A Light in the Dark: Part 1
Madam Bones performed a reparo charm on her shattered monocle, and picked it up off the stone floor of her austerely decorated office where it had fallen. She adjusted it and tried to compose herself before responding to Dumbledore.
“Good Heavens! You can’t be serious Albus! Dementors... attacking Mr Potter?”
“All too serious, I am afraid,” sighed the Headmaster of Hogwarts, looking very grave. “And this would be the second such attempt if Professor Lupin is to be believed... and I trust Remus completely.”
“This simply cannot stand Amelia. Hogwarts must remain out of bounds to the Dementors! They are not welcome on the grounds as long as I am Headmaster, under any circumstances whatsoever! And if I had any say in it, they would be removed from the search for Sirius Black altogether...”
“Well... you are correct of course regarding the stationing of the Dementors,” interjected Madam Bones stiffly. “I shall order them explicitly to stay off Hogwarts grounds. It simply will not do to have them accosting students. But after the recent incident with Black in the castle itself, I cannot in good conscience call them off the hunt altogether... Surely you can understand, given the danger that Black presents to the public.”
“I daresay that given the apparent main target - Harry Potter himself - the Dementors may present an even bigger danger than Black.” Dumbledore raised his eyebrows and peered at Madam Bones with his crystal blue eyes until she swallowed uncomfortably.
“Yes... I quite see your point,” Madam Bones said finally. “Unfortunately, the politics of the situation makes it a near impossibility for me to pull the Dementors off the case altogether. The Wizengamot would have my head, and Fudge’s too if I were to do so, and that will do nobody any good. You of all people should know that.”
Dumbledore sighed again, then he nodded. “That is very likely true. As Chief Warlock, I cannot force the Wizengamot to do my bidding, but merely offer them my counsel and guidance. People are frightened, and when that is so, they often make rash decisions. Very well... as long as it is clear to the Dementors that Hogwarts is out of bounds to them, I shall make do.”
“Thank you for understanding Albus... Just one last thing, do you have any inkling why the Dementors might be singling out Mr Potter?”
“I have my suspicions Amelia, but without any evidence, I hesitate to make them known.”
As Madam Bones regarded the Headmaster’s countenance shrewdly, she paled, understanding all too well his insinuation.
“I see...” Amelia Bones’ features softened slightly. “I will look into it then. I cannot promise anything of course - unless I have some actionable evidence, I cannot open an official investigation.”
“Thank you Amelia,” replied Dumbledore, a twinkle returning to his eyes. “That is all that I can ask under the current circumstances.”
Harry stayed in the Hospital Wing for the rest of the weekend following the Dementor attack and the fall from his broom. He didn’t mind in the least - as long as Hermione was allowed to keep him company at night.
During the day on Sunday, Harry had a number of visitors, all intent on cheering him up. But Harry found himself growing more anxious and restless as the day wore on. Oliver Wood was among the first of his visitors, showing up in the morning when the entire Quidditch team arrived again.
“I don’t blame you in the slightest Potter,” Wood told him with a vaguely haunted look in his eyes.
“Of course he doesn’t,” Fred muttered quietly to George, rolling his own eyes. “Gryffindors don’t ask for rematches...” he snorted. Wood unfortunately overheard and shot Fred a glare.
Ron appeared a short time later to hang out with Harry and Hermione. Parvati and Lavender dropped by with some flowers, then Ginny and Neville wandered in with get-well cards for Harry. After that, Hagrid stopped in with some of his homemade rock-cakes. Luna brought Harry some reading material: a copy of her father’s monthly publication, The Quibbler.
Hermione raised her eyebrows slightly when she glanced at some of the odd articles, but as she and Harry had become good friends with Luna, Hermione tried her utmost to hide her skepticism.
“Oh, this looks very... interesting!” Hermione said a bit too brightly as Ron peered over her shoulder and chortled.
“It’s alright Hermione,” said Luna with a knowing little smile. “I know that some of the things are a bit unusual. Thank you for not making fun of me and Daddy for believing them.”
“I’m sorry Luna!” Hermione turned beet-red and hugged the younger girl. Harry grinned, feeling his anxiety briefly lift.
“Barking mad!” Ron sniggered, shaking his head after Luna left the Hospital Wing. “The mating habits of Blibbering Humdingers? The Rotfang Conspiracy Exposed? Really? Who believes this rubbish?” he snorted.
Harry and Hermione both raised their eyebrows and peered at Ron pointedly. Ron quieted and his ears turned pink, remembering the row over the Grim.
