A/N: The idea for this story was originally conceived in August 2005 after I had finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to end it, so the story sat until the answer came to me after reading chapter six of Deathly Hallows. I hope you enjoy this sequel to my story Vigil, which is also posted here at PhoenixSong. This story can certainly be read without necessarily reading Vigil, but if you'd like an understanding of Mrs Granger's thoughts please read that story before reading this one.
To my pre-beta GhostWriter, thank you so much for all the encouragement and transition and grammar help you so willingly gave. Your patience with my first person vs. second person point of view conflicts in the original manuscript is greatly appreciated as are your comments.
Last, but not least, thank you, Aggiebell, for your comments that made me think about what I'd written. I appreciate the time you took from your busy schedule to help me refine the story for publication. You're the best!
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2 June 1997
Hermione came home from Hogwarts several weeks early this year.
The letter asking us to meet her train at King's Cross station came as a complete surprise, considering school administration hadn't previously contacted us about this. We, her father and I, had just sent Hermione's school owl on its way with our reply to her letter, when another owl flew through the kitchen window and deposited a message on the table. He timorously handed the bird the last rasher of bacon from the breakfast tray and raised a questioning eyebrow at me: two owls in the space of a quarter of an hour was a record for us.
"It's from Professor McGonagall," he said, slitting the envelope open and pulling out the letter. He glanced at the signature before reading the rest of the message. "That's funny," he continued, "isn't she the deputy headmistress and head of Gryffindor House? She signs it only 'Headmistress' here."
"What's the letter say?" I asked. "Maybe that will solve your little mystery."
My husband's jovial expression changed dramatically as he read the letter. It finally settled on uneasiness as he looked up and said, "Professor McGonagall is headmistress now. Professor Dumbledore mysteriously died the night before last and she's closing the school and sending the students home after the funeral which is in three days' time."
"Does it say anything about end-of-term exams? What about the future of the school?" I demanded, equally uneasy at this turn of events.
"'The future of the school has been placed in the hands of the school Governors. More information concerning the re-opening of Hogwarts' School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will be forthcoming after they meet,'" my husband read aloud.
"Well, now we know why Hermione wanted to come home early," I said, shaking my head. I took a sip of tea. A horrible idea occurred to me as I set the cup down. With a very real sense of growing alarm I began voicing the myriad thoughts that suddenly bombarded my brain. "If Hogwarts closes, what do you suppose the implications will be for her education? Do you think we need to consider pulling her out of Hogwarts and trying to enrol her in that French school, Beauxbatons? What about trying to get her into a normal secondary school? Do you think anything she's learned in the past six years could even transfer to some place like St Helen's School in Hillington or Croham Hurst School in Croydon? Or maybe we should just try to get her admitted to university early or apply for a year's education in a foreign school? What about--"
"Slow down, dear," he implored, cutting me off mid-panic. "Let's wait until Hermione gets home and we know more from the school before making such monumental decisions. Hermione will have her own opinion on the matter."
I heaved a heavy sigh. Why does everything have to be so complicated? I asked myself. "You're right, dearest: we should wait. She is nearly of age. I keep forgetting that."
"I know. I forget sometimes too." My husband reached across the table and covered my hand with his.
I smiled ruefully and gazed into his eyes. "I'm just so concerned about her future. It wasn't so long ago that we were wondering whether Hogwarts was the best place to send our eleven-year-old. Has it really been six years? I always thought we had seven..." I trailed off, sitting lost in thought until it was time for me to get ready to go to our surgery.
9 June 1997
Hermione sat across from her father and me at the kitchen table. She had been home for three days, three days during which the owls flew to and from her window in a never-ending parade of wings.
I recognized two of them by sight now. Ronald Weasley's owl is small and very annoying. It zoomed around the room once it delivered its post as if it was pleased with itself. Only when it was extremely tired did it settle down on a chair back or some other convenient perch and shut its beak! The other owl is much more elegant and stately, as if it knew the proper way for post owls to act. This snowy owl carried post for Harry Potter and I preferred this owl over Ron's. Unfortunately for my peace of mind, the annoying owl showed up first and came back far more often than the snowy.
