I'll Catch Myself When I Fall - Chapter 3 - lonibal - Harry Potter (2024)

Chapter Text

Up, Sarah thought.

The broom slapped her hand with such force Sarah staggered to the side. Her fingers gripped the broomstick reflexively. She was surprised to find the broom was light, and not at all difficult to hold horizontal to the ground.

Around her, other students were also attempting to make their school-issued brooms jump into their hands. A few had already been successful, like Ernie Mac-something and Zacharias Smith, the latter of whom looked rather smug about it. The girl next to Sarah was practically screaming at her broom, which rolled lazily in the grass. One boy got hit in the face, and immediately burst into tears.

One way or another, eventually everyone was holding a broom. Sarah tried to be patient, like Professor Sprout had asked of her, but some days it was harder than others.

The broom lady with a whistle told them to mount their brooms. It looked like it was going to be uncomfortable, but when Sarah slung her leg over the broomstick she was astonished to find it was like sitting on a cushion. It was awkward while wearing robes, though, as they rucked up almost to her knees. Perhaps that was why witches in movies and cartoons sat sideways, though she wasn’t sure.

At the sound of the whistle, Sarah kicked off the ground. She shot into the air, focused intently on keeping the broom steady. She couldn’t help the smile that grew on her face at the swooping feeling in her stomach, at the weightlessness. She wanted to keep going up, but the broom lady was running around, stopping the other students from going too high by grabbing their brooms. Sarah did not want her broom to be grabbed, so she quietly floated only a few feet above the ground.

The lady had them land, dismount, mount, rise, over and over again. Sarah had got the hang of it the first time, and was restless by the end of the lesson. As she walked back to the castle, she hoped they would get to do some actual flying next class.

Professor Sprout had shown Sarah where the library was, conveniently located on the ground floor. Convenient for Hufflepuffs, at least. Sarah was interested in exploring it, but she was also getting used to going to so many different locations for classes, and sleeping in a new, unfamiliar place. She was very tired.

Sarah had an opportunity to visit the library during the weekend. She had always liked libraries. Dudley had an aversion to libraries, and Sarah had often sought refuge in the one at her primary school. The library didn’t allow food, or shouting, or throwing stuff, which were all things Dudley loved. It was a poor fit, and Dudley and his gang often were kicked out before they could bother her.

The Hogwarts librarian looked more like what Sarah thought a witch ought to. She was a tall, thin woman with a sunken look about her, who looked like she hated children as much as she loved books. Someone who lived alone in the middle of a forest, doing whatever she wanted. The librarian gave Sarah a sharp look when she entered the library, then continued directing a bristling feather duster in its attack against a very large, and possibly rabid, dust bunny. Sarah covered her face with a sleeve, coughing lightly as she walked by.

Sarah had already read all of her school books, though she couldn’t remember every single thing she had read. She had learned that, even though the books were about magic, they were still rather dry and not fun to read. She ended up skipping big chunks of text to get the good parts, the parts that actually told her how to do a spell. But she had to go back and read things again so she could do her homework. Sarah had no idea how the authors had done it, but they managed to make magic sound boring.

She wanted something else to read, like a story.

The library was humongous. Sarah passed row after row of shelves, some so long they seemed to curve away from her. The shelves weren’t all in neat rows, but intersected in some massive, endless labyrinth. There were tables for students to sit at, and secluded corners with individual desks. Parts of the library were very well lit, either by lamps or sunlight streaming through the tall, crystalline windows. Other parts were shrouded in darkness, with unlit lamps hanging nearby, waiting to be used. Sarah didn't understand why, as the Wand Lighting Charm was one of the easiest spells.

Sarah did her best to avoid drawing attention, and to avoid people entirely, but people still stared, still pointed, still whispered. Some even followed her, hiding behind shelves and looking between books. She took a circuitous route through the library, hoping to confuse her stalkers.

At the back of the library was a roped off Restricted Section. The rope didn’t seem like much of a barrier to Sarah, though she imagined it was magicked in some manner to keep students out.

Sarah decided to backtrack and give all the books she passed another look.

She wandered into an aisle and began reading the spines. It seemed all the books were about birds. Phoenixes, fwoopers, fire-breathing chickens, owls. She was pulling out a book titled Owlmanac, which she hoped was about maniacal owls, when someone said, “I know you! You’re Sarah Potter!”

Sarah sighed in annoyance, then turned to look at whoever was bothering her. It was a girl, one who looked somewhat familiar. Another first-year, with hair bigger and curlier than Sarah’s, and bright brown eyes. She looked like she had just won the lottery.

“I know all about you,” said the girl excitedly. This sent alarm bells clamoring in Sarah’s head. This girl had never met her. She knew nothing. “I got all sorts of extra books for background reading, and you're in lots of them!”

Sarah stared at the girl as she listed all of the books she had seen Sarah’s name in. Sarah already knew she was in all of those books. There was something hungry about the bushy-haired girl. Something desperate. It was off-putting.

