All my life I never really knew me till today.
Now I know why, I’m just another step on the way.
-You Can Never Go Home, The Moody Blues
Chapter Thirty-eight: Disarming Charm
When she woke the next morning, Hermione was surprised to find that she didn’t feel any different than she had the night before. She was almost disappointed—a declaration of love, however subtly it had been implied… well, it ought to have changed everything, oughtn’t it? What did it mean that she felt the same? These troubling thoughts nagged at her as she went about her morning routine, and it wasn’t until she was within sight of the Great Hall that Hermione realized something important she’d been missing.
She didn’t feel upset, either. In fact, what she really felt was… content.
Somehow that was even more disturbing than her previous supposition, and she didn’t have time to puzzle on it any longer before she neared the Gryffindor table laden with breakfast food.
“Good morning, Mia,” James said casually as he reached across the table to snag a forkful of sausage. She felt a wave of pleasure cross her body at this unexpected greeting, even as Peter and Lily shot the Quidditch player looks of alarm. While ‘Mia’ had until now been a nickname only Sirius had called her, it made her feel very happy that Harry’s father had picked up on it. She hadn’t known it until that very moment, but having a nickname that only her closest friends called her was something she’d always wanted.
Hermione almost returned with, ‘Hello, Prongs’ before she stopped herself and chose to call him by his given name. To draw attention to the whole ‘secret nickname’ thing seemed like it would cheapen this new experience for her.
“Hello, James. Feeling particularly brave this morning?” This comment referred more to the slight pouting glower on Sirius’ face than the reason for his sour expression.
“As a matter of fact, I do,” Potter answered gaily, flagging slightly when his friend narrowed his eyes warningly. “I’ve… uh… got Quidditch practice tonight,” he added quickly before turning to speak to Lily about something. Hermione smiled to herself as she laid a gentle hand on Sirius’ shoulder to assist herself in taking the seat beside him. Well, this day is certainly starting out lovely, she thought to herself—for, the very instant she touched him, her boyfriend’s tenseness seemed to dissipate, even though his facial expression remained unchanged.
“Morning Lily,” Hermione called to her friend, who flashed her a sympathetic smile, one eyebrow shooting up as her green eyes darted in Sirius’ direction. “Good morning, Sirius,” she continued, her heart dropping in her chest a bit when he didn’t respond. Once she was fully seated, however, he made it all better, taking her hand from her lap to his and clasping it firmly in his large hand, all the while never changing his facial expression or eye line.
She felt well and truly claimed. There was something so sexy about his taking possession of her hand, knowing he didn’t need to ask permission or even look at her to communicate how he felt. Unfortunately, whether it was due to his influence or her own inner sense of mischief, his single-minded concentration gave her an idea.
“Sleep well, did you?” she dangled, being sure to lean against his arm as she whispered her question. Sirius squeezed her hand, but otherwise didn’t react. Hermione wasn’t daunted. She looked down at his plate and back at his face, which hadn’t moved a muscle. “Ohhh, my favorite kind of Danish,” she said in a falsely excited voice, watching him closely for his reaction as she reached for the pastry with her free hand.
Still no reaction.
Hermione was starting to wonder if Sirius was actually angry at his friend…
“Bloody hell, Padfoot!” James cried, who had looked over at them having apparently forgotten that Sirius had been staring balefully at him for the past five minutes.
Sirius slowly began to smile, and she realized with a sharp stab of admiration that this was what he’d been planning the whole time.
Hermione tried to stifled her laugh as she looked across the table at James’ dripping glasses—in his surprise he’d fumbled with his cup of pumpkin juice and it had gone everywhere. She couldn’t see Peter’s face, obscured as it was by that day’s copy of the Prophet—but she could see the paper twitching with the young man’s laughter. Lily was long gone; Hermione spotted her at the table nearby, talking to her Potions partner and studiously ignoring their table. Privately, she thought it was wise of her friend—James wasn’t likely to be very reasonable about all of this.
