Sense of Belonging

Chapter 26

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

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Izzy stayed in the Slytherin dormitory and common room for most of the remaining week. She went down to get food very early in an attempt to avoid Jett. She only went to the library for a few minutes at a time after the first time Jett had been waiting for her there, trying to apologize. The younger Malfoy sibling didn't even talk to Draco very much, still mildly upset from Christmas and not wanting to admit to him what her "friends" had done.

At the beginning of January, Isabelle received a note from Madam Pomfrey asking if she would like to help brew a few potions before the other students returned. The Slytherin agreed, excited to do something other than study, eat, sleep, and avoid people.

Her one hesitation was that the nurse wanted her to come and work up in the Hospital Wing, so she could be sure that Iz brewed the potions correctly. Knowing this would mean seeing Hermione again, the twelve-year-old prepared herself to ignore her ex-friend.

Pushing open the heavy doors to the Hospital Wing, Isabelle walked in with her fake proud Malfoy demeanor as if she were walking down Diagon Alley. She didn't let herself glance towards where she knew Hermione's bed was but could feel the other girl's gaze. Instead, Iz focused her attention on the few students who had been petrified. Making it to the back part of the hall, the Slytherin gave a small smile to Madam Pomfrey.

"Good, you're here. We have a lot of work today. There is always a round of sickness when the students return from the holidays. We'll start with Pepperup Potion, the one you helped me with in autumn?" Setting the second-year up near the southern windows of the Hospital Wing, the nurse left the student alone to get to work.

The repetition of making potions, the stirring, adding ingredients, following the recipe to the tee, together it always seemed to relax Isabelle. Not only was she talented at it, she enjoyed it. Memorizing the instructions was easy and the pattern became mesmerizing. That is, until someone tried to talk to her.

"…Izzy?" The Slytherin ignored the voice, refusing to acknowledge it.

A few moments later it sounded again. "Izzy, I want to apologize. It wasn't right for Jett or me to lie to you. We tried to believe you, and we both really trust you, we just wanted to be sure. I mean, if it was my brother who was the heir, I wouldn't tell anyone… But that's not the point. We were wrong and we should have believed you."

Finally looking up, the Slytherin girl prepared a steely gaze to meet Hermione's eyes. "Yes, you both should have. I was your friend."

"You still are." Isabelle offered no response to this, continuing to stir the potion she was working on. She could hear it in Hermione's voice that she was truly remorseful. Glancing up for a moment, Iz could not believe how miserable her Gryffindor friend still looked – her cat ears had begun to shrink but her eyes were still large and round and the striped tail peeked out from under her robe. The young Malfoy returned her gaze to the potion, unsure what to say.

Silence returned to the Hospital Wing, minus the bubbling of the potion and the squeak of the hospital bed as Hermione returned to her place. A few minutes later, Madam Pomfrey returned to check on the second-year Slytherin's progress.

"Good. Now let it boil for ten minutes or so – you can take a seat over there. I am sure Ms. Granger would appreciate some company," Madam Pomfrey smiled, having heard from other teachers that the two were friends.

Izzy glanced in the Gryffindor's direction and, seeing as she was distracted reading a book, sighed and walked to the chair at the end of her bed. Within seconds, the bushy-haired girl looked up.

"…did you get to read my Christmas present?"

"I did. When Jett was impersonating me." Iz shot a quick glance towards her. There was a brief, quiet pause and the Slytherin semi-hoped Hermione had given up.

"Well, did you like it?"

And so, within a few minutes, the two girls were discussing yet another novel they had both enjoyed. Though Isabelle had not yet forgotten the Christmas Day incident, she missed the easy conversation and friendship she shared with Hermione. Plus, the Gryffindor had earned her own punishment – she still looked so pitiful.

Finishing a couple sets of potions for Madam Pomfrey while discussing the book with Hermione, Izzy was just getting settled again next to Hermione's bed when the Hospital Wing doors opened once more.

" – Percy needs to quit it." The youngest Weasley boy's voice echoed through the hall, signaling the Slytherin's exit. Handing Hermione her Christmas present back as requested, Isabelle grabbed her bag, gave Potter and Weasley her usual annoyed look at their existence, and left with the plan to return the next day.

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The rumors about Hermione's absence were everywhere. Most of them were plausible, something like her parents had taken her out of the magical school or she decided to go back to live with the Muggles. Many, though, painted the picture that she had been killed by Slytherin's monster over the Christmas holidays and that the Headmaster was covering it up.

