Chapter 2 : Owl Post?
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A/N: Sorry, sorry, sorry for how long it took to get this written! I had terrible writer's block for a long time, and then there was the workload of end-of-term to deal with, so I really had a hard time getting anything done. Hopefully, this longish chapter will make up for it!
The months passed. September came and went without any fuss, leaving Hermione one uncelebrated year older.
To the new 19-year-old, the months were all the same. She remained in her room except for mealtimes and trips to the bathroom, all of which she did in silence. Her mother and father were not pleased. They tried to make her talk using many different strategies – they talked to her in the sort of voices that were normally reserved for small children and the very ill, they talked to her in their normal tones, they even got frustrated and shouted at her once or twice – but Hermione accepted all of their blabber with complete indifference. She knew they were hurt and frustrated, and she knew that they even felt a little guilty about taking her away from the only world in which she felt like she belonged, but she couldn't bring herself to feel sorry enough to speak to them again. She often heard her parents talking to each other when she wasn't around, fretting over whether or not they were doing the right thing. Admittedly, her mother was the one who did most of the fretting. Her father was quite determined to keep his daughter away from the people he perceived as a bunch of weirdoes, who had put his little girl under some sort of spell and dragged her off to become one of them.
Her parents' conversations always went the same way. Her mother always started them.
"Rick…" she would say, in the sort of tone that told anyone who could hear her that she was about to try to change her husband's mind. Not an easy task. Rick Granger was a kind man, but he was stubborn as a mule when he thought that he had made the right choice.
"Yes, Emma?" he would reply, in the sort of tone that made it clear that he recognized the beginning of the same old discussion.
"I'm worried about Hermione," her mother would always say next.
"Why's that?" (It wasn't that Rick didn't care about his daughter, he just felt that she was now safe and sound, out of harm's way, and there was therefore no need to worry about her.)
"She hasn't come out of her room in months," her mother would always remind her father, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. Which, if you thought about it for a moment, it was.
"I'm aware of that," her father would reply.
"And that doesn't worry you at all?" her mother would ask, though both she and Hermione already knew the answer.
"Not particularly, no," her father would reply.
"Look, Emma," her father would always interrupt, "we know exactly where she is at all times, we know she's as safe as she can be, and we know that she's still alive and well, because we see her at least three times a day when she comes out to eat. I see no reason to be worried."
"But she doesn't look 'alive and well', Rick," her mother would always protest. "Can't you see how pale she's gotten? And she looks like she hasn't slept in months! That doesn't worry you either?"
"It does, occasionally," her father would admit. "I don't want her to get herself sick, of course; what kind of father would I be then? But you and I both know full well that she's bringing this on herself," he would say, as though that settled it.
"What do you mean, she's-?" was all her mother would ever get out before her father would cut her off again, in the exasperated sort of tone that said that he was tired of having to say this over and over.
"She's sulking, Emma!" he would say. "She's mad at us for taking her away from those… those freaks that she calls her friends, and she's sulking!"
"She's sulking because she's upset, Rick," her mother would remind him. "She's not herself anymore, not after we took her away from… you know, from her world."
"'Her' world isn't safe, Emma," her father would remind her mother. "All this talk of evil wizards and black magic-"
"Dark magic," her mother reminded him every time.
"Whatever. All this talk of all the danger she got herself into, all the time she's gotten herself hurt, nearly gotten herself killed, running after those two boys, Weasley and… well, whatever the other one's name was. Doesn't that worry you, Emma?"
"Of course it does!" he mother would exclaim, in a scandalized sort of way. "Of course I was worried about her when she went off to that school, of course I worried about her when we got letters informing us that our daughter had gotten herself turned into some sort of half-cat creature and had been – what was it again? – Petrified, I think… and of course I was scared when she told us why she moved us to Australia for a year, but what you don't understand, Rick, is that she needs that."
Her father would snort scornfully. "Our daughter needs to put her life on the line for some gang of weirdoes? I don't think so."
Her mother would sigh, frustrated by her father's pigheadedness. "No, of course she doesn't, but she needs to be a part of that world. Don't you remember how introverted she used to be, Rick? She barely talked at all, and she didn't have a friend in the world, except for the ones that she could find in her books! She felt rejected by everyone, and she had a right to, because all of the other children were… I don't know if they were jealous of how smart she was or afraid of all the 'incidents' that there were when she got upset, but they definitely weren't very nice to her. But then, the moment that McGonagall woman showed up on our doorstep and started telling us that Hermione had some sort of magical powers and that, if she liked, she could choose to go to some place called Hogwarts and learn how to use them properly, well… You remember how her face just lit up, don't you?" she would ask, a hint of nostalgia in her voice.
