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Hermione Granger and the Philosopher's Stone

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Dr.’s Bert and Mary Granger of Lavenham, Suffolk, were more excited than they had ever been in their whole lives. After years of unsuccessful attempts, Bert and Mary were expecting a baby girl in September… and not even horrendous morning sickness could deter the happy parents-to-be from telling the whole small town about their impending bundle of joy.

The Grangers really were perfect for each other. Bert was never one to share his personal history and, instead, found it safer to stick to the facts and figures. His bookish appearance only added to his social ineptness. His dark brown eyes, hidden behind thick glasses, always seemed to dart around during conversations and his slicked back dark brown hair only accentuated his somewhat large ears. Bert was relatively tall, but always hunched over under the weight of his school books. Mary, on the other hand, had honey colored eyes and a mess of light brown curls upon her head that always looked meticulous, even in the messy bun she always wore. She was a bit more outgoing, but her conversations always seemed to end up being about her most recent scientific experiment.

When Bert met Mary in dental school, his idea of flirting involved quizzing her on the parts of a tooth (enamel, dentin, pulp, cementum, and the periodontal ligament) and the metabolization rate of novocaine. Luckily for Bert and his love life, Mary found his intellectual ramblings a turn on and soon the pair became inseparable.

Trivia nights over a pint or two (or three) at their local pubs developed into a nightly occurrence. For the first month, they were at the top of every leader board in the county. However, the pair fell in the standings because they were too busy talking about anything but facts and figures. Abandoning all reason, the pair married after only 3 months of dating and opened up a dentistry practice in their small town of Lavenham soon after graduation.

Bert and Mary developed a name for themselves in their community… and not necessarily for their dental work. It was common knowledge that patients of Granger Dental Associates were in for quite the history lesson while they were incapacitated in the Grangers’ chair with their mouth open, unable to change the subject. Topics ranged from Wolsey’s ‘Amicable Grant’ Resistance in the 1500’s to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s experimental film, Apotheosis, filmed in the town square in the late 1960’s and everything in between.

Nonetheless, Bert and Mary were so passionate in their long winded history lessons, patients couldn’t help but be entertained by the stories and tended to completely forget about the sharp objects scraping their teeth. Entertainment and history aside, however, patients couldn’t help but heave a sigh of relief when the Grangers switched topics to the upcoming increase of their family.

Mary first suspected she was finally pregnant during a particularly vivid dream full of owls flying throughout their house and the surrounding village. When she woke up, she swore she felt the fluttering of owls inside her stomach. The feeling was so overwhelming that she just “knew” she was pregnant. Bert, on the other hand, had done all the research and “overwhelming fluttering” was definitely not a symptom of pregnancy. A quick trip to her doctor, however, confirmed they had finally managed to get pregnant.

In between patients, Bert would walk over to the library to “study up.” Instead of shuffling along through the cobblestone streets, Bert couldn’t help but whistle with a spring in his step. It wasn’t long before all of the librarians knew of the “whistling papa” and his unending quest to know absolutely everything about his pregnant wife and future daughter.

“What’s on the syllabus today, Dr. Granger?” asked Mildred the head librarian.

“Did you know that my daughter,” he smiled so wide at the mere mention of the word that he paused momentarily, “is currently the size of a zucchini?”

“Is that so?”

“Yes! And is about 1.5 kilos!”

“Such a wee one!” Mildred laughed.

“Mary, though,” Bert dropped his voice to a whisper, “has put on more than a stone! 1.42 stone to be exact! Which is actually--”

“Albert Granger!,” Mildred bristoled, “Don’t you dare insult your wife’s weight! Her body is carrying your--”

“No, no, no!” Bert interrupted, “I didn’t mean it like-- I just meant-- It’s just fascinating that--” Bert’s ears were burning red. “She’s the perfect weight, actually, for how far along she is. That’s all. She’s perfect. That’s what I wanted to say… b-b-but I only whispered her weight because there are people around and--”

Mildred smiled and patted his arm, bringing his ramblings to a merciful end. “You and the other Dr. Granger settle on a name yet?”
Bert beamed. “We were trying to come up with a nice, unusual name fitting of her, erm, unusual parents,” he said in a rare moment of self realization, “but all we have been able to agree on is either Jean or Davis.”

The old librarian chuckled. “You lot aren’t so much unusual but you’re definitely quirky, that’s for sure. You got your quirks, I’ll say.”

“Right you are!” Bert laughed.

“We just got that new book in for you… Carbo-Something Something in Pregnant Women and Newborns,” Mildred pulled out a freshly opened parcel from under the desk full of books.

Carbohydrate Metabolism in Pregnancy and the Newborn 1978: First Edition.”

“Yeah, that’s the one - let me find it.” Mildred rooted around in the box before pulling out a large, heavy dark blue medical textbook. “I haven’t had a chance to catalogue it yet but it’s not like I won’t know who has it,” she said with a twinkle in her eye as she handed off the hefty book.

“The Moore’s down the lane are also expecting a child this fall,” Bert said absentmindedly, thumbing through the thin paper.

“The Moore’s aren’t going to want this book,” Mildred said with a laugh. “Just bring it back when you’re done.”

“Of course! Will you also ring me when the Advances in Child Development and Behaviour, Volume 8 is returned?”

“I thought you already read that one,” Mildred exclaimed.

Oh I have,” Bert grinned, “Twice. But third time’s the charm, right?”

 

Mary dabbed her mouth and walked out of the loo. She was 36 weeks pregnant and still felt as though there were owls constantly fluttering in her stomach which didn’t bode well for her ability to keep anything down. Her doctor assured her everything was progressing nicely despite her sickness and her husband confirmed after a few weeks of research.
As miserable as she was, the excitement of having a baby trumped any discomfort. She plopped down on the sofa next to Bert who was, not surprisingly, reading another textbook. He hurriedly put his book down and pulled a small notebook and pencil out of his breast pocket.

“How much do you think you, erm, expelled that time?” Bert asked, touching the tip of the pencil lead to his tongue before bringing it to meet the paper.

“Haven’t the foggiest,” sighed Mary.

“But I have to log it!” Bert protested.

“I think it’s time to stop logging my vomit volume, dear,” Mary tried to smile.

“We have to have a complete and comprehensive chart to show the doctor when we go next week.”

“No, we don’t,” she replied carefully. “Dr. Higgens has seen countless pregnant women with nauseousness. He knows what he is doing.”

“You don’t want to plot it anymore? Are you feeling ok? That’s not like you!” exclaimed Bert, sitting straight up. “Is it time? It can’t be time. You’re only 36 weeks 2 days and--”

“No, no, there’s nothing wrong,” she said. “I’m just tired of the science of it.” The horrified look on Bert’s face made her giggle. “I just want to enjoy these last few weeks of being pregnant without constantly thinking about my vomit.”

“When have you ever been tired of science?!”

“Since a parliament of owls took up residence in my uterus for the last 36 weeks and recently seem to have been fornicating like rabbits,” Mary said, giggling again at Bert’s face. “Come on, why don’t we talk about some names while we tidy up the nursery?”

“Ah, another ‘nesting’ episode,” Bert said as he pulled out his notebook again but froze when he saw Mary’s face. “Nevermind.”

 

“Push!”

In the middle of a brilliantly sunny September day (even though owls usually fly at night) Mary felt as though the owls residing in her large stomach were fighting to escape into the bright, crisp air. Both she and

Bert were taking a lunch break at Grangers’ Dental Associates in between patients because Mary was stubborn and wanted to work as long as possible.

Mary doubled over mid bite and let out a moan Bert had never heard the likes of before. He was so taken aback, he sloshed his tea all over his starched white dentist jacket.

“Mary? Honey? Erm, what’s wr--”

“What kind of brilliant scientist can’t even identify when his wife is going into laaaabbboooorrrrr?!” she screamed as another contraction hit her like a wave.

In a fumbling and clumsy mess, very unlike the Grangers’ usual way of doing things, Bert somehow managed to get Mary to the local hospital. She was whisked from the waiting room, leaving Bert standing there, not knowing what to do for the first time in his life. Eventually, he came to his senses and logically deduced, after much consideration, to ask the nurses station where, in fact, he had to go. Thankfully, they led him to the room where his wife was already changed into a gown and in bed.

Things progressed quickly, especially given it was Mary’s first child. Before the Grangers knew it, it was time to push.

“Push!” the doctor tried to yell over the din of Mary’s screams and the nervous humming of Bert.

“Stop. Humming!” Mary yelled.

“Erm, sorry!” said Bert, but he continued to hum without realizing it.

“Stop bloody humming!”

Bert blinked a few times in confusion and then ceased. He looked on in silent concern.

‘Good. You’re doing good, Mary,” the doctor said. “Just a few more pushes should do it. You’re doing a great job.”

“Watch out for the owls,” Mary said through gritted teeth. “Their talons are out.”

“What’s that?” asked the doctor.

“Well, you see, when Mary first had an inkling she was pregnant, she felt--”

“Shut it, Bert!”

“Yes, dear,” he said, casting his eyes down. Bert may have studied all there was to know about childbirth, but he had absolutely no idea how to act around his very pregnant and very irritable wife.

“Just another few good pushes and you should be able to see your new baby’s face,” the doctor said.

Bert’s heart fluttered and he grabbed Mary’s hand. She smiled back at him through her pain. The moment was perfect. It was exactly what he needed to do, no studying necessary.

After a few more good pushes, Bert did, indeed, get a chance to see his new baby’s face. He had never seen anything as beautiful, not even that perfect moment right after removing a child’s braces. His heart soared. The most indescribable feeling washed over him. No textbook could ever explain the love he felt for the wisp of brown hair and the tiny button nose he saw before him. Everything else ceased to exist in that moment.

Bert’s overwhelming excitement was hastily interrupted by a sudden flurry of activity and a symphony of shouts. Before he knew what was going on, Bert was pushed out of the way by a rather round nurse in a white cap.

“What’s going on?” his shouts were lost in the rapid cacophony. Nurses and doctors were streaming into the room, creating a barrier of white between him and his wife and baby. Bert struggled to see on his tip toes but kept getting pushed off balance. He soon found himself on the very edge of the room with no chance of seeing what was going on. Snippets of words were floating above the sea of white: “Baby... cord... blue... hurry…”

Bert had never felt more stupid or helpless in his life. There was always an answer. Always. If he didn’t know an answer off the top of his head, Bert could always find it somewhere in a book if he looked hard enough. But there, in that hospital room, Bert knew absolutely nothing.

 

It felt like an eternity as Bert sat outside in the hallway, staring at the eggshell colored cinder blocks across from him. There were exactly 144 blocks directly in front of him in between the two hospital room doors.

The block 2 rows up and 3 columns over from the left had a smudge on it that looked exactly like an owl. It took every ounce of strength Bert had left to not get up and scuff it out with his rubber soles (after kicking it a few times, that is).

Bert didn’t even notice the heavyset doctor standing to his left until he felt a hand on his arm. “She’s almost ready to go,” the doctor said. “How are you holding up?”

Bert couldn’t muster a reply. Instead, he put on the most British “stiff upper lip” he could muster and nodded quickly. The doctor’s hand fell off his arm as he stood and took the 5 strides into the hospital room to the left, vowing not to kick the owl. As he opened the door, his dark brown eyes landed on his beautiful, smart, incredibly sad wife sitting on the bed and staring out the window.

Her arms were painfully empty.
“Let’s go home,” Bert whispered.

 

Nearly a year later on a blustery Tuesday morning in early February, Mary was leaning over Mr. Gus Quips, a rather handsome older man with a dusting of grey in his temples, when she was struck with a peculiar feeling.

“And then, during the Lavenham Smallpox epidemic of 1712-- Owls!” she exclaimed, accidentally jabbing Mr. Quips on the cheek with her dental hook.

“Ow!” yelled Mr. Quips.

“Yes! That’s right! Owls!” Before Mr. Quips could mumble another word, Mary flew out of the exam room and down the hall where her husband was writing in the chart of his last patient. “Bert! Owls!”

“What?”

“I feel owls again!”

“What?! Are you sure?” he said, dropping his pen into his coffee cup.

“Positive.”

Silence surrounded them. The weight of the revelation was two fold: there was excitement but there was an overwhelming sense of fear.

“Should we go to the doctor then?” Bert asked quietly.

“I think so.”

“Erm, excuse me,” said Mr. Quips, standing in the doorway, still rubbing his tongue against the inside of his cheek. “I have to get back to work. Can we finish up?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Mr. Quips,” said Mary, snapping out of her daze and back into “dentist” mode. “Of course. I’ll be back in a moment to finish up your filling.” Mr. Quips disappeared back down the hall and Mary stood up, straightening her jacket.

“Shouldn’t we, erm, talk about this?” Bert asked.

“We can talk about it after we’re done with patients.”

“The patients can wait.”

“No. They can’t,” Mary said, walking out the door.

Bert took a deep, shaky breath. His heart was pounding faster than a hummingbird. For the second time in his life, he didn’t know what to do. Losing their baby in childbirth was absolutely devastating. Both he and Mary were severely depressed for months and had only just started to get back to some sense of normalcy. Laughter, while still sporadic, was finally finding its way back into the Granger cottage.

The turning point in their grief was a frank discussion 4 months ago. Through tears, both admitted they never wanted to try for another baby. The loss of the child and the previous miscarriages had taken their toll. Mary and Bert agreed that they’d give it a few more years and just adopt a child. Only when they talked about, analyzed, and came to that conclusion were they able to start living again.

The owls obviously changed everything. Bert’s stomach rose to his throat. His head fell into his hands. What Mary didn’t know was all of the research he had done after all of their failed attempts at pregnancy. The calculations didn’t lie - there was a very high probability she would lose this child and he knew, with certainty, they wouldn’t be able to survive it.

 

With every passing month of her pregnancy, Mary and Bert became more and more detached from whatever was growing in Mary’s stomach. While Bert’s quirky calculations were a staple of the last pregnancy, both found comfort in being completely scientific about the whole situation. Every morning, after meticulously brushing their teeth, Bert and Mary would step out into their bedroom for their new morning ritual.

Surrounded by massive pieces of paper filled with grey-toned graphs and charts, Bert would bring out the measuring tape, place it at the top of the uterus, and stretch it along the top of her stomach. “Fundal height: 35 centimeters,” he said, reading the tape. Mary would plot it on the graph. Mary would then get on the scale. “Weight: 70.3kg.” Again, the number was plotted. The only “non-scientific” number they’d measure was the owls. “How many owls are flying around this morning?” Bert would ask.

“At least 15,” Mary said, and the number would be plotted.

They never discussed the implications of the measurements or made any hypothesis; the numbers were the numbers were the numbers and that was it, thank you very much.

The nursery hadn’t been touched. After they lost the baby, Bert and Mary quickly converted the nursery back into a storage area. Being the practical people they were, they converted the changing table into a catch-all for charts and the crib into a storage area for dental casts. The pale purple walls that were once bright and cheery seemed dingy and were covered with a very fine dust from the plaster casts. The brilliant white lace curtains were replaced with sensible blinds to hide the room from the sun. Neither Bert nor Mary found themselves in the room all that often.

The patients at Grangers’ Dental Associates tried to strike up conversations about the upcoming birth, but conversation was quickly brought back to the history of their town or a scientific rant. Bert would only mumble pleasantries to Mildred the librarian when he checked out the new editions of various dental textbooks and journals. If it weren’t for Mary’s ever growing baby bump, no one would have any idea they were expecting.

By the time Mary was 38 weeks along, the terror she and Bert felt was bubbling to the surface and making them both quick to anger. During one of their morning measurement sessions, Bert fumbled the measuring tape. “Fundal hei--” he stuttered as the tape fell to the floor.

“Bert, what on earth do you think you’re doing?” chided Mary.

“Sorry, love,” Bert muttered. He quickly retrieved the tape from the floor. “Fundal height: 39 centimeters.”

Mary plotted the measurement and took a step to the right towards the scale. “Oh!” she exclaimed, plopping down on the bed holding her stomach.

“Mary?” Bert asked tentatively.

“The owls,” Mary said with a glint of fear in her eyes. “We have to go to hospital.”

 

22 hours later, a beautiful baby girl with bright, brown eyes and thick brown hair entered the world in a flurry of activity. The doctor, a seasoned practitioner, had never had another birth quite like it and was still shaking his head in disbelief an hour after he had left the room.

As soon as the baby was born, Dr. Hawthorne, who distinctly remembered the tragedy that had befallen the Grangers a little more than a year before, had a dreadful moment of déjà vu. The baby’s head emerged with the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around her little neck and was turning very blue very quickly. Then, all of a sudden like magic, the tight cord seemed to unravel like a snake before his very eyes. He nearly dropped the newborn he was so surprised. He quickly passed the baby off to a waiting nurse and stepped out of the room to clear his head. Maybe he was a bit too old to pull a 24 hour shift.

Bert and Mary went through all of the motions expected of new parents. They took turns holding her and obsessively counting her fingers and toes. They chuckled at her full head of hair; Bert even swept it up into a faux mohawk at one point. Nevertheless, the nurses in the safety of the nurses station all remarked at how distant the pair seemed to be. It was no matter - sometimes it took a bit for the shock of it all to wear off.

Before they knew it, it was time for Bert and Mary to name their beautiful new baby. Mary took a deep breath and stared into her new daughter’s eyes. Her heart still ached for their lost daughter but she wanted, desperately, to be able to love her just as much. “Jean,” she whispered with a tear. Bert stiffened at the first mention of the name in over a year. Surely she wasn’t going to name their new baby after the one they lost. Mary looked over at the nurse. “Hermione Jean Granger. That’s her name. A nice, unusual, smart first name, isn’t it?”

“Very unusual indeed,” murmured the nurse as she wrote the name on the chart and left the room to tend to the other six children born the 19th day of September, 1979.

Chapter Text

Just over eleven years had passed since the Grangers welcomed baby Hermione to their family. For the first few years of Hermione’s life, both her parents were utterly terrified something bad would happen. To their relief, the only remotely bad thing that happened was that one regrettable time Hermione decided to play dentist on her teddy bear and cried bloody murder when the plaster wouldn’t come off its fur.

Hermione was certainly a Granger. There was no denying it. As soon as she learned to talk (at an age MUCH younger than her peers, thank you very much), Hermione always had something to say. The people of Lavenham, Suffolk could hear her coming long before they saw her.

Bert and Mary couldn’t get to the library fast enough to keep up with Hermione’s reading habits. She devoured books at a rate most adults couldn’t even comprehend. For her fifth birthday, Mildred the librarian gave Hermione her very own library card which, frankly, out shined the multitude of presents her parents got her that year, including the very realistic junior dentist kit. At six years old, Hermione became the youngest ever library assistant and took her weekend shifts very seriously. The townspeople laughed that the only time Hermione wasn’t talking was when she was working in the library… unless she was chastising them for talking themselves.

Hermione always, even from a very young age, seemed to feel different from everyone. She felt as though there was something missing and tried desperately, in her own little way, to fill the void with books and knowledge. Her parents were lovely but always seemed distant, only adding to her “different-ness.” Watching her schoolmates and the other children of Lavenham from the top of her book, she noticed how different their parents seemed to treat them. Whereas they earned their parents’ affection from immature and mundane feats of strength or silliness, Bert and Mary Granger only seemed interested in Hermione’s newest fact of the day or the spelling of a particularly difficult word. She soon replaced her need to feel loved with a need to learn anything and everything. It seemed to fill a small part of that void. Any emotion that would pop up that Hermione didn’t understand or couldn’t control could be suppressed with a new fact or hypothesis to prove. Facts and hypotheses were much easier to deal with than emotions.

Hermione also had a very strict understanding for all rules and laws. To her, rules were there for a reason and even if you didn’t know the reason, it was quite important. Maintaining the status quo and following the rules were very important for a civilized society. Without rules, there’d be chaos and Hermione hated chaos. Everything should have a place and a reason.

It wasn’t that Bert and Mary didn’t love their daughter with all of their heart - they certainly did and would share a smile at every milestone Hermione would overcome, whether it be academic or not. Unfortunately, the nurses’ theory that they were still “in shock” and, therefore, not completely bonding with their new daughter wasn’t exactly true. “Jean” was a silent but ever present barrier between Hermione and Granger, not only in name but also in practice as well. Mary hated herself for it, but couldn’t help but compare Hermione to the essence of what Jean could have been. Maybe that’s what fed Hermione’s subconscious feeling of never being smart enough or happy enough or good enough… and perhaps, the lack of expression of feelings in the Granger cottage made empathy and emotions the only subjects Hermione couldn’t master.

Not much had changed about Hermione’s appearance in the eleven years since she had been born. Her hair was as fluffy as ever and her dark brown eyes shone in the darkness. She had very large teeth, much to her dismay. Unfortunately, the junior dentist kit didn’t have the proper tools for Hermione to fix them and her parents flat out refused. A lot of her schoolmates in primary school made fun of her, which was, obviously, against the rules. She told herself that was why she got so upset at their mockery - they were breaking the bullying rules in school. Hermione couldn’t let herself think their words may just have hurt her feelings instead because then she’d have to admit to having feelings and caring what other people thought.

The Grangers had set aside an old exam room as Hermione’s “work office” when she wasn’t at the library, but there were, unfortunately, no windows. Nonetheless, it always seemed abnormally bright in that room when Hermione was there.

Hermione had her office set up quite practically. Opposite the door was her “desk” with two chairs for any patients who needed a “consultation.” The desk was comprised of an old instrument table as low as it could go. On the left were old shelves filled with her current favorite books: on the top shelf, accessible by a step ladder stowed away between the shelf and the wall, were all of the dentistry books her parents owned (though there were times Hermione didn’t need to set up the ladder - the book she wanted always seemed to tip and fall into her hands). Hermione was sure to refresh her dentistry knowledge on the off chance her parents had to come in to look something up - Hermione could beat them to it by answering their question. She loved to be helpful and relished in the look of approval her parents would give her when she answered their question.

Below the dentistry books were various history and math books. Hermione would, quite frequently, pull down various historical texts and construct a narrative in her head about the events consisting of kings, queens, wizards, witches, and various creatures. Though she was quite brilliant, Hermione definitely had a very active imagination. She had to have one, she thought, because sometimes the stories in the history books didn’t really add up. When she regaled her stories to her parents and the townspeople, she stuck to the facts. In her “work office,” however, she imagined the gaps being filled in with mysterious circumstances like dragons or magic wands. She would have been embarrassed for her parents to hear her stories, but they always filled her with so much joy. Plus, their additions made the stories make more sense.

The bottom 3 shelves were a carousel of her favorite books which changed from moment to moment. One of Hermione’s favorite activities growing up was selecting a book to read aloud to all of her stuffed animal patients in her office. If she was particularly bored, she’d try to make the pages flip on their own. When they did, which was not all the time, Hermione would smugly smile at her “patients” and nod her head. “See? My brain really is quite powerful,” she said and then got back to the lesson.

The other three walls not occupied by the large shelves were painted a dull, dreary pinkish color that made Hermione cringe. It reminded her of the color of dehydrated and anesthetized gums, and made her slightly shudder every time she entered the room. To combat the dreadful color, Hermione hung up all of the worksheets and illustrations she made for her class of stuffed animals so they could follow along with her lessons without being offended by the color.

One particularly horrible day, Hermione walked into her work office and threw her nap sack into the corner of the room, knocking some of her students over. “Primary school is the worst. The absolute worst!” she exclaimed, near tears, to no one in particular. “Those children think I am an absolute freak until it’s time for an exam and then they want to be my best friend! And now…” she paused, holding back tears, “And now I won’t receive any credit for my grammar exam because the professor thinks I was letting them cheat off of my test!”

Hermione broke down in heaving sobs as the full weight of the situation fell upon her. Having never received less than full marks in her whole academic career, Hermione would not only have this horrendous grade on her record until she died but she also knew zero marks had to be signed off on by a parent or guardian. Her sobs intensified so much so that she didn’t notice the lights slightly dimming and the papers on the walls ruffling in a wind that wasn’t really there. How could she possibly tell her parents she was not going to get her usual perfect marks? Hermione couldn’t even begin to imagine their disappointment in her. Her anxiety wouldn’t stop. She had absolutely no idea how to control the tears streaming down her face or the sobs shaking her shoulders. Hermione tried everything she could think of to stop, but everything she could think of wasn’t much. No amount of facts or figures were going to help keep this at bay. Her hands started to clam up and her chest felt as though a thousand elephants were sitting on it. Her breaths got more and more shallow.

Mary had just finished up on a patient when she noticed the lights dimming in the hall outside of her exam rooms. Taking it as a sign that it was time to head home for the day, she went to retrieve her daughter from the extra exam room down the hall. As she walked down the hall, five charts in hand, she was too preoccupied to hear the hiccupping sobs radiating from her daughter’s exam room.

She opened the door with a gasp - there was her eleven year old daughter, sitting on the floor with her legs crossed underneath her, rocking back and forth as if having an adult-sized panic attack. The charts nearly tumbled out of her arms. It was very rare for her daughter to show any emotion other than an intense eagerness to learn. Mary was at a complete loss as to what to do.

“Hermione,” she said tentatively. Hermione gasped and looked up, her big brown eyes red and swollen. The terror of letting her mother see her fail (both academically and in a ridiculous show of emotion) pulsed through her body. This was not how she was expected to act. The shame crushed what little was left of her resolve.

“Mum!” she gasped. “I’m so sorry *hiccup* I didn’t mean to keep you *hiccup* let me gather my things and I will--”

“Hermione, calm down! What happened? Why are you crying like this?” Mary asked, looking like a deer caught in headlights. Her tone was a mixture of confusion and fear, though Hermione only heard anger.

“Oh, erm, I just--” Hermione started but couldn’t form the words. One of the only coping methods Hermione had developed when she felt herself having a panic attack was to just combat it with a stream of random facts that may or may not be even connected to what was upsetting her, but that wasn’t working. Deep down she knew this wasn’t a way to actually solve the problem (and was angry with herself for not being able to figure it out), but it was the only way she could make it stop sometimes. “Word vomit” she’d call it with loathing. Instead of “word vomit” however, she just grabbed her napsack and rushed out of the room past Mary, who hadn’t moved. Hermione couldn’t bear to let her mother down like that.

Mary turned and watched her daughter run down the hall. Her heart broke. She realized, for the first time, that she had absolutely no idea how to fix the situation. Mary didn’t really know enough about her daughter to guess what was happening and the thought terrified her - how could she not be an expert on her own daughter?

A flip seemed to switch inside her. For the first time in 10 years, Mary didn’t have a lingering thought of Jean; she could only think of her daughter, Hermione. Mary tossed the charts aside and followed her daughter down the hall.

Hermione was waiting near the front door of the office facing the wall. Her napsack was the only giveaway she was still crying - it was jiggling up and down with her sobs. She stared at the wall, trying desperately to think of something that would calm her down but nothing came. Hermione tried to count the bumps on the wall but kept losing track of the numbers. She could feel the panic building up all over again. Was this it? Was she going to die?

All sense of reason and apprehension left Mary as she silently stood behind her daughter. Without thinking, she wrapped her arms around Hermione and held her tightly. “Hey,” she whispered. “Hey, love, it’s going to be ok. Whatever it is, it’s going to be ok.”

The words naturally came out of Mary’s mouth without any thought. It was as if instinct took over. Hermione was too shocked to argue that it was not, in fact, ok; a first for her as well. Hermione had no idea what to do, both because of the panic attack and this weird behaviour from her mother. There was nothing to do but shrink into her mother’s arms. She physically couldn’t do anything else. Hermione tried desperately not to let her mind continue to snowball but, thankfully, every time it did, her mother’s grasp seemed to get tighter.

The two sat there until Hermione eventually calmed down enough to tell her about her bad marks. She mixed in a rambling of random facts about completely unrelated things in between the emotional story. It was always much easier to talk about facts than feelings. Rationally, Hermione knew it was a coping mechanism that, perhaps, wasn’t the best but, at least, it helped her to get the story out.

“Don’t you worry another minute about it,” Mary said, “I will go and have a little chat with your teacher and get this all straightened out, darling.”

Hermione had never been called “darling” before. She just stared at her mother, wondering, quite frankly, where all of this was coming from. It was almost magical. For the first time in her life, Hermione felt accepted for something other than her smarts.

Mary took Hermione to the local ice cream parlor down the street from the office. They both giggled like schoolgirls as they tried to balance the 4 scoops of ice cream on each of their cones. Prancing home, Mary and Hermione waved at all of the other townspeople enjoying the warm weather. Most had to do a double take to make sure they were seeing it correctly. There was a voice in Hermione’s head telling her this was all temporary, but a warm feeling that grew throughout the day kept it a whisper.

Bert, having left work early for a doctor’s appointment of his own, was waiting in the Granger cottage for his wife and daughter to get home. He kept glancing at his watch, watching the minutes and, eventually, hours tick by. He had made a very sensible dinner - shepherd’s pie - and was very worried it would be completely dried out by the time the two got home. He was just about to find a cookbook to see if there were any remedies he could manage in the meantime when the door burst open.

“We’ve decided we should go camping this weekend,” Mary said with a giggle. “Hermione has never been. What do you think of the Forest of Dean, dear?”

“Yeah, dad! What about it?” Hermione asked with a huge smile.

Chapter Text

Perhaps the Grangers should have consulted a few books on camping before traveling the nearly four hours to the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. “Camping isn’t that hard,” exclaimed Bert as he loaded up the station wagon with all of their supplies. “The hardest part will be putting up the tent.”

It wasn’t very often Bert Granger was wrong… but when he was wrong, he was very, very wrong. First of all, the Grangers nearly didn’t even make it to their camp site. Heavy rains had made the dirt roads a river of mud and the 10 year old station wagon wasn’t going anywhere. Like a scene out of a movie, Bert and Hermione got out of the car and started to push as Mary revved the engine. Almost like magic, Bert ended up covered in mud while Hermione only had a few specs here and there. Finally, they arrived at their campsite and started the arduous task of emptying the car and tackling the tent.

Hermione immediately pulled out the instruction sheet to study its various diagrams and instructions with Mary looking over her shoulder. In an uncharacteristic move, Bert decided to attack the tent without looking at the directions. In a flurry of poles and stakes, Bert somehow wrapped himself in the dull green fabric of the tent and fell flat on his face in a mud puddle. Hermione and Mary’s laughs rang through the valley, and Bert had to admit it was the best sound he had heard his entire life. His heart seemed to grow in his chest, which would have been a great thing had it not set him off balance again and back, face down, in the mud.

Eventually, the tent was erected, albeit slightly leaning to the left with three poles still on the ground. Mary and Hermione took to setting up the sleeping mats and sleeping bags in the tent while Bert tended to his mud-ridden clothing in the nearby creek. Unfortunately, none of them noticed the various woodland creatures scurrying amongst their bags of food until a rather chubby squirrel (clearly an expert at foraging for food from oblivious campers) scurried over Hermione’s feet as she knelt in the tent entrance.

With a gasp of surprise, Hermione whirled around on her knees and grabbed the first thing she could get her hands on - a tent pole. She pointed it at the squirrel, who had frozen at the commotion. Both Hermione and the squirrel stared each other down, unmoving except for their rapidly beating hearts, until the squirrel noticed it had dropped a piece of food a few inches away. As squirrels are not known for their attention span, it made a move toward the crumb.

Hermione didn’t really want to hit the furry animal with the stick; she only wanted to scare it away… but as it came back towards her (she hadn’t noticed the bit of food still near her foot), Hermione started waving the pole about wildly.

“Get away!” she screamed. “Get away from me!”

As if by magic, the squirrel levitated slightly above the ground, comically trying to swim back towards the crumb. Startled at the sight, Hermione dropped the tent pole and screamed. As it clattered to the ground, the squirrel immediately followed the rules of gravity again and fell with a splat back at Hermione’s feet. It heaved forward, grabbed the crumb, and scampered as quickly as it could back into the cover of the trees.

“What happened?” Mary gasped as she fought her way out of the tent. The whole fiasco took only seconds, but Hermione felt as though everything had been in slow motion.

“That squirrel,” she started, trying to make sense of the levitating squirrel that had just been at her feet moments before. “It… it…” Even Hermione knew the truth of what had happened couldn’t have actually happened. Surely it was just a trick of the light. Sure, she was able to make the pages in her book turn but even she knew that was probably just the wind. She had to have been mistaken. “It crawled over my legs and startled me, that’s all,” she finished, resigning herself to the fact she did not, in fact, see what she thought she had seen.

“Oh no! Look at the food bag!” Mary exclaimed and they both rushed over to see what food they could salvage from the rummaged-through bags. Neither of them seemed to notice the very stern looking tabby cat watching from the tree line. It sat as still as possible, staring at Hermione as she helped her mother clean up the food from the ground.

 

 

That night, after a warm and delightful campfire complete with stories and laughter, the Grangers shuffled off to the lopsided tent and called it a night. Before zipping it up, Bert made the wise decision to cover the tent with a plastic tarp - they had heard distant rumbles of thunder as the evening went on, and he didn’t want to chance the tent getting damp.

With the storm that was brewing directly to their west, however, there was no chance the tent would just get damp… it was going to get soaked through. As the torrential rain clouds made their way to the Forest of Dean and filled the creek beds past their capacities, the Grangers were absolutely oblivious to the dangers they were sleeping through. As the water continued to rise, threatening to wash away their campsite, a very peculiar thing started to happen. Slowly, the tent stakes eased themselves out of the ground. Just as the water crested and started to breach the campsite, the tent carefully rose in the air out of the way. It hovered in mid-air. Science and reason would say it was being blown by the gail force winds, though the tent, strangely, wasn’t moving horizontally at all. All it did was hover over the raging water with its occupants blissfully unaware of the danger a few meters below them. There seemed to be an invisible waterproof bubble repelling the rain. The tabby cat looked on from the branches of a high tree, with a smug look on her face (if that is at all possible).

 

 

The Grangers awoke to the sound of birds singing and the soft light of the sun streaming through the canvas tent. As Bert unzipped the tent, he was startled at the scene laid out before him: the campsite was completely unrecognizable. Debris was scattered everywhere and the ground around the tent was saturated with water.

“Must have had a hell of a storm last night,” he exclaimed. “Glad I put these stakes in so tightly,” he said as he checked the tent stakes out of curiosity. They gave absolutely no resistance as he pulled them out of the mud. Bert frowned in confusion, but his analysis of the tent stakes was interrupted by the rest of his family emerging from the tent.

“Strange,” Mary said. “We all must have slept through it!”

“Very strange indeed,” said Bert. “Well, I for one do not want to be a walking mud man again. How about we clean up and head back home? We can stop in Birmingham on our way back and stay overnight so you can check out the science museum you’ve wanted to go to, Hermione, ok?”

As they packed up their supplies, the tabby cat watched Hermione intently. The cat’s emerald green eyes followed her every move. Just as the lovely little family was about to get into the station wagon, the cat realized they had forgotten a pair of tongs near the campfire. With a quick - but powerful - leap, the cat landed just behind the tongs and let out a long, loud meow.

Hermione glanced back at the sound and noticed both the cat and the tongs. “Wait mum,” she said. “Look at the cute little kitty cat! And she has our tongs!” Hermione walked slowly over as to not scare the cat, though she needn’t have worried - the cat was completely unintimidated by her presence. “Thank you, kitty,” Hermione said, stooping down to pet the cat gingerly on its head. The cat purred in reply and Hermione stood back up, tongs in hand. “Mum, can we keep her? She’s so sweet.” Before Mary could say no, the cat leapt into the safety of the trees and out of sight.

Chapter Text

After their impromptu mini-vacation to the Forest of Dean, the Grangers did their best to NOT get back to business as usual, though it was rather difficult not to fall into the same old routines. They tried their best, though. Bert and Mary were almost as bad as Hermione was with showing emotion, but Bert had reserved quite a few books from the library to read up on it.

The first order of business for Mary upon their return was to go straight to Lavenham Primary School to speak with Miss Davies about Hermione’s grammar exam grade. After a very heated conversation, it was determined Hermione would receive full marks and new anti-cheating measures would be put in place.

Primary school dragged on for Hermione. She was far ahead of her classmates and her desire to learn was not being met in the classroom. She was dreadfully bored and, frankly, tired of her classmates’ disregard for the rules. They clearly didn’t care about their education because they just kept being clowns in class. Bert and Mary took it upon themselves to supplement Hermione’s thirst for knowledge in the evenings.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, the Grangers ran out of age appropriate things to teach Hermione within the first month. Soon, they had moved on to upper level curriculum and even threw in some university level topics to spice things up. Hermione would finish her primary school work within twenty minutes of being home and then they’d move on to the more fascinating topics. This continued for the whole of the school year. Hermione loved every minute of it. Educational things were something she definitely could understand. She almost preferred bonding over academics with her parents rather than any emotional things. While her parents were much more “parental” these days, sometimes their emotions made Hermione uneasy. They were behaving so out of character… and Hermione couldn’t predict them from one day to the next. Hermione hated not knowing what was going to come next.

The onset of summer brought a new onset of primary school students in desperate need of braces over the summer holiday which meant more time spent at the office. Nonetheless, both Bert and Mary made it a point to keep up-to-date with how their daughter was doing and involve her whenever possible.

Hermione was determined to continue her studies into the summer months, vowing never to have anything less than perfect marks the rest of her school career. While her parents did not seem upset with her end of year grades, Hermione didn’t want to do anything to strain this new relationship of sorts with Bert and Mary. She certainly enjoyed their newfound interest in her life but knew there was still something missing. She also needed some more time with them to learn their new emotional habits.

The beautiful tabby cat miraculously seemed to follow the Grangers home from the Forest of Dean. When she’d venture out in the mornings, Hermione would catch a glimpse of the cat every now and then. As soon as she would go to approach it, however, it would disappear into the brush or behind a house without a trace.

The Grangers made it a point to have family supper each night promptly at 7:30pm to discuss their day. Bert and Hermione would prepare a modest dinner and chat about what new fact Hermione had learned herself that day. At the dinner table, both Bert and Mary would talk through their patients and Hermione would guess diagnoses and treatment plans (since Hermione pretty much knew everything there was to know). Nine times out of ten, Hermione correctly guessed exactly what her parents had done. Sometimes, however, Hermione would actually correct her parents diagnosis and treatment.

One beautiful summer evening in late July, the Grangers were discussing a fascinating case over a delicious meal of Balti Curry. One of their colleagues was working on a few hours away in Surrey, involving an 10 year old severly obese boy with over 15 cavities and advanced gum disease.

“And then he bit George’s finger... and the tooth just fell right out!” Mary exclaimed. “It was as if he thought his finger was a sweet!” Their laughter was interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Were you expecting anyone, dear?” Bert asked Mary.

“No, I don’t think so,” she responded.

“I’ll get it!” Hermione quipped, jumping up from the table and rushing over to the front door. She had requested an obscure edition of a book from the library and it would be just like Mildred the librarian to deliver it personally after her shift.

Hermione threw open the door and nearly slammed it back shut in her surprise. Before her was a severe-looking older woman with slick black hair partly covered by a black witch’s hat. Her stern face seemed to oddly compliment her emerald green robe - only it was not a dressing gown as one may expect. The robe appeared to be an elaborate, yet peculiar dress.

“Ah, you must be Hermione Jean Granger,” the woman said. Hermione managed to nod. “Splendid. May I come in?” Hermione nodded again. The woman had an air of authority about her that was almost magical. Hermione seemed to be under her spell.

The woman and Hermione stepped into the entryway just as Bert and Mary walked in.

“Hello, can we help you?” Mary asked tentatively. She, like her daughter, was enchanted by the woman’s eccentric appearance.

“Would you mind if we took a seat in your parlour? I have something rather important to discuss with you,” she answered, and took it upon herself to take a step towards the Granger’s sitting room to the right. Bert was the first to snap from the trance of the mysterious woman.

“Excuse me, ma’am, but I think you need to explain yourself a bit more before we, er, invite you into our home,” he said sternly, though with a slight hint of apprehension.

“Yes, of course,” the woman nodded. “Forgive me. My name is Professor Minerva McGonagall and I am the deputy headmistress a very special, very exclusive school and I am here to offer a spot to Hermione.”

An exclusive school? Hermione’s eyes got wider. “What kind of exclusive school?!” she exclaimed.

“Well,” the woman started, “that’s a slightly complicated story to be best told sitting down. Shall we?”

Bert started to weigh the pros of cons of letting a strange woman into his cottage, but the next thing he knew, Hermione was already leading the woman into their parlour. “Right then.” He and Mary followed the pair out of the entryway.

The peculiar woman took a seat on the settee. Hermione plopped herself directly next to the visitor and stared at her. The odd, stern professor took her time inspecting the family and her surroundings before she started. Bert and Mary stayed still in the doorway, suspiciously intrigued at what the stern woman would have to say. “Perhaps it is best if you two took a seat as well,” she said, indicating a small couch to her right. Whatever spell between her and Bert and Mary was broke.“Perhaps,” Bert said with a sudden confidence, “you can stop telling us what to do in our own home and get on with it.”

“As you wish,” Professor McGonagall said with a sigh. “As I said, my name is Professor McGonagall and I am the deputy headmistress of a very special school. I am here today as a special messenger from the school to formally invite Miss Granger to attend.”

“Right, we got that part,” Bert inserted. “But you are going to need to tell us a bit more than that.”

“I was getting to that, Dr. Granger,” Professor McGonagall said curtly. “Are you sure you and your wife wouldn’t want to sit down?”

“Quite,” Bert bristled.

“As you wish,” she said again with another slightly irritated sigh. “I am here to invite Miss Granger to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for the fall term.”

There was a moment of silence as the Grangers tried to process Professor McGonagall’s words. “Hogwarts School of what now?” Mary asked.

“Witchcraft and Wizardry. Dr. Granger, your daughter, Hermione, is a witch.”

There was a stunned silence yet again.

“A what?” Hermione squeaked.

“A witch,” Professor McGonagall repeated simply. “Now, I know such practical people as yourself may find this information slightly difficult to take at first but, I assure you, it is quite true.” She paused, allowing the Grangers a moment for her words to sink in. “Miss Granger, have you ever, perhaps, made something happen seemingly by magic?”

Hermione’s mind immediately jumped to the incident with the levitating squirrel. Now that this strange woman had mentioned it, there were many instances where peculiar things happened that Hermione couldn’t explain away with a practical explanation. The books, the pages, the lights… “Yes,” she whispered, her mind still whirling.

“And I know you are quite bright - had there been a rational explanation, you would have certainly found it.” It was like the professor was reading her thoughts.

“Yes.”

“This is because you are, indeed, a witch,” Professor McGonagall said with certainty. “There are hundreds of thousands of witches and wizards all over the world and have been since the beginning of time. The Wizarding World is kept separate through the use of charms, spells, and secrecy. Wizards are forbidden to reveal anything about magic to non-magical society due to the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy. Sometimes, however, a magical person is born to two non-magical parents and we have to break the International Statute of Secrecy for obvious reasons.” She paused, carefully reading the Grangers’ faces before continuing.

“When children with magical abilities are born, they are automatically enrolled at Hogwarts and begin when they are 11. Magic is honed through study, training and formal schooling... but cannot be simply learnt by Muggles. ‘Muggle’ is what we refer to non-magic people, by the way.” Professor McGonagall paused again. She could tell all three Grangers were carefully but quickly analyzing every single word she said. They were all quick to understand, making her job of explaining much easier than with most Muggle families.

“That’s why I am here. I am one of the Special Messengers of Hogwarts. It’s my job to come and explain everything to Muggle families before formally offering their magical child a spot at Hogwarts.” There was a long pause.

“So,” Mary said hesitantly, “You want us to believe that magic is, indeed, real, there are hundreds of witches and wizards running around Britain, and our daughter is one of them?”

“More like hundreds of thousands, but yes, precisely.”

“Rubbish,” Bert blurted out. “You’re raving mad.”

“I assure you, sir, I am not,” Professor McGonagall said calmly yet sternly. “Please keep your eye on that beautiful vase on the side table if you please.” She pulled a long, dark stick out of her robe and swished and flicked it in the air. Suddenly, the vase rose into the air. The Grangers gasped. The vase floated back down to the table as if it had never moved. Bert immediately went over to the vase, waving his hands wildly around it, looking for strings. “You will find no strings, Mr. Granger.”

“B-b-but how did you do that?” he sputtered. He picked it up and inspected it some more.

“Magic. I can do some more if you’d like to have some more proof.” Bert nodded with wide eyes. Professor McGonagall waved her wand once more. “Evanesco,” she said and the vase Bert had been holding vanished into thin air. Bert let out a girlish little scream.