“Now that that’s settled,” Sirius said nonchalantly, “I’ll be taking that back—” Just as she had stopped laughing long enough lift her stolen pastry to her mouth, Sirius snatched it away within inches of her lips. “I slept as well as you did, I expect.” He winked at her frown—she’d been looking forward to that Danish.
“Someone’s a little cocky,” a voice mumbled across from them.
“Calm down, Prongs—pumpkin juice is really good for the skin, or so I’ve heard,” Sirius drawled. James simply sulked.
“I can’t leave you two alone for a minute, can I?” Lily exclaimed, slapping Sirius playfully on the cheek when he stuck his tongue out at her. “What’s put you in such a mood, Sirius?” The redhead settled herself next to her boyfriend and briskly buttered a piece of toast to hand to him before he even realized she was there. Hermione and Peter shared an amused look.
“Remus sang me to sleep last night,” Sirius claimed, outrageously.
“He did no such thing!” Hermione protested without thinking. She nearly went on to lecture them on werewolves heightened hearing and how uncomfortable singing would be for their friend before she remembered—she wasn’t supposed to know about that yet. Even if Lupin had informed their friends about his strange behavior in the library, she doubted he’d come out and confessed that… well, she was pretty sure he had been trying to tell her about his lycanthropy.
To cover the misstep, she began gathering up her things, as it was nearly time for class. Luckily James, Peter, and Lily had each expressed similar doubts about Sirius’ claim, so her adamant statement had (hopefully) not appeared as out of place as she thought originally.
“You’re right—all of you are right—” the dark-haired boy shook his head, acknowledging that he’d been caught in a lie. His next words shocked Hermione instead of James, this time: “I’m happy because Mia—” a challenging look at James “—told me what she smelled in the love potion.” Sirius looked up at her with a devious twinkle in his eyes, waiting for her reaction.
In that moment, Hermione knew just how far she’d come from the person she’d been just a month and a half earlier. Without missing a beat, she winked at Lily, hefted her bag of books to her shoulder, and spoke.
“It’s true, I did,” she told her friends calmly. “It was cedar,” she lied, walking away from the raucous laughter with a confidence she normally only felt after turning in an essay.
Sirius realized halfway up the stairs to the boys’ dormitories that he’d originally intended to give the much-contended Danish from his plate to Remus for breakfast. He shook his head ruefully, looking down at the two small muffins he’d wrapped in a handkerchief and hoping they would be enough. Hermia seemed to be getting better at keeping him off-balance… her comment at the end of breakfast had been just perfect—concealing their true conversation with humor and thrusting him in the middle of an awkward situation as a reward for bringing it up in the first place.
She was perfect for him.
“Are you going to hand me my breakfast, or should we exchange nicknames, ‘Moony,’ Lupin asked him in a low voice. Sirius looked around to find that he was standing right next to his friend’s bed. He opened his mouth to protest in some way, and Remus smiled at him in that annoying way he had, waiting for the snappy comeback.
“I—I’ve got nothing,” Sirius admitted finally, grinning and handing him his food. “Mia made me eat your Danish,” he said without elaboration as Remus started eating.
“I’m sure she did,” the werewolf said, mildly. His next statement was spoken in such a matter-of-fact tone that Sirius almost missed the importance of it. “I’m going to tell her about my ‘furry little problem.’”
Black glanced up, quickly, to find that Lupin was looking over at him with quiet dignity. “Well, she can certainly be trusted to know about it,” he said carefully, pleased to see Remus nodding at this. “I can’t think of her as someone who would be disgusted—”
“I think—” the other man stopped as though surprised at his own interruption, almost as if he hadn’t intended to speak so soon. “I think maybe she knows someone who has been bitten,” he finished.
This was a new development, and Sirius got to his feet, moving to lean casually against his friend’s bedpost. It made him sad to think of Hermia having the painful experience of watching someone she cared about go through what Remus had to. Lupin must have been able to read his expression, judging by his next words.
“I actually handed her a book on lycanthropy,” he admitted, “—and she told me she hadn’t read it yet.” The two students shared a look—they both knew Hermia to be one of the most thorough researchers they’d ever met, and her use of the word ‘yet’ was quite telling.
