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2012 Writer's Duel: A New Kind of Love by HPFF United
Format: Short story collection
Chapter 16: Through a Mother's Eyes by megaaan
It’s always difficult, when your child leaves for their first day at school. I cannot help myself, and tears fill up in my eyes as my daughter proudly slips on her new black shoes and picks up her navy schoolbag. Her thick brown hair is pulled back and knotted by her neck, and she looks up proudly at me as she says goodbye.
“See you later, Mummy.”
There are no tears from her – no whispers that she wants to stay at home. I know that she is unusual in this, and that it should be her crying with me comforting her, but I had never prepared myself for that. I know my own daughter. She is always eager to learn, and I have no doubt that she will be fantastic at school. She is only in Reception, for heaven’s sake – and here I am acting as if she’s going to take her eleven plus! Any minute now I’ll be telling her that she should be proud of herself- although, I suppose she should be anyway, no matter what age she is.
I bend down so that she can give me a kiss goodbye, and all too soon she is out of the house. I stay outside, watching as she runs impatiently next to her father, and I can imagine her already asking how long it will take to walk; she wants to be there as soon as possible.
My hand is raised in a half wave long after they turn the corner and can no longer see me. A strangled laugh comes out of my mouth as I realise how silly I am being – after all, she will be back before long – it isn’t like she has gone off on a mission to save the world!
Shaking my head at my antics, I turn back into the house and towards the kitchen, where I make myself a nice cup of tea to calm my nerves.
When I manage to finish the ironing, it is twelve o’clock and almost time for me to pick up Hermione. As it is her first day, she is only staying until lunch time – but tomorrow she is free to stay the whole day if she wants to. She will, if I know anything about my daughter.
I am fifteen minutes early, but I catch sight of another mum who is also early and we make small conversation before our children are let out. At exactly twelve thirty – when we had been joined by many other parents – the door opens and a small group of four year olds stream out, straight towards their mothers. Hermione is the last, still talking to the teacher.
They make their way over to me slowly, and I stand still, resisting the urge to meet them halfway. The woman introduces herself.
“Hello – you must be Hermione’s mum! I’m Miss Smith, her teacher for this year,” she starts, and proceeds to tell me that my daughter has already shown a keen interest in learning, and has left the school with three books from the Reception book box.
“Don’t feel pressured to return them,” she finishes. “Not many four-year-olds are this keen on reading – she can keep them as long as she wants!”
Hermione chatters to me the whole way home.
“Most of the people in my class don’t even want to read or write – they just want to play in the sandpit!” she exclaims indignantly.
“Well,” I reply, “some people enjoy playing – like you enjoy learning. And other people don’t like learning at all!” I glance up to the rear-view mirror so I can see her eyes widening in horror, and I stifle a grin.
“But if they don’t learn things, then how do they know things?”
“I don’t know, Milly. I don’t know.”
She changes the subject abruptly, frowning slightly at the nickname.
“Mummy, what school did you go to?”
“Well darling, I went to Barnsdale Primary School – which was where I used to live. I went to a secondary school nearby too – Simmons.”
“Will I go to the same secondary school as you?” I blink, surprised.
“No dear – Barnsdale is a long way away from here.”
“Which secondary school will I go to, then?”
“Darling,” I sigh, “that’s a long way away. I haven’t even thought about where you’re going to go.”
All too soon, Hermione is acing her eleven plus, and is preparing to take the exam for Ashford High School. She is in her room all the time, and I am sent out to the library weekly with a list of books to collect for her. I don’t know what she has found to revise – as far as I know, her friends who are also taking the exam are spending their weekends playing, and haven’t done so much as read through a book. I question her on this, and she replies “Well they won’t get the scholarship then, will they?”
She is right – and is the only girl from her year to get the scholarship into Ashford High. I ask her where she would like to eat as a celebration, and she suggests the nearby pub. I agree readily, and she immediately retreats to her room so that she can read some more – or prepare for the beginning of the term. I follow her upstairs, and find her curled up on her bed, a book in her hand.
“Milly?” I knew she hated the nickname, but I couldn’t help it. She rolls her eyes briefly, before looking up at me. “Would you like to bring a friend with you for the meal?”
“No thanks,” she replies, her eyes sinking down again to the pages of her book, and I ask again before she can become immersed in it.