“That was brilliant!” Hermione exclaimed, oblivious to the fact that both her parents were nearly hyperventilating with fear. “But, wait, I’ve been eleven for nearly 9 months! Why are you only coming now!? Why didn’t you come in September?”

“You are quite astute, young lady,” Professor McGonagall said with a twinkle in her stern eye. “You see, had we come in September, you would have had to go through all of your last year of primary school studies knowing what awaited you in the fall term which, I’m sure, would have been simply torture.”

“Yes, but I could have prepared all year!” Hermione said, a hint of anxiety slowly creeping up on her. As it was, she’d only have a few months to learn all there was to know about this new world.

“I am quite confident someone as bright as you will be fully prepared for the fall term.”

“Erm, we, uh, have some questions,” Bert was finally able to form words.

“Naturally,” Professor McGonagall said simply. “Learning there is a whole Wizarding World living all around you is a lot to take in. But, I ask you to hold your questions a bit longer. I have explained this to many Muggle families, more than I can count, and I have developed a sort of system to explain things as precisely and succinctly as possible to limit the questions. And, seeing as you are all quite intelligent, I believe this will go much more quickly than most.” With a nod of her head and a swish of her wand, the vase reappeared on the table and a large black board materialized on the long wall of the room. “Let’s begin.”

 

 

Three hours later, Bert and Mary were sitting on the couch, clearly exhausted from their extensive history lesson. Hermione was practically jumping off the walls with excitement - the three hour lesson seemed like mere minutes. And, for once in her life, she didn’t have that constant bubble of anxiety in the pit of her stomach. It’s not even that she just didn’t notice it - she acutely noticed its absence. Hermione couldn’t help but think that all of her struggles were because she wasn’t meant for this world. She was meant to be in the Wizarding World.

She referenced the notes she had taken - nearly a whole notebook was filled - and looked up at Professor McGonagall.

“So when do I get to go to… Diagon Alley, is it? When do I get to go to Diagon Alley to get my wand and books?”

“If it is alright with your parents, we can all go tomorrow being it is a Saturday and they won’t have work,” Professor McGonagall answered. “But there are also many other things you will have to buy in Diagon Alley. Here is your official acceptance letter to Hogwarts and your supply list.” In a blur of emerald green, the professor pulled a thick, square envelope out from an inside pocket of her robes and presented it to Hermione.

Hermione’s hands trembled as she gingerly took the envelope out of her future professor’s hands. She was more excited than when she got her own library card but was careful to take everything in before ripping it open. The pieces of paper in that envelope would change her life. She knew that as fact.

The thick envelope was made of a heavy parchment with a blood red wax seal on the back. On the front of the envelope, Hermione read the words gracefully scripted in a deep, emerald green ink:

 

Miss Hermione Jean Granger

Back Bedroom

14 Shilling Street

Lavenham, Sudbury CO10 9RD

 

She carefully ran her finger under the flap and did her best to keep the wax seal in tact. She would want to examine it under the microscope later after the professor had left and her parents went to bed. Hermione slipped her hand into the folds and latched on to the bundles of paper inside. Like the envelope, the papers were on a heavy parchment paper. She delicately unfolded them and looked at the first page. At the top was a beautiful crest similar to the one on the wax seal. Hermione quickly glanced at it, noticing four different animals in the crest. She made a mental note to ask Professor McGonagall about them later. Her eyes drifted down to the elaborate script which read:

 

HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY

 

Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore

(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock,

Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)

 

Dear Miss Granger,

 

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

 

Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July.

 

Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall

Deputy Headmistress

 

“You’ll await my owl,” Hermione said, confused. “What does that mean?” She didn’t notice her parents stiffening at her question.

“In the Wizarding World, we use owls to post our letters,” Professor McGonagall said simply. She, unlike Hermione, noticed the slight bristle of the Grangers but decided to pay no attention. The owl post was not part of her introductory lesson and would probably be quite odd to hear.

Hermione flipped to the second page. At the top was the same crest and heading with the following list:

 

UNIFORM

First-year students will require:

1. Three sets of plain work robes (black)

2. One plain pointed hat (black) for day wear

3. One pair of protective gloves (dragon hide or similar)

4. One winter cloak (black, with silver fastenings)

Please note that all pupils’ clothes should carry name tags.

 

COURSE BOOKS

All students should have a copy of each of the following:

The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1)

by Miranda Goshawk

A History of Magic

by Bathilda Bagshot

Magical Theory

by Adalbert Waffling

A Beginner’s Guide to Transfiguration

by Emeric Switch

One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi

by Phyllida Spore

Magical Drafts and Potions

by Arsenius Jigger

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

by Newt Scamander

The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection

by Quentin Trimble

 

OTHER EQUIPMENT

1 wand

1 cauldron (pewter, standard size 2)

1 set glass or crystal phials

1 telescope

1 set brass scales

Students may also bring, if they desire, an owl OR a cat OR a toad.

 

PARENTS ARE REMINDED THAT FIRST YEARS ARE NOT ALLOWED THEIR OWN BROOMSTICK

 

Yours sincerely,

Lucinda Thomsonicle-Pocus

Chief Attendant of Witchcraft Provisions

 

Hermione read over the list again and again. She could barely believe her eyes. Every single item piqued a fire within her. She could not wait to get to this Diagon Alley to buy everything. “Mum, Dad! It says I can bring a cat! Maybe that tabby cat will show up again and I can take her!”

“I don’t think that would be possible, Miss Granger,” Professor McGonagall said with a small smile.

“But it says right here first years are able to bring an owl or a cat or a toad,” Hermione replied with an edge to her voice and held the list up to Professor McGonagal’s face. She did not like to be wrong and most certainly did not want to be wrong about anything in the Wizarding World. The rules clearly stated she could have a cat. Rules were rules, after all.

“You are correct,” the professor continued, straightening her glasses. “I do not need to read it, dear. I helped to write it.” She paused. “I am merely stating it would not be possible to take that particular cat.”

Before Hermione could reply, Professor McGonagall raised her wand and transformed into the cat right before their eyes. She waited a moment and then transformed back to her human form.

“It was -- It was you?” Hermione gasped.

“The one and only,” she replied. “I am what we wizards and witches refer to as an Animagus. I can change forms into an animal. I use it to my advantage when I know I will be, so they say, ‘breaking the news’ to Muggle families. I periodically check in on the family to figure out the best time to tell them after the magical child turns eleven.”

“You were at the Forest of Dean when I made that squirrel fly!” Hermione exclaimed, much to the shock of her parents.

“Indeed,” the professor said. “And, while you were sleeping, you also made the tent levitate so it would not wash away with the flood.”

“Brilliant! I really am a witch!”

“Indeed you are, Miss Granger,” Professor McGonagal said, “And with this, I will take my leave for the evening. Will tomorrow work well for our trip to Diagon Alley then? It’s near London, so it may behoove us to stay overnight Saturday so you can get more time in the Wizarding World.”

Bert and Mary were still trying to absorb the news that their daughter had made not only a squirrel but their whole tent levitate in the air. They merely nodded their heads in unison.

“Wonderful. I will be back at half past eight if that is alright with you all.” Minerva McGonagall stood and shook Hermione’s hand. “I am so excited to have such a bright young witch as a student.” Hermione beamed with joy as the professor turned and made her way back to the entryway. She immediately started to study the letters again and paid no attention to her parents who followed her future professor out of the room.

“Uh, erm, Professor,” Bert said. Professor McGonagall turned.

“Yes Dr. Granger?”

“Erm, you mentioned owls,” he started, glancing nervously at his wife.

“Yes, we use owls to post--”

“When I was pregnant with Hermione,” Mary almost whispered, “and the baby we lost before her, I was convinced there were owls inside my uterus.”

Professor McGonagall certainly hadn’t anticipated that. She paused and tilted her head, not unlike her tabby cat counterpart. “How very peculiar. It most certainly is a strange coincidence, indeed. I will look into it at the Hogwarts library when I return to the castle tonight and will hopefully have an answer for you tomorrow.”

Bert and Mary both nodded and gave each other a squeeze. Professor McGonagall stepped outside on the stoop, turned on her heel, and disappeared into thin air with a crack.

Chapter Text

Hermione woke early the next morning but lay in bed for a few minutes. Her head was spinning. She had stayed up into the wee hours of the morning re-examining the black board Professor McGonagall had left and pouring over her notes and acceptance letter. She also couldn’t help but look back on all of the “peculiar” events in her life to determine whether or not they were just weird or, indeed, an indication of her magical powers.

“I’m a witch,” Hermione said to herself with a giant smile. “And I am never going to have to go to regular school again!” She could only assume witches and wizards were much more interested in their magical studies. Who wouldn’t be?

Hermione finally jumped out of bed. She knew she needed to have a hearty breakfast in anticipation for her big day immersing herself in her new world. She pranced into the kitchen where her mum and dad were already seated. Hermione didn’t even pick up on the fact they had been having a pretty serious conversation. The only emotion Hermione knew at that moment was pure excitement.

“Good morning! I’m so excited!” Hermione greeted them and took a piece of toast.

“Hermione, we’re glad you’re up,” Mary said. “We have been discussing everything and--”

“Isn’t it completely marvelous?!” Hermione said between bites. “A whole new world to learn about. It’s simply brilliant! I can’t wait--”

“Erm, well, that’s what we want to talk to you about,” Bert interrupted her. “There is a lot we don’t know about this ‘Wizarding World,’ and we don’t want to go into this hastily by any means.”

“That’s what today is for, though,” Hermione said. “We can go experience it and learn more about it.”

“We just think everything is moving a bit too quickly, dear,” Mary said.

“Of course it is, Mum,” Hermione said. “The fall term will be here before we know it!”

“Right, but, erm,” Bert sputtered, “we’re not sure if we want you to go.”

Hermione froze mid bite. Her whole body went numb. Her mind, for the first time in her whole life, stopped thinking for a moment. She could feel nothing but total fear and disappointment. The toast point dropped from her hand and she made no motion to grab it. As if in slow motion, Bert and Mary watched the toast drop, buttered side down, and then just stop mid air. It flipped and landed right side up on the table. The lights began to flicker.

“Hermione?” Mary asked hesitantly. Hermione still hadn’t moved.

“Hermione, sweetheart,” Bert said in as soothing of a voice as he could muster.

“But,” Hermione started. “But I have to go.” Hermione burst into tears. 

“Honey, let’s just discuss this a little bit, please,” Mary said.

“No, you don’t understand!” Hermione hiccupped. “I have to go. I’ve never felt like I belonged in school. Maybe I belong there!”

Bert and Mary were rendered speechless. They both stood and went over to their daughter. As they tried to comfort her, they heard a tapping at the window to their left. As their gaze fell across the small, yet bright paned window, yellow eyes met their stare. Mary gasped and nearly fell backwards. There, on their sill, was an owl with a letter precariously clamped in its mouth. 

Hermione followed her parents’ gaze and saw the most beautiful, small, tawny brown owl she had ever seen in all of her books. She brushed off their hugs and went over to the door.

“Hermione, no!” Mary said, terrified.

Hermione wasn’t listening, though. For the first time in her life, she didn’t care what her parents thought. She opened the window and gave the little owl a tentative pet. Its feathers were slick and soft, and Hermione swore she felt the owl lean into her pets. Hermione reached out and grabbed the letter with her other hand, still running her fingers over the owl’s smooth feathers. “Thank you,” she said, pulling her hands and the letter back inside the window. 

The owl gave a short hoot and stuck out its leg. Hermione took a closer look and saw a small little pouch of sorts attached to its leg. “Oh, you want payment, don’t you?!” Hermione exclaimed and ran to the catch-all bin by the back door of the kitchen. She grabbed four pence and brought them back to the window. Very carefully, she lifted the flap on the bag and put the four coins into the pouch. The owl stuck its beak into the pouch, seemingly unsure of the payment. “I’m sorry, that’s all we have,” Hermione said. “It’s Muggle money. I’ll be getting Wizard money today at Diagon Alley if you’d like to come back.”

The owl gave another little hoot, seemed to bow, and flew out of the window into the bright blue sky. Hermione beamed and took her letter back to the table. She purposefully didn’t look at her parents. She slid her finger under the flap as carefully as she could and opened it. Inside was a simple piece of parchment with very neat handwriting that said:

 

I will arrive at half past eight. Please open the flue on your fireplace in preparation for our departure and wear sensible shoes. We will be staying overnight in London, compliments of the Headmaster, so also pack a bag of necessities.

Sincerely, MG

 

“Can you show me how to open the flue please?” Hermione asked as she walked into the parlour.

“For what?” Bert asked.

“Professor McGonagall instructed us,” Hermione said, examining the release lever near the mantle. Her gaze fell upon the family pictures. Even though she was smiling in all of them, Hermione felt as though she had never smiled more in her life than that moment. In less than an hour, she would be “home.”

-----

There were three sharp raps on the door at precisely half past eight. Hermione opened the door a millisecond after the third knock. She already had her sensible shoes on as well as jeans, a nice blouse, and the most grown-up messenger bag she owned. In the bag, she had a brand new notebook and her favorite pen so she could take notes. She had tried to fit her parents’ dictation machine into the bag but it was, unfortunately, too big. 

Next to the door was a small suitcase with a change of clothes for all three of them and various toiletries. Hermione took it upon herself to pack for her parents since all they could seem to do was whisper to each other in the kitchen. 

Hermione was determined not to let them ruin her mood. Hermione had spent some of the night (when she wasn’t examining her letters and notes) trying to put the feeling she had inside into words. It proved to be one of the most difficult things Hermione had ever tried to accomplish. On one hand, she was extremely nervous to enter a whole world that she literally knew nothing about. On the other hand, Hermione felt a sort of piece of herself - that she hadn’t necessarily known was missing - was finally put back in place. She had found her purpose. The “different-ness” she had always felt seemed to be fading away. The void was shrinking.

“Good morning, Professor,” Hermione said with a smile. She stepped aside and let the severe-looking woman into the entryway. Professor McGonagall had changed her robes. They were still a beautiful emerald green but a little less flashy and a lot more practical for walking around a village. 

“Good morning, Miss Granger,” she replied.

“Why do you call me ‘Miss Granger’ instead of Hermione?” she asked.

“I respect all of my students and expect the same respect in return,” Professor McGonagall replied simply. “Now, are your parents ready to go as well?”

“They’re in the kitchen,” Hermione scowled. “I think they are having second thoughts, which is completely ridiculous because--”

“Put yourselves in their position, Miss Granger,” Professor McGonagall said. “They are scientists and have had thirty plus years knowing nothing but the Muggle world. Their whole worlds have been turned upside down and they have just been told their only daughter is to go away to a school they had absolutely no idea existed less than 24 hours ago. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, shall we?”

“I suppose,” Hermione answered. “But I am going to Hogwarts regardless of what they say.” She set her jaw and put her hands on her hips.

“You most certainly won’t be going to Hogwarts if your parents don’t approve, young lady,” Professor McGonagall said. “But we will try our best to convince them.” She winked and started walking toward the kitchen as if she lived there. “Hermione, could you give me a minute alone with your parents?” Hermione nodded, disappointed, and plopped down on the suitcase to sulk.
Bert and Mary were still sitting at the table, whispering to each other. Professor McGonagall cleared her throat, and they both looked up.

“Oh, good morning, Professor,” Mary mumbled.

“Good morning, Dr. Granger, Dr. Granger. I did a little research last night about your question. While it is not very common, it is a documented occurrence of Muggle mothers experiencing a flutter - not unlike owls flying - during childbirth. It’s quite remarkable.”

“So other, erm, Muggle parents, have gone through this, too?” Mary asked.

“Yes.”

“And with the baby we lost,” Bert started. “Would she have been a… witch too?”

“There is a good possibility,” Professor McGonagall replied.

“Did the magic kill her?!” Mary blurted out and gasped, shocked she had said it out loud. 

Professor McGonagall paused and took a deep breath, contemplating the question. “Honestly, I am not an expert,” she said after a moment, her voice full of compassion. “But our magic is mostly good. Any dark magic is learned and developed over years and years. I can only assume that, no, magic did not harm your first baby. I do know, however, magic saved Hermione when she was born.” She paused again to let the Grangers have a moment. “So, hopefully, you will learn to trust and accept magic because it helped your beautiful daughter live and grow into a remarkable young lady. I know it will take some time, but I believe you will both learn to embrace the magical side of your daughter.”

Professor McGonagall smiled. “I will give you both a moment or two to collect your thoughts while Hermione and I examine your fireplace. Please join us when you are ready.”

Bert and Mary sat in the kitchen for a full ten minutes before joining Professor McGonagall and Hermione in the parlour. They walked in with their arms around each other and watery eyes. 

“Mum! Dad! We’re traveling to London through our fireplace! How amazing is that!?”

“That certainly sounds very exciting,” Bert said with a tired smile on his face. “We can’t wait.”

-----

“Diagon Alley!” Hermione’s voice was clear, confident, and strong. As per Professor McGonagall’s instructions, Hermione threw the glittery powder into the fireplace and watched as the flames turned green. She stepped in, completely fearless, and said her preferred destination. She then shut her eyes (to keep the soot out of them), kept her elbows tucked in (to avoid banging them on the passing fireplaces), and refrained from fidgeting and/or panicking (to avoid coming out of the wrong fireplace). It was an incredible feeling. Hermione was aware of the soot and the heat, but she was too excited to be nervous (for once in her life). It was exhilarating. 

One by one, her parents arrived behind her, followed by Professor McGonagall. As they took their first few steps into Diagon Alley, Hermione’s heart nearly exploded. There were hundreds of witches and wizards bustling about. There were short witches and wizards, tall ones, fat ones, skinny ones. They were dressed in robes of every colour imaginable. Hermione felt slightly out of place without a robe, but her curiosity and excitement overtook that feeling.

“First stop, Gringotts Wizarding Bank,” Professor McGonagall said and took the lead down the cobblestone road. She nodded to and greeted many people as they walked past. It seemed like everyone knew her. 

“Gringotts Wizarding Bank is the only bank of the wizarding world and is owned and operated by goblins. It was created by a goblin called Gringott in 1474. Its main offices are located around the North Side of Diagon Alley. In addition to storing money and valuables for wizards and witches, one can go there to exchange Muggle money for wizarding money, which is why it is our first stop,” Professor McGonagall rattled off. 

Hermione didn’t want to pull out her notebook and take notes - there was too much to see. “Goblin. Gringott. 1474. Goblin. Gringott. 1474. Goblin. Gringott. 1474.,” she kept repeating to herself, trying to make it so she’d remember it later when she wrote everything down. 

Hermione could barely believe the things she was seeing as they walked. Everything was simply fantastic. It was all she could do to pay attention to Professor McGonagall’s commentary. Along the way, they passed all kinds of different establishments, including The Acopathary, Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, Eeylops Owl Emporium, Magical Menagerie, Flourish and Blotts, and something called Quality Quidditch Supplies that seemed to have a gaggle of boys her age surrounding the windows.

“Ah, here we are. Gringotts Wizarding Bank,” said Professor McGonagall. Hermione looked up. Above her loomed an imposing snow-white multi-storied marble building towering over all of the little shops on the street. She gasped at its monumental size and beauty. 

She and her family followed Professor McGonagall up a set of white stairs that led to a pair of burnished, bronze doors. Flanked on either side of the doors were two unusual looking characters Hermione could only assume were the “goblins” the professor had been talking about. They were both short but with very long fingers and a dome-shaped head. They wore uniforms of scarlet and gold. 

Professor McGonagall walked right past the unusual looking pair and into a small entrance hall with another set of doors. Hermione couldn’t help but look back at the strange creatures one more time before finally focusing on the new section of the building they had just entered. There were another pair of doors directly in front of them, only this time in a brilliant silver. Engraved on the doors were the words:

 

Enter, stranger, but take heed

Of what awaits the sin of greed

For those who take, but do not earn,

Must pay most dearly in their turn.

So if you seek beneath our floors

A treasure that was never yours,

Thief, you have been warned, beware

Of finding more than treasure there.

 

Hermione read the words quickly to herself. Thankfully, Professor McGonagall had stopped walking long enough for Hermione to read them a second time. “As you have read,” Professor McGonagall started, “it would be foolish for anyone to even think of robbing Gringotts. Gringotts uses a variety of security systems. Most lower security vaults require a key; higher security vaults require the touch of a certified Gringotts goblin. Even higher security vaults may have various enchantments upon the doors. If anyone but a Gringotts goblin touches the door, the person will be sucked into the vault, which is checked for trapped thieves about once per decade. Another security measure is the Thief's Downfall: a charmed waterfall that the goblin carts must pass through. It cancels all enchantments and magical concealments and throws the carts off their tracks. Some vaults use the Gemino and Flagrante charms; when any item is touched by a thief, it multiplies rapidly and burns them, eventually crushing and scorching them to death. Objects within Gringotts cannot be summoned.”

Hermione longed to pull out her notebook and take notes but wanted to be able to experience everything. She scowled and chided herself for not bringing the dictation machine.

“I know I am being extremely descriptive,” Professor McGonagall said. “But please keep in mind I am just rattling off facts for your quest for knowledge. There will not be any quizzes so don’t worry.” Hermione knew, however, the real quiz would be for her to be able to fit in to the Wizarding World, and she was up for the challenge.

Professor McGonagall waved her wand and the beautiful silver doors opened. Before them was a vast marble hall with long counters stretching along its length with around a hundred more goblins sitting at them. Hermione was trying to take it all in but, frankly, there was just too much. She glanced back at her parents. They looked utterly terrified. 

Professor McGonagall led them to a sectioned off area to the right. “Muggle Exchange Area” read the large sign gilded in gold. Below it was the following:

 

1 Knut is equal to £0.04/$0.05*

     There are 29 Knuts to a Sickle.

1 Sickle is equal to £1.17/$1.50*

     There are 17 Sickles to a Galleon.

1 Galleon is equal to £20/$25.50*

     *Subject to current Muggle Exchange Rates.

 

“As you can see,” Professor McGonagal started, “it’s really quite simple.”

“If you say so,” Bert mumbled as he pulled out his wallet. “About how much do you think we’re going to need to buy everything?”

“Hmm. Let’s see. Wands usually cost 7 Galleons or so, and most textbooks cost about the same. Factoring in the 8 textbooks, a wand, robes, hats, cloaks, a cauldron, glass set, telescope, brass scales, quills and parchment, I’d be safe and estimate 90 Galleons or,” she paused to do the math in her head. “£1,800 if you want to purchase them all new instead of used. I’d exchange at least £2,000-2,500 to be safe.”

“Blimey!” Bert exclaimed. “Do they take personal checks?”

-----

Once the shock of how much a wizarding education cost wore off (though, Hermione said, it was much cheaper than sending her to a private boarding school), the group started their shopping spree. Professor McGonagall was full of interesting tidbits and facts. Hermione couldn’t soak them in fast enough. She had too many questions floating about in her head. 

Their first stop was Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions where Hermione was fitted for her very own robe, which she put on immediately. “Once you get sorted into a house at Hogwarts,” Professor McGonagall said, “you will receive your house crest patch. Your Head of House will help you with the enchantment charm to change the inside lining as well as your ties to match your house colours.”

“What are the four houses again?” Hermione asked, ashamed she didn’t remember. There was just so much to keep track of!

Thankfully, Professor McGonagall seemed to understand how overwhelmed Hermione was. “Hogwarts is divided into four houses: Gryffindor, founded by Godric Gryffindor; Hufflepuff, founded by Helga Hufflepuff; Ravenclaw, founded by Rowena Ravenclaw; and Slytherin, founded by Salazar Slytherin.”

“Which one is the best house?” Hermione asked.

“All four houses have their own benefits,” Professor McGonagall said.

“Right, but which one is the best?” Hermione persisted.

“As a professor, I do not play favorites,” Professor McGonagall said. “But I am the Head of House for Gryffindor.”

“I want to be a Gryffindoor!” Hermione squealed and she thought she may have caught Professor McGonagall’s mouth twitch into a small smile. 

“We shall see what house you are sorted into.”

They stopped into The Apothecary for Hermione to get her glass set and scales. In addition to the necessary items included in her list, the Grangers agreed to spend a bit more on a nice mortar and pestle set and a handy ingredient field guide.  Hermione pretty much had to be dragged out of the shop - there was so much she wanted to look at. 

By the time they finally left The Apothecary, all of their stomachs were rumbling from hunger. “What do you say to a late lunch?” Professor McGonagall asked. They walked into a small, quaint little pub called The Leaky Cauldron. The interior was dark and attracted all kinds of different clientele. At one end of the bar was a woman in tattered robes nursing a stein of an interesting looking liquid. Three seats down was a very well dressed wizard reading a book by Stephen Hawking. Hermione couldn’t help but stare at all of the witches and wizards around the pub. These were her people.

“The inn upstairs is where you will be staying this evening,” Professor McGonagall said. “Your bag is already up there waiting for you.” Hermione had completely forgotten about their suitcase! Before she could ask how Professor McGonagall had managed to send their suitcase up to the inn, their food appeared on their table from thin air. Professor McGonagall nodded a thank you to the innkeeper and barkeep, a wizard she had previously introduced as Tom.

After filling their rumbling stomachs, Professor McGonagall led them back out onto Diagon Alley. “Whilst it would make more sense to stay on the North Side of Diagon Alley and get your books, I anticipate that trip would take hours.” Bert and Mary who had been slowly warming up to the trip chuckled in agreement. “I propose we head over to the South Side and visit Ollivanders for your wand.”

Hermione’s anguish at putting off the book shops for later completely vanished with the mention of a wand. She barely felt her feet hit the cobblestone as they weaved in and out of witches and wizards on their way to the wand shop. Professor McGonagall was telling them all the history of Ollivanders, but Hermione could barely pay attention. “382 B.C.” and “Romans” were the only words she was able to hear over the roar in her ears. 

The shop was narrow and shabby with peeling gold letters over the door of the shop which read: Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C.. The shop was tiny, empty except for a single, spindly chair in the corner. Thousands of narrow boxes containing wands were piled right up to the ceiling of the tiny shop, and the whole place had a thin layer of dust about it. Garrick Ollivander appeared behind a stack of wand boxes. He was an old man with pale silvery eyes and white skin.

“Hello, dear,” he said quietly. 

“Hello,” Hermione said.

“Muggle born, eh?” Ollivander said. “Your eyes are as wide as a saucer.”

“Yes sir,” Hermione replied.

“Welcome to the Wizarding World, young lady. I feel as though you’ll be doing some great things,” he said, seemingly staring straight through her. Hermione felt a shiver go up her spine. “Ahh, Minerva. The designated Special Messenger, eh?”

“How are you, Garrick?” Professor McGonagall asked.

“Fine, fine. Though the first year rush isn’t as busy as it usually is,” he said, his eyes dulling for a moment.

“Yes, erm,” Professor McGonagall seemed very uncomfortable. “Miss Granger is here for her wand.” Hermione filed the exchange away to analyze later.

“Yes, of course. Please hold still.” The old wandmaker pulled a long tape measure with silver markings out of his pocket. “Which is your wand arm?”

“Erm - Well, I’m right handed,” said Hermione. He measured Hermione from shoulder to finger, then wrist to elbow, shoulder to floor, knee to armpit and round her head. As he measured, he said, “Every Ollivander wand has a core of a powerful magical substance, Miss Granger. We use unicorn hairs, phoenix tail feathers, and the heartstrings of dragons. No two Ollivander wands are the same, just as no two unicorns, dragons, or phoenixes are quite the same. And of course, you will never get such good results with another wizard’s wand.”

Hermione suddenly realized that the tape measure, which was measuring between her nostrils, was doing this on its own. Mr. Ollivander was flitting around the shelves, taking down boxes.

“That will do,” he said, and the tape measure crumpled into a heap on the floor. “Right then, Miss Granger. Try this one.” He handed her a long, ashy stick. “Ebony and unicorn hair, eight and a half inches, springy.”

Hermione had no idea what to do. She held onto the wand and waved it around a bit. Nothing seemed to happen, though she didn’t know what was supposed to happen. “Try this one,” Ollivander shoved another wand at her. “Beech-wood and dragon heartstring. Nine inches. Nice and flexible.”

Hermione waved it around again. Still nothing.

“I think I’ve got it,” Ollivander pulled a third box from the shelf. “Vine wood and dragon heartstring. Ten and three quarters inches. Flexible.” 

As soon as Hermione grasped the delicate vined stick, a warm, tingly feeling ran up her fingers and through her arm. She raised the wand above her head, brought it swishing down through the dusty air, and a stream of red and gold sparks shot from the end like a firework, throwing dancing spots of light onto the walls. Mr. Ollivander cried, “Oh, bravo! Yes, indeed, oh, very good. I think the wand has chosen its witch.”

-----

Professor McGonagall dropped the Grangers off at Flourish and Blotts, a popular bookstore in Diagon Alley where Hogwarts students bought all their textbooks and gave them directions to Obscurus Books, the other bookstore in the little town. “I figure you wouldn’t want to feel rushed,” Professor McGonagall said with a wink. “I will come and collect you at the Leaky Cauldron tomorrow morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Bert and Mary had to make another trip to Gringotts Bank to exchange more Muggle money in order to buy all of the books Hermione wanted. A curious looking creature similar in stature to the goblins at Gringotts seemed to magically appear at Flourish and Blotts to take all of their purchases back to the inn. 

Back at the inn, Bert and Mary tried to convince Hermione to come downstairs to the pub to have some supper, but all she wanted to do was sit in the room and start reading. “I only have two months to read all of these,” said Hermione. They shook their heads and went down without her. 

Hermione stayed up all night, reading as much as she could. She was determined to know at least as much, if not more, than all of the other first years who probably had grown up in the Wizarding World. She took notes with her new quill from Scribbulus Writing Instruments and immediately fell in love with the smooth feel of the ink gliding over the paper. There was something magical about the way the quill’s feather danced over the pages.

At nine o’clock sharp the next morning, Professor McGonagall arrived to escort the Grangers back home. They used the floo powder again and, before she knew it, Hermione was back in her parlour in Lavenham. “Will you be staying the day?” Hermione asked. “I have so many questions! For example--” She pulled out her filled notebook and started thumbing through the pages.

“I must return to Hogwarts,” Professor McGonagall said. “But we can correspond by owl if you’d like. Now, this is very important,” she paused, pulling another envelope out from under her robes. “This is your ticket for the Hogwarts Express. The train leaves Platform Nine and Three Quarters at Kings Cross Station in London on the First of September promptly at 11 o'clock in the morning and arrives at Hogsmeade Station in the early evening. When you and your parents arrive at the station, find the wall between Platforms Nine and Ten, and run through it.”

Hermione was taken aback. “Pardon?”

“When it is your first time, it is better to run through the wall. Any hesitation will cause you to actually hit the wall.”

“Um, ok,” said Hermione. “I’ll write to you with questions about that.”

“I’m sure you will,” said Professor McGonagall with a smile. “I am so glad you will be attending Hogwarts this year, Miss Granger. It will be a pleasure to have you in class.”

“And hopefully in your house!” Hermione added.

“I’ve had a delightful time,” said Professor McGonagall. “But I do want to clarify that once you get to Hogwarts, I will be your teacher and you, my student. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Professor,” Hermione said. She understood the subtext - they could not be “friends” when they were at school. “Please send your owl for my first letter soon! How many pages can an owl carry?”

The Professor laughed. “I’m not sure anyone has tested that, but I’m sure you will this summer. Dr. and Dr. Granger, it has been a pleasure,” Professor McGonagall shook both of their hands. “And it will be a pleasure to teach your brilliant daughter. Thank you for trusting us with her.”

And with that, Professor McGonagall turned on the spot and disappeared with a crack.

Chapter Text

All summer, Hermione pored over her books. First, she read all eight of the textbooks needed for school and made a reference system similar to the card catalogues at the library. Then she read the 10 other books she made her parents buy for her and added to the reference system. Around mid-August, she started re-reading her textbooks and making flashcards.

September 1st was quickly approaching and Hermione’s excitement was nearly through the roof… and so was her anxiety. She already knew (for a fact) she belonged in the Wizarding World, but what if she couldn’t fit in? What if she wasn’t good enough? What if, because she was Muggle born, she would be the worst in the class? Hermione was angry at herself that the anxiety and word vomit didn’t go away even though she had found her purpose in life, so she reverted back to throwing herself into her studies to cope. The pressure to succeed in what she knew was her destiny was overwhelming.

In order to comply with the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, Hermione and her parents told everyone she had gained entry to the prestigious Sherborne International School, a boarding school in the South West of England. It would explain her absence for the school terms.

After Professor McGonagall’s stern warning about using magic outside of school, Hermione was careful to limit herself to small, inconsequential spells. She wouldn’t have even thought about disobeying a law, but the fear of being last in her class was the motivating factor. To make up for her indiscretion, Hermione made a table of all of the spells listed in The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1) by Miranda Goshawk and ranked them in order of the chances of being noticed by the Ministry of Magic. First on her list was “Reparo.” Reparo was a charm that could be used to seamlessly repair a broken object and would work on most materials. This incredibly useful and practical charm was invented by Orabella Nuttley, in or before 1754, according to Miranda Goshawk. With a flick of the wand in a downward triangle shape and an incantation of “Reparo,” most minor things could be fixed. 

As much as it pained Hermione to snap one of her precious quills in half, in the name of magical science, she did it. She pulled out her wand from the box and unopened it as carefully as she could. “Reparo!” she said, performing the triangular movement with the wand. Except for a small spark, nothing happened. Hermione read the section again. “Reparo!” said Hermione and, right before her eyes, her quill pieces fused together.

In the wee hours of the first of September, Hermione woke up and went through all of the things she had packed (and repacked) into her trunk. Satisfied she had everything she would need, she laid her school robes at the top and locked the trunk. As much as she wanted to wear the robe, she didn’t want to attract any stares when they arrived at Kings Cross Station. She went down to the kitchen and prepared her parents some breakfast. She felt bad for leaving them but was relieved they had finally come around to accepting she was a witch.

With a delicious breakfast in their stomachs, they set out for the two hour drive to Kings Cross Station. Hermione clutched her Hogwarts ticket the whole way. They arrived at the station and parked the car. Bert ran to get a trolley to load up Hermione’s trunk and bag. Mary was oddly silent as they navigated the parking lot and station lobby.

“Mum, what’s wrong?” Hermione asked.

“Just going to miss you,” Mary said.

“Don’t worry. I’ll write loads and I’ll be back on holiday for Christmas!” said Hermione.

“I know, I know,” Mary said, giving Hermione a hug. “I’m so proud of you, Hermione.”

Hermione froze. She had never heard her mom say those words. She didn’t really know what to do. She didn’t really know what to feel. Instinctually (perhaps?), she deepened the hug and buried her face into her mother’s hair. She didn’t want anyone to see the tears that formed in her eyes and she certainly didn’t want the word vomit to start.

“Aw, come here,” said Bert as he wrapped his arms around both Hermione and Mary. 

It was Mary who pulled away first. “Enough of the theatrics,” she said with a smile. Hermione was slightly relieved. “Let’s go run into that wall, shall we? It’s time for you to go to school.”

It wasn’t long before they came to Platforms 9 and 10. There was, indeed, a wall just as Professor McGonagall had described. Bert went up to it and examined it. He knocked on it a few times and then pulled his hand away, shaking it. “Solid brick,” he said. Hermione joined him at the wall. She thought that maybe, since she was a witch, it’d feel different to her. She knocked twice before concluding it was, indeed, solid brick. 

“Maybe we should hang back a bit and watch to see if there are any other… witches… around,” Mary whispered the “w-word.” “You know, see what they do and then do it ourselves.”

Hermione and Bert agreed and stepped back a bit to watch. It was still quite early - nine o’clock - but surely there were other students who were as excited as Hermione.

Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione saw a very conspicuous, stern looking older woman and a very young, round-faced, short, chubby boy. He was squeezing a toad in his hands and was standing next to a very large trunk similar to Hermione’s. The woman, clearly his grandmother, was pointing to the “Platform Nine” sign and then to the “Platform Ten” sign, and gesturing to the wall between them. The young boy shook his head in fear.

“Mum. Dad. I think they’re wizards over there,” said Hermione, gesturing inconspicuously to the pair.

“I think you’re right,” Bert said, blatantly staring at them.

The grandmother kept pointing to the wall but the boy kept shaking his head and squeezing his toad tighter and tighter. After another small spat, the grandmother hitched up her skirt, grabbed the trolley, and started towards the wall with a brisk step. Hermione and her family watched as the woman vanished into the wall. Their faces were as surprised as the little boy she left behind. 

After a few seconds, she reappeared and marched back over to her grandson. She must have left the trolley on the other side. She grabbed his arm and started yanking him over to the wall. As they passed the Grangers, they could hear her harsh whispers. “Now get on, you. We’re making a scene! Pretty soon, all of the Muggles are going to be watching you. Do you want that?”

She dragged him to the wall and basically pushed him into it. Much to everyone’s surprise, the boy just bounced backwards into his grandmother. “You have to have confidence, Neville!” she shouted. “Try it again!”

Neville was almost in tears, and his toad looked as though one more squeeze would make his eyes pop completely out of its head. The pair took a few steps back, and the grandma whispered something in Neville’s ear that the Grangers couldn’t hear. His face turned from one of fear to one of stubborn determination. He took his grandmother’s hand willingly and took a running start at the wall. This time, they went straight through without any issue at all.

.

“Right,” said Hermione. “Are you both ready?”

Bert nodded tentatively. They both looked at Mary who looked completely terrified. “Remember, Mum. You have to be confident. That’s how you do it. We can do it. Together.”

Hermione wheeled the trolley in front of her. Bert stood on one side of her and grabbed the handles. Mary stood on the other side and did the same. All three took a collective deep breath and started a brisk jog across the platform to the wall. Hermione would never admit it to anyone, but she shut her eyes as they got closer. 

She needn’t have done it, though, because, before she knew it, they were on the other side of the wall. Hermione looked behind her and saw a wrought-iron archway where the barrier had been, with the words Platform Nine and Three Quarters on it. Platform Nine and Three Quarters. They had made it.

The platform wasn’t crowded yet - the Grangers were quite early after all - but the Hogwarts Express was parked directly in front of them and it seemed to take up the whole platform. It was massive, with a crimson red engine car and a line of passenger cars as far as the eye could see. Smoke from the engine drifted over the heads of the small, chattering crowd, while cats of every colour wound here and there between their legs. Owls hooted to one another in a disgruntled sort of way over the babble. 

The Hogwarts Express took the form of a large red, 4-6-0 steam engine. Hermione ran through the facts she had learned in her head. Under the Whyte notation for the classification of steam locomotives by wheel arrangement, 4-6-0 represents the configuration of four leading wheels on two axles in a leading bogie, six powered and coupled driving wheels on three axles and no trailing wheels. She made sure to tell her parents everything she knew about the Hogwarts Express as they tried to find a place to sit and wait until Hermione was allowed to board.

They found a nice bench to sit on, finally, and settled in to wait. It was not even nine o'clock. Hermione was extremely nervous so, to try to get a handle on her anxiety, started rattling off as many facts as she could about Hogwarts and the Wizarding World, spending a decent amount of time focusing on the first Wizarding War.

As Hermione had read in her books, there was a very dark wizard who shall not be named (his name, Hermione had whispered to her parents, was “Voldemort”) who wreaked havoc upon the Wizarding World. Ten years ago, he was defeated as he tried to kill a small baby named Harry Potter. His parents, tragically, died trying to save him. Hermione couldn’t imagine her parents dying. “So, if I’ve done my math right, Harry Potter may be a first year, too!” said Hermione.

“That would certainly be interesting,” Mary said, trying to humor her daughter. Truth was she couldn’t keep up with all of the magical information. 

“Though, since he was able to defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named as a baby, he’s probably a really powerful wizard. I’m sure we will be competing for top marks,” she said. Hermione had already decided that Harry Potter would be how she could guarantee her acceptance in the Wizarding World. She liked having a concrete plan of attack. It helped keep the anxiety away. Since Harry Potter had to be smart (he defeated the most powerful dark wizard in recent history), that would be her way in. He most certainly would also be famous in the Wizarding World so that would increase her popularity… For the first time in her life, Hermione cared what other people would think of her. She wanted to be friends with her classmates, unlike the idiots in her primary school.  Hermione had already conceived a few different ways their first conversation would go (she wasn’t stupid - she knew not all conversations go according to plan so she had multiple versions), all of which ended with them walking the halls of Hogwarts as best friends. She had drawn out a flowchart and timeline to help her with her task of befriending Harry Potter - one could never be too prepared!

Also, in reading about the first Wizarding War, Hermione thought back to the odd comment Ollivander had made when she was about to get her wand. Perhaps the reason there weren’t as many first years as usual was because all of the would-be parents died in the war. How awful.

Around ten o’clock, the station started to get noticeably busier. The moment had come. Even Hermione shut up. No amount of random facts could ease her anxiety. All of her life, Hermione made it a point to know everything she could about a situation before diving in. She was now about to step into the unknown and she was nearly frozen with terror.

“Right,” said Bert. “We best get your trunk to the luggage compartment before it completely fills up.” The three stood and started pushing the trolley over. Once Hermione’s trunk was safely on the train, she turned around awkwardly to her parents. It was one of the very few times in her life she didn’t know what to say. Mary, thankfully, filled the silence.

“We expect an, erm, owl as soon as you arrive,” she said. “And I want you to tell us all about what Hogwarts looks like since we will never be able to see it first hand.” Hermione had learned (and explained to her parents in great detail) over the summer that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was not only “unplottable,” but also bewitched so that, if Muggles approach the castle, all they will see is a mouldering ruin with a sign warning them to keep out and that it is unsafe.

“Oh, I will,” said Hermione, fighting back an overwhelming urge to cry. It surprised her. She didn’t think she’d miss her parents this much.

“And we can’t wait to hear all about your classes,” Bert added. “I, for one, can’t wait to hear about the history of magic.”

“I’m sure it will be quite fascinating,” Mary said.

“Yes, quite,” Hermione said in a wavering voice. “What if I make no friends!?” she blurted out, unable to hold it in any longer. “What if I have to be all alone the whole school year because no one wants to be friends with a Muggle?!” Hermione gasped - that wasn’t the word vomit she was used to - it was way more emotional.

Mary, sensing her daughter was close to a meltdown, grabbed her for a big hug. “Hey, no tears! It’s going to be ok! You’re a witch! This is going to be so exciting for you. Now, look there,” said Mary, nodding her head to the right. “There’s that boy we watched go through the wall. He’s all alone too. Maybe you two can get on the train and sit together.” Hermione followed her mother’s gaze over to the boy called Neville who looked just as nervous and upset as she was. “And besides,” Mary continued, “even though you’re a muggle, I bet you know more than anyone else.” She winked. “Right Bert?”

“Indubitably,” he said, squeezing Hermione’s shoulder with a smile. “You’re the smartest person I know.”

“Even Mum?” Hermione asked.

“Even Mum,” said Bert. “Now, go ask that boy if he’d like to sit with you. He looks like he could use a friend. His grandmother seems… slightly stern.”

Hermione gave both her parents one more hug each, squared her shoulders, and started walking towards the nervous, round boy standing on the edge of the crowd.

“So…” Mary started after wiping away her tears. “How do we get back through the wall?”

“First time, eh?” said a short, slightly plump, red-haired woman. “Here, I’ll show you. This is my fifth time to Platform Nine and Three Quarters.”

-----

The boy’s name was, indeed, Neville, and he was a first year just like Hermione. His face lit up when she approached him, and he eagerly agreed to sit with her on the train. The pair boarded the train, showed their tickets to the conductor, and hurried to find a seat. Each passenger car had a long corridor with compartments on each side, cordoned off by a sliding door. Hermione wanted to be close to the front of the train and, thankfully, the third car was still empty. She and Neville picked the side facing the platform so they could watch the rest of the students arrive. 

“So, is your family wizards or Muggles?” Hermione asked as soon as they sat down. She was proud of herself for waiting that long.

“Oh, I’m a pure-blood wizard, but you wouldn’t know it,” Neville said with a sigh. “All my relatives thought I was a Squib until my great uncle Algie dropped me out a window, and I bounced.”

“That’s dreadful!” said Hermione, trying to ignore her fear he would stop talking to her because of her Muggle status.

“Nah, at least I bounced. Before that, one of my cousins dropped me off Blackpool Pier and I nearly drowned. How about you?”