Sarah had seen pictures of her parents for the first time in her life in a book about the war, and pictures of herself in a diaper with her scar on full display. The pictures moved, like all magical pictures did. Her parents were smiling. Her baby-self was crying and flailing. Baby Sarah’s parents had just been murdered. And this girl knew all about that. She had read about it in all sorts of books.

“It’s nice to meet you,” said the girl, sticking her hand out. Sarah stared at the hand. “I’m Hermione Granger, by the way. I was so surprised when I got my letter! No one in my family’s magical at all.”

A number of people had attempted to shake Sarah’s hand since the start of school. This was the first time someone had cornered her. She clutched the owl book to her chest, wishing the excited girl would just go away, upset at the reminder of being so famous when she had only wanted a story to read. Libraries were supposed to be a refuge. Peaceful, quiet places where people left you alone.

Sarah shook her head, and took a step away. The girl’s smile fell. Sarah hated how this made her feel a bit guilty. She wasn’t the one being rude.

“Smart move, Potter,” said another voice. Sarah jumped, her heart pounding wildly in her chest. She turned to see a pale blond boy, flanked by two much larger boys. The boy smirked, obviously amused by startling her.

It was two Dudleys and a Piers. The blond boy looked at Sarah in a way that made her uneasy.

“No one wants to shake your hand,” said the pale boy, his vicious gaze landing on the bushy-haired girl. “You filthy mudblood!”

Sarah frowned in confusion. She looked at the girl, who seemed equally baffled by this statement.

“My name’s Malfoy,” said the pale boy. “Draco Malfoy. These two are Crabbe and Goyle.”

Sarah looked at the two Dudley-esque boys, then to the pale boy. She didn’t like the looks of them, nor how the boy said mudblood the same way Hagrid said muggle. She thought mudblood was likely a bad word for people without magical families. People like the bushy-haired girl. Mudblood. Dirty blood.

Sarah scowled at the pale boy, nodded to the bushy-haired girl, and walked away. She had another note to write, before she forgot what name the pale boy had given her.

The library incident was revelatory.

The people around Sarah were now neatly sorted into two categories: people who liked the Girl-Who-Lived, and people who did not. The bushy-haired girl was clearly in the former, and, after receiving detention with Mr. Filch, the pale boy was decidedly in the latter.

Sarah felt no connection between herself and the Girl-Who-Lived. She was a girl who Sarah was utterly unfamiliar with. Sarah did not like being called by that name. She did not like people knowing her actual name either, but she had no choice in the matter. Every single witch and wizard in the entire world knew her name. It would be like that forever. Unless Sarah changed her name, or perhaps moved to another world.

She imagined her broom taking her into space as she puttered around the quidditch pitch with the other first year students. A few, mostly Zacharias Smith, complained about how slow and boring it was, until the broom lady took a point from him. Sarah agreed it was slow, but very much disagreed it was boring. She got to be on a broom, got to fly, was entertained by the lady blowing her whistle and people’s brooms acting up, watched interesting clouds, saw strange shapes passing under the trees of the Forbidden Forest, and she had plenty of things to think about. School work, going to space, what Hedwig was up to. The possibilities were endless.

As she completed another lap around the pitch, Sarah thought Zacharias Smith—who she spitefully called Zach in her head—was rather boring himself. Between him and Justin Finch-Fletchley, Sarah was convinced they could bore someone to death.

Professor Sprout said it would take some time for people to get used to Sarah, and for all the excitement over her going to Hogwarts to die down.

Things, however, did not get better for Sarah. They became worse in several regards.

Her reclusive nature, instead of driving people away, incongruously made them even more curious. The first blow came a month into the school year.

Sarah had continued to wake up well before everyone else so she could have breakfast with Hedwig, alone in the Great Hall. She had also managed, a few times, to arrive to dinner late enough that almost everyone was gone. Sometimes she would take food from the table and find somewhere else to eat, other times she gamely ate her food while being stared at. She was trying.

One morning, Sarah walked happily into what she assumed was an empty Great Hall. She had one foot over the threshold when she froze. There was already someone there. Several someones, who were all watching the doors. Waiting for her.

Sarah spun around and walked away, stomping down the stairs to the basem*nt. She wasn’t hungry anymore, and her mind was spinning, trying to think of how something like that could have happened. They must have wondered when she had breakfast, and speculated that she ate before everyone else.

That was fine. She passed the portrait entrance to the kitchens and kept walking to her dormitory. That was perfectly fine. She was thirsty, and hungry, and felt incredibly intruded upon. She stopped walking, reconsidering her actions. She didn’t want to be driven away, but she also did not want to endure eating her breakfast under intense scrutiny. It had been such a relief to have a solitary meal, to eat in peace. She didn’t have that anymore. Someone had taken it away from her. They had to know she went to breakfast early specifically so she could eat alone, and they just hadn’t cared. Her feelings didn’t matter at all.

