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Chapter 4 : Unexpected
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Hermione screamed and nearly fell out of bed when she opened her eyes to see a pair of large pair of bright yellow eyes inches from her face. Reflexively, she reached for her wand and was about to send a Stunning Spell into the direction of her attacker when she recognized Maynard. Hermione took a few moments to catch her breath as her eyes adjusted to the dark. She lit her lamp and stroked the owl’s white-yellow underbelly. He was a very pretty owl, she thought. Not to the extent that Hedwig was, but much more attractive than Pig (who now belonged exclusively to Ginny). Maynard’s wings and most of his head were a dark, rich, brown. The entire combination on the fairly large owl was aesthetically pleasing. She took the very small scroll off of his leg and frowned as she read the two short sentences.
Leave me alone. Tell Ron.
Irritated, Hermione crumpled up the note and threw it to the ground beside her bed. It took him half a week to write that one little note?
Crookshanks ran from under her bed to play with the discarded paper. At the sight of the large feline, Maynard quickly spread his wings and flew to perch on the top of her bed frame.
Next to her, Ginny had started to wake up.
“What the hell are you doing Hermione?” she grumbled, glancing at the watch on her bedside table. “It’s a half past five.”
“Sorry, Ginny. Maynard woke me up,” Hermione apologized.
She rolled her eyes. “Late night correspondence with your beloved?”
Without thinking, Hermione answered, “No, I haven’t been able to get in touch with Ron all week. Maynard has been with Harry.”
Ginny reacted as Hermione would have expected her to, had she been thinking more clearly. She sat up straight in her bed, alert.
“Harry? You’ve been speaking to Harry?”
Hermione sighed, saying, “No, not really. Ron and I sent a short letter on Tuesday, when we left.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? That’s nearly a week ago, and you wait until now to tell me? Well, what’d he say?”
“Ginny, he didn’t say much of anything.”
“What exactly did he say?”
Knowing how stubborn she could be, Hermione gave in and told her the contents of his letter.
“Oh…,” Ginny said, clearly disappointed. “I’m just going to go back to bed. We’ve got classes today.”
Ginny punched her pillow a few times and then rolled over. Hermione, though, could not go back to sleep. She coaxed Maynard down from his perch and together they went to the Common Room. Hermione sat down with a roll of parchment and began to write. By the time the sun was rising and people were beginning to rise, Hermione had written nearly two feet but had not yet managed to express anything in the way she wanted. Frustrated, she threw it into the fire and released Maynard to the Owlery. Irritated with the start of her day, she went back upstairs and got ready for breakfast. In the dorm, things didn’t feel right. She went to the sinks to brush her teeth, where she found the only other girl returning to repeat her 7th year, Kimberly White. Hermione and Kim had always gotten along, but in their six years sharing a dormitory had never gotten close. She quickly gathered her things and left the room. Hermione took much longer getting ready than she normally did.
She recalled when she was very young, speaking to her Granddad in the hospital. He had been ill a long time and, as a young girl, Hermione had trouble understanding what was happening.
He was laying in a hospital bed. A seven year old Hermione was frightened by the tubes coming out of his arms, and the one under his nose. He opened his arms, and once she was in his lap she felt the fear melt away.
“Mummy says you won’t be able to go to my birthday.”
He took a shallow breath. “I’ll try, Minnie. I might not be here, though.”
Even at a young age, Hermione had grown accustomed to being able to understand the world around her. This, though, she could not comprehend. “Where will you be?”
“I’ll be dead.” Her grandfather always had a frankness about him, something that Hermione would come to realize was not something she should expect from others.
“What is dead?” she asked.
Again, he took a breath, wheezing, “Do you remember when we watched Charlotte's Web*?”
“You’ll be like Charlotte?” Hermione asked, tears welling up in her eyes. He nodded. “And I won’t be able to see you again?” Once again, he nodded.
Hermione lay, curled up with her Grandfather for what seemed like a very long time while she cried. Slowly, she calmed down and was able to speak.
“I’m gonna miss you.”
“I know, Minnie. I’ll miss you, too.” He hugged her as tightly as his frail arms would allow.
*(Charlottes Web, 1973 film, Hanna-Barbera Productions, Paramount Pictures, based on 1952 book by E.B. White)
Hermione blinked back tears as she remembered her experiences a month later, at his funeral. That was the last time she’d let anyone call her Minnie. She wondered what her Granddad would say if he knew that, ten years later, his Minnie would have experienced enough death to fill her summer with funerals. Being back in Gryffindor Tower, she remembered in particular Lavender and Parvati’s. Many of the funerals from that summer blended together, but she could distinctly remember these two because of how similar she was to the dead. Although they’d always irritated her, they were the same age. She’d shared lessons and a dorm with them for six years. They’d stressed over their O.W.L.s together. They’d fought side by side in battle. Lavender and Hermione had been kissed by the same lips and held in the same arms (something Hermione tried earnestly not to remember but couldn’t help the occasional reflection). It easily could have been Hermione in one of those caskets.