Hermione took a deep breath. It was the moment of truth. “Muggles. I just learned I was a witch this summer. What’s a Squib?” Hermione didn’t even pause before completely changing the subject and caught Neville off guard. She didn’t want to give him time to think about her Muggle status.

“Pardon?”

“You said your family thought you were a Squib,” said Hermione. She had mentally flipped through the catalogue of wizarding terms in her head and couldn’t remember a mention of that word. She was disappointed in herself that she was only five minutes into her first real conversation with a wizard and didn’t know something, but she tried to shake it off.

“Oy, sorry. A Squib is someone who was born into a wizarding family but hasn’t got any magic powers. Kind of the opposite of Muggle-born witches or wizards like you, but Squibs are quite unusual.”

Hermione made a mental note of the word. “Thank you,” she said. “I apologize if I ask a lot of questions.”

“I wouldn’t call one question a lot, especially if you just learned you were a witch,” Neville said with a broad smile and a hint of admiration in his voice that Hermione definitely noticed. His smile, however, turned into a frown, and he started to frantically hit all of his pockets. “Trevor!”

“Excuse me?”

“Trevor! He’s gone!”

“Who’s Trevor?” Hermione asked.

“My toad! I put him in my pocket for safe keeping,” Neville moaned, growing tearful.

“I’m sure he’s in here somewhere,” said Hermione and started looking under the seats. She nearly toppled over as the train started moving from the platform. “Oh, we’re moving!”

“Trevor, come here boy!” Neville whistled as he, too, got on the floor to look. Hermione paused her search for a moment to watch Platform Nine and Three Quarters slowly inch past the window. Since they had selected a car so close to the front, Kings Cross Station made way for the streets of London in no time. Neville lifted up her leg, breaking Hermione’s trance, and she resumed helping her first Hogwarts friend look for his toad. 

They searched the entire compartment to no avail. “Maybe he jumped out in the corridors,” suggested Hermione. “You start at the back and I’ll start at the front and we will meet in the middle,” she said.

“That’s a good idea,” Neville said, holding back tears. “You sure are smart.”

“Practical is more like it,” Hermione said and opened the compartment door, but she reveled in the compliment. 

Hermione made her way forward through the corridor but found the door to the second car was locked. She knocked. A tall, thin redhead opened the door. “Can I help you?” he said. Hermione’s eyes were immediately drawn to the shiney red badge on his robes. 

“You’re a prefect?” Though Hermione said it more as a statement rather than a question.

“I am,” replied the boy. “Percy Ignatius Weasley, prefect for Gryffindor house. And you are?”

 “Hermione Granger, first year.”

“First years are not allowed in the prefects’ compartment, Miss Granger,” said Percey. Hermione couldn’t help but draw similarities between how Percy said her name and how Professor McGonagall said it.

“I’m sorry, sir,” said Hermione, cringing a bit that she called him sir. “But I am trying to help my new friend find his toad. You haven’t seen it, have you?”

“A toad? No.”

“Right then. Well, if you see it, we’re just there in the next car,” Hermione said, pointing behind her. As Percy looked to where she pointed, Hermione tried to see past him into the prefects’ car. She couldn’t see much, but that just solidified her newest goal - she would become a prefect and sit in that car one day. 

She turned away from her dream and started knocking on compartment doors, moving methodically backwards through the train. It was a great opportunity to get a good look at her fellow classmates and start a conversation. She made a mental note of who she wanted to get to know better and who to avoid based on how nicely they responded. Hermione was able to pick out most of the first years because of their nervous looks which made her feel much better about herself - at least she wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

About a quarter of the way through the train, Hermione ran into the Trolley Witch pushing a cart of treats. The witch was elderly and slightly hunchback, but she had a very nice smile. “Hello, dear,” the witch said. “Anything from the trolly?”

“No thank you,” said Hermione. She had noticed in the last car the scenery outside the windows had become much more rural. “But could you please tell me how much longer we have until we reach Hogwarts?”

The Trolley Witch pulled a tarnished pocket watch from her robes, though it didn’t look like any pocket watch Hermione had ever seen. The face was dark black with planets revolving around. “We should be arriving within the hour,” said the witch. Hermione’s face must have showed her nervousness. “Here, dear, have a Chocolate Frog.”

Hermione took her treat back to her compartment to put on her robes. Sliding the robes while on the Hogwarts Express was much more exciting then in her room at home. The robes gave her much more confidence to continue her search. She moved through the compartments she had already searched, waving at her potential new friends along the way. 

As she got closer to the middle of the train, Hermione noticed a large gathering of older boys dressed in the maroon and gold of Gryffindor. She took a deep breath and walked up to them, determined not to be intimidated. “Excuse me,” she said in her most confident voice. “Have you seen a toad hopping around here?”

“A toad?” said a tall, stocky redhead.

“Did she say a toad?” said another tall, stocky redhead. Hermione did a double take. They were, quite clearly, twins and, perhaps, related to Percy the Prefect with their flaming hair and freckles.

“Yes, a friend of mine lost his toad and--”

“I don’t know about a toad,” said a shorter black boy with dreadlocks. “But we definitely have a tarantula.” He held out his hand. Hermione knew she shouldn’t look but her curiosity got the best of her. There, in his hand, was one of the biggest, hairiest, most disgusting tarantulas Hermione had ever seen.

Hermione didn’t want them to know how freaked out she was. “I don’t remember seeing tarantulas on the list of approved animals,” she said with her hands on her hips.

“Oy, is your name Percy?” one of the twins said, and the other laughed. Hermione’s guess was correct.

Hermione bristled and walked through the group, not caring that she was bumping into all of them. She kept the boy with the tarantula in her sight, however. These were the types of boys who wouldn’t hesitate to slip the spider into her robes.

She moved into the next compartment and continued her search. There was a lovely group of first year girls in the compartment to the right who told Hermione to find them once they got to Hogwarts. As she slipped into the next car, she ran into Neville.

“Did you find Trevor?” she asked.

“No, but I didn’t really check that compartment,” Neville said, pointing behind him.

“Why on earth not?”

“I think Harry Potter is in that one,” said Neville, his eyes wide. “I just asked him real quick-like if he had seen a toad but didn’t actually look.

Harry Potter! Hermione felt her heart start to pound. This could be her chance. She grabbed Neville by the arm and started for the train car. Hermione took a deep breath and slid open the compartment door. A quick summary of all of the different conversation scenarios played in her mind, but as soon as the door slid all the way open, they evaporated from her brain. Hermione searched for words in a panic. 

“Has anyone seen a toad? Neville’s lost one,” she said. Hermione internally cringed at the bossy tone in her voice, though she was glad it came out like that instead of a nervous squeak… instead of nothing at all.

“We’ve already told him we haven’t seen it,” said yet another red haired boy. How many of them were there? Four? Five? Hermione noticed the red-headed boy had a wand in his hand. Seeing her chance, she sat down next to the mysterious black-headed boy. She tried to be nonchalant.

“Oh, are you doing magic? Let’s see it, then.”

“Er — all right,” the red-haired boy said and cleared his throat. “Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow, turn this stupid, fat rat yellow.” He waved his wand, but nothing happened. The rat didn’t even move. Hermione frowned.

“Are you sure that’s a real spell?” said Hermione, stealing a glance at Harry Potter. Maybe she could go with the “magic” conversation option. “Well, it’s not very good, is it? I’ve tried a few simple spells just for practice, and it’s all worked for me. Nobody in my family’s magic at all, it was ever such a surprise when I got my letter, but I was ever so pleased, of course, I mean, it’s the very best school of witchcraft there is, I’ve heard — I’ve learned all our course books by heart, of course, I just hope it will be enough — I’m Hermione Granger, by the way, who are you?”

Hermione realized she was talking way too fast and tried to calm herself down. She hoped Harry Potter didn’t notice her looking at him through the corner of her eye.

“I’m Ron Weasley,” the redhead muttered. So, yes, at least four Weasley brothers… but Hermione barely looked his way.

“Harry Potter,” said Harry.

“Are you really?” said Hermione, trying her best to play dumb. She took a deep breath and studied his face to see what she was up against. “I know all about you, of course — I got a few extra books for background reading, and you’re in Modern Magical History and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century.”

“Am I?” said Harry. Hermione could barely believe it. Either Harry was much better at playing dumb than her… or he really didn’t know. She was completely flustered. The conversation was NOT going how she had planned. Her whole wizarding standard had rested on competing with Harry Potter and nothing was going right. She could feel the word vomit gurgling to the surface as her heart began to race. 

“Goodness, didn’t you know? I’d have found out everything I could if it was me,” said Hermione. “Do either of you know what House you’ll be in? I’ve been asking around, and I hope I’m in Gryffindor - it sounds by far the best; I hear Dumbledore himself was in it, but I suppose Ravenclaw wouldn’t be too bad... Anyway, we’d better go and look for Neville’s toad. You two had better change, you know, I expect we’ll be there soon.”

She stood up fast and got out of the compartment as quickly as she could before it all went to crap. She didn’t even look at Neville as she headed back to their car. She could feel the hot threat of tears in her eyes. Sure, she was becoming friends with Neville, but she hadn’t made a plan for that scenario. 

She sat down in the compartment with a huff. “Sorry we didn’t find your toad, Neville,” Hermione said. 

“It’s ok,” Neville said. “But are you ok? You seem more upset than I am”

“I just made a total arse of myself in front of Harry Potter.” She wasn’t exactly sure why she was being so frank with Neville but couldn’t do anything to stop it.

“I don’t think you did,” he said.

“Thanks, but I definitely did. He wasn’t at all what I expected.”

“What did you expect?” Neville asked.

“I don’t know,” Hermione said. She drew the line at admitting to planning out multiple conversations. “I just expected someone, I don’t know, like me.”

“Well, he is, isn’t he? I mean, he was raised by Muggles, just like you were,” Neville said as he struggled to get his robes over his round head. He finally succeeded but then tripped over the bottoms and toppled onto the seat.

Hermione shrugged. Maybe they could become friends over their shared Muggle experiences because it was quite obvious they wouldn’t bond over academics like she had originally planned. Now, realizing Harry Potter was indeed not the smartest wizard in her year, Hermione’s grand plan had to be rethought. Perhaps Neville was right - they may not be similar in academics, but they were similar with their upbringing. Hermione had a new surge of hope. She would help him fit in since she clearly knew more than him and, by association, she would be Harry’s friend and accepted. Hermione smiled to herself and felt much better. She wouldn’t have to re-plan after all.

“Come on, Neville,” said Hermione. “Let’s go make sure Harry - and Ron, was it? - let’s go make sure they’re dressed and ready to go.”

Hermione and Neville walked down the corridors, dodging their fellow students who were getting a few last moments of mayhem in before going to school. They arrived at Harry’s compartment just as a pale blond-haired boy ran out of it with one of the biggest scowls on his face. Two much larger boys were following him, one holding his hand as if in pain. They nearly knocked Hermione and Neville over in their escape. Hermione looked into the compartment and saw Harry and Ron were both standing with the most intimidating looks they could muster. Hermione couldn’t believe it. They had been fighting already! Her stomach lurched. Did she really want to befriend a trouble maker? Yet again, she felt her plan crumbling.

  “Can we help you with something?” Ron said, noticing Hermione standing at the compartment doorway and interrupting her internal pros and cons list.

“You’d better hurry up and put your robes on, I’ve just been up to the front to ask the conductor, and he says we’re nearly there. You haven’t been fighting, have you? You’ll be in trouble before we even get there!”

“Scabbers has been fighting, not us,” said Ron, scowling at her. “Would you mind leaving while we change?”

“All right — I only came in here because people outside are behaving very childishly, racing up and down the corridors,” said Hermione in a sniffy voice. “And you’ve got dirt on your nose, by the way, did you know?”

Hermione walked back out and into Neville. “Are we going to get off the train with them?” he asked, hopeful.

“We’ll see,” said Hermione. She really had no idea what to think. The fear was creeping in and she couldn’t stop it. None of her plans were working. She could feel the train starting to slow. Everything was falling apart at precisely the wrong moment. The train stopped and Hermione’s heart lurched. They were at Hogwarts. “Let’s just wait for them here,” she said to Neville. 

Harry and Ron exited their compartment and Hermione and Neville were right behind them. All of the students diligently filed out of the cars onto a tiny, dark platform. To their right, a bright lantern bobbed over the other students’ heads.

“Firs’ years! Firs’ years over here! All right there, Harry?” A giant looking man smiled down at Harry. He was a massive man with a full, tangled beard and a tattered coat. Hermione really had to crane her neck to see his face.

“C’mon, follow me — any more firs’ years? Mind yer step, now! Firs’ years follow me!”

All of the first years clambered to keep up with the giant over slippery trails. Hermione grabbed Neville by the hand and pulled him so they were closer to Harry and Ron in case she came up with yet another plan. Neville’s hand was trembling in Hermione’s and she could hear him sniff a few times. She realized she really didn’t know how to calm him down. She could hug him like her mom had hugged her but that didn’t seem appropriate at the moment. 

“Yeh’ll get yer firs’ sight o’ Hogwarts in a sec,” The man called over his shoulder, “jus’ round this bend here.”

There was a loud “Oooooh” from all of the students. Hermione could barely believe her eyes.

The narrow path had opened suddenly onto the edge of a great black lake. Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets and towers. Hermione gasped, transfixed.

“No more’n four to a boat!” Hagrid called, pointing to a fleet of little boats sitting in the water by the shore. Hermione pulled Neville into Harry’s boat and sat down.

“Everyone in?” shouted the huge man, who had a boat to himself and rightfully so. “Right then — FORWARD!”

The fleet of little boats moved off all at once, gliding across the lake, which was as smooth as glass. Everyone was silent, staring up at the great castle overhead. It towered over them as they sailed nearer and nearer to the cliff on which it stood. Hermione was transfixed. She had never seen something so beautiful, yet so intimidating.

“Heads down!” yelled the man as the first boats reached the cliff; Hermione did as she was told and ducked her head to avoid a beautiful curtain of ivy. They were carried along a dank, dark tunnel, which seemed to be taking them right underneath the castle. Hermione tried to make the proper calculations to see if they, indeed, were. The boats finally reached a kind of underground harbor and everyone climbed out onto rocks and pebbles. The silence was broke with a very loud croak.

“Oy, you there! Is this your toad?” said the giant, who was checking the boats as people climbed out of them.

“Trevor!” cried Neville, holding out his hands. Hermione smiled even though she was practically shaking with anxiety. Then they clambered up a passageway in the rock after the giant’s lamp, coming out at last onto smooth, damp grass right in the shadow of the castle.

They walked up a flight of stone steps and crowded around the huge, oak front door.

“Everyone here? You there, still got yer toad?” Neville nodded.

The enormous man raised a gigantic fist and knocked three times on the castle door.

Chapter Text

The door swung open at once. A tall, black-haired witch in emerald-green robes stood there. It was Professor McGonagall! Hermione tried to catch her eye but then remembered the professor’s unwritten rule against it.

“The firs’ years, Professor McGonagall,” said the man.

“Thank you, Hagrid. I will take them from here.”

She pulled the door wide. The entrance hall was absolutely enormous. The looming stone walls flickered from flaming torches every ten feet or so. A grandiose marble staircase facing them led to the upper floors.

All of the students followed Professor McGonagall across the flagged stone floor. Their footsteps echoed in the massive hall. Not a single first year student made any noise other than that. Hermione could hear faint echoes to her right and (correctly) deduced the rest of the students were being held there. To try to calm her panic attack, Hermione reverted back to rattling off all of the facts she had learned about Hogwarts in her head. Bewitched ceilings in the great hall… moving staircases...

Professor McGonagall showed the first years into a small, empty chamber off the hall. They crowded in, standing rather closer together than they would usually have done, peering about nervously.

“Welcome to Hogwarts,” said Professor McGonagall. “The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your Houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your House will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your House, sleep in your House dormitory, and spend free time in your House common room.

“The four Houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Each House has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards. While you are at Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your House points, while any rule-breaking will lose House points. At the end of the year, the House with the most points is awarded the House cup, a great honor. I hope each of you will be a credit to whichever House becomes yours.

“The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes in front of the rest of the school. I suggest you all smarten yourselves up as much as you can while you are waiting.”

Her eyes lingered for a moment on Neville’s cloak, which was fastened under his left ear, and on Ron’s smudged nose. Hermione noticed Harry nervously tried to flatten his hair.

“I shall return when we are ready for you,” said Professor McGonagall. “Please wait quietly.”

Hermione realized she had not taken a breath since entering the castle. She tried to breathe in slowly but it was more of a gasp for air. She looked around to make sure no one had noticed. Thankfully for her, everyone else was too nervous to pay attention to anyone else. Her mind immediately went to the “Sorting Ceremony.” She hadn’t read anything about that! Her anxiety began to rise again and Hermione could feel the words bubbling out of her mouth. Oh no, it was the word vomit. 

“I wonder if we’ll need any spells,” she said quickly. “I’ve been studying all of the spells in The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1) by by Miranda Goshawk and I have gotten quite good at the Reparo charm. Or, perhaps it will be a quiz on the history of Hogwarts. I know Professor McGonagall just talked about all of the houses but maybe it’s about the founding members. I know them all, obviously: Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin. Maybe it will be--”

Neville elbowed Hermione in the side. “You’re giving me a heart attack,” he nearly cried, squeezing Trevor probably way too hard. 

“I can’t help it,” said Hermione. “I talk when I’m nervous.” She had never really told anyone that before but something about Neville made her vulnerable.

Before she could start vomiting words again, several people behind her began to scream. She gasped and put her hand over her mouth. About twenty ghosts had just floated through the back wall. Pearly-white and slightly transparent, they glided across the room talking to one another and hardly glancing at the first years. They seemed to be arguing. What looked like a fat little monk was saying: “Forgive and forget, I say, we ought to give him a second chance —”

“My dear Friar, haven’t we given Peeves all the chances he deserves? He gives us all a bad name and you know, he’s not really even a ghost — I say, what are you all doing here?”

A ghost wearing a ruff and tights had suddenly noticed the first years.

Nobody answered.

“New students!” said the Fat Friar, smiling around at them. “About to be Sorted, I suppose?”

Hermione nodded, still stunned.

“Hope to see you in Hufflepuff!” said the Friar. “My old House, you know.”

Hermione gasped again. She hoped she wasn’t in Hufflepuff. No, Gryffindor was where she belonged. She’d accept Ravenclaw as a close second.

“Move along now,” said a sharp voice. “The Sorting Ceremony’s about to start.”

Professor McGonagall had returned. One by one, the ghosts floated away through the opposite wall.

“Now, form a line,” Professor McGonagall told the first years, “and follow me.”

Hermione hurried into the line as quickly as she could. She didn’t want to do anything wrong. Professor McGonagall led them out of the chamber, back across the hall, and through a pair of double doors into the Great Hall.

It was exquisite. None of Hermione’s books did the Great Hall justice. It was lit by thousands and thousands of candles that were floating in midair over four long tables, where the rest of the students were sitting. These tables were laid with glittering golden plates and goblets. At the top of the hall was another long table where the teachers were sitting. 

Professor McGonagall led all of the first years up near the teachers and in front of the students. There were hundreds of students staring at all of them and quite a few of them smirking. Hermione tried to focus on anything but them. A random thought about a random fact popped into her head and she embraced it - she couldn’t stand to stare back at all of the other students. Hermione remembered reading about the bewitched ceiling in Hogwarts, A History and immediately diverted her eyes upward. Again, the book had not done it justice. The ceiling looked exactly like the sky outside - inky dark with glimmering stars. It was magnificent. It was hard to believe there was a ceiling there at all, and that the Great Hall didn’t simply open on to the heavens. She noticed Harry looking up as well. Hermione whispered, “It’s bewitched to look like the sky outside. I read about it in Hogwarts, A History.”

Hermione did her best to shut her mouth so the word vomit couldn’t continue. She bit her lip as she watched Professor McGonagall silently place a stool in front of the first years. On top of the stool she put a pointed wizard’s hat. This hat was patched and frayed and extremely dirty.

All of the older students in the Great Hall sat transfixed on the hat. Hermione’s mind raced. Maybe they were to try to transfigure the hat into another object for their sorting? Before she could analyze it further, however, the hat twitched. A rip near the brim opened wide like a mouth — and the hat began to sing:

 

“Oh, you may not think I’m pretty,

But don’t judge on what you see,

I’ll eat myself if you can find

A smarter hat than me.

You can keep your bowlers black,

Your top hats sleek and tall,

For I’m the Hogwarts Sorting Hat

And I can cap them all.

There’s nothing hidden in your head

The Sorting Hat can’t see,

So try me on and I will tell you

Where you ought to be.

You might belong in Gryffindor,

Where dwell the brave at heart,

Their daring, nerve, and chivalry

Set Gryffindors apart;

You might belong in Hufflepuff,

Where they are just and loyal,

Those patient Hufflepuffs are true

And unafraid of toil;

Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,

If you’ve a ready mind,

Where those of wit and learning,

Will always find their kind;

Or perhaps in Slytherin

You’ll make your real friends,

Those cunning folk use any means

To achieve their ends.

So put me on! Don’t be afraid!

And don’t get in a flap!

You’re in safe hands (though I have none)

For I’m a Thinking Cap!”

 

The whole hall burst into applause as the hat finished its song. It bowed to each of the four tables and then became quite still again.

“So we’ve just got to try on the hat!” Hermione heard Ron whisper to Harry. “I’ll kill Fred, he was going on about wrestling a troll.”

Professor McGonagall now stepped forward holding a long roll of parchment.

“When I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be sorted,” she said. “Abbott, Hannah!”

A pink-faced girl with blonde pigtails stumbled out of line, put on the hat, which fell right down over her eyes, and sat down. A moment’s pause —

“HUFFLEPUFF!” shouted the hat.

The table on the right cheered and clapped as Hannah went to sit down at the Hufflepuff table. 

“Bones, Susan!”

“HUFFLEPUFF!” shouted the hat again, and Susan went to sit next to Hannah.

“Boot, Terry!”

“RAVENCLAW!”

The table second from the left clapped this time; several Ravenclaws stood up to shake hands with Terry as he joined them.

“Brocklehurst, Mandy” went to Ravenclaw too, but “Brown, Lavender” became the first new Gryffindor, and the table on the far left exploded with cheers. 

“Bulstrode, Millicent” then became a Slytherin. 

“Finch-Fletchley, Justin!”

“HUFFLEPUFF!”

“Finnigan, Seamus,” the sandy-haired boy next to Harry in the line walked over to the stool. Hermione’s heart sped up. She was next. Her legs went weak and she had to lean briefly on Neville to get her balance back. Neville’s whole body was violently shaking, and she doubted he even felt her brace herself against him. The hat was taking forever. Hermione wasn’t sure how much longer she could stand. Finally, the hat declared “GRYFFINDOR!” and Seamus ran to the cheering table.

Hermione felt faint. She took a deep breath. She didn’t want anyone to know how utterly terrified she was. “Granger, Hermione!”

Hermione almost ran to the stool and jammed the hat on her head before she lost her nerve. “Hmm,” said a voice in her ear. It took a second to realize it was the Sorting Hat. “What an exceptionally bright young lady,” the hat said. “You are a shoe in for Ravenclaw and will do well… but…”

Hermione’s heart sank. “No, not Ravenclaw! Please! I want to be in Gryffindor!”

“If you would have let me finish,” continued the hat, “I think your intelligence will be needed elsewhere… and you need to learn a few things that aren’t in a book… so… I will sort you into… GRYFFINDOR!” shouted the hat. 

Hermione positively beamed. She couldn’t help it. She’d think about what the Hat had said later. She was determined to relish in the moment of being chosen for the house she wanted. She listened to the cheers as she walked over to the table full of maroon and gold. She had never been cheered like that in her life. She glanced back at Professor McGonagall. Hermione was quite certain the stern professor winked at her before going back to her list. Her heart soared.

“Longbottom, Neville,” said Professor McGonagall. Poor Neville fell over on his way to the stool. The hat took a long time to decide with Neville. When it finally shouted, “GRYFFINDOR,” Neville ran off still wearing it and had to jog back amid gales of laughter to give it to “MacDougal, Morag.”

Hermione stopped paying attention to the sorting in order to welcome Neville to the table. Not only was she in Professor McGonagall’s house, but Neville was with her. “Malfoy, Draco,” boomed Professor McGonagall’s voice.

“Oh Neville,” Hermione embraced him as he sat down. “I’m so glad we’re in the same house!” 

“I can’t believe it!” said Neville. “I thought I was going to be sorted into Hufflepuff for sure.”

“Maybe the hat just picked up on the bravery of your toad and said the wrong house,” one of the red-headed Weasley twins said from down the table. Hermione snapped her head over to them, ready to defend her new friend, but the look on the twin’s face made it abundantly clear he was joking. Hermione tried to ease up and laugh with the rest of the table and actually succeeded. Maybe she didn’t need Harry Potter at all. Maybe she could fit in by herself. “That toad went head to head with Lee’s tarantula for a bit there on the train right before we got to Hogwarts.”

“It was wicked!” said the other twin. Poor Neville pulled out Trevor to look at him in horror.

Hermione half listened to the other names being called, waiting impatiently to hear the name the whole room seemed to be waiting for. “Moon”... , “Nott”... , “Parkinson”... , then a pair of twin girls, “Patil” and “Patil”... , then “Perks, Sally-Anne”... , and then, at last —

“Potter, Harry!”

Whispers suddenly broke out like little hissing fires all over the hall.

“Potter, did she say?”

The Harry Potter?”

Everyone was craning to get a good look at him, the boy who lived. Hermione held her breath as Professor McGonagall lowered the hat onto his head. She still had a hope he’d be in her house. The hat took forever! Finally, in a clear and booming voice, it yelled, “GRYFFINDOR!” and the whole table erupted. Percy, the prefect, stood up and shook Harry’s hand vigorously. The twins, were chanting, “We got Potter! We got Potter!” Neville was unsuccessfully trying to whistle and succeeded in only spitting over Hermione’s arm. Harry collapsed at the table near Hermione, high fiving as many people as he could.

And now there were only four people left to be sorted. “Thomas, Dean,” joined the Gryffindor table. “Turpin, Lisa,” became a Ravenclaw. Hermione saw that it was Ron’s turn. She noticed Ron looked positively green. She also noticed Harry crossing his fingers under the table. A second later, the hat had shouted, “GRYFFINDOR!”

Hermione made the sinking realization that if she wanted to befriend Harry, she’d also have to befriend this Ron fellow with the dirty nose. “Great,” she said to herself. “I bet they’re just going to copy my exam like everyone else.” This was not turning out how Hermione wanted it to. Harry clapped loudly with the rest as Ron collapsed into the chair next to him.

“Well done, Ron, excellent,” said Percy Weasley pompously across Harry as “Zabini, Blaise,” was made a Slytherin. Professor McGonagall rolled up her scroll and took the Sorting Hat away. Hermione tried to say congratulations to the pair but was lost in all of the noise.

Albus Dumbledore had gotten to his feet. Hermione could barely contain her excitement. She had read all about the famous headmaster and his contributions to the wizarding world. He was a legend. The headmaster beamed at the students, his arms opened wide, as if nothing could have pleased him more than to see them all there.

“Welcome!” he said. “Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you!”

He sat back down. Everybody clapped and cheered. Hermione was completely confused. What on earth was that? Had everyone gone mad?

Before Hermione could dwell on the insanity of her new headmaster’s “speech,” the dishes in front of her were piling with food right before her eyes! Roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, chips, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and peppermint humbugs. It was all delicious.

“That does look good,” she overheard the ghost in the ruff say to Harry. 

“Can’t you — ?”

“I haven’t eaten for nearly five hundred years,” said the ghost. Hermione’s interest was piqued. Not much had been written about ghosts in her books. “I don’t need to, of course, but one does miss it. I don’t think I’ve introduced myself? Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington at your service. Resident ghost of Gryffindor Tower.”

“I know who you are!” said Ron suddenly. “My brothers told me about you — you’re Nearly Headless Nick!”

“I would prefer you to call me Sir Nicholas de Mimsy —” the ghost began stiffly, but sandy-haired Seamus interrupted.

“Nearly Headless? How can you be nearly headless?”

Sir Nicholas looked extremely miffed, as if their little chat wasn’t going at all the way he wanted. “Like this,” he said irritably. He seized his left ear and pulled. His whole head swung off his neck and fell onto his shoulder as if it was on a hinge. Someone had obviously tried to behead him, but not done it properly. Hermione gasped. 

Looking pleased at the stunned looks on their faces, Nearly Headless Nick flipped his head back onto his neck, coughed, and said, “So — new Gryffindors! I hope you’re going to help us win the House Championship this year? Gryffindors have never gone so long without winning. Slytherins have got the cup six years in a row! The Bloody Baron’s becoming almost unbearable — he’s the Slytherin ghost.”

When everyone had eaten as much as they could, the remains of the food faded from the plates, leaving them sparkling clean as before. A moment later the desserts appeared. Blocks of ice cream in every flavor you could think of, apple pies, treacle tarts, chocolate éclairs and jam doughnuts, trifle, strawberries, jelly, rice pudding…

Just as Hermione reached politely for a treacle tart, she heard the table conversation switch to families. “I’m half-and-half,” said Seamus. “Me dad’s a Muggle. Mom didn’t tell him she was a witch ’til after they were married. Bit of a nasty shock for him.”

The others laughed.

“What about you, Neville?” said Ron.

“Well, my gran brought me up and she’s a witch,” said Neville, “but the family thought I was all-Muggle for ages. My Great Uncle Algie kept trying to catch me off my guard and force some magic out of me — he pushed me off the end of Blackpool Pier once, I nearly drowned — but nothing happened until I was eight. Great Uncle Algie came round for dinner, and he was hanging me out of an upstairs window by the ankles when my Great Auntie Enid offered him a meringue and he accidentally let go. But I bounced — all the way down the garden and into the road. They were all really pleased, Gran was crying, she was so happy. And you should have seen their faces when I got in here — they thought I might not be magic enough to come, you see. Great Uncle Algie was so pleased he bought me my toad.”

Dread filled Hermione’s stomach. She didn’t want to oust herself as a Muggle-born witch just yet. Before her anxiety could rise again, she noticed Percy was looking at her and took the opportunity to engage him before it was her turn to answer the “family” question.

“So, Percy, right? When will classes start?”

“I do hope they start right away, there’s so much to learn,” Percy said, positively beaming. “I’m particularly interested in Transfiguration, you know, turning something into something else, of course, it’s supposed to be very difficult, but I want to get ‘Outstanding’ for the O.W.L.s’.”

“What are O.W.L.s’?” Hermione asked.

“An Ordinary Wizarding Level is a standardised, subject-specific test taken during students' fifth year, administered by the Wizarding Examinations Authority,” Percy said. Hermione liked how it sounded as if he was reading from a textbook. “The score made by a student on a particular O.W.L. determines whether or not he or she will be allowed to continue taking that subject in subsequent school years, and whether they might be successful in obtaining a particular job.”

“Fifth year, you say?” said Hermione. “That’s not a lot of time.” Her brain was already doing the mental calculations of how to space out the next five years in order to adequately study.

“It’s so refreshing to see a first year so focused on their academic career! Bravo, young lady, bravo!”

At last, the desserts, too, disappeared, and Professor Dumbledore got to his feet again. The hall fell silent.

“Ahem — just a few more words now that we are all fed and watered. I have a few start-of-term notices to give you.

“First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils. And a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well.”

Dumbledore’s twinkling eyes flashed in the direction of the Weasley twins.

“I have also been asked by Mr. Filch, the caretaker, to remind you all that no magic should be used between classes in the corridors.

“Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of the term. Anyone interested in playing for their House teams should contact Madam Hooch. And finally, I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death.”

Harry laughed loudly, but he was one of the few who did. Hermione overheard him muttering to Percy.

“He’s not serious?” he muttered to Percy.

“Must be,” said Percy, frowning at Dumbledore. “It’s odd, because he usually gives us a reason why we’re not allowed to go somewhere — the forest’s full of dangerous beasts, everyone knows that. I do think he might have told us prefects, at least.”

“And now, before we go to bed, let us sing the school song!” cried Dumbledore.

Dumbledore gave his wand a little flick, as if he was trying to get a fly off the end, and a long golden ribbon flew out of it, which rose high above the tables and twisted itself, snakelike, into words.

“Everyone pick their favorite tune,” said Dumbledore, “and off we go!”

And the school bellowed:

 

“Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts,

Teach us something please,

Whether we be old and bald

Or young with scabby knees,

Our heads could do with filling

With some interesting stuff,

For now they’re bare and full of air,

Dead flies and bits of fluff,

So teach us things worth knowing,

Bring back what we’ve forgot,

Just do your best, we’ll do the rest,

And learn until our brains all rot.”

 

Everybody finished the song at different times. At last, only the Weasley twins were left singing along to a very slow funeral march. Dumbledore conducted their last few lines with his wand and when they had finished, he was one of those who clapped loudest.

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here! And now, bedtime. Off you trot!”

The Gryffindor first years followed Percy out of the Great Hall and up the marble staircase. Hermione was sure to stay directly behind Percy in case he wanted to tell her some more facts about O.W.L.s’ or even just the building itself… though she was caught off guard by movement out of the corner of her eye. The people in the paintings along the corridors whispered and pointed as they passed. It was one thing to read about the moving portraits of the Wizarding World but an entirely different thing to actually see it in person. Twice, Percy led them through doorways hidden behind sliding panels and hanging tapestries. Hermione tried to make a mental map of the area so she’d know exactly how to get from her dorm to the Great Hall. 

A bundle of walking sticks was floating in midair ahead of them, and as Percy took a step toward them they started throwing themselves at him.

“Peeves,” Percy whispered to the first years. “A poltergeist.” He raised his voice, “Peeves — show yourself.”

A loud, rude sound, like the air being let out of a balloon, answered.

“Do you want me to go to the Bloody Baron?”

There was a pop, and a little man with wicked, dark eyes and a wide mouth appeared, floating cross-legged in the air, clutching the walking sticks.

“Oooooooh!” he said, with an evil cackle. “Ickle Firsties! What fun!”

He swooped suddenly at them. They all ducked.

“Go away, Peeves, or the Baron’ll hear about this, I mean it!” barked Percy.

Peeves stuck out his tongue and vanished, dropping the walking sticks on Neville’s head. They heard him zooming away, rattling coats of armor as he passed.

“You want to watch out for Peeves,” said Percy, as they set off again. “The Bloody Baron’s the only one who can control him, he won’t even listen to us prefects. Here we are.”

At the very end of the corridor hung a portrait of a very fat woman in a pink silk dress.

“Password?” she said.

“Caput Draconis,” said Percy, and the portrait swung forward to reveal a round hole in the wall. They all scrambled through it — Neville needed a leg up — and found themselves in the Gryffindor common room, a cozy, round room full of squashy armchairs.

Percy directed the girls through one door to their dormitory and the boys through another. Hermione followed the other girls up the spiral staircase to the top of the stairs. She was met with a row of doors, each with names posted on them. She found her name on the 5th door from the steps along with four other girls:

 

Lavender Brown

Fay Dunbar

Hermione Granger

Pavati Patil

Alice Tolipan

 

She knew she had met Lavender and Parvati on the Hogwarts Express but wasn’t sure who the other two girls were. Hermione took a deep breath and opened the door. She was the first in the room to see the five four-poster beds hung with deep red velvet curtains. Their trunks had already been brought up. She awkwardly sat on her bed, facing the door, ready to meet the girls she would be living with for the whole school year. She didn’t want to start getting dressed for bed until everyone was there so that no one would open the door on her while she changed.

Lavender and Pavati were the first to come in. They exchanged pleasantries with Hermione and gushed over the luxurious velvet curtains for a few moments before Lavender pulled out a stuffed teddy bear and put it on her bed as well. She blushed. “I’m homesick already,” she said and Hermione had to agree. The adrenaline was wearing off, and she was missing home.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of, presumably, Fay and Alice. “Hi, I’m Fay,” said the girl with shoulder length brown hair and bright, blue eyes.

“And I’m Alice,”  said the other. She had her red hair pulled back into plaits, crystal blue eyes, and snowy white skin. “I guess we’re all roomies!”

All five of the girls were completely exhausted and, for that, Hermione was glad. She could feel her anxiety bubbling up and just wanted to get into bed before the word vomit happened again. As soon as her head hit the pillow, her wish was granted.

Chapter Text

There were a hundred and forty-two staircases at Hogwarts: wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday; some with a vanishing step halfway up that you had to remember to jump. Then there were doors that wouldn’t open unless you asked politely, or tickled them in exactly the right place, and doors that weren’t really doors at all, but solid walls just pretending. It was also very hard to remember where anything was, because it all seemed to move around a lot.

Thankfully, Hermione had a mind for those kinds of things and also scheduled time in between her classes to take a few walk-throughs of the building to create a map. Kind of. Because of the moving staircases, she couldn’t make a complete map but she had a good system. 

The only real thing that got in Hermione’s way were the Hogwarts Ghosts. It was always a nasty shock when one of them flew suddenly through a door you were trying to open. Nearly Headless Nick was always happy to point new Gryffindors in the right direction and had befriended Hermione straight away, but Peeves the Poltergeist was worth two locked doors and a trick staircase if you met him when you were late for class. Hermione was not a fan. She couldn’t believe how childish he could be in such a sophisticated place. Her favorite ghost by far was a very nice ghost named Myrtle Warren in the second floor girls' lavatory. She had been a Ravenclaw before she was tragically murdered (though Hermione didn’t pry into the details) and spent her afterlife there. Hermione heard some of the students refer to her as “Moaning Myrtle” but didn’t understand the nickname. Myrtle was quite nice to her, and she liked talking about all of the different things Hermione was learning in class. Myrtle also knew when to just let Hermione sit and be quiet too.

Hogwarts also had a caretaker named Argus Filch. He was a stickler for rules, which Hermione definitely appreciated, but he wasn’t the least bit nice about it. Filch owned a cat called Mrs. Norris, a scrawny, dust-colored creature with bulging, lamp like eyes just like Filch’s. She patrolled the corridors alone. Break a rule in front of her, put just one toe out of line, and she’d whisk off for Filch who’d appear, wheezing, two seconds later. Filch knew the secret passageways of the school better than anyone and could pop up as suddenly as any of the ghosts. The students all hated him, and it was the dearest ambition of many to give Mrs. Norris a good kick. Hermione had originally tried to befriend him in order to add the secret passageways to her “kind of” map, but Filch didn’t seem to understand that she was doing it for scientific reasons and, instead, grouped her in with all of the troublemakers. Hermione steered clear of Filch after that, both offended and intimidated.

Hermione found all of her classes and teachers simply extraordinary. She was completely in her element. There was not one moment she ever found herself bored. Every minute of the day was spent learning something new. Hermione’s sponge like mind was soaking everything up. There were even a few times where Hermione felt a little overwhelmed, but it was actually a good thing - keeping her mind busy with all of the new information helped to keep her anxiety at bay. She couldn’t think about being homesick or fitting in when there was so much to learn.

Luckily for Hermione, Hogwarts had an owlery where she could borrow the school owls to deliver letters home to her parents. The first day she had to use two owls to carry all of the pages of her letters. There was just so much to write about! The return letters were not as robust, but Hermione didn’t mind - her parents made it abundantly clear they were proud of her and that’s all that mattered.

Each morning, she’d wake up early for breakfast in the Great Hall. As one of the first students awake, Hermione was always able to snatch a current copy of the Daily Prophet , the wizarding newspaper, from the owls before all of the school copies were gone. She thought it only right to make sure she was up to date with all of the current events in the Wizarding World in case anything came up in her classes. Always prepared! 

Students had to study the night skies through their telescopes every Wednesday at midnight and learn the names of different stars and the movements of the planets. Hermione absolutely loved every minute of it. Three times a week, they went out to the greenhouses behind the castle to study Herbology with a dumpy little witch called Professor Sprout. They learned how to take care of all the strange plants and fungi, and found out what they were used for. Hermione never really had an affinity for plants, but the magical applications were fascinating. 

Easily the most interesting class was History of Magic which was the only one taught by a ghost - one of the only ones Hermione thought was dignified enough for such a prestigious school. Professor Binns had been very old indeed when he had fallen asleep in front of the staff room fire and got up the next morning to teach, leaving his body behind him. Binns, unlike most of Hermione’s Muggle teachers, didn’t care whether or not the class found him interesting or entertaining. He’d just go on and on about the important facts with no breaks for pleasantries. 

Professor Flitwick, the Charms teacher, was a tiny little wizard who had to stand on a pile of books to see over his desk. At the start of their first class, he took the roll call, and when he reached Harry’s name, he gave an excited squeak and toppled out of sight. Most of the class chuckled, but Hermione didn’t find it funny at all. Where History of Magic was full of solid facts, figures, dates, and events (Hermione’s favorite things to learn), she couldn’t help but absolutely love Charms. It was… magical in every sense of the world.

Hermione couldn’t wait, however, for her second class on Thursday morning: Transfiguration with Professor McGonagall. She was so excited, in fact, she almost didn’t read that morning’s Daily Prophet. Hermione gently chided herself for the almost overstep and sat down to read. 

 

GRINGOTTS BREAK-IN LATEST

Investigations continue into the break-in at Gringotts on 31 July, widely believed to be the work of Dark wizards or witches unknown.

Gringotts goblins today insisted that nothing had been taken. The vault that was searched had in fact been emptied the same day.

“But we’re not telling you what was in there, so keep your noses out if you know what’s good for you,” said a Gringotts spokesgoblin this afternoon.

 

How very odd. She remembered the incredible security at Gringotts Bank and was shocked someone would even attempt a break-in. Whatever they were looking for must be extremely important to attempt something so stupid. Hermione filed the article in her brain to analyze later. It was almost time for class!

She made sure to get to class early so she could get a first row seat. Professor McGonagall entered with a flourish. She demanded the students’ attention just by walking to her desk at the front of the classroom. 

“Transfiguration is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts,” she said. “Anyone messing around in my class will leave and not come back. You have been warned.” Hermione sat smugly in her chair and looked at all of her classmates, willing them to even try it.

Then Professor McGonagal changed her desk into a pig and back again, much to the class’s amazement. Some of her classmates thought that was what they’d learn in class that morning, which was just preposterous. Anyone with half a mind would realize that was pretty advanced magic. 

“Can you demonstrate the Switching Spell as well?” Hermione blurted out. She hadn’t realized she had spoken out of turn in her utter excitement until she saw Professor McGonagall’s head snap towards her. “Please,” she added.

“The Switching Spell is reserved for your O.W.L. year, Miss Granger.” The way Professor McGonagall said it, Hermione knew the subject was closed.

After taking a lot of complicated notes, they were each given a match and started trying to turn it into a needle. Hermione studied every single letter on the page for the spell and concentrated more than she ever had in her life. She tried and tried, but she only managed a very small transformation of the match, but that could have just been Hermione’s imagination. She was nearly in tears by the end of the lesson and couldn’t bare to look at Professor McGonagall when she came over to check on her progress. 

“Very nice, Miss Granger,” Professor McGonagall said, examining Hermione’s match. “Now, class, take a look at Miss Granger’s match. See how silver and pointy it is? It’s not quite yet a needle, but it’s extremely close. Ten points for Gryffindor.”

 Hermione didn’t even notice the scowls from her classmates. She was too fixated on the smile from Professor McGonagall. 

All of the first year students had been anticipating their Defence Against The Dark Arts class, especially because they would be taking it with none other than Harry Potter, but Quirrell’s lessons turned out to be a bit of a joke. His classroom smelled strongly of garlic, which everyone said was to ward off a vampire he’d met in Romania and was afraid would be coming back to get him one of these days. His turban, he told them, had been given to him by an African prince as a thank-you for getting rid of a troublesome zombie, but they weren’t sure they believed this story. For one thing, when Seamus Finnigan asked eagerly to hear how Quirrell had fought off the zombie, Quirrell went pink and started talking about the weather; for another, they had noticed that a funny smell hung around the turban, and the Weasley twins insisted that it was stuffed full of garlic as well, so that Quirrell was protected wherever he went.

Potions lessons took place down in one of the dungeons. It was colder there than up in the main castle, and would have been quite creepy enough without the pickled animals floating in glass jars all around the walls.

Snape, like Flitwick, started the class by taking the roll call, and like Flitwick, he paused at Harry’s name.

“Ah, yes,” he said softly, “Harry Potter. Our new — celebrity.”

