by Silver Phoenix
Chapter 3: Stranger
Without a doubt, the best spot for reading in the Granger house was the
window seat in the conservatory. It had not always been a window seat though;
when Hermione was very small her mother had used the ledge beneath the bay
window as a spot for her potted plants. It had been Hermione and her father who
had moved the plants, much to her mother’s chagrin. They had converted the
ledge into a comfortable reading space, with cushions and blankets and Hermione’s
favourite pillow. Years later, though she was much bigger, Hermione could still
just fit into that comfortable space. She sat there now with her knees pulled
up to her chest and pillows carefully arranged around her for maximum comfort.
A large book with a dark leather cover was open in front of her, resting
against her shins. Hermione paused to take a sip of lemonade from the glass she
had brought in with her and continued reading.
this time house-elves lived in tribes called Moordats. Each Moordat had a
patriarchal family whose members were the highest-ranking elves in the tribe.
The patriarchs provided protection from predators and other tribes, and were
also responsible for keeping order within the Moordat. All other families of
the Moordat belonged to the servant class - that is, they lived to serve the
patriarchal family. An elf’s ranking in the tribe depended entirely upon the
tasks that they were given by the patriarchs. Thus, those elves with more
important duties had greater status in the tribe hierarchy. The greatest honour
for an elf was to be chosen as the personal servant for a member of the
The patriarchal family could be
distinguished by their elaborate dress. Often, this consisted of layers upon
layers of clothing. The amount of clothing an elf wore corresponded directly
with their ranking…
A startled Hermione looked up from her book; she had been completely
unaware of her mother’s presence in the room. The way her mother had said her
name made Hermione suspect that it was not the first time she had called her.
Hermione marked her place and closed A
Comprehensive History of Magical Beings. Her mother’s hair was pulled back
into a bun, with curly wisps escaping near the back of her neck. She held the
cordless phone in one hand; the other hand was resting on her hip.
“Hermione, I need you to tell me one more time what exactly you put in
that letter to Natalya,” Mum said in a tired voice.
Natalya had been the receptionist at her parents’ dental practice and
was one of the many people Hermione had written or telephoned last year
pretending to be her mother. The preparation to hide her parents had been
carefully considered, planned and executed in typical Hermione fashion.
“I wrote that you and Dad were taking an
extended holiday and were going travelling for an indefinite amount of time,”
Hermione recited patiently. “And I told her to notify all your patients that
you would be unavailable for several months and to recommend them to Dr. Singh until
you returned. I also said that you and Dad would gladly hire her back upon your
return, but that you would understand if she took another job. I also wrote a
very nice letter of recommendation from you.”
Mum pursed her lips together as she
digested this. She sighed. “All right. Well, I certainly hope she hasn’t gone
to work for someone else. We’ll have to give her a raise if we want her back…”
From somewhere in the house came the
sound of a door slamming. “Dad and your grandmother must be back,” Mum said,
sounding less than thrilled. “Well come along then, Hermione, I’ll put on some
Hermione got down from the window
seat, pulled her wand out of her pocket and pointed it at her book. “Mestatrans bedroom,” she murmured. The
book disappeared with a loud pop, which startled her mother. She gave Hermione
a look of disapproval. Mum had always been against the use of magic for menial
tasks, believing it would make Hermione lazy. Her recent experience with memory
modification had made her even more wary of anything magical.
“Well I’ve got to do magic sometime or I’ll forget how!” Hermione
said in response to her mother’s disapproving frown.
“Not while your grandmother’s in the
“It’s not like she was in the room,”
Hermione muttered as she followed her mother into the front hall. Dad was
trying to help Grandma Jean take off her black wool coat, which she wore out
even on the hottest days.
“For heaven’s sake, Gregory, I can do it myself, I’m not an invalid,”
Grandma Jean snapped, slapping his hand away. It was somewhat comical to see
Grandma, who was about half Dad’s size, bossing him around. Dad just shrugged,
bent down and started untying his shoes instead.
