She was asleep within an hour. Her eyes were red and puffy; face glistening with tears. Harry lay her back on the bed and pulled the covers over her when she began to shiver.
It was haunting. She had been upset before, but in the almost seven years that he had known her, Hermione had never hung around when she cried. This time she clung to him for almost an hour.
Harry leaned against the door frame after quietly shutting the door. What is tomorrow going to bring? His shirt was soaked and sticking to the wall.
Unsticking himself, he headed for his room where he knew that Ron was snoring away, oblivious to the trauma that was going on in the room just down the hall. Ginny would be curled up in a corner, continuing to worry, even in her dreams, about Hermione.
Harry never got to his room though. The sounds of whispered voices and a door opening downstairs caught his attention. Stealing down the hall, Harry walked into a scene that was the last from his mind.
“Tell her that it is imperative that we meet as soon as she can get away for an hour or two,” said Dumbledore quietly. The recipient of the message was the same darkly cloaked person that Harry had seen Professor McGonagall escort in earlier. The face was still shadowed. The hooded head inclined slightly. Dumbledore thanked the person. With another slight nod, the person left and Dumbledore and McGonagall were left staring at each other in the most peculiar way.
“Do you really think—”
“No,” Dumbledore interrupted. “I know that he was lying.” Oh, so it wasn’t the woman that they talked about before, Harry thought to himself. “She would never say that she couldn’t get away if I called for her. She and I have an understanding that has lasted over twenty years.”
“Then why would she not come?”
Dumbledore briefly dropped his eyes to the floor. “I don’t think it was a matter of will. I fully believe that she would have come if she could…”
“I think she didn’t come because she can’t.” There was a long pause. Professor McGonagall seemed to have a hard time soaking it in.
“I don’t understand, Albus. You said that you both had agreed that if one of us ever presented—”
“I know, Minerva, I know. If she can’t come…” he trailed off into thought.
What did Professor Dumbledore give Professor McGonagall to take to the centaurs?
Dumbledore spoke again, “Come, Minerva. We have much to do.” Though she looked only slightly confused, Professor McGonagall said nothing and followed Dumbledore into the foyer, pulled on a black traveling cloak and disappeared through the door.
* * * * * * * * * *
Harry woke to soft prodding in his side. “I’m getting up, Aunt Petunia. Just give me a moment,” he slurred still half asleep. But when he rolled over and opened his eyes, it wasn’t Aunt Petunia that greeted him. Ginny was staring over him with a funny look on her face.
“What?” He was waking up more, and Ginny continued to look like she was about to burst with laughter. “What?!” he asked much more awake.
“It’s just….” she started to giggle. “Your face looked so funny.” Her giggles soon turned to laughter. If Harry hadn’t found his pillow so comfortable it would have been in her face. He sighed. This was going to be a long day.
“Is Hermione awake?” he asked trying to stop her laughing.
“Not that I know of. Mum said something like Dumbledore had left a note that she had woken up a little before midnight but she was back asleep and for us to leave her alone until she wakes.” He heard the disappointment in her voice.
“Oh, okay.” She looked at him strangely. “Now what?” She frowned a little.
“You said that too casually. You, who have been crazy about her being hurt, just said okay to not being able to see her until she wakes again.”
“I was not crazy!” he said a little loud. She rolled her eyes and muttered something under her breath.
“Anyway, you need to get dressed. It’s almost nine, and Lupin still wants to get some practice in before tomorrow.” He nodded.
“Alright, I’m coming.” She left with a small smile. Great, I get to study on my birthday.
Harry walked into the dining room hoping to find some food still on the table before another session with Remus. Instead he was greeted with the explosion of twelve people shouting at the top of their lungs, “SURPRISE!!!!”
“Happy 17th mate!” Ron said with a huge grin, clapping him on the back and pushed Harry to the table. He sat down in front of the most scrumptious looking breakfast in his life.
Maybe today wasn’t going to be so gloomy.
* * * * * * * * * *
Hermione woke to an extremely loud shout of Surprise, and at first, she didn’t know where she was, but the lapse in memory was short felt.