Draco Malfoy, the blond boy Hermione had seen on the Hogwarts Express, and his friends Crabbe and Goyle sniggered behind their hands. Snape finished calling the names and looked up at the class. 

“You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making,” he began. He spoke in barely more than a whisper, but they caught every word. “As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses... I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death — if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.”

Hermione  was on the edge of her seat. She wanted to be ready for anything. She didn’t want Professor Snape to think she was a dunderhead.

“Potter!” said Snape suddenly. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?” She knew that one! It was her chance! Hermione’s hand had shot into the air.

“I don’t know, sir,” said Harry.

Snape’s lips curled into a sneer.

“Tut, tut — fame clearly isn’t everything.”

He ignored Hermione’s hand. Hermione was slightly confused. Maybe he hadn’t seen her? 

“Let’s try again. Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?”

Hermione stretched her hand as high into the air as it would go without her leaving her seat. Professor Snape would see her this time. She was sure of it.

“Thought you wouldn’t open a book before coming, eh, Potter?”

Snape was still ignoring Hermione’s quivering hand. She couldn’t believe it. Why wouldn’t he call on her?

“What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?”

At this, Hermione stood up, her hand stretching toward the dungeon ceiling.

“I don’t know,” said Harry quietly. “I think Hermione does, though, why don’t you try her?”

Hermione’s hand dipped down a little bit at the shock of Harry Potter actually standing up for her. She didn’t let the shock linger and put her hand back up as far as it could go. A few people laughed at Harry’s quip. Snape, however, was not pleased.

“Sit down,” he snapped at Hermione. Hermione’s whole body felt like it was on fire. Her mind started reeling, and she felt that familiar bubble of anxiety growing. She forced herself to take a deep breath and assess the situation. There had to be a very clear and rational explanation for Professor Snape to be acting as he was. She looked at him closely. His cold, dark eyes were fixed upon Harry Potter. Finally, it clicked. It wasn’t her. Snape was just doing this because he had some sort of problem with Harry. She’d have to investigate further after class.

“For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite. Well? Why aren’t you all copying that down?”

There was a sudden rummaging for quills and parchment. Over the noise, Snape said, “And a point will be taken from Gryffindor House for your cheek, Potter.”

Hermione scrambled for her quill and ink so fast she nearly knocked it over everywhere. Bezoar - stomach of a goat - save from poisons. Monkshood and Wolfsbane - same plant - aconite. Got it. And the point from Gryffindor House? Definitely a personal issue with Harry. Hermione was still rattled but felt slightly better about herself.

Things didn’t improve for the Gryffindors as the Potions lesson continued. Snape put them all into pairs and set them to mixing up a simple potion to cure boils. He swept around in his long black cloak, watching them weigh dried nettles and crush snake fangs, criticizing almost everyone except Malfoy, whom he seemed to like. Hermione was flabbergasted. Her potion was loads better than Draco’s. 

Professor Snape was just telling everyone to look at the perfect way Malfoy had stewed his horned slugs when clouds of acid green smoke and a loud hissing filled the dungeon. Neville had somehow managed to melt Seamus’s cauldron into a twisted blob, and their potion was seeping across the stone floor, burning holes in people’s shoes. Within seconds, the whole class was standing on their stools while Neville, who had been drenched in the potion when the cauldron collapsed, moaned in pain as angry red boils sprang up all over his arms and legs.

“Idiot boy!” snarled Snape, clearing the spilled potion away with one wave of his wand. “I suppose you added the porcupine quills before taking the cauldron off the fire?”

Neville whimpered as boils started to pop up all over his nose. Hermione started to run over to Neville, but Snape’s glare stopped her in her tracks. He, instead, turned to Seamus. 

“Take him up to the hospital wing,” Snape spat at Seamus. Then he rounded on Harry and Ron, who had been working next to Neville.

“You — Potter — why didn’t you tell him not to add the quills? Thought he’d make you look good if he got it wrong, did you? That’s another point you’ve lost for Gryffindor.”

Hermione could almost feel the anger radiating off Harry. She kind of felt bad for him. Professor Snape definitely had it out for the boy who lived.

Chapter Text

Hermione wasn’t much of a fan of living with four other girls. They were all nice enough, but they were not very serious about their studies. Sure, the quest for the House Cup and the upcoming Quidditch (a popular Wizarding game played on broomsticks with the fandom similar to Muggle football) matches were very exciting but not as exciting as The Gargoyle Strike of 1911. Hermione found it quite impossible to study in her room and had to, instead, set up shop in the Gryffindor Common Room. 

The following Tuesday, as Hermione was re-reading her books for her first class, she saw a notice pinned on the bulletin board: 

 

Attention Students:

Flying lessons for the first year students will commence on the main grounds Thursday afternoon at 3:30 with the Slytherin first year students. Attendance is mandatory.

 

Hermione’s heart sank. She had absolutely no desire to learn how to fly. Flying was definitely something you couldn’t learn out of a book, so Hermione was at a total loss. She could feel her anxiety growing exponentially over the next two days. On Wednesday, her birthday came and went, full of anxiety. Parvati had noticed the birthday card Hermione got in the owl post and wished her a happy birthday, but all Hermione could think about was having to fly the next day.

Thursday morning, Hermione woke up and went down to breakfast. Neville, Harry, Ron, Seamus, and a few other Gryffindors were there, going on and on about flying and Quidditch. The way Seamus Finnigan told it, he’d spent most of his childhood zooming around the countryside on his broomstick. Even Ron would tell anyone who’d listen about the time he’d almost hit a hang glider on Charlie’s old broom. Neville, on the other hand, had never been on a broomstick in his life because his grandmother had never let him near one (which was probably a good idea, to be honest). 

Not to be outdone (and because the anxiety made her), Hermione tried to join the conversation. She rattled off anything she could think of from what she read in Quidditch Through The Ages she had taken out of the library the minute she saw the notice. Neville was hanging on to her every word, desperate for anything that might help him hang on to his broomstick later.

She was interrupted, however, by the morning owl post. A barn owl brought Neville a small package from his grandmother. He opened it excitedly and showed them a glass ball the size of a large marble, which seemed to be full of white smoke.

“It’s a Remembrall!” he explained. “Gran knows I forget things — this tells you if there’s something you’ve forgotten to do. Look, you hold it tight like this and if it turns red — oh…” His face fell, because the Remembrall had suddenly glowed scarlet, “… you’ve forgotten something...”

Neville was trying to remember what he’d forgotten when Draco Malfoy, who was passing the Gryffindor table, snatched the Remembrall out of his hand.

Harry and Ron jumped to their feet, beating Hermione to it. They were half hoping for a reason to fight Malfoy, but Professor McGonagall, who could spot trouble quicker than any teacher in the school, was there in a flash. Hermione stayed seated.

“What’s going on?”

“Malfoy’s got my Remembrall, Professor.”

Scowling, Malfoy quickly dropped the Remembrall back on the table.

“Just looking,” he said, and he sloped away with Crabbe and Goyle behind him.

-----

At 3:30 in the afternoon, Hermione followed her fellow Gryffindors down the front steps onto the grounds. It was a clear, breezy day. The grass rippled under their feet as they marched down the sloping lawns toward a smooth, flat lawn. They were on the opposite side of the grounds to the forbidden forest, whose trees were swaying darkly in the distance.

The Slytherins were already there, and so were twenty broomsticks lying in neat lines on the ground. Hermione eyed them with utter terror. Their teacher, Madam Hooch, arrived. She had short, gray hair and yellow eyes like a hawk.

“Well, what are you all waiting for?” she barked. “Everyone stand by a broomstick. Come on, hurry up. Stick out your right hand over your broom and say ‘Up!’”

“UP!” everyone shouted.

Harry’s broom jumped into his hand at once, but it was one of the few that did. Hermione’s had simply twitched on the ground, and Neville’s hadn’t moved at all. After a few more times, Hermione’s broom finally (and very slowly) rose in the air.

Madam Hooch then showed them how to mount their brooms without sliding off the end, and walked up and down the rows correcting their grips. 

“Now, when I blow my whistle, you kick off from the ground, hard,” said Madam Hooch. “Keep your brooms steady, rise a few feet, and then come straight back down by leaning forward slightly. On my whistle — three — two —”

But Neville, nervous and jumpy and frightened of being left on the ground, pushed off hard before the whistle had touched Madam Hooch’s lips. Hermione groaned.

“Come back, boy!” Madam Hooch shouted, but Neville was rising straight up like a cork shot out of a bottle — twelve feet — twenty feet. Hermione saw his scared white face look down at the ground falling away, saw him gasp, slip sideways off the broom and —

WHAM — a thud and a nasty crack and Neville lay face down on the grass in a heap. His broomstick was still rising higher and higher, and started to drift lazily toward the forbidden forest and out of sight.

Madam Hooch was bending over Neville, her face as white as his.

“Broken wrist,” she muttered. “Come on, boy — it’s all right, up you get.”

She turned to the rest of the class.

“None of you is to move while I take this boy to the hospital wing! You leave those where they are or you’ll be out of Hogwarts before you can say ‘Quidditch.’ Come on, dear.”

Neville, his face tear-streaked, clutching his wrist, hobbled off with Madam Hooch, who had her arm around him. Hermione longed to go with them but she couldn’t disobey Madam Hooch.

No sooner were they out of earshot than Draco Malfoy burst into laughter.

“Did you see his face, the great lump?”

The other Slytherins joined in. “Shut up, Malfoy,” snapped Parvati Patil. In that moment, Hermione forgave Parvati for all of her distractions in the dorm room.

“Ooh, sticking up for Longbottom?” said Pansy Parkinson, a hard-faced Slytherin girl. “Never thought you’d like fat little crybabies, Parvati.”

“Look!” said Malfoy, darting forward and snatching something out of the grass. “It’s that stupid thing Longbottom’s gran sent him.”

The Remembrall glittered in the sun as he held it up.

“Give that here, Malfoy,” said Harry quietly. Everyone stopped talking to watch.

Malfoy smiled nastily.

“I think I’ll leave it somewhere for Longbottom to find — how about — up a tree?”

“Give it here!” Harry yelled, but Malfoy had leapt onto his broomstick and taken off. He hadn’t been lying, he could fly well. Hovering level with the topmost branches of an oak he called, “Come and get it, Potter!”

Harry grabbed his broom. Hermione gasped. She had to stop him. It was part of the new plan. He couldn’t get expelled this early in the school year. It would ruin everything.

“No!” shouted Hermione. “Madam Hooch told us not to move — you’ll get us all into trouble.”

Harry ignored her. He mounted the broom and kicked hard against the ground and up, up he soared; air rushed through his hair, and his robes whipped out behind him. He pulled his broomstick up a little to take it even higher, and heard screams and gasps of girls back on the ground and an admiring whoop from Ron.

He turned his broomstick sharply to face Malfoy in midair. Malfoy looked stunned.

“Give it here,” Harry called, “or I’ll knock you off that broom!”

“Oh, yeah?” said Malfoy, trying to sneer, but looking worried.

He leaned forward and grasped the broom tightly in both hands, and it shot toward Malfoy like a javelin. Malfoy only just got out of the way in time; Harry made a sharp about-face and held the broom steady. A few people below were clapping.

“No Crabbe and Goyle up here to save your neck, Malfoy,” Harry called.

The same thought seemed to have struck Malfoy.

“Catch it if you can, then!” he shouted, and he threw the glass ball high into the air and streaked back toward the ground.

Hermione watched, as though in slow motion, the ball rise up in the air and then start to fall. Harry leaned forward and pointed his broom handle down — next second he was gathering speed in a steep dive, racing the ball — he stretched out his hand — a foot from the ground he caught it, just in time to pull his broom straight, and he toppled gently onto the grass with the Remembrall clutched safely in his fist.

“HARRY POTTER!”

Hermione would know that voice anywhere. Professor McGonagall was running toward them. Hermione was overcome with dread.

“Never — in all my time at Hogwarts —”

Professor McGonagall was almost speechless with shock, and her glasses flashed furiously.“ — how dare you — might have broken your neck —”

“It wasn’t his fault, Professor —”

“Be quiet, Miss Patil —”

“But Malfoy —”

“That’s enough, Mr. Weasley. Potter, follow me, now.”

Professor McGonagall and Harry walked back to the castle, leaving the rest of the students standing on the grounds, speechless. Hermione caught a glance at Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle’s triumphant faces, and she could barely contain her anger. They had completely ruined everything, all of her plans… and they had hurt her first wizard friend, Neville. Without even knowing she was doing it, Hermione marched up to them.

“Who do you think you are?!” she screeched. She sounded almost as intimidating as Professor McGonagall. “You had no right, absolutely no right to steal from a student, nor to get up on a broom when you were specifically told not to!”

“Is she talking to me?” Draco asked with a laugh. “Is this bushy-haired know-it-all actually talking to me?”

“You’d better believe she’s talking to you,” shouted Ron who had somehow moved so he was next to Hermione without her realizing it. “You no good git. You don’t even know how to mount a broom properly. What, didn’t daddy buy you flying lessons?”

Draco’s smug smirk immediately disappeared, and he took a step toward Ron as if to start a fight. Parvati rushed to their side, followed by Seamus, Dean, and the other Gryffindors. 

“At least my father could afford them if he wanted to,” Draco said, sticking out his chin. “Or even a broom, for that matter. Could your family even afford one of these Clean Sweeps?” He indicated the school brooms still lying on the ground. “I doubt it. Maybe a few of the bristles, but they wouldn’t be able to eat for a week.”

“It doesn’t matter what they can afford,” said Hermione. “They don’t have to buy their way through life. They earn it.”

Malfoy’s pale face grew scarlet with a mixture of anger and embarrassment. He drew back his hand as if to hit Hermione, but Ron stepped into his way. As Draco started to throw his hand forward, he was stopped by a shrill whistle.

“What is going on here?” Madam Hooch screamed from the front steps. “Five points from Slytherin.” Draco’s hand dropped. “Now, everyone back to your common rooms immediately!”

Hermione tried to catch Ron’s eye as they all shuffled back into the castle, but he avoided looking at anyone. Maybe he wasn’t as bad as Hermione thought.

-----

Later that evening, Hermione found a place at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall and started rewriting her notes from the day. She had developed a sort of shorthand to take notes during class so she could keep up with the professors’ lessons and then expanded upon them later. It really helped to not only understand but retain all of the information. 

A few seats down, Hermione heard Harry and Ron talking about this afternoon’s “incident.” Her ears perked up. 

“You’re joking. Seeker?” Ron said. “But first years never — you must be the youngest House player in about —”

“— a century,” said Harry, shoveling pie into his mouth. “Wood told me. I start training next week,” said Harry. “Only don’t tell anyone, Wood wants to keep it a secret.”

Fred and George Weasley (she finally learned their names but still couldn’t tell them apart) now came into the hall, spotted Harry, and hurried over.

“Well done,” said George in a low voice. “Wood told us. We’re on the team, too — Beaters.”

“I tell you, we’re going to win that Quidditch Cup for sure this year,” said Fred. Hermione rolled her eyes. Boys and their sports. “We haven’t won since Charlie left, but this year’s team is going to be brilliant. You must be good, Harry. Wood was almost skipping when he told us.”

“Anyway, we’ve got to go. Lee Jordan reckons he’s found a new secret passageway out of the school.”

“Bet it’s that one behind the statue of Gregory the Smarmy that we found in our first week. See you.”

Fred and George had hardly disappeared when someone far less welcome turned up: Malfoy, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle. Hermione froze.

“Having a last meal, Potter? When are you getting the train back to the Muggles?”

“You’re a lot braver now that you’re back on the ground and you’ve got your little friends with you,” said Harry coolly. 

“I’d take you on anytime on my own,” said Malfoy. “Tonight, if you want. Wizard’s duel. Wands only — no contact. What’s the matter? Never heard of a wizard’s duel before, I suppose?”

“Of course he has,” said Ron, wheeling around. “I’m his second, who’s yours?”

Malfoy looked at Crabbe and Goyle, sizing them up.

“Crabbe,” he said. “Midnight all right? We’ll meet you in the trophy room; that’s always unlocked.”

When Malfoy had gone, Ron and Harry looked at each other. Hermione strained to hear them.

“What is a wizard’s duel?” said Harry. “And what do you mean, you’re my second?”

“Well, a second’s there to take over if you die,” said Ron casually, getting started at last on his cold pie. “But people only die in proper duels, you know, with real wizards. The most you and Malfoy’ll be able to do is send sparks at each other. Neither of you knows enough magic to do any real damage. I bet he expected you to refuse, anyway.”

“And what if I wave my wand and nothing happens?”

“Throw it away and punch him on the nose,” Ron suggested. Hermione couldn’t remain silent anymore. If she was going to take Harry “under her wing,” she couldn’t allow this to happen. Maybe since she and Ron ganged up on Draco together, he’d take her side.

“Excuse me.”

They both looked down the table at her.

“Can’t a person eat in peace in this place?” said Ron.

Hermione ignored him and spoke to Harry.

“I couldn’t help overhearing what you and Malfoy were saying —”

“Bet you could,” Ron muttered.

“— and you mustn’t go wandering around the school at night, think of the points you’ll lose Gryffindor if you’re caught, and you’re bound to be. It’s really very selfish of you.”

“And it’s really none of your business,” said Harry.

“Good-bye,” said Ron.”

Harry and Ron got up and walked away. Hermione fought back tears.

-----

Hermione spent the rest of the evening figuring out a new plan. She would not be discouraged from Harry and Ron’s dismissal -- she had to make sure they did the right thing. At first, she thought about telling Percy, but finally concluded she’d have to do it herself. If Harry Potter was expelled, everything was ruined. Sure, she had made some friends, especially Neville, but Hermione still felt isolated among her fellow students. Being friends with Harry Potter would definitely change that.

She threw on a robe and crept out of her dorm around eleven o’clock and sat down in the dark Gryffindor Common Room. Part of her was annoyed because she was wasting precious studying time, but she concluded her plan was slightly more important. At about half past eleven, she heard a pattering of feet walking past her. She switched on the lamp to her right. Harry and Ron froze in their tracks.

“You!” said Ron furiously. “Go back to bed!”

“I almost told your brother,” Hermione snapped. “Percy — he’s a prefect, he’d put a stop to this.”

“Come on,” Harry said to Ron. He pushed open the portrait of the Fat Lady and climbed through the hole.

Hermione wasn’t going to give up that easily. She followed Ron through the portrait hole, hissing at the boys like an angry goose. She tried to change tactics since all they seemed to care about was the stupid house cup.

“Don’t you care about Gryffindor -- do you only care about yourselves? I don’t want Slytherin to win the House Cup, and you’ll lose all the points I got from Professor McGonagall for knowing about Switching Spells.”

“Go away,” Ron whispered. Hermione flinched. She didn’t understand why they were being so mean to her. Didn’t they realize she was trying to help them not get expelled? She sighed. Maybe it wasn’t worth it. 

“All right, but I warned you. You just remember what I said when you’re on the train home tomorrow, you’re so —”

Hermione turned to the portrait of the Fat Lady to get back inside and found herself facing an empty painting. The Fat Lady had gone on a nighttime visit, and Hermione was locked out of Gryffindor Tower.

“Now what am I going to do?” she asked shrilly. Her heart was hammering inside her chest. Not only was her plan failing yet again but now she was out in the corridors after hours and could get expelled herself. 

“That’s your problem,” said Ron. “We’ve got to go, we’re going to be late.”

Hermione watched them walk down the hall. Her whole body was vibrating with anxiety. She didn’t know what to do. If she was caught, she’d surely be expelled. Her mind whizzed with potential scenarios. The only conceivable solution… the only way she wouldn’t be expelled… would be to have Harry and Ron expelled instead. Sure, she’d get a lot of backlash from causing the boy who lived to be expelled, but none of it would matter if she, herself, was expelled. She made up her mind quickly and ran after the boys. 

“I’m coming with you,” she said.

“You are not.”

“D’you think I’m going to stand out here and wait for Filch to catch me? If he finds all three of us, I’ll tell him the truth, that I was trying to stop you, and you can back me up.”

“You’ve got some nerve —” said Ron loudly.

“Shut up, both of you!” said Harry sharply. “I heard something.”

It was a sort of snuffling.

“Mrs. Norris?” breathed Ron, squinting through the dark.

It wasn’t Mrs. Norris. It was Neville. He was curled up on the floor, fast asleep, but jerked suddenly awake as they crept nearer.

“Thank goodness you found me! I’ve been out here for hours. I couldn’t remember the new password to get in to bed.”

“Keep your voice down, Neville. The password’s ‘Pig snout,’ but it won’t help you now, the Fat Lady’s gone off somewhere.”

“How’s your arm?” said Harry.

“Fine,” said Neville, showing them. “Madam Pomfrey mended it in about a minute.”

“Good — well, look, Neville, we’ve got to be somewhere, we’ll see you later —”

“Don’t leave me!” said Neville, scrambling to his feet. “I don’t want to stay here alone; the Bloody Baron’s been past twice already.”

Ron looked at his watch and then glared furiously at Hermione and Neville.

“If either of you get us caught, I’ll never rest until I’ve learned that Curse of the Bogies Quirrell told us about and used it on you.”

Hermione opened her mouth to tell Ron exactly how to use the Curse of the Bogies, but Harry hissed at her to be quiet.

They flitted along corridors striped with bars of moonlight from the high windows. At every turn, Hermione expected to run into Filch or Mrs. Norris, but they were lucky. They sped up a staircase to the third floor and tiptoed toward the trophy room.

Malfoy and Crabbe weren’t there yet. The crystal trophy cases glimmered where the moonlight caught them. Cups, shields, plates, and statues winked silver and gold in the darkness. They edged along the walls, keeping their eyes on the doors at either end of the room. Harry took out his wand in case Malfoy leapt in and started at once. The minutes crept by.

“He’s late, maybe he’s chickened out,” Ron whispered.

Then a noise in the next room made them jump. 

“Sniff around, my sweet, they might be lurking in a corner.”

It was Filch speaking to Mrs. Norris. Hermione froze. This was it. She had no idea what to do. Harry waved madly at the other three to follow him as quickly as possible; they scurried silently toward the door, away from Filch’s voice. Neville’s robes had barely whipped round the corner when they heard Filch enter the trophy room.

“They’re in here somewhere,” they heard him mutter, “probably hiding.”

“This way!” Harry mouthed to the others and, petrified, they began to creep down a long gallery full of suits of armor. They could hear Filch getting nearer. Neville suddenly let out a frightened squeak and broke into a run — he tripped, grabbed Ron around the waist, and the pair of them toppled right into a suit of armor.

The clanging and crashing were enough to wake the whole castle.

“RUN!” Harry yelled, and the four of them sprinted down the gallery, not looking back to see whether Filch was following — they swung around the doorpost and galloped down one corridor then another. Harry was in the lead, without any idea where they were or where they were going. They ripped through a tapestry and found themselves in a hidden passageway, hurtled along it and came out near their Charms classroom, which Hermione knew was miles from the trophy room.

“I think we’ve lost him,” Harry panted, leaning against the cold wall and wiping his forehead. Neville was bent double, wheezing and spluttering. As soon as Hermione caught her breath, she exploded.

“I — told — you,” Hermione gasped, clutching at the stitch in her chest, “I — told — you.”

“We’ve got to get back to Gryffindor Tower,” said Ron, “quickly as possible.”

“Malfoy tricked you,” Hermione said to Harry. She had to make him understand how incredibly stupid and naive he was. “You realize that, don’t you? He was never going to meet you — Filch knew someone was going to be in the trophy room. Malfoy must have tipped him off.”.

“Let’s go,” Harry said without acknowledging anything of what Hermione had said.

It wasn’t going to be that simple. They hadn’t gone more than a dozen paces when a doorknob rattled and something came shooting out of a classroom in front of them.

It was Peeves. He caught sight of them and gave a squeal of delight.

“Shut up, Peeves — please — you’ll get us thrown out.” Hermione was at least slightly glad Harry was finally realizing the gravity of the situation.

Peeves cackled.

“Wandering around at midnight, Ickle Firsties? Tut, tut, tut. Naughty, naughty, you’ll get caughty.”

“Not if you don’t give us away, Peeves, please,” Harry pleaded.

“Should tell Filch, I should,” said Peeves in a sickeningly sweet voice, but his eyes glittered wickedly. “It’s for your own good, you know.”

“Get out of the way,” snapped Ron, taking a swipe at Peeves — this was a big mistake.

“STUDENTS OUT OF BED!” Peeves bellowed. “STUDENTS OUT OF BED DOWN THE CHARMS CORRIDOR!”

Ducking under Peeves, they ran for their lives, right to the end of the corridor where they slammed into a door — and it was locked.

“This is it!” Ron moaned, as they pushed helplessly at the door, “We’re done for! This is the end!”

They could hear footsteps, Filch running as fast as he could toward Peeves’ shouts.

“Oh, move over,” Hermione snarled. She was not going to let them get caught if she could help it. She grabbed Harry’s wand, tapped the lock, and whispered, “Alohomora!” She had been working on the unlocking spell for the last few weeks.

The lock clicked and the door swung open — they piled through it, shut it quickly, and pressed their ears against it, listening.

“Which way did they go, Peeves?” Filch was saying. “Quick, tell me.”

“Say ‘please.’ ”

“Don’t mess with me, Peeves, now where did they go?”

“Shan’t say nothing if you don’t say please,” said Peeves in his annoying singsong voice.

“All right — please.”

“NOTHING! Ha haaa! Told you I wouldn’t say nothing if you didn’t say please! Ha ha! Haaaaaa!” And they heard the sound of Peeves whooshing away and Filch cursing in rage.

“He thinks this door is locked,” Harry whispered. “I think we’ll be okay — get off, Neville!” For Neville had been tugging on the sleeve of Harry’s bathrobe for the last minute. “What?”

Harry turned around and Hermione followed his gaze. They saw, quite clearly, what. Hermione suppressed a scream.

They were in a corridor. The forbidden corridor on the third floor. And now they knew why it was forbidden.

They were looking straight into the eyes of a monstrous dog; a dog that filled the whole space between ceiling and floor. It had three heads. Three pairs of rolling, mad eyes; three noses, twitching and quivering in their direction; three drooling mouths, saliva hanging in slippery ropes from yellowish fangs. 

It was standing quite still, all six eyes staring at them, and Hermione knew that the only reason they weren’t already dead was that their sudden appearance had taken it by surprise, but it was quickly getting over that. There was no mistaking what those thunderous growls meant. Her eyes frantically searched the corridor, looking for something, anything, that could help them. After a split second, Hermione realized there were only three ways out - through the dog, through the trap door underneath the dog, or the door leading back to Filch.

Harry groped for the doorknob — between Filch and death, he’d take Filch. Hermione quite agreed.

They fell backward — Harry slammed the door shut, and they ran, they almost flew, back down the corridor. Filch must have hurried off to look for them somewhere else, because they didn’t see him anywhere, but they hardly cared — all they wanted to do was put as much space as possible between them and that monster. They didn’t stop running until they reached the portrait of the Fat Lady on the seventh floor.

“Where on earth have you all been?” she asked, looking at their bathrobes hanging off their shoulders and their flushed, sweaty faces.

“Never mind that — pig snout, pig snout,” panted Harry, and the portrait swung forward. They scrambled into the common room and collapsed, trembling, into armchairs.

It was a while before any of them said anything. Neville, indeed, looked as if he’d never speak again. Hermione had never felt so… invigorated. Running from certain death (or certain expulsion) was absolutely terrifying… but also exciting. Her adrenaline was pumping for the first time in her life… and she actually liked it. Her mind was still reeling, however. Now that the danger was at bay, the trap door burst into her thoughts. What was it? Why was the three headed dog guarding it? Whatever it was guarding must be extremely important… and then it hit her. Hermione opened her mouth to tell them her theory but was cut off by Ron.

“What do they think they’re doing, keeping a thing like that locked up in a school?” said Ron finally. “If any dog needs exercise, that one does.”

The absurdity of that statement nearly made Hermione forget what she was about to say. She blinked a few times to regain her thoughts.

“You don’t use your eyes, any of you, do you?” she snapped. “Didn’t you see what it was standing on?”

“The floor?” Harry suggested. “I wasn’t looking at its feet, I was too busy with its heads.”

“No, not the floor. It was standing on a trapdoor. It’s obviously guarding something.”

She stood up, glaring at them. They weren’t worthy of her theory about what the dog was guarding. Even if they were, she highly doubted they even knew what the Daily Prophet was, let alone read the article about the Gringott Bank break in. She was done trying to save Harry Potter from his own stupidity. She was better without them.

“I hope you’re pleased with yourselves. We could all have been killed — or worse, expelled. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.”

Chapter Text

For the next few days after their great adventure, Harry and Ron kept trying to talk with Hermione about the trap door and what could be lying underneath it, but she was having absolutely none of it. After she stormed away that night, Hermione lay in bed into the wee hours of the morning positively fuming. 

Harry and Ron may be well liked in Hogwarts but wagering her whole wizarding education on such complete screwups was totally not worth it. Hermione would rather stay in the Wizarding World with no friends than not be in it at all. The magic, the classes, the atmosphere was worth a life of lonely isolation.

She would prove herself to be the smartest in her year no matter what. She’d try to develop more of a friendship with Neville, but if that didn’t work out, it’d be ok. She’d work her way up to become a Prefect and then Head Girl, even if it meant she had no one to talk to but her parents in her letters. 

Once she mastered her O.W.L.s in her fifth year and N.E.W.T.s (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests) in her seventh year, Hermione could pursue a career in academia. She would be absolutely honored to work alongside Professor McGonagall and mold the youngest of the wizarding world here at Hogwarts. 

“Besides,” Hermione thought to herself, “Even if I wanted to be friends with Harry and Ron, all they’d want to do is copy my work which will never, ever, happen.”

Hermione continued with her daily schedule alone, desperately trying to ignore Harry and Ron. A small part of her, however, longed for that adrenaline rush, and she caught herself staring at the friends from afar. She was very quick to shake herself out of it, however.

She tried to make a concerted effort to hang out with her roommates more often, seeing if she could recreate that comradery she felt when they were running from Filch and the three-headed dog, but her encounters always left her slightly annoyed.

“I snuck onto the Quidditch pitch yesterday afternoon,” Fay said, completely out of the blue.

“Oh yeah?” said Lavender who wasn’t really paying attention - she was writing in her journal. Hermione had “accidentally” read a few pages in Lavender’s journal the day before and was horrified at her grammar. Didn’t wizards have to go to primary school?

“The Ravenclaws were practicing. They are just so dreamy,” Fay sighed.

“They’re also all very smart which will serve them well,” Hermione said. “You know, since most of them will never be good enough to join a national Quidditch team.”

“Or they could model,” Fay giggled. “I’d put up a poster of Roger Davies any day. I don’t care what anyone said.”

“Which one is Roger?” asked Hermione, resigned. She couldn’t think of anything else to ask that she was certain Fay would actually understand. 

“He’s the chaser with the gorgeous dark hair and the sparkling eyes.”

“Which one is the chaser again?” said Alice. Hermione did think Alice was pretty dumb but she was slightly better than Fay because she, like Hermione, could care less for Quidditch. 

“The Chasers throw the Quaffle to each other and try and get it through one of the hoops to score a goal.”

“Oh. Ok,” Alice said. “And what’s a Quaffle?”

“Blimey, I have no idea how you don’t care to know about this,” Fay said, glancing around the room to see if any of the other girls would back her up. Hermione certainly didn’t, and Lavender was too busy writing incoherent sentences with random little hearts to even notice Fay asked the question. Parvati just kind of shrugged and flashed Hermione a grin when Fay wasn’t paying attention.

Parvati was the one roommate Hermione could stand. She was still slightly intimidated by the beautiful, long haired twin (her sister, Padma, was sorted into Ravenclaw). Parvati seemed to have a natural gift for befriending people.

“Wait, isn’t your sister in Ravenclaw?” Fay said. “Do you think she could introduce me to Roger?”

“I can ask her,” said Parvati and rolled her eyes at Hermione. Hermione stifled a laugh. “Come on, let’s go grab some breakfast,” she said to Hermione.

As they walked through the Gryffindor Common Room and out the portrait, Parvati finally let her laughter out. “She is absolutely ridiculous,” she laughed. “‘Can your sister introduce me to Roger?’ Oh, get off it. Even if they were introduced, Roger would forget her as soon as he took one step away. There’s no way a third year would even think to talk to a first year.”

“You’d think she’d be smart enough to figure that out on her own,” said Hermione.

“Oh no, we’re in a room full of some of the dumbest witches in England,” she said. “You’re a Muggle, and you know five times as much as they do put together.”

Hermione blushed. “Thank you,” she said.

“You got it. I’m kind of jealous, you know? My sister is the smart one, not me. That’s why she got sorted into Ravenclaw.” Parvati stopped in the middle of the corridor. “Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” said Hermione, slightly flustered.

“Do you think you could help me a bit? With classes and stuff, that is. You’re just so smart and, plus, that’d mean I wouldn’t have to sit there and listen to Fay drivel on about Quidditch or Roger Davies - I could just study with you in the Common Room.”

Hermione was taken aback… and honored. “Of course! I’d love to help you!”

“Great. Great. That’s just great. Thank you!” Parvati gave Hermione a quick hug which completely threw her for a loop. Parvati seemed to notice the awkwardness. “And maybe, I don’t know… Ok, don’t take this the wrong way, ok?” Hermione nodded, not really sure if that was what she was supposed to do. Apparently, it was the right answer. “Ok, maybe I can help you a bit in return, you know? I could kind of help you… be a bit more… friendly. Not saying that you’re not! Friendly, I mean! But because you’re so incredibly smart , you’re kind of intimidating, you know what I mean?”

Hermione did not, in fact, know what Parvati meant, but she knew enough to agree to the terms. “Sure, sure, that would be really nice.”

“Great!” smiled Parvati. “Because I think you’re a really nice girl and more people should want to be your friend.”

Hermione finally understood… and a nagging voice slipped into her head. She recognized it at once - the Sorting Hat! The Sorting Hat had said she needed to learn something not in books. Maybe this was it! 

“Thank you,” Hermione said with a surge of hope. Maybe she wouldn’t be lonely for the rest of her magical life after all.

-----

Hermione and Parvati sat together in the Great Hall for breakfast every day that week. Even though she still sort of wanted to read the Daily Prophet as part of her morning routine, Hermione was happy for the friendship. She could even feel herself loosening up around Parvati and becoming better at bringing up subjects other than what they were learning about in class. 

While Parvati wasn’t completely obsessed about Quidditch like their roommate, she was still extremely competitive with the House Cup competition. She desperately wanted to win against her sister in the Ravenclaw house. Hermione, by association, started really paying attention to the giant glass hourglasses in the Front Hall and which house was in the lead. If it were up to Hermione, the only points that mattered were the ones given (and taken away) in academic settings. 

Parvati was having a lot of trouble with their most recent lesson in Herbology - Devil’s Snare. Devil’s Snare is composed of a mass of soft, springy tendrils and vines, and resembles the Flitterbloom (a harmless plant witches and wizards commonly had as a house plant). This plant uses its creepers and tendrils to ensnare anyone who touches it, binding their arms and legs and eventually choking them. The harder a person struggles against Devil’s Snare, the faster and more tightly it binds them. If the victim is able to maintain their presence of mind and relaxes, the Snare will relax its grip on them. Struggling or resistance to Devil’s Snare will cause the plant to exert a greater force of constriction. Devil’s Snare prefers a dark, damp environment. It will stop its movement in the environment in front of bright light and will recoil away from the heat of fire.

“So, what would be a simple spell you could use to ward off the Devil’s Snare tendrils?” Hermione asked.

“I have no idea,” Parvati sighed.

“It’s really quite simple. Devil’s Snare will stop moving if exposed to a bright light or heat.”

“So, Lumos?”

“No,” Hermione said curtly. “Don’t be daft. Lumos is definitely not strong enough.”

“Hermione,” Parvati said, looking at her. “Remember when I said I’d help you with your social skills?”

“Yes, but what does that have to do with--”

“This is one of those times. Calling a friend daft isn’t very nice.”

Hermione paused. She hadn’t even known she had said it. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s ok. I know you didn’t mean it. Just be careful, ok? Just because you’re brilliant doesn’t mean anyone who isn’t as smart as you is stupid or daft. I don’t think anyone could be as smart as you.”

“That’s certainly not true,” Hermione said.

“It kind of is. You’re really smart. Abnormally smart. But, when it comes to talking to people, I could call you daft, too, ‘cause you are,” Parvati laughed to try to lessen the blow. “Listen, you just have to remember that some people are book smart, like you, and some people are ‘people smart,’ like me. One is not better than the other. Just different.”

It made sense. Hermione blushed. “I’m really sorry, Parvati.”

“No worries! That’s what I’m here for,” Parvati paused to think. “So here’s what you do if you’re trying to explain something to someone who isn’t as book smart as you - it’s kind of like a challenge. Instead of calling them stupid and dismissing them, see if you can come up with another way to teach them that they’d understand. You know, like a puzzle. So try it now with me.”

Hermione thought for a bit. How could she make Parvati understand how to stop Devil’s Snare? “Ok,” Hermione started. “So it says here that Devil’s Snare loves dark, cool places. What are the opposites of dark and cool?”

Parvati thought for a moment. “Light and hot.”

“Exactly! So ‘Lumos’ is light but it’s not necessarily hot, right?”

“Right.”

“What is something that is really bright and really hot?”

Parvati looked at Hermione like a lightbulb had gone off in her head. “Fire!”

“Exactly! Devil’s Snare hates fire! So what’s a spell that we learned to make fire?”

“Incendio!”

“Precisely. Great job!” 

Parvati looked pleased with herself and so did Hermione. She felt really good about herself and being able to help her friend.

That same morning, during the daily owl delivery, a large, long, thin package carried by six large screech owls flew into the Great Hall. Hermione, Parvati, and everyone else in the great hall followed the package as the owls finally soared down and dropped it right in front of Harry Potter, knocking his bacon to the floor. They had hardly fluttered out of the way when another owl dropped a letter on top of the parcel. “Of course it was for Harry,” Hermione thought, bitterly. “And, judging by its size and shape, it was probably something that was against the rules.”  

Harry ripped open the letter, and he and Ron immediately ran out of the hall with the package. Hermione waited a moment and then followed them. She didn’t care whether or not the boys were expelled anymore, but she certainly did care about losing Gryffindors any house points for their stupidity and blatant disrespect for the rules.

Hermione kept her distance as the boys stopped to open the parcel. All of a sudden, Draco Malfoy and his cronies showed up. Malfoy grabbed the package right out of Harry’s hands.

“That’s a broomstick,” he said, throwing it back to Harry with a mixture of jealousy and spite on his face. “You’ll be in for it this time, Potter. First years aren’t allowed them.”

Hermione’s heart sank, and she nearly groaned out loud. There was no doubt Draco would tell a teacher about this infraction, and the Gryffindor lead over Ravenclaw would go away (which would devastate Parvati).

“It’s not any old broomstick,” he said, “it’s a Nimbus Two Thousand. What did you say you’ve got at home, Malfoy, a Comet Two Sixty?” Ron grinned at Harry. “Comets look flashy, but they’re not in the same league as the Nimbus.”

“What would you know about it, Weasley? You couldn’t afford half the handle,” Malfoy snapped back. “I suppose you and your brothers have to save up twig by twig.”

Before Ron could answer, Professor Flitwick appeared at Malfoy’s elbow. Hermione finally let the groan out. 

“Not arguing, I hope, boys?” he squeaked.

“Potter’s been sent a broomstick, Professor,” said Malfoy quickly.

“Yes, yes, that’s right,” said Professor Flitwick, beaming at Harry. “Professor McGonagall told me all about the special circumstances, Potter. And what model is it?”

“A Nimbus Two Thousand, sir,” said Harry. Hermione was confused. Professor McGonagall knew about this? “And it’s really thanks to Malfoy here that I’ve got it,” he added.

Harry and Ron headed upstairs with an infuriating hitch in their steps. Hermione was livid. She hated how smug and overly confident they were. She followed them up the staircase, making sure to jump over the trick step. She had to stop them for Parvati’s sake. She had made the decision her friendships with Parvati and Neville weren’t worth her overall plan to befriend Harry Potter. 

“Well, it’s true,” Harry chortled as they reached the top of the marble staircase, “If he hadn’t stolen Neville’s Remembrall, I wouldn’t be on the team.”

“So I suppose you think that’s a reward for breaking rules?” Hermione seethed at them. She couldn’t help herself. The anger was overtaking her every thought. 

“I thought you weren’t speaking to us?” said Harry.

“Yes, don’t stop now,” said Ron. “It’s doing us so much good.”

Hermione felt as if she had been slapped in the face. She stared at Ron with as much hatred as she could muster before turning on her heel and walking away. Why did she let him get to her so much?



With Parvati’s and Neville’s friendships - and all of her classes and studies of course - the next few weeks absolutely flew… but Hermione still felt lonely and isolated even with them around. They were perfectly nice and friendly, but they had friends other than Hermione. Sometimes she’d want to talk to Parvati about something, but she’d be hanging out with Lavender, whom Hermione still hadn’t warmed up to yet. Neville was usually chatting with a first year Hufflepuff, Justin Finch-Fletchley, all about Herbology. Hermione didn’t mind the class, but it wasn’t her favorite. She didn’t like getting her hands dirty. While they were her most important (and only) friends at Hogwarts, she certainly wasn’t theirs… and that made her very sad. She tried not to think about it. 

She also never felt the same “rush” with them as she did when she had been running from the three headed dog with Harry and Ron. It was a feeling she had never experienced before and absolutely wanted to feel it again. It was almost better than getting top marks (which surprised even Hermione). 

Hermione had received an owl from her parents that casually mentioned they were thinking of dressing up as a witch and wizard for Halloween in the dentistry office, and she was shocked to realize Halloween was only a day away. “Time flies when you’re learning magic,” Hermione said to herself as she penned a response. She giggled at the thought of her mom and dad dressing up as wizards. If only the townspeople of Lavenham knew how interesting the Grangers had become the last few months. She tried to share the image with Parvati, but she didn’t find it as hysterical as Hermione. 

On Halloween morning, they woke to the delicious smell of baking pumpkin wafting through the corridors. Even better, Professor Flitwick announced in Charms that he thought they were ready to start making objects fly, something they had all been dying to try since they’d seen him make Neville’s toad zoom around the classroom a few weeks back. Hermione was over the moon excited.

Professor Flitwick put the class into pairs to practice. “Parvati or Neville, Parvati or Neville,” Hermione repeated over and over, willing it to happen. 

“And Hermione? You’ll be working with Ron today,” she heard Professor Flitwick say. It was hard to tell whether Ron or Hermione was angrier about the pairing. Hermione refused to change seats so Ron had to trudge across the classroom to her desk instead. 

“Now, don’t forget that nice wrist movement we’ve been practicing!” squeaked Professor Flitwick, perched on top of his pile of books as usual. “Swish and flick, remember, swish and flick. And saying the magic words properly is very important, too — never forget Wizard Baruffio, who said ‘s’ instead of ‘f’ and found himself on the floor with a buffalo on his chest.” Hermione stole a glance at Ron. If anyone was stupid enough to forget Wizard Baruffio, it would be that red-headed git. She watched him pull out his shabby wand and focus on the feather.

“Wingardium Leviosa!” he shouted, waving his long arms like a windmill. Hermione didn’t care that he was getting it wrong, of course, (nor was she surprised), but she didn’t want his utter stupidity to ruin her attempts. She briefly thought of what Parvati had said and tried to control her annoyance.

“You’re saying it wrong,” Hermione said, though a little of her annoyance did come through. She took a breath and tried again. “It’s Wing-gar-dium Levi-o-sa, make the ‘gar’ nice and long.”

“You do it, then, if you’re so clever,” Ron snarled. Maybe that was just what he needed - to see it. Maybe he was a visual learner. Hermione smiled. She was getting the hang of this ‘people smarts’ thing.

Hermione rolled up the sleeves of her robe, flicked her wand, and said, “Wingardium Leviosa!”

Their feather rose off the desk and hovered about four feet above their heads.

“Oh, well done!” cried Professor Flitwick, clapping. “Everyone see here, Miss Granger’s done it!” Hermione beamed. Of course, she had practiced the charm millions of times in her empty dorm room, but no one needed to know that. All of her classmates (sans Harry and Ron) were clapping and wishing her a job well done. For the first time in her whole life, Hermione felt like she belonged. 