Hermione rarely saw her paternal
grandmother. She and Granddad Gabe had moved to France once he had retired. When
her grandfather passed away, Grandma Jean had refused to move back to England. Now
she lived alone in a spacious old house in the French countryside. The last
time Hermione had seen her grandmother was the summer before her third year at
Hogwarts, when the Grangers had gone on holiday to France. However, Hermione had spent
very little time with her grandmother during the holiday. She had been far more
interested in learning about the local wizarding history than in going around
with Grandma to have tea with her various friends.
To the Grangers’ surprise, Grandma Jean had telephoned a week ago out of
the blue, not long after Hermione and her parents had returned from Australia, and
had announced that she was coming to visit. She had arrived on Saturday and was
already driving Mum and Dad mad.
“Well, Marianne wasn’t in,” Grandma
Jean said briskly, marching into the kitchen. The Grangers all followed
passively, as if this was Grandma’s house. “I expect she’s out at that Grisham
Market you told me about, Helen. But we couldn’t go to the market, because
Gregory ‘needed to get back’.” She threw a reproving look at Dad as she sat
down at the kitchen table.
“Did you get a hold of Natalya,
Helen?” Dad asked Mum, pretending that he had not seen Grandma’s look.
Mum poured some water into the
kettle. “I was just about to call. We might have to give her a raise…”
“Who is Natalya?” Grandma Jean
“Mum and Dad’s old receptionist,”
“Well,” said Grandma Jean
disapprovingly, “perhaps you wouldn’t have to call your former receptionist and
beg her to come back if you hadn’t gone off gallivanting in Australia for a
Mum and Dad exchanged looks but said
nothing. Hermione became very interested in staring at the wood grain on the
table. Grandma Jean had harassed Mum and Dad about their ‘trip’ to Australia for
the past two days. Her parents were having a tough enough time trying to get
their lives back in order without Grandma constantly badgering them about their
year-long absence, which had of course been entirely Hermione’s doing.
Although Hermione had taken such drastic measures to keep her family
safe, she knew that her parents were having difficulty accepting what she had
done to them. Hermione suspected that to her parents, the entire wizarding
world was a bit like a fairy tale, with dragons and centaurs and evil wizards
as well as good ones. It had never occurred to them, when she had tried to
explain Voldemort’s return a few years ago, that the wizarding world could
merge with the Muggle one and that evil wizards could hurt non-magical people,
too. In Hermione’s mind her actions were more than justified, but her parents
felt deceived, confused and hurt. Thus, things had been strained at the Granger
household for the past week or so and Grandma Jean’s comments had not been
helping matters at all.
When it became apparent that she was
not going to get a response from anyone, Grandma re-adjusted the black shawl
draped over her shoulders (she always wore this as well, even indoors) and
said, “Perhaps Herm-yonne could take me to the market.”
Grandma Jean always pronounced Hermione’s name as if it was French.
Hermione had given up trying to correct her, but Dad always took it as a
“Mother, its Her-my-oh-knee,” Dad
said, clearly exasperated.
“Honestly Gregory, why couldn’t you name her
something sensible, like Sally or Jane?” Grandma said huffily.
“She’s named after the daughter of
Helen of Troy, for your information,” retorted Dad, who was an avid Classics
buff. His study was filled with books like The
Iliad and Classic Greek Tragedies Volume I through Volume V.
“Well it’s not my fault you decided
to name your daughter after some heathen - ”
Dad made a spluttering noise; his
face turned red and his eyes went wide behind his glasses. He was clearly
offended by the accusation that the ancient Greeks were heathens.
“I can take you to Grisham Market, Grandma Jean,” Hermione interrupted
Dad took a deep, calming breath. “It’s a twenty minute walk, Mother.
I’ll drive the two of you.” As if to prove his willingness to be of service,
Dad strode purposefully out into the front hall. Seconds later, he returned to
“Has anyone seen my shoes?” he asked, puzzled.