When she got back to her dormitory, Sarah threw herself onto her bed and shut the curtains firmly. She shoved her face into her pillow, crying tears of frustration. Sarah was upset that she was crying, which made her cry more. She didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything.

Sarah hid in her bed all day. She had gone without food and water plenty of times. She could outlast them.

Sarah liked most of her classes.

Astronomy was really interesting. She knew about some constellations, but the stars were usually not visible in Little Whinging. She had rarely gone outside at night at all, and had few memories of stars. In the Astronomy Tower, she got to look at them all she wanted. And Professor Sinistra didn’t let anyone talk, so she could pretend no one else was there.

Charms and Transfiguration were mostly interesting because they actually got to do magic. Sarah didn’t exactly have fun in those classes, since both Professor Flitwick and Professor McGonagall spent a long time talking before letting people use their wands. When they finally did practice spells it was often annoying. A poorly cast spell could go really wrong. There were a lot of explosions and things flying around the room. One of the girls in Ravenclaw had a tendency to wipe her nose on her robes. It left long streaks of snot, which Sarah was disgusted by. One of the boys farted a lot and pretended it was an accident. Sarah hated him.

Sarah spent a lot of time practicing spells; she had to, since she would not say the incantations aloud. Professor McGonagall had told her from the beginning she would have to work extra hard to not fall behind. And there was no reason not to do magic as much as possible. It filled up much of Sarah’s free time.

Sarah liked Herbology well enough. The plants were strange and alive—sentient, Professor Sprout said—and Sarah was allowed to work by herself. After her breakfast time was ruined, Sarah sometimes got food from the kitchens and ate in a greenhouse. Professor Sprout didn’t mind.

Flying lessons were great. Some people were still struggling with the basics, but the broom lady, whose name turned out to be Madam Hooch, let the rest of the class do more demanding drills. Sudden turns, abrupt stops, quickly changing altitude. Sometimes she let them do whatever they wanted

The worst classes, by far, were Defense Against the Dark Arts, History of Magic, and, most horrible of all, Potions.

Sarah’s opinion of the classes had not changed since her first day. The smell in the Defense class room gave her a headache, and sometimes her scar felt weird, which made her incredibly perturbed. She also learned next to nothing, as the professor could barely get through a sentence.

She never paid any attention in History of Magic. She had read A History of Magic. Everything the professor said was almost exactly the same as in the book. Sarah couldn’t see the point in going, and it wasn’t as if anyone else was paying attention. Their ghost professor didn’t seem to care.

Potions was, hands down, Sarah’s most hated class. Even though Professor Sprout had restored the points Snape took the first day, and canceled her detention, this had only made him more cruel. Sarah was still forced to work with another student, Snape still liked to stand next to her and make mean remarks about everything she did, he still asked questions she didn’t know the answers to, and gave her punishments whenever something went wrong in the class. Snape was just like Dursleys; anything that happened was automatically Sarah’s fault.

Sarah couldn’t stand Potions, so she stopped going.

Since people were always watching her, it was hard for Sarah to go anywhere in secret. She went to the library for books, but never stayed in there to read. It was impossible to concentrate with all the whispering. If she found an empty table, in a few minutes other people would sit down and try to talk to her. If she found an empty study nook, she could see people hiding behind the shelves, daring each other to approach her.

Since she was allowed to check out books, Sarah made her visits as brief as possible. In and out. There were, unfortunately, not many novels or story books. She had unearthed one, something called The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which was a book of fairy tales. It was funny to Sarah that fairy tales were still a thing when fairies were real.

The stories were all very strange, and a little scary. One was about a cauldron that, instead of brewing antidotes, absorbed sicknesses and became a monster. Another was about three witches who found a giant worm that drank tears, a hill that was cursed to be near impossible to climb, and a river that demanded your greatest treasure in order to cross it. A third was about a warlock who swore to never fall in love, who put his heart in a glass case. It was in there so long it started to grow fur, which was really gross.

Sarah liked Babbity Rabbity and the Cackling Stump. It was about an old witch who tricked a king, went to live in a tree, and eventually turned into a rabbit and ran away, never to be seen again.

Her favorite story, however, was The Tale of Three Brothers.

Hogwarts was really big. The castle, the grounds, the forest and the lake. It took Sarah a while to work up the nerve to go onto the grounds; Aunt Petunia never allowed Sarah to wander Privet Drive by herself, and the number of encounters Sarah had with strangers over the years had made outside not feel very safe. Now that it was all in the open, now that she knew she was a witch, and all those people were witches and wizards, she felt more confident.

There was also a resentment in Sarah. She didn’t like being driven away from her breakfast time with Hedwig. She didn’t like how inhospitable the library was. The other Hufflepuffs had got used to her, and were content to leave her to her own devices. Even Zach had stopped complaining about how Snape treated her; it was agreed the man was a bully, and had a weird, unexplained vendetta against Sarah.