She was on cloud nine as she exited the classroom with her fellow students. Not only had she taught Ron a skill without calling him stupid, her classmates finally noticed how smart she was. She almost didn’t notice Ron and Harry in front of her. The flash of red hair caught her attention and Hermione was in such a good mood, she decided she’d go up and offer to help them some more with their charm -- extend the olive branch so to speak. As she walked closer to them, however, she overheard their conversation.

“It’s no wonder no one can stand her,” Ron said to Harry as they pushed their way into the crowded corridor. “She’s a nightmare, honestly.”

For the second time in a month, Hermione felt as though she had been slapped in the face. All of her happiness drained away. She had to get out of the hallway before she had a complete meltdown. She pushed past Harry and ran as fast as she could to the only place she knew she could be alone: second floor girls’ lavatory.

Myrtle was happy to see her friend Hermione, but realized at once something was really wrong. Hermione sunk to her knees and let the panic attack take over.

“I was finally *hiccup* happy *hiccup* and that stupid, ugly *hiccup* red-headed git *hiccup* ruined everything! He called me *hiccup* a nightmare and *hiccup* said no one could stand me!” she wailed. She didn’t even care that she called him stupid because that’s clearly what he was. 

A few third year Hufflepuffs just happened to be walking pass the lavatory door. “Oh, Moaning Myrtle’s at it again,” one of them said to the other.

Hermione was in full-on meltdown mode. She couldn’t control herself. Everything from the last two months came bubbling to the surface. No amount of facts could control it. The floodgates had opened. Hermione didn’t even hear the creaky bathroom door open over the sound of her sobs.

“Hermione? Is that you?” came a voice.

“Leave her alone,” cried Myrtle, swooping between Hermione and the person at the door.

“I’m her friend,” said Parvati with her hands on her hips. Myrtle looked back at Hermione for her approval, and Hermione managed to nod her head. “Are you ok?”Parvati asked.

“I’ll be fine,” Hermione said in between sobs. 

“Do you want me to sit with you?”

“I just… I just need to be alone.”

“Ok,” Parvati said. “But if you need me, I’ll be in our room until dinner.”

Hermione hiccuped a “thanks,” and Parvati shut the door. After about an hour, Hermione finally started to calm down. Myrtle just sat there. She knew what it was like to want to be alone but not at the same time. Hermione gave her a shaky smile.

“Thank you for sitting with me. I really appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Do you mind if I sit here a few more minutes? I don’t really want to go to dinner.”

“I like the company.”

“I can tell you about what we are learning in History of Magic if you’d like,” Hermione sniffled.

“That’s ok,” Myrtle said. “You need to just calm down. Besides, I already learned all of the first year stuff.”

“Then why do you like me to tell you about classes all the time?” Hermione asked.

“Because I get lonely.”

“I know what you mean,” Hermione hiccuped again. Sure, she had Parvati and Neville, but she still felt lonely sometimes. Actually, she felt lonely a lot of the time… but she couldn’t think about that or else things would just continue to snowball.

“Did a boy make fun of you?”

“Yes, he’s a dreadful, dreadful boy,” Hermione’s cheeks flushed as read as Ron’s hair.

“Most boys are, you know,” Myrtle said as she did a lazy loop in the air. 

“You are absolutely correct. I don’t know why I even let him bother--”

Hermione was interrupted by the squeak of the large oak door again. She just assumed it was Parvati just checking in on her (which would have been incredibly sweet), but she saw the fearful look on Myrtle’s face. 

She smelled it first. Hermione was immediately hit with one of the most foulest smells she had ever smelled: a mixture of old socks and the kind of public toilet no one seems to clean.

And then she heard it — a low grunting, and the shuffling footfalls of gigantic feet. Hermione whipped around.

And then she saw it. Standing in the doorway was the most horrible sight Hermione had ever seen: a troll, twelve feet tall, its skin was a dull, granite gray, its great lumpy body like a boulder with its small bald head perched on top like a coconut. It had short legs thick as tree trunks with flat, horny feet. It was holding a huge wooden club, which dragged along the floor because its arms were so long.

She froze in fear. Maybe if she didn’t move, it wouldn’t notice she was there. She tried to telepathically tell Myrtle to follow her plan, but, out of the corner of her eye, she watched Myrtle fly across the room and into one of the toilets. The movement attracted the trol,l and he took another step into the lavatory. 

All of a sudden, the lavatory door slammed shut and Hermione heard the unmistakable sound of the latch being turned. She was locked in with the twelve foot tall troll! And he was angry! He took another large, shuddering step into the bathroom and Hermione couldn’t help herself any longer. She screamed as loud as she had ever screamed in her life. She shrank against the opposite wall, feeling as if she was about to faint. The door burst open, and there was Harry and Ron. She tried to call to them, but the troll was advancing on her, knocking the sinks off the walls as it went, and she had no voice to yell.

“Confuse it!” Harry said desperately to Ron, and, seizing a tap, he threw it as hard as he could against the wall.

The troll stopped a few feet from Hermione. It lumbered around, blinking stupidly, to see what had made the noise. Its mean little eyes saw Harry. It hesitated, then made for him instead, lifting its club as it went.

“Oy, pea-brain!” yelled Ron from the other side of the chamber, and he threw a metal pipe at it. The troll didn’t even seem to notice the pipe hitting its shoulder, but it heard the yell and paused again, turning its ugly snout toward Ron instead, giving Harry time to run around it. 

“Come on, run, run!” Harry yelled at Hermione, trying to pull her toward the door, but she couldn’t move; she was still flat against the wall, her mouth open with terror.

The shouting and the echoes seemed to be driving the troll berserk. It roared again and started toward Ron, who was nearest and had no way to escape.

Harry then did something that was both very brave and very stupid in Hermione’s opinion: He took a great running jump and managed to fasten his arms around the troll’s neck from behind. The troll couldn’t feel Harry hanging there, but even a troll will notice if you stick a long bit of wood up its nose, and Harry’s wand had still been in his hand when he’d jumped — it had gone straight up one of the troll’s nostrils.

Howling with pain, the troll twisted and flailed its club, with Harry clinging on for dear life; any second, the troll was going to rip him off or catch him a terrible blow with the club.

Hermione had sunk to the floor in fright; Ron pulled out his own wand.  “Wingardium Leviosa!”

The club flew suddenly out of the troll’s hand, rose high, high up into the air, turned slowly over — and dropped, with a sickening crack, onto its owner’s head. The troll swayed on the spot and then fell flat on its face, with a thud that made the whole room tremble. Hermione was too scared to be proud of Ron for performing the spell correctly.

Harry got to his feet. He was shaking and out of breath. Ron was standing there with his wand still raised, staring at what he had done. Hermione slowly stood up.

It was Hermione who spoke first.

“Is it — dead?”

“I don’t think so,” said Harry, tentatively. “I think it’s just been knocked out.”

He bent down and pulled his wand out of the troll’s nose. It was covered in what looked like lumpy gray glue.

“Urgh — troll boogers.”

He wiped it on the troll’s trousers. A sudden slamming and loud footsteps made the three of them look up. They hadn’t realized what a racket they had been making, but of course, someone downstairs must have heard the crashes and the troll’s roars. A moment later, Professor McGonagall came bursting into the room, closely followed by Snape, with Quirrell bringing up the rear. Quirrell took one look at the troll, let out a faint whimper, and sat quickly down on a toilet, clutching his heart. Hermione felt like doing the same. She wasn’t sure what was worse - the troll or the professors catching them.

Snape bent over the troll. Professor McGonagall was looking at the three of them. Hermione had never seen her look so angry. Her lips were white.

“What on earth were you thinking of?” said Professor McGonagall, with cold fury in her voice. “You’re lucky you weren’t killed. Why aren’t you in your dormitory?”

Both Professors Snape and McGonagall were staring straight at Harry and Ron. They didn’t think Hermione could have been a part of all this. Hermione knew that if it weren’t for the two of them, she’d surely be dead. In a split second decision, Hermione spoke up. 

“Please, Professor McGonagall — they were looking for me.”

“Miss Granger!”

Hermione had managed to get to her feet at last.

“I went looking for the troll because I — I thought I could deal with it on my own — you know, because I’ve read all about them.”

Ron dropped his wand. Hermione Granger, telling a downright lie to a teacher?

“If they hadn’t found me, I’d be dead now. Harry stuck his wand up its nose and Ron knocked it out with its own club. They didn’t have time to come and fetch anyone. It was about to finish me off when they arrived.”

Harry and Ron tried to look as though this story wasn’t new to them.

“Well — in that case...” said Professor McGonagall, staring at the three of them, “Miss Granger, you foolish girl, how could you think of tackling a mountain troll on your own?”

Hermione hung her head. Hearing the disappointment in Professor McGonagall’s voice was almost too much to bear, but Hermione knew lying to save Harry and Ron was the right thing to do - it was ‘people smarts.’ They just risked their lives for her. 

“Miss Granger, five points will be taken from Gryffindor for this,” said Professor McGonagall. “I’m very disappointed in you. If you’re not hurt at all, you’d better get off to Gryffindor Tower. Students are finishing the feast in their Houses.”

Hermione left. Her panic pounded in her chest as her feet pounded the ground. She tried to clear her head. What did she just do? Did she really just lie to a professor? And Professor McGonagall at that? For Harry Potter and Ron Weasley? But they risked their lives to save her even when they didn’t like her. There was something honorable about that. Maybe they weren’t so bad after all. A nagging voice, curiously similar to the voice of the Sorting Hat, started to talk over the anxiety. “Sometimes, following the rules isn’t the most important thing in life.” Being friends with Harry and Ron would certainly be a crash course in that lesson.  

The Common Room was packed and noisy. From the snippets of conversations Hermione could overhear, the whole school knew there was a troll loose in the school and was sent up from dinner as a precaution. As much as she wanted to just go up to her room and hide under the covers, Hermione forced herself to wait at the Portrait Door. Ron and Harry climbed in after a few minutes. There was a very embarrassed pause. Then, none of them looking at each other, they all said “Thanks,” and hurried off to get plates.

But from that moment on, Hermione re-evaluated her desire to become their friend, but for totally different reasons than just surviving the Wizarding World. Something had shifted within Hermione… but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it other than the obvious: there are some things you can’t share without ending up starting to like each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.

Chapter Text

As they entered November, the weather turned very cold. The mountains around the school became icy gray, and the lake like chilled steel. Every morning, the ground was covered in frost. Hagrid could be seen from the upstairs windows defrosting broomsticks on the Quidditch field, bundled up in a long moleskin overcoat, rabbit fur gloves, and enormous beaverskin boots.

The Quidditch season had begun. On Saturday, Harry would be playing in his first match after weeks of training: Gryffindor versus Slytherin. If Gryffindor won, they would move up into second place in the House Championship and surpass Ravenclaw. Parvati was on pins and needles. There was a lot of trash talk in the Great Hall between her and her sister.

Hermione thought a lot about what happened in the second floor girls’ lavatory. She had nearly died because she chose to be alone. That’s what it came down to. She hated how dramatic it sounded but it was really true. She also thought about how Harry and Ron (who obviously didn’t like her) made a point of saving her regardless of their feelings. They went out of their way to find her and fight a twelve foot troll. Hermione thought that was pretty admirable. She genuinely wanted to be their friend. They were exciting and brave and loyal - all of the attributes of a Gryffindor. 

Her change of heart was also furthered along by a conversation with Professor McGonagall. A few days after Halloween, she asked Hermione to stay behind after Transfiguration class.

“Have you recovered from your little incident?” Professor McGonagall asked curtly.

“Yes, Professor,” Hermione said, her eyes on the ground.

“Or, perhaps I should ask if you’ve recovered from your stubbornness in thinking you could take on a troll by yourself?”

“Yes, Professor,” Hermione repeated.

“Miss Granger,” Professor McGonagall took a deep breath. “You are, perhaps, one of the smartest students in Hogwarts history.” Hermione’s eyes snapped up. “I implore you to use your smarts outside of the classroom, too.”

“Yes, Professor.”

“Now that that is out of the way,” Professor McGonagall cracked a smile. “I would like to talk to you about your time thus far at Hogwarts. How have you been acclimating?”

Hermione thought for a moment. “Well, I think, Professor, I’m going to start asking for even more extra work so I--”

“Yes, you have certainly acclimated to your studies, I don’t doubt that, but what about everything else?” Hermione didn’t know how to respond. Professor McGonagall continued. “I am extremely proud of your academic achievements, but there is more to your wizarding education than what is in your class books. As a Gryffindor, I expect you to demonstrate courage, chivalry, and determination in addition to your studies. And, so there is no confusion, attempting to face a mountain troll alone shall not be confused with courage.”

“Yes, Professor,” Hermione’s eyes went back to the ground. The bubble of anxiety was rising.

“Courage, chivalry, and determination can mean different things to different people. In your case, Miss Granger, I believe it has to do with your ability to take the leap and make meaningful relationships with your peers. You feel secure in your studies and retreat there when things get difficult.” Hermione nearly gasped. It was as if Professor McGonagall was reading her mind. “Stepping out of your comfort zone and letting friends in would be the ultimate display of bravery and determination.”

Professor McGonagall paused. Hermione could tell she was waiting for a reply. “Yes, Professor,” was all she could manage.

“Please, don’t misunderstand me - I do not mean to sound critical. I just want you to reach your full potential, Miss Granger. I think you are destined for great things,” Professor McGonagall said as she put her hand on Hermione’s shoulder in a rare moment of compassion. “Very great things.” She paused and smiled. “As disappointed as I was to find you with that troll, I was also pleased to find you with Mr. Potter. I was hoping you’d find each other here at Hogwarts.”

“What do you mean, Professor?”

Professor McGonagall paused, searching for the right words. “Mr. Potter is as skilled at friendship as you are at academics. You’d be a very good influence on him and he, you... as long as you stay away from trolls.”

“I think my troll fighting days are over,” Hermione said.

“I should hope so,” said Professor McGonagall. “Ok, now off you go. But please promise me, you’ll come to me if you ever find yourself in trouble.”

“Of course, Professor,” Hermione said, but had no intentions of telling Professor McGonagall her theory on what was under the trap door yet. 

Hermione left Professor McGonagall’s office and walked back to her dormitory. The professor was right - she did need to work on the other aspects of being a Gryffindor. 

Hermione made it a point to thank Parvati for coming in to check on her. “Sorry I told you to go away in the lavatory,” Hermione said the morning after the incident with the troll while they were going over some notes.

“It’s ok,” said Parvati. “Besides, if I had stayed, I’d have been attacked by the troll, too!” 

“I knew that. That’s why I told you to leave,” said Hermione, completely deadpan. Parvati looked at her for a moment before realizing Hermione had actually just made a joke for the first time since she knew her. They both giggled and Hermione smiled. She was getting the hang of this friendship thing.

Hermione found out the real story about what happened during their flying lessons and the broom that came in the mail - Harry had demonstrated such amazing flying skills when he caught Neville’s remembrall, Professor McGonagall made an exception to the rule barring first years from joining the house Quidditch team and allowed him to get a broom. In the spirit of their new friendship, Hermione tried not to be irked that Harry had been, basically, awarded for breaking the rules. She also trusted Professor McGonagall’s judgement. There was no denying Harry was a skilled Quidditch player. 

During some downtime in her dorm room, Hermione begrudging asked Fay to explain Quidditch to her so she could support her new friend. Her library copy of Quidditch Through The Ages (which she loaned to Harry) didn’t really explain the actual game basics. 

“The object of the game is to score more points than your opponents. Each goal is worth ten points and catching the Golden Snitch is worth one-hundred and fifty points,” Fay rattled on. “The game is played by two teams of seven people (three Chasers, two Beaters, one Keeper, and one Seeker) and involves four balls (a Quaffle, two Bludgers, and a Golden Snitch). The game starts with the referee releasing all four balls from the central circle. The Keeper guards the goalposts, while the three Chasers score goals with the Quaffle by tossing it into one of the opposing team’s three goal posts. The two Beaters keep the Bludgers away from their team and hit the Bludgers towards the opposing team, and the Seeker catches the Golden Snitch to end the game. The team whose Seeker catches the Snitch is awarded 150 points, but this does not necessarily mean they will win if the other team still has more points after the Snitch is caught.”

Fay offered to draw Hermione some diagrams but she said no - she just needed to know the absolute basics so she didn’t cheer at the wrong times.

With the addition of the extra Quidditch practices, Harry was having a lot of trouble keeping up with his classes. Hermione was all too happy to help… even if it meant helping Ron as well. Hermione still preferred Harry over Ron, but knew with one came the other. Ron was being extra nice to her anyways, probably because of the whole “nightmare” comment that nearly killed her, so Hermione didn’t mind much. There were even some times where she actually enjoyed his company.

Hermione had become a bit more relaxed about breaking rules, though a small bubble of anxiety still came up each time. She was really trying to let loose a bit more, but still keep a good handle on Harry like Professor McGonagall had insinuated. The day before Harry’s first Quidditch match, the three of them were out in the freezing courtyard during break. She had conjured them up a bright blue fire that could be carried around in a jam jar. Hermione was quite proud of herself for the advanced magic, and was pleased when the two boys seemed really impressed with her work.

They were standing with their backs to it, getting warm, when Snape crossed the yard. They all noticed at once that Snape was limping. Harry, Ron, and Hermione moved closer together to block the fire from view; Hermione was thankful they were covering for her. Unfortunately, something about their guilty faces must have caught Snape’s eye. He limped over. 

“What’s that you’ve got there, Potter?”

It was Hermione’s copy of Quidditch Through the Ages . Harry showed him the book, much to Hermione’s chagrin (though, she supposed it was better than the flame).

“Library books are not to be taken outside the school,” said Snape. “Give it to me. Five points from Gryffindor.”

“He’s just made that rule up,” Harry muttered angrily as Snape limped away. “Wonder what’s wrong with his leg?”

“Dunno, but I hope it’s really hurting him,” said Ron bitterly. Hermione couldn’t help but agree. She still hadn’t figured out Snape and his utter contempt for Harry. 

-----

The Gryffindor common room was very noisy that evening. Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat together next to a window overlooking the snow covered grounds. Hermione was checking Harry and Ron’s Charms homework for them. She knew they just wanted to copy her work, but she was adamant against it. “I’ll help you as much as you need it,” she said, “But if you copy, how will you learn?” Parvati had been doing loads better in her classes, thanks to Hermione’s help, so the boys had to just trust her methods.

Harry stood up suddenly. “I’m going to go ask Snape for that copy of Quidditch Through the Ages back,” he said, setting his jaw

Hermione smiled inwardly. How nice! Harry was going to get her book back so Madam Irma Pince, the Hogwarts Librarian, wouldn’t get angry she didn’t return it herself.

“Better you than me,” Hermione and Ron said as Harry walked towards the Portrait Door, leaving them alone for the first time since their “friendship” began. Hermione was nervous but wasn’t quite sure why. 

“So how many brothers do you have?” Hermione blurted out. It was time to be brave and open herself up to new friendships.

“Five and one sister, Ginny. She’s a year younger.”

“Wow! So seven kids? Your parents must be positively saints!” And, Hermione thought, it explained Ron’s behaviour; with that many brothers, it was no wonder Ron was so good at making little digs at people. He had a lot of practice.

“Yeah, I suppose so,” Ron said as he scratched out something on his paper. “My mom and dad are ok, I guess.”

“What are you scratching out? Let me see.” 

Ron handed over his parchment. It took Hermione a moment to decipher the atrocious handwriting. “Oh, you almost had it. It was Emeric the Evil, not Uric the Oddball, who was killed by Egbert the Egregious.”

“I always get those two messed up,” Ron sighed as Hermione passed back his parchment. “How about you?”

“Oh no, I can keep them straight because of the ‘E’s.’”

“No no, I mean brothers and sisters. Do you have any?”

“Oh. No, I’m an only child.”

“Wicked,” Ron said as he finished writing Emeric the Evil’s name over the scratched out part. “And you were raised by Muggles, yeah? That must have been cool.”

“I guess,” Hermione said, confused. Why would being raised by Muggles be cool?

“My dad loves Muggles. He’s always tinkering with some sort of Muggle contraption. I really wanted to go through the Leaky Cauldron to London when we were at Diagon Alley to get our school supplies, but Mum wouldn’t let me,” Ron looked up. “So what’s it like?

“London?”

“Muggles in general.”

“Dreadfully boring compared to this,” Hermione laughed. 

“Harry told me that your photographs and portraits don’t move,” said Ron. “Is that really true?”

Hermione grabbed her bag and dug around for a moment. She pulled out a picture of her, Mary, and Bert. Hermione was so used to the Wizarding World, it seemed odd, even to her, that they weren’t moving. “Yeah, it’s true. See?”

“You were right, that is boring,” Ron said, examining the picture and turning it over in his hands. “So that’s your mum and dad? They look nice.”

“Yeah, they are,” Hermione said with a smile. At least they were the last year or so.

“What did they think of you being a witch?”

Hermione paused for a moment. “I think they were happy for me. No, I know they were happy for me. It was just... a lot for them to take in, though. We are very practical people, so learning there is this whole world full of magic was slightly overwhelming.”

“Are they as smart as you?” Ron asked with earnest. Hermione felt a weird, warm feeling spread through her body. She wasn’t exactly sure what it was.

“Oh, they’re both brilliant,” she said. “They’re dentists.”

“Dentists?” Ron asked. “What are dentists?”

“A Muggle doctor for people’s teeth.” 

“So, like a healer?”

“Kind of, but they can’t use magic, obviously,” Hermione said.

“Huh. I’ll have to tell my dad about it. He’d be fascinated.” Ron paused a moment. “Do you think you would be able to write down some stuff about dentists so I can give it to my dad for Christmas? He’d love it.”

“Sure,” Hermione smiled. The warm feeling wouldn’t go away.

“Wicked, thanks.”

There was a lull in the conversation, but it wasn’t awkward at all. They went back to their classwork and barely noticed Harry running in through the Common Room until he was right next to them.

“Did you get it?” Ron asked as Harry joined them. “What’s the matter?”

Harry was out of breath. 

“I thought that if there were other teachers around, Snape wouldn’t be as much of a prick,” Harry said through his gasps. “So I went to the staff room and knocked but no one answered. I opened the door and there was Snape and Filch and Snape had his robes up and his leg was all bloody! And then he said, ‘Blasted thing. How are you supposed to keep your eyes on all three heads at once?” Harry paused for dramatic effect. “You know what this means?” he finished breathlessly. “He tried to get past that three-headed dog on Halloween! That’s where he was going when we saw him — he’s after whatever it’s guarding! And I’d bet my broomstick he let that troll in, to make a diversion!”

Hermione’s eyes were wide.

“No — he wouldn’t,” she said. “I know he’s not very nice, but he wouldn’t try and steal something Dumbledore was keeping safe.”

“Honestly, Hermione, you think all teachers are saints or something,” said Ron. The warm feeling started to fade away, but Hermione tried to tell herself this was just how Ron was and to not take it personally. “I’m with Harry. I wouldn’t put anything past Snape. But what’s he after? What’s that dog guarding?”

What was that dog guarding? Hermione had her theories, of course, but wanted to be sure before she shared them.

-----

The next morning dawned very bright and cold. The Great Hall was full of the delicious smell of fried sausages and the cheerful chatter of everyone looking forward to a good Quidditch match.

“You’ve got to eat some breakfast.”

“I don’t want anything.”

“Just a bit of toast,” coaxed Hermione. She was really worried about him. 

“I’m not hungry.”

“Harry, you need your strength,” said Seamus Finnigan. “Seekers are always the ones who get clobbered by the other team.”

“Thanks, Seamus,” said Harry.

-----

By eleven o’clock, the whole school seemed to be out in the stands around the Quidditch pitch. Many students had binoculars. The seats might be raised high in the air, but it was still difficult to see what was going on sometimes. Hermione couldn’t help but feel a little excited, even though she still wasn’t a Quidditch fan. 

Ron and Hermione joined Neville, Seamus, and Dean up in the top row. They passed Fay and Alice on their way up; Fay was already hoarse from screaming and the game hadn’t even started. As a surprise for Harry, they had painted a large banner on a sheet. Hermione was worried they’d get in trouble for defacing school property, but Ron assured her his pet rat, Scabbors, had already ruined it. On the sheet, it said “Potter for President,” and Dean, who was good at drawing, had done a large Gryffindor lion underneath. Hermione wanted to contribute, so she performed a tricky little charm she had just learned to make the paint flashed different colors.

Hermione wanted to sit with Parvati, too, but Parvati wanted to sit near her sister to do some more trash talking. They agreed to meet up after the game. 

Finally, it was time for the match. Harry, Fred, George, and the other Gryffindor players walked out of the locker room and out onto the pitch. The crowd roared and Hermione yelled along with them. The Slytherins walked out as well and all of the Gryffindors booed just as loudly as they had cheered. This is kind of fun, Hermione thought to herself.

Madam Hooch was refereeing. She stood in the middle of the field waiting for the two teams, her broom in her hand.

“Now, I want a nice fair game, all of you,” she said, once they were all gathered around her. “Mount your brooms, please.”

Hermione watched Harry clamber onto his Nimbus Two Thousand.

Madam Hooch gave a loud blast on her silver whistle.

Fifteen brooms rose up, high, high into the air. They were off.

Fred and George’s friend, Lee Jordan (the student with that dreadful tarantula on the Hogwarts Express) was the commentator for the game. Hermione found it remarkably helpful even if Lee was… slightly biased.

“And the Quaffle is taken immediately by Angelina Johnson of Gryffindor — what an excellent Chaser that girl is, and rather attractive, too —”

“JORDAN!” They all heard Professor McGonagall yell.

“Sorry, Professor… And she’s really belting along up there, a neat pass to Alicia Spinnet, a good find of Oliver Wood’s, last year only a reserve — back to Johnson and — no, the Slytherins have taken the Quaffle, Slytherin Captain Marcus Flint gains the Quaffle and off he goes — Flint flying like an eagle up there — he’s going to sc- no, stopped by an excellent move by Gryffindor Keeper Wood and the Gryffindors take the Quaffle — that’s Chaser Katie Bell of Gryffindor there, nice dive around Flint, off up the field and — OUCH — that must have hurt, hit in the back of the head by a Bludger — Quaffle taken by the Slytherins — that’s Adrian Pucey speeding off toward the goal posts, but he’s blocked by a second Bludger — sent his way by Fred or George Weasley, can’t tell which — nice play by the Gryffindor Beater, anyway, and Johnson back in possession of the Quaffle, a clear field ahead and off she goes — she’s really flying — dodges a speeding Bludger — the goal posts are ahead — come on, now, Angelina — Keeper Bletchley dives — misses — GRYFFINDORS SCORE!”

Gryffindor cheers filled the cold air, with howls and moans from the Slytherins. Hermione was exhilarated.

“Budge up there, move along.”

“Hagrid!” Ron exclaimed. Hermione looked over and saw the giant from their first day at Hogwarts. She had learned he was the gamekeeper of the grounds of Hogwarts and had befriended Harry and Ron.

Ron and Hermione squeezed together to give Hagrid enough space to join them (which was quite a bit).

“Bin watchin’ from me hut,” said Hagrid, patting a large pair of binoculars around his neck, “But it isn’t the same as bein’ in the crowd. No sign of the Snitch yet, eh?”

“Nope,” said Ron. “Harry hasn’t had much to do yet.”

“Kept outta trouble, though, that’s somethin’,” said Hagrid, raising his binoculars and peering skyward at the speck that was Harry.

Way up above them, Harry was gliding over the game, squinting about for some sign of the Snitch. 

“Slytherin in possession,” Lee Jordan was saying, “Chaser Pucey ducks two Bludgers, two Weasleys, and Chaser Bell, and speeds toward the — wait a moment — was that the Snitch?”

A murmur ran through the crowd. Hermione strained her eyes. She couldn’t see anything… but Harry did. He dived downward after the streak of gold. Slytherin Seeker Terence Higgs had seen it, too. Neck and neck they hurtled toward the Snitch — all the Chasers seemed to have forgotten what they were supposed to be doing as they hung in midair to watch.

Harry was faster than Higgs — he put on an extra spurt of speed —

WHAM! A roar of rage echoed from the Gryffindors below — Marcus Flint had blocked Harry on purpose, and Harry’s broom spun off course, Harry holding on for dear life. Hermione gasped and grabbed Ron’s arm.

“Erm, sorry,” she said once she realized what she had done, but Ron didn’t seem to notice.

“Foul!” Ron screamed and was joined by the majority of the Gryffindors in the stands. Hermione didn’t really know what the foul was, but she joined them all in yelling.

Madam Hooch spoke angrily to Flint and then ordered a free shot at the goal posts for Gryffindor. But in all the confusion, of course, the Golden Snitch had disappeared from sight again.

Down in the stands, Dean Thomas was yelling, “Send him off, ref! Red card!”

“What are you talking about, Dean?” said Ron.

“Red card!” said Dean furiously. “In football, you get shown the red card and you’re out of the game!”

“But this isn’t football, Dean,” Ron reminded him.

Hagrid, however, was on Dean’s side.

“They oughta change the rules. Flint coulda knocked Harry outta the air.”

Lee Jordan was finding it difficult not to take sides.

“So — after that obvious and disgusting bit of cheating —”

“Jordan!” growled Professor McGonagall.

“I mean, after that open and revolting foul —”

“Jordan, I’m warning you —”

“All right, all right. Flint nearly kills the Gryffindor Seeker, which could happen to anyone, I’m sure, so a penalty to Gryffindor, taken by Spinnet, who puts it away, no trouble, and we continue play, Gryffindor still in possession.”

It was as Harry dodged another Bludger, which went spinning dangerously past his head, that it happened. His broom gave a sudden, frightening lurch. Harry was almost thrown from his broom. It happened again. Another huge lurch. Then, the broom started zigzagging through the air, and every now and then making violent swishing movements that almost unseated him. Hermione gasped again. Didn’t anyone notice Harry was in trouble? 

Lee was still commentating. “Slytherin in possession — Flint with the Quaffle — passes Spinnet — passes Bell — hit hard in the face by a Bludger, hope it broke his nose — only joking, Professor — Slytherins score — oh no...”

Hermione was beside herself. She knew she didn’t know much about Quidditch, but she was quite sure a broom shouldn’t behave that way. She had to save Harry. She started to rack her brain to figure out what could possibly be the problem.

“Dunno what Harry thinks he’s doing,” Hagrid mumbled. Finally, someone else had noticed. He stared through his binoculars. “If I didn’ know better, I’d say he’d lost control of his broom... but he can’t have...”

Suddenly, people were pointing up at Harry all over the stands. His broom had started to roll over and over, with him only just managing to hold on. Then, the whole crowd gasped. Harry’s broom had given a wild jerk, and Harry swung off it. He was now dangling from it, holding on with only one hand.

“Did something happen to it when Flint blocked him?” Seamus whispered.

“Can’t have,” Hagrid said, his voice shaking. “Can’t nothing interfere with a broomstick except powerful Dark magic — no kid could do that to a Nimbus Two Thousand.”

At these words, Hermione seized Hagrid’s binoculars, but instead of looking up at Harry, she started looking frantically at the crowd. There had to be someone bewitching the broom… but who? The thought hit Hermione like a ton of bricks, and she swung the binoculars over to the Slytherin stands.

“What are you doing?” moaned Ron, gray-faced.

“I knew it,” Hermione gasped. “Snape — look.”

Ron grabbed the binoculars. Snape was in the middle of the stands opposite them. He had his eyes fixed on Harry and was muttering nonstop under his breath.

“He’s doing something — jinxing the broom,” said Hermione.

“What should we do?”

Hermione knew exactly what to do. “Leave it to me.”

Before Ron could say another word, Hermione ran down the steps and into the walkways beneath the stands. She had never run so fast in her life. Her heart was pounding out of her chest, and she was developing a stitch in her side. As she ran, she tried to come up with a plan. She had to break Snape’s concentration. But with what? Suddenly, she had an idea. The stitch in her side went away, and she seemed to move faster. Finally, she made it to the Slytherin stands and up to the row behind Snape. She didn’t even stop to say sorry as she knocked Professor Quirrell headfirst into the row in front. Reaching Snape, she crouched down, pulled out her wand, and whispered a few, well-chosen words. Bright blue flames shot from her wand onto the hem of Snape’s robes.

Hermione didn’t let herself think about the repercussions of lighting a professor on fire. All she could think of was saving Harry. It took perhaps thirty seconds for Snape to realize that he was on fire. A sudden yelp told her she had done her job. Scooping the fire off him into a little jar in her pocket, she scrambled back along the row — Snape would never know what had happened, thank God.

It was enough. Up in the air, Harry was suddenly able to clamber back onto his broom. Hermione let out a sigh of relief. Harry started to speed toward the ground when the crowd saw him clap his hand to his mouth as though he was about to be sick — he hit the field on all fours — coughed — and something gold fell into his hand.

“I’ve got the Snitch!” he shouted, waving it above his head, and the game ended in complete confusion. Hermione was glad she wasn’t the only one not knowing what was going on. Finally, it was determined Harry broke no rules and Gryffindor was declared the winning team!

Hagrid was just as happy as the students and invited Hermione, Ron, and Harry back to his hut for a celebratory tea. She was fascinated by the giant and eager to learn more about him. 

“It was Snape,” Ron was explaining, “Hermione and I saw him. He was cursing your broomstick, muttering. He wouldn’t take his eyes off you.”

“Rubbish,” said Hagrid, who hadn’t heard a word of what had gone on next to him in the stands. “Why would Snape do somethin’ like that?”

Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked at one another, wondering what to tell him. 

“I found out something about him,” Harry told Hagrid. “He tried to get past that three-headed dog on Halloween. It bit him. We think he was trying to steal whatever it’s guarding.”

Hagrid dropped the teapot.

“How do you know about Fluffy?” he said.

Fluffy ?”

“Yeah — he’s mine — bought him off a Greek chappie I met in the pub las’ year — I lent him to Dumbledore to guard the —”

“Yes?” said Harry eagerly.

“Now, don’t ask me anymore,” said Hagrid gruffly. “That’s top secret, that is.”

“But Snape’s trying to steal it.”

“Rubbish,” said Hagrid again. “Snape’s a Hogwarts teacher, he’d do nothin’ of the sort.”

“So why did he just try and kill Harry?” cried Hermione. Clearly, that was the only plausible explanation. “I know a jinx when I see one, Hagrid, I’ve read all about them! You’ve got to keep eye contact, and Snape wasn’t blinking at all, I saw him!”

“I’m tellin’ yeh, yer wrong!” said Hagrid hotly. “I don’ know why Harry’s broom acted like that, but Snape wouldn’ try an’ kill a student! Now, listen to me, all three of yeh — yer meddlin’ in things that don’ concern yeh. It’s dangerous. You forget that dog, an’ you forget what it’s guardin’, that’s between Professor Dumbledore an’ Nicholas Flamel —”

“Aha!” said Harry, “so there’s someone called Nicholas Flamel involved, is there?”

Hagrid looked furious with himself. Hermione smiled. It was time for research, her favorite thing in the world.

Chapter Text

Christmas was coming. One morning in mid-December, Hogwarts woke to find itself covered in several feet of snow. The lake froze solid and the Weasley twins were punished for bewitching several snowballs so that they followed Quirrell around, bouncing off the back of his turban. The few owls that managed to battle their way through the stormy sky to deliver mail had to be nursed back to health by Hagrid before they could fly off again.

No one could wait for the holidays to start. While the Gryffindor Common Room and the Great Hall had roaring fires, the drafty corridors had become icy, and a bitter wind rattled the windows in the classrooms. Worst of all were Professor Snape’s classes down in the dungeons, where their breath rose in a mist before them and they kept as close as possible to their hot cauldrons.

“I do feel so sorry,” said Draco Malfoy during one of their last Potions class before holidays, “for all those people who have to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas because they’re not wanted at home.”

He was looking over at Harry as he spoke. Crabbe and Goyle chuckled. Harry, who was measuring out powdered spine of lion-fish, ignored them, but Hermione was furious. She thought about slipping some Essence of Tentacula into Malfoy’s cauldron when he wasn’t looking but figured Snape would somehow commend him for the error, even though it would make Potion Number 07, a highly toxic and dangerous potion.

Professor McGonagall had come around the week before, making a list of students who would be staying for the holidays, and Harry had signed up at once. Ron and his brothers were staying, too, because Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were going to Romania to visit Charlie, Ron’s second oldest brother. 

Hermione, however, was going to go home. She was torn. She wanted to stay at Hogwarts desperately, but her parents seemed so eager for her to visit. The truth was, Hermoine’s letters home had dwindled considerably in both size and frequency. Now that she was so involved with Harry, Ron, Neville, and Parvati, she barely had time (or need) to write home as often. 

Complicating matters further was all of the extra research Hermione was doing to try to find out who, exactly, was Nicholas Flamel. Harry kept insisting that he recognized the name from somewhere, but Hermione was 100% certain he was not mentioned in any of their school books.

When they left the dungeons at the end of Potions, they found a large fir tree blocking the corridor ahead. Two enormous feet sticking out at the bottom and a loud puffing sound told them that Hagrid was behind it.

“Hi, Hagrid, want any help?” Ron asked, sticking his head through the branches.

“Nah, I’m all right, thanks, Ron.”

“Would you mind moving out of the way?” came Malfoy’s cold drawl from behind them. “Are you trying to earn some extra money, Weasley? Hoping to be gamekeeper yourself when you leave Hogwarts, I suppose — that hut of Hagrid’s must seem like a palace compared to what your family’s used to.”

Ron dived at Malfoy just as Snape came up the stairs. Hermione threw her hands over her mouth to stop herself from screaming.

“WEASLEY!”

Ron let go of the front of Malfoy’s robes.

“He was provoked, Professor Snape,” said Hagrid, sticking his huge, hairy face out from behind the tree. “Malfoy was insultin’ his family.”

“Be that as it may, fighting is against Hogwarts rules, Hagrid,” said Snape silkily. “Five points from Gryffindor, Weasley, and be grateful it isn’t more. Move along, all of you.”

Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle pushed roughly past the tree, scattering needles everywhere and smirking. 

“I’ll get him,” said Ron, grinding his teeth at Malfoy’s back, “one of these days, I’ll get him —”

“I hate them both,” said Harry, “Malfoy and Snape.”

“Come on, cheer up, it’s nearly Christmas,” said Hagrid. “Tell yeh what, come with me an’ see the Great Hall, looks a treat.”

So the three of them followed Hagrid and his tree off to the Great Hall, where Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick were busy with the Christmas decorations.

“Ah, Hagrid, the last tree — put it in the far corner, would you?”

The hall looked spectacular. Festoons of holly and mistletoe hung all around the walls, and no less than twelve towering Christmas trees stood around the room, some sparkling with tiny icicles, some glittering with hundreds of candles.

“How many days you got left until yer holidays?” Hagrid asked. Hermione thought Hagrid was absolutely endearing. She couldn’t help but smile around him. He had a heart of gold.

“Just one,” said Hermione. “And that reminds me — Harry, Ron, we’ve got half an hour before lunch, we should be in the library.”

“Oh yeah, you’re right,” said Ron, tearing his eyes away from Professor Flitwick, who had golden bubbles blossoming out of his wand and was trailing them over the branches of the new tree.

“The library?” said Hagrid, following them out of the hall. “Just before the holidays? Bit keen, aren’t yeh?”

“Oh, we’re not working,” Harry told him brightly. “Ever since you mentioned Nicholas Flamel, we’ve been trying to find out who he is.”

“You what?” Hagrid looked shocked. “Listen here — I’ve told yeh — drop it. It’s nothin’ to you what that dog’s guardin’.”

“We just want to know who Nicholas Flamel is, that’s all,” said Hermione.

“Unless you’d like to tell us and save us the trouble?” Harry added. “We must’ve been through hundreds of books already and we can’t find him anywhere — just give us a hint — I know I’ve read his name somewhere.”

“I’m sayin’ nothin’,” said Hagrid flatly.

“Just have to find out for ourselves, then,” said Ron, and they left Hagrid looking disgruntled and hurried off to the library.

Hermione felt calmer just crossing the threshold. This was her place, her element: tens of thousands of books; thousands of shelves; hundreds of narrow rows. She was, however, getting more and more frustrated. No matter where they looked, they couldn’t find any mention of Nicholas Flamel. He wasn’t in Great Wizards of the Twentieth Century or Notable Magical Names of Our Time ; he was missing, too, from Important Modern Magical Discoveries and A Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry.  

Hermione took out a list of subjects and titles she had decided to search while Ron strode off down a row of books and started pulling them off the shelves at random. She wanted to tell him he should be more strategic but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Harry wandered over to the Restricted Section. Unfortunately, you needed a specially signed note from one of the teachers to look in any of the restricted books, and Hermione was too paranoid to ask any of her professors, especially Professor McGonagall. These were the books containing powerful Dark Magic never taught at Hogwarts, and only read by older students studying Advanced Defense Against the Dark Arts.

“What are you looking for, boy?”

“Nothing,” said Harry.

Madam Pince, the librarian, brandished a feather duster at him. “You’d better get out, then. Go on — out!”

Being much more familiar with Madam Pince, Hermione had convinced Ron and Harry not to ask her directly where to find Flamel; she was convinced Madam Pince had a slight crush on Professor Snape and may tell him what they were up to in order to get closer to him.

“You will keep looking while I’m away, won’t you?” said Hermione. “And send me an owl if you find anything.”

“And you could ask your parents if they know who Flamel is,” said Ron. “It’d be safe to ask them.”

“Very safe, as they’re both dentists,” winked Hermione.

“Dad’s gonna love it, by the way,” Ron said. Hermione smiled. She had just given Ron a little explanation of what a dentist was and had her parents send one of their introductory textbooks by owl to give to Ron for his dad.

Inspired by the Christmas magic, Hermione asked Professor McGonagall for help ordering gifts by owl for all of her friends. For Neville, she had ordered a small, pocket sized notebook that Neville could use to write everything down so he could remember it… and maybe not find himself locked out of the Common Room. She performed an Impervious Charm on it to protect it from any clumsy accidents Neville may have with the notebook. 

For Parvati, Hermione bought a beautiful planner. She took the time to write out a suggested study plan for the holidays so Parvati could keep up and prepare for the spring. 

For Ron, Hermione wrote the paper for his dad and got the book, of course, but she also got him a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans because, just like Ron, it was always unpredictable. You never knew what he was going to do or say. 

Finally, for Harry, a Chocolate Frog so he’d have something for himself on Christmas. She had noticed his small collection of cards and hoped he’d get one he didn’t already have.

The day to leave for holidays came, and Hermione and Neville took the trip down to Hogsmeade Station together. The impressive Hogwarts Express stood before them, majestic as ever. Hermione started to get excited to see the snow-covered towns out the windows and happily boarded the train.

The trip was spent discussing their various plans for the holidays and Christmas traditions. Hermione found it odd that Neville never mentioned his parents, but she didn’t want to pry. She slipped her gift for Neville in his bag when he wasn’t looking. She didn’t want to watch him open it - she’d be too embarrassed. Instead, she wrote a little note inside so he’d know he was meant to have it. 

During the last hour of the train ride to Kings Cross Station, Hermione put the final touches on the gifts for her parents. Bert absolutely hated to write anything down and had absolutely atrocious handwriting when he actually did. There were many times when Bert would bribe Hermione  with a new book or some pocket money for school supplies to take down his dictations. She wondered how he had managed to do all of his charting while she was away from school. She couldn’t quite afford to order a “Quick-Quotes Quill” from the catalogue (she made herself a reminder in her journal to ask her parents for more money), so Hermione did some homework. A Quick-Quotes Quill wrote automatically as the subject speaks. She found a charm in the Standard Book of Spells (Grade 7) that did, basically, what a Quick-Quotes Quill did. It was pretty advanced magic but, after a few tries, Hermione was able to figure it out. She also performed a self inking charm on it so her dad wouldn’t have to remember to keep dipping it. 

Her mom proved to be a bit more difficult to get a gift for. It was Ron, actually, who gave her the idea when they were talking about their families in the Gryffindor Common Room. Something about his surprise that their Muggle pictures didn’t move stuck. Parvati had a Wizarding Camera and agreed to take a picture of Hermione. There was a lot of debate on what Hermione should “do” for the moving picture. Hermione suggested taking a picture of her studying but Parvati convinced her to blow a kiss. Hermione thought it was a bit childish, but agreed anyways.

As she watched herself blow a kiss inside the small locket she ordered, Hermione had to admit it was a great idea. Her mom was going to love it. She put an impervious charm on the locket as well so it’d never tarnish. Neville, who was surprisingly crafty, helped her to wrap the presents. They looked wonderful.