“They’re on your feet,
Dad,” Hermione said patiently. After untying them earlier, he had forgotten to
take his shoes off. Memory lapses such as this had been frequent for both her
parents over the past few weeks.
Dad looked down at his
untied shoes in surprise. “Oh.”
“I think I’ll walk,
Gregory,” said Grandma Jean dryly.
Moments later, Hermione and her
grandmother were outside. It was a cloudy sort of afternoon, which was a
welcome relief after a week of the hot sun beating down upon them. Several other
people seemed to be taking advantage of the relative coolness. A
familiar-looking neighbour was out walking her dog, a group of children were
drawing on the sidewalk with coloured chalk and a man in a hooded jacket was
jogging on the opposite side of the street.
Hermione and Grandma Jean walked in uncomfortable silence for the first
few moments. Hermione realised that she could not remember the last time she
had been alone with her grandmother.
“So how is school?” Grandma Jean
asked rather abruptly. “Are you finished yet?”
The question made Hermione
immediately think of her unfinished seventh year and her burning desire to
complete it. She felt a kind of urgent need to learn everything she possibly
could from Hogwarts, and leaving that year incomplete forever was a sacrifice
she was not sure she could bear to make, regardless of whatever Ron and Harry
decided to do. She had not spoken to the boys about it just yet; somehow, the
subject of school seemed delicate and no one was willing to broach it.
Hermione realised her grandmother
was waiting for an answer. “Um…not quite finished yet, no. I’m going back in
the fall,” she replied vaguely. She knew that she would return to Hogwarts when
it re-opened in November, even though it would break her heart to go back
alone. It would be especially difficult without Ron, for in her most private
daydreams, Hermione had allowed herself to picture the two of them curled up
together in front of the fire in Gryffindor common room, or walking down by the
There was another awkward silence.
Hermione often felt as if she lived two separate lives - one as a witch, and
the other as a Muggle. In the wizarding world she could be perfectly honest
about both aspects of her life. In the Muggle world, however, she was forced to
constantly lie about the things that were most important to her. Whenever
family friends, old schoolteachers, or other adult acquaintances asked about
her life, Hermione always found herself giving short or vague answers.
Consequently, most people in her Muggle world probably thought she was dull,
unenthusiastic and inarticulate. Sometimes she was forced to awkwardly make
Muggle-worthy answers up on the spot, so it was also quite possible that
several people thought she was an outright liar. This was, perhaps, one of the
reasons that Hermione chose to spend so little time in the Muggle world.
“Have you decided which…” Grandma
paused; it seemed she was searching for a word. “Which…field you would like to pursue?”
Now she would have to lie to her
grandmother, too. There was no way Hermione could possibly explain S.P.E.W. to
Grandma or how she wanted to take it further. She wanted to study and learn
about the customs of all magical creatures and beings, to understand and
document their diverse cultures, and to fight for their rights in the wizarding
world. Hermione cast around for a rough Muggle equivalent to this answer and,
rather pathetically, could only come up with, “Zoology.”
“Zoology?” Grandma Jean made a face.
“What a tremendous waste of time. Come now, you need to go into something
Hermione noticed that Grandma suddenly could pronounce her name just
fine. She began to suspect that Grandma deliberately mispronounced it just to
annoy Dad, perhaps as punishment for naming his daughter something so obscure.
“Something practical? Like what?”
asked Hermione, becoming frustrated with this sham of a conversation.
“Like law, for example,” Grandma Jean said confidently.
Hermione frowned. “I’m much more
interested in creat - that is, animals.”
Grandma Jean gave her a curious look and then dropped the subject. They
walked for several blocks in silence again, although Hermione had the oddest
feeling that Grandma Jean wanted to say something but refrained from doing so.
