The Sugar Quill
Author: Mrs Weasley (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Best Man  Chapter: Chapter Two: Hermione
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Part 2: Hermione.

Summary: Hermione takes stock of her life as she travels to the wedding.

Hermione Granger sipped coffee and looked at her watch. She liked driving - she liked the private thinking time it gave her. She had made good time from London, and when twilight came she had been near a good pub she knew of, just off the motorway in Somerset, and she had stopped for a meal and a break. The rest of the way to Ottery St Catchpole was an easy journey - another hour would see her there. She looked around the pub's dining room, listening to the buzz of Muggles socialising and eating, and wondered what they would say if they knew who she was and what kind of people she was going to spend the weekend with.

After paying her bill, Hermione walked out into the car park and unlocked her car. It was small, but handy for driving in London. A taller person might have found it rather cramped - Ron, for instance, she thought wryly as she sniffed the evening air before getting in. It was a long time since she had passed this way, and it was nice to be in the countryside again, smelling trees and grass instead of exhaust fumes.

As she turned back on to the road, Hermione was looking forward to catching up with old friends. It was only eight years since she had left Hogwarts, but it seemed longer. A lot had happened. When she had left school, Professor McGonagall - grim-faced, taking her new duties as Headmistress very seriously - had urged her to come and teach Transfiguration, but Hermione had declined. Partly, because she wanted to see a little more of the world, before settling back into a small community like a school. And partly, because she needed time to remember happier days at Hogwarts, and to try to forget the recent sadder memories - Dumbledore, facing up to Voldemort in that final showdown - Hagrid's look of bewilderment that day when they found him dead in front of his cottage - Sirius's look of desperate determination as he made that final sacrifice for Harry...Hermione gave a little shiver as she remembered.

So she hadn't taken McGonagall's job offer. She had done some research, done some travelling, and found out a lot about subjects which interested her. "You know stacks about all this," Harry had said admiringly, one day in the Leaky Cauldron as she was telling him and Ron about her latest discoveries about ancient curses. "You should write a book about it."

"Mm. I suppose I could," Hermione had agreed. So she had, writing bits now and again when she had nothing else to do. But then she had gone through a bad time - Bill's death had hit them all hard, and after the...quarrel...when Ron wasn't around any more, she had plunged into writing seriously as a way of trying to forget things she didn't want to remember. When the book was finished, she had shown the manuscript to her old accquaintance Seamus Finnigan, who now worked for a publishing company. To her surprise, the book had been snapped up, and had sold very well. The second book had done even better, and Professor McGonagall had asked her if they could use it as a textbook at Hogwarts. The last six years had been very busy. Hermione had done a good deal more travelling as well, gathering information. Last week she had had lunch with Seamus, discussing her plans for writing a book about her visit to a wizarding community in Russia where special transfiguration skills were passed down by families.

"Sounds great," Seamus had said enthusiastically. "The last one's selling like hot cakes. Do you know, you're our second bestselling author now, after Gilderoy Lockhart?"

Hermione had pulled a face. "Seamus, please! You're not comparing me to that egotistical fantasist, I hope." And that was a polite name for him, she thought.

"Hardly," Seamus had grinned. "For one thing, your books aren't fiction! For another, he was mad for publicity and you can't stand it. You don't even let us put your photo on the covers. Won't you just do a book-signing session for us at Flourish and Blotts some time?"

"No, Seamus," Hermione had said firmly. "I'm happy that people are buying the books, but I would hate to be recognised in the street. I like being able to get on with my life in peace."

"OK, fine," Seamus had given in. "So - how about the wedding next week? I'm hoping to get down there on the day itself. I assume you'll be there?"

"Oh yes," Hermione had said. "I'm going down two days before."

"There'll be lots of old faces there. I expect - um - Ron's going to be the best man, is he?"

"Yes, I think so," Hermione had said, her voice deliberately casual. "I'm going to be an attendant. Not a bridesmaid - I said I wasn't wearing a frilly dress for anyone's sake."

Seamus had laughed at the thought.

Darkness was falling fast now, and the only lights were those of other cars, and occasional houses. Hermione was driving through Devon countryside, recognising landmarks she hadn't seen for a long time. She'd seen Harry a few weeks earlier, when he had come to see her and tell her some details of the wedding plans. He'd been full of enthusiasm at the idea of a great get-together, and she had sighed at his obvious eagerness for everyone to be good friends, just like at school. Of course, she thought, they would all behave in a civilized way, but Harry couldn't really expect them all to be unchanged. Too much had happened, too much had been experienced to leave them untouched.