Sarah assumed Snape, like the pale blond boy, and some other students in Slytherin, had been on Voldemort’s side. There was no reason to hate the Girl-Who-Lived unless you supported Voldemort. That was the only thing people knew about her before she had got to Hogwarts, and that she had a scar. People either loved the Girl-Who-Lived for Voldemort being gone, or they hated her for it.

Her growing confidence in exploring, and her annoyance at being influenced by how others kept bothering her, hardened Sarah’s resolve. She would go outside during free periods, get food from the kitchens and eat under a tree, neatly hidden from view behind big trunks and gnarled roots. Hedwig often joined her.

Sarah was worried people would connect such a big, pretty, distinct owl with her, and perhaps begin to harass Hedwig when she rested in the Owlery, but Hedwig was clever. She knew instinctively to seek Sarah out when she was alone. Sarah could not predict when Hedwig would appear, and had taken to carrying bacon and owl treats in a pocket just in case.

On a weekend in late October, on a day when the weather had taken a decisive turn colder, Sarah wandered near the Forbidden Forest. She thought it was a stupid name for the forest, as if it wasn’t meant to exist at all. She knew from the name that students weren’t allowed inside, but she was intensely curious about it.

Hedwig was with her, sitting on her shoulder and nibbling at Sarah’s hair. Since she had read the Owlmanac back to front—it turned out to be an almanac, a book filled with facts about owls, and not about owls who were maniacs—Sarah knew lots of things about snowy owls. Grooming was a way owls showed affection, and though Sarah’s hair wasn’t as tangled anymore, the strands still twisted around each other without her noticing.

Sarah was crouched down, frowning at a spotted orange mushroom that was shaking and making an odd humming noise. She was trying to identify it, referencing her copy of One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, when someone shouted at her.

“Get away from there!”

Sarah fell backwards in surprise, dropping her book. Hedwig gave an angry squawk and took flight. Sarah whipped her head around to see who had shouted, and to her horror saw Hagrid storming towards her. He was bigger than she remembered, and with him was the largest dog Sarah had ever seen.

“What do you think you’re doing?” shouted Hagrid. “You’re not allowed in the forest!”

Sarah scrambled to her feet and ran. Hagrid was still yelling, and she was afraid he would sic his dog on her. Sarah caught sight of Hedwig flying ahead of her, guiding her to safety. Sarah rounded the Whomping Willow, hoping the violent tree would deter Hagrid and his dog. She ended up running all the way to the greenhouses and taking shelter in one.

Hedwig followed her inside. As Sarah clutched her chest, trying to breathe, Hedwig stood watch with a fierce look in her eyes. Sarah pulled her knees to her chest. She couldn’t stop shaking. She had lost her book.

Sarah stayed hidden in the greenhouse until it was dark. She was afraid to leave, in case Hagrid and his dog were waiting for her outside. Maybe the dog had got her scent, and was hunting her. She had no idea. And she knew she was being irrational, no one would let Hagrid’s dog attack students. Thinking that didn’t help. She was still scared.

Hedwig gave a soft hoot, and Sarah moved. Her arms and legs were stiff. Her glasses had dried tears on the lenses. Her eyes burned, and her throat felt raw. What had been a pleasant day had turned into a nightmare.

Sarah quietly left the greenhouse, watching as Hedwig flew into the night. She had no idea what time it was, if dinner was already over, if it was past curfew.

She closed her eyes in annoyance. Sarah was in Astronomy. She knew she could tell the time by finding Polaris and Ursa Major. She wiped her glasses off and squinted at the sky. It was like a big, backwards clock.

Hedwig returned, cutting off Sarah’s view. She had already worked out it was past the curfew for first-years, which was annoying. Her mood improved when Hedwig dropped something at her feet. Sarah smiled and picked up her book, then followed Hedwig back to the castle.

“Miss Potter, what are you doing in here?”

Sarah flinched so badly she nearly knocked over her cauldron. She spun around in alarm, wondering how the door to the bathroom had become unlocked. It made sense when she saw Professor Sprout standing there with her hands on her hips, looking very unamused.

“You are supposed to be in Potions,” said Professor Sprout. “Professor Snape tells me he has not seen you in class for several weeks!”

Sarah scowled, then turned back to her cauldron. Snape had been taking points for every missed class, and several of her classmates had approached her about it. A prefect had told her about all the detentions she was accumulating, which she also ignored.

“You cannot keep missing class, Potter,” said Professor Sprout, stepping into the bathroom. Sarah didn’t bother trying to hide the potion she was working on. She liked making them, when she wasn’t anywhere near Snape.

“It’s not safe for a first-year to brew potions on her own,” continued Professor Sprout, squatting down to look at what Sarah was doing. Sarah scooted away.

Professor Sprout sighed. “Explain yourself.”