Market Square was not far from
Hermione’s house, as they lived in the suburbs just outside the town centre. In
the summer months, numerous stalls were jammed into the square every Monday,
when the local farmers came in from the surrounding countryside to sell their
produce. Little had changed in the years since Hermione had last visited Grisham
Market. The stalls were packed together so tightly that the vendors hardly had
any space in which to move. Noisy crowds of people were wandering through narrow,
meandering aisles. The fruit stalls were a splash of colour, with fat, bright
red strawberries, succulent looking peaches the size of one’s fist, cherries,
plums, raspberries, gooseberries, and all sorts of other good-looking fruits.
Across from the fruit stalls were farmers selling fresh cheese, vegetables and
even slabs of raw meat. There were also several tents set up selling a variety
of knick-knacks. Closer to the centre of the square was a large, white tent
with clothing and fabric hung up haphazardly, fluttering whenever a breeze came
along. Hermione’s parents had often taken her to the market when she was
younger, and although she had not visited it in several years, she felt
comfortable in the familiar chaos of Market Day.
“It’s very noisy, isn’t it?” said
Grandma Jean, wrinkling her nose and frowning.
Hermione tried not to laugh at the
expression on her grandmother’s face. “I’ll show you around, Grandma.”
They walked up and down the rows of
tents and stalls, stopping occasionally so Grandma could quiz a
frightened-looking farmer about his cheeses or comment on the ugliness of a
particular piece of fabric. After several minutes of this, Hermione was
relieved when Grandma spotted the English friend for whom she had been looking.
Grandma bustled off to say hello, while Hermione took the opportunity to sneak
away for a few moments.
She wandered over to a rowdy group of children. They were crowded around
a stall selling the brightly-coloured, cheaply made plastic toys that Hermione
had always wanted when she was small.
Her parents, of course, had always refused to buy them for her. Hermione
picked up a little plastic figurine of a wizard and smiled. The figure was
wearing a periwinkle robe with matching pointy hat, and possessed a funny Muggle
rendition of a wand complete with a large yellow star stuck to the end of it.
“I haven’t got any money Hannah, go
ask Mum for a few quid if you want it.”
The annoyed male voice sounded
strangely familiar to Hermione. She turned around to find its source. Behind
her stood a tall teenaged boy in obvious need of a proper haircut; his sandy
blonde hair was so long in the front that it had almost grown past his eyes.
There was something frustratingly familiar about him. A little girl with a gap
in her two front teeth and the same sandy hair was tugging on the boy’s arm, a
pleading look in her eyes.
“But I don’t know where Mummy is!” the little girl whined. “Please, Curtis, I want the dolly!”
His name brought an immediate flash of recognition, but before Hermione
could make a quick getaway, he caught her looking at him. Behind the curtain of
hair, his eyebrows knit together.
“Hey, don’t I know you?” said Curtis slowly.
Hermione considered lying and making
a break for it, but common courtesy won out. “Yes,” she said shortly. “We went
to school together.”
“That’s it,” Curtis said, nodding.
“Blimey, you look different. Didn’t even recognise you at first! You’re uh…” He
snapped his fingers a few times, as if trying to summon her name.
“Right!” Curtis suddenly flushed
pink with an embarrassed grin. “Right…‘stranger than Granger’…”
Hermione felt her body stiffen. She
pushed aside the memories that rose to the surface of her mind, and tried to
will her cheeks to stop burning.
“Hey, sorry about all that,” said
Curtis sincerely. He rubbed the back of his neck, smiling apologetically. “We
were like, kids, you know? Anyway, didn’t you go off to some swotty public
school? How’s all that?”
“Fine,” said Hermione coolly.
Curtis looked slightly taken aback
by her shortness with him; he probably figured that he had apologised and that
was that. “Oh, well…that’s good,” he said uncomfortably.
sensible part of Hermione began to feel slightly guilty that she was giving
Curtis the cold shoulder. After all, she had gone to school with him seven
years ago, and it was a bit unfair to hold him accountable for the actions of
his ten-year-old self. But before Hermione could make an effort at genuine
conversation, Curtis’ impatient-looking little sister piped up again.
“Curtis - I - want - to - find -
Mummy!” Hannah said loudly.
