The Sugar Quill
Author: Snooty Bob  Story: Hermione Granger and the Elephant of Surprise  Chapter: Default
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The Elephant of Suprise


     Hermione Granger and the Elephant of Surprise
    

    
     Sometimes you wish you could avoid a confidence you can clearly feel is trouble, like the faint smell of something burning; you don't want to hear of it.
     You wish you could abate your curiosity but you can't. And since you pride yourself on having an open mind, and your friends mean a lot to you, you have to suspend your disbelief and listen, even when what you are about to hear is going to change your world. If the story is based on the claims of a troubled, intelligent ten-year-old girl with an overly active imagination, you could choose to believe she is making up some wild stories to get attention. Or to explain why she keeps getting in trouble at school with the teacher and with her friends. You could say that kids who are lonely and bullied by the other kids sometimes make up a fantasy world to cope. You could express your sadness, and say that children can be so cruel, and add some outrage at the insensitivity and harshness of adults in the school system. But when the girl's dad starts to report the same things, you begin to wish you had mastered the art of not listening, of closing your mind, and ignoring what you are hearing.
     There are times when you should know the best idea is to start talking about the weather, or trivial things at work, in a loud and falsely cheerful voice. One such instance is when it is very late in the evening and people are starting to leave the bar. You notice how the crowd is thinning out around you and the bartender is starting to clean glasses and tidy up. Against better judgement you have ordered another round and you are sufficiently drunk and tired: but you are in that zone. The constraints that bind social behaviour are loosening.
     This is a dangerous place, but it is also where guys become friends for life, sharing their inner thoughts and worst fears or failures. Or if you are an old friend, that is when you have to be there for your mate.
     Bailing out or dodging it doesn't do.
     Another sign is when someone is going around a subject in circles, as if it is too hot to touch, and that was exactly what Thomas was doing that night. I foolishly, was nudging him on, because it is like that when you're in that zone, you half dread what you are going to hear, but you also want to hear it. After all you are as drunk as they are.
     "So does she do that a lot?" I asked.
     "Do what?" Thomas turned his head around with a confused expression in his eyes
     "Give you advice about things."
     "Yeah, and sometimes I don't know. It is almost scary how brilliant she is. She was instructing me how to drill a hole in the car without the drill slipping all over the place and making a scratch in the lacquer. I mean where does she pick up things like that? And she was giving me this little speech almost like a lecture."
     "Really? And how do you do that by the way?"
     "Well, you put a piece of electrical tape like an x over the hole so that the drill doesn't slide all over the place."
     "Now, that is clever."
     "Yeah, but that is beside the point. And it's not the strangest part, but sometimes she's so smart I feel intimidated… almost. And there are other things that scare me. She's developed this interest in New Age rubbish and all that. I mean it's not like she's very difficult normally, but lately whenever the discussion comes around to UFO's, auras, or magical objects and magic, everything turns into a discussion that goes on forever. I'm telling you, I'm loosing the arguments, Steve. Man, she reads up on all those facts, or supposed facts from those pseudo-science and paranormal books, and I don't know how she manages to keep all of it in her head and she goes around and around until my heads spins. In the end I just want to scream that all that is just a load of crap, and none of it really exists. But of course you can't say that. What kind of and argument is that? What kind of example is it to lose your head and yell? Of course you know it isn't true but it's not so easy to prove either way. Somehow I feel like I have to take her ideas seriously or she'll run away and join a cult or something."
     "Well you know Thomas, she's bound to be smart. It's not like there wasn't a reason we used to call you Doctor Thomas long before you really were a doctor for real."
     "You're the genius Steve. I only studied hard and I always had an interest in medicine and biology."
     "Maybe," I said. "But unfortunately I could never study anything that wasn't fun. I guess that's why my marks looked like a diagram of a roller coaster. You had the self-discipline and drive. And look where you are now."
     "Yeah, I guess I was a bit of a stiff type. Just like you guys always called me Thomas and not Tom or Tommie or something like that," he said.
     He lifted his beer to his lips and sipped it in thoughtful silence for a while. "She is just like me in so many ways, and maybe that, in a way, is also what scares me. Sometimes I think her manners turn a lot of people off. She's a bit intense and gets caught up in her ideas and reading books a lot. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I really recognise myself in her so much sometimes. I don't want her to become lonely Steve."
     He took a large gulp of beer and grimaced. "But it was the thing that happened when I started to use the drill that really scared me."
     Uneasy, I laughed a little. Fixing Thomas' eyes I said, "You know old chap, someone could do a lot worse than being just like you." He smiled weakly. "You have to remember you're the one who has done well for yourself," I continued. "You're married with children, or one child who is absolutely adorable, living in that smart house and whenever I try to pry into how much money you and your wife make you always start to squirm and change the subject."
     He laughed and the thoughtful look lifted from his face for a moment.
     Holding his gaze, I noticed how red his eyes were, and I wondered if it were all from the drinking. Had he been loosing sleep lately? There was something harassed beneath his recapitulation of old days and the happy feelings of seeing me again. Not that they didn't feel truly genuine, but he was also preoccupied.
     Now Thomas was a bit of a stiff guy all right but I was not about to agree too much, he did have quite a sense of humour underneath his correct and conservative manners, tall thin frame and greying hair and the gold rimmed glasses that made him look like, well, just like a doctor.
     Thomas was of course only a dentist and not a brain surgeon, but he still looked like he just fell out of a cartoon by an artist who couldn't be bothered to skip the clichés.
     "Now that is so damned typical of guys," a female voice interrupted our thoughts. It had the unmistakable tint of drunkenness that made 'so' come out more like 'shoe'. Thomas and I both turned our heads in surprise.
     "What?" we said in unison.
     The woman was pointing her index finger towards the sky for emphasis while at the same time fixing it with her eyes, as if surprised to see it suddenly appear in front of her. This made her look cross-eyed in a comical way and she swayed considerably, as she leaned in over the bar.
     She was balancing a tall martini glass in her other hand without much success, half of it spilled out. Some splashed on my shirt. She was clearly, royally, pissed.