Silence blanketed the table. Hermione had just told us that she expected she would not be going back to Hogwarts or any other school in the near future. She and Ron and Harry were embroiled in the heart of the Wizarding world's war against the Dark wizard who killed Harry's parents.
"Why didn't you tell us about this sooner, Hermione? How... how did you get so involved?" my husband sputtered at last. He was as dumbfounded as I, and we both struggled to understand what this means for our family.
"I didn't want to worry you, Dad. I love Hogwarts with everything I am and I didn't want to be forced to leave before my seven years were up. All this trouble between Harry and Voldemort would have made you and Mum question whether or not the school was safe, and whether I should attend a Muggle school rather than Hogwarts." She fixed her father with a piercing stare as she concluded, "I'm right, am I not?"
He stared back as if ready to challenge her for the right to stay at Hogwarts. "Yes, you are, Hermione. But can you honestly tell me that for all intents and purposes that you are safer at Hogwarts than at another secondary school?"
"Yes, I can," she said coolly. "The spells and enchantments around Hogwarts are over a thousand years old and are updated regularly as part of the headmaster's duties. In addition, Harry tells me that whenever Professor Dumbledore was going to be absent, he set additional protective spells on the boundaries, gates and walls surrounding the school to ensure that no Death Eaters could get in undetected."
"But you just said a few minutes ago that some Death Eaters breached the security," I interrupted in exasperation.
Hermione sighed and covered her face with her hands. "No one knew about the portal between the Room of Requirement and Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley before last week except for Draco Malfoy. The professors were patrolling the corridors that night, under Professor Dumbledore's orders, to make certain all the secret passageways leading out of the castle were guarded," she mumbled through her fingers. "It should have been safe..."
My husband reached over and patted our daughter's shoulder. "Even the tightest electronic security measures can be breached if the perpetrators are persistent enough," he said soothingly. "And from what you're saying, nothing seems to have been overlooked."
"Thanks for understanding, Dad," Hermione replied, smiling bleakly at her father.
"So now what?" I asked.
Our daughter poured more tea into her cup before answering. "Harry Potter's my best friend, and... well, I'm something to Ron Weasley, Harry's other best friend. It's as simple as that."
I had to fight hard to hide a smile at those words. Yes, it had been obvious for quite some time that she cares deeply for that tall, red-headed boy and that he fancied her in return. Maybe the two of them were finally waking up and doing something about their feelings. Funny how something like war could spur people on, make them discover things in a hurry they might have taken years to find out otherwise.
"I can't go back. Not while there's a war going on," Hermione continued, staring into the depths of her cup as if trying to conjure some wisdom from the dregs in the bottom. "Harry is depending on me to help him with the task Professor Dumbledore gave him before he died."
My husband opened his mouth to protest. I put a hand on his arm to silence him. We needed to hear Hermione out before we explode. It took a fair amount of self-control to keep my own mouth shut.
"Ron owes Harry a life debt," she continued quietly. "But even if he didn't, the two of us would have made the choice to follow Harry anyway."
"And a life debt is?" I prompted.
Hermione sighed as if our ignorance has reversed the roles in this house: we were now the children and she our parent. "Ron was poisoned on his birthday in March and Harry's quick thinking saved his life. In our world, when one wizard saves another wizard's life, the first wizard is magically bound to the second until the debt can be paid," she explained with long-suffering patience. "Sometimes it may take years for something to happen to require that kind of sacrifice."
As she spoke those words, I was struck by how very much my daughter resembles me. Not just in looks, but in temperament and attitude. I saw clearly, in that moment, that I had passed on to her an air of intellectual superiority that can set teeth on edge. It makes me wonder if Hermione has chosen a man exactly like her father.
"Does this pertain to wartime as well as peacetime?" my husband asked.