“Sorry,” Curtis said to Hermione. “I
got stuck with my little sister. I only came to this thing to see if that guy
is here selling pirated CD’s.”
“Well, good-bye,” said Hermione.
“Right, it was uh…good to see you,”
Curtis said over his shoulder as his sister dragged him away.
Hermione let out a breath she had
not been aware of holding, and wandered back over to Grandma Jean, who was
chatting with a pudgy woman with a very large hat. Hermione politely said hello
when Grandma introduced her, and waited patiently for them to finish their
“Hm, Marianne’s got quite fat,” said
Grandma once her friend had waved goodbye and was out of earshot. She turned to
Hermione. “I saw you talking to a boy, do you know him?”
“Just from primary school,” said
Hermione shortly. Grandma seemed to sense that she would get nothing more out
of Hermione regarding the boy, so she let her be.
They spent another half-hour at the
market, then Grandma developed a headache, so they headed home. They walked in
silence again, in the quiet stillness of early evening. Despite her best
efforts not to, Hermione could not help reflecting on certain childhood
memories. She had not thought about them in a long time - after all, she’d had
more important things on her mind lately - but her run-in with Curtis had
forced the memories to surface again.
was eight years old and carrying an elaborate diorama out of the classroom to
take home. Everyone else had left his or hers in the classroom, but Hermione
was too proud of hers to leave it at school overnight. As she walked out into
the hall, Jamie Irons and Curtis McNiven came barrelling out of the boys’
toilet, bumping into her as they ran past. Hermione cried out as her diorama
was knocked out of her arms. It fell to the floor with a horrible crash. She
knelt down beside it and tried very hard not to cry when she saw that it was
ruined. Jamie and Curtis kept running down the hall, laughing and calling her
names. Hermione felt hurt and angry as she knelt on the cold floor of the
hallway. Hatred for Jamie and Curtis boiled up inside of her.
The next day, the mystified teacher
found Jamie’s and Curtis’ dioramas in bits and pieces, as if they had each been
blown up by a very small bomb. Jamie and Curtis blamed Hermione, but she knew
that she had not touched their work, she had only thought about it…
She was ten years old and sitting
alone in the schoolyard with her back to a tree, contentedly reading a book. A
shadow fell over the page she was reading and she looked up to see the meanest
girl in school, Emma Lucas, standing there with a group of her friends. Emma
started teasing Hermione about her hair. Hermione tried to ignore her, but she
couldn’t stop the hot tears welling up in her eyes. She found herself wishing
desperately that her hair was like Emma’s, all sleek and shiny and yellow.
Hermione self-consciously ran a hand through her bushy brown hair. But then she
pulled her hand away and was horrified to find that a handful of hair had come
with it. Emma and her friends suddenly fell silent.
you just pull out your own hair?” Emma finally said, shocked and disgusted.
“You are so strange, Hermione Granger!”
the commotion had caused several of the boys to wander over too. “Yeah, no
one’s stranger than Granger,” Curtis McNiven quipped. Several of the other
than Granger, stranger than Granger!” chanted her classmates. It was at this
point that Hermione noticed something funny was happening to the brown hair in
her fist. It was slowly turning yellow, and shiny, and straight.
leaped up and ran for the girls’ toilet, locks of hair falling out as she ran. Once
she got to the bathroom, she stared in horror at her reflection in the mirror;
the hair still remaining on her head had begun to turn yellow, too. Confused
and frightened, Hermione pulled her winter hat out of her knapsack and shoved
it onto her head, then went to the school nurse and begged her to call her
mother. Her hair did not turn back to normal until much later that night…
was the summer before she turned twelve. One day a stern-looking woman arrived
at the Granger’s door. She handed them a sealed letter and told them she was
from a school that was interested in having Hermione as a student. The Grangers
were surprised but very pleased and invited the woman in for tea. She
introduced herself as Professor McGonagall and explained that she was the
Deputy Headmistress of a unique school in Scotland, which only accepted very
special students, who showed certain talents. Then without changing tone or
expression, she explained that it was a school to learn how to do magic and
Hermione had been selected as a student because she showed magical abilities.
