Many thanks to Ara Kane for beta-reading.
Dear Mum & Dad,
I just wanted to confirm that the train will be at King’s Cross at 5PM on Saturday. Looking forward to seeing you.
I crumpled the piece of parchment in my hand as my husband, George, and I sat waiting for the train. I couldn’t help remembering how the previous year Hermione had cancelled plans to go on our skiing trip at the very last minute. When I later found out that she had deliberately lied about the reasons, I was torn between being completely furious or deeply saddened. Every year, I felt more like I was losing my little girl to her “other life.” I know she isn’t the only teenager in the world to repeatedly tell her parents that they wouldn’t understand about her life, but what is depressing in this case is that she is probably right.
Hermione had promised to be much more open with us after her adventure to London in June landed her half-dead in the hospital wing. Some of her revelations made me want to pull her out of Hogwarts, but she talked me out of it. So, every Monday without fail during the autumn term, we’ve received a letter from her telling us about her week. (I’ll freely admit that, even after nearly six years, I’m still nervous when trying to retrieve the envelopes from an owl.) At some point during November, the tone of her letters changed slightly, but she denied that anything was wrong when I asked. I hoped that seeing her in person would clear things up.
When Hermione finally appeared on the train platform, she only paused long enough to set down Crookshanks’ basket before throwing herself into my arms with an intensity that surprised me.
“Oh, I’m so glad to get away from school for a couple of weeks!”
I raised my eyebrows at this. Ever since she learned the meaning of the word “school,” Hermione would rather be there than just about any other place.
On seeing my expression, she quickly launched into a long-winded explanation about the stress of end-of-term assignments which she managed to extend through most of the car ride home.
I tried to draw her out some more. “How are your friends? Harry and Ron?”
She answered in a dull monotone, “They’re fine.”
Her tone of voice made me quite suspicious. My first guess was that they had quarreled, but because I couldn’t think of a way to follow up without sounding impossibly nosy, I let it go.
When we reached the house, I had another little shock. The second that the front door closed behind us, Hermione whipped out her wand and started to levitate her suitcase up the stairs. Because of the wizarding restrictions on the use of magic by those under seventeen, I hadn’t actually seen her cast any spells since right before she started at Hogwarts. Even after several years of experience, my brain still needed to completely rearrange its logical ways of thinking to accommodate the physically impossible. Somehow this little action shredded the last bit of pretense in my mind that there wasn’t a huge gap between us.
It didn’t help that over the next few days, while Hermione was obviously glad to be home and spend time with George and me, it was plain that she was still brooding about something. I managed to coax her into curling up on the couch with me to watch Gene Kelly in Brigadoon, but she lacked her usual enthusiasm when explaining how the plot was an extremely muddled version of the founding of the wizarding village of Hogsmeade .
I was worried about her.
I was happy to see my parents. Really I was.
However, I couldn’t help feeling a divide between us because, even when we tried to connect, things still weren’t quite right. Mum had sent me a very nice watch for my seventeenth birthday in September. Somehow, she had heard that it was a traditional coming-of-age gift for witches and wizards, but I never told her that, being battery-powered, it didn’t work at Hogwarts until I had the insides replaced at a shop in Hogsmeade. It was impossible not to see Mum’s involuntary flinch when I brought out my wand to handle my baggage. I felt as though I didn’t belong here anymore.
It didn’t help that my parents had invited Uncle Ira and his family over for Christmas dinner. I hadn’t seen them in years, and they had no knowledge of magic, having only been told that I attended a “special” school in Scotland.
Before their arrival, I spent some time thinking about how to answer any questions about school that might come up. I decided that I could easily substitute Chemistry for Potions, for example. However, I was completely unprepared for Aunt Lucy to ask, “So, do you have a boyfriend?”
The subject was painful enough by itself, but just then I caught a glimpse of my cousin Richard and his fiancée Pamela trying to eliminate any possible air space between themselves on the sofa. The fact that Pamela had the same hair color as Lav - HER - only reminded me of what I had hoped to leave behind at school.
“Er, no. Not right now. I’m concentrating on my studies,” I answered with what I hoped was a steady voice. I caught Mum giving me a sharp look; she obviously suspected something.
After being injured at the Department of Mysteries, I had kept my promise to my parents not to lie to them about anything at school. I just didn’t want anybody, especially my mum, to know how completely I’d humiliated myself over a stupid boy. Stupid Ron.
I excused myself and hurried out of the room so I could calm down. It wouldn’t do to accidentally hex Pamela just because she reminded me of Lavender.
Dinner itself passed uneventfully although it was something of a strain to keep censoring details about my life. Afterwards, we all dozed in the living room, simply waiting around until we had space in our stomachs to eat more dessert. The boredom was stupefying; all I wanted was a book to read, but that would have been rude in front of our guests.
Eventually, Dad rummaged around in a cabinet until he found some CDs to put on his player. When I recognized the opening chords of one Christmas song, I looked across the room and happened to catch Richard’s eye. He smiled at me and rolled his eyes because he, too, knew what was coming. I stifled my laugh as our fathers started mangling the notes while singing along with Elvis. Grandmother’s attempt to give her sons musical talent by naming them after the Gerschwin brothers had long been a colossal failure.
The next thing I knew, Richard was beside me holding out my parents’ chessboard. “Do you still play?”
He had been the one to teach me on a dull afternoon much like this one, back when I was seven and he was twelve. I glanced around to see that Lav - Pamela - was fast asleep on the sofa and snoring slightly.
