A/N: Many thanks to my beta, Aggiebell, for her suggestions and improvements to this story. I appreciate the time she took to make it better.
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Hermione. Our daughter.
We're so proud of her, yet at this moment, so afraid for her. Who would have thought two silent little words spoken in the heat of battle would do so much damage, inflict so much pain? Two little words meant to maim or kill. The thought of it is just too terrible to comprehend. The healer, Madam Pomfrey, assures us she will get better, that Hermione's own silencing charm is what saved her from a fate worse than death. She is courageous, our Hermione, and her father and I will stay with her until she wakes.
Hermione. Our daughter, our little girl.
It seems only yesterday we were wondering how four-year-old Hermione had managed to climb so high into the elm tree in the front garden. We speculated for days about how our six-year-old had managed to wish her friend's hair purple after the other girl tormented her about her bushy hair. A year later, we watched in fascination as our daughter straightened her room just by looking at the mess. And two years after that, we knew it was no mistake when she caused the chalk and erasers to whirl about her teacher's head after she was reprimanded in class for whispering. No one knew how Hermione did these things. The other children stayed away from her after such incidents and Hermione retreated into her books, substituting academic prowess for friendship.
Then the letter came. It seemed to have all the answers. Hermione, our special girl, was indeed exceptional; she is a witch. One who, with a proper wizarding education, was destined for a great future. We knew the letter didn't say that, but that's how we interpreted it. It wasn't that hard a decision to send Hermione to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; she was not looking forward attending public school and enduring another six or seven years of ridicule and persecution, as she put it. This was her chance, she told us, to find out who she truly was, to make friends with people like herself. It was the opportunity to study with her peers, to make the most of her new-found gifts.
The change in Hermione was almost instantaneous. One day she was a silent, serious child who rarely laughed, the next she had blossomed into a pre-adolescent full of excitement and plans for her future. True to her nature, she read all of her new textbooks from cover to cover before boarding the Hogwarts Express. She was exceedingly confident as she bade us good-bye in front of the magical barrier at King's Cross Station, so full of hope, so full of a new assurance. We watched as Hermione took control of a fellow student's possessions and helped him through the barrier when his grandmother's scolding made him tremble and cower, unable to think clearly for himself. And as she disappeared, her parting smile told us we had made the right decision for our daughter.
Hermione's first letters home spoke of the wonders she had encountered. She and her new friend, Neville, had met the famous Harry Potter and his new friend, Ron Weasley. The first years' approach to the castle and subsequent Sorting had sent her into ecstasies of excitement. "I'm a GRYFFINDOR!!!" she wrote in huge letters, so excited to be known for bravery and daring as she had read in her precious Hogwarts, a History. When lessons began, she wrote all about how they were all extremely interesting and challenging, about her favourite teachers and the one professor who seemed to have it in for anyone who wasn't in Slytherin House.
As the school year progressed, her letters changed. She still wrote about lessons and homework, but an added sense of mystery was present, too. We were properly terrified by her account of the troll incident and a little mystified by her confession to wrongdoing she had not really taken part in. Then, when she came home for Christmas, all Hermione could talk about was how brilliant Ron was and how humble Harry had turned out to be. Suddenly, her father and I began to appreciate how important this friendship was for our daughter, what an important role it was playing in her life. Throughout her schooling, she had always been singled out as someone to be feared or ridiculed; now, she had the support of two good friends.
We were so proud when Hermione wrote that she and Ron had had a part in Harry's success at solving the school's mystery. Professor Dumbledore himself wrote to us about her involvement and her service to the school. She refused to speak of the incident once she came home, saying that her part had not been as significant as Ron's. We were convinced there was much more to it than she was saying, but we didn't press her, hoping she would eventually talk about it. She never did.
That summer, Hermione owled Ron and Harry at the Weasleys and the three of them were quite keen to take up where they had left off the year before. Unfortunately, the boys took it upon themselves to find alternate transportation to school and ended up in a heap of trouble, as our daughter put it. And that was just the beginning. Ron's little sister, Ginny, was now at Hogwarts and Hermione wrote that she was concerned the younger girl wasn't dealing with being away from home well at all. She wrote also of the terrifying monster which was petrifying students in the halls; she and Ron remained loyal to Harry as the blame for these strange incidents was placed on him by the rest of the school.
Our first indication that our daughter was involved in solving another mystery came when she informed us of her plans to stay at school for the Christmas holiday. Not that she told us anything about her involvement; rather, an owl from Professor Dumbledore arrived on Boxing Day informing us that Hermione was in hospital. We wrote back saying that we would like to be with her, but she refused our company saying that her malady was such that she could continue her studies through notes taken for her by Harry and Ron and she didn't need us to come see her. We tried to understand, finding it hard to stay away.
Madam Pomfrey has come over to check Hermione's vital signs. She ushers us away from our daughter's bed and pulls the curtains closed. It is so strange not to be surrounded by a roomful of machines monitoring our daughter; the silence of the ward presses in on us.
"Mr. and Mrs. Granger," inquires a voice from the next bed. We turn to see Ron Weasley struggling into a sitting position. His arms are covered with red welts and he looks very much the worse for wear. "How is she? Is there any change?"
His expression is a bleak mixture of concern and pain.
"No," we answer together. "No change. Can you tell us what happened?"