She began to sit up. Slowly. Trying to keep from having her head spin like it had done before. She closed her eyes pushing herself upright and waited for the nauseating spinning to begin.
She opened her eyes again and found the room to be exactly as it had been that night. No one had come in after she had fallen asleep. Her sight was a little blurry and she rubbed her eyes to clear them, only to feel the salt residue from her tears all over her cheeks.
The crying is done, she told herself, no more.
Hermione moved on to the next step: standing up. Pushing the covers back, she slid her legs over the edge of the bed and paused. She didn’t feel as weak as she did before. Her feet touched the cold wood floor. More weight and still everything was fine. No jelly-like feelings yet.
Even more weight. It felt like everything was going well. And no dizziness either. She pushed herself up to her full height and grabbed the nightstand for support. It was fine. She let go and stood up straight. She felt normal. Nothing different than before…
I’m not going to think about that, she told her self as involuntary tears started to sting her eyes. She shivered. It was freezing. If she had half a mind she would have gone back to bed, but she had something to do.
Now, step three: walk to the door. She actually made it to the end of the bed before she had to grab on to anything for support. So much for being fine. But this will have to do.
Hermione made it passed the door on her second try, and leaned on the wall for support as she made her way to the stairs.
Hermione hadn’t really known what to expect when she opened the door to the dining room. But she was nearly brought to tears when she cracked the door open and saw thirteen people having the time of their lives. Her predicament had not held their lives back. They were smiling and having fun. It wasn’t until that moment that Hermione knew how much she feared that her attack would affect others. This one room of people, full of those dearest to her, proved that she had no need to worry.
She spotted Harry at the head of the table smiling and laughing with Ron, Ginny, the twins, and Remus. The tears that had threatened to escape her eyes broke through. He was still happy. It was his birthday and he was enjoying it to the fullest. For the first time in four days, Hermione smiled.
She hadn’t even realized how long she had been standing there, but someone shouted her name and it tore her from her thoughts. The next moment, she found herself engulfed in Ginny’s embrace.
She immediately returned the embrace. Neither of them released each other for quite some time. Hermione didn’t need to see Ginny’s face to know that she was crying, and she didn’t even try to hold her own tears back.
Harry stood unsure of what to do. Ron was next to him in shock. It looked as though he was just waiting for Ginny to move so that he could take her place.
It didn’t help that nearly every other person in the room was silently crying as well. It took all of Harry’s strength to control his emotions. He also had tears stinging his eyes.
Ginny finally pulled back and Hermione took the girl’s face in her hands. “I’m alright, Gin,” she told her. “I’m alright, Ginny,” she repeated with tears still running down her face.
As soon as Ginny stepped away, Hermione was taken up in new arms. A pair that she was quite familiar with. Ron held her for several moments. “Don’t ever do that to me again, Hermione,” he whispered in her ear.
Soon there wasn’t any separation from who hugged her. When she was finally clear from Mrs. Weasley’s embrace, Harry noticed that she had never left the doorframe and was leaning against it. He frowned. She was putting on a show.
“You must be starving, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said while wiping her tears. It wasn’t one of those statements that had an expected answer. Hermione was soon shuffled to the table and food was placed on her plate. Harry grinned. This was a perfect birthday.
* * * * * * * * * *
The Dark Lord was angry. Although his Death Eaters had faced Dumbledore and killed that French witch, they had failed disgustingly. No harm was to come those beasts. They are extremely resistant to his will. It would take at least another two weeks to find enough to replace those that were killed and even longer to force them into his slavery. His followers would feel his wrath when they returned. This also made his plans behind schedule. Another atrocity that they would pay for.
Damn that Mudblood! She had killed his most faithful follower. If Bella were still here he would not have had to mess about dealing out punishments. She would have gladly do it for him. Of course he did have Malfoy, but no other Death Eater was as efficient in dealing out pain that Bella was. The Seer had said nothing of the mudblood’s power. That piece of information cost him dearly.
It was a pity he couldn’t kill the Seer. But the information that the Seer could give him was invaluable. Soon, though. Soon he would be able to kill the Seer. He would have all the information he needed to get the Mudblood and to kill Potter. And the pleasure he would receive from torturing then killing the Seer would be beyond measure.
