A/N: This was posted in my author's notes the first time I posted it, and I thought it was sufficiently amusing enough to restate: " I would also like to unnecessarily state for the record that Severus Snape is not a bundle of cuddly joy."
Anti-Litigation Charm: I do not own.
Hermione walked down to The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade the very next day to see Madam Rosmerta and ask for a part-time job. The barmaid was quite surprised, but nevertheless, she gave her the job.
"I'm afraid you'll be rather bored here," she said, pouring a glass of single-malt whisky and setting it on a tray with several other drinks. "But if you do the work and get here on time, you're on."
Hermione asked to work during the evening on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays—it was the schedule she had worked out with Professor Dumbledore, and though he was more than happy for her to take on a part-time job in Hogsmeade, he was adamant about the schedule. The Order members she would be working with only had so much time available, and their time was valuable. She presented Madam Rosmerta with a letter from the Headmaster, explaining her situation as an orphan and with limited hours available to work, and the barmaid graciously agreed to her request for the odd hours.
Rosmerta gave her a tour of the counter and the backroom, showed her the menu and a list of what went into each order, and where the keys for private rooms were stored. Since Hermione had offered to work the evening shifts three days a week, she was shown where Rosmerta kept the key, and what time she was expected to kick everyone out and close up shop.
"You job is to make and serve drinks," Rosmerta told her, "but if someone looks like they've had too much, refuse and suggest something non-alcoholic. I try to keep this place friendly and open to all customers, and the last thing I need is someone getting into a drunken barfight." She pointed to the door. "The regulars all know what time to leave. They shouldn't be a problem. If someone gives you any trouble, feel free to threaten to jinx their bollocks off. This rarely happens, but if someone starts stirring up trouble and they won't leave, you're allowed to hex them out the door."
This sounded both harsh and reasonable to Hermione, and she nodded in acceptance without protest.
"You're free to go," Rosmerta told her with a smile. "You start tomorrow. Be here at 6pm sharp."
The Order members were an entirely different matter.
Hermione had met Alastor Moody before, first as an imposter, then as himself at Grimmauld Place. The man looked very different than she remembered. He still had both his eyes and a whole nose. His face was lined and he had a grizzled look. But other than the fact that he not had parts of his face cut off in chunks yet, he looked remarkably the same.
The second was Kingsley Shacklebolt, who Hermione recognized from Grimmauld Place. He was still bald, with a gleaming white smile, and a friendly but serious demeanor. He was the epitome of steadiness and reliability, in Hermione's mind, and she considered him a fine Head of Magical Law Enforcement when he finally did get the job.
The third and final member was tiny Professor Flitwick, who had once been quite the dueler in his youth, and Hermione was quite certain that despite his diminutive, almost laughably short stature, he would be difficult opponent, if not a spectacular teacher. She was looking forward to her lessons with him; she got on very well with him as student and professor. More than once, he had suggested to her that she should have been sorted into Ravenclaw.
When Professor Dumbledore had set aside a pensieve for her, and after demonstrating how to use it, Hermione pulled out the memories that were of the most importance for her to hide. The Headmaster had given her a book on Occlumency to read the last time she left his office, and had a good solid understanding of it in theory as well as what she knew from Harry. Professor Dumbledore began her training in Occlumency in his office every morning, and Hermione took to it like a duck to water; organization and discpline came naturally to her, and it was simply a matter of time and practice for her to get the gist of it. She was soon able to collect her memories and smoothly push them away, hiding them behind a wall of irrelevant and inane thoughts that would quickly bore the looker into searching elsewhere.
Dumbledore praised her progress, and daily, after lunch in her dorm, she would go to the Great Hall, where the tables had been removed since the Leaving Feast, and wait for the Aurors to arrive. More often than not, no matter how early she arrived, they were there before she was, and Hermione suspected that they spent time in meeting with the Headmaster in conjunction to her training. There was simply no other explanation for them to be at the Great Hall half an hour early for her lesson.
The first lesson Hermione learned was that some things simply didn't change.
