The Sugar Quill
Author: VoxMaille (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Only Thing We Have to Fear  Chapter: default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

 

A/N:  Set during PoA, end of the year. Rated PG-13 for violent images. Mostly Hermione and Remus Lupin. NO, NOT LIKE THAT. Dude. Dude. He’s a teacher, for crying out loud. She’s thirteen. That’s not even funny. I need to go shower now, that’s so awful. I just mean that they’re the main characters in this little piece.

 Disclaimer: It’s not mine. It’s all JKR’s. Except I think that I owe part of the partial exam credit theory to Arabella’s HQOW3. Go read it and her other stuff—they’re lovely. Though it is truly also the mark that I’d give Hermione if I were teaching the class. 

 

*          *          *          *

 

            No person in his or her right mind would deny that June 1994 at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry ranked among the most breathtakingly lovely times and places in history.

            Today was a perfect example.

The sun was shining, the Hogwarts grounds were overwhelmed with late spring blossoms, it was warm, the scent of fresh grass permeated the fields, and Hermione Granger, the top student in the third year, was about to face the last part of her second-to-last final. Her last final barely counted, since it was Muggle Studies, and as a Muggle-born-and-raised witch, she might just as well have skived off class for the entire term and she could still have aced the exam in her sleep. Therefore, this Defense Against the Dark Arts exam was the only remaining hurdle to jump before she could say that she had finished, or rather survived, her third year in the wizarding world.

It had been pretty much an awful year, between her extra coursework, that miserable and confusing Time Turner, worrying about Sirius Black attacking, the work on Buckbeak’s trial and the months of fighting between Harry, Ron and herself. Now it was almost over, and while she was glad to be done with those horrible parts, she knew she was going to miss Hogwarts terribly over the summer.

But before she could worry about any of that she had to finish off this boggart.

Hermione had never had to face the boggart in Professor Lupin’s class before—she wasn’t sure quite what to expect. She had spent hours trying to come up with ideas for what it could be—a basilisk, a dementor, maybe an irate dragon.  Ron had made fun of her, saying that it would be an imperfect piece of schoolwork. She had merely glared and shrugged, biting her tongue to keep herself from asking him if his would be Draco Malfoy, stark naked. Although she had to admit (only to herself, and certainly not out loud) that the possibility of her boggart being Dumbledore explaining that she’d lost all magical ability had occurred to her. She just hoped she’d practised the Riddikulus charm correctly.

Just remember that boggarts hate laughter. Just laugh at it and you’ll be fine. You can even laugh at the idea that you won’t ever be a real witch—you know that’s not true.

Taking a deep breath, she stepped into the trunk with the boggart and slammed the door. It was dark inside. She automatically lit her wand, murmuring

"Lumos!"

The only thing she could make out was a heap of black robes at her feet.

Black robes? Since when have I been afraid of a pile of laundry? What kind of stupid boggart is this, anyway?                 She knelt down by the pile and reached out to touch them. She felt a form underneath it.

Ew. A corpse. That’s disgusting. Not scary, but definitely unsettling. At least I’m not squeamish. All right, what could make this funny instead of simply grotesque? 

Hermione quickly searched her mind. Maybe she could make it dance? No, that was creepy, not absurd. Something that would make this utterly ludicrous . . .

Without warning, the form turned over under her hand and she saw the body’s face. Gasping, she jumped back, covering her mouth to stop the shriek from emerging.

Harry.

He was a ghastly pale colour. There was a large purple bruise on the side of his face, extending into his hair. His eyes were open and glassy and his neck was bent at a funny angle.

No one’s neck looks like that if they’re alive. But then . . .

NO. Nonononono . . . .

Hermione made herself breathe, bracing her arm against the inner wall of the trunk for support. 

This is the boggart. It’s not real. Harry’s fine. It’s not actually happening. Riddikulus. Remember how to use Riddikulus.

She pinched the bridge of her nose, closing her eyes, trying desperately to find something in her memory, anything about this that could make it a comical sight. She looked again at the boggart.