"Yes," her father would answer tersely. "But honestly, Emma, what child wouldn't be excited at the idea of a 'magical' world? And as far as I can recall, that McGonagall woman didn't say a word about evil wizards cursing our Hermione half to death," he would grumble.
Her mother would sigh a second time. "Hermione explained this to us before, Rick. When that Professor woman showed up, everyone thought that the threat of this 'Voldemort' man was gone! They had no way of knowing-"
"-whether or not he was gone for good," her father would finish, though Hermione was always quite sure that that hadn't been what her mother had meant to say.
"They had no way of knowing that he was going to come back," her mother would correct her father, now sounding a little terse herself. "And the Professor obviously couldn't have known that Hermione was going to go and make friends with the one boy that 'Voldemort' was after! Why do you insist on fooling yourself into thinking that it's this 'magical' world's fault that Hermione's been in danger for the past few years?" she would demand to know.
Her father would go quiet for a moment, before replying something along the lines of, "It's this 'magical' world she was trying to protect."
Her mother would sigh yet again. "I still say it's that Harry boy she was trying to save," she would say. "And I still say he's the reason she's 'sulking', as you put it," she would add, steering the conversation back towards the point at which it had begun.
Hermione was always glad that her mother understood her, even if she never opened her mouth to say so.
"I still say that Hermione's above sulking for months over a boy," her father would mutter.
"It's not like it's something to be ashamed of, Rick," her mother would say. "I mean, yes, maybe shutting herself in her room for months isn't the best way to deal with being away from him, but what did you expect her to do? Just smile and accept the fact that we took her away from everyone she held dear?"
"Of course I didn't," her father would say, in that tone that Hermione always took to be a verbal eye-roll. "But I still say that Hermione isn't shutting herself away because of some silly boy who kept nearly getting her killed for seven years."
There was always a pause, and then, after a moment, her mother would reply, in a half-teasing and half-serious sort of way:
"What I think is that you, dear, can't accept that your little girl grew up and fell in love with a boy who you don't completely approve of."
Hermione always smirked a little at this point. She could just see her father turning a faint shade of red.
"What I can't accept, Emma, is that Hermione went and got herself involved with a boy who could've gotten her killed seven times over, at the very least. Why do you think I wanted her as far away from him and his kind as I could take her without moving back to Australia?" he would reply, trying to sound offended but usually failing miserably.
"Hm," her mother would always say, and that would be the end of that. Both she and her daughter knew that there was no point in continuing to argue with Rick Granger when he was sure that he had done the right thing. But Hermione was sure that her mother wouldn't continue to have the same pointless argument forever. She would, eventually, find some way to persuade her husband to do something besides letting his daughter hide in her room for the rest of her life.
As for said daughter, she didn't feel as bad as she looked. She was only pale from lack of sunlight (her only source of it being her bedroom window), and she had, in fact, slept, albeit rather restlessly. She couldn't get any sort of peaceful sleep when she was busy missing Harry. Not just Harry, of course, she missed all of her friends – the Weasleys, the Lupins, Hagrid, everyone – but she couldn't help but spend most of her time missing Harry.
He kept his promise, writing back to every letter she sent. Hermione decided that being forced to use Muggle post was a huge hassle, as she had to Summon her mail from the mailbox before her parents got to it and was forced to wait until absolutely no one was looking, but it was still better than getting no word from the magical world at all.
His letters, like hers, were full of sadness and loneliness, but the two of them managed to work in a few happier things as well. Hermione was overjoyed when she learned that Harry had been asked to play for the famous Montrose Magpies Quidditch team, considered to be the best team in the British and Irish League. Harry, on the other hand, wrote that he intended to wait a little while before he decided whether to join the team or not. He explained his reluctance to take on even more fame (the 'youngest Seeker in a century' being invited to play for one of the best teams in the world was sure to cause quite an explosion in the press), and Hermione understood, but she made sure to tell him that if playing Quidditch for a living would make him happy, then he should go for it and tell the press where to shove their quills. Harry replied that he felt comforted, but still wanted to wait a while before he made up his mind. Hermione didn't really see why, but she let the subject drop. There was no point getting into a fight with Harry through the post.
