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Escaping the Acheron by kenpo
Chapter 6 : Birthday Surprises
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 4


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            “Happy birthday!” Ginny half-heartedly yelled to Hermione from her bed as she got out of the shower early in the morning.

 
            Hermione laughed, eyeing the small pile of presents on the foot of her own bed. She took the towel out of her long hair to let it air dry, getting her robes wet in the process.


            “Why’d you get up so early? Too excited about your birthday?”


            Hermione glanced outside, the sun was just hardly rising over the grounds. When Hermione had gotten up, her presents hadn’t even been delivered yet.


            “Yeah,” she laughed, “Must’ve been.”


            “Here,” Ginny said, handing her a present, “This one is from me.”


            From the volume of their voices, the other girls in the dorm had started to stir. Kim was still fast asleep, but it looked like they’d disturbed the others. Anna Croft was a small Scottish girl, who had previously had a reputation of being quite the “scarlet woman” (As Mrs. Weasley would say). Lately, though, the war had matured her and she had become more mellow and sure of herself. Sarah Ozumba was a proud half-blood. Her mother was a witch from Malawi. She’d traveled to England on holiday. Quite the surprise for her when she fell in love with a Muggle and decided to stay. She’d gone back to Malawi to get her wand, and her magic therefore always seemed just a little bit different than everyone else’s. Sarah loved that, though. She said that her magic helped her feel connected to her roots. Neither of the girls would be pleasant being woken before the sun rose on a Saturday, so Hermione cast Muffliato on the girls to preserve their sleep.


            Ginny handed Hermione a fairly large package. Hermione smiled, “Is it a book?” She ripped off the paper to see that she was correct. In her hands she held a copy of a book called Quidditch Basics – Brooms, Bludgers, and Buffoons. .


            Hermione rose her eyebrows questioningly.


            “It’s a book explaining Quidditch. Terms, players, teams. I know you don’t like when we’re all talking about it and you’re not following. I thought I’d give you a book to study.”


            Hermione laughed, “Thanks, Ginny. I appreciate it.” She picked up another package, larger than Ginny’s. It said it was from “The Weasleys”, collectively.


            Upon opening it, it because clear which Weasley had contributed which gift, even without looking at the labels and notes. From Percy there was a planner and a nice quill. From Mr. and Mrs. Weasley there was a fair amount of sweets. Charlie contributed a very pretty dragon scale pendant (“I wonder which breed it’s come from… I’ll have to go to the library.”). The Hair Slick potion was probably from Bill, chosen by Fleur. The directions for making Fireworks were obviously from George.


            “Mmm, mind if I have some?” Ginny asked, eyeing some of the fudge.

 
            “Sure,” Hermione answered. Hermione continued to open her presents. She’d received a few cards from various members of the Order. She was touched to see how many of them had remembered her birthday. Hagrid sent her a nice card and an invitation for tea. Ron sent her a small Jack Russell Terrier figurine.

 
            “Why’d he send you that?”

 
            Hermione blushed, “It’s his Patronus. That’s really sweet; I’m surprised he thought of that.”

 
            Ginny rolled her eyes. The two girls sat on their beds, talking for what was probably close to an hour. The other girls got up and wished Hermione a happy birthday before leaving for breakfast. Ginny excused herself to take a shower.

 
            Hermione sat on her friend’s bed, clearing up the discarded packaging. Taking her new planner and quill, she made a list of people she’d have to send thank you notes. She made her bed, making sure her pillow was exactly as she liked it before descending the stairs to the Common Room, where Neville was waiting.

 
            “Hermione!” he exclaimed, “Happy Birthday!”

 
            He held out a small pot of dirt.

 
            “Err..” Hermione said, “Thanks, Neville.”

 
            Neville laughed, “You’re always so polite. It’s not just a pot of dirt – I’m not that awful at getting gifts. It’s a really new species of plant, they’ve only just started selling them. Flos Pectoris, it’s called. Once you cast the charm, it becomes your flower. When you’re happy, it will be happy. When you’re angry, it will be.”