     "Just because a woman is smart and knows things about cars, you feel intimidated, that is just so typical." She wagged her finger at us. She must have realised finally that this was a body part that belonged to her and could be brought under voluntary control.
     "Oh really, you think so?" Thomas said raising his eyebrow, an amused smile played at the corner of his mouth.
     Being smirked at clearly aggravated the lady even further. "Oh I know your type. Your some kind of doctor or something and your wife is probably ten years younger and you like to boss her around a lot and tell her do this and do that."
     "Well, as a matter of fact I am a doctor, well… dentist really, but that is probably all the same to you. " He grinned and turned towards me.
     "Well, Steve what do you think? Do I like to boss people around sometimes?"
     I grinned back at him. "Well Thomas, maybe just a little bit. It wouldn't perhaps be such a great surprise if Hermione had a little of that in her too."
     "Yeah and now that she has developed an interest in the occult and New Age you feel diminished and threatened because she is smarter than you and wins the arguments. That is just so typical." The lady sighed knowingly and took a sip from her martini. "It's always like that. You guys are always trying to be so rational, then you feel unfulfilled from neglecting your spiritual side and take it out on your girlfriends when they are only trying to help you see there are more things to life than numbers and science."
     "Like what?" Thomas asked. His amused smile was still there, but his eyes focused in a way I knew from experience to be a sign of trouble ahead.
     "It was always like that with my ex, Ken. He would always snort at me when I wanted us to go to Madam X and get our tarot cards read," the drunken lady continued.
     "What is he, a Barbie doll?" I asked. She gave me a contemptuous look, as if I was dirt. Typical, she favoured the doctor, even though he was clearly married.
     "Anyway, then he would complain about the costs, as if the future is not important. And I tried to explain how you had to do things in certain ways or things could be jinxed."
     Thomas and I exchanged brief glances and smiled, looking down on our beer glasses, avoiding looking at the drunken lady. This encouraged her further, as if we had been thoroughly convinced by her jumbled line of reasoning, or lack thereof.
     She leaned in further and spoke in a low and dramatic whisper, "There are witches and wizards all over the place you know. I met one the other day, dressed in purple clothes and a pointed black hat."
     "Oh really?" I said. I caught Thomas eyes and smiled at him, but instead of smiling he looked pale and stared at the woman.
     "You know what?" she continued, "When I turned back to look after looking away for only a second." She paused dramatically, emptying the few drops remaining of her martini. "He was gone!"
     She looked from Thomas to me with a triumphant face as if everything now was settled. "And I heard him disappear too, with a loud popping sound!"
     Thomas looked pale and shocked and he didn't speak. I wondered what was going on with him. Perhaps the last sip of beer had been one sip too many and he was going to be sick. I half expected him to excuse himself and make a run for the restrooms. This was not good. I knew Elizabeth would somehow feel that it was my fault if I made the good doctor drunk and sick. As if I had forced him to drink all those beers. Personally I thought he needed to blow a few of those brain cells every now and then.
     It couldn't hurt for him to loosen up a little. However, maybe he was getting way too loose, and this woman wasn't helping. She was clearly off her rocker.
     "Now, look lady," I said. "The girl who Thomas here is referring to, is his ten year old daughter and not his wife, who as far as I know does not believe in any paranormal phenomena. If he feels that he needs to exercise a little authority or set certain limits and boundaries in his daughters upbringing I don't see that he is entirely out of line."
     "Oh," said the tipsy lady, her jaw dropping and her mouth going round.
     "Although you seem to think yourself all knowing, this is clearly not the case, so why don't you take the opportunity to butt the hell out of other peoples business?"
     The tipsy lady stared at me angrily and opened her mouth to retaliate. She then thought better of it and turned around with a contemptuous flick of her hair. Putting down her glass hard on the bar she started unsteadily to make her way towards the loo. My eyes followed the precarious balance of her pink high heels, hoping she wouldn't fall over out there on the stone floor. I was sure I would be liable somehow, having put her in such an upset state, and I didn't think my insurance would cover accidents in the ladies room.
     Thomas sat there staring at his beer glass, turning it slowly round and round. It was standing in a little puddle of beer and twirling it made a circular pattern on the wood.
     "So what were you saying about the drill, Thomas?" I tried to pick up the conversation.
     "Well, it slid out of my hand, and I nearly had an accident. Hermione was standing beside me, still talking about how to drill that damned thing."
     "You never were the practical man. I know a guy has to resolve his domestic plights, especially those who stubbornly refuse to admit there is anything they can't do."
     I felt myself talking in that falsely cheerful voice. Thomas continued staring at the glass, slowly turning and turning.
     "Yes, I think I could have actually hurt myself pretty badly, because I was leaning in to see and the position was sort of uncomfortable," Thomas mumbled, "and it would have hit my face, but it didn't"
     "What happened? " I asked.
     Thomas looked up and met my eyes. "It disappeared," he said.
     "What do you mean disappeared?"
     "With a loud popping sound!" Thomas said, staring into my eyes. His face looked ashen and his eyes were wild and wide. "One second the drill was making its drill noise, I was slipping and I thought something like 'It will hit my eye' or something like that, and then it was gone. No sound or anything. It just disappeared."
     "Gone?"
     "Yes, I was staring at my empty hand. Hermione had screamed something, and then she turned and ran from the garage. Maybe she got scared, but do you know what? I think she was the one doing it."
     "Who? Hermione?"
     "Yes."
     Thomas looked at me and then turned his eyes back to the beer. "You don't believe me do you?"
     I paused at a loss for what to say or believe about what he had just told me.
     Slowly I said, "Well, Thomas I really don't know what to believe. You know what we used to say: 'I only believe in what I know'." I grinned, falsely cheerful again. "What is a mystery today will be science tomorrow. If it really exists, rigorous scientific testing will reveal it."
     "You really don't believe it do you, Steve?"
     "I believe you experienced something unusual. What it was, I really can't say," I said. "You know what you thought you saw, but you have to realise that it is a bit hard for me to accept that Hermione made your drill disappear into thin air."
     Thomas continued staring at the beer for a few seconds. I remained silent.
     Then he looked up, "Well, it's getting late. I knew you wouldn't believe me, but thanks for listening all the same. We really should be going home, or Elizabeth will be furious." He glanced at his watch and smiled, trying to brush off the awkward moment.
     He stood up from the stool, swaying just a bit, and started to grab for his coat.
    
