The Sugar Quill
Author: ProfessorWannaBe  Story: Wonders Never Cease  Chapter: Signs and Wonders
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Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Signs and Wonders

 

            Hermione woke surprisingly refreshed.  She had gone to bed convinced that she would not be able to sleep.  In the weeks since the Hogwarts letter had been delivered, her thinking had alternated between belief and skepticism.  Believing in magic cut across the well-ordered world logically outlined in the myriad books she had read.  On the other hand, it also opened new realms of study full of opportunities to find a different order to the world.  It was simply impossible to explain how Minerva McGonagall had disappeared right before their eyes using the laws of physics found in library books.

 

            It had taken several days to convince her father that they should at least go to see Diagon Alley as recommended.  Mr. Granger had used the computer at the office to check out the address on the card left by Professor McGonagall.  The map showed that it ought to be in the midst of St. James Park, which was, of course, impossible.  Last weekend, he had gone there and found a maintenance shed that looked as if it had been forgotten by the groundskeeper.  The only bit of it not hidden by creeping vines was adorned with a post box.

 

            Mrs. Granger composed a letter—with plenty of input from both husband and daughter—that received an amazingly fast response.  This time the heavy stationary and emerald ink clearly described the location of a pub on Charing Cross Road in London.  It also warned that the front was charmed to discourage non-magic people from wanting to enter.  An escort from the Hogwarts staff would be waiting in the pub at noon on Saturday to escort them into the Alley.

 

            Hermione’s anticipation grew as she hurried to breakfast.  She was appalled to find her father still in his dressing gown sipping coffee at the kitchen table.  Her mother had not even come down yet.

 

            “We’ll be late!”  Hermione exclaimed in dismay.

 

            “Unfortunately not,” Mr. Granger grumbled.  “We have plenty of time.”

 

            Impatiently, Hermione ate her Weetabix and drank her orange juice and then waited for her parents to get through their languid weekend routine.  She paced between the table and the sink as they placidly perused the morning paper, not noticing that she was confiscating their breakfast dishes the moment they appeared done.  Her pacing moved to the hall as they finally went upstairs to dress.

 

            The grey sky Hermione had glimpsed through the kitchen window had progressed to a drizzling rain by the time they arrived at the train station.  The dreariness persisted through the train ride but the sun had broken through by the time they emerged from the Underground onto Charing Cross Road.  They ate the sandwiches they had brought along as they walked down the street in the increasingly pleasant summer’s day.

 

            It was not long after they had finished their meal-on-the-go that Hermione noticed the numbers on the buildings were getting close.  She drew the letter from her mother’s bag to check her memory.  Her heart began to pound as she realized they were almost upon it.

 

            “Oh, there it is!” she exclaimed as they entered the next block. 

 

            Her enthusiasm waned as she drew near the weathered sign proclaiming The Leaky Cauldron.  It was the most dismal tavern she had ever seen.  Bitter disappointment filled her stomach and threatened to choke her.  There certainly wasn’t anything fantastical about this place.

 

            “Where, Hermione?” her mother asked as they came to a stop in front of a record store.

 

            “Right there,” she replied quizzically, pointing to a dull wooden door with large, tarnished numbers nailed to it.

 

            “Surely not,” her father snorted.  “It is just the service entry for that bookshop,” he said pointing to the next business down.

 

            “It says right there it’s The Leaky Cauldron and the number is on the door.”  Hermione persisted.

 

            Her parents exchanged worried glances over her head.

 

            “Dear, there isn’t anything there…just an old door for deliveries.”

 

            “I can’t imagine what the woman could have meant by sending us here,” Mr. Granger said irritably.  “But, as long as we’re in town, how about a visit to the zoo?”

 

            Both parents had turned back the way they had come.  Hermione was torn.  The place really did look like nothing but a service entrance.  It was odd, though, that her parents did not see the sign or numbers on the door.  They had taken several steps down the sidewalk before they realized that she was not following.

 

            “Come on, Hermione,” her mother called.

