The Sugar Quill
Author: Coquillage (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Deep Breath  Chapter: Prologue: What Hermione Knows
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer The wonderful collection of characters, events, emotions and actions that are the Harry Potter universe belong to J.K. Rowling. I'm just playing with them.

Many thanks to a very patient The Morning Starr, who gently pointed out that I was missing some important details, and to NightZephyr for her enouragement and assistance.





Prologue

What Hermione Knows


Hermione Granger was attempting to disown the truth. She was failing miserably, in every sense. Hah, she thought, wouldn’t Ron love that? Hermione ignoring the truth, and Hermione failing. He’d never let her forget it.

Sitting against the headboard of her borrowed bed, she had her legs pulled up to her chest, arms wrapped loosely around them, and her chin propped on the back of her hands. Sometime in the past hour she had started rocking slightly. She had been surprised when she had detected the motion – Hermione had always found the habit to be an annoying show of nervousness in others. Yet she found it so surprisingly soothing that she allowed herself to continue. She rocked, breathing evenly, alternately staring at nothing or closing her eyes. All the while she tried to deny the terrible new knowledge that had shaped her every thought since the August afternoon had succumbed to night.

You knew it. You’ve known for a while. Now you just really know it.

She replayed the moment of confirmation again and again, haunted by the memory of Dumbledore’s face even more than his words. Usually so keen to be proven right, she had never wanted so desperately to be proven wrong. Even now, hours after her theories had been so violently validated, she was still willing one of the adults in the house to come and tell her she was mistaken.

She snorted to herself at the textbook reactions she had cycled through.

First, denial. Not true. Can’t be true. Isn’t true. Isn’t happening. But Hermione knew herself too well to permit the blind refusal of a fact that had been so clearly presented to her.

And so she had moved on to reinterpretation, and bargaining. Surely this could be avoided. Surely she could find a way around it. Perhaps, if she put all of her efforts into it, she could change the meaning of what had been spoken. She would drop any extra courses to concentrate on this. After all, hadn’t she learned, in the magical world, that fact never really seemed unconditional; there always seemed to be loopholes and unexpected charms …blood magic that saves a baby’s life, for example. Powers she had not read about or anticipated were constantly turning up and turning logic on its ear. So certainly she could find something to overturn this…this sentence.

Then she would see again Dumbledore’s face as he stood by Harry's bed, his pained, tired expression giving a silent answer to her dreaded question. The anguish etched in his eyes had seared itself into her soul, so that she knew there was no denying what was to come.

There would be no bargaining.

And so, finally, Hermione had embraced the truth. As a lover of fact, she understood its immutable nature. This truth was huge, it was cresting, and it was going to swallow them all. The best she could do now was plan for their survival, and cling hard.

* * *

It was all but impossible to live in two worlds.

With each summer since she had started at Hogwarts, Hermione had felt the strain. After the excitement and wonder of discovering her magical abilities, of surfacing in an entirely new world, it seemed strange to return home to a world whose absolutes she now knew to be incomplete, if not false. At first she had simply missed her friends, her classes, and the magic of the Wizarding world in general. She found she could forget it a bit as she shared shopping excursions with her mother, and lunches out with her father.

But after fourth year the stakes had changed, and as soon as Hermione had left Platform 9 ¾, the old yearning for camaraderie had been rudely supplanted by fear: fear for her friends, fear of not knowing what was happening, and an urgent need to be in the Wizarding community. And so she had left her parents’ home after a short while for Grimmauld Place. The decision had been easy, and it was even easier this summer to come to the Burrow. While she missed her parents desperately, she knew she could not stay away, stay isolated, it would drive her mad – as it had Harry last year. Harry, trapped at Privet Drive, hurt, brooding, in the dark, until finally he had come to them, his anger wrapped about him like a winter cloak.

Harry…

Harry, too, traveled between two worlds, but there was no doubt that the Boy Who Lived belonged irrevocably to the Wizarding world, even while he was being shunted away in his Muggle prison, starving for affection, or news, or action.

And now that Hermione knew just how much Harry belonged, she wished again for the bliss of ignorance.