The Hogwarts Express pulled into Kings Cross Station and Hermione followed the crowd out to the platform. She didn’t yet see her parents, but she got to meet Neville’s grandma, Augusta Longbottom. She was a very severe woman, but Hermione appreciated her straightforwardness. 

Hermione still didn’t see her parents anywhere. Neville offered to stay with her until they got there, but she told him it was ok. She took a seat on her trunk near the barrier wall. The platform was thinning out. Most people had already left, and Hermione was still there. The anxiety started creeping in. What if they had forgotten? What if they got into a car accident on the way to London? Hermione quickly pulled out her favorite book, Hogwarts: A History , and started thumbing through it. Wizards and witches cannot Apparate or Disapparate to or from Hogwarts within the grounds. The ceiling of the Great Hall is bewitched to look like the outside sky. Hogwarts is hidden to Muggles. If a Muggle looks at it, they see an old ruin with a sign saying: "DANGER, DO NOT ENTER, UNSAFE". Boys are not allowed in the girls' dormitories; if they try to enter the stairs turn into a slide. And so on.

“Excuse me, lass,” said a voice. Hermione looked up. It was the Hogwarts Express Conductor. He and Hermione were the only ones left on the platform. “Sorry, but you’ll have to be headin’ out. We’re about to shut down the platform. It’s almost 8pm.”

“Sure… sure… Sorry.”

“You have someone picking ya up, dontcha?”

“Oh yes, of course.” The panic was almost at the surface.

“You alright?”

“Yes, thank you,” Hermione got up and heaved her trunk onto the trolley he had brought over for her. She didn’t want him to see her cry. She ran at full speed through the barrier and didn’t even look at her surroundings as she made a beeline for the main concourse.

“Hermione!” she heard the voice, but it didn’t register at first. “Hermione! Hermione, wait!” She turned around. Bert and Mary were jogging to catch up! She nearly tackled them with a huge hug.

“I thought you had forgotten!” she sniffled.

“Oh, no, of course not!” said Mary, smoothing down Hermione’s hair. “We’ve been here since nearly ten o’clock in the morning but couldn’t get up the courage to go through the wall without you.”

Hermione let out a sigh of relief.

“Welcome home, Hermione,” Bert said. Hermione knew the Muggle World wasn’t really “home” anymore, but she appreciated the sentiment as they walked out Kings Cross Station together.

-----

“Happy Christmas, Hermione!”

The Grangers woke up on Christmas Day bright and early. They had spent the last few days catching up. Bert and Mary had closed their office to patients so they could spend more time with Hermione. She was so happy to see them but was dreadfully bored. Hearing about their patients and daily life in Lavenham didn’t even come close to even the most mundane incident at Hogwarts.

Hermione had tried to discuss the break-in at Gringotts and the three-headed dog, but her parents just looked at her in horror. She figured it wasn’t a good idea to worry them so she stopped. She also asked them about Nicholas Flamel and was disappointed (yet not surprised) to learn they had no idea who he was. She had plans to go to the library to visit anyways and would take a look there to see if she could find anything.

After devouring some wonderful scones and treats, the Grangers set down to open their presents. Without thinking, Hermione summoned her cup of tea she had forgotten at the table. “Accio Tea!” She only realized her mistake when she saw her parents’ shocked faces. “Sorry,” she said. She hoped, based on their shock, they wouldn’t be terrified of their magical gifts.

Bert and Mary were so excited when Hermione opened one of her gifts. It was a state of the art Deluxe Portable CD Player and a few random CDs. Hermione didn’t have the heart to tell them that, according to Hogwarts: A History , all Muggle electronics wouldn’t work on the school grounds. She smiled and said that she couldn’t wait to listen to music with Parvati… and was shocked at how easily the lie came out. She had been hanging out with Harry and Ron too much, she thought.

Hermione could barely contain her excitement as Bert carefully unwrapped his quill. It took a little bit for Bert to completely understand what it did but, once he did, he was thrilled. He kept turning his back, talking, and then whipping around to catch the quill in action. Being a scientist, of course, he had to test to see if the quill would write bad words or censor him if he swore. Mary and Hermione were in tears laughing. He then tried to think of the most difficult terms he could come up with to see if the quill would get them right. It did. Finally, he mixed the medical terms with cuss words to the same results. 

When Mary opened the locket, she burst into tears. She was flabbergasted by the magic of the photo and immediately put it on. “This is the best present anyone has ever got me,” Mary said, giving Hermione a hug.

Hermione was so happy her parents loved their gifts. They spent the rest of the morning lounging about the living room, saying more random things for the Quick-Quotes Quill. As the sky turned from a bright grey filled with flicks of white snow to an inky clear blue, the Grangers sat down for a fantastic Christmas feast. Hermione couldn’t help think of the feast Harry, Ron, and the rest of the Hogwarts students who stayed for the holidays were having. She wondered if it compared. The food at Hogwarts was absolutely wonderful. She had read in Hogwarts, A History , most of the food was prepared by something called House Elves, but she had yet to meet them. 

The next morning, Hermione woke up bright and early for a trip to the library. She was excited to see Mildred, the librarian, and hopefully find something out about Nicholas Flamel. Her parents seemed slightly disappointed Hermione wasn’t going to spend the day with them, but she promised them she’d be home in the early afternoon.

Walking through the town, Hermione tried to see the beauty in Lavenham… but everything just seemed so dull compared to the Wizarding World. All of the buildings were weathered and tired. Everyone had dark clothes on instead of vivid robes. There was just no magic in the Muggle World.

Walking into the library, however, still felt like magic. The musty smell of the books met Hermione like an old friend. The pale yellow faded walls may not have been as enchanting as the deep, rich browns of the Hogwarts Library, but Hermione couldn’t help but smile. 

“Hermione!” a voice called from the stacks. “Happy Christmas! It’s so wonderful to see you!” Mildred emerged and gave Hermione a huge hug. “How’s Sherborne?”

“Oh, it’s wonderful. I’m learning loads.”

“I’m surprised you’re not teaching them!”

“How have you been, Mildred?” They spent a few minutes catching up. Hermione felt bad lying to Mildred, but there was no other option. “I have an odd question I was hoping you could help me with. Have you ever heard of someone named Nicholas Flamel?”

“Nicholas Flamel you say? Can’t say it sounds familiar, but let’s go check.”

Hermione and Mildred rifled through the card catalogues but came up empty. She knew it was a long shot but was still disappointed. She couldn’t help but count down the hours before she could get back to Hogwarts and continue her search. Hermione hated not knowing something. It was like a constant itch she couldn’t reach.

When Hermione got back home, Bert had set up the chess board on their living room table. “You said you wanted to practice, didn’t you?” Bert said. Hermione and Ron had started to play Wizard chess (similar enough to Muggle chess) in their off-time or when they got too frustrated to search for Nicholas Flamel. Ron beat her every single time, and Hermione was furious. She was loads smarter than Ron. She should be beating him every single time!

“Yes, thank you!” she said and sat down for a game. “Ron is positively brilliant at chess but not at anything else. I need to be able to beat him.”

“Well, your father was on the chess team in college, so you’ll be learning from the best!” Mary said, sitting down on the couch behind Hermione. “You know, his chess skills were one of the things that made me fall in love with your dad.” Mary had a wide grin on her face. “Maybe… you and Ron…”

“Ew! No! He’s a proper git! I just want to prove I’m smarter than him at everything, especially chess!”

Mary and Bert shared a smile over Hermione’s head. That’s what Mary had said about Bert, too.

Chapter Text

Hermione returned to Hogwarts the day before term started and was desperate to hear about everything that went on while she was gone. A part of her was happy they didn’t find anything out about Nicholas Flamel without her… but then she heard about all of the trouble Harry and Ron got into while she was gone.

“So I don’t understand,” said Hermione as they were lounging in the toasty Gryffindor Common Room. “It was a mirror?”

“Yeah, Dumbledore called it the ‘Mirror of Esired.’”

“But you didn’t see your reflection?”

“Well, we did,” said Harry. “But we saw an alternate reflection. It shows you what you most desire.”

“I was head boy and holding the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup! It was wicked!” Ron said as he stuffed his face with some treacle tarts he took from the Great Hall.

“And I saw my mum and dad,” Harry added quietly.

Hermione paused, giving Harry a moment… and then she pounced. “But that doesn’t change the fact you were out of bed, roaming the halls after hours three times ! You’re bloody lucky Filch didn’t catch you.”

“Yeah, but that’s the best part,” said Ron with his mouth full.

“Not getting caught? I’d certainly say so.”

“No. How we didn’t get caught. Harry, tell her.”

“On Christmas morning, I got a present from Dumbledore. It was my dad’s old invisibility cloak!”

“Why is Dumbledore even giving you presents anyways?” Hermione couldn’t get her head around the Headmaster of Hogwarts giving students gifts… especially gifts that allowed students to break rules. That seemed very counterproductive to being a headmaster.

“I dunno,” said Harry. “I guess because it was my dad’s?”

“But still,” said Hermione. “It’s a little odd, don’t you think?”

“I guess.”

“Right. It is odd. And you lot didn’t find anything out on Nicholas Flamel?” she said with an accusatory tone. Ron took offense.

“Yeah, well, neither did you.”

“I’m going to change that right now,” said Hermione. “Who wants to go to the library?”

-----

It was another unsuccessful trip to the library. Hermione was so frustrated. It shouldn’t be this hard to find a man seemingly so important as Nicholas Flamel. Harry didn’t help research as much because of Quidditch practice, unfortunately, so that left Ron and Hermione alone a lot. She was excited when Ron suggested a game of Wizard Chess - she and Bert had practiced a lot and she finally was able to beat her father a few times before she came back to Hogwarts (and she was almost positive he didn’t just let her win). They set up the Wizard’s Chess Set in the Gryffindor Common Room while Harry did his Quidditch thing. They were deep into their second game (Ron won the first, but it wasn’t a complete annihilation like before) when Harry came into the common room.

“Don’t talk to me for a moment,” said Ron when Harry sat down next to him, “I need to concen-” He caught sight of Harry’s face. “What’s the matter with you? You look terrible.”

Speaking quietly so that no one else would hear, Harry told them some very bad news: Professor Snape was to be the Quidditch referee for the big match between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff.

“Don’t play,” said Hermione at once.

“Say you’re ill,” said Ron.

“Pretend to break your leg,” Hermione suggested.

“Really break your leg,” said Ron.

“I can’t,” said Harry. “There isn’t a reserve Seeker. If I back out, Gryffindor can’t play at all.”

At that moment, Neville toppled into the common room. How he had managed to climb through the portrait hole was anyone’s guess, because his legs had been stuck together with what they recognized at once as the Leg-Locker Curse. He must have had to bunny hop all the way up to Gryffindor Tower.

Everyone fell over laughing except Hermione, who leapt up recognized the curse, and deftly performed the countercurse. Neville’s legs sprang apart, and he got to his feet, trembling.

“What happened?” Hermione asked him, leading him over to sit with Harry and Ron.

“Malfoy,” said Neville shakily. “I met him outside the library. He said he’d been looking for someone to practice that on.”

“Go to Professor McGonagall!” Hermione urged Neville. “Report him!”

Neville shook his head.

“I don’t want more trouble,” he mumbled.

“You’ve got to stand up to him, Neville!” said Ron. “He’s used to walking all over people, but that’s no reason to lie down in front of him and make it easier.”

“There’s no need to tell me I’m not brave enough to be in Gryffindor. Malfoy’s already done that,” Neville choked out.

Harry felt in the pocket of his robes and pulled out a Chocolate Frog. He gave it to Neville, who looked as though he might cry.

“You’re worth twelve of Malfoy,” Harry said. “The Sorting Hat chose you for Gryffindor, didn’t it? And where’s Malfoy? In stinking Slytherin.”

Neville’s lips twitched in a weak smile as he unwrapped the frog.

“Thanks, Harry… I think I’ll go to bed… D’you want the card, you collect them, don’t you?”

Hermione smiled. She was glad Harry and Ron had warmed up to Neville, too. As her first friend at Hogwarts, she was somewhat protective of him. As Neville walked away, Harry looked at the Famous Wizard card.

“Dumbledore again,” he said, “He was the first one I ever —”

He gasped. He stared at the back of the card. Then he looked up at Ron and Hermione.

“I’ve found him!” he whispered. “I’ve found Flamel! I told you I’d read the name somewhere before, I read it on the train coming here — listen to this: ‘Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the Dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945, for the discovery of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood, and his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel’!”

Hermione jumped to her feet. She hadn’t been so excited since they’d gotten back the marks for their very first piece of homework.

“Stay there!” she said, and she sprinted up the stairs to the girls’ dormitories. She knew exactly what book she wanted. Harry and Ron barely had time to exchange mystified looks before she was dashing back, an enormous old book in her arms.

“I never thought to look in here!” she whispered excitedly. “I got this out of the library weeks ago for a bit of light reading.”

“Light?” said Ron, but Hermione told him to be quiet until she’d looked something up, and started flicking frantically through the pages, muttering to herself.

At last she found what she was looking for.

“I knew it! I knew it!”

“Are we allowed to speak yet?” said Ron grumpily. Hermione ignored him.

“Nicolas Flamel,” she whispered dramatically, “is the only known maker of the Philosopher’s Stone!”

This didn’t have quite the effect she’d expected.

“The what?” said Harry and Ron.

“Oh, honestly, don’t you two read? Look — read that, there.”

She pushed the book toward them, and Harry and Ron read:

“The ancient study of alchemy is concerned with making the Philosopher’s Stone, a legendary substance with astonishing powers. The Stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal.

There have been many reports of the Philosopher’s Stone over the centuries, but the only Stone currently in existence belongs to Mr. Nicolas Flamel, the noted alchemist and opera lover. Mr. Flamel, who celebrated his six hundred and sixty-fifth birthday last year, enjoys a quiet life in Devon with his wife, Perenelle (six hundred and fifty-eight).”

 

“See?” said Hermione, when Harry and Ron had finished. “The dog must be guarding Flamel’s Philosopher’s Stone! I bet he asked Dumbledore to keep it safe for him, because they’re friends and he knew someone was after it. That’s why he wanted the Stone moved out of Gringotts!”

“A stone that makes gold and stops you from ever dying!” said Harry. “No wonder Snape’s after it! Anyone would want it.”

“And no wonder we couldn’t find Flamel in that Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry ,” said Ron. “He’s not exactly recent if he’s six hundred and sixty-five, is he?”

-----

The next morning in Defense Against the Dark Arts, while copying down different ways of treating werewolf bites, Harry and Ron were still discussing what they’d do with a Philosopher’s Stone if they had one. Hermione couldn’t help but roll her eyes. It wasn’t until Ron said he’d buy his own Quidditch team that Harry remembered about Snape and the coming match.

“I’m going to play,” he told Ron and Hermione. “If I don’t, all the Slytherins will think I’m just too scared to face Snape. I’ll show them... it’ll really wipe the smiles off their faces if we win.”

“Just as long as we’re not wiping you off the field,” said Hermione.

-----

Parvati was beside herself. The idea of overtaking Slytherin in the House Championship was wonderful (no one had done it for seven years), but would they be allowed to, with such a biased referee?

“See, I told you you’d get into Quidditch,” Fay said one night in their dorm room.

“It’s not fair, is it?” Hermione said.

“Snape refereeing? Definitely not!” Fay agreed.

“No, well, that too. What I meant is that winning the House Cup depends on sports. It ought to be purely academics,” Hermione said, finishing up her potions homework. 

“You sound like Padma,” laughed Parvati. She handed Hermione her Potions homework to check. With Hermione’s help, Parvati was getting much better in her classes and actually got better marks than her sister a few times. “You should have been in Ravenclaw with how smart you are.”

“But then she wouldn’t be best friends with the boy who lived,” Lavender gushed. All she ever thought about was boys.

“He’s just a friend,” Hermione blushed.

“Suuurrreee he is,” Lavender said. 

And he was just a friend, Hermione told herself… but she wondered how she’d react if Lavender started talking about Ron. The thought of being “more than a friend” with him was positively revolting.

-----

Hermione and Ron wished Harry luck as he headed into the Quidditch locker rooms. She hoped he couldn’t see how worried she was. They found a place in the stands next to Neville, who couldn’t understand why they looked so grim and worried or why they had both brought their wands to the match. Ron and Hermione had been secretly practicing the Leg-Locker Curse. They’d gotten the idea from Malfoy using it on Neville, and they were ready to use it on Snape if he showed any sign of wanting to hurt Harry.

“Now, don’t forget, it’s ‘Locomotor Mortis,’” Hermione muttered as Ron slipped his wand up his sleeve.

“I know,” Ron snapped. “Don’t nag.”

“Ron, look!” Hermione pointed into the sea of people. “Dumbledore’s here! He won’t let anything happen to Harry!”

“What’s gonna happen to Harry?” Neville asked.

“Nothing now.” Hermione’s anxiety started to subside.

The match was just about to start. Snape looked angry as the teams marched onto the field, something that Ron noticed, too.

“I’ve never seen Snape look so mean,” he told Hermione. “Look — they’re off. Ouch!”

Someone had poked Ron in the back of the head. It was Malfoy.

“Oh, sorry, Weasley, didn’t see you there.”

Malfoy grinned broadly at Crabbe and Goyle.

“Wonder how long Potter’s going to stay on his broom this time? Anyone want a bet? What about you, Weasley?”

Ron didn’t answer; Snape had just awarded Hufflepuff a penalty because George Weasley had hit a Bludger at him. Hermione, who had all her fingers crossed in her lap, was squinting fixedly at Harry, who was circling the game like a hawk, looking for the Snitch.

“You know how I think they choose people for the Gryffindor team?” said Malfoy loudly a few minutes later, as Snape awarded Hufflepuff another penalty for no reason at all. “It’s people they feel sorry for. See, there’s Potter, who’s got no parents, then there’s the Weasleys, who’ve got no money — you should be on the team, Longbottom, you’ve got no brains.”

Neville went bright red but turned in his seat to face Malfoy. 

“I’m worth twelve of you, Malfoy,” he stammered.

Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle howled with laughter, but Ron, still not daring to take his eyes from the game, said, “You tell him, Neville.”

“Longbottom, if brains were gold, you’d be poorer than Weasley, and that’s saying something.”

“I’m warning you, Malfoy — one more word —”

“Ron!” said Hermione suddenly, “Harry — !”

“What? Where?”

Harry had suddenly gone into a spectacular dive, which drew gasps and cheers from the crowd. Hermione stood up, her crossed fingers in her mouth, as Harry streaked toward the ground like a bullet.

“You’re in luck, Weasley. Potter’s obviously spotted some money on the ground!” said Malfoy.

Ron snapped. Before Malfoy knew what was happening, Ron was on top of him, wrestling him to the ground. Neville hesitated, then clambered over the back of his seat to help.

“Come on, Harry!” Hermione screamed, leaping onto her seat to watch as Harry sped straight at Snape — she didn’t even notice Malfoy and Ron rolling around under her seat, or the scuffles and yelps coming from the whirl of fists that was Neville, Crabbe, and Goyle.

Up in the air, Snape turned on his broomstick just in time to see something scarlet shoot past him, missing him by inches — the next second, Harry had pulled out of the dive, his arm raised in triumph, the Snitch clasped in his hand.

The stands erupted; it had to be a record! No one could ever remember the Snitch being caught so quickly.

“Ron! Ron! Where are you? The game’s over! Harry’s won! We’ve won! Gryffindor is in the lead!” shrieked Hermione, dancing up and down on her seat and hugging Parvati Patil in the row in front of her.

-----

Hermione, Ron, Neville, Parvati, and the rest of the Gryffindors marched back to the castle, singing, cheering, and pumping their fists. It was complete bedlam in the Common Room. Once Fred and George got back to the Common Room from changing from the match, the party even got more out of control. Hermione didn’t even mind. In fact, she even saw Percy cheering along with them. 

They kept looking over to the portrait door for Harry but he was taking forever. Oliver Wood, the Gryffindor Quidditch Captain and Keeper, was usually the last to leave the locker room, but even he showed up after a bit. 

“Where on earth is Harry?” Hermione yelled to Ron over the noise.

“No clue,” Ron yelled back, following her gaze to the portrait door. “Figured he’d be here before Wood came back.”

Another half hour went by before Harry finally climbed into the Common Room. “Harry, where have you been?” Hermione squeaked.

“We won! You won! We won!” shouted Ron, thumping Harry on the back. “And I gave Malfoy a black eye, and Neville tried to take on Crabbe and Goyle single-handed! He’s still out cold, but Madam Pomfrey says he’ll be alright — talk about showing Slytherin! Everyone’s waiting for you in the Common Room, we’re having a party, Fred and George stole some cakes and stuff from the kitchens.”

“Never mind that now,” said Harry breathlessly. “Let’s find an empty room, you wait ’til you hear this…”

Harry shut the door behind them and took a deep breath.

“I was getting ready to leave when I saw Snape go into the Forbidden Forest. So I grabbed my broom and followed him.”

“You did what?” Hermione gasped.

Harry ignored her and continued. “He went to go meet Professor Quirrell in a clearing, so I landed in a tree and listened in… and we were right, it is the Philosopher’s Stone, and Snape’s trying to force Quirrell to help him get it. He asked if he knew how to get past Fluffy — and he said something about Quirrell’s ‘hocus-pocus’ — I reckon there are other things guarding the Stone apart from Fluffy, loads of enchantments, probably, and Quirrell would have done some anti-Dark Arts spell that Snape needs to break through —”

“So you mean the Stone’s only safe as long as Quirrell stands up to Snape?” said Hermione in alarm.

“It’ll be gone by next Tuesday,” groaned Ron.

Chapter Text

Quirrell, however, must have been braver than they’d thought. In the weeks that followed he did seem to be getting paler and thinner, but it didn’t look as though he’d cracked yet.

Every time they passed the third-floor corridor, Harry, Ron, and Hermione would press their ears to the door to check that Fluffy was still growling inside. Snape was sweeping about in his usual bad temper, which surely meant that the Stone was still safe. Whenever Hermione passed Quirrell these days, she gave him an encouraging sort of smile, and Ron had started telling people off for laughing at Quirrell’s stutter. They had to keep his morale up somehow.

Hermione had more on her mind than the Philosopher’s Stone. She had started drawing up study schedules and color-coding all her notes. Harry and Ron wouldn’t have minded, but she kept nagging them to do the same. She couldn’t understand why they weren’t receptive to her help.

“Hermione, the exams are ages away.”

“Ten weeks,” Hermione snapped. “That’s not ages, that’s like a second to Nicolas Flamel.”

“But we’re not six hundred years old,” Ron reminded her. “Anyway, what are you studying for? You already know it all.”

“What am I studying for? Are you crazy? You realize we need to pass these exams to get into the second year? They’re very important. I should have started studying a month ago. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.” Hermione’s anxiety was becoming a problem again. She couldn’t tell if it was the increase of classwork (all of their professors had piled loads of homework on them for the Easter holidays), the upcoming end of year exams (and subsequent summer holiday), or the impending doom of the Philosopher’s Stone’s fate.

The word vomit was out of control; reciting the twelve uses of dragon’s blood was her go-to ramblings much to Ron and Harry’s dismay. “I still can’t believe one of the uses is ‘oven cleaner,’” said Ron. “My mom has a spell for that. I thought the uses would be cooler than that.”

Sometimes, she got so anxious that her mouth didn’t even work. In those cases, she obsessively worked on her wand movements. The number of times she had swatted Ron and Harry with her wand was significant. “Oy, Hermione! Bugger off!” Ron would say whenever she hit him. She’d mutter an apology and then go right back to practicing.

Parvati was starting to feel the pressure of the pending exams, too. Hermione shared her color-coded notes and study schedules, and the two would stay up late at night studying. Lavender, Fay, and Alice were not as worried and complained quite a bit about the lights being on at all hours of the night. Always the problem solver, Hermione (and Parvati) would sit on one of their beds with the curtain drawn so the lights wouldn’t bother their roommates. Hermione also learned the Muffliato Charm so they could be as loud as they wanted. The Muffliato Charm fills the ears of any person in the vicinity of the caster with an unidentifiable buzzing sound so as to allow for conversation without being overheard.

During the day, Hermione practically lived in the library. Moaning and yawning, Harry and Ron spent most of their free time in the library with her, trying to get through all their extra work.

“I’ll never remember this,” Ron burst out one afternoon, throwing down his quill and looking longingly out of the library window. It was the first really fine day they’d had in months. The sky was a clear, forget-me-not blue, and there was a feeling in the air of summer coming.

Harry, who was looking up “dittany” in One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi , didn’t look up until he heard Ron say, “Hagrid! What are you doing in the library?”

Hagrid shuffled into view, hiding something behind his back. He looked very out of place in his moleskin overcoat.

“Jus’ lookin’,” he said, in a shifty voice that got their interest at once. “An’ what’re you lot up ter?” He looked suddenly suspicious. “Yer not still lookin’ fer Nicolas Flamel, are yeh?”

“Oh, we found out who he is ages ago,” said Ron impressively. “And we know what that dog’s guarding, it’s a Philosopher’s St —”

“Shhhh!” Hagrid looked around quickly to see if anyone was listening. “Don’ go shoutin’ about it, what’s the matter with yeh?”

“There are a few things we wanted to ask you, as a matter of fact,” said Harry, “about what’s guarding the Stone apart from Fluffy--”

“SHHHH!” said Hagrid again. “Listen — come an’ see me later, I’m not promisin’ I’ll tell yeh anythin’, mind, but don’ go rabbitin’ about it in here, students aren’ s’pposed ter know. They’ll think I’ve told yeh —”

“See you later, then,” said Harry.

Hagrid shuffled off.

“What was he hiding behind his back?” said Hermione thoughtfully.

“Do you think it had anything to do with the Stone?”

“I’m going to see what section he was in,” said Ron, who’d had enough of working. He came back a minute later with a pile of books in his arms and slammed them down on the table.

“Dragons!” he whispered. “Hagrid was looking up stuff about dragons! Look at these: Dragon Species of Great Britain and Ireland; From Egg to Inferno, A Dragon Keeper’s Guide .”

“Hagrid’s always wanted a dragon, he told me so the first time I ever met him,” said Harry.”

“But it’s against our laws,” said Ron. “Dragon breeding was outlawed by the Warlocks’ Convention of 1709, everyone knows that. It’s hard to stop Muggles from noticing us if we’re keeping dragons in the back garden — anyway, you can’t tame dragons, it’s dangerous. You should see the burns Charlie’s got off wild ones in Romania.” Hermione tried to hide the surprised look on her face. Had Ron really just stated a fact? And an extensive one at that?

“But there aren’t wild dragons in Britain?” said Harry.

“Of course there are,” said Ron. “Common Welsh Green and Hebridean Blacks. The Ministry of Magic has a job hushing them up, I can tell you. Our kind have to keep putting spells on Muggles who’ve spotted them, to make them forget.”

“So what on earth’s Hagrid up to?” said Hermione.

-----

When they knocked on the door of the gamekeeper’s hut an hour later, they were surprised to see that all the curtains were closed. Hagrid called “Who is it?” before he let them in, and then shut the door quickly behind them.

It was stifling hot inside. Even though it was such a warm day, there was a blazing fire in the grate. Hagrid made them tea and offered them stoat sandwiches, which they refused.

“So — yeh wanted to ask me somethin’?”

“Yes,” said Harry. They had agreed on the walk down that there was no point beating around the bush. “We were wondering if you could tell us what’s guarding the Philosopher’s Stone apart from Fluffy.”

Hagrid frowned at him.

“O’ course I can’t,” he said. “Number one, I don’ know meself. Number two, yeh know too much already, so I wouldn’ tell yeh if I could. That Stone’s here fer a good reason. It was almost stolen outta Gringotts — I s’ppose yeh’ve worked that out an’ all? Beats me how yeh even know abou’ Fluffy.”

Hermione had a plan to get it out of him. 

“Oh, come on, Hagrid, you might not want to tell us, but you do know, you know everything that goes on ‘round here,” said Hermione in a warm, flattering voice. Hagrid’s beard twitched, and they could tell he was smiling. “We only wondered who had done the guarding, really.” Hermione went on. “We wondered who Dumbledore had trusted enough to help him, apart from you.”

Hagrid’s chest swelled at these last words. Harry and Ron beamed at Hermione, and her face grew even redder than it was because of the sweltering heat.

“Well, I don’ s’pose it could hurt ter tell yeh that… let’s see… he borrowed Fluffy from me… then some o’ the teachers did enchantments… Professor Sprout — Professor Flitwick — Professor McGonagall —” he ticked them off on his fingers, “Professor Quirrell — an’ Dumbledore himself did somethin’, o’ course. Hang on, I’ve forgotten someone. Oh yeah, Professor Snape.”

“Snape?”

“Yeah — yer not still on abou’ that, are yeh? Look, Snape helped protect the Stone, he’s not about ter steal it.”

If Snape had been in on protecting the Stone, it must have been easy to find out how the other teachers had guarded it. He probably knew everything — except, it seemed, Quirrell’s spell and how to get past Fluffy. Hermione’s heart sank.

“You’re the only one who knows how to get past Fluffy, aren’t you, Hagrid?” said Harry anxiously. “And you wouldn’t tell anyone, would you? Not even one of the teachers?”

“Not a soul knows except me an’ Dumbledore,” said Hagrid proudly.

“Well, that’s something,” Harry muttered to the others. “Hagrid, can we have a window open? I’m boiling.”

“Can’t, Harry, sorry,” said Hagrid. Harry noticed him glance at the fire. Harry looked at it, too.

“Hagrid — what’s that?”

But he already knew what it was. In the very heart of the fire, underneath the kettle, was a huge, black egg.

“Ah,” said Hagrid, fiddling nervously with his beard, “That’s — er...”

“Where did you get it, Hagrid?” said Ron, crouching over the fire to get a closer look at the egg. “It must’ve cost you a fortune.”

“Won it,” said Hagrid. “Las’ night. I was down in the village havin’ a few drinks an’ got into a game o’ cards with a stranger. Think he was quite glad ter get rid of it, ter be honest.”

“But what are you going to do with it when it’s hatched?” said Hermione. The pounding in her chest was back.

“Well, I’ve bin doin’ some readin’,” said Hagrid, pulling a large book from under his pillow. “Got this outta the library — Dragon Breeding for Pleasure and Profit — it’s a bit outta date, o’ course, but it’s all in here. Keep the egg in the fire, ’cause their mothers breathe on ’em, see, an’ when it hatches, feed it on a bucket o’ brandy mixed with chicken blood every half hour. An’ see here — how ter recognize diff’rent eggs — what I got there’s a Norwegian Ridgeback. They’re rare, them.”

He looked very pleased with himself, but Hermione didn’t.

“Hagrid, you live in a wooden house,” she said.

But Hagrid wasn’t listening. He was humming merrily as he stoked the fire.

-----

So now they had something else to worry about: what might happen to Hagrid if anyone found out he was hiding an illegal dragon in his hut.

“Wonder what it’s like to have a peaceful life,” Ron sighed, as evening after evening they struggled through all the extra homework they were getting. Hermione had now started making study schedules for Harry and Ron, too. They didn’t seem as pleased as she thought they would be, but she was quite confident they’d appreciate it after they got their marks.

Then, during breakfast one morning, Hedwig brought Harry another note from Hagrid. He had written only two words: It’s hatching .

Ron wanted to skip Herbology and go straight down to the hut. Hermione wouldn’t hear of it.

“Hermione, how many times in our lives are we going to see a dragon hatching?” She couldn’t believe he had just said that. Wasn’t it obvious?

“We’ve got lessons, we’ll get into trouble, and that’s nothing to what Hagrid’s going to be in when someone finds out what he’s doing —”

“Shut up!” Harry whispered. Malfoy was only a few feet away and he had stopped dead to listen. How much had he heard? 

Ron and Hermione argued all the way to Herbology and in the end, Hermione agreed to run down to Hagrid’s with the other two during morning break. She supposed it was educational to see a dragon being hatched, after all. When the bell sounded from the castle at the end of their lesson, the three of them dropped their trowels at once and hurried through the grounds to the edge of the forest. Hagrid greeted them, looking flushed and excited.

“It’s nearly out.” He ushered them inside.

The egg was lying on the table. There were deep cracks in it. Something was moving inside; a funny clicking noise was coming from it.

They all drew their chairs up to the table and watched with bated breath.

All at once, there was a scraping noise, and the egg split open. The baby dragon flopped onto the table. It wasn’t exactly pretty; Harry thought it looked like a crumpled, black umbrella. Its spiny wings were huge compared to its skinny jet body, it had a long snout with wide nostrils, the stubs of horns and bulging, orange eyes.

It sneezed. A couple of sparks flew out of its snout.

“Isn’t he beautiful?” Hagrid murmured. He reached out a hand to stroke the dragon’s head. It snapped at his fingers, showing pointed fangs.

“Bless him, look, he knows his mommy!” said Hagrid.

“Hagrid,” said Hermione, “how fast do Norwegian Ridgebacks grow, exactly?”

Hagrid was about to answer when the color suddenly drained from his face — he leapt to his feet and ran to the window.

“What’s the matter?”

“Someone was lookin’ through the gap in the curtains — it’s a kid — he’s runnin’ back up ter the school.”

Harry bolted to the door and looked out. Hermione was seconds behind him. Even at a distance, there was no mistaking him.

Malfoy had seen the dragon.

-----

Something about the smile lurking on Malfoy’s face during the next week made Harry, Ron, and Hermione very nervous. They spent most of their free time in Hagrid’s darkened hut, trying to reason with him.

“Just let him go,” Harry urged. “Set him free.”

“I can’t,” said Hagrid. “He’s too little. He’d die.”

They looked at the dragon. It had grown three times in length in just a week. Smoke kept furling out of its nostrils. Hagrid hadn’t been doing his gamekeeping duties because the dragon was keeping him so busy. There were empty brandy bottles and chicken feathers all over the floor.

“I’ve decided to call him Norbert,” said Hagrid, looking at the dragon with misty eyes. “He really knows me now, watch. Norbert! Norbert! Where’s Mommy?”

“He’s lost his marbles,” Ron muttered in Harry’s ear.

“Hagrid,” said Harry loudly, “give it two weeks and Norbert’s going to be as long as your house. Malfoy could go to Dumbledore at any moment.”

Hagrid bit his lip.

“I — I know I can’t keep him forever, but I can’t jus’ dump him, can’t.”

Harry suddenly turned to Ron.

“Charlie,” he said.

“You’re losing it, too,” said Ron. “I’m Ron, remember?”

“No — Charlie — your brother, Charlie. In Romania. Studying dragons. We could send Norbert to him. Charlie can take care of him and then put him back in the wild!”

“Brilliant!” said Ron. “How about it, Hagrid?”

And in the end, Hagrid agreed that they could send an owl to Charlie to ask him.

-----

The following week dragged by. Wednesday night found Hermione and Harry sitting alone in the common room, long after everyone else had gone to bed. They were waiting for Ron to get back from Hagrid’s hut and passed the time just talking.

“So, Hagrid was your Special Messenger?” Hermione asked.

“My what?”

“Special Messenger. Someone from the school to deliver the acceptance letter to Muggle families. Professor McGonagall was mine.”

“Oh, yeah, I guess so,” Harry said. “But only because my uncle and aunt wouldn’t let me open my letter.” Harry proceeded to tell Hermione that his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon were absolutely terrible people. They were supposed to tell Harry about his magical heritage but, simply, didn’t. Instead, they just treated him like an unwanted orphan, even going so far as to make him sleep in the cupboard under the stairs instead of an actual bedroom. 

“That’s borderline abuse!” Hermione gasped.

“I guess, but now I’m here,” Harry said with a smile. “I’ve never felt more…” Harry paused. “...home than I have here. It’s hard to explain.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Hermione said. “My parents weren’t nearly as horrible as your aunt and uncle, but they never really seemed to care about anything other than how smart I was... until recently.”

“What do you mean?” Harry asked.

“It’s not a big deal,” Hermione said, suddenly embarrassed. “It’s not like they locked me in a cupboard under the steps.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t sound very, I don’t know, parent-like,” Harry said. “What do they do?

“Nothing bad, really,” Hermione said. She was getting uncomfortable, but there was something about Harry’s eyes that made her continue the conversation. “Their way of showing love is to give me a new book and quiz me on it later. We never really talked about anything but books and facts until recently. But I’ve never really felt… complete… back at home. I always felt like something was missing. But here,” Hermione sighed and looked around at the common room. “Here, I feel as though I found the missing piece.”

“Exactly. Like you knew there was something ‘off’ but didn’t know what it was until you came here.”

“Precisely,” Hermione smiled. It was nice to finally get to talk to someone about it.

“What was Professor McGonagall like when she came to tell you about Hogwarts?” Harry asked.

“She was simply brilliant. It took a while to convince my mum and dad magic was real and she was very patient. I like her a lot,” said Hermione.

“She kind of scares me, to be honest. She’s just so intimidating.”

“She’s just strict,” Hermione said. “And precise. And can’t be bothered with nonsense. She’s a very practical and smart woman.”

“So, like you?” Harry smiled. Hermione blushed. That may have been the best compliment she had ever received. 

The clock interrupted them by chiming twelve times. Midnight. As if on cue, the portrait hole burst open. Ron appeared out of nowhere as he pulled off Harry’s Invisibility Cloak. He had been down at Hagrid’s hut, helping him feed Norbert, who was now eating dead rats by the crate.

“It bit me!” he said, showing them his hand, which was wrapped in a bloody handkerchief. “I’m not going to be able to hold a quill for a week. I tell you, that dragon’s the most horrible animal I’ve ever met, but the way Hagrid goes on about it, you’d think it was a fluffy little bunny rabbit. When it bit me, he told me off for frightening it. And when I left, he was singing it a lullaby.”

There was a tap on the dark window.

“It’s Hedwig!” said Harry, hurrying to let her in. “She’ll have Charlie’s answer!” The three of them put their heads together to read the note:

 

Dear Ron,

How are you? Thanks for the letter — I’d be glad to take the Norwegian Ridgeback, but it won’t be easy getting him here. I think the best thing will be to send him over with some friends of mine who are coming to visit me next week. Trouble is, they mustn’t be seen carrying an illegal dragon.

Could you get the Ridgeback up the tallest tower at midnight on Saturday? They can meet you there and take him away while it’s still dark.

Send me an answer as soon as possible.

 

Love,

Charlie

 

They looked at one another. “We’ve got the Invisibility Cloak,” said Harry. “It shouldn’t be too difficult — I think the cloak’s big enough to cover two of us and Norbert.”

It was a mark of how bad the last week had been that the other two agreed with him. There was no debating it. Anything to get rid of Norbert — and Malfoy.

-----

“It’s too late to change the plan now,” Harry told Hermione. “We haven’t got time to send Charlie another owl, and this could be our only chance to get rid of Norbert. We’ll have to risk it. And we have got the Invisibility Cloak, Malfoy doesn’t know about that.”

Hermoine and Harry had walked down to Hagrid’s hut to tell him the news. They found Fang, the boarhound, sitting outside with a bandaged tail when they went to tell Hagrid, who opened a window to talk to them. Hermione knew at once this was not a good sign.

“I won’t let you in,” he puffed. “Norbert’s at a tricky stage — nothin’ I can’t handle.”

Tricky, thought Hermione… she could think of about one hundred other words for it. Tricky was definitely not one of them. Hagrid slipped out of the door (as much as a giant can slip through the door) and joined them outside.

When they told him about Charlie’s letter, his eyes filled with tears, although that might have been because Norbert had just bitten him on the leg.

“Aargh! It’s all right, he only got my boot — jus’ playin’ — he’s only a baby, after all.”

The baby banged its tail on the wall, making the windows rattle. Every rattle made Hermione jump. Harry and Hermione walked back to the castle feeling Saturday couldn’t come quickly enough.

-----

They would have felt sorry for Hagrid when the time came for him to say good-bye to Norbert if they hadn’t been so worried about what they had to do. It was a very dark, cloudy night, and they were a bit late arriving at Hagrid’s hut because they’d had to wait for Peeves to get out of their way in the entrance hall where he’d been playing tennis against the wall. Not knowing how Hagrid would have Norbert “set up for transport,” they decided only two of them should go. Three may not fit under the invisibility cloak. Ron, being the tallest, would have to stay back. 

Hermione had to admit the cloak was one of the most extraordinary things she had seen in the Wizarding World. It was a fluid, silvery gray piece of cloth that felt like there was water weaved into the material. Hermione had made the boys each try it on to inspect just how “invisible” they were - she could find no trace of them once the cloak was on. It was incredible.

Hagrid had Norbert packed and ready in a large crate. Hermione was actually surprised - she didn’t think Hagrid would have followed through.

“He’s got lots o’ rats an’ some brandy fer the journey,” said Hagrid in a muffled voice. “An’ I’ve packed his teddy bear in case he gets lonely.” Hermione made a mental note to make sure Harry would get the side with the rats.

From inside the crate came ripping noises that sounded as though the teddy was having his head torn off.

“Bye-bye, Norbert!” Hagrid sobbed, as Harry and Hermione covered the crate with the Invisibility Cloak and stepped underneath it themselves. “Mommy will never forget you!”

Hermione felt slightly sorry for Hagrid, but all pity evaporated as soon as she grabbed the crate. How they managed to get the crate back up to the castle, they never knew. Midnight ticked nearer as they heaved Norbert up the marble staircase in the entrance hall and along the dark corridors. Up another staircase, then another — even one of Harry’s shortcuts didn’t make the work much easier.

“Nearly there!” Harry panted as they reached the corridor beneath the tallest tower.

Then a sudden movement ahead of them made them almost drop the crate. Forgetting that they were already invisible, they shrank into the shadows, staring at the dark outlines of two people grappling with each other ten feet away. A lamp flared.

Professor McGonagall, in a tartan bathrobe and a hair net, had Malfoy by the ear. Hermione’s heart pounded in her ears, and she could barely hear Professor McGonagall over the noise.

“Detention!” she shouted. “And twenty points from Slytherin! Wandering around in the middle of the night, how dare you —”

“You don’t understand, Professor. Harry Potter’s coming — he’s got a dragon!”

“What utter rubbish! How dare you tell such lies! Come on — I shall see Professor Snape about you, Malfoy!”

The steep spiral staircase up to the top of the tower seemed the easiest thing in the world after that. Not until they’d stepped out into the cold night air did they throw off the cloak, glad to be able to breathe properly again. Hermione did a sort of jig.

“Malfoy’s got detention! I could sing!”

“Don’t,” Harry advised her.

“Obviously.”

Chuckling about Malfoy, they waited, Norbert thrashing about in his crate. About ten minutes later, four broomsticks came swooping down out of the darkness.

Charlie’s friends were a cheery lot. Ron took after Charlie a lot, Hermione noticed. They showed Harry and Hermione the harness they’d rigged up, so they could suspend Norbert between them. She was impressed by their handywork. They all helped buckle Norbert safely into it and then Harry and Hermione shook hands with the others and thanked them very much.

At last, Norbert was going... going... gone.

They slipped back down the spiral staircase, their hearts as light as their hands, now that Norbert was off them. No more dragon — Malfoy in detention — what could spoil their happiness?

The answer to that was waiting at the foot of the stairs. As they stepped into the corridor, Filch’s face loomed suddenly out of the darkness.

“Well, well, well,” he whispered, “we are in trouble.”

They’d left the Invisibility Cloak on top of the tower. Hermione burst into tears.

Chapter Text

Things couldn’t have been worse.

Filch took them down to Professor McGonagall’s study on the first floor, where they sat and waited without saying a word to each other. Hermione was trembling. Her heart was exploding in her chest. She could feel the bubbling of a huge panic attack unlike she had ever experienced. Excuses, alibis, and wild cover-up stories chased each other around Hermione’s brain, each more feeble than the last. She could not think of one conceivable excuse. This was it. They were cornered.

How could they have been so stupid as to forget the cloak? There was no reason on earth that Professor McGonagall would accept for their being out of bed and creeping around the school in the dead of night, let alone being up the tallest Astronomy Tower (which was out-of-bounds except for classes). Add Norbert and the Invisibility Cloak and they might as well be packing their bags already. They were going to be expelled. She’d have to go home to Lavenham and back to regular school. She’d never feel at home again. Would she have to continue the family business? Life filled with cavities and fillings instead of spells and charms? Would they take her wand? Her beautiful wand. It had become like an extension of her body. She was very rarely without her wand. Would they take her books? Hermione couldn’t imagine living without her books. Her books were as much a part of her as her wand. And her friends! Would she be barred from seeing them ever again? Maybe she’d be able to continue to write her friends while she lived her life as a Muggle. That was the only saving grace. 