 

            Hermione stared again at the shabby building, its worn-out sign and aging door.  She looked down at the letter in her hand and recalled the warning that non-magic people would not want to enter.  A terrified thrill ran through her as she realized that it may be true that she was magical.  She could see the identifying parts of the building where her parents could not; she desired to enter the place in spite of her parents’ reluctance. 

 

            Pleadingly, Hermione asked her parents to let her try the door. 

 

            “No,” her father said firmly.  “At the very least, it is a private entrance and we will not be trespassing.”  He had taken a few steps back toward the place where Hermione was rooted to the sidewalk.  He reached for her arm as he asked sympathetically, “Do you want to go to the zoo or shall we just go home?”

 

Before he could take hold of her, however, a car backfired in the street startling all three of them.  They turned toward the sound on instinct.  Hermione’s parents returned their attention to their daughter almost immediately but she continued to gape at the roadway directly in front of The Leaky Cauldron.  She could not stop herself from staring at the violently purple bus with a gold letters on the windscreen proclaiming it to be The Knight Bus.

 

“It’s nothing, Hermione,” Mr. Granger muttered as he took her arm, “Let’s go.”

 

“Don’t you see it?”  Hermione cried.

 

“See what?” her mother replied.

 

“The bus!  It just arrived out of thin air!”  Hermione exclaimed and pointed.

 

Both of her parents looked in the direction she indicated.  The bafflement on their faces turned into surprise as a woman stepped off the bus onto the sidewalk.  Hermione had never seen an uglier hat in all her life.  Like Professor McGonagall, the woman wore clothes that seemed overly warm for a summer day including a fox fur scarf and gloves.  A large, red handbag swung wildly as she straightened her hat, nearly striking the round-faced boy who exited the bus behind her.

 

The noise of the street drowned out whatever the woman was saying to the bus driver but it was obviously uncomplimentary.  She was likewise curt to the boy who looked as though he were about to be sick.  Disapprovingly, she drew a peppermint from her bag and gave it to him before stalking directly into The Leaky Cauldron.  The boy hurried to catch up after popping the sweet into his mouth.

 

Hermione whirled on her parents, “Did you see that?  They went right in!”  Another loud bang interrupted her; a glance over her shoulder told her that it had been the bus leaving in the same fashion that it had arrived.  “It’s got to be true.  There aren’t any normal buses like that.”

 

“I didn’t see a bus, Hermione,” Mrs. Granger said quietly before turning to her husband.  “I did see a woman and a boy step onto the sidewalk from nowhere.  They did walk right into that building but it could be their house.”

 

Exasperated, Hermione strode to the door muttering, “Please follow; please follow” as she reached for the knob.  She pushed it open and felt as if she had stepped back in time.  It was a very old place with a large fireplace on one side and a long bar on the other.  The woman and boy were just exiting the room through a door in the back while the sound of diners echoed up a passageway that ought to have led to the bookstore but didn’t. 

 

She had only just registered this impossibility when the door behind her opened again and her parents entered.  Glancing back at them, she saw their anger fade.  They had been struck speechless as they also became aware of the much larger interior than corresponded with the exterior.  The Grangers’ astonishment was interrupted by a startling exclamation that came from the bar.

 

            “Marvelous!  You came.”  A tiny old man hopped down from a barstool and came over to the family wearing a welcoming smile and very old-fashioned clothes.  “Assuming you are the Grangers, that is.”

 

            “Yes…we are the Grangers,” Mr. Granger replied hesitantly.

 

            Filius Flitwick,” the old man cheerfully shook hands with both adults and positively beamed at Hermione.  “And you are the reason we’ve all come here today, young lady.  I am a professor at Hogwarts and hope to soon have you in my class.”  Returning his attention to the entire family, he added, “I have lots to show you, we’d best be off.”

 

            He began to thread his way between the tables before he stopped to inquire about their lunch.

 

            “We’ve eaten, thank you,” Mrs. Granger replied without glancing at the smug look on her husband’s face.

