No one was inside the first floor girl's bathroom when Ron and I entered. Not even Moaning Myrtle. Just to be safe, I decided to seal the door. If we were going to go through with Ron's plan, we couldn't afford any unwanted visitors.
Pointing my wand at the door, I said, "Colloportus!" Nothing happened. I tried again without success. Finally, Ron stepped forward and did the spell. The door squelched as it sealed.
I wasn't sure whether to thank Ron or cry. I hated being stuck with Bellatrix Lestrange's wand. Since I hadn't won its allegiance, it felt like a stranger to me. I wish I could've gotten my wand back from the Snatchers. Without it, I felt like I had no magic.
Unbidden, Draco Malfoy's voice whispered snidely in my head. Filthy little Mudblood.
I hadn’t heard this voice since I took turns sharing Slytherin’s locket with Harry and Ron. Hufflepuff’s cup must be affecting me like the locket did.
As I turned away from the door, more cruel voices started to whisper.
Chipmunk Girl. Hairmione. Hairmione.
"Hermione." Ron's concerned voice broke into my thoughts. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, Ron." I lied. “I'm just a bit tired that's all."
To distract myself, I looked around. The room was mostly unchanged from five years ago. The floors were still damp and dirty. The bathroom stalls were still scratched up and the sinks were still chipped.
The only difference was that the large, cracked, and spotted mirror now had the words DUMBLEDORE'S ARMY STILL RECRUITING etched into its surface in glowing silver letters.
Ron gaped at the mirror as he walked toward the chipped sinks underneath.
"Blimey, Neville and the others have been busy. Why graffiti here of all places?"
"Maybe they wanted to give people hope Ron." I said. "After all, this is where Harry entered the Chamber of Secrets. Maybe this was done to remind students of Harry's courage."
I looked into the mirror wistfully. A fragmented version of my dark brown skin and my brown lion mane of hair were reflected back at me. I didn't look brave. I looked like I was trying hard to be brave.
Ron walked down the row of sinks, stopping directly at the one in front of the last toilet. Then, he carefully inspected the taps. "This is it Hermione!" he exclaimed pointing at one of the taps.
I walked over and paused as I looked at the tap. It had a tiny snake etched into it. "This is the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, but how will we open it without Harry?" Ron didn't respond.
I looked at Ron and saw him staring at the serpent in concentration. Then, he opened his mouth and made a horrible hissing noise. Nothing happened. He made the noise again and still nothing. Then, on the third try, the tap glowed white and spun as the sink descended into the ground to reveal a pipe.
"Ron, that was brilliant!" I squealed.
Ron looked embarrassed. "I just imitated Harry's Parseltongue the best I could." He peered down into the pipe and looked at me. "I think I should go first, since you haven't been down there before." He slid his legs into the pipe and let go without waiting for a reply.
After making sure Hufflepuff's Cup was safe in my magical beaded handbag, I followed. As the pipe twisted and turned, I could feel myself going deep beneath the school. I saw other pipes branching off and felt satisfied that my hunch about the basilisk had been right five years ago.
Eventually, the pipe leveled out and I shot out with a wet thud on the damp floor. As I stood up, I saw Ron looking around the dark stone tunnel we'd landed in with the light from his wand.
"Lumos!" I said, attempting to light Bellatrix's wand. I swore, tried again, and failed. I was a failure without my wand." Then, just as Ron turned toward me, my eyes met the glow from his wand and my body froze.
Instead of seeing Ron's wand, I now saw the glow of a drawing room fireplace as an irate woman's voice demanded, "Where did you get the sword?" I won't tell you Bellatrix. I thought. Then she yelled "Crucio!" and I was screaming, screaming because it felt like a thousand lightning bolts were striking me.
Now there was another voice screaming, screaming my name. "Hermione! HERMIONE!" I focused on that voice, and gasped as Ron's freckled face came into view. Then I collapsed to the tunnel floor, sobbing. Ron dropped to the floor and held me close, throwing his free arm around me while keeping his wand out.
After a little while, my sobs subsided and I got to my feet. Wiping my face with one hand, I turned to Ron and told him what happened. “I saw B-Bellatrix!” I stammered, trembling in Ron’s arms. “I remembered her torturing me about Gryffindor’s sword! I couldn’t tell her, but then she used the C-Cruciatus Curse and it hurt s-so m-much! It still hurts!”
He looked at me and said fiercely, "You'll be okay Hermione. We'll give Bellatrix hell so she never hurts anyone else."
Thinking of Harry and the others fighting gave me the strength to stand. I pulled out my handbag and rummaged through it until I found Hufflepuff's Cup. I gripped it tightly with renewed purpose as I turned to Ron and spoke. "Let's go. Harry's waiting for us."
“Just follow my wandlight and stay close to me." said Ron. He turned and led the way down the tunnel. It was so large that we could barely see in front of us. Our footsteps crunched as we stepped on small rocks and skulls. The air smelled damp and slightly decayed.
After many turns, we found ourselves facing a stone wall with two entwined serpents carved in. Their eyes were set with glinting emeralds. Ron made the hissing noise again and the doors opened. Exchanging reassuring glances, we walked in.