She had suspected it all for a long while, probably since she had first read the legend of Harry Potter, before she had met the unassuming boy who knew even less about the Wizarding world than she. There were so many questions that assailed her logical 10-year-old mind about the account of that Halloween night when his parents had been murdered. Beyond the obvious question of how Harry had survived the Killing Curse, and what exactly had happened to Lord Voldemort, she had wondered why? Why on earth did Voldemort set out to kill the Potter family? For Harry had surely been a target, not an afterthought.

That was before her adventures with Harry cemented her suspicions, before she had begun to assemble the puzzle pieces that remained as souvenirs of every Hogwarts year. First year, Harry faced Voldemort and succeeded in keeping the Sorcerer’s Stone from him. But the details haunted Hermione. What did the centaurs know about Harry? Why didn’t they want Firenze to help him? Why did Voldemort still want to kill him?

In second year, Tom Riddle, in his diary form, was motivated by revenge. That was understandable, or at least as understandable as homicidal intent can be. But fourth year, why Harry? Hermione had found it difficult to believe that after 13 years of what could barely be called existing, a wizard as power-hungry as Lord Voldemort would hesitate on the verge of regaining his powers. That he would in fact put his reincarnation on hold for some 9 months while he waited for Harry’s blood, simply out of a lust for revenge. No, there was more, and Sirius had all but confirmed it last year, when he said Harry had spoiled Voldemort’s plans by escaping alive. Throw in the mystery of Harry and Voldemort just happening to have “brother wands,” and Harry might as well have this is not a coincidence tattooed above his scar.

Still, she had willfully ignored the signs.

Hermione straightened her legs, then swung them off the bed and walked across to the window. Aurors and Order members patrolled outside in the dark, their wands unlit but their shapes still visible as they circled the house and garden. Ginny had not yet come up to bed. She was probably still sitting downstairs with her brothers. Hermione had slipped away from the tightly gathered group of Weasleys, partly to leave them alone as a family, and partly to preserve the secret she felt would spill out, raw and painful, if she stayed with them. Not that she had come upstairs to sleep. It was unlikely that any of them would sleep tonight, even Ron. She shivered as she knelt on the window seat, and her knee landed on something soft and lumpy. A jumper. Squinting, she scrutinized it in the little light coming from the slight moon and smiled with recognition. One of Harry’s old jumpers, knit by Mrs. Weasley in their second year. That seemed rather appropriate for Ginny, although Hermione had never seen her wear it. Hermione draped it across her shoulders, picturing Harry and Ron in their Christmas finery.

I almost lost them both tonight.

A sudden sob caught in her throat as she settled onto the window seat. Crookshanks leapt into her lap and eyed her questioningly. Hermione gratefully kissed his squashed face.

“I’m fine, Crookshanks,” she said aloud in a reassuring voice, admonishing her pet for thinking her in need of comfort. She stroked his ginger hair, and her interrupted meditation on Harry continued into more difficult territory.

Fifth year.

Even now that it was over, it was hard to look back and catalogue the experiences that had made this such a strange and different year for them. The gloomy and forbidding air of Grimmauld Place had seemed to follow them to Hogwarts, and the year was laced with suspicions, secrecy, and shifting allegiances. The ascension of Umbridge, the inane “educational decrees,” the unsecured post and fireplaces, the D.A. versus the Inquisitorial Squad, Dumbledore leaving, and teachers attacked. The splintering of the Wizarding world had been reflected at Hogwarts, and Hermione had been proud of how she and her classmates had responded. The year had been bizarre enough without factoring in Harry’s own personal hell: the pain and visions that provided increasing evidence of his bond with Voldemort; the nightmares; the attack on Mr. Weasley; and finally, the mission to rescue Sirius.

Poor Sirius.

She had almost died as well on that June night, she knew that. If Dolohtov had given voice to his curse, she would have. How much more of a wreck would that have made Harry? If she or Ron had died, if Ginny had died, if Luna or Neville had died…

“Hermione?”

Hermione jumped to her feet, wand ready, depositing Crookshanks on the floor.

Ginny was standing in the doorway. A glow from the tip of her wand revealed her pale, tired face and cast elongated shadows around the rest of the room. They had stopped caring about whether or not they should use magic. There would be no Ministry owls tonight.