     ~*~
    
     I'm a poet and a one-man band, at least if you allow for the beauty of equations and mathematics to be counted as poetry. Supposedly it is the language of God. Maybe he sometimes comes down from a mountain to translate a few of his more important ideas, but for the most part the really strange and wonderful mysteries are hidden in nature, and I am lucky to count myself among one of those that dedicate their life to laboriously working it out in ever so small steps and bits. Those are the things that really inspire a sense of wonder and awe. That they all came about by chance or by design was not usually discussed and I must confess I was generally too caught up in the details to give that much thought.
     Then again what is chance, Elohim, Adonai, the force of nature and creation? All I know is that the things I comfortably discussed on a daily basis were too weird and outlandish to ever have been created or conceived by mortal men. I was no stranger to tears in the space-time fabric, throwing around ideas of parallel universes, hidden small dimensions, or particles that tried all possible paths through the universe at once. Not to mention that poor pet of Schroedinger who wound up dead and alive at the same time. I never understood the necessity of killing it to make the point, but I was not someone who would reject outrageous ideas. All you'd have to do is prove your claims. Actually my main objection to New Age ideas was that they were not imaginative enough. They bore the mark of the limited human mind, as did all religion.
     Also, like in the song, where in my thoughts escape feels like home, I had often been in the company of Thomas and Elizabeth Granger. I guess nowadays we weren't as close as in the old days; it had been a long while since I had visited, but that was natural as we all lived very busy lives.
     However, after that night in the bar I made a point to try and inject myself a little more in their lives. To be honest I was worried about the doctor. I knew he and Elizabeth had been working very hard for a very long time, and with raising a kid and still trying to keep that house of theirs in perfect shape, I don't know how they could possibly manage. I was wondering if Thomas might be suffering some mild hallucinations or other symptoms of being overworked and over stressed. It could be a warning sign of a serious breakdown. I thought I should try to speak with Elizabeth about it. But it was of course a delicate matter, since he had told his story in confidence.
    
     So it came to pass that two weeks later I found myself invited to the Grangers' house for dinner. I had phoned Thomas a couple of times under various excuses to chat a little and check up on him at the same time. He still seemed troubled but he never brought up the strange conversation we had in the pub. I didn't particularly feel like touching on the subject again either, so it was never mentioned.
     One night when I called, Thomas was out and Elizabeth picked up the phone.
     We talked a little and soon she brought up the subject of dinner. She pointed out that I had not been to visit in a long time and it would be nice to catch up. It didn't take much coercion to get me to accept, in fact, none at all. I really looked forward to it.
    
    Saturday evening at seven I was driving through the quiet streets past the little houses with neatly trimmed lawns, abundant flower beds with their explosions of colour, and trees rustling their leaves in the summer evening breeze. I drove past a sign saying, "Welcome to Winterway! Drive slowly, look out for playing children." I felt as if it might as well have said, "Welcome to the world of the successful and prosperous!"
    
     I parked my car on the Grangers' driveway, wondering if the perfect trimmings of the hedges were the work of Elizabeth or Thomas. I smiled to myself when I envisioned Thomas using a laser to make sure it was absolutely straight. If he did, it wouldn't have surprised me.
     I stepped out of the car, slammed the door and pushed the keychain to lock it. The beep of my horn seemed almost obscene in the tranquillity. When I walked up the driveway the gravel crunched lightly underfoot, and the warm breeze on my face carried the smell of flowers and newly mowed grass. I paused for a moment, feeling content. From a distance the happy yells of children playing reached my ears, and my eyes fell on some garden tools leaning against the wall. A set of working gloves lay on the grass. There were two well-pruned apple trees that probably gave no more than twice or three times that amount in apples each harvest at this point. But I was sure they would eventually bring so much fruit that the Grangers' friends would blankly refuse to accept any more apples, and start talking about harassment in an almost serious tone.
     Hermione's bike lay on the grass at the side of the driveway. She had apparently thrown it down in great haste. Or maybe she had parked it and it had fallen over.
     I smiled again and walked up the steps to knock on the door.
    