“It could have been for a report, or something,” Sirius argued, not at all comfortable with the thought of Hermia in contact with some strange werewolf.
“It isn’t like her,” Remus pressed. “That book is well-respected… she would have read it if she’d had the chance…” he looked pensive. “Hogwarts’ library is far more extensive than the one in Diagon Alley.”
“You’re saying she did as much research as—”
“—a Muggle-born new to our world would know how to do, yes.” Lupin gave him a tight smile, and then he began speaking again in the voice Sirius recognized as the ‘Remus Changes The Subject’ tone. “I’m also saying nothing else for now, as you’re already late to class. Thank you for bringing me breakfast, Padfoot.”
“Always, Moony,” Sirius said, squeezing his friend’s foot and heading for the door.
DADA class started without any booby-trapped desks, much to Hermione’s relief—though, there were no desks to be seen, which was a new development. The students entered cautiously but confidently; each had a wary demeanor, but the upright posture of students who felt they’d learned enough to deal with whatever they might face. Hermione felt a sense of pride as well as a strange sort of belonging—no longer were there House boundaries in this classroom, this was simply a class willing and eager to learn the next lesson.
“Wands at the ready,” Professor Sapiens warned them (Hermione had to resist the urge to do a double-take… as always the charismatic professor’s behavior and mannerisms reminded her very much of Remus’ future behavior in this very same classroom), her own wand level with her chest and held as though she were planning to strike at any moment—which she did.
The charm caught a gangly Hufflepuff boy completely by surprise, his wand flying in a tight arc over his head as he stepped back involuntarily with the force behind the spell. It was a testament to Vera Sapiens’ teaching style that he neither appeared to be embarrassed, nor did she seem disappointed. They young man simply nodded wryly and headed off to retrieve his wand.
“Always be prepared,” Sapiens intoned, pacing the room in front of them as the remaining students moved in relation to her. “This spell does more than disarm,” she told the class, “it shifts the advantage with little more than a word—an incantation you learn in your first few years of—Expelliarmus!”
“Protego!” Snape’s shield spell wavered but held in the face of their teacher’s surprise attack.
“Very good—take five points for Slytherin,” the professor said approvingly before addressing the class as a whole again. “In defending yourself against another witch or wizard, it is important to note that emotions and personal pride can often be a powerful factor.” As she spoke, the blonde woman mounted the stairs that led to her office, stopping at the small landing and turning to face the class. At that height, her eye line was almost even with the large chandelier that hung from the center of the ceiling. “Would you say I’m more intimidating to the lot of you?” she asked, flinging her wand hand melodramatically in their direction to answer her own question—fully half of the students backed away, even though she was almost a full twenty feet away from them.
Hermione could hear James whispering something to Sirius but stifled her curiosity; this class was definitely not one in which distractions were welcome.
“Why is it,” Professor Sapiens was asking now, “that a little vertical distance makes you wary? Intimidation,” she answered herself firmly. “Talent and instinct, awareness and knowledge—these things can only take you so far when dealing with a human opponent. The mental advantage—Expelliarmus!”
The distance was intimidating. From her vantage point, the professor could cast her spells with little indication as to who they were intended for—and Hermione was one of four students to hurriedly cast shield charms. When the flash of light bounced harmlessly off of a space just in front of her, the first thing she thought of was Harry. We’ve got to do something like this in the DA—because Merlin knows we’re going to need to be ready for the unexpected, she thought. Besides, I’m sure Harry would LOVE teaching a lesson like this…
“Excellent!” their teacher crowed from across the room. “Five points to Gryffindor for Miss James, and take a point each for being prepared—Mr. Potter, Miss Yaxley, and Mr. Avery.”
Hermione started violently. Avery was a name she recognized from overheard discussions at #12, Grimmauld Place… The more she thought about it, the better she understood the day’s lesson to be more than simply a stepping-stone to the N.E.W.T.s. She and nearly everyone she cared about were…well… in a war—one that split their whole society into factions.