Harry’s body was gone. In its place was a longer, leaner figure.

No . . .

Hermione nearly fell over.

Ron’s blue eyes were foggy and unseeing. Blood slowly pooled around his head. An echo from an old medical textbook she’d read when she was bored one day sounded unbidden in her head.

. . . when the heart stops, blood will no longer. . .

Damn that memory of hers. His face, emotionless for the first time in her experience, stared at her. 

Hermione, you left us. You left us.

Hermione dropped her wand. The light on the end flickered but continued glowing.

Oh God, no.

She didn’t even realise that she’d started to sob. Her vision blurred.

And suddenly both of her friends’ broken forms were there in front of her. Silently, she begged the figures to move, to do something to prove they were okay.

Ron, please wake up. We need to help Harry.

Harry, there’s something wrong with Ron—you need to get up.

Please wake up. Stop it, please. It’s not funny. This isn’t a joke anymore.

But her best friends simply lay there, horribly still.

No . . . oh no . . . I’ll do anything . . . just please stop it . . . please God let them get up . . .

Bile rose in Hermione’s throat and she turned away, shuddering, trying not to be sick. Their empty eyes were facing her, but they were sightless, perceiving nothing, not even her. She reached down for her fallen wand, unconsciously clenching it tighter and tighter.

It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real. They’re fine, they’re out there, and they’re waiting for me. It’s not real . . . it’s not real . . . it’s not real . . .I have to do this . . .it’s not real . . .it’s only my fear that’s making this happen . . . Riddikulus . . . use Riddikulus.

 She knew the eyes were there even when she shut her own against the scene in front of her.

 There isn’t anything that could make this funny.

 It was too much—she needed to get out of there—she needed to get help—she couldn’t breathe—

 Oh God—Harry—Ron—help me

 —and then she kicked open the trunk, screaming at the top of her lungs. The sun outside was staggeringly bright.

 "Hermione! What’s the matter?"  Professor Lupin looked at her questioningly, alarmed.

 But Hermione barely heard him. Her attention was focused on the two heads that had whipped around at the sound of the trunk opening. 

Harry and Ron stared at her shaking figure, looking positively stunned at her abrupt exit.

They were alive.

Alive.

Hermione couldn’t speak for a moment. She forced herself to take a breath. She pointed back at the trunk, trying to explain what she’d seen.

Stay calm, girl. It’s all right. Say "Professor Lupin, I saw. . ." and describe what was in there.

"P—P—" The words wouldn’t come out. She stopped. The boys raised their eyebrows. They looked worried. Suddenly she couldn’t say it. She couldn’t say what she’d seen in the trunk. They wouldn’t understand. They’d just laugh at her and tell her she was being stupid.

Professor Lupin waited patiently for her to continue. A thought popped into her brain. What had Ron teased her about earlier? What did he say her boggart would be?

A piece of homework that only got nine out of ten.

"Professor McGonagall!" Hermione surprised herself with her answer. "Sh-she said I’d failed everything!"

Please believe me.

Her eyes pleaded with Professor Lupin not to press the matter further. He led her aside, gently. Ron was starting to laugh, poorly concealing his snickers in a coughing fit. Harry shook his head.

"Are you sure you’re all right, Hermione?" The teacher put his hand on her shoulder. She nodded and gulped, swallowing her tears.

"I’m s-sorry. I didn’t mean to jump out—but, oh, I didn’t know what it was going to be and I tried but I wasn’t prepared for it and I didn’t know—I didn’t know!" Her voice rose on the last bit and Professor Lupin’s eyes widened.  She dropped her gaze and looked sideways at Ron and Harry. Ron was still snorting with laughter and Harry just seemed a bit bemused by the whole thing. When she looked back at Professor Lupin, he was peering intently at her with an odd expression on his face. 

She swallowed again, her throat dry, realising that she had to find out about her grade.

I blew it. I just destroyed my grade. I’ve completely ruined it. I’m done—a whole year with that stupid Turner—only dropped Divination, and that was pointless anyway—and I blew it on the last day in one of the best classes I’ve ever had.