"Constant vigilance!" Moody had barked at her, not three minutes into her first session with him. Hermione had nearly jumped back a foot, and mentally berated herself for it, given that she should have seen it coming. He began pacing back and forth in front of her, his claw foot adding a clunk to each step he took. "You must never let your guard down. This," he said, pulling out a rolled up copy of The Daily Prophet and handing it to her, "is what happens to those caught unawares. And even to those who aren't. The world out there isn't pretty, girl, and there are Dark Wizards who want to kill you just because they can."
Hermione unfurled the paper and looked at the headlines, feeling her stomach drop sharply as it gruesomely described the murder of Donna Blythe-Williams, who had been a secretary for the Department of Magical Games and Sports at the Ministry of Magic. The newspaper was less than a day old.
"But you're a special case," Moody growled, watching her closely. "You've got secrets in your head that you can't allow anyone else to touch, and according to Dumbledore, you've gotten pretty good at keeping it that way. I've also heard from your teachers that you're a fair hand with a wand, and that you've put a couple of students in the Hospital Wing for trying to get the drop on you. Good, since it means you're not afraid to defend yourself. But you can't kid yourself into thinking that just because you can send a few clumsy Slytherins to see Madam Pomfrey, you're off the hook. That kind of thinking is what will get you killed—or worse, captured."
Hermione nodded stiffly and held the paper back to him. He waved it away.
"Keep it as a reminder of what's at stake," he said gruffly. "Don't ever forget it for a moment—constant vigilance!" He thundered, and this time, Hermione didn't startle. He resumed pacing. "I'm going to teach you how to defend yourself. I'm going to teach you how to go on the offensive, and I'm going to teach you how to resist the Imperius and Cruciatus. The former can be fought off—the latter can only be endured, but endure it you will. Constant vigilance," he repeated, stopping in front of her. "Constant vigilance and hard work is key."
"I understand," Hermione told him.
"Good." And without warning, Moody had his wand pointed straight between her eyes. "Imperio!"
And that was how Hermione's first lesson had begun.
By the middle of July, she had made many milestones of progress. If nothing else, Moody was an effective teacher, and his training methods were harsh and pushed limits. As soon as she was able to hold her own against the grizzled Auror without being blasted unconscious five minutes in, she was forced to duel Moody and Kingsley simultaneously, keeping her attention on both targets and trying to effectively defend and attack without leaving openings in between. The disparity between the levels of training Moody put her through on forced her to become more adaptable.
Kingsley attempted to attack her mind with legilimency throughout the entire duel, and when they had her trapped on either side, she was simultaneously hit with a Cruciatus and Imperius.
It was the single most difficult thing Hermione felt she had ever done in her life up to that point. Her entire body screamed in pain, while she forced herself to ignore the pain and instead focus on resisting the urge to obey Moody's command to drop her wand. To top it all off, she was attempting to defend her mind from Kingsley's intrusion, which was difficult enough to begin with. Dealing with the shattering pain of the Cruciatus shuddering throughout her body and Moody's Imperius-ladden commands bearing down on her mind in addition to that made it near-impossible.
Hermione gritted her teeth, and broke away from Moody's Imperius with a hard, mental shove. Her knees shook as she tried to remain standing despite the pain threatening to make her buckle, but despite this, she was able to slash her wand at them.
"Protego!" she shouted.
Moody and Kingsley were both thrown back by the force of her spell. She attempted a Disarming Spell on them both, but Moody was quick enough to defend himself, already back on his feet. She did, however, get Kingsley's wand, and as soon as it smacked into her hand, she stunned him. In her opinion, this was pure luck on her part, but she was pleased nevertheless. Whirling around on the spot, she threw up another Shield Charm to block Moody's Choking Spell, and resumed dueling, now able to focus one-on-one. Her fingers twitched in pain as an after-effect of the Cruciatus, and she swore that she would not let them hit it with her again. She needed to improve her dodging reflexes.
"Very good, Granger!" Moody roared approvingly as he sent a Stupefying Hex her way.
Flitwick taught her a number of good dueling spells, many of which Hermione was certain were never taught in the normal course of academics, and had her practice against him when she first tried them out. Some spells were meant to attack and defend; others were good to have up her sleeve if she ever needed to try and escape. He essentially gave her a more extensive repertoire of spells to choose from, while Moody and Kingsley made her work to stay on her feet.
