The Sugar Quill
Author: Gwena Lanish  Story: The Gathering of Good Intentions  Chapter: Chapter Two: Of Missives and the Ministry
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Chapter 2: Of Missives and the Ministry

Chapter 2: Of Missives and the Ministry

 

From the point of view of Hermione Granger

 

<*><*><*>

 

The Headmaster had said we should think of Cedric when we are forced to choose between what is right and what is easy.  Although the words had little impression on me when they were first spoken, they sprung immediately to mind when my parents asked about my last weeks of term.  I knew the easy thing would be to tell either the complete truth or a complete lie, but somehow neither seemed right.  Telling them an outright lie seemed deeply wrong.  They are, after all, my parents and have some right to know what is going on in my life.  In addition, it felt unfair to keep them ignorant of a situation that might potentially endanger all of us.  Malfoy had said that the mudbloods would be the first to go.   Also I could not completely shake my early lessons that honesty is the best policy. 

 

But I know that knowledge can do nothing to change my parents' vulnerability.  Telling them everything would worry and possibly endanger them to no purpose.  They could not protect me or alter the situation in any way.  They are utterly helpless against a wizard.

 

And sometimes, when I am honest with myself, I consider that if they knew they would forbid my return to Hogwarts.  I am unwilling to abandon the wizarding world.

 

So I settled for the middle ground.  I told them a slightly edited version of the story that minimized both the danger and my friends' involvement.  I felt rather guilty about it but I concluded that it was an inevitable feeling regardless of what story I told. 

 

In addition to the guilt, it was a strain to hide my worry and pretend everything was normal.  I quickly came to the conclusion that the trick of being a great liar was not having a great imagination, but having a good memory and acting skills.  It is a difficult thing to convince the two people you have known all your life that nothing exceptional is happening when in fact you know a very dark and dangerous time is fast approaching. 

 

I escaped to my room to rest and conserve emotional energy at frequent intervals by claiming the need to complete summer homework assignments.  While it lasted, I found the normality of studying and writing to be very comforting.  Unfortunately, the homework assigned was barely enough to fill a week. 

By the end of the second week my fingers had begun to itch with an urge to write and my eyes to water for lack of words to read.  So I embarked on a secondary project for the summer:  correspondence.

 

In our last conversation, I had told Viktor that, considering recent events, I would be unable to visit him.  As consolation I promised to write often. However, upon arriving home, I discovered I had nothing to write about.  I could tell him about the trip on the Hogwarts Express, my discussions with my parents, or the homework I had just completed, but the minute it was written on parchment it sounded trite, whiny, and incredibly boring.  I decided to take a bath to organize my thoughts and upon turning on the faucet I was struck by inspiration.  I could write letters about life as a Muggle.  Not only would they be interesting; they would be educational.

 

With this thought in mind I quickly churned out a roll of parchment about dental floss, complete with footnotes and a small sample.  Feeling galvanized by my summer's first feat of letter writing, I sent a copy to Ron for good measure. After all, I hadn't written him either and it would never do to neglect a friend. 

 

I received replies from both wizards within the week.  Viktor thanked me for my letter and promised to write me about aspects of the wizarding world I might not have yet encountered.  His also included a very well written essay on the Loquacious curse, a nasty spell that makes it impossible for the target to stop talking.   Ron's reply was a comical plea about how he had enough homework already without having his letter writing turn into more.  This sent us both off on tangents and teasing that provided us with ample writing material to keep owls flying for the whole summer.

 

As the weeks passed I began to notice a peculiar pattern.  While I enjoyed the well thought out and often lengthy missives from Viktor, it was the rapidly scrawled lines from Ron I reread.  It saddened me that Ron and I could maintain a lively barrage of letters about nothing, but Viktor and I had so little to write to one another. Perhaps this was simply because I knew Ron better.