"Did I fail the exam, Professor?"

His expression became kind. "No, Hermione. You will receive full credit for the portions you completed, and partial credit for entering the trunk and facing the boggart without knowing what it would be. I can’t say anything officially yet, but I believe your exam score will be well over a 90%."

 She smiled, relieved.

"Now, do you think that you’re ready to go? Are you sure you’re fine?" Hermione nodded, a little shakily. He clapped her shoulder.

"Good job, Miss Granger. It was a pleasure to have you in class this year."

Hermione walked to her book bag and tucked her wand into it. She slung the bag over her shoulder. Harry and Ron came over to her.

"Hermione," Harry said, sounding concerned, "is everything okay?"

"Yes." She looked at him. His neck was on correctly, and his eyes were alive and worried. There was no sign of that horrid bruise on his face. "I’m okay, really, Harry."

Except for the fact that I want to hug you both and not let go until you promise me that nothing will ever, ever happen to either of you.

Ron tried to stifle his continuing laughter.

"Glad you made it through that ordeal there, Hermione." He couldn’t seem to help himself and choked a bit on another snicker. "I told you it would be about school. I knew it. Should have listened to me. You wouldn’t have gotten so frazzled." Ron wagged his finger at her as they walked back into the castle. His freckled face was animated and his eyes sparkled with amusement.

Blank blue eyes stared out of a white face, levelling wordless accusations. This shouldn’t have happened to us.

She winced at the vision and again fought the urge to vomit. Ron was still teasing her.

"Everyone else has horrible monsters, evil beings or even Professor Snape. But you? You’ve got McGonagall telling you you’ve failed a class. Positively life-threatening, that." He laughed again, harder. ‘I can’t believe that was your boggart. I mean I always knew you were a know-it-all, but that’s completely mad."

"Leave it alone, Ron! Nobody’s teasing you about your spiders." She sounded sharper than she’d meant to. She really didn’t care if he thought the idea of her seeing Professor McGonagall was funny, but she didn’t want to think about the boggart or what she’d seen in that trunk anymore.

The bruise spread across his temple, into his black hair, an angry violet haemorrhage that belied any chance of survival.

Could you still call him "The Boy Who Lived?"

Once more Hermione quelled the instinct to be very, very sick.

It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real.

"At least spiders and Acromantulas could actually kill you. Failing a class isn’t known for its bloody lethal properties." Ron sounded like he was getting irritated.

"Watch your language."

Harry started to appear uncomfortable.

Luckily for the sake of their recently repaired friendship, at this point Cornelius Fudge appeared at the top of the staircase they were climbing, distracting Hermione and Ron from pursuing the argument. The reminder of Hagrid and Buckbeak’s appeal gave her something else to consider.

Throughout lunch and into the afternoon she hoped and hoped that the hippogriff would win his appeal. She found it amazing that she could write three essays on Muggle Studies and still worry about Buckbeak simultaneously.

Thinking of that drove memories of the boggart out of her mind.

*         *          *          *

It wasn’t until that evening, as she watched Ron get pulled into the Whomping Willow, that the vision came back to her, and she remembered the vacant blue eyes she’d seen in the trunk.

 Oh Ron.

 Is this it? Is this the end?

After that, as scared as she was, there wasn’t really time to think about anything. Everything seemed to be a reflex action—she felt so detached from what was going on that it lost all sense of reality, and even the eerie and marvellous beauty of Harry’s Patronus didn’t make a deep impact until she woke up the next morning in the hospital wing, her shoulder sore but healing and her two best friends snoring loudly on the hospital beds alongside hers.

*          *          *          *

 The late afternoon sun was streaming in the windows of the main hall. Hermione sat on the stone steps, trying to think about something besides the events of the day before. She was waiting for Harry to get back from seeing Professor Lupin off. Hermione hoped that Harry would find him before the professor left.

She leaned back, flexing her stiff arms and wincing. Her shoulder continued to ache from the blow the willow had given it and when she, Harry and Ron had walked around the castle, Ron was still limping slightly on his mended leg.