“Yeah... er... I just remembered... gotsomehomeworkt’do...” Ron mumbled. “Gotta go... Sorry about your broom Harry!” said Ron as he hastily departed.
“It is a bit weird though...” Harry murmured after Ron left. “Seeing a Black Dog after I ran away from the Dursleys - almost getting run over by the Knight Bus - and seeing one again on the Quidditch Field just before the Dementors swarmed me. I hope I’m not cracking up Hermione.”
“Of course you’re not Harry!” said Hermione quickly, giving Harry a hug. “I admit, it’s a very odd coincidence, but you’ve faced lots of life-threatening things without seeing any big black dogs before.”
“That’s true! Thanks for reminding me, Hermione!” Harry nodded, feeling much better on that score with Hermione’s arms around him. It was more peaceful in the ward now that everyone had gone, and he began to relax.
Now all Harry had to worry about was avoiding Sirius Black, and how to deal with the Dementors, before they really did manage to kill him. Harry was still sad about his Nimbus 2000, but he could always buy another one. And at least Harry had another night of cuddling Hermione in the hospital wing to look forward to after they finished their essays on werewolves.
Things were back to normal on Monday. Malfoy was his usual obnoxious self, chortling gleefully while miming Harry falling off a broom and performing Dementor impressions throughout the entire period during Potions. Of course Snape ignored Malfoy’s behaviour as always.
Harry rolled his eyes and focused on his work with Hermione. He would have loved to issue a sharp retort at Malfoy, but he was unwilling to spoil things in Potions with Snape. Harry could put up with Malfoy getting away with his childish taunts as long as Snape continued to let Harry and Hermione do their work in peace.
In the end, Harry still got his revenge. He turned in yet another perfect potion, and Malfoy was furious when his own potion received a slightly lesser mark than Harry’s - which was actually far more than Malfoy had deserved as he’d wasted so much time during class that his own potion was curdling. Hermione shared a smirk with Harry as Malfoy stormed out at the end of class.
Ron was much less fortunate. He’d managed to earn the wrath of Snape and lost 50 points for flinging a crocodile heart at Malfoy, after Malfoy had taunted him about being too poor to afford a broomstick of his own.
“Bet you wish you actually had a broom to take a dive from, Weasleby,” Malfoy had sneered maliciously. “I suppose you might be able to afford a few flying twigs if your father sold that pathetic hovel you live in.”
“Bloody git!” Ron fumed as he made his way to Defence Against the Dark Arts with Harry and Hermione after lunch. “Malfoy gets away with everything!”
“You need to pick your battles more carefully Ron!” Harry sighed. “You know Snape usually favours the Slytherins and Malfoy. You can’t win a fight with Malfoy in Potions.”
“Yeah, well you seem to be doing alright!” Ron muttered. “Snape hasn’t given you such a hard time since First Year!”
“That’s because Harry works really hard in class Ron,” said Hermione in a slightly haughty tone. “Snape still favours Malfoy though. Malfoy’s potion was dreadful today, but he still got a top mark. The only reason Harry’s mark was better than Malfoy’s, is because Harry made better use of his time.”
“I suppose!” Ron snorted. “But if Snape’s still covering for Lupin in Defence, I’m skiving off. Check who’s in there Harry.”
“It’s alright,” said Harry after poking his head through the door. “Lupin’s back.”
Professor Lupin rubbed his forehead and smiled wryly when most of the students in his Third Year class complained bitterly about Snape having taken over Defence Against the Dark Arts while he’d been ill on Friday. Usually other professors covered for Lupin on his sick-days. He rolled his eyes when he saw the homework which Snape had assigned.
“It’s alright,” said Lupin. “You don’t have to turn in your werewolf essays...”
The class cheered except for Harry and Hermione who had their parchments in hand, ready to turn in.
“...unless you’ve finished it of course!” concluded Lupin with a grin. “I’d say that’s worth 25 points apiece for Gryffindor. Well done you two!”
“Well that’s lucky!” Ron whispered to Harry. “At least you both saved the points I lost in Potions this morning.”
When the bell rang at the end of class, as the rest of the students headed for the door, Lupin beckoned Harry and Hermione.
“Hang on a bit Harry - you as well Hermione. I’d like a word with you both please!”
They both peered at the greying Professor expectantly, and when the room was finally empty he cleared his throat.