Footsteps behind him echoed softly, breaking him out of his thoughts. “My Lord,” Malfoy called.
“What is it Lucius?”
“The two Death Eaters who survived the encounter have come. They have brought three of the beasts with them.” The Dark Lord scowled. The imbeciles.
“Kill them.” Malfoy gave a curt nod and there was no mistaking the smirk of pleasure that graced his face. The Dark Lord did have to admit, Lucius was the best of his followers when it came to killing. Swift, yet still as cruel as ever. He didn’t try to show off by causing pain like the others did. He followed orders to the letter. Something Bella had a problem with.
At least he only had to break one extra beast rather than four.
* * * * * * * * * *
The party had been the best of Harry’s life. Fred and George got him a batch of their brand new products that they hadn’t put on the line yet, along with a restock for the Skiving Snackboxes and other assorted school disrupting products that they had come up with in the last few years. Ron had gotten him a load of sugar quills, exploding snap games, and a Chudly Cannons t-shirt with the figures of the players on brooms. When dirty, the players would yell out insults at you. Mad Eye and Tonks each gave him a set of So, You Want To Be An Auror? books. And Ginny got him a new watch, since his broke the last time he met up with Voldemort.
But Remus’s had to be the most mysterious gifts he had ever gotten. It was a large yellow envelope that seemed to be stuffed with something soft. “Don’t open it until later. I would like some time to explain them to you, alone,” Lupin told him as Harry stared at him in confusion. He nodded and set the large envelope next to his pile of sugar quills.
Hermione had sat in the large chair in the corner watching as Harry opened his gifts. It was after opening Ginny’s gift that he sensed that he was being watched. He flashed her a grin when he saw her watching him. But she didn’t smile back. She merely nodded and motioned for him to continue. When he was done with them all and Mrs. Weasley began to clear the table, he turned back to the chair only to find it empty.
When did she sneak out? Excusing himself from the room on the pretext that he needed to put all his stuff in his room, Harry went in search of Hermione. What could have made her leave?
He started upstairs so as to drop off his gifts. She wasn’t anywhere on the second floor. He tried the third only to find the rooms empty. All that was left was the main floor. He decided to start his search in the back of the house.
He didn’t have to look any further. The fire was lit, and her head was lying on the chair arm.
“Hermione?” he called quietly. She didn’t stir. “Hermione?” he called a bit louder. She still didn’t respond. She must be asleep again. He made it to the door, when a muffled sob stopped him. He tiptoed back to the chair and hesitated before kneeling down in front of her. One look at her eyes and he embraced her.
Startled by his sudden appearance, she didn’t even have time to wipe her face. But she welcomed his warm embrace. After a few minutes, he broke away and gazed at her.
“What were you thinking about?” he asked her. She wiped her tears with the back of her hand before answering.
“My parents,” she choked out. “I was just th-thinking of…” Her sobs started again. She tried to muffle them in the chair, but soon found herself muffling them in Harry’s shoulder. It seemed like hours before she stopped again. She pulled away, determined that this was the last time that she would cry in front of him.
“I’m sorry, Harry,” she said while wiping her tears.
“Sorry for what?” She had nothing to be sorry for. Harry didn’t understand, and probably never would, why girls always apologize for things that were not their fault or had no reason to be apologized for.
“For everything.” Hermione couldn’t really think of anything specific to apologize for. Everything seemed to work better. She glanced at his face and was rewarded with a confused and worried looking friend.
“Everything? What’s that supposed to mean?” She was about to answer, but he cut her off. “You’re safe, Hermione. That’s all that matters to me. You’ve got nothing to apologize for.”
“I know, but…” This time she was cut off by her mouth being covered by his hand.
“No buts, Hermione.” She just stared at him with her dark brown eyes. Her gaze didn’t leave his eyes, and for some reason he couldn’t bring himself to look away. There was something about her gaze. Something in her eyes that made him glued to that spot. There was so much emotion in her eyes. Sadness…
No it wasn’t sadness. It was beyond sadness. It was a look of… of… misery seemed to fit the look the best. And there was anger. A lot of anger. Exhaustion; confusion. Then there was something else. Something deep within her eyes that made his spine feel cold.