     "Hello Steve! It's so nice to see you." Elizabeth greeted me in the door.
     "Please come in. You're as punctual as ever."
     "Sorry," I said, and glanced at my watch. I felt a little foolish. It seems how hard I try I can never be conveniently late for anything. If they say seven, I will appear seven sharp.
     Elizabeth brushed back a strand of her curly brown hair that was falling in her eyes and grinned at me. "Well I should apologise. We aren't quite finished here. Thomas went to buy some stuff we seem to have forgotten.
     I'm afraid we aren't that well prepared." She shook my hand. "I sort of came up with the idea at the spur of the moment when we talked. But if you don't have time you just have to make time, don't you agree?"
     "Its only me," I said. "You don't have to prepare anything."
     "Of course we do. You come to visit so seldom these days. But come in, don't just stand there." She motioned for me to follow her inside.
     "Thank you," I said and followed her through the hallway and into the kitchen. Something delicious was brewing on the stove in a big pot. I realised how hungry I was and how much I have missed this cozy place. The table was already set and covered with a white cloth, in honour of the occasion. A carafe of red wine was airing its contents beside another one for water. There was pot of freshly picked flowers and a huge plastic bottle of diet Coke. Four plates, three glasses for wine and one for sugarless soda. Never that anything containing sugar would enter the Granger house, I thought and smiled.
     "You know alcohol contains sugar too. Or at least it metabolises into sugar." I teased Elizabeth.
     "Well, so does ice cream. But we do allow it on occasion. You know you can't forbid a child to ever taste anything sweet. All their friends are eating sugar all the time." She held out a wine glass for me.
     "True, a life without ice cream is no life at all," I said, taking the glass. "Where is Hermione by the way?"
     "She went with Thomas to the store. Apparently the selection of ice cream is very serious business and Thomas cannot be trusted to do it on his own." She smiled and poured wine from the carafe.
     "Such a sweet kid deserves something sweet sometimes," I said.
     "Don't say that so she hears it. She will never stop reminding us about it. Especially if uncle Steve said it."
     "I'm not her uncle."
     "Well, that's what she used to call you when she was little. Don't you remember? But she knows better now, so now you are only Steve. 'When is Steve coming?' 'Oh, why can't it be Saturday soon.'" She laughed. I looked out through the kitchen window at the driveway outside with a funny feeling that I still wanted to be uncle Steve.
     I cleared my throat and looked around. "Can I make myself useful?" I asked.
     "You could peel the potatoes perhaps. Or you can sit at the table and entertain me while I do it."
     "Or you can sit at the table and I do the peeling," I said. I put my hand on Elizabeth's shoulder and steered her towards the table.
     "You're the guest. I'm not supposed to put you to work," she said, pretending to resist me. But she then sat down at the table, serving herself some of the wine.
     "So how is Hermione anyway?" I asked as I poured potatoes into the sink from a big potato sack. "How's she doing in school?"
     "She is doing fine… The pots are in the right cupboard down beside the stove," Elizabeth said.
     I turned and looked at her. She had sounded a little hesitant.
     "Is something the matter Elizabeth? I can't imagine Hermione having any trouble in school. I have never met a kid that is more clever or keen on reading books."
     "Well, you know, maybe that is the trouble," Elisabeth said thoughtfully.
     "She gets top marks in every subject of course, but she has it a little harder with her friends."
     "Oh, are they mean to her? Of course they have to pick on the brainy girl." I heard a tone of bitterness in my own voice. The subject was all too familiar.
     "I wouldn't say they are treating her that badly. You know kids can be quite harsh and hard on each other. Its natural that there are tears sometimes, that's how it goes. But I wonder if she isn't becoming a bit of an outsider."
     "And that troubles you," I said and plopped the first peeled potato in the water filled pot. "You don't want her to be like her uncle Steve, do you?"
     "I didn't mean it like that. You know I wouldn't mind it one bit if she were just like you. But, you know being clever makes you stand out, and I think she has trouble fitting in with her friends. You would know what I'm talking about. Of course you had it tough being in school with kids that were two years older than you. That had to be hard in some ways."
     "Yeah, I don't know what my parents were thinking, or my teachers. I wasn't mature enough to move up two classes."
     "Maybe they were thinking that if you weren't so bored all the time, you would stop turning the whole school upside down," Elizabeth said.
     I laughed and plopped another potato in the water. "Hey, your dear husband helped a great deal with that, you know. And even though some of those stupid kids gave me a hard time, I always had Thomas. He was the best friend I ever had."
     "He is," Elizabeth, corrected me.
     "Yes, that's what I meant."
     Elizabeth was silent for a while thinking. "You know I wish she would have a best friend at school. That's what I used to have when I was her age. Then they could stick together. But now she has gotten herself in some trouble and she refuses to tell me what happened. Actually she didn't tell me about it. I found out from her teacher."
     "Hermione got into trouble at school?" I said, surprised. "What did she do?"
     "I'm not sure. Apparently some kids accused her of stealing their books, and the teacher believed them. She called me one evening saying the most astonishing things. She said Hermione has an anger problem and is making trouble in school. She said some girls had teased her and that she was found smashing the windows of the gym building."
     "She did what?" I said. I turned and looked at Elizabeth. "Are you sure?"
     "Well, they had a big fight. It seems she tried to impress them with some trick and it didn't work. She has talked a lot about those girls. There is one called Jane and another called Susie. They seem to be the leaders and the most popular girls in the class, and the others tag along and follow anything they do."
     "Yeah, every school is plagued by a couple of those," I said.
     "Well, I guess. Anyway, they had accused Hermione of stealing their books, and she said they just disappeared."
     "Disappeared?"
     "Yes, that was what she claimed, and then they teased her and said that if she made them disappear why couldn't she show them? So apparently she took them up on the challenge."
     "She did, but that's crazy," I said.
     "I don't know what she had planned to do, some trick maybe. She picks up so many things that kid, you never know where she gets everything. But it didn't work, and by that time the whole class had gathered around to see the spectacle, so she was laughed at by everyone."
     "Ouch, that must have been humiliating."
     "Yeah, I can't imagine. But apparently she was so angry she ran away from the crowd, and then she proceeded to hurl rocks at those windows. I was completely shocked. I was sure the teacher must have called the wrong number. That she was talking about someone else. I know Hermione can get very angry sometimes, but I have never seen her break things. It didn't sound anything like the Hermione I know."
     "Wait a minute," I said. "If she was behind a building, how do they know she did it? Did anyone see her throw rocks at the window?"
     "Ah, the scientist wants proof. No, not really, but another teacher heard the crashing and came around the corner. She was apprehended at the scene, so to speak. There was no one else there but her, and the shards of the broken windows on the ground. And she had a stone in her hand."
     "Aha, so no one saw her break the windows," I said.
     "The teacher was upset of course," Elizabeth continued. "She said that Hermione had been very rude and screamed at her that the windows had broken by them selves. Of course she was punished. "
     "Of course," I said.
     "The teacher made her write lines on the blackboard. 'I will never tell lies and destroy school property again.' or something like that."
     "Apparently teachers are as cruel nowadays as they have always been," I said. "It's good to know nothing major has changed in the world. Makes you feel safe. And they can't even come up with something imaginative for their poor students to write."
     Elizabeth laughed. "There is just nothing I can say to make you not take her side is there?"
     "No there isn't," I said and smiled. "You're her parent. You have to do the disciplining. I will always find excuses whatever she does."
     "Oh, yeah? You would, would you? What do you say if I told you that the very same afternoon my sweet little girl retaliated by letting out the air in all four tires of her teachers car?"
     "She did what?" I stared at Elizabeth in utter astonishment.
    