            “Wow, Neville,” Hermione said, suddenly very intrigued with the pot of dirt, “What’s the incantation?”

 
            He grinned, pleased with her reaction, “Effloresce,” he said, “Make sure you do it today – it only works on your birthday. I have to wait almost an entire year before I can bloom mine.”

           
            Excitedly, Hermione set the pot on the table in front of her.

 
            “Effloresce.”

 
            In an instant, the pot was no longer empty.

 
            “It’s dead!” Hermione tilted her head, looking at her flower, “Neville, why is it dead?”

 
            Dead indeed it was. The plant looked liked it may have been pretty, with large round petals. She couldn’t see much detail other than that because everything had dried up into a dark brown mess. Dead, that plant was dead.


            “I dunno...”

 
            “But what does that mean?

 
            “I dunno. Haven’t seen that before. Maybe there’s something you’re missing.” Neville suddenly looked unsure and guilty of his present to his friend.


            Hermione, seeing his distress, quickly kissed his cheek, “Neville, don’t worry. I love it. Just let me run upstairs and put it in my dorm.”

 
            As Hermione was putting her nearly empty pot of dirt on her bedside table, Ginny emerged from the shower. Hermione explained what had happened. Ginny obviously wished to discuss the plant, but Hermione insisted that they go back to Neville and go to breakfast.

 
            The two met Neville in the Common Room, and the trio made their way to the Great Hall.

 
            After a short breakfast, Hermione excused herself to the library.

 
            “Hermione, not the library!” Ginny sighed, “This is your birthday! And a Saturday!” She glanced at the ceiling, which was showing a bright blue sky, “And look how nice it is outside.”

 
            “I’ll only be there for a bit. I’m going to Hagrid’s before lunch, then I’m free all afternoon.” With that, Hermione left and made her way through the broken castle, up to what was her second favorite part of the castle, after Gryffindor Tower. Hermione made her way through the rows and rows of books, looking for a table she’d like to sit at. The library was nearly empty. In the first week of lessons, not enough work had been assigned to warrant a trip to the library. Hermione, though, didn’t need an excuse to visit. Besides, she reasoned, it looks good for the Head Girl to be spending time focusing on her studies.  

 
             Hermione sat down and, not being able to resist, started to write her thank you notes. The first of which wasn’t exactly necessary.

 

Ron,

Thank you for your present. Ginny made fun of me a bit when I explained what the significance was, but I don’t feel the need to bother with her. She’s gotten more used to the idea of us together. She better get used to it, I don’t see us breaking up anytime soon. Neville got me a flower, I’ll have to explain that one in person.


Nothing from Harry. Even though I wasn’t expecting anything, it was still strange. He’s always gotten me something, even just a card. Have you seen him, or heard from him?


It happened again last ni

 

            As she was writing she saw another figure in the row she was seated at. Quickly, and without reason, she stuffed the parchment back into her bad.


            She recognized Jeremy.

 
            “Hey, Hermione. Sorry, didn’t mean to disrupt you. Mind if I sit down?”


            “Sure. I was just writing Thank You notes for birthday gifts.”

 
            He pulled out a book and sat down.

 
            “Hey… Hermione, do you think you could help me with Ancient Runes?”

 
            Hermione was confused – they’d hardly gotten any assignments yet. Not wanting to be rude, she politely told him she’d be happy to.

 
            “Which assignment is giving you trouble?” She asked.

 
            He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, “Well… you see, it isn’t really just one assignment. I think I’m going to need help most of the year. I took the course at my old school, but it wasn’t as rigorous…”

 
            Understanding his request, Hermione responded, “Don’t worry about it, Jeremy. I’d be happy to help. What was your old school?” Hermione suddenly realized she had no idea where he’d come from. He sounding English, but she couldn’t place the accent to a region.

 
            “I went to the Salem Academy for Young Witches and Wizards,” he responded easily, robotically.