Ron looks down at his covers. "I can't. Hermione, Neville and Harry got separated from us--Luna Lovegood, my sister Ginny and I--and Hermione was already unconscious by the time we found each other again. Neville told us she'd been hit by a Death Eater's spell. I'm sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Granger. If we had been together, I would have done my best to protect your daughter."
"We know you would have, Ron," my husband tells him gently. We are touched by Ron's genuine concern. "She would have done the same for you. We'll let you know if she wakes."
"Thanks." Ron sinks back onto his pillows and sadly turns toward the windows to the left of his bed.
Madam Pomfrey emerges from behind the curtains; Hermione seems to be improving a little, which is a good sign. I take my husband's hand and lead him back to our daughter's side. I settle back into the memories.
Hermione's letters were filled with normal news for a time. She wrote of Harry's mortification due to a singing Valentine, of the challenge that choosing classes for third year presented, and her desire to excel on all of her exams at the end of the year. She was eagerly anticipating Gryffindor House winning the Quidditch Cup, as well as the House Cup. And then the letters stopped coming. We contacted the Headmaster the same day his owl reached us. The news was devastating: Hermione had been petrified and the school was in danger of being closed.
What surprised us most, however, was the stream of owls bearing letters from Ronald Weasley. The young man was clearly devastated and he promised us he'd do his best to continue Hermione's habit of weekly letters. Some were quite lengthy while others were hastily scrawled depending upon the amount of homework he seemed to be coping with. Unable to discard them after Hermione recovered and Harry destroyed the basilisk, I added Ron's letters to the stack of Hermione's and stored them away together. Looking back, it's now apparent that Ron had unknowingly wormed his way not only into Hermione's heart, but mine as well. He's a fine young man.
Hermione's third year seemed almost mundane compared to the excitement and dangers of the first two. Of course, her father and I worried about the amount of time-travelling she had to do to attend all her lessons, but Hermione assured us that there was nothing to worry about; she was coping with the extra workload quite easily. She loved all her lessons; especially Defence Against the Dark Arts with its outstanding teacher who, for once, knew what he was talking about. Potions and Divination turned out to be another matter altogether. Her letters contained scathing accounts of how horrid the Potions Master was and how dim-witted and false the Divination professor seemed to be. It came as no surprise when Professor McGonagall owled us that our daughter had finally given up on Divination to concentrate on her other studies. I must state that I breathed a sigh of relief when Hermione lightened her workload and completed her exams with a minimum of inconvenience due to the time turner.
What she didn't confide in us until the holiday was the emotional toll that year had taken on her. When she got off the train with her new cat, Crookshanks, we noticed Hermione was more reserved than usual. Her excuse was fatigue, but eventually she told us how much her estrangement from Ron had hurt her. She had been certain that they would never be friends again until that final evening after exams. Even their reconciliation or truce as she put it, after Ron's rat had disappeared had been strained. It had taken her fright that Ron would be permanently disfigured by his broken leg to put the importance of their friendship into perspective.
On a deeper level, something happened that night that forever changed our daughter. She told us she learned a lot about love on several levels. It shows in how she speaks about Harry and Ron, how she looks at her past and speaks of her future. There is a maturity there which might not have surfaced for another year had it not been for the events of that night. It scares me sometimes how fast she's growing up. It makes me wonder if, after all, we really did make the right decision in sending her to Hogwarts. I'll never know. If she recovers from the curse we'll have an amazing amount to talk about.
My thoughts are interrupted by a visitor. Ginny Weasley, Ron's sister, has come to check up on her brother. She, too, was hurt last night at the Ministry, but Madam Pomfrey seems to have mended her injuries quickly. My husband and I remain where we are trying not to eavesdrop, but find it hard not to overhear their subdued conversation.
"Hey, Ron. Feeling any better?" we hear Ginny inquire.
"A little, but I hurt all over . At least the spell Madam Pomfrey cast on my arms has stopped the welts from stinging," he replies. "They still look repulsive, though. She told me she's tried several potions to try to get the swelling to go down, but so far she's been unable to find the right one. I may bloody well look like this for a couple of days."
"Watch your language, Ron. Hermione's parents are behind those curtains!" Ginny hisses. She changes the subject. "What about your head? Luna said you were hit by a spell that made you pretty spacey before you were attacked by that brain."
"I'm all right, I guess. I'm still coughing up blood every now and then, but at least I'm thinking straight now." He pauses and continues in a much quieter voice. "I feel so dumb for having gotten us separated from Harry and Hermione and Neville. How could I have forgotten where to find the exit? And then to get hit by that spell... stupid."
"We were fighting for our lives, Ron. In retrospect, it's easy to see how we lost the others. Don't blame yourself. You were the one who held off those Death Eaters long enough for us to get inside that planet room."
"A lot of good that did. They found us and you broke your ankle."
"Part of that was Luna's doing. She shouldn't have blown up that planet-thing when that Death Eater grabbed my ankle. I guess she thought using the Reductor Curse to blow that guy away was the right thing to do after someone else cursed you, so don't blame yourself for everything that happened."
"I can't help it, Ginny. I can't stop thinking that if we'd somehow stayed with the others a lot of what happened last night could have been prevented."
"Well, Sirius' death for one. Hermione getting hit for another. I'm really worried about her."
"Listen, Ron. Even if we had stayed together those Death Eaters out-numbered us two to one. And we're not exactly fully qualified wizards yet, you know. Even with what we practiced with Harry's help our duelling skills are elementary at best. Think of all the years of practice those adults have had, too!"