Sarah gestured to the cauldron.

“Yes, I can see you are brewing an herbicide,” said Professor Sprout said. “I can smell it! Why have you stopped going to Potions?”

Sarah reached for her bag, pulling out something to write on.

Snape, she scrawled.

Professor Sprout frowned at the name. “He has taken an unusual number of points from Hufflepuff this year. I suppose he would do the same no matter which house you were in. He had something of a rivalry with your father.”

Sarah gave her a disbelieving look. What did that have to do with her? She wrote, He stands really close to me in class. It’s creepy. He also asks me really hard questions, and vanishes my potions before I can turn them in, and makes me work with someone.

Professor Sprout’s frown deepened. “Would you go to class if he stopped doing those things?”

Sarah hesitated, then wrote, Yes.

Professor Sprout stood, her knees creaking with the effort. “I’ll speak with Professor Snape. In the future, Potter, talk to me before taking matters into your own hands.”

Sarah nodded. She hadn’t wanted to bother Professor Sprout, and really didn’t want to go to Potions at all.

“For missing so much class, you will be serving detention for a week,” said Professor Sprout. “I’ll expect you at the greenhouses every morning at dawn.”

Sarah nodded again.

“Bottle that up and bring it with you,” said Professor Sprout, gesturing to Sarah’s bubbling cauldron. “And be grateful I’m not taking points for brewing in the lavatory!”

“Are you going to the Halloween Feast?”

Sarah looked up from her Charms essay and saw Hannah smiling at her. Sometimes Sarah did homework in her bed, but she had spilled ink all over her quilt. Frustrated, she had dragged a table behind one of the biggest plants in the common room.

Sarah shook her head.

“It’s supposed to be really fun,” said Hannah. “There’s going to be cauldron cakes!”

Sarah sighed. She knew her parents had died on Halloween. It was part of the story the Dursleys had told her, driving home drunk after a fancy dress party. Dudley always made a point of being particularly cruel every Halloween, when he and his friends had gone trick-or-treating and she was made to stay in her cupboard.

She didn’t care about live bats, or dancing skeletons, or feasts, or cauldron cakes.

Hannah stuck a hand in her robes and pulled out a small box.

“I’ve been saving this since the train ride,” said Hannah with a bright smile, “but you can have it.”

She held the box out to Sarah. It was a Chocolate Frog. After a moment Sarah took it, then she watched Hannah skip away.

After two months in school, most people in Hufflepuff were happy to leave Sarah alone. People still greeted her, and since she grudgingly returned to Potions—though not History of Magic or Defense Against the Dark Arts, to her delight—people had stopped complaining about all the points she was losing.

Sarah hadn’t been very hopeful when Professor Sprout said she would talk to Snape. Snape was still awful, but he spent less time hovering around her, and he had made a show of making Sarah sit in the front row to work alone.

She set the Chocolate Frog aside for later, then continued working on her essay.

Sarah was sitting in her bed, gnawing the legs off the Chocolate Frog and reading the facts on the Cerridwen card she had got, when the door flew open.

“Sarah, are you in here?”

Sarah pushed her curtains aside and saw an agitated Susan.

“The prefects want everyone in the common room,” she said. “There’s a troll in the castle. They’ve sent up food.”

Sarah put her half-eaten chocolate back in its package, grabbed a book from her bedside table, then followed Susan out of the dormitory. The common room was noisy and full of people. Sarah gathered that the troll had been spotted in the dungeons.

She found a piece of wall to sit against, and wedged herself behind a large potted plant. It had green stems and gleaming copper leaves. There were so many plants in the Hufflepuff Basem*nt, and one thing Sarah liked to do was try to identify them on her own. She spent some time paging through One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, pausing occasionally to look at the colorful, moving drawings. It was one thing that made magical books better than non-magical ones. Magic could make them interactive. Some of the pictures even had a smell.

Sarah waited a long time to find out what was going on. People were talking and laughing, preoccupied by the feast that had materialized in their common room. The room grew louder and louder, especially when people began playing Exploding Snap. Just as Sarah was thinking about sneaking back to her dormitory with a jacket potato, the Fat Friar, the Hufflepuff ghost, floated into the room. He was usually very jolly and friendly, but he had a grave expression as drifted towards the prefects. Sarah closed her book, leaning slightly forward.

When the Fat Friar left, a seventh-year prefect clapped to get their attention. All of the prefects looked stricken by whatever the Fat Friar had told them.

“The feast is over,” he said. “We need everyone in their dormitories. Professor Sprout will be here soon to check.”

People complained, but when it was clear the prefects wouldn’t budge, eventually the common room emptied. Sarah crawled out from behind the plant—which she had identified as Niffler’s Fancy—and went back to her dormitory.

Hermione Granger was dead.

Sarah sat in numb silence as the headmaster explained what had happened. Somehow, a troll had entered the castle. Somehow, it got into the dungeons. Somehow, it got to the first floor, where it entered the lavatory in which Hermione Granger had been crying.