"…just imagine, no more annoying Granger and her know-it-all answers in class? If only!" Pansy laughed with a few of the other Slytherins as they left the last class for their first day back.

"Now if only Longbottom were a Mudblood…" Blaise Zabini chimed in, smiling as his friends chuckled.

Isabelle had said nothing so far to anyone of what she knew, not even Draco. Although she had sort of forgiven Hermione and Jett for their dangerous and stupid actions, she would admit that she was mad at them both still. Jett had not even apologized yet for pretending to be her!

Nevertheless, the second-year Slytherin made her way through the corridors and up to the Hospital Wing as planned. Opening the large, wooden doors, Izzy gave her two Gryffindor friends a small smile.

"Did you get the Charms homework yet, Mione?" The younger Malfoy sibling offered in way of greeting, plopping down on the opposite side of Hermione's bed from Jett.

"No. Jett brought me the Transfiguration though, which I think you'll get tomorrow? Here," the now-almost-back-to-normal-bushy-haired Gryffindor replied as the two girls swapped homework.

"So Iz, any interesting stories about our dear Hermione?" Jett asked in a knowing way, having just finished telling her suitemate what the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs thought had happened to Hermione Granger.

"Uh…" The Slytherin glanced up to find both of her friends looking at her, waiting expectantly. Isabelle was not sure she wanted to repeat all she had heard today, especially her Housemates' thoughts. "Well, I think most of the Ravenclaws believe you left Hogwarts and went back to Muggle school."

"That's what the Hufflepuffs thought too!"

"Yeah, and…the Slytherins, well…they think the monster got you…"

"Got me? As in…I died?" Hermione asked, her eyebrows furrowed with confusion.

"I guess so? I didn't really ask – and I didn't want to tell them that you were stuck up here looking like a cat, because then I was sure they would come by to make fun of you." Izzy shrugged, taking out her Transfiguration textbook to write down the homework so she could finish it before it was assigned in class the next day.

"Thank you. I don't know what I would do if everyone found out that I look like…this…" The Gryffindor waved her furry hands near her face. Though there had been much improvement over the last couple of weeks of the vacation, Madam Pomfrey had said it would not be until at least the end of January that the second-year girl would be back to herself.

"Well, for now, we can meet up here in the Hospital Wing instead of in the library. I can bring you the homework if you want?" Isabelle offered, still scribbling down a few notes on a piece of parchment.

"Oh no, don't worry about it. Harry and Ron feel really bad and promised to bring me everything. Plus most of the professors came up to see me." Hermione leaned back against her pillows, sighing.

"Is that where this came from?" Jett asked with a smirk, holding up a shiny gold card that had fallen to the floor from under her Gryffindor friend's pillow.

Glancing up, Izzy mimicked her blonde-haired friend's smile. "What is it?"

"Nothing! Just a Get Well Soon card. Give it back, here – !"

"To Miss Granger," Jett read aloud, leaning back in her chair so that she was out of reach of Hermione's attempts to grab the card. "Wishing you a speedy recovery, from your concerned teacher, Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, Order of Merlin, Third Class, Honorary Member of the Dark Force Defense League and five time winner of Witch Weekly's most-charming smile award."

Without missing a second, both girls broke into laughter while what one could see of Hermione's cheeks and face burst into a deep red color of embarrassment.

"Why do you sleep with that under your pillow?!"

"It's none of your business. Now I would like to get some work done, if you please," the usually-bushy-haired girl offered as proudly as she could, now trying to hide behind her textbook.

The group of girls worked rather diligently for another hour (or as diligent as they could with Jett distracting them every five minutes) before breaking off for supper. Promising to come back as often as she could, Iz was glad she had decided to make up with both of them. Good friends were hard to come by.

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Looking at the time again, Izzy huffed in annoyance. She had already finished all of her homework for the following week. Though she could have started an extra review of the uses of lavender in potions, the Slytherin was supposed to be having a tutoring session with Ginny Weasley. They had agreed a couple of days before, when the two girls had met in the hallway.

/Perhaps she's simply forgotten and is at supper/, Isabelle thought to herself. It was sometimes difficult to reign in her temper, Iz had found, especially when she was hungry. Knowing she would only get more annoyed waiting in the library alone, the young Malfoy quickly packed up her things and made her way towards the Great Hall.