Footsteps startled her and she broke out of her reverie.

Hermione saw Professor Lupin try to open the main entrance. She rushed over and pushed it open, holding it so that he could get through with his tank and his belongings. 

"Thank you, Hermione."

Lupin smiled absently at her.

"Did Harry find you all right?"

"Yes, he found me." He didn’t seem to want to say anything more. He started down the path to the gate.

"You’re not coming back, are you, Professor?" she asked even though she knew the answer.

Lupin turned to face her, a bit startled.

"No. I’m afraid that I’ve resigned my position. Professors who happen to be werewolves are unpopular with parents." His smile turned wry.

She couldn’t help herself, bursting out, "Well, that’s just—it’s just bigotry, isn’t it? It’s not fair."

"I realise that," Professor Lupin seemed almost amused by her expression. He set the tank and his belongings on the path.

She looked down, embarrassed. "I guess you would. You’d know better than I would."

He smiled again.

"Yesterday, on your exam—your boggart wasn’t really Professor McGonagall, was it, Hermione?" Hermione’s head snapped up.

Professor Lupin was giving her a piercing look.

"Of course it was. Why wouldn’t it be? And I wouldn’t lie to a professor about something like that." She tried to be indignant, but it was hard when she was both lying and talking to a professor. Lupin raised his eyebrows knowingly.

"I see." He sighed, narrowing his eyes as he stared into the distance. "It’s been a long time since I was a student here. Often it’s strange to see how much things have changed since Sirius, James and I were in school." He fixed her with that piercing look again. "It’s also remarkable how many things remain the same. Like Professor Dumbledore. Or some of the lessons we teach and learn. Did you know that in my fourth year Defense Against the Dark Arts class we had to face a boggart for part of our final, too?"

Hermione shook her head. Hogwarts: A History stopped short of detailing lesson plans for every year Hogwarts had been around, although she wouldn’t have minded if they were included.

"It’s an important part of learning to defend oneself—learning to understand what one fears the most. You already know what my greatest fear is. It’s always been the full moon. The same was true in fourth year, as well." She nodded slowly, not sure where this was going.

"Well, our final was nearly over, and James and I were waiting for Sirius to finish up. Peter—" and here Hermione could see Lupin’s jaw clench,"—had gone ahead to dinner. Sirius was never the best student, you know. Not that he wasn’t incredibly bright—just that he never applied himself. Or rather, he never applied himself to what the teachers wanted him to be learning." The professor laughed. "But he’d never back down from an interesting challenge, so James and I expected the boggart would be right up his alley. We were shocked when he burst out of the old closet that the boggart was in, white as a sheet."

Lupin looked at Hermione shrewdly. "He wouldn’t tell us or the professor what he’d seen—so he failed the exam. He barely passed fourth year because of that mark."

"Why wouldn’t he say what he’d seen in the closet?" Hermione asked slowly, already reasonably sure that she didn’t need to hear Lupin’s answer.

Her professor grinned at her. "Always curious, eh Hermione? I wondered that, too. He could have received at least some credit for that part of the exam if he’d only told the professor what had been inside. Sirius, though, as I’m sure you understand by now, was stubborn. He refused to tell anyone."

His eyes suddenly seemed far away again, remembering.

"Late that night I heard him leave the dormitory and go down to the common room. I followed him because I was worried. He was sitting in one of the chairs by the fire and just staring into it. I asked him what was wrong. I must have caught him a bit off his guard because he told me." Lupin looked directly at Hermione. She wanted to avoid his gaze—it felt like he could read her thoughts—but she kept looking back.

"He said that he saw me—us—James and me—inside the closet, dead. Sirius wouldn’t say more about it, except—and I’ll never forget this—he said that there wasn’t anything in the world that could make that funny."

"He was right, " Hermione said softly. Tears welled up as she remembered not only the boggart, but also everything that she, Ron and Harry had survived in three years and how very, very close they had come to dying. Last night seemed to have happened both eons ago and only moments before. She felt unexpectedly old, and wondered if Ron ever felt like that, knowing all too well that Harry did. "You can’t make that funny. It’s only horrible." She shivered.