She looked away.
Harry was suddenly aware of how close he had gotten and he quickly backed away. He was on the verge of apologizing when someone cleared their throat. It was Lupin.
“I was hoping, Harry, that you could open your present,” he said.
“Yeah, sure.” He looked back down to Hermione, but her gaze had moved to the fire. “If you need anything, just call.” She nodded without moving her gaze, and he followed Lupin out to the hall.
“Is she alright?” he asked as soon as Harry had shut the door. He shook his head.
“I don’t know. She seemed fine at breakfast. But…I just wish that there was more that I could do for her.” Remus nodded and they walked on a little in silence.
“Where did you put the envelope?” he finally asked.
“Oh. I put it in my room. I didn’t know that you wanted to go over it so soon.”
“That’s fine. Your room sounds good. Ron and Ginny got stuck helping the twins clean up the kitchen.” They went up the stairs in silence. His bed was piled with his presents, but he had set aside the envelope for later.
Pushing aside the small pile, Remus sat at the foot of the bed and waited for Harry to open it. He unwound the string and lifted the flap. He certainly didn’t expect to find parchment.
“It’s a bunch of letters and notes that Lily wrote to James and to one of her friends.” These were his mother’s? Harry pulled out the large stack and stared at the blue curvy ink that filled the pages. These were the letters that his mother wrote to his father.
“This…this is the greatest, Remus.” His old professor beamed. “Thank you so much.”
“You’re very welcome, Harry.”
“Where did you find these?” he asked while sifting through the papers. The ink seemed to alternate between his mothers curvy blue and his fathers sloppy black. But there were a few notes and letters between his mother and someone with the initial V.
“Actually, I didn’t find them. They were sent to me.” Harry looked at him.
“Who sent them?” Whoever it was with the initial V had really fine handwriting. It was hard to place, but he could have sworn that he had seen something like it before.
“I’m not entirely sure. But I remember that this same stack of letters was given to Lily at the wedding. I just can’t place who it was.” Harry skimmed through a few of the notes. Whoever V was, they certainly seemed to be one of his mother’s best friends.
“I’ll leave you to read through them.” With that he left Harry completely absorbed in the records of him mum and dad.
It was freezing. That was why Hermione left the party. She was beginning to feel numb from it. It was like she had been dumped into a bath of ice. It was cold upstairs, but as soon as she hit the bottom step the temperature dropped so much that she gasped unable to breath for a second. She had forgotten about being cold as soon as she had seen all the people in the dining room, but sitting in the chair, it all came back to her like an icy breeze.
The hearth in the back lounge still had red coals burning; she just had to stir it up a bit and lay a few logs on before she had a roaring fire. When she curled up in the chair the waves of warmth from the flames quickly spread over her like a blanket. She let her mind drift as she stared into the fire. Visions of her childhood came flashing in front of her eyes, as if the flames served as a screen for the memories that were passing before her.
* * * * * * * * * *
She was only three and she had the chicken pox. Her mother was rubbing some pink cream on her chest. It was smelly and sticky. Janis was humming while struggling with the squirming little girl.
“I know it smells bad, honey, but this will help the itchy spots go away.”
“I don’t wanna! It’s sticky and yucky!” screeched the little girl. Her mother continued to hum while the little girl finally gave up and laid still. She stared at the flames in the hearth and felt a great sense of comfort in the warmth that it gave her. Before long she had fallen asleep to the mesmerizing flames and her mother’s soft humming.
“I don’t want to go to school, dad!” cried an eight-year-old Hermione. Peter just sighed and continued to force an arm through the sleeve of a purple coat.
“Why don’t you want to go to school, Hermione?” her mother asked when she brought the girl her lunch.
“All the other kids make fun of me!” Her dad looked surprised.
“Why would they make fun of you?” Her parents didn’t understand. The other kids didn’t like her hair or that she was so quick to pick up on all that the teacher gave them to do.
“They…they make fun of my hair.” Both her parents hugged her.
“Your hair is lovely, dear. Just ignore them.” Her mum told her.