 

However, even frequent letters did not make the summer relaxing. It felt like the quiet before the storm. The fact that the storm never hit actually made the suspense worse. The Daily Prophet never reported anything about You-Know-Who or Death Eaters. The disappearances of relatively unimportant people were ascribed to Sirius Black.  The only vaguely exciting thing that happened was receiving a letter from Dumbledore warning me not to open any packages from unknown senders and to inform him immediately it I received one.  However since I received nothing out of the ordinary, this only heightened the tension.  Even the train ride to Hogwarts was executed without the heretofore considered to be necessary confrontation with Draco Malfoy.

 

<*><*><*>

 

The first thing I noticed upon entering the school was a woman attempting to stand officiously near the door. She should have looked ordinary.  There was nothing exceptional about her shoulder length straight brown hair, her hazel eyes, or her dark gray robes, but somehow she looked out of place.  Perhaps it was because she was standing so awkwardly that she obviously felt out of place herself.  

 

"Oh no," Ron exclaimed with resigned amusement. "There's our new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor."

 

 As if she had heard Ron's words, the unnamed woman fastened bespectacled eyes on us. She twitched her shoulders in an unsuccessful attempt to relax herself and hurried over to engage us in conversation.

 

"Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ronald Weasley."  She sounded as if she was reading off a list.  "Hello my dear children.  I am Commissar Garret.  I am so glad you have returned safely."  Speaking seemed to calm her.  With every blustery word her voice became more even and her posture straightened.

 

"I know you are all properly grateful that the Ministry has worked tirelessly to ensure that Sirius Black does not hurt you in any way.  All this y-y-y-you-know-who nonsense.  I am certain you sweet children are wise enough to know the truth and sufficiently careful to avoid harm." Ron, Harry and I looked at each other with growing horror.  Perhaps her newfound confidence was not such a good thing. 

 

"The Minister of Magic himself has sent me to make sure that nothing happens at Hogwarts to compromise any of you precious children's security.  After all, we at the Ministry know that children are our future."  By this point in the speech all three of us were desperate for a way to end the conversation.  Our deliverance came from an unexpected source. 

 

"So Mr. Potter has decided that the latest meeting of his fan club is more important than the rest of our dinners." The dark voice of Professor Snape easily cut the thread of the woman's conversation and I realized with a start that, between the three trapped listeners and the other students who were taking advantage of the opportunity to eavesdrop, we had managed to completely block the hallway. "We must all wait on our resident celebrity." 

 

The minute Commissar Garret's speech ended she seemed to shrink into her previous discomfited self.  She stared after the Professor as he strode purposefully away.  Ron, Harry and I took advantage of her distraction to slip away to our seats at the Gryffindor table. 

 

"Blimey!  Was that woman reading off a cue card?"  Although I had to giggle in response, I felt that I could not completely let Ron get away with being so disrespectful to a possible new Professor.

 

"Now Ron, you should be grateful for her concern and dedication to ..." I searched for the appropriate euphemism.

 

"Making ridicules speeches?"  Harry finished for me. 

 

Yes, I was glad to be back at Hogwarts.

 

Letting the boys continue their banter, I looked up to the High Table and saw to my great relief that there was another new face. There could not be a greater difference between the two new women.  The second stranger practically radiated tranquility.  She had an open, motherly face framed with lively red curls, but her most distinguishing feature was her gray eyes that shone like twin moons.   I was greatly relieved when Professor Dumbledore introduced her as Ignia Antiope, the new DADA professor, after the opening feast.

 

<*><*><*>

 

I had always thought it was easier to adjust to small changes than large ones, but it only took one week back at Hogwarts to convince myself I was wrong.  It was hard to put my finger on it, but Hogwarts was different.  The students were subdued.  Laughter was a millisecond slower and softer.  Homework was done a tad more thoroughly and quietly.  And Slytherins were subtly more isolated and regarded with a bit of suspicion.  If the changes had been large, I could have adjusted quickly. But the slight changes gnawed at me.  I felt that I was always out of phase with everyone else.