"Yes, Dad. In war even more so because of the peril each of us is in. With Voldemort's Death Eaters roaming around no one knows from day to day whether or not they will see their next meal."
"I won't stay behind. I can't stay behind," she said emphatically. "As Ron feels the obligation to stick by Harry no matter what, I feel myself being pulled to Ron in much the same way. Please, try to understand; I'm not going with Ron and Harry as a lark. I'm deadly serious about our mission: it would kill me to have to stay behind. It's killing Ginny ever so slowly because Harry won't let her come with us, and we haven't even left yet."
"There's one other thing," she said sadly. "I promised Ron's sister that wherever he goes, I go, within reason, among other things."
"So there's nothing we can do to persuade you to stay home and complete your education," I asked wearily. When she nodded I asked, "Have you even considered the implications to your future such a vow is making?"
"Mum, my future is with Harry and Ron and only stretches about six months at the most right now. Until we help Harry finish what he has to do, no one--not even in the Muggle world--is safe from the possibility of being murdered just for the sake of pure terrorism." When I failed to exhibit understanding she said, "Remember when I was eleven and the United States went to war against Iraq and I didn't understand why Uncle Reginald had to go, too? You were worried that he was going into combat and tried to explain that Great Britain had joined the Americans to help make the world a safer place for people to live."
"I do remember that conversation," I replied. "How does this have anything to do with what you're preparing to do?"
"I think I understand, honey," my husband said quietly, reaching for my hand. "My brother had pledged to serve his country by flying in the RAF. In 1991 his unit was ordered to Iraq and he went because it was his duty. He would have been considered a deserter if he refused to go, thus breaking the promise he made when he joined up. Hermione's promise to Ginny Weasley is similar to the oath Reggie took. She has to fulfil her commitment or suffer the consequences." He looked at our daughter hopefully. "Have I got the analogy right, Hermione?"
She smiled for the first time since our discussion began. "You do understand, Dad. And I think Mum does now, too."
Indeed, I did. But I found it hard to accept that my daughter was possibly going into combat, that she has pledged to serve the Wizarding world, the UK and the Weasley family with all that grave promises entail. I also knew that it will take me a while to come to terms with the situation. However, what was done is done and I'm resigned to it. "Just promise me one thing," I said, looking into my daughter's eyes. "That you'll do all you can to stay safe and come home to us and your education and maybe even Ron to possibly start a family."
Hermione blushed prettily at this last request. "I promise, Mum. Thanks for understanding."
16 June 1997
"Hermione, is that you?" I called from the kitchen as I prepared dinner. My daughter had not been about the house very much in the last week. She left early each morning and returned in time to help me with dinner each evening and I assumed she had taken a job somewhere. She acquired several witches' robes and always looked so business-like when she came home. This morning, though, she asked to borrow one of my suits. I couldn't imagine why she'd want to wear such an outfit, but I let her choose one without asking any questions.
"Yes, Mum. Would you like some help?" she asked, coming in from the living room and depositing her small bag at her place at the table. Hermione gave me a tired smile and came over to the sink to wash her hands.
"That would be nice, thank you. Could you please set the table?" I said, reaching overhead for my copper risotto pot. I added butter, shallots, and rice to it and began stirring the grain, careful not to scorch it. Hermione kicked off her shoes, then gathered our plates and cutlery and took them over to the table.
As I ladled the first measure of broth into my pot, I said, "Hermione, your father and I have been thinking of taking an extended holiday."
Hermione's back was to me and she stiffened with my news. "That's great, Mum. When were you considering going?" she asked, visibly relaxing.
"The end of the month, actually. We thought we'd go to Australia. I saw an advertisement for discount plane fares and thought we'd take advantage of them," I told her as she straightened up and came over to get our glassware.
"That sounds wonderful! Do you need any help getting organized for the trip? What about your passports? Are they up to date?" she asked, making me wonder why she's so interested in the little books.