     "Uncle Steve, is that you?" Hermione ran through the kitchen and gave me a hug.
     "Hey, Hermione, you shouldn't attack someone who has a potato peeler in his hand."
     "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realise," she said.
     I grinned and held her at arms length. She had become a thinner and taller version of the little girl I knew. "Oh my, you have grown since I last saw you. What happened did you parents put fertiliser in you food?"
     "But Steve, that's dung. That would be disgusting," She said and wrinkled her nose. I laughed and ruffled her hair, which was the same brown, untameable bush as her mothers, although not as curly.
     "So Elizabeth is making you do chores while she drinks wine?" Thomas said, placing a bag of groceries on the counter. "Sorry, we're late. The delicate art of picking the proper ice cream took longer than anticipated today."
     "I'm sorry," Hermione said, "but you almost never let me have any, only on special occasions."
     I rolled my eyes and sighed, "Dentists will always be dentists." Hermione giggled at this and glanced at her dad. "Well, at least you know you will never have a cavity Hermione."
     "Hello Steve, good to see you again," Thomas said, and gave me a hug and a slap on the back. "We haven't seen you around these parts in a long time."
     "I didn't realise until I saw your daughter, she has become quite a young lady."
     "I don't want to become a lady, I want to be a woman," Hermione said.
     I laughed and looked at her. "Yeah, that's the spirit." I leaned closer and shielded my mouth with my hand, adding in a whisper, "and kick their you-know-whats."
     She giggled again, and smiled brightly.
    
     The potatoes were about finished and we sat down to eat a wonderful casserole, made from a recipe that Elizabeth had learned from her grandmother. She had been a funny old lady with many talents and many cats, who had lived by herself in a big old house stubbornly refusing to die, according to Thomas. I reflected that if the casserole was any indication of her talents she was indeed a very competent old lady.
     "So how are things going at the university Steve? Have you discovered any new particles since last?" Thomas said, as he scooped more salad on his plate.
     I laughed. "You know we don't invent, I mean discover, new particles any more."
     "They work with strings now," Hermione said.
     "What?" I said. "How do you know about that?"
     "I read an article about you in the paper. They said you had made important discoveries to further the theories of strings. There was a picture of you outside the university. It wasn't a very good one, a little fuzzy. I bet I could take a much better one if I had a camera. Dad let me take pictures with his when we went on Holiday to Cornwall. It's a single lens reflex, what is the name again Dad? It was really complicated, but I worked it out. Well, anyway, dad showed me, and the pictures turned out really good. But I didn't understand anything in that article about those strings."
     Thomas laughed, "Don't forget to breathe Hermione."
     "Don't worry, that journalist didn't understand much either," I said. "I had a hard time explaining what the paper was about without him falling a sleep."
     "That's just stupid," Hermione said, "Those journalists should leave you alone and don't bother you if they don't want to listen and understand. Why do they write articles if they don't want to understand? It's just like school. No one listens to what anyone else is saying and then they complain when they don't understand. You have such an important and difficult job to do, Steve. Those journalists shouldn't take up your time."
     "Do you really think so? I'm not exactly out there changing the world am I? Or making world peace."
     "Maybe you are," said Elizabeth. "You guys change our world view, and maybe that makes us think differently."
     "Well, my research doesn't seem to have improved the situation in the Israel, Palestinian conflict much? Or ended world hunger, or even mended the ozone layer. Besides I invited that journalist. I called them up and said we had published an important paper in Nature that was going to change everything. I have to make some headlines for us. It helps getting more grants." I sighed.
     Thomas smiled and offered some more wine. "Everyone has money problems, huh?"
     "Yeah, I swear I spend more than half my time chasing grants and trying to make a stir so our research will get noticed. It's going to give me ulcers."
     "Well, we still don't know what to do, but at least now, thanks to you guys, we now know we can't predict the future," Elizabeth said.
     "Now, that is really old. My dad wasn't even born when they discovered that. I think"
     "Why can't we predict the future, Steve?" Hermione asked.
     "Well, it is called Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. It says you can't predict both the position and the speed of a particle with infinite precision at the same time. The uncertainty will always be greater or equal to Planks constant. Combine that with chaos theory where the outcome of an event is critically dependant on the initial conditions so that particles might move to a completely different place depending on its initial position or speed."
     "I didn't really understand that," Hermione said.
     "How can I explain? It's maybe a little too tricky. You will learn about that in school eventually I guess."
     "No. Please try to explain it to me uncle Steve. I promise I will listen and concentrate really hard."
     "I thought I wasn't your uncle any more," I said.
     "I know you're not my uncle," Hermione said. "It's just, I'm used to saying it, and sometimes I forget."
     "Now, Hermione," Thomas said. "Let Steve eat a little. Maybe he doesn't want to talk about work. It is Saturday, you know?"
     "Oh, ok," she said. "It was a stupid article anyway." She looked down at her plate.
     "It didn't stop you from putting it up in your room," Elizabeth said, and smiled.
     "You know, Steve, it is hard to remember those things about physics. I think I sort of understand when you explain something, but then when I try to tell it to other people it's hard to get it all right. I keep messing it up in my head," Hermione said.
     "Don't worry about it. You have so much time to learn. Take it one step at the time," I said.
     "But I want to learn right now."
     "You are just like your dad, you know?"
     She looked at me thoughtfully and then she frowned. "When we talked about history in class I tried to explain that thing you told me about time. That time would go slower on a very big star, and that if you travelled in a space ship at the speed of light you would not age, but millions of years would have passed when you came back to earth. But the other kids just laughed, and they didn't believe me. And Susie Raviski said in a loud voice from the back of the classroom that I was telling lies again, and making things up. Then all the girls in the back laughed."
     "Oh, she did, did she?" I said. "Maybe she just doesn't understand."
     "But why would she not listen then? She could learn, and I think they make me nervous when they laugh and give each other looks, my head just got messier and messier, and I don't think I explained it right, because our teacher interrupted me and said that wasn't exactly how it worked."
     "Maybe your teacher is a moron," I said.
     "Steve!" Elizabeth said, sharply.
     "Oh, sorry." I felt my face go slightly pink. "I shouldn't talk like that about your teacher. She just misunderstood, that's all."
     Thomas laughed. "You're going to force us to put her in an expensive private school if you keep talking like that. You'll undermine all her confidence in her teachers' authority."
    