The headmaster did not share this last part, but everyone was talking about it. Someone said something mean, and Hermione Granger had been hiding in the lavatory all day. By the time the professors found the troll, it was too late.

The Great Hall was draped in black. The headmaster said classes were canceled for the day, and that they were to stay in their dormitories.

Sarah followed the rest of her house back to the Hufflepuff Basem*nt. Hermione Granger. She was the girl who had approached Sarah in the library. A Gryffindor, apparently, and a very bright witch. That was how the headmaster had described her. A bright, promising witch. She was dead.

She drifted down the corridor. A girl was dead. A girl who had spoken to her. A troll had killed her. It was sad, and scary, and horrible. Someone her age had been killed, in a lavatory, at school. It was the worst thing in the world. It made no sense. She should have not been in any danger in a lavatory. It hadn’t been safe. Hogwarts wasn’t safe. Hermione Granger was dead. She had wanted to shake Sarah’s hand.

Somehow, Sarah reached her bed. The other girls were whispering to each other. No one really knew Hermione Granger. She was in Gryffindor. Sarah had only interacted with her one time. Sarah didn’t know Hermione Granger at all, and hadn’t cared about her. Now she was dead. She had died in a frightening, inexplicable, painful way.

Sarah gripped her robes. She knew it wasn’t her fault, that she had nothing to do with it, but for a moment Sarah wished she had given Hermione Granger what she wanted.

Classes ended up being canceled for an entire week. The Ministry launched an investigation. Hermione Granger’s muggle parents came for her body, what was left of it. No one knew how the troll had got in, how it had got to that lavatory. There was talk of sending everyone home, but most people agreed it had been a freak accident. A student hadn’t died at Hogwarts for almost fifty years. The Gryffindor table was completely silent during meals. Some people thought it was funny that Hermione Granger had died. The pale blond boy, his friends. Fights broke out, detentions were given. There was a rumor people in Gryffindor had known Hermione Granger was in that bathroom. That the other girls in her dormitory had known, and had told no one.

During that week, Sarah spent a lot of time deep in thought. The professors had killed the troll when they found it. A full grown mountain troll. She checked out Owlmanac from the library again, the same book she had when Hermione Granger had approached her. She thought about how easily it could have been her hiding in that bathroom. She felt bad about Hermione Granger. She never wanted to die like that.

Hidden by the curtains around her bed, for the first time in weeks Sarah opened her Defense book.

The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection, Volume I did not tell Sarah how to defend herself against a mountain troll. Most of the protection it suggested was to avoid danger, which was stupid since obviously danger couldn’t always be avoided. Sometimes it hunted you down.

The book was frustrating, and it fit how Professor Quirrell taught Defense. Based on what she overheard in her dormitory, when confronting the troll their Defense professor had fainted. Sarah heard other rumors about him, like how he had been attacked by vampires and his turban was stuffed with garlic.

One cold November afternoon, Sarah found an isolated courtyard to read in. The Ministry investigators had uncovered nothing, and called what happened to Hermione Granger a tragic accident. As if mountain trolls could show up at any time and kill little girls. People had gradually stopped talking about Hermione Granger, and started talking about the upcoming quidditch match. It had been postponed for the investigation. Sarah was looking forward to the match; while everyone else was at the game, she would have the castle to herself.

Sarah was reading a book called Travels with Trolls, by some wizard named Gilderoy Lockhart. It was the closest thing to a novel she had found in the library collection, and the stories inside were rather fanciful. It seemed Lockhart went around the world fighting trolls, defeating them in a wide variety of ways. What really confused Sarah was how Lockhart described an epic battle against a juvenile forest troll, in which he had nearly lost his life, but in the next chapter talked about decapitating a river troll with a particularly strong variant of the Severing Charm. Sarah had no idea how the author had managed to stretch out the latter encounter for an entire chapter, nor why he didn’t use that same charm on all the trolls he traveled with. It sounded made up.

“Potter!”

Sarah flinched, gritting her teeth in annoyance. She hated being startled. Aunt Petunia often complained how Sarah was in her own little world, and liked to slap her out of it. Dudley and Piers loved jumping from behind things to scare her.

She looked up from the book and saw something that made her skin crawl. It was Snape, limping towards her with an ugly look on his face.

“What is that?” demanded Snape. Sarah hastily closed the book and stuck it under her cloak, wishing she had brought her bag with her so she could better hide it

“Not so fast, Potter. Is that a library book?”

Sarah shook her head. Snape narrowed his eyes. She didn’t like the way he looked at her. Like he was disgusted by her entire existence. It reminded her strongly of the Dursleys. The difference was that Snape was a wizard. He could do worse than beat her, and he looked willing to do it.

“Give it to me,” said Snape.