Hermione’s parents were confused because this kind of talk was quite clearly insane,
and since Professor McGonagall did not seem mad, they thought that she was
joking. Her parents laughed, but Hermione did not because she knew that
Professor McGonagall was neither joking nor mad. The incidents with the
dioramas and the hair and a hundred other strange happenings suddenly made
sense. Hermione felt as if there had been a particularly difficult riddle that
she had been trying to solve for years and had just figured out the answer. It
was a wonderful feeling of relief and joy; Hermione would have hugged Professor
McGonagall if it had not been clear that Professor McGonagall was not the
hugging type. Hermione’s parents began to get uncomfortable when Professor
McGonagall continued going on about magic, and it was only after she had turned
herself into a cat that they were shocked into listening…
Hermione smiled at the last memory,
remembering that fantastic feeling of finally understanding who and what she
was. Professor McGonagall’s visit had been the memory she had used to conjure
her first Patronus.
“Well, here we are,” said Grandma Jean as they
approached Hermione’s red brick house. “I do hope your mother had the sense to
put a pot of tea on for us. I wouldn’t mind some croissants, either, although
they’re absolutely horrid here in England. Oh, and Hermione, there
seems to be a very large owl outside your bedroom window.”
Hermione looked up sharply as they
walked up the drive; there was indeed an official-looking post owl with glossy
brown feathers hovering outside her closed bedroom window. Astonishingly,
Grandma Jean said nothing more about the owl. She took off her wool coat as
they entered the front hall, and wordlessly swept into the kitchen. Hermione,
meanwhile, dashed up the stairs and into her bedroom. The post owl was almost
certainly from Harry, who did not have the heart to replace Hedwig. It had to
be urgent. After all, Hermione had spoken to Harry by Floo only that morning -
she had taken measures to connect her parents’ house to the Floo Network two
years ago, in case of emergencies - and had specifically asked him not to send
her any mail while her grandmother was visiting. The logical part of Hermione
assured her that there was nothing to worry about. However, the emotional part
of her, the part that had spent the last year fearing for the lives of her
friends and family every day, could not help but feel a little bit worried.
Hermione quickly opened her window
to allow the glossy brown owl in. It perched atop her packed white bookshelf
and extended a leg towards her. Hermione hurriedly untied the letter, gave the
owl a few Knuts that were hidden at the bottom of her dresser drawer, and sat
down on the edge of her bed to read the letter.
Sorry that I had to send you an owl. I wasn’t
sure how else to get a hold of you save telephoning your house, and I didn’t
want you to go berserk over the phone or anything. I hope your grandmother
didn’t see the owl, I told him to be discreet.
“Very discreet, hovering outside my window,” Hermione muttered. The owl,
which had been preening itself atop Hermione’s bookshelf, gave an indifferent
hoot and flew out the open window. Hermione quickly returned to the letter; her
heartbeat had quickened somewhat upon reading the part about going berserk.
DO NOT PANIC BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS FINE. I just
thought you should know that Ron ran into a little bit of trouble in Diagon
Alley. He’s fine now, apart from being a bit sore, but I wanted to write and
tell you before you found out from anyone else. We’ll probably have to report
it to the Magical Law Enforcement Squad, so I’m sure it will get out somehow.
Anyway, he’s here with me at Grimmauld
Place right now - I don’t think he wants to go
home and alarm Mrs Weasley just yet.
Write back if you can,
Hermione panicked, despite Harry’s
orders. She did not pause to think about her grandmother or parents downstairs.
She turned on the spot and vanished.
Hermione Apparated onto the front
steps of Grimmauld Place.
The door was locked, so she banged impatiently until Harry pulled it open. He
did not look surprised to see her.
“Will you keep it down, Hermione?
