July 25, 1999
“Hermione Jean Granger.”
There was a pause, as though the verdict of the interrogation had to count on her fingers before answering. “Nineteen. I’ll turn twenty this September.”
Dr. Holsted, an aged man who, in Hermione’s critical opinion, resembled a warthog, scribbled away on his notebook.
Hermione was sitting next to him, her long legs stretched out on the bench she was placed upon and her hands folded over her stomach. The back of both hands bore marks from where numerous needles had been injected over the past eight years. The skin was visibly bruised.
Dr. Holsted finished writing and, with a great effort it seemed, laid aside the notebook and scooted his chair closer to where Hermione was laying. He smelled like the tuna sandwich he had eaten for lunch; Hermione tried to unnoticed edge away from his breath.
“So, Hermione, tell me: Where have you been for the last eight years?”
He looked at her, and she had to admit that his eyes looked sympathetic even though she was determined to dislike the old man.
“I’ve been at the Hospital, in room 337... At least that’s what I’ve been told,” Hermione responded stiffly, yet smartly, gazing right back.
Dr. Holsted nodded, and his dry lips stretched into a smile underneath his piggy nose. “Indeed you have,” he said. “But where have you been in the last eight years, as far as you remember? Your parents have told me that it is quite the enthralling tale. I would love to hear it.”
The truth was, of course, that he would love to scrutinize her insanity, research the psychology behind her imagined life and hopefully earn a handful of money while doing so. The warm smile, filled with pity for her condition; the kind eyes, the wrinkled hand now placed on Hermione’s shoulder; it was all just an act of bedside manner that he had exerted for years and years, ever since he had started out on his career as a shrink with the hope that one day a jewel would come in, loaded with money and insane stories that he could get paid for listening to.
Hermione sat up.
“I don’t think this will work for me, Dr. Holsted. This isn’t getting me anywhere.”
“Hermione,” Dr. Holsted said, still with the faux smile fixed upon his wrinkled face. “Please sit back down. We can discuss something else if you want to. I hear you have a sister now. What was your reaction when you found out?”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Send the bill to my parents,” she said shortly. Then she turned, strode over the polished wood floor before the psychiatrist could stop her, and exited the room with an ear-shattering bang.
Once down the numerous staircases to the streets of London she set off into the bustling masses that crowded the streets. She was still not completely sure that Dr. Holsted wasn’t tailing her, and in case he was she wanted to make sure she shook him off before he had the chance to catch up and force her back into his office.
One month had passed; one long, painful, confusing and discouraging month. Hermione was still adjusting to the fact that she was a Muggle, that the opposite of a Muggle did not exist, and that eight years had passed since the last time she had walked around the house she had visited every summer since starting Hogwarts. There was a definite lack of progress as far as her comprehension went, and, in an attempt to help her accept what had happened, the Grangers had made her a three-hour appointment with one of London’s top psychiatrists. Since there technically was two hours and forty-five minutes left until her parents were picking her up outside of Holsted’s office building Hermione had that amount to spend on her leisure.
Where should she go? London was open before her feet; the streets looked inviting and the scents of freshly baked bread, wildflowers and new books drifted through the city as though each one was competing to gain her attention and lure her in the direction it came from.
For Hermione, however, there was no question of where to go.
She had to look; had to make sure. She couldn’t accept what the doctors told her, what her parents said, until she had concrete proof that her world had never existed and that there were no trace of anything magical in or outside her.
With a maelstrom of thoughts in her head Hermione set off towards the first magical place she had entered after learning that she was a witch, where she had first gotten her proof that it was true; the Leaky Cauldron.
While she walked, bumping into random people and occasionally tripping over the cobblestones under her feet, she tried to quench the hopes that arose inside her like a flurry of butterflies.
Because it wasn’t as though she hadn’t tried. In her room, late at night, she had sat up in her bed and attempted to make the things around her shiver. She had tried speaking out the incantations that she knew so well. She had sought to do everything she could think of, everything she remembered, and nothing had worked. True; she didn’t have a wand. But even before she had obtained her wand, before Professor McGonagall had shown up at her doorstep to announce that she was a witch, she had been able to make peculiar things happen within the confined space of her bedroom.
Now, however, there was nothing. Her waterglass didn’t refill itself upon request; her pencils didn’t hover into her outstretched hand when she was about to write in her diary. Indeed, when she waved her hands and whispered spells into the air, nothing whatsoever happened. Movements were just movements, and words were just words.