 
            “Really?” Hermione responded, surprised, “That’s why I haven’t been able to place your accent. You’ve been in America.”

 
            “Oh Merlin,” Jeremy blushed, “Don’t tell me I sound like an American.”

 
            Hermione laughed, “No, don’t worry. You don’t sound American. Just slightly less English.”

 
            “You make sure to stop me if I start to remind you of an American too much.”

 
            “Will do. What brought you to America? And back again?”

 
            “Well, my Mum and Dad divorced when I was about ten. My mum’s work brought her to America, so she decided to take me with her. I stayed with my Dad over vacations.”

 
            Hermione smirked, “You said vacations.”

 
            “Oh god, I’m one of them!”

 
            “Well, what brought you to Hogwarts?”


            He took a deep breath, “The war. My Mum felt that… the family should be together. They felt they should be helping the cause.”

 
            “Did they fight in the war? Perhaps I knew them!”

 
            “No, probably not. If my memory is correct, you spent most of the year in a tent, with no outside contact.”

 
            “Yes… Yes you’re right. Where are they now?”

 
            “My dad’s dead. And my Mum is… gone.”


            Hermione had gotten used to having this conversation. It had become too normal to have people tell you about their dead parents and siblings.

 
            “I’m sorry, Jeremy. I should’ve known. Where’s your mum?”

 
            “She’s lost her mind.” He said simply.

 
            Hermione sighed, “I’m sorry. Neville’s parents have been in St. Mungo’s for most of his life… if you ever need to talk to someone.”

 
            “Thanks… do you think you could help me with this line of Runes?”

 
            Hermione was smart enough to know when somebody wanted to end a conversation. She dropped the subject of his parents. How hard must it be to deal with having parents dead or, even worse, she sometimes thought, gone in the way Neville’s parents and Jeremy’s mother were? With a pang, Hermione was reminded that she essentially didn’t have parents. She let her thoughts drift to Australia while Jeremy described the issues he was having with the translation. She wondered if they were happy, or if they’d slowly started to ache for the daughter they didn’t know to miss.

 
            “So I’m not sure if that’s the subject or the direct object?” Jeremy ended his explanation.

 
            Hermione quickly redirected her focus to her struggling friend, and she soon realized just how behind he was. At his level, she was doubtful he’d pass an O.W.L. His Ravenclaw qualities were showing, though, and he was learning at a pace that she wasn’t used to (she was, though, used to instructing Ron and Harry).


            An unknown quantity of time later, Hermione glanced at her watch, “Shit, I’m late for Hagrid! Do you think you’ve got a handle on this?”

 
            Jeremy nodded, “Yeah, yeah, you go. Have fun.” He waved goodbye before going back to studying.

 
            Hermione smiled and jogged out of the library, irritating Madam Pince on her way out (“No running in the library, young lady!”). She ran across the grounds, taking a second to notice that Ginny was right, the weather was just lovely.

 
            She reached Hagrid’s hut and knocked on the door. Fang’s barking greeted her before the large wooden door creaked open to reveal a very large, very hairy man.

 
            “Hermione!” Hagrid gleefully yelled, “Hermione! I’m so glad yer here! Fang, get outta the way. Let ‘er in.”

 
            Hermione shoved into the cottage and sat down at the table. Within minutes, the pair was sitting at the table with two steaming mugs of tea, catching up.

 
            “I’m sorry I couldn’t spend more time with everyone over the summer… I needed to get back here to Grawp. And I take up a lot of room… I know it was hard for Molly to find me a bed.”

 
            “Hagrid, don’t worry. We all understood. We know that if you could’ve been there, you would.”

 
            He sniffled, “You know, I spent ‘alf my life chasing those two Weasley twins out of the Forbidden Forest.”

 
            Hermione bowed her head, and had a moment of blunt honestly, “Hagrid, I’m really sorry, but I can’t be here if all we’re going to do is mourn. All I’ve been doing is mourning and mourning. Maybe in a few months, but that’s not something I can do right now.”