With that kind of rigorous training on a daily basis, with not even Sunday off, it was no wonder that Hermione was relieved to spend three evenings a week serving drinks. Either she spent all day practicing and stumbled off to bed after a hasty dinner, or she was let off a five and came back to the castle at ten after working her shift at The Three Broomsticks. Rosmerta paid her ten galleons and seven sickles a week, and given that her job was to serve, mix drinks, keep the peace, and then kick everyone out at a quarter to ten, Hermione was rather content.
As Rosmerta had predicted, she got little to no trouble at all. Rosmerta would leave off her shift when Hermione arrived, and Hermione would take over with no trouble. The patrons, all of whom ranged from students Hermione knew and lived close by to travelers passing through, all got used to seeing her face in the evenings three times a week. One rising sixth-year tried to wheedle Hermione into giving him a free drink, and Hermione told him she would charge him double for it, which effectively caused the boy to desist immediately. One witch came in with foreign currency one Friday night, which had been a bit of a nightmare for Hermione to figure out. The owner of Honeydukes, who was sitting at a table with his wife and celebrating the end of the week, was kind enough to exchange currency with the witch so that she could buy her drink.
And when Hagrid came in one evening, Hermione's jaw dropped before she managed to gather her wits. She had not spoken to the half-giant even once while she was at Hogwarts, in this time period. Truth to be told, as much as she loved Hagrid, she knew that he was notoriously poor at keeping secrets—and seeing her now and in the future could jeopardize everything if he let his tongue slip. She served him quickly and with a friendly smile, praying that he wouldn't make the connection when 1991 rolled around.
Overall, there was next to no trouble for her at The Three Broomsticks. She got to listen in on everyone's conversation, which kept things interesting enough, and it was not particularly difficult work. But it was one evening, at the beginning of August, that trouble pushed its way through the door just moments before Hermione was about to close shop.
"We're closed for the night," she said without looking up from where she was wiping down the counter with a clean rag. "Come back tomorrow."
"Please," the man whispered hoarsely, and Hermione looked up. He was tall and emaciated, with dark hair that hung around his face in ragged clumps. He looked like a corpse, and when Hermione saw his eyes, she dropped the rag and immediately whipped out her wand. The vampire held up his hands to show he was unarmed, and immediately slunk behind one of the tables. "No—please—help me…"
"Get out!" Hermione thundered, her wand pointed straight at him. "I will not tell you again!"
"Please!" The vampire's voice was raspy and dry. "Hide me— I'm not here to harm you—I need help!" He had a frantic, hunted look in his eyes. "Please!"
Hermione saw a dark shape through the window, moving toward the door, and in a split-second, had made her decision. She pulled open the door to the back room, her wand still pointed at the vampire as he moved toward her.
"In here!" she hissed. "Now!"
The vampire slipped inside without another word or even so much as a second glance in her direction, and Hermione shut the door and locked it. She was back out at the counter, cleaning rag in hand, when the door to the establishment opened and another man entered, wand raised.
"A vampire just came through here," the man growled, kicking the door shut behind him with his boot. He looked young, perhaps in his late twenties. He was a huge man, with close-cropped blond hair, and a cocky, swaggering attitude that Hermione did not like. She was instantly on the defensive, the rag once again dropped from her hands and with her wand out and pointed at him. "Where did he go?"
"He ran," Hermione said, jerking her head in the direction of the stairs. "He's probably gone through one of the windows. We're closed now," she added angrily. "Leave!"
The man gave her a heavy-set glare, and then lowered his wand a fraction of an inch.
"If I find out you're lying, girl—" he pulled up the sleeve of his left arm. Hermione stared dumbly at the grotesque, entwined skull-and-snake figure on his arm, and then up at him. "This is who you'll have to answer to, so I'll give you one last chance to fix your story, if it needs fixing. Where did the son of a bitch go?"