 

            Hermione saw it, however, and was very glad that the diminutive professor had not.  It had been at her father’s insistence that they eaten sandwiches as they walked so that they would not need to eat at this place.  There were bottles of water in her mother’s bag as well to avoid drinking anything either.  It had seemed such a silly precaution but the strangeness of this place made her thankful that it was one less thing to worry about. 

 

            Following Professor Flitwick out the back door of the pub, they arrived in a small, brick-enclosed courtyard that housed a couple of trash bins and nothing more—not even the pair Hermione had watched precede them from the pub just moments before.  She felt her father tense and her mother reach for her shoulder.  The professor did not notice their wariness but simply walked over to a particular section of the wall, pulled a wand from his coat pocket and tapped several bricks in some sort of pattern.

 

            The Grangers forgot their fears as they saw the bricks melt into an archway that opened onto a cobbled street lined with shops.  Curiosity welled up within Hermione and she moved toward the portal for a better look.  The winding street was well populated with shoppers, most of whom were dressed even more oddly than Professor McGonagall had been.  

 

            Hermione quickly stepped aside as a woman and her daughter headed directly for the opening in which she stood.

 

            “Hello, professor,” the daughter greeted the small man as soon as she entered the courtyard while her mother had only nodded at the group before entering the pub.

 

            “Penelope!” he effused in return.  “Having a nice summer?”

 

            “Yes, sir.  We’ve been busy with my sister’s wedding but it will all be over next weekend.  Then I will get busy with my school assignments.”

 

            “I’ll see you next weekend then.”

 

            Penelope followed her mother into The Leaky Cauldron with a smile to Hermione.

 

            The professor leaned toward Hermione conspiratorially and whispered, “She doesn’t know it yet but she is going to be a prefect next term.”

 

            Hermione followed Professor Flitwick under the arch and emerged onto what was clearly Diagon Alley.  The very first shop had a stack of cauldrons in front with a sign advertising “All Sizes; Copper, Brass, Pewter, Silver; Self-stirring; Collapsible.”  A bit further along, there was Quality Quidditch Supplies and Eeylops Owl Emporium.  Her parents joined her in gazing all around at the unusual shops and people.

 

            As they approached Flourish and Blotts, Hermione finally spoke.

 

            “Professor, is that a bookstore?”

 

            “The very one where you would be buying your schoolbooks.  They carry many others as well.  Shall we have a look?”

 

            At her hasty nod, he led the way into the cramped shop.  Hermione thought it absolute heaven.  Books sat not only on bookshelves against the walls but in stacks on the floor, on the counter beside the antiquated register, piled in the display window, on tables squeezed close together and even in the only chair in the room.  She ran her fingers along the spines gaping at the titles. 

 

            Oblivious to her parent’s dismayed expressions or the professor’s satisfied one, Hermione blissfully roamed the store.  There was some order to the chaos evidenced by tiny subject labels on some shelves.  She passed over Charms, Dark Arts, Divination and Herbology before arriving at History.  Here she stopped and pulled Modern Magical History off the shelf.

 

            It felt heavier than the books she was used to holding.  The leather binding gave it an earthy smell and the crisp parchment pages bore the acrid scent of ink to her nose as soon as she opened the cover.  The Table of Contents was as far as she got before she felt her mother’s hand on her shoulder once more. A quick peek at her mother’s face eased her fear of being pulled away.  Together they read over the listing and thumbed through the pages, surprised to find the pictures in motion like tiny television screens.

 

            “Ouch!”

 

            Mr. Granger’s yelp drew their attention across the store where he stood inspecting his finger.

 

            “That book tried to bite me,” he complained, pointing to a book next to the register.

 

            “Well, then you must be a Muggle,” the shop’s proprietor stated curtly as he emerged from a curtained doorway, preceded by a floating stack of books.

 

            “Yes, I suppose I am,” Mr. Granger admitted defiantly.

 

            “Nothing wrong with that,” Professor Flitwick interjected diplomatically.

 

            “Ah…a Muggle-born today, Filius?” the bookseller inquired as he balanced the books on the very edge of the already crowded counter.