You woke Mrs Black,” Harry said wearily, as shouts of, “Mudblood-lover! Unworthy filth! Thieving intruder!” echoed behind
“Is he all right?” Hermione
demanded, pushing past Harry and into the front hall. She winced in
anticipation, expecting her tongue to roll back and the dust figure of
Dumbledore to appear, but nothing happened. The curses must have disappeared
upon Snape’s death. Hermione began walking purposefully down the hall.
“He’s fine, he’s sleeping on the
sofa in the drawing room,” said Harry, following her. “Although you probably
woke him up with all the banging…”
Ron was indeed awake; he was lying
on the drawing room sofa, propped up on his elbows. Hermione noticed that he
was holding himself rather stiffly, and that one side of his face was red and
scratched up, as if it had been rubbed against something rough. He looked
rather tired, but Hermione thought his face brightened when she walked into the
“Aw, Hermione you didn’t have to
come,” said Ron, although he sounded quite pleased.
“What on earth happened?” Hermione
exclaimed, hurrying over to sit down on the sofa next to Ron’s feet.
Ron sighed and explained how he had
followed a suspicious-looking man out of the twins’ shop and chased him down
Diagon Alley. He gave a brief synopsis of the attack, which ended with him
being put in a Full Body Bind and left in Knockturn Alley.
“It was three bloody hours before
some old witch found me, and even then she couldn’t remember the spell to
unfreeze me straight away,” said a disgruntled Ron. He moved his head side to
side a few times, wincing as his neck cracked. “You’ve no idea how
uncomfortable it is to be paralysed like that. Your muscles feel all sore and
stiff afterwards - ”
“Actually, I do have an idea. I was
Petrified for several weeks, if you remember,” said Hermione curtly. She
immediately regretted her unsympathetic tone. Hermione supposed she had
expected worse and hearing Ron complain about aches and pains made her feel as
if she had panicked over nothing.
“Oh…right,” said Ron, abashed.
“The thing is,” said Harry, who was
sitting on a chair in front of the writing desk, “why did he attack you?”
Surprisingly, Hermione had not yet
thought of this. It did seem rather odd for someone to randomly attack a joke
Ron suddenly got quite fidgety.
“Don’t know,” he said vaguely. “Some nutter, probably…”
“Did he say anything to you?” Harry
“Just, you know, the usual rubbish…”
“What’s ‘the usual rubbish’?”
Hermione asked suspiciously.
Ron looked from Harry to Hermione,
and then sighed. “He just said something stupid about coming after the three of
Hermione felt as if someone had just
poured a bucket of icy water down her back. She shivered and glanced at Harry,
who looked livid.
“But…but who would be threatening us
now?” Hermione said in a small voice.
“Haven’t you seen today’s paper?”
Harry asked darkly.
“How could I? I haven’t been getting
owl post, remember?” said Hermione.
“Didn’t have a chance to read it
this morning…hey, where are you going?” Ron asked as Harry abruptly got up and
disappeared out the door. Hermione looked over at Ron, who shrugged. They were
quiet for a moment.
“Sorry I wasn’t very sympathetic
before,” she said softly. “I wasn’t really awake while I was Petrified. I bet it was awful.”
“Well…it was a bit tough,” said Ron
in a heroic sort of voice. He suddenly made a face. “Actually, the worst part
of it was that this ruddy pigeon landed on my face about an hour in, and I
couldn’t do anything to get it off…”
Hermione laughed, and Ron grinned.
They both ended up smiling rather stupidly at each other for awhile. Then Ron,
whose ears had turned quite red, cleared his throat and said in a low voice,
“Y’know what might make me feel better?”
Hermione suddenly realised that was
one of the rare moments in which they had been left alone in the tumultuous
last few weeks. Ron fumbled for her hand and she felt her heart get a little
jumpstart; it started pounding twice as fast as usual.