When Professor McGonagall appeared, she was leading Neville. Hermione couldn’t look. She didn’t want to see the disappointment in either of their eyes. 

“Harry!” Neville burst out the moment he saw the other two. “I was trying to find you to warn you, I heard Malfoy saying he was going to catch you, he said you had a drag —”

Harry and Hermione shook their heads violently to shut Neville up, but Professor McGonagall had seen. She looked more likely to breathe fire than Norbert as she towered over the three of them.

“I would never have believed it of any of you. Mr. Filch says you were up in the Astronomy Tower. It’s one o’clock in the morning. Explain yourselves.”

It was the first time Hermione had ever failed to answer a teacher’s question. She was staring at her slippers, as still as a statue.

“I think I’ve got a good idea of what’s been going on,” said Professor McGonagall. “It doesn’t take a genius to work it out. You fed Draco Malfoy some cock-and-bull story about a dragon, trying to get him out of bed and into trouble. I’ve already caught him. I suppose you think it’s funny that Longbottom here heard the story and believed it, too?”

Hermione gasped. No! She looked at Neville. His face crumpled. Hermione’s heart ached for him -- she knew what it must have cost him to try and find them in the dark, to warn them, and now he thought they had done it all on purpose. All hopes of being able to continue a friendship with Neville from afar vanished. He’d never accept her owls after this. 

“I’m disgusted,” said Professor McGonagall. “Four students out of bed in one night! I’ve never heard of such a thing before! You, Miss Granger, I thought you had more sense.” Hermione shrank in her chair as low as humanly possible. “As for you, Mr. Potter, I thought Gryffindor meant more to you than this. All three of you will receive detentions — yes, you too, Mr. Longbottom, nothing gives you the right to walk around school at night, especially these days, it’s very dangerous — and fifty points will be taken from Gryffindor.”

“Fifty?” Harry gasped. Hermione gasped as well. They would lose the lead Harry had won in the last Quidditch match.

“Fifty points each,” said Professor McGonagall, breathing heavily through her long, pointed nose.

“Professor — please —”

“You can’t —”

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do, Potter. Now get back to bed, all of you. I’ve never been more ashamed of Gryffindor students.”

A hundred and fifty points lost. That put Gryffindor in last place. In one night, they’d ruined any chance Gryffindor had had for the House Cup… and any hope Parvati would ever want to talk to Hermione again either. Her life was ruined. 

-----

Hermione climbed the stars back to the dormitory slowly. Her feet felt like lead. She kept telling herself, “At least you weren’t expelled,” but the words didn’t make her feel any better. Being expelled would have been horrible, but having to stay to deal with all of the disappointment may be worse. First, there was Professor McGonagall. Hermione’s hero. Her role model. How could she look Professor McGonagall in the eye after this? How could she regain her respect? 

Parvati was going to be so angry when she saw the hourglass in the Entrance Hall. Gryffindor was going to lose... and lose miserably, and it was all Hermione’s fault. She was going to have to spend the rest of her time at Hogwarts living with someone who absolutely loathed her. 

And, finally, Neville. Poor Neville. Neville was having an even harder time fitting in than Hermione… and now Neville thought she had tricked him and lied to him. She couldn’t imagine how betrayed he felt, especially knowing how brave he had to have been to try to save them. She watched him walk towards the boys dormitory in front of Harry and her heart broke. He just looked so defeated. 

Hermione pulled the blankets up over her face and cast the Muffliato charm so her roommates wouldn’t hear her sobs. She couldn’t stop. She couldn’t breath. She couldn’t think. She didn’t sleep for a single second that night.

At first, Gryffindors passing the giant hourglasses that recorded the house points the next morning thought there’d been a mistake. How could they suddenly have a hundred and fifty points fewer than yesterday? 

And then the story started to spread: Harry Potter, hero of two Quidditch matches, had lost them all those points... him and a couple of other stupid first years. Hermione took little solace that most people didn’t know her well enough by name, but she knew that any Gryffindor with half a brain would know exactly who was with Harry Potter in the Astronomy Tower.

Harry did bear the brunt of it, though. From being one of the most popular and admired people at the school, Harry was suddenly the most hated. Even Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs turned on him because everyone had been longing to see Slytherin lose the House Cup. Everywhere Harry went, people pointed and didn’t trouble to lower their voices as they insulted him. Slytherins, on the other hand, clapped as he walked past them, whistling and cheering, “Thanks Potter, we owe you one!” 

Hermione, at least, was able to walk the halls relatively unnoticed. Nonetheless, she made sure to keep her head down and not draw any attention to herself. During class, she didn’t answer any questions if she could help it - not only so people wouldn’t notice her, but also because the word vomit was so bad. She didn’t trust herself to shut up after saying the answer.

Ron was constantly trying to cheer Hermione and Harry up.

“They’ll all forget this in a few weeks. Fred and George have lost loads of points in all the time they’ve been here, and people still like them.”

“They’ve never lost a hundred and fifty points in one go, though, have they?” said Harry miserably.

“Well — no,” Ron admitted.

Hermione was right about Parvati - she was furious and refused to talk to her. Hermione survived the only way she was capable - throwing herself into books.The time she would have spent working with Parvati was spent working with Ron and Harry (mostly since they were the only two who would talk to her). 

Hermione and Ron were in the library one afternoon. She was testing him on Astronomy with the aid of a map of Jupiter and its moons. “Ok, Ron, what are the difference between the regular satellites and the irregular satellites of Jupiter?”

“One goes to the loo every day and the other doesn’t? Look, Hermione, this is pointless.”

“It’s not pointless. It’s on the test. Come on, Ron, it’s really quite simple. Regular satellites have regular or circular orbits because they’re closer to Jupiter. Irregular satellites have irregular or more eccentric orbits because they’re further away and not as affected by Jupiter’s gravity.”

“I’m not going to get it no matter how many times you tell me that.”

Hermione sighed. She gloomily remembered Parvati’s advice on trying to figure out how to help others learn. “I know you can get this, Ron. Regular - normal. Irregular - crazy.” She looked at his face. It was completely empty looking. No, that wasn’t it. She changed tactics. “Ok, using your crude loo analogy, when you’re ‘regular,’ everything is moving around correctly in your body, right? When you’re ‘irregular,’ everything is moving around all crazy. It’s not in sync. It’s like your body doesn’t have as much control, just like Jupiter doesn’t have much control over planets that are farther away from it.”

Ron had a nasty habit of sucking on the end of his quill when he was thinking hard. Hermione looked away - it was disgusting.

“Ok, I think I get it.” 

“Good. Now, let’s take it a step further. There are two groups of regular moons. What are they?” Hermione couldn’t watch any longer. “Ron, that is utterly revolting. Take that quill out of your mouth right this instant.” Ron started to suck the end of the quill more aggressively to gross Hermione out but, thankfully, Harry appeared and plopped down in between them.

“Guess what I just heard,” he said.

“Harry, we’re studying and you should be too,” Hermione said with a slight hint of annoyance.

“Yeah, I will later. Promise. When I went back to go get your library book, I heard Quirrell in his classroom. He was crying and then said, ‘No, no, not again - please’ and then ‘all right, all right!’ and ran out of the room. I peeked in, but the room was empty... but the other door was open. I’ll bet Snape was in there threatening him again!”

“Snape’s done it, then!” said Ron. “If Quirrell’s told him how to break his Anti-Dark Force spell —”

“There’s still Fluffy, though,” said Hermione, thoughtfully.

“Maybe Snape’s found out how to get past him without asking Hagrid,” said Ron, looking up at the thousands of books surrounding them. “I bet there’s a book somewhere in here telling you how to get past a giant three-headed dog. So what do we do, Harry?”

The fire of adventure was kindling again in Ron’s eyes, but Hermione answered before Harry could. It was the most simple answer, and she was kind of angry at herself for not thinking about it before.

“Go to Dumbledore. That’s what we should have done ages ago. If we try anything ourselves, we’ll be thrown out for sure.”

“But we’ve got no proof!” said Harry. “Quirrell’s too scared to back us up. Snape’s only got to say he doesn’t know how the troll got in at Halloween and that he was nowhere near the third floor — who do you think they’ll believe, him or us? It’s not exactly a secret we hate him. Dumbledore’ll think we made it up to get him sacked. Filch wouldn’t help us if his life depended on it. He’s too friendly with Snape, and the more students get thrown out, the better, he’ll think. And don’t forget, we’re not supposed to know about the Stone or Fluffy. That’ll take a lot of explaining.”

Hermione’s mind was slightly swayed, but Ron’s definitely wasn’t.

“If we just do a bit of poking around —”

“No,” said Harry flatly, “we’ve done enough poking around.”

He pulled a map of Jupiter toward him and started to read the names of its moons. Hermione was glad - no more snooping around. 

-----

The following morning, notes were delivered to Harry, Hermione, and Neville at the breakfast table. They were all the same:

 

Your detention will take place at eleven o’clock tonight.

Meet Mr. Filch in the entrance hall.

Professor M. McGonagall

 

Hermione felt her heart drop even though she knew the note was coming (and had been dreading it for days). As much as she was worried about losing a night of studying, she deserved it.

At eleven o’clock that night, they said good-bye to Ron in the Common Room and went down to the entrance hall with Neville. Filch was already there — and so was Malfoy. 

“Follow me,” said Filch, lighting a lamp and leading them outside. “I bet you’ll think twice about breaking a school rule again, won’t you, eh?” he said, leering at them. “Oh yes… hard work and pain are the best teachers if you ask me… It’s just a pity they let the old punishments die out… hang you by your wrists from the ceiling for a few days, I’ve got the chains still in my office, keep ’em well oiled in case they’re ever needed… Right, off we go, and don’t think of running off, now, it’ll be worse for you if you do.”

They marched off across the dark grounds. Neville kept sniffing. He had been completely avoiding Hermione, so she hadn’t had a chance to be able to explain. She felt horrible. All she wanted to do was to grab him in a hug and make him feel better, just like he did for her all those months ago on the Hogwarts Express.

The moon was bright, but clouds scudding across it kept throwing them into darkness. Ahead, Hermione could see the lighted windows of Hagrid’s hut. Then, they heard a distant shout.

“Is that you, Filch? Hurry up, I want ter get started.”

Hermione’s heart rose; if they were going to be working with Hagrid it wouldn’t be so bad. Harry looked positively relieved, but Filch saw it and said, “I suppose you think you’ll be enjoying yourself with that oaf? Well, think again, boy — it’s into the forest you’re going, and I’m much mistaken if you’ll all come out in one piece.”

At this, Neville let out a little moan, and Malfoy stopped dead in his tracks.

“The forest?” he repeated, and he didn’t sound quite as cool as usual. “We can’t go in there at night — there’s all sorts of things in there — werewolves, I heard.”

Neville clutched the sleeve of Harry’s robe and made a choking noise. Hermione wanted to, frankly, do the same.

“That’s your problem, isn’t it?” said Filch, his voice cracking with glee. “Should’ve thought of them werewolves before you got in trouble, shouldn’t you?”

Hagrid came striding towards them out of the dark with Fang at his heel. He was carrying his large crossbow, and a quiver of arrows hung over his shoulder.

“Abou’ time,” he said. “I bin waitin’ fer half an hour already. All right, Harry, Hermione?”

“I shouldn’t be too friendly to them, Hagrid,” said Filch coldly. “They’re here to be punished, after all.”

“That’s why yer late, is it?” said Hagrid, frowning at Filch. “Bin lecturin’ them, eh? ’Snot your place ter do that. Yeh’ve done yer bit, I’ll take over from here.”

“I’ll be back at dawn,” said Filch. “For what’s left of them,” he added nastily, and he turned and started back toward the castle, his lamp bobbing away in the darkness.

Malfoy turned to Hagrid. “I’m not going in that forest,” he said, and Hermione thought she detected a little panic in his voice which made her feel slightly better… for half a second. Then, the bubble of anxiety rose right back again. 

“Yeh are if yeh want ter stay at Hogwarts,” said Hagrid fiercely. “Yeh’ve done wrong an’ now yeh’ve got ter pay fer it.”

“But this is servant stuff, it’s not for students to do. I thought we’d be copying lines or something, if my father knew I was doing this, he’d —”

“— tell yer that’s how it is at Hogwarts,” Hagrid growled. “Copyin’ lines! What good’s that ter anyone? Yeh’ll do summat useful or yeh’ll get out. If yeh think yer father’d rather you were expelled, then get back off ter the castle an’ pack. Go on!”

Malfoy didn’t move. He looked at Hagrid furiously, but then dropped his gaze.

“Right then,” said Hagrid, “now, listen carefully, ’cause it’s dangerous what we’re gonna do tonight, an’ I don’ want no one takin’ risks. Follow me over here a moment.”

He led them to the very edge of the forest. Holding his lamp up high, he pointed down a narrow, winding earth track that disappeared into the thick, black trees. A light breeze lifted their hair as they looked into the forest.

“Look there,” said Hagrid. “See that stuff shinin’ on the ground? Silvery stuff? That’s unicorn blood. There’s a unicorn in there bin hurt badly by summat. This is the second time in a week. I found one dead last Wednesday. We’re gonna try an’ find the poor thing. We might have ter put it out of its misery.”

“And what if whatever hurt the unicorn finds us first?” said Malfoy, unable to keep the fear out of his voice.

“There’s nothin’ that lives in the forest that’ll hurt yeh if yer with me or Fang,” said Hagrid. “An’ keep ter the path. Right, now, we’re gonna split inter two parties an’ follow the trail in diff’rent directions. There’s blood all over the place, it must’ve bin staggerin’ around since last night at least.”

“I want Fang,” said Malfoy quickly, looking at Fang’s long teeth.

“All right, but I warn yeh, he’s a coward,” said Hagrid. “So me, Harry, an’ Hermione’ll go one way an’ Draco, Neville, an’ Fang’ll go the other. Now, if any of us finds the unicorn, we’ll send up green sparks, right? Get yer wands out an’ practice now — that’s it — an’ if anyone gets in trouble, send up red sparks, an’ we’ll all come an’ find yeh — so, be careful — let’s go.”

The forest was black and silent. A little way into it, they reached a fork in the earth path. Harry, Hermione, and Hagrid took the left path while Malfoy, Neville, and Fang took the right. Hermione was relieved to be with Harry and Hagrid, but she wished she could be with Neville. A true Gryffindor would be brave and protect her friends. Hermione felt like a failure as she followed Harry and Hagrid.

They walked in silence, their eyes on the ground. Every now and then, a ray of moonlight broke through the branches above and lit a spot of silver-blue blood on the fallen leaves. Hagrid looked very worried.

“Could a werewolf be killing the unicorns?” Harry asked.

“Not fast enough,” said Hagrid. “It’s not easy ter catch a unicorn. They’re powerful magic creatures. I never knew one ter be hurt before.”

They walked past a mossy tree stump and Hermione could hear the sound of running water… but the running water started to sound like a raging river… or was that just her heart beating wildly in her chest? She felt faint and grabbed the nearest tree for support. There were still spots of unicorn blood here and there along the winding path. Hermione had hoped she hadn’t just put her hands in one, but she was too faint to care.

“You all right, Hermione?” Hagrid whispered. “Don’ worry, it can’t’ve gone far if it’s this badly hurt, an’ then we’ll be able ter — GET BEHIND THAT TREE!”

Hagrid seized Harry and Hermione and hoisted them off the path behind a towering oak. Hermione’s body was like a rag doll, and she hit the ground hard. He pulled out an arrow, fitted it into his crossbow, and raised it, ready to fire. The three of them listened. Something was slithering over dead leaves nearby: it sounded like a cloak trailing along the ground.

“I knew it,” he murmured. “There’s summat in here that shouldn’ be.”

“A werewolf?” Harry suggested.

“That wasn’ no werewolf an’ it wasn’ no unicorn, neither,” said Hagrid grimly. “Right, follow me, but careful, now.”

Hermione didn’t want to get up from behind the tree, but she didn’t want to stay there either. She was frantically trying to think of anything she learned in Defense Against the Dark Arts that she could use, but her brain wouldn’t comply. They walked more slowly, ears straining for the faintest sound. Suddenly, in a clearing ahead, something definitely moved.

“Who’s there?” Hagrid called. “Show yerself — I’m armed!”

And into the clearing came — was it a man or a horse? Hermione had to do a double take. To the waist, a man, with red hair and beard... but below that was a horse’s gleaming chestnut body with a long, reddish tail. Harry and Hermione’s jaws dropped. It was a centaur! Just like in Hermione’s textbooks!

“Oh, it’s you, Ronan,” said Hagrid in relief. “How are yeh?”

He walked forward and shook the centaur’s hand.

“Good evening to you, Hagrid,” said Ronan. He had a deep, sorrowful voice. “Were you going to shoot me?”

“Can’t be too careful, Ronan,” said Hagrid, patting his crossbow. “There’s summat bad loose in this forest. This is Harry Potter an’ Hermione Granger, by the way. Students up at the school. An’ this is Ronan, you two. He’s a centaur.”

“We’d noticed,” said Hermione faintly, though she wasn’t sure Harry had the slightest idea what the creature was. Thankfully, her voice (and brain) had returned upon the shock of seeing such a mystical beast.

“Good evening,” said Ronan. “Students, are you? And do you learn much, up at the school?”

“Erm —”

“A bit,” said Hermione timidly.

“A bit. Well, that’s something,” Ronan sighed. He flung back his head and stared at the sky. “Mars is bright tonight.”

“Yeah,” said Hagrid, glancing up, too. “Listen, I’m glad we’ve run inter yeh, Ronan, ’cause there’s a unicorn bin hurt — you seen anythin’?”

Ronan didn’t answer immediately. He stared unblinkingly upward, then sighed again.

“Always the innocent are the first victims,” he said. “So it has been for ages past, so it is now.”

“Yeah,” said Hagrid, “but have yeh seen anythin’, Ronan? Anythin’ unusual?”

“Mars is bright tonight,” Ronan repeated while Hagrid watched him impatiently. “Unusually bright.” What did Mars mean? Why did he keep repeating it like that? And then it hit her: Mars was the Roman god of war. War was coming. Hermione gasped, and her heart leapt up into her throat. Ronan glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, yet neither Harry or Hagrid heard her. Hermione swore she saw Ronan give a slight shake of his head as if to say, “Don’t tell them.” Hermione certainly wasn’t going to disobey a centaur. 

“Yeah, but I was meanin’ anythin’ unusual a bit nearer home,” said Hagrid. “So yeh haven’t noticed anythin’ strange?”

Yet again, Ronan took a while to answer. At last, he said, “The forest hides many secrets.”

A movement in the trees behind Ronan made Hagrid raise his bow again, but it was only a second centaur with black hair and much wilder-looking than Ronan.

“Hullo, Bane,” said Hagrid. “All right?”

“Good evening, Hagrid, I hope you are well?”

“Well enough. Look, I’ve jus’ bin askin’ Ronan, you seen anythin’ odd in here lately? There’s a unicorn bin injured — would yeh know anythin’ about it?”

Bane walked over to stand next to Ronan. He looked skyward.

“Mars is bright tonight,” he said simply. They were trying to warn them, and Hagrid wasn’t getting it! Hermione stole a glance at Harry who also clearly had no idea what the centaurs were talking about. She was the only one who understood, but was too afraid to say anything. Ronan watched her closely, and she snapped her eyes straight ahead of her. 

“We’ve heard,” said Hagrid grumpily. “Well, if either of you do see anythin’, let me know, won’t yeh? We’ll be off, then.”

Harry and Hermione followed Hagrid out of the clearing, staring over their shoulders at Ronan and Bane until the trees blocked their view. Ronan seemed to be whispering to Bane, and they both stared straight at her. She wasn’t sure why, exactly, they didn’t want her to tell the others, but she certainly wasn’t going to while they were watching.

“Never,” said Hagrid irritably, “try an’ get a straight answer out of a centaur. Ruddy stargazers. Not interested in anythin’ closer’n the moon.”

“Are there many of them in here?” asked Hermione. Her word vomit was starting, but she didn’t want to blurt out that they just did get a straight answer out of a centaur. 

“Oh, a fair few… Keep themselves to themselves mostly, but they’re good enough about turnin’ up if ever I want a word. They’re deep, mind, centaurs... they know things… jus’ don’ let on much.”

“D’you think that was a centaur we heard earlier?” said Harry.

“Did that sound like hooves to you? Nah, if yeh ask me, that was what’s bin killin’ the unicorns — never heard anythin’ like it before.”

They walked on through the dense, dark trees. Harry kept looking nervously over his shoulder, but Hermione forced herself to stare straight ahead. She was very glad they had Hagrid and his crossbow with them. They had just passed a bend in the path when Hermione grabbed Hagrid’s arm.

“Hagrid! Look! Red sparks, the others are in trouble!” Oh no, Neville! She should have been there for him!

“You two wait here!” Hagrid shouted. “Stay on the path. I’ll come back for yeh!”

They heard him crashing through the undergrowth. Hermione and Harry stood looking at each other, very scared, until they couldn’t hear anything but the rustling of leaves around them.

“You don’t think they’ve been hurt, do you?” whispered Hermione. She really didn’t want to hear the answer.

“I don’t care if Malfoy has, but if something’s got Neville… it’s our fault he’s here in the first place.” Hermione fought back tears. If anything had happened to Neville… she wouldn’t let herself finish the thought.

The minutes dragged by. Their ears seemed sharper than usual. What was going on? Where were the others?

At last, a great crunching noise announced Hagrid’s return. Malfoy, Neville, and Fang were with him. Hagrid was fuming. Malfoy, it seemed, had sneaked up behind Neville and grabbed him as a joke. Neville had panicked and sent up the sparks. Hermione never wanted to punch someone so much in her life.

“We’ll be lucky ter catch anythin’ now, with the racket you two were makin’. Right, we’re changin’ groups — Neville, you stay with me an’ Hermione, Harry, you go with Fang an’ this idiot. I’m sorry,” Hagrid added in a whisper to Harry. “But he’ll have a harder time frightenin’ you, an’ we’ve gotta get this done.”

Hermione was terrified of Harry facing the Forbidden Forest without Hagrid (and dealing with Malfoy), but she was selfishly glad she’d still be with Hagrid and his crossbow. Plus, she’d be able to be there for Neville. He was as white as a ghost and trembling violently.

They watched Harry, Draco, and Fang disappear through the trees. “Alright, let’s go,” said Hagrid. Hermione and Neville had to walk quickly to make up for Hagrid’s long strides. As terrified as she was, Hermione let Neville go first behind Hagrid so he wouldn’t have to be last in their little line with no protection from the rear. She hoped Neville took a little comfort from that at least.

She desperately wanted to talk to him, but didn’t want to make too much noise. Neville tripped over a branch. Hermione helped him up and gave his hand a squeeze that she hoped conveyed all that was unsaid between them. Neville still wouldn’t look at her, though. Her guilt was becoming worse than her fear of the forest and creatures within.

Hagrid suddenly stopped in his tracks and, like a cartoon, Nevile and Hermione walked right into him. Hagrid held up his hand for them to be quiet. They heard a noise to their left. Hagrid steadied his crossbow in the direction of the noise. They waited for what seemed to be hours but could only have been a few seconds. There was another snap of a twig. 

“Show yerself — I’m armed!” Hagrid said again but, this time (unlike when they had come upon Ronan), no one stepped out. “I said show yerself!” Hagrid yelled. Nothing. Hermione knew something was going to happen, and that “something” wasn’t going to be good. In one motion, Hermione pulled Neville to the ground and covered him as much as she could. She shut her eyes tight. Hagrid yelled again. Hermione heard the crossbow release and felt a whoosh of air as the arrow flew. There was a strangled cry as the arrow hit something soft. Hagrid went crashing ahead. 

Hermione stayed where she was with her eyes shut and holding on to Neville as tightly as she could. She could feel him shaking under her. “It’s going to be ok, Neville. Hagrid’s here. He’ll protect us.”

“I don’t want to die!” he whimpered.

“You’re not going to die, I promise.”

The truth was Hermione had no idea whether they’d live or die. She had read all about the Forbidden Forest in Hogwarts, a History and knew all too well the dangers they faced. This time, lying to Neville was exactly the right thing to do. 

They stayed like that for what seemed like an eternity. They could hear Hagrid crashing about in the forest. Then they heard him scream. Hermione, all of a sudden, couldn’t bear to have the last thing she would ever say to be a lie to Neville, no matter her intentions.

“Neville, this is all my fault and I’m so sorry but I want you to know, if anything, you know, happens to us, we didn’t mean to trick you. We really did have a dragon. Thank you for trying to save us. Thank you for being so brave. Thank you for being my first ever friend.”

Neville opened his eyes wide for a moment to look at Hermione, but quickly shut them as they heard Hagrid yell again. Hermione started to cry. They could hear someone (or something) crashing towards them. This was it.

“You two all right?” came Hagrid’s voice. He was out of breath. 

Hermione lifted her head but kept her body shielding Neville. She wanted to make sure it was actually Hagrid before getting up. It was Hagrid, all right. His large body blocked the light of the moon. He had branches sticking out of his beard, but didn’t look hurt.

“No, but we’re alive,” Hermione said, getting up and helping Neville do the same. 

“It was a wild thestral,” explained Hagrid as if they knew what he was talking about. “Had to kill it.” Hagrid looked positively devastated. 

Hermione didn’t even ask what a thestral was nor did she care at that moment. She allowed herself to take a breath, but it was cut short by another scream in the distance. Something, again, was crashing towards them at a breakneck pace. Hermione dove on top of Neville again. She heard the creak of the crossbow being cocked and loaded. 

“Fang!” Hagrid yelled. He lowered the crossbow. “You bloody coward. I almos’ shot ya! What’cha runnin’ fer? An’ where’s Harry an’ Malfoy?”

Draco screamed as he came crashing into the clearing. He came to a stop and doubled over, breathing hard. Hermione searched the trees for Harry to follow, but he never came.

“Where’s Harry?” Hagrid repeated, this time to Malfoy.

“I dunno,” Malfoy gasped for air.

“Ya ruddy jus’ left him?” Hagrid yelled.

“Dead… unicorn… cloak… eating” Malfoy couldn’t get a complete sentence out because he was breathing too hard. 

“Ya found the unicorn? Where?”

Draco just pointed unhelpfully behind him before doubling over again to try to catch his breath. Hermione stood up and yanked Malfoy upright without even thinking about what she was doing. “You tell us this instant what happened!” she screamed inches away from his face.

Perhaps it was the shock of Hermione standing up to Draco, but suddenly the boy had enough breath in him to speak more coherently. “We were just walking, and we saw the dead unicorn thing, and then there was this guy, all in black, just… just eating it!”

Hagrid’s face went white, and he charged off in the direction Malfoy had just come from without saying a word. 

“What do you mean, eating it?” Hermione croaked out. Her heart was in her throat.

“I dunno, just eating it. He kind of slithered over and just…” Malfoy’s voice dissolved, and he stood transfixed by the memory. And then, as if being shook by Hermione again, he snapped out of it. He looked at Hermione with contempt. “Whatever. I hope whatever it is eats Potter.” 

Hermione fought the overwhelming urge to smack Draco across his pale, white face. She forced her brain to switch gears and crouched back down to Neville. “Come on, Neville, we have to save Harry.”

“He’s probably dead,” spat Malfoy. “Serves him right.”

“Shut up, Malfoy!” Neville yelled. 

“Wanna make me?”

Hermione knew Neville definitely did not want to make him do anything. She stood back up and stuck her wand in Malfoy’s face. He seemed to shrink back a bit. “You know I know way more spells than you, Malfoy. Don’t. Test. Me. I always get top marks.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Neville stand and draw his wand too. She couldn’t have been prouder. “Right then. Now show us where Harry is,” she said, lowering her wand slightly, but not all the way.

Draco shuffled in Hagrid’s wake with Hermione and Neville close behind him. They all had their wands drawn. Every sound in the forest was amplified and terrifying, but Hermione pushed herself to remain as calm as she could be (at least on the outside) for Neville’s sake. 

They walked for what seemed like miles. “I swear, if you got us lost, Malfoy,” Hermione started, but was interrupted by the sound of hooves. The centaurs were back! Maybe she could ask them if they had seen Harry.

The three froze in place as the hooves galloped closer and closer. Hermione caught a flash of white in the trees. An elegant centaur flew into the clearing - one she didn’t recognize from their previous encounter. On it’s majestic palomino back was a lump of black - it was Harry! 

“Harry! Harry, are you all right?” Hermione yelled as she ran towards them on the path, pushing Draco out of the way. Hagrid crashed through the trees to her left and joined her in her sprint to Harry and the centaur.

“I’m fine,” said Harry. “The unicorn’s dead, Hagrid, it’s in that clearing back there.”

“This is where I leave you,” the centaur murmured as Hagrid hurried off to examine the unicorn. “You are safe now.”

Harry slid off his back.

“Good luck, Harry Potter,” said the centaur. “The planets have been read wrongly before now, even by centaurs. I hope this is one of those times.”

He turned and cantered back into the depths of the forest. Hermione grabbed Harry in a huge hug. He was soaking wet and shivering. “Harry, what happened?”

Harry stole a glance at Malfoy. It was clear he didn’t want him to hear. “Firenze saved me,” he said simply, but Hermione knew there was a lot more to the story. “Neville, you alright?” he asked. Neville nodded. He was shivering almost as much as Harry was. 

“What, you’re not going to ask about me, Potter?” Malfoy sneared.

“No, I don’t ask about cowards who run like a little baby at the first sign of trouble,” Harry said. That shut Malfoy up fast and he didn’t speak the whole way back to the castle.

-----

Hermione, Harry, and Neville hurried up to the Gryffindor Common Room as soon as they got back. Hermione pretended to head up to her dormitory so Neville wouldn’t suspect anything, but then she sat down in one of the big, comfy chairs to wait for Harry to come back down. 

As she waited, she forced herself to calm down and breath. Inhale:  Metis, Adrastea, Amalthea, and Thebe. Exhale: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Ron just didn’t understand how calming the moons of Jupiter could be. 

After a few minutes, Harry and Ron came down the spiral staircase. Ron looked as though he was still half asleep. “Is Neville alright?” she asked.

“Fell asleep the moment his head hit the pillow.”

“Ok, what happened?” Hermione was at the edge of her seat. Harry was pacing in front of the fireplace.

“Right. So we found the unicorn and it was bleeding from a cut in its side. It was already dead... but then this figure came out. It was wearing a cloak and kind of crawling towards the unicorn… and then it bent down and started to drink the unicorn blood! Draco screamed like a little git and ran away, and the cloaked figure started coming towards me.” Harry stopped pacing and turned to them. “And then my head just exploded. It was like my scar was on fire! The cloaked figure was coming towards me and I couldn’t move.”

“What do you mean your scar hurt you?” Hermione asked.

“Just that - it felt like it was exploding but as soon as the figure was gone, it stopped hurting as bad. Firenze saved me but he shouldn’t have done so… Bane was furious!”

“Why on earth would they care?” Ron asked, rubbing his eyes.

“Centaurs are very proud creatures,” Hermione explained. “They do not like to be ‘used’ or in any way employed by humankind.”

“They need to get over that,” Ron said. Hermione just shook her head. She wasn’t in the mood to give Ron a lesson in Wizard-Centaur relations. 

“He was talking about interfering with what the planets say is going to happen… they must show Voldemort’s coming back…Bane thinks Firenze should have let the figure kill me… I suppose that’s what’s ‘written in the stars.’ We left them, and then Firenze told me unicorn blood was used to keep someone alive, but the life would be cursed because it’s so ‘monstrous’ to kill a unicorn. Someone would have to be really desperate to do it… someone who wants to come back to power,” Harry paused and looked at them. “Don’t you get it?  Snape wants the Stone for Voldemort... and Voldemort’s waiting in the forest... and all this time we thought Snape just wanted to get rich!”

“Stop saying the name!” said Ron in a terrified whisper, as if he thought Voldemort could hear them. Harry wasn’t listening.

“So all I’ve got to wait for now is Snape to steal the Stone,” Harry went on feverishly, “then Voldemort will be able to come and finish me off… Well, I suppose Bane’ll be happy.”

Hermione knew he was probably right, but couldn’t let herself be completely convinced He Who Must Not Be Named was really back. “Harry, everyone says Dumbledore’s the only one You-Know-Who was ever afraid of. With Dumbledore around, You-Know-Who won’t touch you. Anyway, who says the centaurs are right? It sounds like fortune-telling to me, and Professor McGonagall says that’s a very imprecise branch of magic.”

The sky had turned light before they stopped talking. They went to bed exhausted, their throats sore. Hermione was finally convinced. Voldemort was coming back and he wanted the Philosopher’s Stone.

Chapter Text

As much as the thought of He Who Must Not Be Named terrified her, the end of the year exams terrified Hermione slightly more. Even if He Who Must Not Be Named came bursting through the door and killed them all, Hermione wanted her parents to be proud of her. That was, in fact, all she ever wanted. She could picture Professor McGonagall delivering the news of her death, softening the blow with her perfect end of year marks. 

It was sweltering hot, especially in the large classroom where they did their written papers. They had been given special, new quills for the exams which had been bewitched with an Anti-Cheating spell. Hermione had gotten quite fond of her own quills, but understood and respected the decision for the professors to use the anti-cheating ones. She didn’t want to be out-graded by a cheater. Hermione wrote feverishly for each exam, making sure to turn in twice the amount requested. 

They had practical exams as well. Professor Flitwick called them one by one into his class to see if they could make a pineapple tap-dance across a desk. Hermione succeeded on her first try, making Professor Flitwick clap in delight. Right before she walked out of the classroom, Flitwick called her back. “Miss Granger, I just want to say it was a pleasure to teach you this year… and I’m not supposed to tell you this, but you’ve broken a Hogwarts record on your exams - a hundred and twelve percent.” Hermione could barely contain her smile as she floated out of the classroom.

Professor McGonagall watched them turn a mouse into a snuffbox — points were given for how pretty the snuffbox was but taken away if it had whiskers. Hermione’s snuffbox had a glittery silver filigree pattern with no whiskers in sight. She thought she caught the professor giving her one of her rare smiles. 

Snape made them all nervous, breathing down their necks while they tried to remember how to make a Forgetfulness potion… but Hermione was able to tune him out and made a perfect potion. Professor Snape spent a full five minutes trying to find something to deduct points for but, in the end, Hermione got full marks. 

She was most proud of her last exam: History of Magic. Her essay on the Soap Blizzard of 1378 was over 30 inches long and had detailed diagrams of the economic rises and falls. She was also able to correctly name Gaspard Shingleton, the inventor who first devised the Self-Stirring Cauldron.

As soon as Professor Binns told them all to put down their quills, the class cheered. Now they had a whole week to wait until their exam marks were posted.

“That was far easier than I thought it would be,” said Hermione as she, Harry, and Ron joined the crowds flocking out onto the sunny grounds. “I needn’t have learned about the 1637 Werewolf Code of Conduct or the uprising of Elfric the Eager.”

Hermione always liked to go through their exam papers afterward; it helped her to stop second guessing herself about each answer. Just talking her answers through helped so much… however, Ron said this made him feel ill, so they wandered down to the lake and flopped under a tree instead. Hermione tried to quiet her mind and not obsess about exams. She was jealous of how care free Ron seemed to be.

“No more studying,” Ron sighed happily, stretching out on the grass. “You could look more cheerful, Harry. We’ve got a week before we find out how badly we’ve done, there’s no need to worry yet.”

Harry was rubbing his forehead.

“I wish I knew what this means!” he burst out angrily. “My scar keeps hurting — it’s happened before, but never as often as this.”

“Go to Madam Pomfrey,” Hermione suggested. Frankly, she was getting tired of Harry complaining about things but never doing anything to fix it. He was a smart, but stubborn wizard and Hermione had no tolerance for stubbornness. 

“I’m not ill,” said Harry. “I think it’s a warning... it means danger’s coming...”

“Harry, relax,” Ron said. “Hermione’s right. The Stone’s safe as long as Dumbledore’s around. Anyway, we’ve never had any proof Snape found out how to get past Fluffy. He nearly had his leg ripped off once. He’s not going to try it again in a hurry. And Neville will play Quidditch for England before Hagrid lets Dumbledore down.”

Harry nodded. “But I can’t shake this feeling that there’s something I should be doing or something that I’m missing.”

“That’s just the exams. I woke up last night and was halfway through my Transfiguration notes before I remembered we’d done that one,” Hermione said.

Harry suddenly jumped to his feet.

“Where’re you going?” said Ron sleepily.

“I’ve just thought of something,” said Harry. He had turned white. “We’ve got to go and see Hagrid, now.” Harry started walking briskly in the direction of Hagrid’s hut.

“Why?” panted Hermione, hurrying to keep up.

“Don’t you think it’s a bit odd,” said Harry, scrambling up the grassy slope, “that what Hagrid wants more than anything else is a dragon, and a stranger turns up who just happens to have an egg in his pocket? How many people wander around with dragon eggs if it’s against wizard law? Lucky they found Hagrid, don’t you think? Why didn’t I see it before?”

“What are you talking about?” said Ron, but Harry, sprinting across the grounds towards the forest, didn’t answer. Hermione could see where this was going, and a sense of dread settled in the pit of her stomach. 

Hagrid was sitting in an armchair outside his house; his trousers and sleeves were rolled up, and he was shelling peas into a large bowl.

“Hullo,” he said, smiling. “Finished yer exams? Got time fer a drink?”

“Yes, please,” said Ron, but Harry cut him off.

“No, we’re in a hurry. Hagrid. I’ve got to ask you something. You know that night you won Norbert? What did the stranger you were playing cards with look like?”

“Dunno,” said Hagrid casually, “he wouldn’ take his cloak off.”

Hagrid must have noticed the three’s stunned looks on their faces. “It’s not that unusual, yeh get a lot o’ funny folk in the Hog’s Head — that’s one o’ the pubs down in the village. Mighta bin a dragon dealer, mightn’ he? I never saw his face, he kept his hood up.”

“What did you talk to him about, Hagrid? Did you mention Hogwarts at all?” Hermione asked.

“Mighta come up,” said Hagrid, frowning as he tried to remember. “Yeah... he asked what I did, an’ I told him I was gamekeeper here... He asked a bit about the sorta creatures I look after... so I told him... an’ I said what I’d always really wanted was a dragon... an’ then... I can’ remember too well, ’cause he kept buyin’ me drinks... Let’s see... yeah, then he said he had the dragon egg an’ we could play cards fer it if I wanted... but he had ter be sure I could handle it, he didn’ want it ter go ter any old home... So I told him, after Fluffy, a dragon would be easy...”

“And did he — did he seem interested in Fluffy?” Harry asked. Hermione was putting the pieces together along with Harry, and she could feel her anxiety rising with every breath.

“Well — yeah — how many three-headed dogs d’yeh meet, even around Hogwarts? So I told him, Fluffy’s a piece o’ cake if yeh know how to calm him down, jus’ play him a bit o’ music an’ he’ll go straight off ter sleep —”

Hagrid suddenly looked horrified.

“I shouldn’ta told yeh that!” he blurted out. “Forget I said it! Hey — where’re yeh goin’?”

Harry, Ron, and Hermione didn’t speak to each other at all until they came to a halt in the entrance hall, which seemed very cold and gloomy after the grounds.

“We’ve got to go to Dumbledore,” said Harry. “Hagrid told that stranger how to get past Fluffy, and it was either Snape or Voldemort under that cloak — it must’ve been easy, once he’d got Hagrid drunk. I just hope Dumbledore believes us. Firenze might back us up if Bane doesn’t stop him. Where’s Dumbledore’s office?”

Thank God. Harry was finally done being stubborn. They looked around, as if hoping to see a sign pointing them in the right direction. They had never been told where Dumbledore lived, nor did they know anyone who had been sent to see him. Hermione had never stumbled over anything indicating where it was either.

“We’ll just have to —” Harry began, but a voice suddenly rang across the hall.

“What are you three doing inside?”

It was Professor McGonagall, carrying a large pile of books.

“We want to see Professor Dumbledore,” said Hermione, rather bravely. Now that Harry finally decided to heed her advice, she wasn’t going to let anything stop them, even Professor McGonagall.

“See Professor Dumbledore?” Professor McGonagall repeated, as though this was a very fishy thing to want to do. “Why?”

“It’s sort of secret,” Harry said, and Hermione cringed. That was the worst possible thing he could have said to Professor McGonagall. 

“Professor Dumbledore left ten minutes ago,” she said coldly, her nostrils flaring. “He received an urgent owl from the Ministry of Magic and flew off for London at once.”

“He’s gone?” said Harry frantically. “Now?” Hermione was trying to fight the panic as well. 

“Professor Dumbledore is a very great wizard, Potter, he has many demands on his time —”

“But this is important.”

“Something you have to say is more important than the Ministry of Magic, Potter?” Hermione gave Harry a look and nodded. She hoped he understood - it was now or nothing. He had to come clean.

“Look,” said Harry, “Professor — it’s about the Philosopher’s Stone —”

Whatever Professor McGonagall had expected, it wasn’t that. The books she was carrying tumbled out of her arms, but she didn’t pick them up.

“How do you know — ?” she spluttered.

“Professor, I think — I know — that Sn— that someone’s going to try and steal the Stone. I’ve got to talk to Professor Dumbledore.”

She eyed him with a mixture of shock and suspicion.

“Professor Dumbledore will be back tomorrow,” she said finally. “I don’t know how you found out about the Stone, but rest assured, no one can possibly steal it, it’s too well protected.”

“But Professor —”

“Potter, I know what I’m talking about,” she said shortly. She bent down and gathered up the fallen books. “I suggest you all go back outside and enjoy the sunshine.”

But they didn’t.

“It’s tonight,” said Harry, once he was sure Professor McGonagall was out of earshot. Harry was pretty dramatic, but Hermione couldn’t argue with his logic. “Snape’s going through the trapdoor tonight. He’s found out everything he needs, and now he’s got Dumbledore out of the way. He sent that note, I bet the Ministry of Magic will get a real shock when Dumbledore turns up.”

“But what can we —”

Hermione gasped. Snape was standing there. Harry and Ron wheeled round.

“Good afternoon,” he said smoothly.

They stared at him.

“You shouldn’t be inside on a day like this,” he said, with an odd, twisted smile.

“We were —” Harry began, but faltered.

“You want to be more careful,” said Snape. “Hanging around like this, people will think you’re up to something. And Gryffindor really can’t afford to lose any more points, can it?”

They turned to go outside, but Snape called them back.

“Be warned, Potter — any more nighttime wanderings and I will personally make sure you are expelled. Good day to you.”

He strode off in the direction of the staffroom.

Out on the stone steps, Harry turned to the others.

“Right, here’s what we’ve got to do,” he whispered urgently. “One of us has got to keep an eye on Snape — wait outside the staffroom and follow him if he leaves it. Hermione, you’d better do that.”

“Why me?”

“It’s obvious,” said Ron. “You can pretend to be waiting for Professor Flitwick, you know.” He put on a high voice. “‘Oh Professor Flitwick, I’m so worried, I think I got question fourteen b wrong...’”

“Oh, shut up,” said Hermione, but she agreed to go and watch out for Snape. She absolutely hated that it made so much sense. 

“And we’d better stay outside the third-floor corridor,” Harry told Ron. “Come on.”

Hermione watched them head towards the third-floor corridor, and then turned to go to the staffroom. Her stomach was in knots. No sooner did she reach the door did it open. Snape.

“Granger, what do you think you’re doing here?” Snape sneered.

Hermione’s mind went completely blank for a moment. Then, the word vomit kicked in. Hermione let it fly. “Yes, sir, you see, I was just thinking about question fourteen b on the Charms exam. The Diffindo charm? Well, as you may know, sir, the fifteenth century Muggle tailor, Snickerton, caught his rival tailor, Delfina Crimp, using the charm on--”

“I’m aware of the history of the Diffindo charm, Miss Granger.”

“Right. Of course, sir. But question fourteen b was a little tricky - it asked--”

“I don’t care what it asked, Miss Granger. Get to your point.”

“I wanted to ask Professor Flitwick if I got it right,” Hermione said, defeated. 