Nevertheless, even when knowing of her inability to perform even the smallest magical deed, she could not prevent her heart from racing as she, step by step, approached the spot where the Leaky Cauldron was crammed in between a bookstore and a shop selling second-hand shoes.
She reached the street and she moved along it, walking on the opposite side of the street as to draw out the torment. Then, as she reached the botique vis-a-vis the Leaky Cauldron, she froze and took several deep breaths.
'It’s not real, it’s not there, it was all just a dream...' She muttered these discouraging words to herself over and over again, as she slowly turned towards the magical pub across the bustling, busy street. It was momentarily obscured by a vast group of foreigners, Frenchmen by the sound of them, and Hermione waited for the lot to move along without breathing.
Then, the last French of the family moved out of the way, and Hermione’s eyes widened in drawn-out anticipation as she saw...
There was absolutely nothing where there had once been, in a land in her dreams, a busy inn filled with witches and wizards, goblins and vampires, and everything else that had only been in her head.
Hermione stood as though glued to the street, her hands finding and clinging onto a streetlamp in the effort to keep to her feet while it felt that everything that had come alive inside her had shattered and fallen apart. Her eyes filled with tears.
The pub that wasn't there was obscured by a large group of elderly ladies, swinging purses and shopping bags, each one of them passing by without even glancing in the direction of the Leaky Cauldron.
There was her evidence; her concrete proof that her parents had been telling the truth and that this wasn’t just an act of love from their side, trying to protect her from Voldemort, magic and all the evil creatures that came with it. It had been her last, desperate hope, and now it was all gone, evaporated, diminished into thin air.
And then, she saw him.
The crowd had momentarily cleared up, and that’s when she saw him, seemingly appearing out of nowhere on the spot where the Leaky Cauldron should have been.
It might have been a trick of the sunlight, or a trick of her tear-filled eyes, but nothing could make an account for the reality of the blond youth now climbing through the masses up the street.
There was no mistake about it; she would have recognized the white gold hair, the pale, pointed features and the haughty demeanor anywhere.
It was Draco Malfoy.
Struggling to compose herself, fighting to breathe through overwhelming excitement and relief, Hermione pursued her arch-enemy like a wolf stalking its prey.
She kept him in sight through the many people moving between him and her, through the guffawing men, the chortling women and the howling children they dragged along. She was intent on not letting him out of her sight for a moment; to not lose trace of this one, firm, living and breathing proof that she wasn’t quite as insane as she had been deemed.
Their trail zigzagged its way through the streets like an elusive snake. Malfoy kept talking unexpected turns and sharp swings as though he was a rockstar keen to shake off the paparazzi. Still, he didn’t turn once, and Hermione was sure that he didn’t know that she was there, that she was watching his every move and following him from a distance of seven yards straight across the town of London. She wasn’t sure where he was taking them, and she was even less certain that she was going to find her way back. The problem of getting lost in the city seemed much less alarming than the prospect of losing Malfoy, losing the one thread that bound her to the magical world, out of sight.
Malfoy took another sharp turn and Hermione followed suit without thinking. She realized her mistake a moment too late when she found herself in a street leading nowhere, with a Malfoy who had just spun around on his heel and was glaring at her as though she was something nasty that had possessed the nerve to stick itself to the underside of his shoe. There was something so familiar with that cold, gray stare that Hermione’s lips almost twitched in spite of the seriousness of the situation.
“What do you want?” Malfoy demanded, crossing his arms over his chest and fixing Hermione with criticism edged on every pale feature. His eyes travelled from her sweatpants, stained from re-painting her room the week before, to her hair, as frizzy as ever, most of it having escaped the messy braid she had knitted in the car on the way to Dr. Holsted’s.
She was faced with a difficult decision, and she had to make it fast. The resentful, impatient expression upon Malfoy’s face told her that she wasn’t worth a minute of his day.
“I...” Hermione started, weighing her choices. Should she lie, claim that she had just taken a wrong turn, and then walk away? That was the easy way out, yet that way she might lose him forever.
His face remained cold, his expression empty, as he continued to survey her across the cobblestoned stretch that separated them. Hermione looked into his eyes, trying to read him. There was a certain amount of dislike in the way he stared her down, yet a different dislike than the one she had become accustomed to facing during their time together in school. He looked at her as though he had never seen her before; as though she was a stranger.
“Draco Malfoy?” Hermione said testily and watched the young man's, Malfoy’s, face whiten until it was the color of newly fallen snow.