Quickly, she rinsed out her mouth and flew down the stairs to the Common Room, where Ginny was waiting for her.
“Going to breakfast?” she asked.
Hermione nodded, and they left the tower and made their way to the Great Hall. She glanced at the large clock in the entrance hall; it was a quarter to eight. The pair went into the Great Hall, where people were just starting to sit down. Ginny waved to Neville, who was seated at the Ravenclaw table with Luna, Anthony, and Jeremy, the boy from the train. Ginny and Hermione sat down at the table and started to scoop eggs onto their plates.
“Are we allowed to sit outside of our house tables?” Hermione asked, looking around casually.
Ginny laughed. “Hermione, we’ve always been able to.”
“You, Harry, and Ron were always just such a group that you never felt the need to sit anywhere else,” Luna added. Jeremy and Anthony laughed, causing Hermione to sink into the bench a little bit more.
“What classes do we ‘ave today?” Neville asked, his mouth full of toast. Hermione pulled her already memorized schedule out of her bag.
“I have Potions and then Transfiguration. After lunch, just Charms. I guess you’ve got the morning free then, don’t you Neville,” Hermione paused for a moment, “What classes are you taking?”
Neville smirked. “Herbology, Charms, and Defense Against the Dark Arts.”
“That’s it? You’ve got to be kidding me! Defense Against the Dark Arts doesn’t even really count. We all know enough to teach it!” Anthony exclaimed.
Neville laughed, saying, “I know. And I’m only really taking Charms because I couldn’t take just two.”
Ginny scowled. “Mum’s making me take way more than I need to. Five classes! Plus Dad really wanted me to continue with Muggle Studies, so there’s that. What are you taking, Hermione?”
Hermione frowned. “Not as much as I should,” she said as shebegan to tick off her fingers, “Charms, Potions, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Transfiguration, Arithmancy, History of Magic, Ancient Runes, and Herbology. I really should have taken Astronomy, too.”
Jeremy and Anthony looked at her, their mouths open slightly. Jeremy said, “Shit, Hermione. I thought my six classes were tough. Why are you taking History of Magic?”
Hermione shrugged. “I couldn’t not take it.” As she finished her eggs, the post of owls flew in. Eight owls landed on the table in the middle of the group. Two of them had copies of the Daily Prophet, which Jeremy and Neville took and began to peruse. The other six had small letters to each of the students. Hermione quickly found the one addressed to her and quickly unraveled it.
Please join me in the Entrance Hall after dinner tonight.
Hermione frowned, and saw that everyone got the same letter. “Why do you think she needs all of us?”
Hannah Abbott and Ernie Macmillan came over to the table. “Did you lot get them, too?”
“Yeah,” Neville said, “we all did.”
“It’s probably just something to do with being Prefects. We’ll all just go out after dinner, like it says too. Come on now, we all better not be late to class,” Hermione suggested. She got up and started out towards the dungeons. Ginny and Neville exchanged a glance and shrugged, following her out. Neville went back up to the Tower to have a nap, and the rest of the group made their way down to the dungeons.
When the arrived outside the dark classroom, the door was locked. They leaned against the wall as the other students trickled down the hall. Dean and Seamus joined the queue as the bell rang throughout the castle. Seamus remarked, “Well, I guess Slughorn isn’t teaching this year.”
“This is ridiculous,” cried Hermione. “It is ten after nine.” She marched right up to the door and began to pound on it.
“Professor! Professor Slughorn! We’re here for class! Profes-“
Their Professor opened the door and let the students into the room. He went to sit at the front desk while they filed in and seated themselves at stools. The class itself was uneventful. Professor Slughorn covered fourth year material before dismissing them early. Outside the classroom, Ginny gleefully discussed how much easier the class would be than they expected. Dean, who wasn’t taking Transfiguration, wandered up to the Tower to have a game of Wizard Chess with Neville. Ginny, suddenly remembering that she’d forgotten her coursebook, sprinted up behind them. Seamus and Hermione slowly wandered towards Transfiguration.
“What do you suppose this Clearwater woman is like?” Seamus asked.
“I know her. So do you! She was in her fifth year when we were in our first year.”
Seamus looked shocked. “Holy shit, that’s the same person? I caught her and Ron’s older brother snogging once!”
Hermione laughed. “I can’t believe that.”
Seamus responded, “Yeah, yeah, I ran to tell Ron and he nearly puked.”
“Oh lord. Well I can believe that.”
