the potion? I knew it was too dangerous!" Iz said before rushing out of the Great Hall, going to check on one of her closest friends. Jett ran after her, trying to convince her to leave it all alone. The Slytherin ignored her and pushed open the doors to the Hospital Wing.

Hermione had just woken up and was beginning to eat her breakfast. She looked over to the door expecting to see Jett or Harry.

"Merlin's beard, Hermione?!" Isabelle ran forward, eyes wide at the sight of her friend. The usually-bushy-haired Gryffindor was now covered in thick black hair – or was it fur? Her eyes had turned bright yellow and whiskers were poking out from either side of her nose. Two pointed ears showed just above her hair and Iz swore she could see the tip of a tail on the other side of her friend's bedsheets.

"Don't look at me, I'm hideous!" Hermione tried to hide under the sheets but her friends could still see her ears. Jett huffed and crossed her arms, deciding to sit in a chair, having spent enough time the night before convincing her fellow Gryffindor to come up to the Hospital Wing.

"…what happened?" Izzy asked again, looking first to Jett before approaching Hermione's bedside. "Hermione, talk to me. Did someone curse you?" When she didn't answer, the Slytherin sat down on the bed gently before repeating, "What happened?"

"…the potion went wrong…" Her friend's now-squeaky voice sounded through the sheets, still refusing to look out.

"The truth potion?" Hermione did not answer and, with Jett now curled up in a chair nearby and appearing asleep, Iz turned back to her cat-like friend. "It wasn't a truth serum, was it?"

"No…"

"But if it wasn't a truth potion, what were you trying to do? And why did you transform into a…kind of cat?" Still no response from either of her Gryffindor friends, Izzy sighed in frustration. What weren't they telling her? Then she realized –

"You were trying to interrogate one of the Slytherins. And if it wasn't a truth serum, and you ended up transforming yourself into an animal… Were you trying to disguise yourself? To pretend to be Slytherins?" Isabelle watched as Hermione reappeared with a guilty look, pulling the sheet back from her furry face.

"…yes, and I thought I had brewed the Polyjuice Potion correctly! I swear I followed every step, and it worked for the others but for me…" Tears had formed at the thirteen-year-old's cat-like eyes and she looked away again, ashamed.

"The others? Jett and Harry and…Ronald too?" The Gryffindor just nodded, still unable to make eye contact with her friend.

"So…why did your trial go wrong?" Isabelle finally asked after a short break of silence, unfamiliar with the difficult potion except for when Professor Snape had mentioned it a few weeks back.

"The potion isn't supposed to be used for animal transformations. I thought I was going to turn into Millicent Bulstrode, I stole a piece of hair off her robe during Duelling Club but…" Hermione finally looked up to meet Izzy's eyes, biting her lip as if unsure how much she should tell her friend.

"But it was one of her cat's hairs?"

"Yes. And so I turned into this and…Madam Pomfrey said it will take /weeks/ to fix…" The Gryffindor's voice broke as she recalled what the nurse had said. What about all of her classes and work? What would her classmates think?

"Does she know what you were trying to do?" Hermione simply shrugged and glanced over to where Jett was curled up 'asleep' on one of the chairs.

"At least it was just a trial run for the potion, right? Obviously it is too dangerous to use when the students come back." Izzy continued, shaking her head in disapproval but glad that no one else had gotten seriously hurt. There was no response from either of her friends, signaling to the Slytherin that something was not right.

"Mione…are you still going to try and pretend to be Slytherins?" Still no reply. The Gryffindor was avoiding Iz's gaze. At that moment, something clicked in her mind.

"You already did it. Last night wasn't a test to see if it worked… If you were trying to turn into Milly, what about Potter and Weasley? And Jett…?" Isabelle glanced to her other friend, sure she was now just pretending to be asleep. The young Malfoy stood suddenly, glancing between the two before stepping over to meet Hermione's eyes. "Who were you trying to talk to?"

The culpability and regret in the Gryffindor's cat-like eyes was clear and, recognizing that her cunning friend would figure it all out anyways, she whispered, "We wanted to make sure your brother wasn't the heir."

"Draco? But I already told you – both of you – that he wasn't it. I asked him. I even asked our parents!"

"Right, we know… But Harry and Ron didn't believe it and I wanted to be sure, so Jett said something about getting into the Slytherin House dorms and I remembered the Polyjuice Potion and we thought it would be simple…"

"…so you didn't trust me. Either of you. You didn't think I was telling you the truth?" Iz glanced first at Hermione and then to Jett, who had now given up pretending to be asleep.

"I believed you, Izzy! We just wanted to be sure and we thought, if we could pretend to be someone your brother trusted, he would tell us." The bushy-haired Gryffindor attempted to explain.

"And he did. He said he /wished/ he knew." Jett clarified with a shrug, looking to Hermione.

"But I had already told you, none of us know… If you were trying to get Draco to talk, and you were trying to become Millicent, and the boys were probably Crabbe and Goyle, then Jett would have – " Isabelle paused and put a hand to her head, remembering what had happened at Duelling Club. "My hair!"

"Guilty." Jett smirked, thinking her friend might find it funny. "You have a lot of hair, you know that? Plus I think your idiot brother suspected something was up, Ronald almost gave us away with his stupid stomachache stunt, and honestly Draco irritates me so much that I couldn't act all nice to him like you do."

"You pretended to be /me/?! What if I had come up to the common room sooner? What would you have done if the real Crabbe and Goyle had appeared?" Izzy paused, thinking about Draco's comments that evening before their fight. He had said she was acting strangely. Her anger at her friends reemerged, not for their sense of safety but for violating their friendship. "But it doesn't matter. The fact is you didn't trust me when I told you the truth. You didn't believe me and so you made a dangerous potion and lied to me and the professors – I should have told the professors last night."

"Izzy, wait, we did believe you! We just wanted to be sure – " Hermione tried to get out of her hospital bed, her stripped tail getting in the way.

"No, you didn't! You don't trust me, you lied to me – you had me lie for you."

"We were trying to figure out the truth. What if your brother was lying to you?" Jett replied, attempting to reason with Iz.

"Draco wouldn't lie to me. But you two did."

Without waiting for any more excuses, Isabelle pulled open the Hospital Wing doors and ran. How could her two best friends have done this? Lie to her, pretend to be her, not trust or believe her? She should go and tell the professors what they had done. But wouldn't they ask why she didn't say anything at the Christmas feast the night before? Then she would also get in trouble. She should have told them then, why had she been so stupid?