"Yeah, practice with Dark magic that nearly got us killed and required the Order to come and rescue us--Sirius included."
"We needed the Order members to get us out safely, Ron. There was no way we could have gotten out of there by ourselves; not with how badly Hermione and you and I were hurt. From what I heard Professor Lupin telling Professor Dumbledore afterwards, Sirius was there because he insisted upon being there. No one made him come. You know as well as I that where Harry's concerned, Sirius hadn't much logic. If Harry was trapped on the moon, Sirius would have done everything in his power to rescue him. He did just that last night!"
"But he didn't have to die, though."
"This sounds so callus...but we are at war! And unfortunately, there are going to be casualties. I know it's hard to accept, but Sirius went down fighting like he seems to have wanted. Harry's said several times that being cooped up at Grimmauld Place was tearing him apart, that Sirius wanted to be out and doing for the Order. Last night he seems to have taken his chance. Merlin's beard, Ron! Sirius' death was Bellatrix Lestrange's fault and is just something we have to accept!"
"Well, right now I'm not ready to accept it. The ‘if onlys' just keep going ‘round and ‘round in my head and I'm still trying to blame myself for not being there to help out because someone else was rescuing me. If only I hadn't been hit with that bloody spell..."
"We're back to that, are we?" Ginny is beginning to sound rather annoyed.
"Yeah, that and Hermione's curse."
"How is she?"
Ron sighs heavily. "The same. Not much change." There's a note of genuine concern in his voice as he speaks of his friend. "That spell did a lot of internal damage. Madam Pomfrey has to heal her injuries one by one instead of all at once. I heard her telling Mrs. Granger that there isn't a spell or potion powerful enough or all-encompassing enough to do it all at the same time. So there she lies, and I'm worried as hell about her."
"If it's any comfort, I am too, Ron."
"Yeah, I suppose it is...if only we hadn't gotten lost..."
"Would it help if I told you that three is easier to hide than six?"
"Well, it is, and the office Harry, Neville and Hermione ran into wouldn't have hidden all six of us. Neville told me there were three desks and a lot of book cases in there, hardly any room for the lot of us to hide in successfully. Not with three or more adults chasing us. Can you imagine what would have happened if nine or more people had been duelling in there? More of us would have been killed, probably. Have you thought of that?"
Again Ron answers with a softly resentful, "No." The two siblings are silent for a bit before Ron sighs tiredly. "You really know how to help me get things in perspective, Ginny. Thanks."
"Any time, big brother. Look. I'm going to say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Granger, then I ought to send an owl to Mum and Dad and the twins before Mum has a nervous breakdown. She's not too happy that we refused to let her come and help Madam Pomfrey nurse us back to health. Hey, just don't go trying any Muggle remedies like Dad did..."
I hear Ron's deep chuckle as he says, "Heaven no! I learned my lesson on that one! Hey, tell everyone I'm doing much better, will you? And Ginny, thanks for talking this through with me. You really helped."
"See you later, Ron. I'll be back in a while. Luna and Neville are back to their normal selves, and want to visit when Madam Pomfrey says it's all right," Ginny tells her brother as she sticks her head around the curtains at us. I invite her to come in and sit down, but she refuses stating that her letter to her parents needs to be sent as soon as possible.
I sit, deep in thought and gazing at my daughter, for a long while before returning to the events of two years ago.
It seems to me that the memories of the last two years, Hermione's fourth and fifth years, all seem to run together. So much has happened to change our daughter, yet somehow, she has remained the loving, conscientious, thoughtful young woman we know her to be. I find it almost impossible to believe that she hasn't been hurt deeply by some of the events; however, in her letters she has maintained that the frightful, sometimes painful, experiences have been character-building events and have made her a stronger person.
Her father has questioned me at length about Hermione's activities. The truth is that the three of us have not had much time together. With Hermione away at school ten months of the year and her decisions to spend the majority of the summer holidays with the Weasley family, we've had precious little real family time. While Hermione wrote long letters about school events and her classes, she has kept us in the dark about the goings-on in the Wizarding world. What she has written just vaguely hints at the monumental changes taking place in that world and somehow I feel that our daughter is trying to protect us by keeping silent.
Unfortunately, one becomes rather suspicious when someone dressed in pinstriped trousers and a bomber jacket appears on the doorstep holding a letter from Albus Dumbledore which requests permission to have the wizard perform protection spells on our property. I have not talked with Hermione about this yet and wonder if she knows anything about what the wizard did to protect our home. I would feel much better if she could explain about whom or what we are being protected against. The only thing I can think of is that her father and I are "Muggles" and possibly that is a bad thing in the Wizarding world. Or...wait a minute...could Harry Potter have anything to do with it? Trouble always seems to find that young man...
We've met Harry Potter only a few times, usually at King's Cross, and then only for a few minutes. He seems such a nice young man, although the last time we saw him he looked very sad and preoccupied. From what Hermione has written over the years, his life has been a series of tragedies and I have the feeling that the man who died last night, Sirius, was very important to him. I'm hoping Harry will come through this latest experience with death relatively unscathed. It doesn't seem fair that one so young must go through heart-wrenching events so often.
