Hermione could tell by the darkening sky that it was time to head back - Harry and Ginny would be arriving back from The Burrow at any moment and she wanted to be there to greet them. She hadn’t minded spending a quiet Christmas with her parents and, to be frank, it had been good to have some time away from all the pressures of school. Well, the tensions of school. In fact, she never imagined that she’d ever feel as anxious about returning to Hogwarts as she had today. Visiting Hagrid had been just the tonic to lift her spirits while waiting for her friends to return.
‘Thanks for tea, Hagrid. We’ll all come and visit soon,’ she promised as she gave the hippogriff one last stroke along his neck. She looked up towards the castle when Hagrid announced,
‘Wha’s Dumbledore’s doin’, comin’ down teh see me? He shouldn’ be gettin’ ou’ in weather like this.’ He patted her gently on the shoulder, unbalancing her only slightly. ‘Sorry ’bou’ tha’,’ he muttered, helping to steady her. ‘Bye-bye, Hermione, it was lovely of yeh teh come down an’ see us.’ He gave her shoulders a gentle squeeze and smiled down at her.
‘Bye, Hagrid.’ She smiled back and then started up the steep slope towards the Headmaster. After a few moments of struggling through the snow she was almost at the top and close enough to greet him. ‘Good evening, Professor. Happy New Year,’ she said, her breath fogging before her.
‘Happy New Year to you, Miss Granger.’ Dumbledore smiled kindly at her while he picked his way carefully down the snowy steps towards her. ‘Might I press you for some assistance on this slippery slope?’
Hermione rushed to his side, concerned. ‘Of course, Professor.’ She stood beside him, unsure how she could help. He placed his left hand - his good hand - on her right shoulder with a light pressure. Understanding, she began a slow walk with him back down to Hagrid’s.
It scared her a little, seeing her Headmaster so frail. She didn’t know if she should say something, and she wouldn’t know what to say, anyway. Here she was, walking beside the greatest wizard alive, and she realised that she had never actually spent any time alone with him. He played such a large part in her life. He was her Headmaster, the one ultimately responsible for her precious magical education, something she valued more highly than almost anything else. Then he was the Head of the Order; he was the one they were all relying on in this fight against Voldemort. And, of course, he was teaching Harry - teaching him what he needed to know in order to end this war for good. His presence was pervasive, yet she had never even had a conversation with him.
As they carefully made their way down the slope her mind warred between taking this opportunity to ask him the million questions swirling round in her head, asking him if he was feeling all right, or simply maintaining a respectful silence.
‘Are your parents well, Miss Granger? I expect you were glad to spend the holidays with them,’ he said, drawing her out of her internal struggle.
‘Oh, yes, thank you. They’re very well. We had a lovely Christmas,’ she said. She couldn’t understand why her eyes were misting over. Perhaps because, in the midst of his many enormous responsibilities, it was obvious that he was genuinely interested in her, in her parents. Who was she, after all? Just a bookish, sixth-year prefect.
But now that she had opened her mouth in reply, the questions were about to tumble out. She cringed inwardly and hoped she wasn’t bothering him. But, as usual, her inquisitiveness won out. The only thing was she had so many questions.
She wanted to know about the Prophecy, about what it meant exactly, and if there was any way they could determine how it would be fulfilled. She wanted to know who the Half-Blood Prince was. She wanted to know if her parents were safe. She wanted to know how Harry’s private lessons were going, if he was making progress in learning how to defeat Voldemort. She wanted to know how the Headmaster had injured his hand. She wanted to know what the Order was up to, what the Ministry was doing and how long this war was going to last.
As important as all those questions were, there was a whole raft of other questions spinning through her mind: questions about magical knowledge and skills. She’d read about magical traces and wanted to know how one could distinguish the magic of a particular witch or wizard. She wanted to understand how wordless magic worked and why it was so much more difficult than spoken magic. She needed help with a difficult Arithmancy essay on the fourth law of magical currents and its application to sustaining magical effects.
And here she was, with the one person who probably knew the answers to all of her questions.
‘How do you know if you can trust someone?’ she blurted out, ‘- if you’ve placed your trust in the right person?’
Astonished, she just managed to restrain herself from clapping her hand over her mouth. She had no idea what had prompted that question, or even what it meant. It was too late to take it back, however. Professor Dumbledore was already musing over his answer.
‘Hmm. Well, I have always understood that trust is not, by and large, a question of knowing as much as it is a matter of doing.’ He spoke to the air ahead of them and she was grateful not to have to make eye contact. She didn’t think she’d have the courage to continue otherwise. And she found she so desperately wanted to continue, now that she had started.
‘But what if you misplace your trust and that person betrays you? Is there any way you can know that beforehand so you can protect yourself?’
She began thinking of Wormtail and Harry’s parents, but her stomach clenched uncomfortably as though she herself were the victim. She couldn’t understand why she had recently developed such an emotional response. She had known about this for nearly three years, but only lately had she felt, really felt in her gut, some small sense of the betrayal Harry must feel.