“Are you sure?”
Her eyes meet mine, and I know that she wants more than anything to say ‘Actually mum, do you mind if I bring two?’ just so that I can feel reassured. I know that she doesn’t mind at all that she doesn’t have anyone to bring – her friends are her books, and she’s happy like that – but I worry for her all the same. I wonder how she isn’t incredibly lonely, without anyone to talk to – and I wonder if it really does bother her but she’s just trying to hide it.
“Positive,” she replies, and I give her a weak smile as she returns to the book which is clasped in her hands.
I break down later that night, tears dripping off my chin as my husband wraps an arm around me.
“What if she never has any friends and she’s alone throughout her life?” I whisper, pushing back images of my daughter, my beautiful daughter living alone when she is older – with no friends at school or at university – always the last to be picked for any sort of game – sitting alone at lunch – living with seven cats and a library in her house when her hair is grey and her eyes are drooping.
Tim is confused, but he tries to comfort me nonetheless.
“She’ll be fine – don’t worry! She’s going to Ashford now, where there will be loads of girls her age who enjoy learning just as much as she does. She’ll make friends easily!”
It is the next day, a Saturday, when I am writing to Ashford High – accepting the scholarship and stating that Hermione will be attending the school in September – that there is a knock on the door. Not expecting a visitor, I open it carefully – to see an older witch with grey hair and a thick envelope clamped in her left hand. She extends the right one, and I shake it.
“Minerva McGonagall – Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. May I come in?”
She brushes past me, and I am left with my arm still extended, my eyebrows crunched together and my mouth opening and closing. Hogwarts School of what?
It is dark outside when she leaves, and her face is lit only by the light from the hallway as she says goodbye. I go straight back to the sitting room, where I had left Hermione. She is still in the same position – her head on her knees and her eyes focussed on the door.
“So...” I begin, unsure of where this conversation is going to go.
“Can I go?” Her voice is barely a whisper, but I know that she wants this more than anything else.
“I need to talk to your dad first, although I don’t know how I’m going to convince him that I’m not telling him a load of rubbish... Mrs McGonagall could at least demonstrate the magic... darling, I don’t suppose you can do anything to prove to him? I know you said you’ve done strange things before, but I’ve never seen anything...”
“He’s already seen me do it.”
“What- he’s seen you do magic? How? When?” I cannot help myself – I’m almost jealous.
“I didn’t tell you because I didn’t know what it was, and I knew you’d be angry,” she stops talking, and then carries on under my searching glance. “It was last year, I think, and I was going to make myself a hot chocolate. I went to get a mug and accidentally dropped your favourite one on the floor where it broke – wait, let me finish,” she adds quickly as my eyebrows rise up my forehead. “Daddy heard the crash and came in, but before either of us could pick up the pieces they all started moving towards each other and slotting into place...and before we knew it, your mug was sitting as good as new on the floor.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“What would I say?” she laughs. “Hey, mum – I just broke your favourite mug, but don’t worry! It fixed itself and is now good as new!”
I join in with her laughter, agreeing that it might not have been the best thing to tell me. Later on, as I tuck her into bed, I lean down and whisper in her ear.
“You can go.”
It feels like she is four again, and I am sending her off to school for the first time – and I realise that I will feel this way every time something happens in her life. When she was very young I had her tightly wrapped up in my arms, and every time something happens – her first word; her first step; her first day at school – I had to let go of her a tiny bit. I know that the same feeling will come when she has her first boyfriend; when she moves out; when she gets married and has children – and all of a sudden my fears from the previous night are gone. I know that she will have friends at this school. I know that she will fit in.
When I reach the kitchen, I see the half-written letter to Ashford High. With a smile, I crunch it up in my hand and lob it behind my head. I laugh out loud when I turn around to find it has somehow gone straight into the bin behind me, and begin scribbling out another letter, this time declining the scholarship and her place at the High School. I didn’t worry about Tim – I knew he would agree with me and do whatever is best for our daughter.
All three of us wake up early on the morning of September the first. Hermione, who has read every book we bought for her at least twice, already knows the ins and outs of Hogwarts – from its entire history to (more importantly for us) exactly how to get on to Platform 9 ¾ .