Hermione has always written compassionately of Harry; even when they were frightened out of their wits by one event or another, such as the Dark Mark appearing at the World Cup Quidditch match or the Tasks during the Triwizard Tournament, she worded her letters to show his humility and bravery. Her concern for his well-being has always touched me; it's as though she sees him as a brother who needs looking after. She was so torn when, after the Triwizard Champions were chosen, Harry had his falling-out with Ron. Her letters went on for pages about how unfairly Ron was treating him, but at the same time, she tried to justify Ron's jealousy. Her report that it took a duel with a dragon to straighten out the whole affair brought tears to my eyes as I realize just how much she loves her two friends.
The news that Hermione wouldn't be going to the Yule Ball with Ron came as a shock. Her father and I had assumed, since the Ball was announced, that they would naturally go together; and when Viktor Krum turned out to be Hermione's date our surprise was quite complete. We wrote to her asking all sorts of questions about this new young man and our daughter thoroughly and patiently answered every one. As it turned out, Hermione had a wonderful time at the dance with Viktor, but she later told us the evening was ruined by yet another row with Ron. We suspect that he was jealous.
As the Second Task of the Triwizard Tournament approached, Hermione wrote of her concern for Harry and how she and Ron were spending hours upon hours searching unsuccessfully for a spell which could help Harry survive under water for an hour. You can imagine her indignation that Harry had lied to her and left the research until the last minute; but as she put it so succinctly, that was typical Harry!
The day after the Second Task, Hermione wrote to us about how she had been chosen as the person Viktor Krum would miss most. Her memories of the Task itself were sketchy; she only remembered gasping for breath as he pulled her from the lake (she had willingly submitted to being put to sleep by Professor Dumbledore and hadn't awakened until she and Viktor had broken the water's surface). She said that Viktor had been very solicitous while they waited for Harry to appear, then had become rather demanding once Harry had emerged with both Ron and Fleur Delacour's little sister in tow. I'm uncertain whether she liked Viktor's attentions; she wrote very little of the young man over the next few months. Instead, she confined her news to the discussion of Harry's preparation for the Third Task and her own revising schedule for her end of term exams.
A hushed voice speaking to Madam Pomfrey brings me out of my reverie. I don't recognize to whom it belongs until a skinny young man with unkempt black hair and glasses passes Hermione's bed on his way to Ron's. Harry Potter's thin face looks tired and haggard. Last night must have been very frightening for him and, just from the way he carries his body, he seems not to be coping with it very well.
I nudge my husband and whisper to him who the newcomer is. We silently agree that this will be one conversation we will try to listen in on.
"Hey, Ron. How you doing?" Harry's voice has a tired tone to it.
"All right, I guess, mate. I'm surprised to see you." To me, Ron sounds rather cautious, as though he expects Harry to be angry with him. I'm correct in my assessment.
"What? You think I'd still be asleep or something?" Harry says heatedly.
"Yeah. Madam Pomfrey wanted to take a potion up to you this morning, but Professor Dumbledore wouldn't let her. Said you needed a clear head to think things over."
There's a long pause before Harry says quietly, "I would have taken it. I just lay on my bed thinking about...about..." His voice trails off and sounds incredibly sad. I can feel the sense of loss he must be bottling up inside.
Ron clears his throat. "Dumbledore says you were a true Gryffindor last night. Even if you were tricked into going--"
"Shut it, Ron!" Harry snaps. "I don't want to talk about last night. Makes me feel stupid."
"Yeah, me, too. Sorry, Harry."
Harry changes the subject. "Have you heard from Ginny or Neville? I haven't seen them, although Neville's bed looked slept-in when I opened my hangings."
"Oh, right. Ginny was in here a while ago. Madam Pomfrey mended her ankle early this morning and she's gone up to send an owl to Mum and Dad and Fred and George. She said that Neville's nose is back to normal and that he and Luna want to come see Hermione and me once Madam Pomfrey says they can."
"I'm glad they're all right. Neville was rather upset last night that he broke his wand. He said it was his father's old one. I hope he doesn't get into too much trouble with his Gran. She doesn't seem very nice."
"She didn't speak to him very pleasantly when we met her at Christmas."
They fall into silence and I hear pacing. After a while I hear Harry walk over to the windows several beds down from Ron's. It's as if Harry doesn't know what to do with himself.
"Erm, Ron," he says at length from his place by the window. "Thanks for coming after Hermione and me yesterday afternoon."
"You two had us really worried. When Hermione led you and Umbridge out of that office I thought you were doomed. But then I remembered how clever Hermione is. That fake crying seemed really convincing." Ron pauses and says quietly, "She made me proud."
"She had me nervous. I had no idea where she was leading us. Then I remembered what she said about Umbridge hating part-humans and thought her strategy might work."
"I guess it did. Umbridge hasn't come out of the Forest yet. If she's alive when they find her, I suppose they'll bring her here to have Madam Pomfrey check her out."
"Yeah. Hey, what happened right after we left?"
"Luna caught my eye and mouthed at me and the others to stop struggling."
"To confuse the Slytherins. Ginny had managed to get her hand into her captor's wand pocket and was waiting for the right opportunity. "
"Were all of you able to do the same?"
"Yeah, but it took a while. Warrington still had me in that half nelson of his and I couldn't get my hand close enough to his pocket until I relaxed a little. That took him by surprise and I was able to twist around and grab his wand. Neville finally put an elbow in Crabbe's stomach. I'm not sure how Luna got a wand. By the time it was all over Malfoy and the others were on their backsides all the worse for wear. Bloody Hell...I still can't believe how well Neville brought off that Impediment Jinx...."