 

The first few days of lessons were uneventful.  Every class began with a lecture about how we would be taking our O.W.L.s at the end of the year so we should study extra hard.  Professor Snape made the point most dramatically by claiming that, if we didn't know everything expected, the potions O.W.L. might be fatal.  This speech was probably responsible for Neville spectacularly blowing up his cauldron in a record time of fifty-seven seconds.

 

I tried not to be relieved that Professor Grubbly-Plank was substituting for Hagrid, who was undoubtedly on Hogwarts business.

 

By Thursday afternoon I was desperate for something, anything out of the ordinary to happen.  I felt as if one truly odd occurrence would release some of the tension.  The first Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson provided just this.

 

<*><*><*>

 

Professor Antiope began with a question.

 

"Good afternoon, class.  I was hoping to ask you for some advice."  I was not terribly impressed.  Wasn't she supposed to know more about her subject matter than a room full of fifth years?

 

"This afternoon the second year students provided me with an impressive demonstration of some dueling hexes.  Unfortunately my hat was used as a target and I fear it is no longer wearable.  I was wondering if any of you had some advice on how to return to its original state."  The hat in question was sitting on her desk.  It was bright pink, wobbling around the desk while attempting to dance and at random but frequent intervals it would shoot out bright sparks and attempt to sing.  I raised my hand up in the air.  I like easy questions and I learned the answer this one as a first year!  At the professor's indication that I should speak, I replied, "Cast Finite Incantatum, Professor."

 

She smiled calmly in response. "What a wonderful idea Miss..."

 

"Hermione Granger," I supplied.

 

"Would you please demonstrate?"

 

I walked confidently up to the front of the room and cast the spell.  To my surprise and disgust the only effect was to change the hat from pink to a flashing neon rainbow pattern.  How irritating.  I very rarely miscast spells.  However my second attempt only served to strengthen hat's singing voice.  My efforts to correct the problem seemed to be making it worse. 

 

Professor Antiope smiled sympathetically at me. "Well, my dear, you seem to be having the same problems I was."  I returned to my seat, my face burning with shame.  However I began to feel better when the other students who attempted to uncurse the hat had no better luck.  All told it was a frustrating ten minutes until Harry took his turn and succeeded in returning the hat to black. 

 

"Wonderful job, Mr. Potter.  May I ask how you managed to remove the curses my hat?"

 

Harry looked slightly bewildered.  "I didn't.  You said you wanted the hat returned to its original state so I cast a spell to dye it black."

 

The new DADA professor looked unruffled by this statement. "So you did not remove any of the curses or hexes?"

 

"No, Professor."

 

"Why not?"

 

Harry wrinkled his brow. "Because when other people tried it didn't work."

 

"Five points to Gryffindor.  Mr. Potter has just demonstrated one of the most important principles of defensive magic:  Be creative.  If you do not know the specific spell to accomplish a task, use one that will achieve a similar result."  She stood several moments to allow the supposed impact of this speech to sink in before she abruptly changed topics.

 

"When multiple spells are cast on an object, they do not remain separate but mesh and meld.  This had to duel effect of giving them interesting new properties and making them harder to remove."  We all pulled out papers and began to take notes.  The rest of the class went smoothly as she explained the interactive properties of some of the most common curses and hexes. 

 

My opinion of the new professor rose as the class continued.  It was possibly the least dramatic Defense Against the Dark Arts class I had ever attended, but I left the room feeling that I had learned the most.  I walked back to Gryffindor common room in an intellectual haze, musing on the myriad of possibilities presented by spell interactions.  I was therefore slightly startled when Professor McGonagall walked up and informed Harry, Ron, and I that the Headmaster wished to see us in his office.  

 

<*><*><*>

 

Authors note:  Thank you to Rugi for listening to me babble about story ideas for countless hours and to Amberdulen for untangling my convoluted prose.  This story would not be possible without you.

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