"They were the last time I checked a month ago," I said, ladling more broth onto my rice and stirring vigorously. "Why the sudden interest?"
"Well, it takes quite a long time to get them renewed if they've gone out of date and from what you're saying, your trip is coming up in two weeks' time," she said quietly. "Besides, the stamps are always so interesting to study."
I checked the pork chops. "You're sweet to be so concerned, Hermione. If you really want us to check, I'll have your father take them out of our vault to show you."
"Would you? That would be wonderful. Should I make the salad?" Hermione asked. I nodded and she gathered ingredients from the refrigerator. "I'd like to see your passports. I know you've been travelling and I'd love to see the stamps you've added since I've been at school. Now tell me... where were you thinking of visiting in Australia?"
"Melbourne or Sydney. Maybe Perth. Definitely something on the coast. We'd like to do a little diving on the coral reefs, see an operatic performance or two, that sort of thing."
"That sounds lovely," she exclaimed as she puts the salad on the table. "Shall I call Dad?"
"Yes," I said, giving the risotto one last stir and taking the chops from the oven. Hermione sat down and soon the three of us are recounting our days and listening to some of the fascinating stories Hermione has from her year at school. Under all the banter, though, I sensed sadness in my daughter that I had no explanation for. I fervently hope that whatever was bothering her, she'd eventually want to confide in me.
6 July 1997
I was feeling rather out of sorts: the house we'd been visiting felt somewhat familiar, as if I'd been here before, but it really shouldn't since we were staying in a very modern bed and breakfast. I think it was the lack of portraits... all the pictures were landscapes, even the ones on the bureaus in the bedrooms. Very odd, that. One would think that the proprietors would at least have a picture of themselves somewhere.
The other thing that bothered me was that the proprietors were absent. We hadn't seen them since we arrived. I'd been assured by the pretty young woman, Melinda Higgenbottom, who ran the establishment in their absence, that the owners would be returning after we leave today. They tendered their regrets that they could not be with us at any point in our stay and I wished we could have met them. They ran such a lovely establishment.
"Monica, dear, are you ready to leave? Miss Higgenbottom reminded me we must be at Heathrow three hours before our flight," my husband called up the stairs.
"Coming, Wendell." I snapped the locks on my overnight bag and picked up my other luggage. Wendell met me at the top of the stairs and took the biggest bag.
"Miss Higgenbottom volunteered to take our rental car back for us as part of the inn's services," he said conversationally. "I thought that was very nice of her."
"Yes, it is," I replied vaguely, opening the door and striding down the front path to the vehicle where Miss Higgenbottom waited behind the wheel. It was very strange that she should be driving since the rental car was in our name, but nothing about the last two days has been quite right. I think I've just become rather tired of travelling and was eager to get back home to Sydney. The neighbour across the street waved at us as we climbed into the back seat.
At the airport, Miss Higgenbottom opened the boot and took our luggage out for us. She seemed overly solicitous as she made sure we had our passports and boarding passes ready and stayed with us as far as the head of the line for customs.
"You'll have a three hour lay-over in Cairo, Egypt before your flight to Australia. I've arranged for a valet service to take you to your home once you land in Sydney," she said, extending her had to Wendell and then to me. "It was a pleasure to have you stay with us. Have a good flight."
She left abruptly. My last glimpse of Miss Higgenbottom was the back of her blond head weaving its way towards the entrance to the terminal. Her head was bowed and she seemed to be crying. I wonder why...
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A young woman with long blond hair stood at the window of the airport restaurant watching a plane taxi down the tarmac. Only she can see the mysterious glow emanating from one of the windows of the big jet. She knew the glow would fade as soon as the wheels left the ground; two fat tears slid unheeded down her cheeks.
She raised her hand and waved at the plane. "Good bye, Mum and Dad. I hope you have a nice life in Australia," she whispered, her breath fogging up the glass in front of her. "I hope we can be a family again some day."
The plane turned onto the runway and Hermione Jean Granger sadly walked away from the window, never looking back.