Sarah shook her head again. The courtyard was empty and out of the way. She hadn’t thought anyone would walk through it during break, not on such a cold day. And now Snape was here, confronting her.

He tutted at her. “Refusing to answer a teacher? Let’s see…ten points from Hufflepuff.”

Sarah rolled her eyes. She had a list documenting every time Snape took points from her. It was long.

“Give me the book, Potter,” repeated Snape.

Sarah glanced at the leg he had been limping on.

“Now,” growled Snape, shoving his hand in her face.

Sarah was fast. She leapt off the bench and ran, slipping slightly on the icy stones, and managed to get back inside the castle. She ran even faster on the dry floors. Snape was yelling something at her, but she didn’t care. She wasn’t going to spend another second near him.

The Christmas holidays were a breath of fresh air. Sarah had signed up to stay, and was one of the few people to do so. After the castle had emptied, she only saw ghosts, professors, and some red-haired boys who she avoided like the plague. She went back to eating in the Great Hall with Hedwig, taking care to stay away during the times when the boys were in there. She knew of them. The oldest one was the prefect. The twins were troublemakers who liked pranks. The youngest was the one who had made Hermione Granger cry.

The library was wonderful with no one else around. It was completely silent, save for the occasional squeaking of Madam Pince’s shoes.

Outside, the grounds were covered in several feet of snow. Sarah had rarely seen snow, and was entertained by trudging through it. Hedwig also loved the snow, and they spent a lot of time carving paths across the grounds. Sarah even broke into the broomshed near the quidditch pitch, though she had to be careful to not get caught. She loved flying with Hedwig, so even if she did get in trouble it was worth it.

Sometimes the red-haired boys would be out on the grounds throwing snowballs at each other, the twins and the youngest boy. Sarah laid low so they wouldn’t bother her.

Sarah expanded her exploration of the castle. The presence of other students, who still gawked at her, had put her off satisfying her curiosity. With them gone, she was free to roam. There were still professors, ghosts, portraits, and the four boys, but Hogwarts was very big, and it was easy to evade people. She didn’t go into the dungeons where Snape was, nor near Gryffindor tower. That still left hundreds of staircases, chambers, corridors, and courtyards to traverse.

While she was more comfortable expanding her range, she was still cautious. Sarah took her wand everywhere, and spent time practicing spells. Severing charms, softening charms, disarming charms. Petrification, knockback, jelly-legs. Fire-making and water-making. Locking and unlocking.

It had been nearly two months since Hermione Granger had been killed, but it was not something Sarah would ever forget. She didn’t trust the headmaster’s reassurances, that security would be better, that the castle was safe. Why hadn’t it been safe before?

Hogwarts was a large magical dwelling, and such places drew all sorts of magical things. Sarah knew the house-elves cleaned the castle, but not the entire thing. Some areas were dark and dusty with disuse. The dungeons were a perfect example. Who knew what lurked down there?

Sarah woke on Christmas morning feeling bleak. Professor Sprout had found Sarah in the library and said she was expected at Christmas dinner. She had also apparently written to the Dursleys to tell them Sarah was staying for the holiday, which Sarah hadn’t thought of doing. They didn’t care if she stayed, and she didn’t want to tell them anything.

She almost screamed when she saw something had been placed at the foot of the bed. She was so disoriented that it took her a moment to understand that no one had broken into her dormitory and put the items there in her sleep. It was done by a house-elf. At least, Sarah hoped it was a house-elf.

A scratch at the window alerted her to Hedwig’s presence. Sarah had cleared the snow away so Hedwig could visit her. Sarah jumped out of bed and dragged a chair over so she could reach the window. She knew a spell to unlock it, but she didn’t know a spell to open it.

Hedwig flew in and landed on her bed, giving the packages a mistrustful look. Sarah approached them slowly, not wanting to touch them in case they had been cursed. Her book for Defense talked a little about cursed objects. But then Sarah reminded herself that it was probably the house-elves who had placed the packages on her bed, and they wouldn’t give a student something that was cursed.

Satisfied with her logic, Sarah picked up a box. It was a gift from the girls in her dormitory, who had sent her a variety of sweets and chocolates. Sarah hadn’t known about the Trolley Witch on the Hogwarts Express, who supplied Hogwarts students with sweets. She had never had many sweets in her life, not that the other girls knew that. She hoped they hadn't expected anything in return. Sarah had never received a Christmas gift before, nor had she given one. It was an unusual situation.

The next package said To Sarah, From Hagrid. She was tempted to burn it unopened, but Hedwig pecked at it so Sarah caved. It was a wooden flute that looked like Hagrid had made it himself. Sarah set it aside; she would have to wash it before she even considered trying it out.

The last package didn't say who it was from. She opened this most carefully. Inside, there was a strange silvery fabric. Hedwig pecked at it, so Sarah knew it was safe to touch. She picked it up, and a note slipped out.

Your father left this in my possession before he died.

It is time it was returned to you.

Use it well.