Fortunately, we get there in good time and have no trouble in getting onto the platform – although we do waste about ten minutes once we get there, in awe of the witches and wizards surrounding us and the clothes they are wearing and their movements. Eventually, we drag our eyes away long enough for us to put Hermione safely on the train with her luggage.
We wave her off cheerfully, and then she is gone. I won’t see her until Christmas, and then she will leave again.
“So, for seven years – and most of her teenage life – we will see our only daughter twice a year,” Tim states, as we slowly walk back to the car.
“Why are we sending her away again?”
He stops walking, and places a kiss on the top of my head.
“Because it’s what she wants.”
Her first letter comes two days later – delivered by owl as she said it would be. She had started it on the train and it contained her excitement about her arrival, as well as which house she had been sorted into (besides which is a list of all four houses and their stereotypical qualities). I smile at her passion and enthusiasm, which I have never seen directed so strongly at something other than her books, and I know we have made the right choice.
I reply immediately, and we swap letters at least twice a week. I learn in great detail what her lessons have been like, and her observations of the people in her year and – specifically – her house.
It is November when I receive the best letter to date.
Dear Mummy and Daddy,
You will be pleased to know that I have made some new friends. Harry Potter and Ron Weasley – do you recognise their names from my previous letters? Harry has been brought up as a muggle like I was, and so we have that in common. Ron is his best friend, and the one who likes to play chess a lot. About a week ago, we helped each other out of a rather sticky situation, and since then we have become quite close. I help them with their work, which they appreciate – and even if they get on my nerves a bit, I think they might grow to be very close to me.
The letter continues, but I stop reading there – tears of happiness streaming down my face. Tim chooses that moment to walk into the kitchen, and stops short at my face and the parchment in my hands.
“What is it? Jean – what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I sob. “Nothing’s wrong at all.”
In her first year, she comes back every holiday bursting to tell us everything that has happened. She spends great detail on describing the library and the lesson plans, and not much on what she does with her two friends when they aren’t working.
“Oh, just stuff,”
When this is met with a raised eyebrow and a questioning look, she expands slightly.
“Ron and Harry play a lot of wizard’s chess – and Harry has to practice for Quidditch as he’s on the team. I spend a lot of time in the library or the common room, studying.”
I can’t shake the feeling that she is hiding something, but I ignore it – asking for the seventh time what the point is to the game Quidditch.
However, she stays at school over the Christmas holidays in her second year. She tells us in one of her weekly letters that she has the option of staying, and she wants to – so she can stay with her friends and continue studying, as she wants to get the best marks possible in her exams. I write back immediately, reminding her that her exams are in six months, not six weeks – surely she could spare the holidays to come back and see us?
Her next letter worries me. It has been scribbled hastily on a scrap of parchment and says “I have something important to do at school. Mummy, there are some things I haven’t told you about the Wizarding world, and what has happened over the past year. I promise I will explain everything when I can, but I don’t think it is right to do it all in a letter. I’m looking forward to seeing you in the summer.”
We don’t force her to come home for the holidays.
Sometimes I worry that we are giving her too much freedom, and that perhaps we should insist on her coming home. At the same time, however, I know that this must be important – or she wouldn’t have stayed. I also know that she wants to tell us, and that we will know everything in the summer holidays.
In the end, we see her before the holidays – although not in the way we would want to. We get a visit from Professor McGonagall in March, early on a Saturday. She tells us that our daughter has been petrified – but that a potion is being made to revive her. She also says that she is very lucky to be alive - if she looked directly into the eyes of this snake, she would have died.
The professor takes us to the school, but we are unable to take in the magic and the beauty of it – all we want is to see Hermione, and for her to be alright.
We think that we are prepared, but we aren’t. I am expecting it to look like she is asleep – like she is peaceful. Not for her eyes to be open, her legs to be bent and her arm to be pointing upwards. Her skin is waxy and pale, and her eyes are glassy and unseeing. She is like a statue, and so unlike my daughter that I break down by her bedside, tears streaming down my face and dripping from the end of my nose to her arm - which my hands are clasped around – and a feeling of utter hopelessness washes over me. I don’t know what I can do to help, or if there is anything at all which will make this situation better.
Eventually Tim drags me back home, and we get a letter three months later which is written in Hermione’s neat hand, saying that she has fully recovered and is looking forward to seeing us in the next few weeks. I am tempted to contact one of the Professors so that we can see her immediately – but Tim refrains me. After all, the summer holidays are extremely close.