Too lost in her thoughts on the moving staircase, Iz missed the landing for the shortcut to the Great Hall and had to go up and around the other way. Wondering what food might be offered, the second-year Slytherin did not notice the gushing water from the girls' lavatory on the first floor. Splashing her way through the small flood, she finally stopped as she almost ran right into someone coming out from the bathroom.

"Ginny?" Izzy said in surprise, then taking in the situation. Her feet were now soaked with the running water, which had now risen through the bottom of her robes. She frowned, disliking the gross wetness and knowing it was probably not sink water.

She put these thoughts aside upon really looking at the first-year Gryffindor. Ginny's red hair was a mess, all frizzy and in disarray. She was crying and trembling, as if she was afraid of something. The youngest Weasley seemed ready to run and fall over from fright at the same time.

"Merlin's beard, Ginny, are you alright? What happened?" But her friend would not answer her. The red-haired girl only shook her head and looked about ready to be sick. "Come on, let's go see Madam Pomfrey." Taking the Gryffindor's hand and putting her arm around her shoulder, Isabelle led Ginny upstairs to the Hospital Wing, not even giving the flooding bathroom a second thought.

Within minutes of arriving, the school nurse had given the first year a calming draught and Ginny was peacefully sleeping in one of the beds across the room from the other Gryffindor patient.

"What happened?" Hermione asked as Izzy made her way over.

"No idea. We were supposed to have a tutoring session and I went to see if she was at supper and as I was passing the first floor girls' bathroom, Ginny appeared all shaken up like that… Do you think someone might have cursed her?" The Slytherin added, biting her lip in concern for the younger girl.

"Why would they? Maybe it's just the stress of school. Poor Ginny…"

Leaving a few minutes later, Isabelle hoped the young Weasley girl would soon feel better.

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The next few weeks went by quicker than anyone expected. Back into the swing of things, classes became routine, studying became necessary, and the cold weather remained.

After her trip to the Hospital Wing, Ginny Weasley had been doing a lot better – the best Isabelle had seen her since she had become her tutor. On top of that, Hermione was finally able to leave with Madam Pomfrey's approval the first week of February. Now looking as normal as ever, the Gryffindor was back to answering every teacher's questions in class.

As Izzy entered the library the second week of February, she had a lot on her mind. The Slytherin had overheard Potter and Weasley talking about some journal or diary and how it was from fifty years ago – the last time the Chamber of Secrets had been opened. She was sure that the diary must contain details of what had happened then and wanted to ask Hermione and Jett what they knew about it. Or steal it, if she could manage it. Plus, the two Gryffindor boys had mentioned some name – T. M. Riddle. Maybe he was an important Hogwarts student? She would research him later.

Sitting down across from Ginny at their desk in the back corner of the library, Iz found the other girl doodling on a piece of parchment paper. Leaning closer, the younger Malfoy sibling watched as Ginny wrote out "Harry Potter" and drew hearts all around the letters.

"Have a crush on someone?" Iz gave a small smirk, unsure how anyone could find Potter attractive but not wanting to break the small bond she had created with the red-headed girl.

"Hm? Oh, nothing…sorry," Ginny blushed in embarrassment, covering up the doodles with her arm.

"It's okay. You know, I heard about a secret surprise for Valentine's Day…" Izzy said, trailing off to see if the first-year would take the bait as she took out a piece of spare parchment.

"And?" Ginny asked a couple seconds later, waiting in anticipation.

"And Professor Lockhart is planning some large celebration for the entire day. I'm sure everyone will be sending chocolates and letters – you could write your crush one and send it to them!"

"What? No! That'd be too embarrassing!" Ginny's face turned as red as her hair.

"It could just be anonymous, you don't have to tell them it's from you. That way, they get something nice and you get to enjoy them being happy." Isabelle gave a final encouraging smile before opening the Gryffindor's potions book. "But anyways, let's get to your Potions homework…"

Little did Izzy know that Ginny would take her advice, sending an anonymous singing Valentine to the unsuspecting boy-who-lived and causing more trouble than either would have thought possible.

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AN: In case you don't remember from the books, Harry Potter receives a singing Valentine from Ginny. When trying to run away from it in the hallway, his bag gets ripped, he gets embarrassed by the words ("His eyes as green as a fresh pickled toad"), and Draco Malfoy finds Riddle's diary, taunting Harry with it. Oh well, how would Ginny have known? But now Izzy has learned the name T. M. Riddle. What will she discover when she does a little research?