In between Harry's letters, Hermione tended to find herself staring aimlessly at her ceiling, doing as Harry had asked during their last few moments together and pretending that they had had more time to say their goodbyes. Sometimes, she went one better, and cut out the goodbyes completely, replacing them with much happier scenes, in which she pretended that her parents had never taken her away from him and that they could still be together. She remembered those tender, comfortable moments in the tent, and pretended that there had been more, and that there would be more in the future, even though she knew that that was completely impossible.
Impossible or not, her imagination was what sustained her as the autumn months rolled by and, eventually, the snow began to fall. Hermione, against her will, began to feel more and more depressed as Christmas drifted closer and closer. She missed Harry and her friends more than ever as she thought of past Christmases at Hogwarts and imagined what Christmas must be like at The Burrow. Depressed, she took to laying on her bed for hours with assorted photographs in her hands, burning the faces of the ones she loved into her mind for fear that she might forget them as time went on.
It must be said that, despite appearances, Hermione did love her parents. She had spent the first eleven years of her life – which she only had because of them, after all – in their care, and they were wonderful parents when you looked past their slight over-protectiveness. Hermione knew that they were only trying to keep her safe, and she appreciated their concern, but she couldn't help but resent them for taking away just about everything and everyone she had come to hold dear.
Resent them or not, she couldn't help but listen as, late at night on a snowy Christmas Eve, her mother's voice called to her from outside her bedroom door, on which Hermione had made sure to put as many locking charms and spells as she knew, effectively making her room impenetrable. At the time, a particularly unhappy Hermione was enjoying her new favourite activity of lying on her bed and looking at the same old photographs – she only had a precious few – while feeling very lonely. As such, she didn't feel all that compelled to answer her mother when her voice floated into the silence of Hermione's room.
"Hermione?" it said softly, almost tentatively, getting Hermione's attention but not eliciting a response.
"Hermione?" it repeated, then continued, in a very gentle, motherly sort of tone, "Come on, baby, let me in. It's Christmas," the voice added, almost pleadingly.
Hermione's resolve cracked a little at that. Making a quick decision, she called back, "Dad's not with you, is he?"
There was a moment of surprised silence from outside the door – her mother obviously wasn't used to hearing Hermione's voice anymore – before the voice replied, "No, he's not."
Hermione sighed quietly, wondering if this was really the best thing to do. "All right," she said, removing the locking charms with an almost flippant wave of her wand. "Come in."
There was a similar moment of surprised silence, before the doorknob turned slowly, almost tentatively, as though Emma expected something to jump out at her and rip her limb from limb. When nothing did, the door drifted open with an almost inaudible creak of unused hinges, and Emma Granger was finally admitted to the domestic fortress that her daughter had built for herself. She stood in the doorway for a moment, as though still expecting some sort of magical monster to leap out at her, claws and nine-inch fangs bared and gleaming for but a terrifying moment before it tore her to shreds. The only sort of 'monster' that came at her, however, was nothing but a purring Crookshanks, who twined himself around her legs as his version of a greeting. She reached down to pat the cat for a moment before she stepped into the room, closing the door behind her with the same strangled wail of hinges that were no longer used to being moved. Settling herself on the end of Hermione's bed, she seemed unsure of what to say or do, and chose to break the ice with a simple "Hey".
"Hey," Hermione replied softly, not looking away from the picture in her hands, one that had been taken at the Victory Ball that had been held soon after the 'Battle at Hogwarts', as it had now come to be called by the public. "Merry Christmas," she added, just because it felt like the right thing to say.
"Well, thank you, dear, but you don't look all that merry," her mother replied, a little sadly.
"I guess not," Hermione agreed, her voice still soft and almost monotonous. "Sorry."
"Don't apologize," her mother told her. "You don't have to."
"OK," Hermione replied, with a very small shrug of her shoulders.
Silence settled over the two for a moment, Hermione still absorbed in the photograph and Emma not really knowing what to say. She and her daughter had almost become estranged over the course of the past few months.
"What have you got there?" she asked after a moment, going with the most obvious topic of conversation.
"Just a picture," Hermione replied.
"May I see?" her mother asked, desperate for something to keep the conversation going.