Hermione affected fear in her voice, even as she seethed and silently debated whether or not she should try and get the drop on him. Only one thought went through her mind, repeating itself over and over like a mantra, interfering with her thought process: He's a Death Eater, he's a Death Eater, he's a Death Eater…
Her job right now wasn't to apprehend him. If she tried to take him on, and found out he was stronger, she could be killed, or worse—captured. She had confidence in her abilities, and even more faith in Alastor Moody's training, but she had absolutely no backup. That was one of the first things Moody had drilled into her head: Don't jump into a fight without a partner if you can help it. She didn't even have any kind of system set up to alert the castle if she was in trouble.
Idiot! Her mind screamed.
"I already told you, he ran upstairs," Hermione said, pretending to be cowed. She swallowed visibly. "I swear, he just ran through here… upstairs… like I said, probably the window…"
The Death Eater gave her a nasty grin, and then barreled up the stairs. Hermione heard his feet thudding against the wooden floorboards, and stood perfectly still, waiting for him to leave. She had her wand ready and her attention on the stairwell. If he came back down, she would attack him. But if she could get out of here without a confrontation that she wasn't sure she could win, she would do it.
The upstairs suddenly became quiet. Hermione heard a quiet thwumph, and realized that the man must have gone out one of the second-floor windows. Hermione slowly, ever so slowly, lowered her wand and made her way toward the stairs. She cautiously climbed them, until she was faced with the empty hall, with doors on either side leading to private meeting rooms, and the window at the far end.
It was open. With a sigh of relief, trying not to focus too much on the pounding of her heart, Hermione pointed her wand at it, sliding it shut and magically locking it. She went back downstairs, locked the door to The Three Broomsticks to prevent any other unwanted patrons from coming in, and then went to the back room.
She rapped on the door, and unlocked it. Holding her wand steady, she backed away.
"It's all right, he's gone," she said, swallowing thickly. "Come on out."
There was a pause, and then the door slowly squeaked open, and the pale figure glided out, slinking over and pressing against the wall when he realized Hermione's wand was trained on him.
"Thank you," he breathed, slumping against the wall in relief. His dark, violet eyes were locked onto Hermione, both in fear and gratitude. He repeated, "Thank you."
"You're a vampire," Hermione said uncertainly.
"Do you think I would harm you after you so graciously saved my hide?" the vampire inquired hoarsely, straightening up.
"I don't know," Hermione said, lowering her wand just a fraction of an inch. "Do vampires bite the hands that feed them? Metaphorically speaking, of course."
"Not me," he rasped with a tight smile. Hermione saw his fangs poking out from beneath his upper lip. Slowly, ever so slowly, she lowered her wand, backing away as she did so. She waited tensely for him to attack, but when he did nothing more than shift uncomfortably against the wall and then scoot over to take a seat on a wooden crate full of Ogden's, she relaxed, but remained alert.
"What's your name?" Hermione asked, picking up the cleaning rag and moving to the other side of the counter to finish cleaning. Her compulsive need to question began to rise to the fore, even as she began to relax in the face of danger averted. "And why was that man after you? Because last time I looked, according to Paragraph Twelve of the Guidelines for the Treatment of Non-Wizard Part-Humans, vampire hunting is illegal." She paused. "Not that Death Eaters care about what the Ministry says in the first place."
"Sanguini." He paused to look down at his fingers, which here bony, white, and stick thin, before he answered the other half of her question. "As for why… I believe I had something he wanted. I wouldn't give it. He gave into temper."
"What did he want?" Hermione asked, her voice casual as she set the rag aside.
"The location of a friend," Sanguini replied unhelpfully, still examining his fingers. His face, which had been taut with terror just minutes ago, was now one of deathly boredom, although he was starting to get edgy. It was clear he wanted to move, but was afraid to stand up for fear of being blasted into bits.
"Sanguini," Hermione mused, testing the name out loud. "The name rings a bell. You wouldn't happen to know Eldred Worple, would you? Author of Blood Brothers?"
Sanguini's lips curled into a corpulent smile. "That is my friend."
"Well," Hermione said, straightening up. Sanguini's actions made a bit more sense to her, and she was no longer truly afraid of him. "If you want to leave now, by all means, you're free to go. I rather imagine its safe now, since the man who was after you hasn't come back to knock down the door."
Sanguini slowly stood up. "I would appreciate that. Thank you."
Hermione walked him to the door and unlocked it, holding it open for him.