We stood at end of a long, dimly lit chamber. On each side of the chamber, towering stone pillars entwined with carved serpents rose to support a ceiling covered by darkness. Some of the pillars were partially destroyed and the decayed smell from the tunnel was stronger here. It seemed to be coming from the end of the chamber.
Suddenly, the cup burned white hot in my hand. I screamed, dropped the cup, and it landed on the stone floor with a loud bang. Raising his wand, Ron pointed it at the cup and yelled, "Wingardium Leviosa!" and the cup flew into the air. Ron moved the cup through the air as we moved forward between the columns.
As we reached the end of the pillars, we could see a statue as high as the chamber against the back wall. By its feet lay the long, gigantic corpse of a basilisk. Its head was startling because there were punctured holes where its eyes used to be and its fangs looked sharp and deadly.
"Blimey!" Ron gasped. "Harry must've had a rough time fighting this!"
"At least he didn't have to worry about being Petrified or killed after Fawkes blinded it." I replied.
Then, I looked up and yelled a warning, but it was too late. In his awe, Ron lost focus and the cup crashed to the ground again, landing by the basilisk’s head. Ron looked at me sheepishly as we walked toward the head. As I walked over to the cup and picked it up, I spotted half a pillar laying sideways near the chamber's back wall.
I set the cup down on the broken column as I heard Ron cry, "Accio basilisk fang!" I turned to see Ron catching a fang in his outstretched hand before walking over to me. He handed me the yellowed fang and I looked at him in surprise.
"Go on, Hermione. Me and Harry have already destroyed a Horcrux so it has to be you."
I walked closer to the pillar and peered down at the cup. Living eyes blinked within in the cup, which was now filled with water. The eye was dark and handsome and I was fleetingly reminded of my ex Viktor Krum. Then, a voice hissed out from the cup.
"I have seen into your heart and it is mine."
"Ignore it Hermione!" Ron yelled. "Stab it!"
"I have seen your dreams, Hermione Granger, and I have seen your fears. All that you desire is possible, but all that you dread is also possible..."
"Just stab it Hermione!" Ron's voice had a note of fear in it now. My hand shook as I looked into the eyes in the cup.
"Put down then, by Muggles, for your skin, hair, and teeth... put down, now, by Wizards, for your intelligence and blood status...Never enough, always flawed.."
"Do it now!" Ron screamed.
Then, I shrieked as two watery distorted heads sprung up out of the cup. One of them was Draco Malfoy. The other... was Ron himself.
I backed away quickly as the heads grew chests, then waists, and finally legs. They stood side by side over the real Ron, who looked like he was going to be sick.
The fake Draco spoke in a high, cold voice.
"Bellatrix should've killed you Granger! You don't deserve to be a witch, you disgusting Mudblood!"
"You're not just disgusting!" The fake Ron echoed. "You're a nightmare! Honestly, you're so pathetic! All that reading and all that studying and you're still not outstanding!"
Tears were streaming down my face. I barely heard the real Ron bellowing my name, begging me to stab the cup. Yet, I couldn’t find the strength to. I felt so small, so stupid. How could I believe that I could hide my flaws behind my books and my cleverness?
"If I had to grade you Granger, I wouldn't give you a O for being Outstanding," fake Malfoy taunted. "I'd give you a T, because you're a troll!"
"You're not even a girl!" Fake Ron jeered. "That's why I didn't ask you to the Yule Ball! I would've gone with anyone but you!"
"You're not a girl and you're not a witch!" Fake Malfoy said. "You're nothing!"
A terrible thirst rose in me as the cup repeated. “All that you dream is possible, but all you fear is possible. If you truly want your longings fulfilled, then drink my water.”
I walked up to the cup and reached for it as bad memories surfaced.
All the bullying. Fighting with Ron about Viktor and Lavender. My teeth being jinxed by Malfoy. Every Hogwarts grade that wasn't Outstanding. Every moment I tried to prove myself to others.
Did all that mean that I was nothing? Am I a witch or not?
The question echoed in my mind as I recalled other memories. Saving Ron from Devil's Snare. Punching Malfoy in the face. Getting Harry to form Dumbledore's Army. Saving Harry and Ron from the Snatchers at the Lovegood's house.
I drew my hand back from the cup and looked down at Bellatrix’s wand. With it, she had tortured me and countless others. I had been harmed, but I had survived. If the wand could last this long while being used for evil, then I could survive and use the wand for good. I could use the wand, not because it had magic, but because I had magic of my own.
A warm feeling rose in my chest as the wand tingled in my fingertips. Silver and blue sparks shot out of it.
Pointing it at the water figures of Draco and Ron, I yelled, "Reducto!" As the figures exploded and a damp mist rained down, I plunged the basilisk fang into the heart of the cup. There was a terrible scream as dark smoke rose out of the cup. When it dissipated, only the mangled cup remained.
Ron walked over to me looking uncomfortable. "Hermione...I'm sorry. I've been the world's biggest git to you all these years. You're brilliant, and not because you're a girl either. It's because you're magical enough to keep saving me and Harry."
I smiled at him. "I am a girl, Ron. I’m a girl who is magical enough to be a witch."