A Very Merry Christmas to you.

Sarah bristled. Her father had left something behind, and it had taken someone a decade to return?

She stood up to shake the fabric out. It was obviously magical, and felt cool and slippery, as if it had been woven out of water.

Sarah immediately knew what it was.

Her irritation at the mystery sender gone, Sarah ran into the bathroom and flung the cloak over her shoulders. She was stunned when her body disappeared.

It was an invisibility cloak, like the one in her favorite story. The invisibility cloak was the entire reason she liked The Tale of Three Brothers, and now she had one of her own. And the one she had been sent was huge, pooling at her feet. She draped the fabric completely over herself, like a ghost costume made out of a bedsheet, and gaped at the mirror. She was gone.

Sarah crept back into her dormitory. Hedwig was preening her feathers. Sarah got as close as she dared, then threw off the cloak. It startled Hedwig into flight, and she hooted angrily at Sarah as she laughed.

She put on the cloak again and flung herself onto her bed, marveling at how good it made her feel. It was perfect. She only wished she had got it sooner.

Christmas dinner was awkward. Since there were so few people in the castle, they all sat at the same table. Sarah sat at the very end, far away from where Snape was sitting. The other heads of house were there too, as well as the headmaster and Hagrid. Then there were the four red-headed boys. They all introduced themselves to her, and even sat near her at the table. The prefect tried to shake her hand, and seemed terribly offended when she ignored him. Sarah wanted to leave, but both Professor Sprout and Professor McGonagall were watching her keenly.

The youngest boy had a very worn look about him. All of the Gryffindor first-years had been deeply disturbed by Hermione Granger’s sudden death, more so than those who had rarely interacted with her. Sarah imagined the boy felt guilty for making her cry.

Sarah felt bad for him, until he opened his mouth.

“You’re really Sarah Potter,” he said wonderingly, his entire face going pink. “Have you really got…you know…”

The boy pointed directly at her chest.

Sarah’s mind went blank. It was the first time anyone had directly asked about her scar. True, she heard whispers about it all the time, but no one had asked to see it, or had come so close to actually touching her.

The boy grew more red the longer she stared at him, and finally lowered his hand.

“Do you remember what You-Know-Who looked like?” one of the twins asked. The other one was smiling as if it were the funniest thing in the world.

“Fred!” snapped the prefect. “Where are your manners?”

It was intolerable. Sarah stood angrily, on the verge of hexing these stupid boys.

“And where do you think you’re going, Potter?” drawled Snape. “Still too good to eat with your fellow students?”

“Severus,” said Professor Sprout warningly. The food began to appear on the table. Sarah wasn’t hungry at all.

Sarah shook her head. She wasn’t going to sit with these people. She ran out of the Great Hall before anyone could stop her.

Sarah was hiding in her dormitory when Professor Sprout found her.

“I’ve taken points from them,” said Professor Sprout. “And they’ve got detention with Mr. Filch.”

Sarah didn’t respond. The house-elves had sent dinner to her room. She had barely touched it. Hedwig was pecking at the carcass of a roasted Cornish game hen.

“You left before we got to the crackers,” said Professor Sprout, holding out a brightly wrapped Christmas cracker. “Would you like to pull one with me?”

Sarah hunched her shoulders, but after a moment she reached out and grabbed the other end. She was bowled over when the cracker exploded, clouds of purple smoke rolling out. Sarah heard squeaking, and spotted several mice escaping into the smoke and under beds. A big, floppy hat had fallen out, along with a pack of Exploding Snap cards and a giant peaco*ck quill that shimmered. Sarah liked it, despite her foul mood.

“This looks useful,” said Professor Sprout cheerily, taking the hat. “Happy Christmas, Sarah.”

It took a few days for Sarah to want to leave her dormitory. She didn’t want to see any of those boys ever again, even in passing. With her invisibility cloak, she at least didn’t have to worry about them seeing her. She took it with her everywhere. She soon learned that it only made her invisible to others. It didn’t stop anyone from hearing her, or smelling her in the case of Mrs. Norris, the security cat.

Sarah poked around the entire castle, opening doors, looking around unused classrooms. There were a lot of rooms, far more than was necessary. In one dusty old room she found a very fancy mirror that was obviously out of place. Most of the rooms had nothing in them, so it stood out to Sarah.

Torn between caution and curiosity, Sarah slipped into the room and walked up to the mirror. She was startled when it wasn’t her reflection she saw, but that of an adult. She looked like an older version of Sarah, which was more strange. She even had the same glasses, and the same long, messy black hair, though hers looked better kempt. The woman was reading a book. She glanced up from it, gave Sarah a faint smile, and went back to reading as if Sarah wasn’t there.

Puzzled, Sarah decided it was only polite to not bother the mirror-woman, so she quietly left the room.

I'll Catch Myself When I Fall - Chapter 3 - lonibal - Harry Potter (2024)
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