“What are you doing, sitting in the dark?” she asked gently.

Hermione shrugged. “I didn’t see the need for a light.”

Ginny moved into the room and the shadows danced on the walls around her. “Nice jumper,” she smirked.

Hermione fingered the soft, thick yarn of the jumper around her shoulders, and held it out to her friend. “Imagine finding this in here,” she smirked back.

Ginny took the jumper in her hands and without a word threw her arms around Hermione and burst into tears. Hermione held her and let her cry, quietly casting a Silencing Charm around the room. She knew how quickly any Weasley would appear if they heard Ginny crying. She knew Ginny had waited until she was out of their company before letting herself go. And she knew from experience that Ginny would be done crying and ready to move on by the time anyone wanted to discuss it with her.

Already the youngest Weasley was winding down. She took a step back from Hermione, wiping her eyes with her wand hand, still clutching Harry’s jumper in the other.

“Sorry about your shoulder,” she sniffed, and cast a Drying Charm on the damp patch her tears had left on Hermione’s blouse.

“It’s fine, Ginny.”

“This, erm,” Ginny was gesturing with Harry’s jumper. “Ron always gives me his old jumpers, and Harry gave this one as well.”

“Mmmhmm.” Hermione sat back down on the window seat.

“Oh Hermione, I was so scared.”

Hermione patted the seat next to her and Ginny sat, one leg curled under her, pressing her forehead against the glass. She had extinguished her wand light. “I was so scared,” she repeated.

“So was I,” Hermione answered quietly, feeling again how terrified she had been as she had watched the events of the evening unfold, and thinking about the quiet terror that claimed her heart now, the new dread Ginny didn’t know. “You didn’t show it, Ginny.”

“No,” said Ginny. “Just doing what I was supposed to do, the way Mum trained us. How many of them are out there?” she nodded in the direction of the Aurors outside.

“Couldn’t tell.” Hermione turned to look out the window as well. “They keep moving. I recognized Tonks, or I think I did. And there are some Order members out there who aren’t Aurors.”

“They could only bring in people who could get to Hogwarts. That’s the only Floo connection that isn’t shut down. And it’s heavily guarded.”

“Did they find the wands?”

“Someone went out to. Not a good idea to leave them out there. Fred and George tried to sneak out to collect them. Lupin caught them.”

Hermione could only shake her head at Ginny’s brothers. “That’s all your mum needs tonight.”

They watched silently out the window for a time, until Ginny spoke.

“Doesn’t make me feel better. Aurors patrolling my own home.”

“Nothing will make me feel better,” said Hermione, “until I know who we can trust.”

Ginny looked at her sharply. “Dumbledore will be able to figure it out. He can use Veritaserum, and Legilimency.”

“Yes,” Hermione answered blankly, before changing the subject. “How is Ron?”

“He seems ok. He was still sitting with Bill. They wanted him to sleep but he won’t take any potions.”

Hermione smiled at Ron’s obstinacy. “I don’t think any of us are ready to sleep tonight.”

“Certainly not the intrepid D.A.”

“Do you think any of the others know?”

“Depends on who they know. Communication here was shut down right away. I don’t even know if Charlie’s heard. There are no owls in or out, at least until morning.”

“I know.” Hermione felt a small sense of guilt that she could not inform her parents of the latest news, but was more relieved at having an excuse, at least for now, to not bring them up-to-date on the battles in the Wizarding world. She still worried that they might pull her out of Hogwarts, or demand that she somehow disengage herself from the magical community. She knew if it came to that she would have to defy them, as much as she loved them. She had made her place, and she had vital work to do alongside her friends. And just tonight she had made a promise to Professor Dumbledore that would bear no reneging.

She looked at Ginny, who was gazing out the window, wand still clenched in her hand. She thought of the boys lying wounded under this roof.

Yes, they might all have been killed in the Department of Mysteries last June. They might have been killed tonight. They might be killed tomorrow, or next month. Because this really was war. Because they were fighting against the dark. And because they loved and supported Harry Potter. The hope of the Wizarding world. The Dark Lord’s target. The one who must vanquish Voldemort.

The girls settled in to wait out the night, side by side, wands ready.

//
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