     There was a moment of silence, and I sensed it was probably wise to change the subject. "You have a lovely garden out there Thomas," I said. "I had to stop and admire it when I came."
     "Yes it is a nice little spot we have here. It's coming along nicely."
     "I like the apple trees. You'll have tons of apples from those," I said.
     "Oh, by the way, Hermione," Thomas said, turning to his daughter. "I saw that bike on the ground again. You know we talked about that. You need to park it properly." He frowned. "We paid a lot for that bike and you cannot just leave it on the ground like that. Today is the last time I pick it up. In the future I will just let it lay there until it gets all rusty or someone runs it over on the driveway by mistake."
     "It keeps falling by itself. I parked it properly, I promise," Hermione said.
     "Like there is a full storm out today. You have to do it right Hermione. I thought we had explained it to you," Elizabeth said.
     "It fell by itself," Hermione said, stubbornly.
     "Just like windows keep breaking by themselves, even when you stand beside with a stone in your hand?"
     "Now, Elizabeth," Thomas said. "I thought we agreed that if Hermione said she didn't do these things she didn't do it and we believe her?"
     "And the tyres just decided to let out all the air by themselves, all four of them?"
     "Hermione didn't do it, okay?" Thomas said, raising his voice.
     Elizabeth didn't reply and again silence fell at the table. Hermione stared down at her plate and moved her potato around with her fork, not eating.
     "Steve?" Hermione said in a low voice, almost a whisper, without looking up from her plate. "Is there a force that can make object move from a distance without touching it?"
     "Yes, of course," I said. "Gravity does that all the time."
     "But can it make things move in other directions, or make things fly or break?"
     "No not really. Of course in space, objects will fly in the same direction until there is another force acting on them. But on earth things fall to the ground and stay on the ground." I sensed the tense looks on both Elisabeth and Thomas faces. But I ignored them. The girl was clearly troubled by something and maybe if she would talk about it we could understand what was going on.
     "Earth is such a big body. It would take an equally large body for gravity to make any object move in any other direction," I said.
     "Could an object disappear into another parallel universe, Steve?"
     "No, not really. It is mostly particles on the quantum level that do strange things like that. Or maybe it's more of a model of thought. How we think about it, or imagine it."
     "But what about those electrons that know each others' spin, or what was it called, something like that. I don't know what spin is, but they seemed like they could communicate without contact with each other."
     I laughed. "Have you been reading 'The dancing Wu Li masters', Hermione?"
     "Ok that's enough," Thomas said. "Didn't we decide to leave this subject tonight?"
     "But Dad, Steve knows about these things. Maybe he can explain."
     "I said enough! I will not sit around all night and discuss with you about magic and supernatural things and all that rubbish. You give me a headache, and I won't have it. Do you hear me? Enough is enough."
     Hermione stood up from the table and put down her fork hard on her plate.
     Her face turned beet-red and she looked furious. With her lips pursed together and without looking at any of us, she walked away from the table.
     She disappeared up the stairs and we heard the door to her room slamming closed. Outside there was crash, and a faint ping from a bell. That might have been a bike falling over, I thought.
     "Hermione," Thomas called. "Hermione come down here. You're being very rude!" He paused and listened. "I'm sorry Hermione, but can't we talk about something nice for a change, something else, I mean…" he said. The anger had gone from his voice, and he sounded more sad and tired than anything else. There was no answer from upstairs. "Can't we just have a normal bloody dinner for once, or a normal bloody life?" he muttered.
     I looked at Thomas, "But you yourself said…you saw… Oh never mind." I stood up and put my napkin down on the table. "Let me talk to her Thomas. Maybe she will listen to me, or at least she can explain more calmly, so we can figure out what is going on."
     "Yeah, she might listen to you Steve," Thomas said. He sighed and sank back in his chair. He looked tired and defeated.
    
     "Hermione." I called as I walked up the stairs to her room. The door to her room was closed and no sound came from inside. I jumped the last steps quickly and turned to knock on the door when I stopped dead and stared, suddenly enveloped by fear, and an unreal feeling, as if my mind was floating outside my body.
     About two feet above the ground, something blue was hovering, turning slowly in mid air. It was a blue stuffed elephant. I recognised it very well. It was the stuffed elephant that Hermione used to bring with her everywhere when she was little. She couldn't sleep if she didn't have it, and she refused to go anywhere if it wasn't securely in her arms or in the car. It even had a name, Nestor, I think. I grabbed the railing of the stairs and sank down on my knees. The elephant just hung there very peacefully, slowly turning as if moved by a slight breeze.
     "This isn't possible, " I whispered. With my heart pounding I leaned forward. It still hung in the air. I reached out my hand and swept under the elephant to verify that it wasn't resting on anything.
     Nothing was there.
     I then moved slowly to reach above it. There were no strings.
     Amazing!
     This is for real, I thought. But how is she doing it? There must be a force overcoming gravity. Is it coming from her mind, or is she channelling something? Or is she controlling some force with her mind? Some aspect of gravity we haven't understood.
     Or is it the devil?
     I sank back, leaning against the wall, staring at the elephant that defied gravity. I closed my eyes hard. The room seemed to spin for a second. When I looked again. It was still hanging there. I heard Thomas and Elizabeth speaking in low voices downstairs. I wasn't dreaming and I was probably not psychotic. And the world had not stopped. Should I call for Thomas and Elizabeth? No, I needed to talk with Hermione first. It was only fair.
    