‘Ah, betrayal. It is a terrible thing, is it not, to be a traitor? And yet, how does one know whether a certain act is one of betrayal? May it not rather be an act of hurt, or fear, or even of survival?’
‘But surely the motives of the traitor don’t stop the other from being betrayed. From feeling betrayed.’
‘No, that is quite true. But they may help us to understand, to forgive, and to trust again.’
‘But is there any way to know? To protect yourself from that kind of … evil?’
‘ “Evil” is a very strong word, Miss Granger.’
A moment of silence passed between them. She wondered now what exactly they were talking about. It occurred to her that she hadn’t meant to talk about evil dark wizards and murdering traitors at all. Really, she now recognised that she’d been more interested in trying to understand the motivations of certain friends of hers. The conversation, however, seemed to be taking a turn for the profound. She felt ashamed for starting it. It made her seem, feel … weak.
‘What do you suppose is the worst thing that could ever happen to you?’ Dumbledore asked her.
Hermione frowned in thought. ‘Well, to be killed, I suppose. To die.’
‘But we all die, my dear. There is no one who can escape that fate. Is there not something else, something more evil, which would be a worse fate for you?’
Different images fought for dominance in her mind: mundane matters of friendship and betrayal warred with frightening scenes of torture and death and … betrayal - there was that word again. Perhaps this conversation was about both ends of the spectrum - both the mundane and the profound.
Finally, the betrayal of the Potters settled in her mind once more and she tried to see herself in the shoes of the various actors in that real-life drama. Would she rather have been Lily or Voldemort? Harry or Wormtail? She asked herself what would have been the worse fate. She shuddered at the thought and answered in a soft voice, ‘It would be worse to kill someone in hate, I think, than to be killed.’ Then she realised it was about more than just life and death. ‘I mean, it would be worse to hate than to be hated.’
‘I agree. If one wants to be protected from evil, as you call it, one must look within. It is true that others may bring you harm, that their evil may hurt you. But evil does its worst damage from the inside. Be much more wary of becoming evil than of being hurt by the evil in someone else.’
They had almost reached the bottom of the slope. Hermione thought about Voldemort and Harry: they had both been hurt by the evil in others, but Harry had not become evil as Voldemort had. She was beginning to understand what Dumbledore meant.
‘So, if you would be protected from evil,’ he continued, ‘then it is you who must maintain your trust, and must yourself be trustworthy - faithful. It is impossible to know for certain whether someone else will be faithful; it is only possible for you yourself to be so.’
That did not bring her much comfort – she already knew she could trust herself. ‘That’s an awfully big risk, isn’t it?’ she asked.
‘Oh yes, it is a very great risk.’ He spoke so softly that his words seemed to float away on the air.
Hermione shivered and glanced at him briefly; it had seemed as though he was speaking of someone in particular, someone in whom he had placed his trust. Before she could give it any more thought, however, he had released her shoulder and turned to face her.
They had reached the snow-covered lawn before Hagrid’s cabin and Dumbledore was looking at her with his bright, twinkling eyes. ‘Thank you very much for your assistance, Miss Granger. I wonder if you would do me one more, small favour.’ He reached into his robes and pulled out a small scroll of parchment, ‘Would you mind delivering this to Harry on his return?’
‘Of course, Professor.’ she glanced back towards the castle, mostly because she was afraid the wetness gathering in her eyes might spill over her lashes. ‘I’ll be on my way, then - he’ll be back any minute.’
‘Yes, I’m sure you’re right.’ He turned from her and, after bowing low before Witherwings, said, ‘Now, Hagrid, I hope your kettle’s on, because a hot cup of tea is just what I need after that stroll through the snow.’
Hermione started back up the slope as quickly as she could, wiping her eyes with the back of her gloved hands and hoping she hadn’t missed the arrival of her friends. She felt a strange mix of eagerness and reluctance at the thought of seeing them. As she neared the top she heard Hagrid saying, ‘Go on in, Professor, while I jus’ feed Buckb- er Witherwings, here.’
Betrayal. Trust. Faithfulness. The words swirled around her mind like the snow drifts around the castle.
She thought with a sickening in her stomach about Slughorn’s Christmas party - her excited plans for it and the upsetting reality of it. She recognised the slippery slope she was in danger of sliding down: the slope of revenge, mistrust and faithlessness. It was hard, living with the hurt of betrayal. But, she supposed, it was better than becoming a traitor.
No, Dumbledore was right. Sometimes “traitor” was too strong a word; there could be other reasons why people did what they did. People, who was she fooling? Ron. There could be other reasons why Ron did what he did. She did not believe he had set out to betray her. Honestly, he just wasn’t that … he didn’t know how to betray someone.
But, as certain as she was that Ron wasn’t a traitor, she was just as certain that she did not understand what he had done.
To understand, to forgive, to trust again, Dumbledore had said.
No, she certainly didn’t understand, and she felt very far from forgiving, let alone trusting again.
A/Ns: This missing moment is brought to you by p.328-9 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (UK edition).
Without Gypsy and Tante, this moment would be just a vague shadow in my mind. Thank you, ladies, for your great help and encouragement.