Hermione handed the picture over without a word. Her mother accepted it and looked it over for a moment, smiling slightly as she watched the picture versions of Hermione and a handsome young man glide smoothly around what she supposed was a dance floor somewhere, so absorbed in their steps that they obviously hadn't realized that someone was taking their picture. She blinked, a little surprised, when, at what seemed to be the end of the dance, Hermione's dance partner took her hand in his and planted a light kiss on the back, making her laugh a little and making him smile at her. Then, with the same smoothness that they had displayed as they moved across the floor, the two slipped back into the same pattern; the dance that they would be repeating for eternity.
"You look like you're having a good time," Emma commented, handing the picture back to Hermione, who finally cracked a small smile, which didn't quite reach her eyes.
"I was," she replied.
"Who's the boy?" Emma asked, feigning cluelessness. In truth, she was quite sure that she knew who Hermione's dance partner was.
Hermione's smile became a degree or two warmer, her miserable mood starting to lighten. "That's Harry," she said, verifying her mother's presumptions.
Emma, while she had already known who the boy was, was still a tad surprised. "That's Harry?" she asked. "I thought he was just a little thing, with clothes that were always too big for him and glasses that always had to be taped together. That's what I gathered from your letters, anyway."
Hermione chuckled softly. "He used to be, Mum," she said. "He took a turn for the better once Ron's mum started stuffing him full of everything she knew how to cook," she added.
Emma chuckled as well, then grinned slyly at her daughter. "He's gotten to be quite handsome, hasn't he?" she asked.
A very light pink tinge appeared on Hermione's cheeks. "I suppose," she replied. "He's certainly a lot healthier-looking than he was when I first met him, anyway."
Her mother's sly grin became a small, warm smile as she asked, her voice dropped a little in case Hermione's father happened to be passing by, "Were you two… together?"
Hermione didn't reply right away, instead taking her wand from the nightstand and casting a quick Silencing Charm over the room. "There," she said. "You don't have to whisper, Mum. You could drop a bomb in here and nobody would hear it except for us."
"All right," said Emma, looking slightly surprised. "You didn't answer my question," she added. "You don't need to be shy, dear. I know we haven't been all that close lately, but I'm still your mother," she reminded Hermione, a lopsided sort of grin on her lips. "And believe it or not, I, unlike your father, actually understand that it's possible for you to be interested in boys," she said, speaking in an exaggerated whisper, as though she was telling Hermione the biggest secret in the world.
This elicited another small smile from Hermione. "I was getting to the answer, Mum," she said, rolling her eyes good-naturedly. "Yes, Harry and I were together, for a while," she told her mother, the same shade of light pink tingeing her cheeks again. "Before… before I left," she added, tactfully avoiding saying anything that might sound like 'sulking', as her father had put it so often. She didn't blame her mother for taking her away from the magical world as much as she blamed her father, and she didn't think that her mother needed someone to lash out at her or make her feel bad right then, anyway. It was Christmas Eve, after all. After a moment's pause, she added, "Well, I guess we're still together, actually, seeing as neither of us broke it off with the other… We're kind of in a long-distance relationship, I suppose."
"Is it as hard as everyone says it is?" her mother asked, sounding like she felt bad for her daughter.
Hermione sighed. "It's probably harder," she said. "But not in the way you're probably thinking."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I'm assuming that you think that long-distance relationships are hard because it's hard to avoid drifting apart, right?" Hermione asked.
Her mother nodded.
"Exactly," said Hermione. "Harry and I aren't drifting apart – far from it – but it's just the being apart that makes it all so hard."
"Do you ever hear from him?" her mother asked.
Hermione was hesitant to answer. "Are you going to put bars on my window if I say yes?"
Her mother shook her head. "Of course not, dear," she assured her daughter. "I don't have a problem with you at least getting some news from your friends every once in a while," she said. "It's your father who thinks they're all part of some sort of demonic cult or something, not me."
Hermione managed a small chuckle. "Well, they're not. And yes, Harry writes to me as often as he can, and I write back as soon as I can. It's the only way we can have any kind of contact with each other, after all," she pointed out. "But it's not the same as actually talking to him, of course," she added sadly, turning her attention back to her photograph. She sighed. "I miss him," she said, stating the obvious. "Well, and everyone else, of course," she added.
"But mostly him," her mother added, nodding.
Hermione was glad that someone understood, even though she didn't say it out loud.
"How did you and Harry end up together, anyway?" her mother enquired.
"Oh, it was pretty simple, really," said Hermione. "I already told you a little bit about how we spent the year hiding in a tent in different forests, right?"