     I collected myself and stood up, unable to stop staring at the flying elephant. I walked to the door and knocked tentatively.
     The elephant fell to the floor with a soft thud and then turned on the side. It lay there motionless, behaving, as any normal object should.
     "Who's there?" Hermione asked quietly through the door.
     "It's me, Steve. Can I come in?"
     There was a moment of silence before Hermione answered. "Okay," she said.
     I heard steps behind the door and then it opened. I picked up the elephant from the floor and followed her inside the room. Hermione's face was very dark and she didn't smile. She just walked over and sat on her bed, crossed her arms over her chest and stared at the wall, refusing to meet my eyes.
     I walked across the room and looked at the bookshelf. She had a lot of books for a ten year old. A goldfish swam peacefully in a large bowl on her table.
     "Nice fish. What's his name?"
     "Her name is Guinevere," Hermione muttered.
     "How do you know it's a female fish?" I asked and smiled.
     "How do you know it's a boy fish," Hermione snapped.
     "So, some strange things have been happening all around you lately, huh?" I said. "And you seem to be getting in trouble a lot when they happen."
     "You just don't believe me," Hermione said, still refusing to look at me. "You're stupid."
     "You know I only believe in what I know," I said.
     She turned and smiled a weak smile. "Yeah, I know you used to say that. But you'd believe that I would throw rocks at windows and let out the air of my teachers car. That you can believe. Why would I do that? If you think I'd do that you're as stupid as the rest of them."
     "I never said I believed any of those things. As far as I know you picked up a rock and the windows broke. Those are the facts. But why don't you tell me the rest of what happened?"
     "I don't know what happened. I was so embarrassed and mad at myself for letting stupid Susie and Jane get to me. I just picked up the rock, and I did think about throwing it, but I didn't really mean to throw it for real, I just sort of imagined how good it would feel to break all those windows in pieces. And then they just exploded. It was scary, Steve…"
     "You poor thing," I said.
     "Mum and Dad don't know about the other thing I did though," Hermione said. "Steve, do you think my teeth are very large?"
     "Your teeth? Honestly, I haven't though about it."
     "You haven't? Well, in school they tease me about my teeth. So one time when they were laughing and making jokes about beavers I think I grew Susie Raviski's teeth."
     "Wow," I said, "but how do you do it?"
     "I don't know. It sort of just happens. It's like magic. Only it happens at the worst possible moments. And I can only seem to break things. It would be nice if I could fly or make money, or gold, or ice cream maybe, anything useful. But then something even stranger happened. There was an older man in purple clothes that looked all old fashioned and weird, and he talked to me and said that what I had done was very clever medicinal magic, but we had to fix it. Then I don't really remember what happened. It all got kind of fussy. And I think there was a pop, and then Susie's teeth were normal again."
     "Aha, so there are other people involved too," I said. This was interesting. Could it be some cult doing tricks to recruit more people? Maybe they were brainwashing the Grangers. But that was a weird thought. You couldn't brain wash people with remote control. And if they did, they had just managed to make me hallucinate as well. I was confused, but this was one of those moments when clarity of thought and logic was like a banister you had to hold on to, or you may fall into chaos and insanity.
     I put the blue stuffed elephant down on the bed. "Here, show me how you do it. If I can see that you are the one doing it and no one else I will believe you."
    