Lupin smiled gently. "I believe that Sirius’s greatest fear was one that required more than a simple charm to be able come to terms with it." His smile faded. "Sometimes those fears are things that one cannot ever come to terms with."

Hermione thought of Harry’s picture: James and Lily Potter standing arm-in-arm, grinning madly at everyone, while Sirius Black arched one amused eyebrow over the proceedings; then, later a ragged, starved Sirius searching for Peter Pettigrew; and the smiling couple in the picture gone, silent, murdered. Sometimes Hermione tried to imagine what Harry heard when the dementors approached him, to imagine the sounds of the Potters’ last night alive, but she knew that no matter what she came up with, the reality was worse.

Professor Lupin was right: there was no coming to terms with things like that.

The memory of dulled green eyes and blood-soaked red hair flashed into her mind. She shook it off. That wasn’t real. It hadn’t happened and if she had anything to say about it, it wouldn’t happen. No. She would never let that happen. Never.

No one will ever have to come to terms with what I saw in that trunk.

For the first time she felt like she convinced herself. Hermione looked back at the kindly man in front of her.

"How did you know?" she asked, her voice shaking slightly. "How did you know that my boggart wasn’t what I said it was?"

"Miss Granger, you are an excellent student." He frowned. "However, you are a terrible liar and I highly recommend that you don’t attempt it in future." He was almost severe at first, though his face softened as he went on.

She couldn’t help herself—she knew he was a professor, but she ran over and gave him a hug, burying her face in his frayed coat. She felt like a small child searching for reassurance.

He patted her back and said in a fatherly tone. "I meant what I said last night about how clever you are. You are quite a brilliant witch, Hermione Granger."

Hermione let go of him, tears streaming down her cheeks. She wasn’t sure exactly why she was crying anymore, yet she knew there was a good reason for it somewhere. Her professor suddenly seemed stern again, his face serious, but his voice was still kind.

"Take care of yourself, Harry and Ron."

"I will." She said it strongly enough to force the belief into herself. "We’re not going to let anything happen to us."

"I firmly believe," Remus Lupin said, as he turned back to his shabby pile of belongings, "that the three of you are very lucky indeed. Goodbye, Miss Granger."

"Goodbye, Professor Lupin." She waved with the hand that wasn’t wiping her face. He waved back cheerfully, picked up the Grindylow tank and his suitcase and walked to the carriage at the gates. She watched it drive away and she lost herself in thought.

It took a few minutes for Hermione to notice that her name was being called.

"Hey, Hermione!" 

She turned. Ron came up behind her, panting. His face was flushed. From the sound of it, he must have been running all around the castle.

"Look, d’you want to come in and play a few games of chess? Harry should be up in a minute. We’ll have a round robin." Hermione smiled up at him.

"Sounds good to me."

He grinned cheekily back, running a hand through his red hair. "Well, good, because after that blasted rat,"—his face soured for a second before returning to irreverence—"I need an ego boost and beating you and Harry ought to do it." She glared at him in mock anger, advancing threateningly on him. He started sprinting. There was no trace of the limp he’d had earlier in the day. Hermione supposed he’d finished healing up and had stretched it out some. She chased him, but there was no way she could keep up with his long legs. Ron looked over his shoulder, calling

"Come on, then, slowpoke. What’re you waiting for, next year’s exams?"

"Ron Weasley, do not make me hex you!"

She followed him into the castle, letting the door slam behind her.

The three of us really are lucky. 

*       *          *          *          *

A/N: Well, that’s it. Hope it wasn’t too awful. I just never could buy into the boggart as McGonagall theory in PoA. I really think Hermione has too much backbone to be so thrown by that, even considering how worn out she was with the Time-Turner.

And to the marvellous and wonderful Elanor Gamgee: Thank you for beta-reading this. I really appreciate it, and I have only this to say about you:

The SugarQuill really is lucky. *grin*

 

 

 

 

 

 

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