 

            “Indeed,” the professor replied cheerfully.  “This is Miss Granger.”

 

            “A pleasure, miss.”  With a nod to her parents, he added “Mr. Granger…Mrs. Granger.  In that case, let me show you around a bit.”

 

            It was an hour later when they emerged from the bookstore into the bright afternoon sun.  Hermione was reluctant to leave.  Between the merchant and the professor, she had been getting many questions answered but with each answer, many more questions presented themselves.  She had learned that transfiguration meant changing an object into something else—like coffee tables becoming cats—whereas, charms gave an object the ability to do something that wasn’t in its nature to do—like books floating across the room.

 

            “It was a charm then…at the door to The Leaky Cauldron…that made it seem so formidable?”  Mr. Granger inquired as they continued their stroll down the street.

 

            “Exactly!  It is a rather common way to keep Muggles from stumbling across places of magic.”

 

            “But why do you hide?”  Mrs. Granger asked.

 

            For the first time, Filius Flitwick looked sad.  “It is a long, sad tale of fear and bigotry, pride and perfidy.  Suffice it to say that the breach is irrevocable on a large scale, happily bridged in individual cases.”  His cheerful expression returned as he glanced significantly at the Grangers.

 

            They strolled in silence for several minutes.  Hermione stared at the display in a clothing store window.  The long, flowing dress appeared to be a cross between a ball gown and work clothes.  The fabric was thick and durable but the style was refined and elegant.  It fit perfectly with the unusual dress of the passing shoppers.  She could not help but wonder if clothes in her size would look as comfortable.  Taking note of the sign above the door—Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions—she resolved to find out if her parents would agree to allow her to try out this magical world.

 

            “What is that?” she asked moments later, pointing to the largest building by far.  It was made of white marble and towered over the shops that flanked it.

 

            Gringotts…the bank,” the professor replied.  “If you should wish to make any purchases today, we can exchange your Muggle money there.

 

            “Exchange!  Exchange it for what, exactly?”  Mr. Granger questioned.

 

            “Galleons…or Sickles, at least.  Knuts are the smallest coin and hardly worth the bother.”

 

            Hermione looked hopefully at her father, thinking of several books she had seen and the ice cream shop they had passed.  He shook his head when she caught his eye.  She did not notice her mother’s pleading look that joined her own.

 

            “I suppose we ought to get a little,” he consented reluctantly.

 

            “I should warn you that it is run almost entirely by goblins.  Not the nicest creatures but they do a fine job of protecting our valuables.  Leave the talking to me.”  He led them up the marble steps to impressive metal doors.

 

            It wasn’t until they neared the top step that Hermione discovered exactly what a goblin was.  A man even shorter than Professor Flitwick stood guard in a scarlet and gold uniform.  In spite of his size, Hermione did not think he ought to be crossed and stayed close to her escorts.  Entering the building brought them face-to-face with two more goblins only slightly less intimidating due to their prompt response in opening the inner doors to let them pass.

 

            Hermione tried not to stare as the professor and her father conducted their business.  There had to be a hundred goblins perched on stools working over ledgers along the enormous counter.  More goblins guarded numerous doors off the same chamber.  “They guard the vaults,” Professor Flitwick whispered when he caught her staring.

 

            Professor Flitwick was the only one of the party not visibly relieved to exit the bank.  They continued their unhurried tour of the Alley.  The Grangers’ escort became rather excited as they neared the end of the street.

 

            “Here at last,” the professor pronounced with obvious satisfaction.  He stopped beneath the sign that announced their arrival at Ollivander’s and turned to address Hermione directly.  “Students are not allowed to do magic outside of school.  In here, however, you must attempt magic in order to be fitted for a wand.”  Now addressing her parents, “It should provide inescapable proof that Hermione is a witch and that she belongs at Hogwarts.”