     What then followed was more than an hour of frustration. Hermione tried to concentrate on the stuffed elephant, imagining it moving, or commanding it to move with her thoughts, and even out loud. Nothing happened.
     After a while Thomas came up the stairs to look into the room. I nodded for him to leave. He raised his eyebrows, but didn't protest. He left quietly and walked downstairs. I thought that it was best to not have her parents around. Thomas would probably not have been able to hide his dislike for our experimental approach to the problem. Or worse, he might have laughed or smirked, or forbidden her to continue with the nonsense, as he had expressed earlier. I was pretty sure that Hermione's fragile calm would not have withstood another derisive snort, or even a sarcastic smile.
     The elephant refused to move. It was as if it had suddenly been filled with lead. So we tried another experiment with playing cards. If there was something paranormal going on maybe she could guess what was on the cards without seeing them. It didn't work either. At first she guessed a few correctly, but when the series continued her luck ran out and even though I didn't write it down it was plain that this was approaching the expected outcome of a random guess. The old gambler's ruin, I thought, disappointed.
     We even removed a feather from one of her pillows. "Maybe if you try a very light object," I said, and placed the small white feather on top of the bed. Hermione closed her eyes and tried to concentrate. I don't know on what really. When you have no idea what is going on it's kind of hard to know what to do or think to make things happen. I guess she tried to imagine in her mind's eye that the feather was flying. I didn't try to influence her, mostly because I had no idea what to suggest. What I knew about the laws of physics seemed to have been violated, or brushed away by one sweep of a magic broom. Maybe I was out of a job, I thought.
     Was it possible that she wasn't doing these things at all? Maybe there was some strange force field around the house that she walked into and by accident she got the blame for everything. Force field, what the hell is a force field? I was beginning to think like a fluffy New Age zealot already. Next thing I would probably start thinking about auras and cosmic energies. And my mind used to be sharper than Occam's Razor.
     No, if there was something physically wrong with the universe it had also afflicted Hermione's school. But only to her and only when she was there.
     So the most logical conclusion was that it went wherever she went… whatever it was. Yet now suddenly nothing happened. It just happened at unexpected moments. Now that she had calmed down and could concentrate and really focus, it didn't work.
     "I can't do it Steve, I'm sorry," Hermione muttered between clenched teeth.
     What was the trouble here? I stared up in the ceiling trying to concentrate. What cosmic New Age energies were missing? What were the constants and the variables in the situations when it had happened?
     Suddenly it all clicked in place in my head and I realised what I had to do.
     "Do you know what I think Hermione?" I said.
     "No," she said, not opening her eyes she still kept closed in concentration.
     "I think you are not seeing these cards at all."
     "Well, Steve, it is hard, I really have to concentrate and sometimes I see them wrong."
     "Actually Hermione, I think you are just making this whole thing up. You've just made the whole thing up to get attention."
     "What?" she said. She opened her eyes and stared at me in disbelief.
     "Don't you believe me? I thought you said you believed me. I had hoped that you…"
     "No Hermione, I don't think you have any magical powers at all, and the people in strange clothes. Well, no one has seen them except for you." I knew this wasn't true. I was pretty sure that both Thomas and the tipsy lady in the bar might have met a representative of these strange people at some point, but the hurt and anger in her eyes told me she didn't know that.
     "Honest Steve, I swear I didn't make any of it up. You of all people must believe me!" She stood up from the end of the bed and stared hard at me.
     She looked angry and upset and quite like someone in the cold water who had been offered hope and a hand, only to see it withdrawn again.
     "I think you were just not popular in school and the other students were mean so you stole their things and made up all those stories about magic just to get attention."
     "No! That's a lie!" Hermione shouted. "I'm not a little baby, I don't need to get attention. Those things really happened, and I'm not a liar." It broke my heart to be doing this but it was working.
     "You are the liar Hermione," I said coldly. "You told me a lot of stories and lies and you have not been able to demonstrate a single thing. I've been in here for an hour playing along with your games. How do you think it makes me feel to be made a fool of like that? I thought you were more mature than that."
     Hermione was furious. She stood in the middle of room with her fists clenched and her face red, screaming at the top of her lungs, "I am not a liar, those things really happened, it's the honest truth. I'm sick of people telling me I'm making things up and I'm not childish. It's those kids at school who are childish and mean and stupid. And you are stupid too uncle Steve."
     "Oh yeah, well I'm not so stupid that I don't catch on after a little while when someone is telling me lies and making things up." I heard steps coming up the stairs. I guess the shouting must have been heard all through the house.
     "What is going on here?" Thomas said, coming in through the door.
     "Dad," Hermione shouted, "Steve is calling me a liar. Tell him to stop being so mean."
     "Now Steve, that is a bit harsh don't you think?"
     "No I don't think so Thomas. You just don't want to realise your model student daughter is really capable of conspiring, stealing things and making up stories and lies."
     "Hermione hasn't stolen anything. What's wrong with you Steve, are you mad?"
     "I didn't steal those books!" Hermione screamed at me.
     "You're both liars, there is not such thing as magic." I said, still with an even cold voice that clearly aggravated both of the Grangers standing before me.
     "Stop harassing my daughter Steve, Jesus man, you're scaring her. You're scaring me too."
     "Oh shut up about your magic, it doesn't work, and never has." I said.
     I think it must have been the stress that Thomas had lived under for so long and the mounting frustration of being forced to believe what he didn't want to believe, while the rest of the world refused to believe what he had seen with his own eyes. The self-doubt and the sleepless nights filled with worry made him snap. He stepped forward and grabbed me by the collar and fixed me with furious eyes. "You shut up Steve, and for the last time stop harassing my daughter or I'll punch your lights out."
     He raised his fist and looked quite mad.
     "No, Dad! Stop!" Hermione cried.
     Then it all happened. The blue elephant lifted from the table along with all the playing cards. They flew like a whirlwind around the room and sprayed down and bounced off the walls. At the same time the fish bowl exploded with a tremendous crash and water cascaded over the floor. Random books flew out of Hermione's bookshelf and a loud bang was heard from something breaking in the kitchen downstairs. I heard Elizabeth let out a scream.
     "Guinevere!" Hermione shouted and fell down on her knees to rescue her fish. I quickly crouched beside her.
     "Be careful Hermione, don't cut yourself on the glass. Here, let me help you."
     I lifted the little fish that was struggling and twitching in my hand and ran for the bathroom. Hermione followed behind me and helped me fling the door open. Quickly she turned on the tap and as soon as there was just a tiny bit of water at the bottom, I dropped the fish in. It wriggled and tried to swim in the water that had filled up. It looked like the poor creature would live.
     "I'm sorry about that Hermione," I said.
     "Now do you believe me?" she asked, still looking furious.
     "I believed you all the time, I just had to make you very upset, so that it would happen."
     "Oh." Her jaw dropped and she stared at me.
     There was a loud knock on the door. Momentarily distracted Hermione and I listened to hear who it was. When no one came to the door the person outside knocked again, even louder this time. Finally we heard Elizabeth open the door. There was a murmur of voices, but I couldn't make out what they were saying.
     "I think you should all come down here," Elizabeth called after a while.
     I glanced at the fish that now had plenty of water to swim in, and then I turned off the tap. "Coming?" I said, putting my hand on Hermione's shoulder. She walked out of the bathroom in silence. When we passed her room, Thomas followed after us without a word. He looked quite shocked.
     When we came down in the living room we were met by a short man with a silvery beard, moustache, purple robes with star patterns, and a pointed hat on his head. He smiled at us but no one greeted him or shook his hand.
     We just stood in a half circle around the guest looking quite dumbfounded.
     "Ah, yes," he said and cleared his throat. "I believe there has been a case of underage magic in this house and as a representative of the Ministry of Magic I'm here to assist you in any way I can."
     I looked at the cracked flower vases lying on the floor of the living room. The place was a mess. "I'm afraid that was my fault," I said.
     "No, it was me, " Hermione said in a quiet voice, "I was the one doing it." She looked at the broken porcelain spread out over the living room carpet and the piles of dirt and the broken flowers.
     "Yes, Hermione, it was you doing it. Soon you will learn to use a wand and how to do controlled magic, which is a whole lot more useful, even more useful than electricity and cars. You are what we call a Muggleborn witch Hermione."
     "A what?" Elisabeth said.
     "Muggle is our name for non-magical people, such as yourselves. Witches and wizards are often born to parents who themselves do not have magical powers. These children are called Muggle-born."
     "So she really does have those magical powers?" Thomas said.
     "Right, I think we need to make some tea and you can explain all this from the beginning. I have a feeling you are just the person we need to talk to," Elizabeth said, regaining her composure and her practical view of things.
     "Yes, thank you, that would be nice, and that is why I'm here. To explain things to you, I mean," the silver haired man said.
     "Please step into the kitchen all of you," Elizabeth said, "and sorry about the mess," she added to the wizard as we stepped over the ruined flowers and into the kitchen.
     "We have ice cream," Hermione said brightly.
     "I love ice cream," the wizard said. "Can I have some?"
     Hermione smiled at him and nodded.
   And so my view of the world was never again the same, for better or for worse.

 

 

Authors Note: Thank you Madeye1200 and Ada Kensington for beta reading.

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