 
            He frowned, “I’m sorry, I didn’t think of tha’. I know you had a particular rough summer. How are you doin’?”

 
            Hermione took a moment. After taking a deep breath, she answered, “I’m getting by. I’m getting to each day a little bit better than the previous. I’m struggling, though.”

 
            He shook his head, “Yer all too damn young. Too young. Yer still in school and you had to go through all of tha’.”

 
            Hermione suddenly felt the urge to tell Hagrid about the plant Neville had given her.


            “Well,” Hagrid said, after giving the situation a few moments of thought, “That doesn’ really surprise me.”

 
            “Why not?”

 
            He thought again about how to answer. He spoke slowly, choosing his words in a way Hermione wasn’t used to. “You know, I was a bit surprised when you went off to figh’ with Ron and ‘Arry.”

 
            “You were?” Hermione didn’t know how to react to that. Did he think that she was weak?

 
            “You know wha’ else? Once I got to know you, I couldnit figure out why you weren’t put in Ravenclaw. You’ve got a mind that I’m bettin’ would rival Ravenclaw herself.”

 
            Hermione blushed, “What’s that got to do with it?”

 
            Hagrid continued as if he hadn’t heard her, “But then… when you left, I wondered why you hadn’t been put into Hufflepuff.”

 
            “Hufflepuff? I’d never thought of myself as a Hufflepuff.” Hermione didn’t know what Hagrid was trying to get at. She wondered whether something other than tea was in his drink.

 
            “You see, Hermione. You didn’t go with them to fight.”

 
            Hermione interrupted, annoyed, “Hagrid, don’t try to tell me that I didn’t really want to fight. I fought with everything I had.”

 
            “No, no, no,” Hagrid leaned his chin in his hand and rubbed his beard, trying to think of the right words.

 
            “See, you fought because you’re loyal. Those friends of yours… you’d protect them with everything you’ve got. You’re not a fighter, but your loyalties lie with fighters so that’s what you became. You fought. Hufflepuffs and the most loyal, lovin’ people you’ll ever meet. A Hufflepuff will fight for the people they love… But then I realized,” Hagrid leaned towards Hermione, looking deep into your eyes, “To be that loyal and to love that much takes a hell alotta courage. That’s why you’ve got the heart of a lion.”

 
            They sat in silence. Hermione absolutely hadn’t expected that kind of deep analysis when she knocked on Hagrid’s door.

 
            “So…” she started, “So why is my plant dead?”

 
            He sat back in his chair, “Maybe it didn’t know what type of flower to be. When was the last time you really felt like yourself?”

 
            Hermione didn’t have an answer to that. What was her true self? Was she that girl who didn’t have any friends in her first year? She couldn’t believe that her true self was that snob. Was she a fighter? No, no, she didn’t think so. Being an Auror had never appealed to her, even though she’d probably be successful if that was a decision she’d made. She sipped her tea in silence and thought about Minnie. That young girl wasn’t the same person that she was now. At what point did her life go completely off anything that could be considered normal? When did she lose herself?

 
            Hagrid chuckled, “Hermione, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so deep in thought. And I’ve seen you studin’ before!”

 
            “You’ve given me quite a bit to think about, Hagrid.”

 
            “Don’t think too hard or I’ll be taking you to Madame Pomfrey for a Calming Draught,” Hagrid joked.

 
            “No, that won’t be necessary,” she replied, too lost in thought to get the humor attempt, “Hagrid, thanks a lot for tea. I told Ginny that I’d be back at the castle for lunch, and I think I need to be by myself for a bit.”

 
            Hagrid frowned, “Okay, Hermione, if that’s what’s best. Don’t stress yourself too much. And remember to visit! Tell Ginny, too. And tell Ron I said hullo!”

 
            Hermione smiled and thanked him again before wandering back up towards the castle to finish celebrating her birthday.


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