"I am grateful for your kindness," Sanguini told her before he left. "If I can repay you, I will."
"Let's work on keeping you alive long enough for that to happen, shall we?" Hermione asked, offering him a smile.
Sanguini gave her a pointy, thin-lipped grin, and then silently disappeared into the night.
As soon as Hermione shut the door behind her, making sure it was securely locked, she slumped against the nearest wall, slid down to the ground, and took in several deep gulps of air.
She'd looked a Death Eater in the eyes tonight. Alone, without Harry or Ron at her back. She had been alone with a Death Eater who might have very well tried to capture, kill, or rape her if it weren't for the fact that he had higher priorities at hand at the moment. He had certainly looked capable of it, and now that Hermione was alone and safe, she finally realized how shaken down to the core she was.
A moment later, she started laughing hysterically.
Dumbledore gravely absorbed Hermione's recounting of the night's events. When Hermione had finished, he leaned back in his chair, his hands folded on his desk, deep in thought. Hermione sat there in silence, tired and more than ready to crawl off to bed, but felt that she had not yet been dismissed, and that it would be quite rude to simply stand up and leave.
"What happened tonight night is certainly great cause for concern," Dumbledore finally said, steepling his fingertips together. "But there is little that can be done about it now. I will send Alastor to investigate, but I have little hope of him coming up with something that may change the nature of my suspicions."
"What do you think this is, sir?" Hermione asked wearily.
"Voldemort has been building himself an army," Dumbledore said, his expression somber. "He has already recruited the giants, and Fenrir Greyback is his most valuable asset in keeping control over the werewolves he has enlisted. It would appear that the vampire community is his next target. Fortunately," he added, giving Hermione a faint smile behind his snow-white beard, "vampires tend to keep mostly to themselves, and the largest community known to wizardkind is well-hidden. Their location is unknown, though there is much speculation that it is somewhere in Transylvania. It would make sense that Eldred Worple would know about their location, or at least have a good idea of where they could be found. That would explain why he has been in hiding," Dumbledore mused. "Horace has not heard a word from him in nearly a year."
"Voldemort is recruiting vampires, sir?" Hermione asked, her tired mind trying to make sense of this.
"That's what it looks like, yes," Dumbledore said with a sigh. "It is understandably quite difficult to recruit someone without negotiating with them first, and Sanguini and Worple are certainly a good place to start if one is interested in finding the vampire community." He gazed at Hermione thoughtfully for a moment. "In the natural order of things, in regards to your timeline, did Voldemort ever employ vampires?"
Hermione took a moment to think through all of the history she'd read on the subject.
"No," she said at last, shaking her head. "Not in large numbers."
Dumbledore smiled, and for the first time since she'd seen him tonight, he looked relaxed, even relieved.
"It is quite possible your actions tonight were significant in affecting the outcome of the coming war, but that they were equally instrumental in keeping consistencies in your own timeline," he mused.
"Or maybe Sanguini got away without my help in my time," Hermione responded with a weary sigh. "I also don't see how I can return to The Three Broomsticks now. The Death Eater—"
"What did he look like?"
"Big build, short blond hair, blue eyes…"
"Most likely Thorfinn Rowle," Dumbledore said with a nod.
"Well, Headmaster, it seems quite likely to me that Rowle could return when he realizes Sanguini got away, and decide to use me as his consolation prize," Hermione said, getting to her feet. "I don't much fancy another encounter with him."
"Naturally, and you are also probably quite right. I will speak to Rosmerta myself tomorrow to explain the situation."
"Thank you." Hermione turned to leave. "Good night, sir."
Fawkes let out a musical trill behind her as she closed the door behind her, and she felt the tension that had been building up in her veins slowly evaporate. With a sigh of something akin to boneless relief, she ambled off to Gryffindor Tower.
When Moody and Kingsley were briefed on the events that had occurred at Rosmerta's, their reactions were quite mixed. Kingsley congratulated Hermione on keeping a clear head and praised her for not attempting to take on a full-grown Death Eater when she had the preferable option of letting him get away.
"You made a good decision," he told her. "You're not an Auror; your job isn't to hunt down Death Eaters. There was no guarantee you would have gotten away from that fight alive, and made the smart choice to let him go off on a wild goose chase."