"You saw how well he cast that jinx in the DA meeting before Christmas. His Stunner wasn't all that bad, either. His aim was just a little off." Harry pauses, and finally adds almost inaudibly, "It came in handy last night..." Again he lets his voice trail away.
Their discussion is curtailed by the arrival of Madam Pomfrey.
"Potter, are you certain you do not want me to have a look at you?" she inquires. "It seems odd that you're not occupying one of the beds this year; every year you've been at Hogwarts you've spent at least one night here at the end of the year!"
"I'm fine, thank you."
"I wish I could say the same for your friend here." We hear sounds of a bottle being uncorked and liquid being poured. "Let's have a look at you, Weasley...I'm going to apply a topical potion which should begin the healing process. Here, give me an arm." Madam Pomfrey is silent as she works, but Ron doesn't endure her ministrations stoically. We hear him swearing quietly as the potion is applied.
"What is this stuff?" Ron inquires through gritted teeth. "Dr. Ubbly's Oblivious Unction? Hey, that hurts! I sure hope this stuff works."
Madam Pomfrey takes up her scolding again. "It will. Just be patient. Whatever possessed you to summon a brain, I can't imagine. These welts are the deepest I've seen in decades. Not since I was a Trainee at St. Mungo's." She corks the bottle and turns to Harry. "Mr. Weasley needs his rest. You can have another ten minutes visiting time. I'll let you know when the time is up."
I look at my husband. There is a small smile playing about his lips at Madam Pomfrey's exchange with Ron and Harry; she makes no bones about dealing directly with her patients or their friends. Her bedside manner may be a little brusque, but she seems to know her potions.
As she walks away Ron sighs, "I guess Madam Pomfrey really wants me to take it easy but I'm already getting bored. How about a game of chess? We could charm the pieces to be quiet. Would you get the board, Harry?"
"Sure, Ron. Where is it? We haven't played in ages."
"In my trunk, left side, on top, I think. And thanks."
"No problem. I'll be back soon." Harry leaves without looking in on Hermione. I look at my husband as he passes.
He reaches for my hand and gives it a squeeze. "Harry's got a lot on his mind," he whispers, reading my thoughts. "He'll stop by when he's ready. Hermione is too good a friend and I don't imagine Harry has had much practice dealing with other kids' parents other than Arthur and Molly Weasley. We may be a little intimidating." I nod and get up to stretch my legs as my own mind wanders back to its memories.
Exactly a year ago something happened during the Third Task of the Triwizard Tournament that turned Hermione's life up-side down...and Harry Potter was at the centre of it. We knew that whatever had happened was terrible because our daughter refused to tell us about it. She said we wouldn't understand and that she didn't want us to worry. We did anyway.
My husband and I had planned a family trip to Greece, which was to begin a few days after Hermione stepped off the Hogwarts Express. We'd even managed to find several towns with Wizarding populations to visit thinking that Hermione would be interested in that side of Greek culture. She seemed enthusiastic enough about going, but we could tell her heart wasn't in it; there were too many letter-bearing owls flying through the windows at all hours not to be distracting. When pressed, Hermione said she would just have to find an Owl Office each day. That would be a small price to pay for some quality family time.
Regrettably, it wasn't to be. The day before we left, Ron Weasley called Hermione on the "fellytone". He and his family were inviting her to spend the summer with them and she pleaded with us to let her go. We reluctantly gave our permission, revamped our trip plans and made Hermione promise to write to us regularly.
True to her word, Hermione did write, sometimes sending an owl, most of the time using the Muggle postal system. Her letters were the most guarded she's ever written. She explained there was the chance they might be intercepted and she didn't want to take that chance. She never told us where she was staying or what she was doing; the only real pieces of news we received all summer were about Harry arriving at the beginning of August and the fact that she had been made a Prefect. This last letter was brought by Harry's owl, Hedwig, on 31August. We sent her back post-haste as the children would be boarding the Hogwarts Express the next day. I would have liked to learn more about Hermione's new responsibilities but there was only time to express our congratulations and wishes for a successful school year.
Several school owls brought letters that first week. The first letter proclaimed that the school was under siege from the Ministry of Magic. A second told of how the Defence Against the Dark Arts position had been filled by the Minister himself and Hermione went on at length about how incompetent the new teacher was. Each subsequent letter held similar rants. Then, several weeks into the school year, her letters were suddenly filled with inane ramblings that didn't sound like our daughter at all. Someone was opening all incoming and outgoing mail and Hermione was certain that the people who were opening letters and parcels had captured Hedwig and injured her severely. Hermione's solution to the problem, if we wanted her to reinstate her normally opinionated letters, was to write what was on her mind and save those letters until she could get to the post office in Hogsmeade. She would send the letters in a parcel and hopefully the box wouldn't be intercepted. We weren't very happy about it, but we agreed to wait for her news. In the meantime, she kept up a stream of letters which only talked about how much homework her teachers were setting in her classes.
One of Hermione's contraband letters mentioned how well the new illegal Defence club she had joined was shaping up. It had been formed as a protest against the teachings of the new Dark Arts teacher; the members were allowed to practice defensive spells in a somewhat safe environment led by none other than Harry Potter himself. He was teaching them the spells which had helped him stay alive last year and which were probably going to be on the O.W.L. tests. Hermione had only the highest of praise for Harry's willingness to share what he knew. As a parent, I was concerned that my daughter was setting herself up for expulsion if the group was discovered. Hermione argued that since she was not allowed to practice defensive spells in class she needed to learn them somewhere and many of her fellow classmates felt the same. Besides, she wrote, the group was the only practical way to prepare for her Defence Against the Dark Arts Practical O.W.L. at the end of term. I couldn't argue with her on that one.