Her mother nodded.
"And I told you about how Ron left Harry and me for a while, right?"
Her mother nodded again.
"Well, during those few weeks, Harry and I did some serious thinking together about the bonds of friendship and how important they were to each of us, because we both wanted to make sure that the other wasn't going to 'pull a Ron', as we put it, and just leave the other to survive on their own. I guess that days and days of dissecting our friendship must have brought us quite a bit closer, not to mention shown us that there was a lot we didn't know about each other, because we ended up having entire half hours when we would just sit there and tell each other everything about our lives; all about our pasts, the stupid things we did as kids, our first experiences with magic… even all of our secrets," she said. "Of course, they were just silly little things at first; things we just hadn't told anyone because it hadn't come up in conversation, things like 'I once drank an entire glass of Butterbeer and ate six sprout-flavoured Every-Flavour Beans at the same time and ended up puking in the bathroom sink' – no, Mum, that wasn't me," she added, seeing her mother's surprised expression, "-but after a while, we started telling each other things that we'd actually kept secret on purpose; things like our fears, our doubts, our dreams… and, of course, our deepest feelings."
"Ah," her mother said understandingly. "I see where this is going."
Hermione chuckled. "I thought so. To make a long story short, we both decided that there was no point in hiding anything from each other anymore, because it was very possible that one or both of us might not live to see another week, and it was time to just come clean and get it over with before it was too late. So, we both ended up confessing that we'd had feelings for the other for a long time – many years, actually – and just hadn't said anything because we were both sure that the other didn't feel the same way, and neither of us wanted to make the other feel awkward by coming clean about our feelings. We both valued our friendship too much to risk losing it over a silly crush." Pausing, she smiled. "Well, what we both thought was just a silly crush, anyway. We both just pushed whatever we were starting to feel away, telling ourselves that it was just a fit of hormones and would pass in a little while. We didn't want to face the truth, I guess," she said.
"Because Harry thought that you liked Ron and you thought that Harry liked Ginny," her mother added, surprising Hermione. Emma must have noticed her daughter's stunned expression, because she added, "I did read your letters, you know."
Hermione still looked a little taken aback. "I know you did, but… Well, I just didn't think that you had practically memorized them."
Her mother chuckled. "I didn't memorize anything, dear. It was just so obvious that it would have been impossible for me to forget."
Hermione blushed a little. "Was it really that obvious?"
Emma shrugged. "It was obvious to me, anyway, but I guess I've got an unfair advantage, being your mother and all," she said, grinning. "I'm pretty sure only a few other people might have been able to notice, if anyone did at all."
Hermione chuckled slightly. "Actually, it seems that a lot of people used to think that Harry and I were together, until we told them that we weren't."
Her mother looked a little confused.
"Before we actually were together," Hermione explained quickly. "When we were a bit younger."
"Oh," said her mother, nodding.
"Anyway," Hermione continued, "you're right about the Harry and me being afraid to face the truth and tell the other how we felt because we both thought that the other fancied someone else. Like I said, we both just tried to shrug whatever we were feeling off as nothing but a crush, but I guess it became pretty obvious, through the years, that a silly crush wouldn't have lasted so long or been anywhere near as strong as we both realized our feelings for each other were. So, eventually, we both came clean about what we were feeling, and learned that the other felt the same way, and… I guess things just went from there," she finished, shrugging.
Her mother nodded but didn't respond. There was silence for a few moments, before Emma quietly asked her daughter, "You love this Harry boy, don't you?" It had a question mark at the end, but was less of a question than it was a realization.
Hermione sighed, feeling sad again. "Yes," she replied softly. "Very much."
"Does he love you too?"
"I think he does," said Hermione. "That's what he's been telling me for months, anyway, and I've always believed him."
Her mother sighed and looked at her knees. Hermione wondered what was wrong, and meant to ask, but was cut off by a sharp tap on her window. Getting up to see what it was, her eyes widened in surprise and she quickly pulled the window open, letting in a blast of cold air and surprising her mother.
"What on Earth are you doing, Hermione?" her mother asked. "It's freezing!"
"I know," said Hermione, closing the window again with one hand as she held something in the other. "That's why I had to let this little one in," she explained, returning to the bed and showing her mother the tiny, shivering ball of feathers that stood in her cupped hands, huddling against her curled fingers as it tried to warm up.
Her mother blinked, seeming stunned.
"It's a post owl, Mum," said Hermione.
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