“Did you think you could just waltz into the staffroom? You Gryffindors have no class. I will get him. You stay here.” Snape turned back into the staffroom, his robes billowing behind him. Hermione lost her nerve. She ran all the way back to the portrait of the Fat Lady. She was NOT expecting to see Ron and Harry, but there they were, right inside the door.

“I’m sorry, Harry!” she wailed. “Snape came out and asked me what I was doing, so I said I was waiting for Flitwick, and Snape went to get him, and I’ve only just got away, I don’t know where Snape went.”

“Well, that’s it then, isn’t it?” Harry said.

The other two stared at him. He was pale, and his eyes were glittering.

“I’m getting out of here tonight and I’m going to try and get to the Stone first.”

“You’re mad!” said Ron.

“You can’t!” said Hermione. “After what McGonagall and Snape have said? You’ll be expelled!”

“SO WHAT?” Harry shouted. “Don’t you understand? If Snape gets hold of the Stone, Voldemort’s coming back! Haven’t you heard what it was like when he was trying to take over? There won’t be any Hogwarts to get expelled from! He’ll flatten it, or turn it into a school for the Dark Arts! Losing points doesn’t matter anymore, can’t you see? D’you think he’ll leave you and your families alone if Gryffindor wins the House Cup? If I get caught before I can get to the Stone, well, I’ll have to go back to the Dursleys and wait for Voldemort to find me there, it’s only dying a bit later than I would have, because I’m never going over to the Dark Side! I’m going through that trapdoor tonight and nothing you two say is going to stop me! Voldemort killed my parents, remember?”

He glared at them.

“You’re right, Harry,” said Hermione in a small voice.

“I’ll use the Invisibility Cloak,” said Harry. “It’s just lucky I got it back.”

“But will it cover all three of us?” said Ron.

“All — all three of us?”

“Oh, come off it, you don’t think we’d let you go alone?”

“Of course not,” said Hermione briskly. “How do you think you’d get to the Stone without us? I’d better go and look through my books, there might be something useful…”

“But if we get caught, you two will be expelled, too.”

“Not if I can help it,” said Hermione grimly. “Flitwick told me in secret that I got a hundred and twelve percent on his exam. They’re not throwing me out after that.”

-----

After dinner, the three of them sat nervously apart in the common room. Nobody bothered them; none of the Gryffindors had anything to say to them any more, after all.

Hermione was skimming through all her notes, hoping to come across one of the enchantments they were about to try to break. Harry and Ron didn’t talk much. All of them were thinking about what they were about to do.

Slowly, the room emptied as people drifted off to bed.

“Better get the cloak,” Ron muttered, as Lee Jordan finally left, stretching and yawning. Harry ran upstairs and came back with the cloak and a flute Hagrid had got him for Christmas.

“We’d better put the cloak on here, and make sure it covers all three of us — if Filch spots one of our feet wandering along on its own —”

“What are you doing?” said a voice from the corner of the room. Neville appeared from behind an armchair, clutching Trevor the toad, who looked as though he’d been making another bid for freedom.

“Nothing, Neville, nothing,” said Harry, hurriedly putting the cloak behind his back.

Neville stared at their guilty faces.

“You’re going out again,” he said.

“No, no, no,” said Hermione. She felt horrible lying to him again, but it was for his own good. “No, we’re not. Why don’t you go to bed, Neville?”

Hermione looked at the grandfather clock by the door. They couldn’t afford to waste any more time, Snape might even now be playing Fluffy to sleep.

“You can’t go out,” said Neville, “you’ll be caught again. Gryffindor will be in even more trouble.”

“You don’t understand,” said Harry. “This is important.”

But Neville was clearly steeling himself to do something desperate.

“I won’t let you do it,” he said, hurrying to stand in front of the portrait hole. “I’ll — I’ll fight you!”

“Neville,” Ron exploded, “get away from that hole and don’t be an idiot —”

“Don’t you call me an idiot!” said Neville. “I don’t think you should be breaking any more rules! And you were the one who told me to stand up to people!”

“Yes, but not to us,” said Ron in exasperation. “Neville, you don’t know what you’re doing.”

He took a step forward and Neville dropped Trevor the toad, who leapt out of sight.

“Go on then, try and hit me!” said Neville, raising his fists. “I’m ready!”

Harry turned to Hermione.

“Do something,” he said desperately.

Hermione stepped forward. She knew what she had to do, but she definitely didn’t want to do it. She loved Neville, but it was for his own good. Time was running out. 

“Neville,” she said, “I’m really, really sorry about this.”

She raised her wand.

“Petrificus Totalus!” she cried, pointing it at Neville.

Neville’s arms snapped to his sides. His legs sprang together. His whole body rigid, he swayed where he stood and then fell flat on his face, stiff as a board.

Hermione ran to turn him over. Neville’s jaws were jammed together so he couldn’t speak. Only his eyes were moving, looking at them in horror. She had to look away. 

“What’ve you done to him?” Harry whispered.

“It’s the full Body-Bind,” said Hermione miserably. “Oh, Neville, I’m so sorry.”

“We had to, Neville, no time to explain,” said Harry.

“You’ll understand later, Neville,” said Ron as they stepped over him and pulled on the Invisibility Cloak.

But leaving Neville lying motionless on the floor didn’t feel like a very good omen. In their nervous state, every statue’s shadow looked like Filch, every distant breath of wind sounded like Peeves swooping down on them.

At the foot of the first set of stairs, they spotted Mrs. Norris skulking near the top.

“Oh, let’s kick her, just this once,” Ron whispered in Harry’s ear, but Harry shook his head. As they climbed carefully around her, Mrs. Norris turned her lamp-like eyes on them, but didn’t do anything.

They didn’t meet anyone else until they reached the staircase up to the third floor. Peeves was bobbing halfway up, loosening the carpet so that people would trip.

“Who’s there?” he said suddenly as they climbed toward him. He narrowed his wicked, black eyes. “Know you’re there, even if I can’t see you. Are you ghoulie or ghostie or wee student beastie?”

He rose up in the air and floated there, squinting at them.

“Should call Filch, I should, if something’s a-creeping around unseen.”

Harry had a sudden idea.

“Peeves,” he said, in a hoarse whisper, “the Bloody Baron has his own reasons for being invisible.”

Peeves almost fell out of the air in shock. He caught himself in time and hovered about a foot off the stairs.

“So sorry, your bloodiness, Mr. Baron, sir,” he said greasily. “My mistake, my mistake — I didn’t see you — of course I didn’t, you’re invisible — forgive old Peevsie his little joke, sir.”

“I have business here, Peeves,” croaked Harry. “Stay away from this place tonight.”

“I will, sir, I most certainly will,” said Peeves, rising up in the air again. “Hope your business goes well, Baron, I’ll not bother you.”

And he scooted off.

“Brilliant, Harry!” whispered Ron.

A few seconds later, they were there, outside the third-floor corridor — and the door was already ajar.

“Well, there you are,” Harry said quietly, “Snape’s already got past Fluffy.”

Seeing the open door somehow seemed to impress upon all three of them what was facing them. Underneath the cloak, Harry turned to the other two.

“If you want to go back, I won’t blame you,” he said. “You can take the cloak, I won’t need it now.”

“Don’t be stupid,” said Ron.

“We’re coming,” said Hermione. It was now or never to show her true Gryffindor bravery.

Harry pushed the door open.

As the door creaked, low, rumbling growls met their ears. All three of the dog’s noses sniffed madly in their direction, even though it couldn’t see them.

“What’s that at its feet?” Hermione whispered.

“Looks like a harp,” said Ron. “Snape must have left it there.”

“It must wake up the moment you stop playing,” said Harry. “Well, here goes...”

He put Hagrid’s flute to his lips and blew. It wasn’t really a tune, but from the first note the beast’s eyes began to droop. Slowly, the dog’s growls ceased — it tottered on its paws and fell to its knees, then it slumped to the ground, fast asleep.

“Keep playing,” Ron warned Harry as they slipped out of the cloak and crept toward the trapdoor. They could feel the dog’s hot, smelly breath as they approached the giant heads.

“I think we’ll be able to pull the door open,” said Ron, peering over the dog’s back. “Want to go first, Hermione?”

“No, I don’t!”

“All right.” Ron gritted his teeth and stepped carefully over the dog’s legs. He bent and pulled the ring of the trapdoor, which swung up and open.

“What can you see?” Hermione said anxiously.

“Nothing — just black — there’s no way of climbing down, we’ll just have to drop.”

Harry, who was still playing the flute, waved at Ron to get his attention and pointed at himself.

“You want to go first? Are you sure?” said Ron. “I don’t know how deep this thing goes. Give the flute to Hermione so she can keep him asleep.”

Harry handed the flute over. In the few seconds’ silence, the dog growled and twitched, but the moment Hermione began to play, it fell back into its deep sleep.

Harry climbed over it and looked down through the trapdoor. There was no sign of the bottom.

He lowered himself through the hole until he was hanging on by his fingertips. Then he looked up at Ron and said, “If anything happens to me, don’t follow. Go straight to the owlery and send Hedwig to Dumbledore, right?”

“Right,” said Ron.

“See you in a minute, I hope...”

And Harry let go. 

“It’s okay!” he called up. “It’s a soft landing, you can jump!”

Ron followed right away. He landed, sprawled next to Harry.

“What’s this stuff?” were his first words.

“Dunno, some sort of plant thing. I suppose it’s here to break the fall. Come on, Hermione!”

The distant music stopped. There was a loud bark from the dog, but Hermione had already jumped. She landed on Harry’s other side.

“We must be miles under the school,” she said.

“Lucky this plant thing’s here, really,” said Ron.

“Lucky!” shrieked Hermione. “Look at you both!”

She leapt up and struggled toward a damp wall. She had to struggle because the moment she had landed, the plant had started to twist snakelike tendrils around her ankles. As for Harry and Ron, their legs had already been bound tightly in long creepers without their noticing.

Hermione had managed to free herself before the plant got a firm grip on her. Now she watched in horror as the two boys fought to pull the plant off them, but the more they strained against it, the tighter and faster the plant wound around them. What was it?! What was it?! Hermione racked her brain. 

“Stop moving!” Hermione ordered them. “I know what this is — it’s Devil’s Snare!”

“Oh, I’m so glad we know what it’s called, that’s a great help,” snarled Ron, leaning back, trying to stop the plant from curling around his neck.

“Shut up, I’m trying to remember how to kill it!” said Hermione.

“Well, hurry up, I can’t breathe!” Harry gasped, wrestling with it as it curled around his chest.

“Devil’s Snare, Devil’s Snare... what did Professor Sprout say? — it likes the dark and the damp —”

“So light a fire!” Harry choked. He figured it out faster than Parvati had.

“Yes — of course — but there’s no wood!” Hermione cried, wringing her hands. The bubble of anxiety was crushing her. She couldn’t think.

“HAVE YOU GONE MAD?” Ron bellowed. “ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?”

“Oh, right!” said Hermione, and she whipped out her wand, waved it, muttered something, and sent a jet of the same bluebell flames she had used on Snape toward the plant. In a matter of seconds, the two boys felt it loosening its grip as it cringed away from the light and warmth. Wriggling and flailing, it unraveled itself from their bodies, and they were able to pull free.

“Lucky you pay attention in Herbology, Hermione,” said Harry as he joined her by the wall, wiping sweat off his face.

“Yeah,” said Ron, “and lucky Harry doesn’t lose his head in a crisis — ‘there’s no wood,’ honestly.” Hermione blushed.

“This way,” said Harry, pointing down a stone passageway, which was the only way forward.

All they could hear apart from their footsteps was the gentle drip of water trickling down the walls. The passageway sloped downward.

“Can you hear something?” Ron whispered.

Harry listened. A soft rustling and clinking seemed to be coming from up ahead.

“Do you think it’s a ghost?”

“I don’t know... sounds like wings to me.”

“There’s light ahead — I can see something moving.”

They reached the end of the passageway and saw before them a brilliantly lit chamber, its ceiling arching high above them. It was full of small, jewel-bright birds, fluttering and tumbling all around the room. On the opposite side of the chamber was a heavy wooden door.

“Do you think they’ll attack us if we cross the room?” said Ron.

“Probably,” said Harry. “They don’t look very vicious, but I suppose if they all swooped down at once... well, there’s no other choice... I’ll run.”

He took a deep breath, covered his face with his arms, and sprinted across the room. He reached the door untouched. He pulled the handle, but it was locked.

The other two followed him. They tugged and heaved at the door, but it wouldn’t budge, not even when Hermione tried her Alohomora charm. She had calmed down a bit and was proud of herself for thinking of the charm before Ron told her to again.

“Now what?” said Ron.

“These birds... they can’t be here just for decoration,” said Hermione. There was something odd about them.

They watched the birds soaring overhead, glittering — glittering?

“They’re not birds!” Harry said suddenly. “They’re keys! Winged keys — look carefully. So that must mean...” he looked around the chamber while the other two squinted up at the flock of keys. “… yes — look! Broomsticks! We’ve got to catch the key to the door!”

“But there are hundreds of them!”

Ron examined the lock on the door.

“We’re looking for a big, old-fashioned one — probably silver, like the handle.”

They each seized a broomstick and kicked off into the air, soaring into the midst of the cloud of keys. Hermione hated brooms. She was horrible at flying. They grabbed and snatched, but the bewitched keys darted and dived so quickly, it was almost impossible to catch one. Hermione took a little solace that Ron seemed to be doing as poorly as she was. Harry, on the other hand, looked like a professional flier.

“That one!” he called to the others. “That big one — there — no, there — with bright blue wings — the feathers are all crumpled on one side.”

Ron went speeding in the direction that Harry was pointing, crashed into the ceiling, and nearly fell off his broom.

“We’ve got to close in on it!” Harry called, not taking his eyes off the key with the damaged wing. “Ron, you come at it from above — Hermione, stay below and stop it from going down — and I’ll try and catch it. Right, NOW!”

Ron dived, Hermione rocketed upward, the key dodged them both, and Harry streaked after it. It sped toward the wall, and Harry leaned forward. With a nasty, crunching noise, he pinned it against the stone with one hand. Ron and Hermione’s cheers echoed around the high chamber.

They landed quickly, and Harry ran to the door, the key struggling in his hand. He rammed it into the lock and turned — it worked. The moment the lock had clicked open, the key took flight again, looking very battered now that it had been caught twice.

“Ready?” Harry asked the other two, his hand on the door handle. They nodded. He pulled the door open.

The next chamber was so dark they couldn’t see anything at all. But as they stepped into it, light suddenly flooded the room to reveal an astonishing sight.

They were standing on the edge of a huge chessboard, behind the black chessmen, which were all taller than they were and carved from what looked like black stone. Facing them, way across the chamber, were the white pieces. Harry, Ron and Hermione shivered slightly — the towering white chessmen had no faces. They were terrifying to look at.

“Now what do we do?” Harry whispered.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” said Ron. “We’ve got to play our way across the room.”

Behind the white pieces they could see another door.

“How?” said Hermione nervously.

“I think,” said Ron, “we’re going to have to be chessmen.”

He walked up to a black knight and put his hand out to touch the knights horse. At once, the stone sprang to life. The horse pawed the ground and the knight turned his helmeted head to look down at Ron.

“Do we — er — have to join you to get across?”

The black knight nodded. Ron turned to the other two.

“This needs thinking about...” he said. “I suppose we’ve got to take the place of three of the black pieces...” Hermione was relieved Ron was there - even with all of her practice with Bert, Hermione still couldn’t beat Ron. He really was the best Wizard Chess player. 

Harry and Hermione stayed quiet, watching Ron think. Finally he said, “Now, don’t be offended or anything, but neither of you are that good at chess —”

“We’re not offended,” said Harry quickly. Hermione tried her best not to be offended. “Just tell us what to do.”

“Well, Harry, you take the place of that bishop, and Hermione, you go there instead of that castle.”

“What about you?”

“I’m going to be a knight,” said Ron.

The chessmen seemed to have been listening, because at these words a knight, a bishop, and a castle turned their backs on the white pieces and walked off the board, leaving three empty squares that Harry, Ron, and Hermione took.

“White always plays first in chess,” said Ron, peering across the board. “Yes... look...”

A white pawn had moved forward two squares.

Ron started to direct the black pieces. They moved silently wherever he sent them. 

“Harry — move diagonally four squares to the right.”

Their first real shock came when their other knight was taken. The white queen smashed him to the floor and dragged him off the board, where he lay quite still, facedown.

“Had to let that happen,” said Ron, looking shaken. “Leaves you free to take that bishop, Hermione, go on.”

Every time one of their men was lost, the white pieces showed no mercy. Soon there was a huddle of limp black players slumped along the wall. Twice, Ron only just noticed in time that Harry and Hermione were in danger. He himself darted around the board, taking almost as many white pieces as they had lost black ones.

“We’re nearly there,” he muttered suddenly. “Let me think — let me think...”

The white queen turned her blank face toward him.

“Yes...” said Ron softly, “it’s the only way... I’ve got to be taken.”

“NO!” Harry and Hermione shouted. Her heart dropped. 

“That’s chess!” snapped Ron. “You’ve got to make some sacrifices! I make my move and she’ll take me — that leaves you free to checkmate the king, Harry!”

“But —”

“Do you want to stop Snape or not?”

“Ron —”

“Look, if you don’t hurry up, he’ll already have the Stone!”

There was no alternative.

“Ready?” Ron called, his face pale, but determined. “Here I go — now, don’t hang around once you’ve won.”

He stepped forward, and the white queen pounced. She struck Ron hard across the head with her stone arm, and he crashed to the floor — Hermione screamed but stayed on her square — the white queen dragged Ron to one side. He looked as if he’d been knocked out. Hermione’s knees were weak. It took everything she had not to run over to her friend. He looked so helpless and small. 

Shaking, Harry moved three spaces to the left.

The white king took off his crown and threw it at Harry’s feet. They had won. The chessmen parted and bowed, leaving the door ahead clear. With one last desperate look back at Ron, Harry and Hermione charged through the door and up the next passageway.

“What if he’s — ?”

“He’ll be all right,” said Harry. “What do you reckon’s next?”

“We’ve had Sprout’s, that was the Devil’s Snare; Flitwick must’ve put charms on the keys; McGonagall transfigured the chessmen to make them alive; that leaves Quirrell’s spell, and Snape’s...”

They had reached another door.

“All right?” Harry whispered.

“Go on.”

Harry pushed it open.

A disgusting smell filled their nostrils, making both of them pull their robes up over their noses. Eyes watering, they saw, flat on the floor in front of them, a troll even larger than the one they had tackled, out cold with a bloody lump on its head.

“I’m glad we didn’t have to fight that one,” Harry whispered as they stepped carefully over one of its massive legs. “Come on, I can’t breathe.”

He pulled open the next door, both of them hardly daring to look at what came next — but there was nothing very frightening in the next room, just a table with seven differently shaped bottles standing on it in a line.

“Snape’s,” said Harry. “What do we have to do?”

They stepped over the threshold, and immediately a fire sprang up behind them in the doorway. It wasn’t ordinary fire either; it was purple. At the same instant, black flames shot up in the doorway leading onward. They were trapped.

“Look!” Hermione seized a roll of paper lying next to the bottles. Harry looked over her shoulder to read it:

 

Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,

Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,

One among us seven will let you move ahead,

Another will transport the drinker back instead,

Two among our number hold only nettle wine,

Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.

Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,

To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:

First, however slyly the poison tries to hide

You will always find some on nettle wine’s left side;

Second, different are those who stand at either end,

But if you would move onward, neither is your friend;

Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,

Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;

Fourth, the second left and the second on the right

Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.

 

“Brilliant,” said Hermione, the panic finally deflating for the first time since they left the Gryffindor Common Room. She knew exactly what this was. “This isn’t magic — it’s logic — a puzzle. A lot of the greatest wizards haven’t got an ounce of logic, they’d be stuck in here forever.”

“But so will we, won’t we?”

“Of course not,” said Hermione with a hint of a smile. “Everything we need is here on this paper. Seven bottles: three are poison; two are wine; one will get us safely through the black fire, and one will get us back through the purple.”

“But how do we know which to drink?”

“Give me a minute.”

Hermione read the paper several times. “You can do this, Hermione,” she said to herself. “Ok. There are three poisoned potions, two nettle wines, one potion to let them move forward, and one potion to go backwards.” She looked at the seven potions on the table and then back at the clues. The third clue, “neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides,” seemed the most straight forward. Looking back at the potions, she quickly identified the shortest bottle and tallest bottle. “Not poison,” she confirmed to herself and filed it away.

As she went methodically through the rest of the clues, the rest of the room seemingly melted away. Nothing was more important than those seven bottles. Hermione was in exam mode. Nothing could have distracted her (with the exception of the appearance of He Who Must Not Be Name, maybe). 

When Hermione figured out which bottle would take them forward and which bottle would take them backwards, she paused. Was it really that easy? She ran through the clues again. Yes, it really was that easy. She clapped her hands.

“Got it,” she said. “The smallest bottle will get us through the black fire — toward the Stone.”

Harry looked at the tiny bottle.

“There’s only enough there for one of us,” he said. “That’s hardly one swallow.”

They looked at each other.

“Which one will get you back through the purple flames?”

Hermione pointed at a rounded bottle at the right end of the line.

“You drink that,” said Harry. Hermione started to protest. “No, listen, get back and get Ron. Grab brooms from the flying-key room, they’ll get you out of the trapdoor and past Fluffy — go straight to the owlery and send Hedwig to Dumbledore, we need him. I might be able to hold Snape off for a while, but I’m no match for him, really.”

“But Harry — what if You-Know-Who’s with him?”

“Well — I was lucky once, wasn’t I?” said Harry, pointing at his scar. “I might get lucky again.”

Hermione’s lip trembled, and she suddenly dashed at Harry and threw her arms around him.

“Hermione!”

“Harry — you’re a great wizard, you know.”

“I’m not as good as you,” said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go of him. 

“Me!” said Hermione. “Books! And cleverness! There are more important things — friendship and bravery and — oh Harry — be careful!”

“You drink first,” said Harry. “You are sure which is which, aren’t you?”

“Positive,” said Hermione. She took a long drink from the round bottle at the end, and shuddered. 

“It’s not poison?” said Harry anxiously.

“No — but it’s like ice.”

“Quick, go, before it wears off.”

“Good luck — take care —”

“GO!”

Hermione turned and walked through the purple fire.

Chapter Text

As soon as she was through the purple fire, Hermione’s sights were immediately on Ron and nothing else. He was still crumbled on the ground where they had left him, unmoving. She ran over to his side, nearly tripping on the massive pieces of stone that had fallen from the chess pieces during the brutal match.

“Ron! Ron!” Hermione screamed. She was afraid to move him. What if he had fallen and hurt his neck? “Ron, please wake up.” She brushed his bright red, shaggy hair so she could look at his eyes. She could have sworn she saw them flicker. “Ron? Can you hear me?” There was definitely a flicker. Ron groaned and slowly opened his eyes. “Ron!” Hermione exclaimed and scooped him in a hug.

“Oy, gettoff me,” Ron mumbled but didn’t push her off. 

“I’m so glad you’re ok,” said Hermione. “You were so brave!”

“Nah,” Ron said, but blushed. “Where’s Harry?! Did you stop Snape?”

Hermione filled Ron in briefly on what happened with the potions. “So we have to go get an owl to Professor Dumbledore straight away. Can you get up?”

“I think so.”

“Here, I’ll help you.” She grabbed his hand and pulled him up. “Let’s go.”

They shuffled back into the key room and grabbed the brooms they had left propped up against the wall. “Up!” she commanded the broom but it didn’t rise into the air. “Up!” she yelled again but the broom just sat there. She absolutely hated when she couldn’t do something. She glanced to her left and saw Ron climbing on the broom gingerly. He hadn’t noticed her struggling with the broom yet. 

Hermione returned her focus to the broom. When they all had first come into the key room, she had no problem making the broom start flying; granted, she wasn’t the best flyer, but she could at least get it to get off the ground. With her frustration mounting, she put her hand out again and focused entirely on the wood handle. “Up!” she cried. The broom rocked on the ground but did not rise. The urgency of their mission bubbled within Hermione, and she felt her eyes start stinging. The anxiety was coming. She put her hand out again. It was shaking. “Up!” she cried. Nothing.

“Brooms can tell if you’re scared or nervous, remember?” Ron said in a small voice. There was no hint of his usual sarcasm. He was being genuine. “You got a hundred and twelve percent on the Charms exam. You were able to do Snape’s riddle. You made a beautiful snuff box. You made that feather fly on the first try. You can definitely make a broom rise up. Try it again.”

Hermione took a deep breath. “Up!” she cried and the boom shot into her hand. She almost let go of the broom to clap, but caught herself. Ron clapped on her behalf.

“Brilliant, Hermione!” he said. “Ok, let’s go!”

Hermione mounted the broom. She was still a little shaky, but she felt exhilarated. Maybe that was the appeal of Quidditch. 

Ron and Hermione flew through the key room and out into the Devil’s Snare room. They zoomed over the vines and up to the trap door. Hermione paused for a moment and pulled the flute out of her robes. She started to play as Ron pushed the trapdoor open. Snuffy immediately fell asleep. As she flew past his face, she could feel Fluffy’s hot breath. 

Finally, they reached the entrance into the corridor, and she put the flute away. They unmounted the brooms and put them just inside the door and shut it behind them. Hermione could hear Fluffy start to stir on the other side of the door. “Ok, let’s go to the owlery,” she said as she and Ron took off down the hall. 

When they reached the owlery, they were both out of breath. Hedwig, Harry’s snowy white owl, was, thankfully, easy to spot. Hermione rushed over. Luckily, Hermione never went anywhere without a folded up piece of parchment and her favorite quill. She pulled them out and set to writing:

 

Headmaster Dumbledore,

Please return to the school at once. The note asking you to come to the ministry was a ruse. All of the failsafes protecting the You-Know-What have been breached, probably by You-Know-Who.

Sincerely,

Hermione, Ron, and Harry.

 

“There,” Hermione said, folding the letter. “Ok, Hedwig, you need to find Professor Dumbledore and give this to him at once.” She tucked the note into the pouch on Hedwig’s leg, and the majestic owl seemed to bow his understanding before flying off into the night sky.

“What do we do now?” Ron asked.

Hermione thought for a moment. “I suppose we should go and tell Professor McGonagall, too. She may be able to do something while we wait for Dumbledore.”

“She’s just gonna get mad at us that we didn’t listen and take more points from Gryffindor,” Ron whined.

“I don’t think she will,” Hermione said with certainty. “She’s really not as bad as you and Harry think, Ron. She’s very rational and will definitely listen to what we have to say.”

“Are you sure we’re talking about the same Professor McGonagall?” Ron asked. His sarcasm had returned.

“Quite. Now let’s see if we can find her.”

Hermione and Ron wound their way down the spiral staircase of the owlery and into the deserted dark halls of the castle. “We should probably be careful not to be caught before we talk to her. She may not take too kindly to that,” Hermione said. 

“Right, because she’ll go mental and won’t listen. So, we were talking about the same woman,” Ron said in a whisper. 

“Shut it, Ron,” Hermione said. “Lumos.” The tip of her wand glowed in the darkness. A shuffling in the room to their right stopped them dead in their tracks. Mrs. Norris, Filch’s cat. “Nox!” Hermione whispered as quickly as she could, and the tip of her wand extinguished. Ron and Hermione stayed as still as they could. Hermione didn’t even dare to breath. They watched the cat sulk past the doorway and disappear into the darkness. Ron started to move again, but Hermione put her hand on his arm to make him wait. Cats had exceptional hearing… and Mrs. Norris seemed to have ultrasonic hearing. As they waited silently in the dark corridor, Hermione could feel the anxiety start to bubble again. The longer they had to wait to tell a professor, the longer Harry was alone (and potentially in danger) with Snape. Hermione forced herself to count to sixty, and then motioned to Ron to follow her. 

They wove through the corridors, stopping every now and then to make sure no one was around. Finally, they reached the main entryway with all of the professors’ offices and dormitories off to the side. The giant, wooden doors creaked open, stopping Hermione and Ron in their tracks. Dumbledore stood, silhouetted by the moonlight. He strode towards them. “Harry’s gone after him, hasn’t he?” he asked. They both nodded. Dumbledore took off towards the third floor. They stood transfixed for a few moments. “He may need some back up,” Hermione said. “Let’s go wake Professor McGonagall.”

Just as they took a step, a door down the hall opened. Snape and his flowing robes walked out. What was he doing there? If he was here, who was trying to get the Philosopher’s Stone?

Snape did a double take at Hermione and Ron. There was nowhere to hide. “What are you doing up and out of bed?” Snape hissed. Hermione froze in terror.

“We need to speak with Professor McGonagall,” Ron said indignantly.

“She is in her room, sleeping, just like you two should be. Ten points each from Gryffindor.”

Hermione didn’t even care about the points anymore. She, instead, was overcome with a sudden anger. All of the anxiety and fear bubbled up into a red hot rage. “Go ahead, take the points,” she said. “Take them all! Expel us if you want! It doesn’t matter because we’re all going to die if you don’t let us speak with Professor McGonagall!”

Ron was just as surprised to hear the words coming out of Hermione’s mouth as Snape appeared to be. Snape stared at them for a few moments, cocking his head. Clearly making up his mind, Snape turned on his heel and walked to Professor McGonagall’s door. He knocked and, a few seconds later, Professor McGonagall appeared in her dressing gown.

“Professor!” Hermione said, rushing towards her. “Harry has gone to protect the Philosopher’s Stone! We had to leave him alone so we could get help. Dumbledore just got back and--”

Hermione was cut off by Professor McGonagall and Snape rushing past her. As an afterthought, Professor McGonagall looked over her shoulder to Ron and Hermione. “Get back to the Common Room at once. It is not safe out here.”

Hermione and Ron made their way back to the Common Room and stepped inside the Fat Lady’s portrait door. To their surprise, they were met with a group of Gryffindor students standing around. Fred and George Weasley were at the front of the group, surrounded by Parvatti, Lee Jordan, and Neville.

“Tell us what’s going on,” Fred (or was it George?) said to Ron as soon as they walked in. Hermione thought it was best to act dumb (for the first time in her life). She channeled her inner Lavender Brown.

“What do you mean?” Hermione tried to flutter her eyelashes, but she had a sinking suspicion it didn’t work how she had intended.

“Don’t be stupid,” the other twin said. “We found poor Neville here with the Full Body-Bind hex--” 

“--and then we saw Dumbledore running like hell across the grounds,” finished the first twin.

“--and you lot were missing from your beds.”

“--and Neville told us you were going to find some rock.”

“So what’s going on?” the second twin repeated. “And what’s wrong with your eye?”

Hermione looked at Ron, and he nodded. They sat down and filled them all in. “So there’s nothing more we can do but wait, I guess,” Hermione said. “I’m sorry again, Neville, but you understand, don’t you?”

Neville shrugged, but remained silent. The common room was just as silent. 

-----

The sun was starting to make its appearance over the horizon when the portrait door opened again. Professor McGonagall, now properly dressed in her emerald green robes, entered. The group stood, but Hermione and Ron rushed to the front.

“Everything has been taken care of,” Professor McGonagall said. “Mr. Potter survived and has been taken to the hospital wing.”

“What happened?” demanded Ron.

“Did You-Know-Who get the stone?” asked Hermione. 

Professor McGonagall rose her hands in the air to stop their questions. “I’m sure you will learn exactly what happened when Mr. Potter regains consciousness. The Headmaster, who is now here at the castle, implores you all to get some rest and to keep this incident quiet before he can address the whole school. It would behoove you to do as he says,” Professor McGonagall said and walked out of the Common Room before they could ask any more questions.

“I suppose she’s right,” Hermione said. “Let’s get some rest and then we can go visit Harry later.”

“Are you mad?” asked George (or was it Fred?). “It’s almost breakfast! This story’s too good to keep quiet!”

-----

Hermione (though the only one) did what she was told and took a nap. She was exhausted. She woke up with Parvati and Lavender staring straight at her from the other side of the room. “Ok, spill it.”

“You probably already know what happened,” Hermione yawned.

“No, we mean are you dating one of them?” Lavender said with a giggle.

“Absolutely not!”

“I don’t believe you,” Parvati said. “You’ve been spending so much time with them lately and now you’re out roaming the halls with them after hours.”

“They’d talk to me when no one else would when we lost all of those points,” Hermione said quietly. “That’s all it is.”

Hermione escaped the awkward silence by going down to the Common Room. She found Ron, and they both made the trek to the hospital ward. Harry looked so small laying in the bed. He was so still and quiet. 

They stayed for a few hours, but there was no change. Harry didn’t even move. They repeated the trek the following two days. The space around Harry’s bed was filling up with all kinds of candy and well wishes from the whole school. By that time, Fred and George had told the story to the whole school (multiple times with varying embellishments). Everyone knew that Harry had, once again, defeated He Who Must Not Be Named and saved the Philosopher’s Stone.

On the second day, as they left the hospital ward, they saw Professor Dumbledore speaking with Professor McGonagall. He pointed towards the hospital wing and shook his head. Hermione’s heart dropped. Maybe he knew something they didn’t? Maybe Harry was much more injured than she had thought?

On the fourth day, Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, was waiting outside the hospital ward. “Is Harry ok?” Hermione asked frantically.

“Yes, he is,” Madam Pomfrey said. “He’s awake. You can see him, but he is still weak. You must not excite him.”

“Yes, of course we won’t,” Hermione promised. Madam Pomfrey took a good, hard look at Hermione, and then decided to let them in.

“Harry!”

Hermione looked ready to fling her arms around him again, but she could see he was still in a considerable amount of pain. She, instead, patted his hand awkwardly.

“Oh, Harry, we were sure you were going to — Dumbledore was so worried —” She couldn’t find the words.

“The whole school’s talking about it,” said Ron. “What really happened?”

It was one of those rare occasions when the true story is even more strange and exciting than the wild rumors. Harry told them everything: It was Quirrell, not Snape, who was helping Voldemort. He had been the one drinking the unicorn blood in the forest. “Voldemort had possessed Quirrell. He was there all along, under his turban.” Hermione nearly screamed in horror. Harry paid no notice and continued his story. Voldemort and Quirrell had tried to use Harry and the Mirror of Erised to find the stone - Harry saw (and felt) the stone in his pocket but lied. Unfortunately, Voldemort could tell Harry was lying and he, through Quirrell, attacked Harry. “It hurt so bad,” Harry said. “But I realized that if I touched him, I’d hurt him even more. So, that’s what I did until I passed out. That must have been when Dumbledore came.”

“So, the Stone’s gone?” said Ron finally. “Flamel’s just going to die?”

“That’s what I said, but Dumbledore thinks that — what was it? — ‘to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.’ ”

“I always said he was off his rocker,” said Ron, looking quite impressed at how crazy his hero was.

“So, what happened to you two?” said Harry.

“Well, I got back all right,” said Hermione. “I brought Ron ‘round — that took a while — and we were coming back from the owlery when we met Dumbledore in the entrance hall — he already knew — he just said, ‘Harry’s gone after him, hasn’t he?’ and hurtled off to the third floor.”

“D’you think he meant you to do it?” said Ron. “Sending you your father’s cloak and everything?”

“Well,” Hermione exploded, “if he did — I mean to say — that’s terrible — you could have been killed.”

“No, it isn’t,” said Harry thoughtfully. “He’s a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he sort of wanted to give me a chance. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know? I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help. I don’t think it was an accident he let me find out how the mirror worked. It’s almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could...”

“Yeah, Dumbledore’s off his rocker, all right,” said Ron proudly. “Listen, you’ve got to be up for the end-of-year feast tomorrow. The points are all in and Slytherin won, of course — you missed the last Quidditch match, we were steamrollered by Ravenclaw without you — but the food’ll be good.”

At that moment, Madam Pomfrey bustled over.

“You’ve had nearly fifteen minutes, now OUT,” she said firmly.

-----

Hermione filled her time alternating between visiting Harry in the hospital wing and packing up her belongings for summer holidays. She was torn - on one hand, she needed a break from all the excitement… on the other hand, she didn’t want to leave Hogwarts for three months. She made her way to the Great Hall for the end of the year feast. Gryffindor was in last place in the house standings, so there wasn’t much to celebrate.

She grabbed a seat near Ron and Neville. Neville had finally forgiven Hermione for the Full-Body-Bind hex. They had a wonderful heart to heart the day before, and both promised to write to each other all summer.

The Great Hall erupted in whispers as Harry entered. He slipped into a seat between Ron and Hermione at the Gryffindor table and tried to ignore the fact that people were standing up to look at him.

Fortunately, Dumbledore arrived moments later. The babble died away.

“Another year gone!” Dumbledore said cheerfully. “And I must trouble you with an old man’s wheezing waffle before we sink our teeth into our delicious feast. What a year it has been! Hopefully your heads are all a little fuller than they were… you have the whole summer ahead to get them nice and empty before next year starts…

“Now, as I understand it, the House Cup here needs awarding, and the points stand thus: In fourth place, Gryffindor, with three hundred and twelve points; in third, Hufflepuff, with three hundred and fifty-two; Ravenclaw has four hundred and twenty-six and Slytherin, four hundred and seventy-two.”

A storm of cheering and stamping broke out from the Slytherin table. They could see Draco Malfoy banging his goblet on the table. It was a sickening sight.

“Yes, yes, well done, Slytherin,” said Dumbledore. “However, recent events must be taken into account.”

The room went very still. The Slytherins’ smiles faded slightly.

“Ahem,” said Dumbledore. “I have a few last-minute points to dish out. Let me see. Yes...

“First — to Mr. Ronald Weasley...”

Ron went purple in the face; he looked like a radish with a bad sunburn. Hermione couldn’t help but giggle.

“… for the best-played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in many years, I award Gryffindor House fifty points.”

Gryffindor cheers nearly raised the bewitched ceiling; the stars overhead seemed to quiver. Percy could be heard telling the other prefects, “My brother, you know! My youngest brother! Got past McGonagall’s giant chess set!”

At last, there was silence again.

“Second — to Miss Hermione Granger... for the use of cool logic in the face of fire, I award Gryffindor House fifty points.”

Hermione buried her face in her arms, and she nearly burst into tears. It was like all of the stress of the year’s events evaporated in that instant. Gryffindors up and down the table were also beside themselves — they were a hundred points up.

“Third — to Mr. Harry Potter...” said Dumbledore. The room went deadly quiet. “… for pure nerve and outstanding courage, I award Gryffindor House sixty points.”

The din was deafening. Those who could add up while yelling themselves hoarse (like Hermione) knew that Gryffindor now had four hundred and seventy-two points — exactly the same as Slytherin. They had tied for the House Cup — if only Dumbledore had given Harry just one more point.

Dumbledore raised his hand. The room gradually fell silent.

“There are all kinds of courage,” said Dumbledore, smiling. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom.”

Someone standing outside the Great Hall might well have thought some sort of explosion had taken place with how loud the noise that erupted from the Gryffindor table was. Hermione, Ron, and Harry stood up to yell and cheer as Neville, white with shock, disappeared under a pile of people hugging him. He had never won so much as a point for Gryffindor before. 

“Which means,” Dumbledore called over the storm of applause, for even Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were celebrating the downfall of Slytherin. “We need a little change of decoration.”

He clapped his hands. In an instant, the green hangings became scarlet and the silver became gold; the huge Slytherin serpent vanished and a towering Gryffindor lion took its place. Hermione went horse that night from all of the cheering. It was a night she would never forget.

-----

The end of the year marks were finally posted. In addition to the one hundred and twelve percent in Charms, Hermione received full marks in every other class. Her lowest score was a ninety-nine and a half percent on the Potions written exam, which she felt was solely because Snape didn’t like her. Professor McGonagall took Hermione aside and told her she had received the best marks of all the first years. “In fact,” Professor McGonagall said, “no one has gotten such good marks in the last fifty years. I knew you could do it, Hermione. I’m so proud of you.”

Hermione’s heart nearly exploded right then and there. She certainly didn’t miss the fact that Professor McGonagall had called her by her first name as an equal. And, to think Hermione actually broke Professor McGonagall’s record for top marks was positively mind-boggling. Never before had Hermione ever felt so loved and valued. “Thank you, Professor. For everything.” She wanted to hug the stern woman but figured that may be pushing it. Hermione knew she had to continue to make the professor proud. “I was wondering if you could assign some work to me over the summer to keep me busy?”

“You don’t want to enjoy the summer holidays?” Professor McGonagall asked. 

“I will enjoy them more with some extra work,” Hermione said with a smile. “I have to get that potion’s grade up, you know...” Some of Ron’s sarcasm had rubbed off on her.

“Do not get me started on that grade,” Professor McGonagall said, waving her hand. “Absolutely ridiculous. Please do not let it bother you.”

Professor McGonagall agreed to send Hermione some different lessons to help her prepare for her second year. “And, Miss Granger,” Professor McGonagall said. “Congratulations on becoming a true Gryffindor this year.” 

And suddenly, just like that, their wardrobes were empty, their trunks were packed, and Neville’s toad was found lurking in a corner of the toilets. Notes were handed out to all students, warning them not to use magic over the holidays (“I always hope they’ll forget to give us these,” said Fred Weasley sadly). Hagrid was there to take them down to the fleet of boats that sailed across the lake. Before they knew it, they were boarding the Hogwarts Express; talking and laughing as the countryside became greener and tidier; eating Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans as they sped past Muggle towns; pulling off their wizard robes and putting on jackets and coats; pulling into platform nine and three-quarters at King’s Cross Station.

It took quite a while for them all to get off the platform. A wizened, old guard was up by the ticket barrier, letting them go through the gate in twos and threes so they didn’t attract attention by all bursting out of a solid wall at once (and alarming the Muggles).

“You must come and stay this summer,” said Ron, “both of you — I’ll send you an owl.”

“Thanks,” said Harry, “I’ll need something to look forward to.”

People jostled them as they moved forward toward the gateway back to the Muggle world. Some of them called:

“Bye, Harry!”

“See you, Potter!”

“Still famous,” said Ron, grinning at him.

“Not where I’m going, I promise you,” said Harry.

He, Ron, and Hermione passed through the gateway together.

“There he is, Mom, there he is, look!”

It was Ginny Weasley, Ron’s younger sister, but she wasn’t pointing at Ron. 

“Harry Potter!” she squealed. “Look, Mom! I can see —”

“Be quiet, Ginny, and it’s rude to point.”

Mrs. Weasley smiled down at them.

“Busy year?” she said.

“Very,” said Harry. “Thanks for the fudge and the sweater, Mrs. Weasley.”

“Oh, it was nothing, dear.”

“Ready, are you?”

A very horrible looking man and his family were standing there on the platform.

“You must be Harry’s family!” said Mrs. Weasley.

“In a manner of speaking,” said the man. “Hurry up, boy, we haven’t got all day.” He walked away.  Hermione had to fight the urge to grab her wand and shoot a Full Body-Bind Curse at Mr. Dursley’s back.

Harry hung back for a last word with Ron and Hermione.

“See you over the summer, then.”

“Hope you have — er — a good holiday,” said Hermione, looking uncertainly after the miserable man.

“Oh, I will,” said Harry, and Hermione was surprised to see a grin spreading over his face. “They don’t know we’re not allowed to use magic at home. I’m going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer…”

Hermione and Ron laughed and gave Harry one last hug. They watched him walk off into the distance.

“Hermione!” she turned her head to see her mum and dad rushing towards them. “Welcome home!” exclaimed Bert. He had a large bouquet of flowers.

“Oh, and hello again,” Mary said to Ron’s mother. 

“Hello, dear! Nice to see you both again!”

“You know each other?” Hermione said, flabbergasted.

“Yes, she helped us through the wall when we dropped you off at the beginning of term,” Mary replied. “How was school?”

Hermione took a deep breath so she could tell them all about it in great detail… and then stopped herself. “Exciting,” she said simply. Hermione smiled to herself.

“That’s all you can say about it? Exciting? Talk about the understatement of the year,” Ron muttered, but gave Hermione a warm smile. 

“Right then, it’s time to head home,” Mrs. Weasley said, trying to gather all of her children. “Your father will be home from work soon and will want to see you all.”

“Mum, can Hermione and Harry come over this summer some time to visit?” Ron said loud enough so Hermione and her parents could hear.

“Of course, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said. “That would be lovely. And, perhaps, Hermione will be a good influence on you all. I hear she broke a record with her end of year marks this year! Best in almost fifty years!”

Bert and Mary gasped and gave Hermione a huge hug. “We’re so proud of you!” Hermione smiled. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad summer after all.