Moody, on the other hand, was berating Hermione, himself, and anyone else he could think of.
"We should have thought of an alert system!" he snarled, pacing in circles as he absorbed the situation. "You were alone and could have been abducted or killed right under our noses! That will have to be fixed."
"I've quit my job," Hermione told him, fiddling with her wand.
"Yes, but what about when you go down to Hogsmeade to do your shopping?" Moody snapped. "You could be attacked at any time, girl, and not just at your job! And that's another problem," he growled, whipping around to face her. "You're still too trusting."
"What?" Hermione screeched.
"You let a fucking vampire inside and hid him," Moody sneered. "What if he had attacked you?"
"I had my wand trained on him at all times!" Hermione snapped, fed up with the entire situation. "I locked the door behind me while dealing with Rowle. Rosmerta's lock is made to keep out anything that tries to get in, Magical or not, Moody—you know that! I would have heard him if he'd tried to get out. And what's more," she cried, "he was trying to hide! If he'd tried to get out to have a go at me, he knew the Death Eater would have immediately turned his attention onto him!"
"He could have been working with that very same Death Eater he claimed he was trying to hide from!" Moody snarled.
Hermione raised her chin up to him and looked at him squarely. "A man enters The Three Broomsticks just before closing time, looking for sanctuary. I have three seconds to make a decision. He looks absolutely desperate. I hide him in the back room, and then send the Death Eater off on a wild goose chase. And according to Dumbledore, I made a bloody good decision not to blast the first person I see into bits, because he is apparently an ally!"
"That was after the fact," the grizzled old auror growled. "But think, girl! What if he hadn't been? What if he was working for You-Know-Who? What if he had been too hungry to resist attacking you?"
"Then I would have blown up the room with a spell and gotten the hell out of there," Hermione snarled back. "But that didn't happen, and I had my wand trained on Sanguini the entire time he was not locked up until I had ascertained he was not a threat—and I had my wand pointed at Rowle, too, so I was prepared to defend myself at all times. I was in danger, Moody, but I wasn't careless!"
Moody stepped back and gave her an appraising look behind his glare. He looked about to speak, but Kingsley interrupted him.
"Let it go, Alastor. Hermione did the best she could in the situation she was in, and she handled herself admirably well," Kingsley said, his voice soothing. Moody relaxed a fraction of an inch; Hermione let out a complete sigh of relief. The auror went on, "Let's just review how the situation could have gone awry if things had turned out differently. Hermione," he said kindly, "what would you have done if you knew Sanguini was an ally, had hidden him, and the Death Eater refused to leave or tried to attack you?"
"I would have ducked behind the counter, because there's no protecting against Unforgivables, and you never know the measure of the person until they cast their first spell," Hermione replied calmly. "I would have blasted him backwards, quickly unlocked the door to the back room, and gotten the hell out of there—with or without Sanguini."
"Good. Let's practice that scenario, then." Kingsley gestured toward Moody. "I'll be Sanguini in the back room. Alastor, you're Rowle."
And with that, Hermione was off the hook from Moody's ranting and raving, though she was certainly not off the hook on the whole. If anything, her training grew more intense—Moody made sure of that. In addition to that, she no longer had her job at The Three Broomsticks, which meant that all her time during the day was spent ducking and hexing and trying not to get hit. Moody, it seemed, was never satisfied with her best, and Hermione frankly was not surprised. She used Moody as a measure of what was humanly possible, but turned to Kingsley for a better idea of how well she was actually doing.
Her training stopped abruptly a week later. It was one final training session, and then she was done, with three weeks before school.
"Keep improving, girl," Moody told her, giving her a grizzled smile. His sudden bark of, "Constant vigilance!" didn't startle Hermione, and he laughed before clunking away on his claw foot.
Kingsley praised her progress, and then reached into the pockets of his robes and, smiling, pulled out a watch. It had an amber tortoishell-patterned band with a gold rim and three delicate, spindle-like hands, a date face, and three tiny knobs on the side. It was quite a lovely piece. Kingsley handed it to her.