Other letters contained news that was amusing and somewhat disturbing. One began, "Ron made the Quidditch team as Keeper today. I'm really proud of him, but his brothers are just giving him so much grief. I wish they would just leave him alone." Later in that same letter she wrote, "Ron's first Quidditch practice was absolutely appalling. Harry told me that between Fred and George's ribbing and a group of Slytherins cat-calling from the bleachers, Ron couldn't catch a Quaffle or repel one for the life of him. Now he's sulking in the common room and no one can snap him out of his black mood. I feel really bad for him, but don't know how to help him snap out of it." Still on the subject of Quidditch, she fumed, "Professor Umbridge is making the Gryffindor team wait an indeterminate amount of time for her approval of its formation. In the meantime, the team can't practice! Everyone seems worried that Umbridge won't approve the team and that Slytherin will win the Quidditch Cup by default this year!" Another letter included the statement, "Oh, I could just strangle Professor Umbridge...she's permanently banned Harry from ever playing Quidditch again. And all over a stupid fight started by Draco Malfoy, too!" Finally, in the last letter in her pre-Christmas packet Hermione wrote, and to me this is the most worrying and serious statement, "Ron's worried about Harry. He's having nightmares again and wakes all the boys up almost every night mumbling in his sleep. Ron knows Harry's lying awake for hours after he has one of those dreams. We tried to get him to go to Professor Dumbledore about it but he refused. I'm really concerned."
Christmas was going to be a family affair after all this year. Hermione had agreed to go with us on a ski vacation on the Continent if she could take along all her school books; she wanted at least three or four hours each day to revise for her O.W.L.s. We picked out a charming little hotel with several championship–level slopes and an ice rink and made arrangements to meet Hermione at the train station.
The look on her face as she stepped through the barrier at King's Cross told me immediately that something serious was afoot and that Hermione wasn't going to spend the holiday with us after all.
"Mum, Dad, I'm really sorry," she said in a rush. "I just can't go skiing with you this year. I've a mountain of homework to do, including an essay due the day we get back from holiday which requires several books from the Restricted Section of the library. And I can't take those books out of the library; it's school policy. I know I shouldn't have waited to do the essay until the last minute, but I did. Now, the only way I can get it done is to go back to school and write it there during the holidays. I--I hope you understand."
"Hermione, who will be with you at school?" her father inquired.
"Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall for certain will be there. Possibly one or two other Gryffindor fifth year girls who chose not to return home. It's not as if I'll be alone..."
"When will you go back to school? How will you get back to school?" I asked, voicing my own concern for her safety.
"I'd like to go back as soon as I can. There's a transportation system called the Knight Bus which can pick me up and take me back to school," Hermione explained.
"Let's go have lunch," I suggested. "We can talk about this easier someplace other than a train station."
The others agreed and soon we were settled in a back booth of a small pub near our dental practice. We ordered our food, after which we continued our earlier discussion. Her father and I tried to discourage her from going back to school so soon, but she was insistent. In the end, Hermione wore us down with her persistent arguments; the need to finish her homework assignment and her desire to study for her exams at the end of the year. She was correct in surmising that her father and I wanted her to obtain the highest marks she could muster and it was with sad hearts that we took her to the Leaky Cauldron where she could wait safely until her bus came.
You can imagine just how livid we were when, several months after the fact, Hermione told us she had lied to us about her whereabouts during the holidays. My husband and I couldn't imagine why she would go to such lengths to deceive us. We had brought her up to be open and honest! We had taught her to respect her elders! We had admonished her to always be respectful of her teachers! What were they teaching at Hogwarts this year? What were they doing that students like Hermione felt they had to be secretive and rebellious? What was the danger that seemed to be lurking just under the surface? With a sense of dread, I realized that on certain levels I hardly knew my daughter any more. She had changed to fit the world she lived in.
Then the letter from the High Inquisitor arrived. It told the parents under no circumstances were they to question the whereabouts of Former Headmaster Albus Dumbledore or why he had vacated his position so suddenly. She, Professor Dolores Umbridge, High Inquisitor, would be taking over the Head's duties and again, her appointment was not to be questioned; the Minister of Magic had appointed her himself according to Educational Decree Number Twenty-eight. Parents were invited to obtain a copy of the Decree if they so wished.
Suddenly, various pieces of the puzzle began falling into place. I now thought I knew why Hermione was being so guarded. I could see why Professor Dumbledore had sent the wizard to cast spells on our property. I thought I understood why Hermione hadn't wanted to come outright and say she wished to stay at Sirius' house during the Christmas holiday with the Weasleys and Harry Potter. I thought I knew why she had been so ecstatic when the Quibbler article about Harry had been so successful, and I thought I knew why she had joined Harry's subversive Dark Arts club to practice defensive spells. When I looked at the whole instead of just the individual occurrences, the pieces painted a very disturbing picture: Someone high up in the Ministry of Magic was hard at work trying to influence the thinking of the entire wizarding population of Britain. And tucked away somewhere in the mountains of Scotland, there was a small pocket of resistance whose leaders were part of the faculty of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Suddenly, I was almost afraid and I wondered if other parents felt the same.