 

            The Grangers looked at one another.  This would be the deciding factor.  Up to now, the afternoon had been filled with curiosities but it felt like a visit to a foreign country.  Hermione had the feeling that entering this shop would be more like moving to another continent.  Apprehension clutched at her throat and chills ran along her spine.

 

            “Do you want to, pumpkin?” her mother asked quietly as Professor Flitwick went on to the door.

 

            “I don’t know,” she murmured back.  “It’s so strange…but exciting too.”

 

            “We could think about it some more.  We have a few more days before we must give an answer.  We could come back tomorrow after we’ve slept on it,” her father offered.

 

            “It’s such a long way…I suppose we ought to find out…if I can really do magic before we can decide,” she reasoned.

 

            “That’s my girl, always rational,” Mr. Granger beamed and gave her shoulders a squeeze.  “Just say the word and we’re out of here,” he added in a more serious tone.

 

            With a steadying breath and the warmth of her parents behind her, Hermione entered the door marked Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC.

 

*****

 

            An hour later, the Grangers were happily hosting Professor Flitwick to dinner at The Leaky Cauldron, finding it to have a reputable dining room after all.  Hermione could barely eat although the shepherd’s pie tasted marvelous.  A pile of packages sat in the chair beside her.  The topmost package contained her most valued possession—a wand.  Mr. Granger had had to make another trip to Gringotts because once they had gotten started it had been difficult to stop.

 

            Hermione would always cherish the moment her hand held her wand for the first time.  The tingling had started the instant she’d grasped the third wand Mr. Ollivander had presented to her.  Before she could drop it, however, red sparks shot from the end of it eliciting gasps from all three Grangers and applause from Professor Flitwick.  Mr. Ollivander was inordinately pleased and carefully gave the wand’s technical specifications as if christening it:  vine wood, dragon heartstring, 11-1/4 inches.  There was no way she could leave the shop without it.

 

            As soon as they regained the street, questions about Hogwarts poured out of her and Professor Flitwick happily answered every one.  She had been careful about the questions she had posed in the bookshop but once the packaged wand was tucked under her elbow, she lost all restraint.  When they drew near Flourish and Blotts once again, Hermione begged her father for the last book she had perused during their earlier visit:  Hogwarts, A History. 

 

            The cost of the wand had taken nearly all of his wizarding money but he had to agree that knowing more about the school was a very good idea.  He and the professor returned to the bank expecting the Granger women to meet them at the bookstore.  While they waited, Hermione and her mother visited the stationary shop a few doors away, which precipitated more purchases.

 

            “I’ll have to practice writing with a quill and ink if I’m going to be any good!”

 

            Mr. Granger had joined in the enthusiasm of his daughter and wife, insisting on ink that changed color as you write.  Adds a bit of fun,” he determined.

 

            “Once you’ve formally submitted your agreement to have Hermione at Hogwarts, I’d be happy to escort you again for purchasing school supplies.”

 

            “Thank you but I think we’ll be alright as long as Hermione can get us through that wall.”

 

            “Of course she can!  It isn’t exactly magic to open it but rather like a password that merely requires a wand.  We’ll practice one more time before you go.”

           

*****

           

            It was well past the late summer sunset by the time Hermione dropped into her bed that night.  She smiled to herself in the darkness.  There was no doubt that this had been the best day of her life.  Better than the many birthdays and Christmases that had been wonderful, far better than any time she had won awards at school and infinitely better than receiving her acceptance letter to Westfield.

 

            The wand rested in its box beneath her pillow and the book had replaced the stack of “appropriate reading” on her bedside table; quill, ink and parchment sat on her desk ready for tomorrow.  If she had not been so tired, she would have started on the book right away.  It had been torturous to ride the train with it wrapped in paper on her lap.  Professor Flitwick had warned against opening the book where Muggles might see it and question the animated pictures.  By the time they were home, her heavy eyelids would not allow more than the unwrapping of the packages to assure herself that it had not been a ruse. 

 

            “Good night, Hermione,” her mother murmured from the doorway before turning out the hall lights.

 

            “Good night,” she sleepily called back—to the most wonderful parents in the world.      

//
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