“But they make fun of me because I am smarter than them!” she cried while clinging to her father.
“That is nothing to worry about, honey,” her dad said. “They’re just jealous. Now, off you go. The bus will be at the corner any minute.” The both hugged her extra long and whispered “I love you” in her ear before she got out the door.
The little girl had to give up. Her parents would never understand. She tromped off to the corner, where some of the other girls in her class were waiting. One last thought crossed her mind before climbing on the bus: Should she have told her parents that she had somehow set a girl’s homework on fire by only looking at it?
A ten-year-old Hermione was lying in daisy field in the middle of summer in Scotland. Her parents were off somewhere setting up a picnic. She was supposed to help, but the sight of all the green grass through the window of the car seemed to call to her. She burst out of the van the moment her mother opened the door. They called to her, but she ignored them. Their voices were quickly drowned out by the wind in her ears. She was running as fast as she could. The daisy blossoms became blurs as she rushed past them. She stopped when she came to a lone oak tree. The tallest she had ever seen. Old too, by the look of the gnarled bark and twisted limbs. It made her feel sad. It looked as though it was once a beautiful tree; standing tall and important. Now it was broken and sick.
She picked a spot under the shade of the tree and closed her eyes. Every once in a while she took a deep breath just to take in the scent of the field. It was wonderful. For the first time in her life, under that old oak tree, Hermione felt peaceful. The long grass and tall daisy flowers tickled her nose and bare legs. But she was so relaxed that it seemed like a friendly caress. All the troubles of school; all her whims of being lonely seemed to go away for those few minutes. She wasn’t alone. Everywhere around her she could hear the whispers of the wind between the grass and the flowers. Even the creeks and groans of the old oak in the wind felt as though it was trying to speak to her. To tell her all was well.
Then she saw it. The old oak. Standing tall and proud as it might have been so long ago. It glowed in the setting sun. There were no houses in the distance. Nor faint echoes of her parent’s calls to her. It was only she and the oak. Her long bushy hair whipped about her face in the breeze. It felt warm and soothing on her skin. She was with the oak and the wind, the daisies and the grass. She was surrounded, and she felt loved.
The vision passed from her sight as suddenly as it came to her. Her parents had caught up with her. She didn’t open her eyes until she felt their shadow fall over her. Their faces showed no anger or frustration at her leaving. The basket and blanket were in hand. Her mother smiled at her.
“This looks like a perfect spot, Hermione.” The two of them sat down next to her. For hours they just talked and ate. They were together under the shade of the old oak, all the cares of their lives outside the boarders of the oak didn’t seem to matter, and all was well.
* * * * * * * * * *
The image of her mother smiling at her father on that wonderful summer day faded from the flames. Tears were silently making there way down her cheeks. That day in the field was one of the best of her life. It was only she and her parents. It was the one time that she could remember that there was a connection between the three of them. Like each of them could tell how the other was feeling and thinking without it being said. And it was the most wonderful feeling in the world.
She was extremely startled when Harry appeared in front of her. She hadn’t even noticed he was there, nor heard him calling. The memories were so fresh in her mind, that the moment he asked what she had been thinking about the tears came to her eyes again. For the second time that day, she sobbed into his shoulder.
It was strange, really, the look that he gave her when he told he to stop. When he covered her mouth with his hand an electric shock ran through her. She was suddenly glued to his eyes. His green irises that portrayed so much emotion were now scrutinizing her, examining her very soul. There were so many things that she held inside. He could not find out about her dreams. He couldn’t find out about the Death Eaters. Somehow she felt as though if the contact stayed any longer he would tap into the secrets that she would have to keep until her dying day.
So she looked away.
When the door closed behind him, Hermione quietly thanked Remus for taking Harry away. The memory of the day in the daisy field wasn’t leaving her. It was as if the wind was there, in that room, whispering to her. She could still feel the grass that the flowers tickling her skin. When she looked back at the fire, the flames were filled with the image of that old oak tree. Her parent’s faces flashed through the flames and more cold tears poured down her face.