Harry comes back with the chessboard and draws a chair beside Ron's bed where his friend has fallen asleep. I have a good view of him from my place beside the one of the windows and watch him with interest. He seems lost in thought, deeply troubled about something and not dealing with it well. I wonder if he is thinking about what happened last night or something else. I want to comfort him, to ease his burden somehow as my mothering instincts well up inside me. However, it is not my place, so I leave Harry alone.
Finally, Ron stirs from his nap and the two begin to play their game. Hermione has told me time and again of Ron's formidable chess acumen and he wins in record time. The two young men begin a second game and I watch Harry closely this time: he moves his pieces haphazardly, his mind not on the game. When Ron wins again easily, I slip back into my chair next to Hermione's bed.
"That's two in a row, Harry. Want to make it a third?"
"Sure, why not. It's not as if we have anything else to do." They set up the board again.
"You know, I was thinking the same thing," Ron declares before directing one of his pawns across the board. "It sure seems odd not to be surrounded by a pile of books and stacks and stacks of Hermione's notes. I keep wondering when she's going to show up with that bloody homework planner and the revising schedule she's had us on for most of the year."
"Bugger that schedule. But she got us through O.W.L.s, didn't she?" Harry says voicing what can only be admiration. He pauses. I hear the scrape of his chair as he begins pacing between Ron's bed and the curtains separating it from Hermione's, the game forgotten. He stops mid-pace. "You should have seen her last night, Ron. Those Death Eaters might have gotten that sphere if it hadn't been for Hermione. She was throwing spells right and left before Dolohov cursed her. I don't know how she managed to protect both Neville and me as well as herself." Harry sighs deeply. "I feel so bad she's hurt. She doesn't deserve it. It's all my fault, too. Is there any hope she'll recover, Ron?" he asks bleakly.
"From what I heard Madam Pomfrey tell Mr. and Mrs. Granger, Hermione will eventually get well. Her exact words: the spell did ‘quite enough damage to be going on with'. It may take a while, though."
"That's good to hear. If only I had listened to Hermione in the first place and waited longer before I acted...Merlin! It's just not fair!"
"I know, mate. But you did what you thought you had to at the time. Besides, it got you a ride on a thestral. I wish I could have seen what I was riding..."
"No you don't," Harry says vehemently. "Don't ever say that!"
"Sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to bring up bad memories."
"No need to apologize. It's just that it's no fun to see someone die."
"Yeah, you're probably right. Your move, Harry."
Hermione stopped writing to us several weeks prior to her O.W.L. exams. She was so completely wrapped up in her studies that she didn't even take the time to jot off a note to tell us about her progress. I probably worried too much and finally my husband told me to owl her friend Ron. I must have looked at him as if he had sprouted wings for he reminded me about how nice Ron had been about writing several years before. Therefore, I jotted a quick note to him and he replied with equal brevity that Hermione was well and revising like crazy and keeping him and Harry on their own revising schedule. That was enough for me. I knew Hermione would resume her letters once her exams were over and she felt she had the time to write.
These memories brought me to the close of exams yesterday afternoon.
I have no information of how Hermione became involved in a fight of all things! I would have thought I'd brought my daughter up to avoid physical brawling altogether. What a disgrace! But then again, she's almost an adult with her own set of values of what is right and wrong. She can be stubborn, too, and extremely loyal to those she holds dear. So if she chose to enter into a duel to protect herself and her friends, I will have to accept her choice. I just hope the consequences are not so detrimental to her that she will be unable to follow whatever dreams she has.
Two little words. Two little words, silently spoken, meant to maim or kill...I need to understand...
I turn to address my husband. "I'm going to speak briefly with Harry and Ron about yesterday. Even if they refuse to tell me much, I will have at least tried to understand."
"Be gentle, dear. Don't bully too much. From what we've overheard, last night sounds particularly traumatizing," he implores. "I don't want Ron or Harry to be afraid of us."
"I won't push. I promise." With that, I rise and head towards Ron's bed.
The boys look up from their chess game just as Ron's queen is bashing one of Harry's pawns over the head with her sword. Hermione has told us about the animated pieces, but this is the first time I've seen them up close and the violence makes me shudder.
"Excuse me," I begin. "May I have a word with you?"
Harry and Ron look at each other and shrug. "What can we help you with?" Ron asks.
I look at the floor for a moment deciding exactly how to phrase my request. "I'd like to know something about what transpired yesterday afternoon," I say quietly.
Harry suddenly has a stricken look on his face, but before he can say anything I add, "It will help me understand why I'm here. I--I suddenly find that I no longer know my daughter very well."
He takes a deep breath as Ron shakes his head saying, "You don't have to do this, Harry. I can tell her what I know."
Harry nods and looks at me. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Granger. I'm not up to it yet. Will you excuse me, please?"
I look at his miserable face and know I have to say something. "Harry," I say stopping him. "Hermione has always talked and written of you with the highest admiration. She values your friendship and would do anything for you. It seems that she has done just that; I hope you know she willingly put her life on the line for you. It was her decision to make and she wouldn't want you to feel guilty about her being hurt. That's who Hermione is. I hope you know that."
Harry nods bleakly. "I think I do, Mrs. Granger. She's one of my best friends and I'm thankful for what she did yesterday. I--I hope you understand that I just need some space right now." I nod, smiling slightly. Harry turns to Ron and me. "I'll be back in a half an hour. I want to be here when she wakes up."
As he leaves Ron indicates Harry's chair and inquires, "Please, sit down. How much do you want to know?"