“Yes, I do.” I could feel my competitive instincts rising. “And now I think I can beat you.”
It took me a few moves to consistently remember that Muggle chess pieces wouldn’t respond to verbal commands. Richard and I turned out to be well matched. I won two out of the first three games, but he narrowly captured the next two to claim the family championship.
As he swept the pieces back into the box, he said with an admiring tone, “You’ve really improved in these last few years. I hope you’re beating everyone up at that school of yours.”
“Oh, I’m not nearly as good as -” My mind caught up with my mouth just as a now-awake Pamela snuggled up to Richard, so even I could hear how flat my voice became on the last word, “Ron.”
Hermione retreated to her room soon after our guests left. Now that I had an idea of what was bothering her, I didn’t begrudge her some “alone time.” Personally, I’ve always relished that quiet space after being surrounded by people for hours.
Later, when I passed by her bedroom on the way to my own, I was startled by a loud thump followed by a growl of frustration. Concerned, I tapped on her door.
I heard a rustle of paper before Hermione answered in a resigned voice, “Come in.”
I entered to find her sitting propped up against the headboard of her bed with Crookshanks curled on top of her feet. She had apparently trying to do some writing; crumpled parchment littered the floor and a bottle of ink balanced precariously on her pink ruffled bedspread. (She had turned down my offer to redecorate her room in something more grown-up, asking instead for a new set of shelves and books to fill them.) I picked up a thick leather-bound volume off the floor from where it had fallen. “Is everything all right?”
She answered “yes” but didn’t look me in the eye. She had always been a terrible liar.
Deciding to take the initiative, I sat down on the foot of the bed. “Really? You’ve seemed a little down all week.”
“I’m just tired.”
I pushed harder. “Have you heard from your friends?”
“I was just starting to write a letter to Ginny. She sent some fudge that Mrs. Weasley made. Would you like some?”
“No, thank you.” I could tell that she was trying to distract me, but I refused to be deterred. “What about Harry?” She shook her head. “Or Ron?”
When she frowned and turned red, I knew I had guessed correctly. While any mother would want to save her children pain, I must confess that I was secretly glad that Hermione’s wounded heart was a problem that I could actually relate to.
I looked down and began scratching Crookshanks behind his ears. “My first year at university, I fell head over heels in love with one of my classmates. I thought he was the most wonderful man in the world.” I grimaced at the memory. “That is, until I came back from the summer holidays to find that he’d started seeing another girl. He tried to defend himself by saying that he didn’t want to break up with me over the phone.” Hermione made a noise of disgust. “Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed, either. It took me quite a while to stop plotting revenge against the rat, preferably something very painful…”
I heard Hermione sniff and mumble something.
I turned towards her. “What was that?”
She studiously avoided my eyes as she repeated her confession in a pained voice. “I attacked him with conjured canaries!”
This mental picture was far too much for me. I violated the recommendations of every parenting book I’ve ever read by bursting into entirely inappropriate laughter. Poor Hermione looked betrayed, so I tried to bring myself under control. Between smothered giggles and gasps for air, I asked, “So, what did Ron do to deserve having birds set on him?”
After a long pause, Hermione evidently decided that I was trustworthy in spite of my initially unsympathetic response. She took a deep breath, and then the whole story poured out. Her misunderstandings about Quidditch and a date to a party. Ron’s public displays of affection with Hermione’s roommate. Her disastrous attempt to make Ron jealous by seeing another boy. “I wanted to tell McLaggen that if he tried to touch me again, I’d use a Stinging Hex below the belt, but I was afraid he’d think it was a turn-on. I gave him the slip as soon as I could.”
Glad to see that Hermione was regaining her sense of humor, I snorted in amusement. “I hate to say it, but it sounds like your plan deserved to fail.”
“That’s almost exactly what Harry said.” She buried her face in her hands. “How could I have been so stupid?”
“Emotions can override your better judgment. Believe me; I know.” I made a silent prayer of thanks that I would never have to be a teenager again. One time of dealing with that dreadful mess of hormones was plenty. “Shall I be the voice of experience here and advise you to ignore Ron as much as you can? Let him be an idiot without any encouragement from you. Who knows? He might eventually come to his senses.”
She smiled a little as she sniffed and wiped her eyes. “It’s just hard not being able to talk to him about ordinary things like homework. We’ve been friends for so long, and now poor Harry is caught in the middle…”
I pulled Hermione into a hug. “At times like this, I wish you were still young enough to believe me if I said that everything would turn out all right.”
She sighed into my shoulder. “Why can’t things be that easy anymore?”
“I don’t have all the answers.” I held her tighter. “But remember that I’m here for you all the same.”
I was amazed at how much better something as simple as a hug made me feel. Intellectually, I knew that there was probably some scientific explanation for how physical contact releases chemicals in the brain, but in the context of a funeral, it surprised me even more. Ron didn’t even seem to mind that I managed to soak the shoulder of his new robes with my tears. He just held me tighter.
After all that we had been through in the past year, it was a relief just to eliminate the distance between us. Now that we were set to follow Harry into a great unknown, we couldn’t have any more walls between us, or we were certain to fail.
No more divisions…
…So, Hermione, I think I understand your decision not to return to school. I’m frightened for you, but the problem with teaching your children to do the “right thing” is that they may someday go out and do it. Even if it puts them in danger.
I may not be magical, but please ask me for any help I can give. I can’t afford for us to become disconnected again.
With all my love,