* * * * * * * * * *
The next morning proved to be somewhat of a circus. Harry got up late and Mr. Weasley got called into work early so he ended up having to stuff a piece of toast in his mouth as they flooed to the Burrow and then immediately to the Ministry of Magic.
His apparation test. The day he had looked forward to since he first learned of it. He was ready. He had worked on it the whole summer. Remus said there was no reason for him to not pass. Everyone else said the same thing.
He was terrified. So terrified that he couldn’t eat the toast. His hands were shaking, he was sweating.
And the guy at the desk didn’t make things any better when he mentioned that there would be wizards observing him for any problems. Harry, of course, knew immediately what the guy was talking about. Splinching. He nearly threw up at the thought of it.
While he was waiting for the lift he heard the whole history of each Weasley’s apparition test. “It took me three times to get it right, so don’t feel bad if you don’t get it the first time. It took Bill twice…..you know, not everyone gets it the first or even second time. But I’m sure you will so don’t worry, but if you don’t, don’t get too upset. It’s hard and…..” It went on and on and on. It seemed as if Mr. Weasley was more nervous about this than Harry was.
It really wasn’t helping.
The lift finally came. It was empty, save for a few flying notes and the two of them rode the lift in silence. It stopped on level seven and several witches and wizards stepped into the lift followed by some more flying paper airplanes. If Harry’s remembered right, their stop was level six.
Sure enough, the lift stopped again and the cool female voice announced, “Level six, Department of Magical Transport, incorporating the Floo Network Authority, Broom Regulatory Control, Portkey Office, and Apparation Test Center.” Suddenly feeling very comfortable inside the lift, it took every ounce of effort to get himself out the lift.
The hall was the same pearly white as the entrance hall, only it was one long corridor that branched off like a T at the end of the hall. He followed Mr. Weasley down the hall and took a glance at each double door they past. The doors were wide open so Harry could see dozens of witches and wizards bustling around. They past the Floo Network Authority offices then the Portkey offices. At the end of the hall and in the left end of the T, Mr. Weasley opened the double doors that said in gold letters: Apparation Test Center and License Administration.
The office was split in two. On the right was a large desk with a sign overhead saying: “Test Check In,” in gold lettering and on the left: “License Distribution.” There was no one sitting in either side’s waiting area. Was he the only one scheduled for the morning?
The witch at the desk looked up at their entrance and smiled. “I take it you are the eight-thirty appointment?”
“Yes. Harry James Potter for eight-thirty,” Mr. Weasley answered. The witch took a quick glance at his forehead and smiled again.
“I take it you are the guardian?” Mr. Weasley shifted uncomfortably for a second. “Technically no, but his legal guardians are muggles. I believe there is a statement in the papers that I have permission to sign for his guardian?” The witch bit her lip and swiveled around in her chair. A large filing cabinet drawer opened the moment she turned around and it seemed to be endless. She soon pulled out a file and sat back at her desk. The drawer closed on its own. It was moment before her face lit up in agreement.
“Ah, yes. Here it is. Now, Mr. Weasley, if you could,” He stepped up to the desk and took the quill from the counter. “Sign here, here, here, here, and here.” He quickly did so and set the quill down. The witch then turned her attention to Harry. “Now, Mr. Potter,” He stepped up next to Mr. Weasley and signed next to his “guardian’s” name taking special care to read the part about no suing if anything went wrong. His stomach did another flip. Did splinching really happen that often?
“Thank you,” the woman said. In a quick flash the papers disappeared. “If you could just sit down for a moment, I’ll call you when they are ready.” With a weak nod he sat down in the corner chair. This was not going to be very good.
“I have to get to the office,” Mr. Weasley began. Harry’s head snapped up. He wasn’t going to be there? He seemed to read his expression because he then said, “It will be fine, Harry. If any one can pass this thing on the first try it’s you. When you’re done just come up to my office and I’ll take you back.” Harry watched Mr. Weasley leave with a growing dread. Had he ever been this nervous?
Yes. The Tri-Wizard Tournament; facing down Voldemort…he could do that, but not an Apparation test? Did that make any sense?
He never got a chance to answer. The lady at the desk called him and two doors that he had not seen opened to his left. Pushing away the intense urged to turn around and run away, he walked in.
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