Seamus and Hermione stopped walking as they came into view of the classroom. After a few minutes, Ginny and the Ravenclaws made their ways towards the class. At the bell, the two dozen students entered the classroom, where the young Professor was standing at a newly cleaned chalkboard.
“Please be seated students, in this order.” With a wave of her wand, a seating chart appeared on the board.
“Seriously?” Ginny started. “A seating chart?”
“Yes, Miss Weasley. A seating chart. Don’t worry, after a few weeks you’ll be able to choose your own seats.”
Hermione, who didn’t care much about where she would be seated, quickly took her assigned seat next to the window and pulled out her textbook. Jeremy sat next to her, and Luna took her seat directly behind Hermione.
“This is a N.E.W.T. level class, but today we are going to start at a much more basic level,” Professor Clearwater explained. Today, they would be practicing fairly simple Transformations.
Most of the class easily re-mastered the magic they’d learned in their fourth year. Hermione, on the other hand, could not manage to get the teapot she was transforming from a rat to lose its tail. She left the class frustrated, for the first time in her life finishing lowest in anything other than flying.
As everyone left the classroom, Professor Clearwater looked at Hermione’s half-teapot, obviously disappointed. Hermione had a reputation - one that she was not living up to. She told Ginny she wasn’t feeling very hungry and she’d meet her in Charms. The rest of the students hurried to the Great Hall, but Hermione made her way back up to her dormitory, where she sat down once again to write a letter.
I can’t believe it. I was miserable in Transfiguration today. Dreadful. Harry wrote back, no luck with him. He said to leave him alone and told me to pass the message on. I suppose though that you won’t take his words to heart. I don’t know what to write, everything feels so strange… but at the same time, I feel normal. I just feel like this is what my life has always been. Write back soon.
Not pleased with her letter, but satisfied enough, Hermione went up to the Owlery to find Maynard. She attached the letter to his leg and leaned up against one of the windows. She saw a small beetle crawling up the side. Hermione, feeling determined, took out her wand. She pointed her wand at the beetle and, focused, muttered, “Rotundus”. The beetle rolled up and turned into a marble.
Smiling, Hermione picked up the ball. She held it up to her eye to look for imperfections in the sunlight. Through the glass, she saw a group of people gathering around a tree on the edge of the lake. Taking the marble away from her eye, she saw that it was Neville, Hannah, Luna, and Ginny. Luna pointed, and she and Ginny went to investigate something that Hermione couldn’t see from her viewpoint. Hermione set the marble down on the windowsill, where she transformed the beetle back. It hurried away, clearly glad that the ordeal was over. Hermione stood in the Owlery for some time, looking at the grounds. Neville and Hannah were sitting under a tree eating food they must’ve smuggled out from the Great Hall.
Hermione’s spirits were lifted further during Charms when she won points for her house by answering one of Flitwick’s questions correctly. After dinner, when she met with the other Prefects to see the Headmistress, she was nearly back to her old self.
“Thank you all for coming,” Professor McGonagall said when they’d all gathered, “I’d like for us to meet once a week to work on the castle.”
Ginny looked confused. “Professor, what will we be able to do to help? I doubt our magic will be able to do anything you can’t.”
“Yes, dear, you unfortunately may be right. We have not been able to make any real improvements on the castle. We’ve only been able to find one way to make repairs.”
“What way is that?” asked Anthony.
“Stone by stone. We have to levitate into place each stone and magically seal it. For the entire tower. It will be a fairly long ordeal; I hope I can rely on you students to assist.”
They all nodded, and she led them to what remained of Ravenclaw tower. They all began to put to tower back together, piece by piece. At the end of two hours, they’d hardly made any change.
“Professor,” Luna said gently, “I think perhaps this isn’t the best method to use.”
Professor McGonagall looked at first fierce at the opposition, but then her face softened in defeat.
“You’re right. I’d still like to work for a few hours every week so I can at least tell the school governors that we’re making some progress. Same time next week?”
Hermione, her bangs stuck to her face with sweat, nodded. She could tell that these sessions would be exhausting, especially with her reduced magical abilities. The Prefects left the remains of the Ravenclaw Tower. Anthony, Luna, and Jeremy looked particularly disappointed by the lack of progress.
“What is your new Common Room like?” Ginny asked. The Hufflepuffs had already made their way to their earthy den.
“It isn’t much,” Anthony answered.
“I suppose it could be worse, but it just doesn’t feel like a Common Room. It feels like a guest room,” Jeremy expanded.
“I’m sorry. You’re always welcome in our Tower,” Ginny invited.
They shrugged, but looked like they’d consider the idea.
The group split up at the Entrance Hall, and the Gryffindors climbed through the portrait hole and entered a nearly empty common room. Not even bothering to climb the stairs to the dorm, Hermione curled up in a chair and fell asleep.
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