“What’s that?” Hermione whispered
nervously as Ron’s thumb brushed back and forth across her hand. It was a
rhetorical question, of course. There was no mistaking the look in Ron’s eyes,
and she found herself leaning closer to him. The last time they had kissed
seemed so long ago. It had been after Fred’s funeral, the two of them out in
the garden at The Burrow while everyone else was inside. The kiss had been
passionate but clumsy; a desperate attempt at comfort, with Hermione’s tears
sliding down Ron’s dry cheeks.
They moved closer, until their noses were almost touching - would it
feel like this every time they would kiss, with her heart beating so fast it
might burst? - but then came Harry’s footsteps, and both of them pulled away
before it could happen. Hermione tried to erase the look of disappointment on
her face as Harry walked in, a newspaper in hand. He thrust it in front of them,
and Hermione read the headline: Another
accident at Azkaban!
“‘Yet another so-called accident has occurred at Azkaban prison,’” read
Harry as he paced back and forth across the drawing room. “‘Sources at St.
Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies report that two of the recently-appointed
Azkaban guards were brought in last night. The two wizards were badly hexed and
Stunned. A representative from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement
refused to confirm rumours that two prisoners are missing, but did remind
citizens that certain other Dark wizards are still at large, and urged citizens
to make sure that their homes are still well-protected. This incident comes
after last week’s supposed construction accident, in which another one of the
Azkaban wizard guards was killed.’”
Harry stopped reading. There was a heavy silence for a moment, broken by
Ron using a particularly foul swear word.
“I skimmed through it when I got home, but didn’t have a chance to read
the whole article until now. Nothing’s changed, has it?” Harry said angrily.
“The Ministry is still keeping things hush-hush, denying things that people
have the right to know - ”
“But Harry, Kingsley is trying
to turn things around,” Hermione tried. “At least they’re not using Dementors
anymore, they know now that they can’t be trusted…”
“Then there’s Dolohov, did you hear about his trial?” Harry continued
ranting. “He claimed to be Imperiused, that stupid old argument, and they’re
actually deliberating on it - ”
“Is anyone else worried about the possible Death Eater escapees we may
have on our hands?” Ron interrupted loudly. “One of whom may or may not have
attacked me this afternoon?”
They all fell silent, remembering the reason that Harry had brought up
the news article in the first place. Hermione’s stomach twisted.
“But even if a few Death Eaters did escape,” Hermione said slowly. “Are
they really going to come after us? I mean, Voldemort is dead, that much is
obvious. There’s no one to rally behind. The Death Eaters are finished.”
“Are they, though?” asked Harry grimly. “A few escape from Azkaban,
start to get their self-confidence back…maybe they meet up with their old Death
Eater buddies, the ones who were never captured. Then they start thinking that
whoever can do what Voldemort never could - get rid of me - would make a good
leader, a better leader, one who could succeed where Voldemort failed…”
“Harry!” Hermione exclaimed, appalled by his way of thinking.
“And they come after us, too, because we’re a packaged deal and all,”
said Ron with a bitter smile. “So why didn’t the bloke just off me then, in
“Ron!” cried Hermione, feeling sick.
“I suppose that might have been too bold,” said Harry thoughtfully. “He
obviously wanted you to stop following him, but murdering someone only yards
away from Diagon Alley would have probably drawn more attention than one would
like after recently escaping from Azkaban. I mean, a dead body is obviously
going to warrant some pretty serious investigation. Knockturn Alley is rough,
but not that rough.”
The calm, pensive tone Harry was using to refer to his friend’s
theoretical dead body made Hermione feel even sicker. Furthermore, the ease
with which Harry seemed to get into the Death Eaters’ mindsets was frightening.
“The real question, though,” continued Harry, “is if he didn’t want to
kill you, why was he in Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes in the first place?”
But no one seemed to have an answer to that question.
Author’s Notes: This time I have to give an extra special
thank you to my beta, nundu, who
patiently re-betaed this chapter after losing it to the unforgiving wrath of
Microsoft Word. Thanks as always to everyone who has read and reviewed this
story so far. Your comments are very helpful and you give me the enthusiasm to