When she finally arrives home, she takes us through to the living room, and sits us down on the sofa before settling opposite us.
“The first thing I will say is that I can’t tell you everything.”
I open my mouth to protest, but shut it again quickly as she ignores me and continues speaking.
“However, I will tell you all that I can.”
Here, she begins her shortened version of the past two years – including how she really became friends with Ron and Harry, and a vague description of why she couldn’t come home at Christmas. When she has finished explaining why ‘Voldemort’ wants to kill Harry, we continue to stare at her, our eyes wide and our jaws slack.
“So, this Voldemort bloke is trying to kill your best friend, and doesn’t care who he murders in the process – especially you, for not having magical blood?” Tim asks.
She stiffens, thinking that we will take her away from Hogwarts, and to a muggle school where she will be safe. I don’t blame her, I have half a mind to – but I can’t, and I won’t. Magic – and Hogwarts – are the only things that have ever truly made her happy, and given her friends. I know that we will never be able to bring ourselves to take them away from her, and I wonder briefly if this makes us good or bad parents.
“That’s the gist of it, yes.”
“Then will you promise us one thing?” I speak, finally. “I want to know exactly what is going on, all the time. I want you to write to us weekly, telling us what has happened – not only in your results, although we love to hear that – but what is happening elsewhere in the Wizarding world, and how you are involved.”
She breathes out slowly.
“I think I can promise that, yes.”
We don’t see much of Hermione over the next few years. She spends most of her time at school, and with the Weasley family at Christmas and much of the summer too. I mind – of course, I mind – but she sends us her lengthy letters weekly, and this satisfies our thirst for knowledge of what she is doing. She also has the Wizarding newspaper sent to us by owl each morning, so that we know exactly what is going on. In her letters, she tells us which articles to believe, and which we will have to read into to discover any truth.
We are happy that she is so obviously enjoying herself, but we can’t pretend that sometimes we wish she had never got her entrance letter to Hogwarts. Not only do we never see her, but she is in so much danger – most of which she is hiding from us, I’m sure.
In her fifth year at Hogwarts, she starts signing her letters ‘Milly,’ as opposed to ‘Hermione’. This upsets me more than I ever thought it would – she’s always hated that nickname. Absolutely detested it; even though I’ve used it since she was born. She said that it’s a ‘silly, girly name – and not very practical at all’. I stopped using it after she went to Hogwarts – I felt that she had finally grown out of it – and seeing her sign it at the bottom of her letters makes me feel that she wants to be babied again – like she’s almost afraid of growing up. I begin to address my letters to Milly, and use her nickname when I’m talking to Tim. I assume that if she uses it, then finally I am also allowed to.
We receive a letter towards the end of her sixth year, saying that she has been invited to the wedding of Ron’s brother. It is in the summer holidays, and so she will be spending a few days at The Burrow, but she wants to spend the rest of the holidays with us. That’s fine by us – it will be the first time we’ve seen her in a year, and so the more time she has with us, the better.
Hermione has been home for a while now, and she is preparing to go to The Burrow tomorrow, for the wedding. I have picked out a pretty dress for her to wear, and she looks gorgeous in it; so grown up! I feel like my little girl has finally disappeared, and a fully grown woman has taken her place, and I am upset I haven’t been able to watch her grow up.
She is nervous. I know something sinister is happening in her world – more than she is letting on – but I refrain myself from asking. If she hasn’t told us, then it is safer for us not to know.
I dish up the roast – chicken, her favourite – and call her down for dinner. I go into the living room to get Tim, but am distracted briefly by the television programme he is watching, about Australia.
My senses and memories become foggy, and I feel weak. I sit on the arm of Tim’s chair, and wait for my dizziness to pass – which it does, in due time. I feel as though I have forgotten to do something important, and I cannot for the life of me remember what it was.
“Why don’t we move to Australia?” Tim asks, out of the blue. “We’ve always wanted to – and anyway, what’s stopping us?”
The idea floods my mind, invading my head and I agree immediately – even though there is something nagging at the back of my head. It is probably something unimportant, and I shrug it off.
“Nothing’s stopping us, dear. Nothing at all.”