I smile mischievously. "Just enough not to incriminate Hermione too much."
Ron chuckles. "Then I really shouldn't tell you much. But if you must know, Harry had a...a vision during our History of Magic O.W.L. yesterday. It disturbed him enough that he was insistent on contacting his godfather via the Floo network. The only way to do this was to break into Professor Umbridge's office and use her fireplace. A group of us, Hermione included, helped him eventually get into trouble."
I nod, understanding that the version I'm getting is greatly edited. I don't mind, though, as pieces are beginning to fall into place. "How did the six of you get to London?"
Ron shudders at the memory. "There are invisible horses called thestrals which live in the Forbidden Forest. We each rode one to London. Harry, Luna and Neville could see them because they each have seen someone die. Hermione, Ginny and I can't see them, so it was a bit disconcerting to be flying along with nothing to see between you and the ground."
"And once you entered London, what did you do?"
"May I stop here, Mrs. Granger, please? You see, Harry must be protected from a Dark wizard, the one who gave him the scar on his forehead, and I'm not sure how much should be told about what happened at the Ministry." Ron looks quite apologetic.
Again I try to smile understandingly. "Thank you, Ron. I appreciate what you were willing to tell me. And I do understand about keeping Harry safe; Hermione has always stressed how important he is to the Wizarding world and the two of you." I stop and decide to put my earlier thoughts into words. "I just hope that Harry can cope with this latest set of tragedies. He seems so introverted and sad...and vulnerable."
It is Ron's turn to nod perceptively. "That makes two of us. Professor Dumbledore told me earlier that Harry's going to need lots of support this time." For the first time I hear a catch in his voice as he almost whispers, "I just hope Hermione is around to help me."
On impulse, I reach for Ron's hand. "I hope so, too, Ron. She's a special girl, our Hermione. I'm counting on both you and Harry to keep her safe, too, you know. I don't want anything to happen to any of you." Ron nods in understanding. I get up to leave. "Shall I go get Harry? You two probably should finish your game before your pieces break that silencing charm you cast on them."
"Thanks. I'll tell Harry that you suggested I continue to trounce him."
Chuckling, I head for the hall before rejoining my husband at Hermione's side.
Sometime later, movement in the bed in front of me catches my attention. My husband clutches my hand as Hermione stirs and opens her eyes. We're at her side in an instant.
"Mum, Dad. What are you doing here?"
"Professor Dumbledore owled us, sweetheart. He wanted to make sure we were here when you awoke," I tell her.
"Are Harry and the others all right?" She tries to sit up, but falls back in obvious pain.
"Harry seems fine. He's visiting Ron. They've been playing chess for the last two hours. Ron won the first two games," my husband tells her as I walk over to Ron's bed to tell the boys Hermione is awake.
Hermione smiles as Harry and Ron appear at the foot of her bed. Ron, his dressing gown hastily knotted at his waist, is leaning heavily on Harry's shoulders. They make their way over to the chair I put next to the bed and Ron collapses into it. He immediately reaches for Hermione's hand. I can see the mixture of relief and concern in his expression.
"I've--we've been so worried about you, Hermione," he tells her in a hushed voice. "I, erm, we were scared you wouldn't make it."
Hermione smiles weakly. "I'm going to be all right, Ron. Madam Pomfrey will see to that." She gently pushes one of Ron's sleeves toward his elbow and gasps. "What happened to you?"
"Later, Hermione. We'll talk about that later."
"But what about the others? What happened to the pro...?" She trails off as Harry gives her a warning look.
"There's plenty of time to talk about all that, too. Just so you know, Neville and Ginny and Luna all got back with minor injuries and are fine now. They want to visit when Madam Pomfrey says they can," Harry answers quickly changing the subject.
Hermione nods. "I'm relieved everyone got back."
Madam Pomfrey suddenly appears at the foot of the bed. "Ronald Weasley, you get back in bed right this instant!" she orders. "You do not have my permission to be out of bed. Hermione is going to be fine, but she needs her rest and so do you. Now get back there before I levitate you there myself!"
Ron gives Hermione a big smile before he and Harry make their slow, shuffling exit. Madam Pomfrey follows them out, turning toward her office muttering under her breath about disobedient teenagers.
Hermione sighs and turns to us. "How did you get here so quickly?"
"Professor McGonagall arrived early this morning with another letter from Professor Dumbledore and something called a Portkey. She said it would be the fastest way to get us to Hogwarts," her father says. He shakes his head. "Strangest way to travel I've ever experienced. I'm not exactly certain I enjoyed it."
Hermione smiles at that. "I'm glad you're here. How long will you stay?"
"As long as you need us, sweetheart. And long enough to talk to Madam Pomfrey. She's been helping you get well," he says tenderly.
Madam Pomfrey returns with a tray upon which rests several cups of medicine. My husband looks inquiringly at her as she holds one of the cups to Hermione's lips saying, "A potion for the pain. The others will help you rest and heal."
My husband turns to me and whispers, "Let's take a look at the grounds, dear, so Madam Pomfrey can do her magic."
I agree and tell Hermione, "We'll be back soon, sweetheart."
As we leave her side Hermione says, "Mum, Dad, I'm going to be all right. I hope you know that. And I--I love you both."
"We love you, too. See you soon."
With that, I turn and follow my husband, knowing that our daughter will indeed be "all right" and back in good health before long...especially if one incredibly handsome red-headed young man is keeping her company.