"Your seventeenth birthday is approaching soon, am I right?" he asked, as Hermione fixed the watch onto her right wrist.
"September the nineteenth," Hermione agreed.
"In the wizarding world, it is traditional to give young wizards a watch when they come of age," Kingsley told her, smiling. "I bought this at a Muggle shop, and with the help of a friend in the Order, we managed to place a few charms on it. You will recall our concern that you had no apparent way of discretely alerting Dumbledore if you were in danger after the near-fiasco of last week?"
"See the little knobs on the side of the watch?" Hermione turned her wrist over to look at them. "The first two allow you to change the time and date, like any other timepiece. The third will activate the watch as a portkey. You will be taken to the Headmaster's office." He gave Hermione a stern look. "Need I tell you that this aspect of the watch should not be use to sneak into Professor Dumbledore's office?"
"I think you know me a bit better than that," Hermione said, but she was smiling sheepishly
Kingsley's deep voice reverberated with a chuckle. "There's also an Unbreakable and Anti-Theft Charm on it. The watch is a gift from us all for your hard work over the past few weeks, and even if Moody is being a grouchy old tosser about it, you've made impressive progress. I take my hat off to you."
Hermione was now out-and-out grinning. "Thank you, sir."
Hermione received several owls first thing the next morning. The first was a brown owl bearing a letter with the Hogwarts Crest on it. Hermione's knife and fork slipped from her hand as the owl landed on the table next to her bed, and she shoved her plate aside and tried to detach the owl's letter with shaking hands. The owl gave a sigh in resignation as he waited for Hermione to get her letter off his leg, and then with a hoot, he disappeared out the window.
The letter contained the list of school supplies she would need for the coming year, as well as her OWL scores. She unfolded that letter first with shaking hands, and stared down at it. Moments later, a smile flickered faintly across her face, and then she began grinning in earnest. She had passed all of her courses with an 'Outstanding' in every one—except for an 'Exceeds Expectations' in Defense Against the Dark Arts.
Well, Hermione thought, throwing the parchment down on her bed. If they tested me now, I'm fairly certain I would have gotten an 'Outstanding' in that, too. But at least I passed…
She examined the list of supplies she would need for school, tried to total it up as best she could, and was relieved to find that, more or less, she had earned enough money over the summer that she could buy her stuff for school and still have some left over.
A letter arrived from a tawny owl an hour later, sent by James Potter, but signed by all of the Marauders, suggesting she meet them at the Leaky Cauldron tomorrow at ten.
Hermione got off her bed, dressed, and headed down to see if she could find Dumbledore before he disappeared off on Order business to request permission to go to Diagon Alley.
"Hermione!" Hermione was pulled into a hug, first by James, then Sirius, and lastly Remus. Peter stood off to the side, watching but not participating. He didn't know Hermione all that well, and Hermione did her best to keep her distance from him. The other three, however, were on her like a litter of puppies. "How are you?"
"Good," Hermione gasped. "Except I can't—can't breathe."
They released her quickly, eyes shining brightly with amusement.
"We're going to get our books first," James told her, as they headed for the door. "Do you need any money?"
Hermione patted her pocket, glad she had taken on a summer job. She didn't like taking money from James, given that it would one day be Harry's, and she felt that it belonged to her bespectacled friend first before any of it went to her. "I got a job over the summer. I think I made enough. Shall we go?"
"We're meeting Lily at Flourish and Blotts," James told her as Remus and Sirius gentlemanly offered Hermione an arm each. Sirius was behaving surprisingly well, and Hermione wondered if something had happened over the summer. Perhaps James and Remus had simply given him a good talking-to, and he was trying to repair the gap between them. Grinning, she took them in each arm, and they headed off down the street. James gave her a playful grin. "I'm taking her to Fortescue's afterwards for ice cream, so you'll be the one making sure Sirius and Remus stay out of trouble."
"Hey!" Sirius complained half-heartedly. "Don't I get a say in this?"
"Nope," Hermione and James said in unison.
"So, Hermione," Remus said, changing the subject. "How was your summer?"
Hermione took a moment to recall the gist of it, and then let out a sigh.
"It was long," she said, smiling even though part of her didn't feel all that cheerful about it. "Very long."