Still, she couldn't pretend that she wasn't interested to see how everyone had changed, and how they were all getting on. She had run into Lavender Brown in Diagon Alley the other day, and had hardly recognized her. Seamus, on the other hand, looked at twenty-six very much as he had done at eighteen, his boyish face still round and eager. She had told Harry about how Seamus badgered her to make public appearances, and he had casually told her how much Ron was enjoying his work. She imagined Ron might have changed in six years - especially dashing around the way he did - or maybe he was still the same. Harry always dropped little titbits of Ron information into the conversation when he met up with Hermione, and she was sure he did it on purpose, still hoping he could cancel out six years' worth of estrangement.

She wondered what differences they would see in her.

The light from her headlights caught the roadsign; Ottery St Catchpole, 1 mile. With these high, dark hedges it was hard to see anything on the narrow lane, so she slowed to a cautious speed. She wondered if her neighbour had remembered to feed Crookshanks. She was sure Crookshanks would have found some way of ensuring he was not forgotten. Hermione prized the privacy of her small flat which she shared with Crookshanks alone. For most of the last three years she had been involved in a relationship with Stephen, a fellow writer she had met through having the same publisher. But she had never felt close enough to him to want to live with him all the time, to share the privacy of her flat with him - and their relationship had finally ended amicably a few months ago. She had decided that he wasn't the right person - but, in the back of her mind, part of her had always known that it wasn't going to work out.

The sprawling rooftops and crooked chimneys of The Burrow loomed out of the darkness. There were already several vehicles parked in the darkened yard - Hermione recognized a battered scarlet sports car as Fred's. "I can't believe that car's still running," she thought to herself as she parked.

The door of the house opened, and light spilled out. The sound of her car's engine had obviously been heard. Hermione waved to the people in the doorway, but went back to close the gate first. As she did so, she saw a piece of paper on the ground and stooped to pick it up. She frowned in mystification. It appeared to be a sketch map - and as she peered at it in the light from the house, she realised it was a sketch map of the grounds of The Burrow. The house, the doors, the paths and outbuildings were all marked on it. She shrugged. Perhaps one of the people arranging the wedding reception had dropped it. They might need a plan. She turned at the sound of Harry's voice, stuffing the paper into her coat pocket.

"Hermione! You made it!" He hugged her, looking down affectionately, beaming. "Did you have a good journey?"

"Fine - hardly any traffic really."

"Hermione!" Mrs. Weasley was hugging her now, shorter than she was. "It's lovely to see you after all this time." She held Hermione off and looked at her appraisingly, noticing her neatly bobbed hair, nut-brown tailored trousers and jacket. "You look very smart."

"I had a meeting with my publisher this morning," Hermione explained. "I had to smarten up a bit."

They had reached the kitchen. "But you're too thin and pale," Mrs. Weasley scolded her.

"She looks fine, Mum," Ginny said, bending to kiss Hermione. "She's just slim. I like your hair that short, by the way," she added to Hermione.

Mrs. Weasley shook her head. "It's not healthy living in London. We'll have to feed you up while you're here."

"Well, if I am pale I expect it's because I've been holed up in my flat finishing a book," said Hermione. "I'm looking forward to getting some fresh air here." More people came into the kitchen to greet her - Charlie, and his wife Susan.

"You must have been very busy, getting ready for the wedding," Hermione said to Harry later, as he showed her to the room she was staying in.

"It's been chaos," Harry assured her as they climbed the narrow stairs. "Aunt Molly's been buzzing round like a very active bee - but she loves organizing things like this. Charlie says she was frustrated when he and Susan got married in Germany and didn't give her a chance to throw a party." He grinned, as he pushed open the door of the little room. "I can't honestly say I've been much help - I've just been keeping out of the way."

"Thanks, Harry," Hermione said, as he put her suitcase down on the floor. "I'm a bit tired after all that driving - I'd better try to get a good night's sleep, I'm sure there'll be a lot going on tomorrow."

"Yeah - the party in the evening, and we have to go and pick up some of the clothes. And Ron's coming tomorrow, you know," Harry added, as he went to leave.

"Mm," was Hermione's only reply. She suddenly felt very tired, and the small bed looked invitingly cosy. She walked to the window and drew aside the curtain, looking out. After the lights of London, where it was never really dark, the country night looked very black, but the stars were bright. She was just about to turn away from the window when she thought she saw a sudden flicker of yellow light just across the field from the Weasleys' home - like someone lighting a cigarette or a small lamp? But the light quickly vanished again, and she couldn't be sure exactly where she had seen it.

Hermione shrugged, and started to get ready for bed, trying not to think too hard about the possible stresses and strains of the next day. Coming face to face with Ron after six years wasn't going to be the easiest thing she had ever done.

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