Factions that weren’t always as clear-cut, Hermione reminded herself as she saw Sirius and James with their heads together at the back of the group of students. The lesson they’d learned in Fifth Year from the girl Marietta’s betrayal had been a harsh one, and might not be their last. She couldn’t imagine, what it could possibly be like—what it must have been like to be betrayed by one’s closest friend. She just didn’t think that anyone—
Hermione’s wand soared from her hand, and at the same time she felt as if some unseen force had shoved her bodily against a brick wall that wasn’t there. It was an extraordinarily strange sensation, made more bearable by Sirius’ familiar embrace preventing her from toppling backwards. She shook her head ruefully.
“If you don’t mind, Miss James—would you tell us what you were thinking of just before you were hit?” The professor’s voice was friendly, and it encouraged Hermione to be truthful… though her mind supplied a possible ‘valid reason’ for her inattention.
“I don’t suppose I could convince you that I wanted to be disarmed, to experience what it would be like if I failed to shield myself in time?”
The class laughed in unison, and Vera Sapiens’ laughter rung out along with them. She moved down the stairs from her lofty position quickly, her customary long braid keeping rhythm with her steps as she moved. The DADA professor cast a spell to retrieve Hermione’s wand, but the spell’s initial failure registered to no one else—they were listening to Hermione’s explanation.
“To be honest, professor—I was thinking about how awful it would be to have one of your friends turn on you,” she confessed.
“Accio wand!” The older woman held the magical object out to Hermione; for a split second her eyes had an odd, guarded quality, but there wasn’t time to dwell on any more distractions. “Disarming spells do more than disarm,” Professor Sapiens nodded. “They can be demoralizing—your wand is your tangible link to your own power. Having that stripped away unexpectedly could turn the tide of an entire battle.”
For a horrible second, Hermione thought that the rest of the class time would be spent attacking one another for practice—and considering the class makeup, that scenario would be a little too close to the war of the near future for comfort. She was glad to have been mistaken—throughout the rest of that class, Professor Sapiens discussed different possibilities of protection against the disarming charm, and even had each student experience the spell deliberately—with the exception of Hermione and the tall Hufflepuff boy who had been the class ‘guinea pig.’ Hermione learned that his name was Paul McMillan.
After she’d dismissed all of them for lunch, the professor called out for Hermione to stay and speak to her for a minute.
“You have quite the recalcitrant wand,” the blonde woman said without preamble. “Is ‘Hermia’ a nickname, by any chance?” The question caught Hermione off guard, which after nearly two hours of that day’s lesson wasn’t quite as unexpected a feeling as it normally would have been.
“It is a nickname… of sorts,” she answered cautiously. Suddenly the strange, almost wary look that had flashed in the teacher’s eyes as she’d handed Hermione her wand made more sense. The other woman’s silence stretched to fill the room, and while it was clear that Sapiens was attempting to draw out the truth by not offering any questions or feedback, Hermione found it impossible not to offer more information. “My parents don’t always understand or appreciate the wizarding world,” she supplied, truthfully. “I don’t think they would fully approve of how I came to be here.”
Hermione’s heart was pounding, wondering if the woman opposite her was in any way skilled in Legilimency. One of the things that Molly Weasley had been completely adamant about when it became clear that Harry, Hermione, Ron, and the rest of the Weasley children didn’t intend to remain on the sidelines in regards to the fight ahead was that they learn the basics of Occlumency. The most basic lesson, they learned, is to learn how to dissemble—to speak around the truth as much as possible.
“Wheels within wheels,” Professor Sapiens said. Hermione recognized the quote, and gave her teacher a grim smile. “You’re a very talented witch, and I think we both know that there is real power to be found in names,” the woman reached out and squeezed her hand in a gesture that seemed to be less about comfort than of recognizing something kindred between them.
Hermione decided then and there that nothing would stop her from finding out what had happened to this woman in her own time.
“So, do you now know the secret answer to everything?” James asked her with a tinge of jealousy in his voice when she met he and Sirius in the hallway outside the classroom.
“42,” Hermione responded, almost on instinct. The baffled look that the two handsome young men exchanged at this was so adorable that she had to laugh. When Sirius shook his head at her in confusion, she simply shook her head back.