“Harry... Dumbledore and I had a chat yesterday about the situation with the Dementors,” Lupin began, a worried expression on his face, “There is a defence against them - a very advanced charm which is generally not taught in Hogwarts, as it is beyond NEWT levels...”
“Very few wizards actually bother to learn it unless they are training for a job in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement - though there are exceptions. In any case, Dumbledore wants me to train you how to perform the charm Harry.”
Harry and Hermione’s eyes had both got bigger as Professor Lupin talked, and Harry felt a surge of hope.
“What about Hermione?” asked Harry eagerly.
“Indeed!” Professor Lupin nodded. “I mentioned to Dumbledore that Hermione had also been overcome by the effects of the Dementors on the train. And as you are both so frequently together, we agreed that Hermione should learn the spell as well.”
“Really?” gasped Hermione, quivering with excitement.
“Yes... really!” Lupin’s prematurely aging features crinkled as he smiled at his two enthusiastic pupils.
“Oh thank you Professor Lupin!” Hermione squeaked.
“That’s brilliant!” exclaimed Harry. “When do we start?”
“How about Thursdays!” answered Professor Lupin “There’s two of you, so we should start early enough to give you both time... say after dinner at 7 pm in the History of Magic classroom.”
The cold soggy weather continued, but the thrill of the anti-dementor lessons buoyed Harry and Hermione through the next few weeks. Ron was in better spirits as well, by and large. The biggest damper on Harry’s mood - besides the looming threat of Sirius Black, and Harry's own occasional vengeful urge to break his promises about hunting his parents' betrayer - was the fact that the Nimbus 2000 was out of stock, and no longer being produced.
“Just get the Nimbus 2001,” said Oliver Wood when Harry had given him the bad news on Thursday afternoon.
“Are you joking? I’m not getting anything that Malfoy has!” Harry retorted vehemently.
“Well, you’ll need something...” Wood responded anxiously “Don’t wait too long Potter! Our next match is the second Saturday of February. And I hope you have a plan for if those Dementors show up again.”
“Don’t worry Wood! That's over two and half months away,” said Harry, rolling his eyes.
But the fact was that Harry was quite worried himself, as the school broom he was currently riding, a Shooting Star, was slow and jerky, and pulled to the left. Wood sighed and handed Harry a catalogue of available brooms.
“You should get a Firebolt Harry,” said Ron, when Harry showed him the catalogue.
Harry just snorted glumly in response. He knew that the Firebolt would put a serious dent in his vault at Gringotts. But Harry brightened considerably when he and Hermione left for their lesson with Professor Lupin after dinner.
“Lupin still looks a bit peaky to me,” Ron murmured when he peered at the gaunt professor in the hallway.
Harry shuffled uncomfortably and glanced at Hermione, wondering if he should tell Ron what they suspected. Hermione’s eyes widened and she shook her bushy head.
“Right, well see you two later then,” said Ron.
Harry was nervous as he waited with Hermione in the History of Magic classroom for Lupin to arrive.
“This is supposed to be really hard Hermione. What if it’s something like Arithmancy and I’m pathetic at it?”
“I’m sure you’ll do just fine Harry,” Hermione responded confidently, giving him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “You’re smart, and you’re a hard-worker.”
Harry detected Hermione’s familiar minty scent when her lips touched his cheek, and he relaxed in her warm embrace. They fell apart with reddening faces when Lupin entered the classroom and set a large wooden chest on Professor Binns’ desk.
“What’s in the chest Professor?” asked Hermione.
“It’s not a necessity to have a Dementor to show you what I’m about to teach you - but it’s helpful. But I’m hardly going to bring one into the castle, so I found a Boggart instead,” said Lupin. “When it sees Harry, it should become a Dementor and exhibit similar effects.”
“Oh!” said Harry, swallowing anxiously, not sure whether or not he was pleased that Lupin had found a good substitute for a Dementor.
“Now, it is often believed that Dementors feed on happiness because they appear to suck the joy out of a room, but in fact, nearly the opposite is closer to the case. It is true, they do drain away happiness and joy - which they can only abide in small quantities - but they also stimulate one’s darkest fears and despairs - they foster the repetitious recollection of one's Worst Memories until there is no room left for any good ones. It is those emotions - the dark ones - which they prefer to feed on,” Lupin continued.
“Dementors thrive on human misery. Wizards who are in their presence long enough are thus driven mad, and lose their will to live - effectively depriving a wizard of their powers, as Will and Intent are the most important ingredients for directing magic. That is why a powerful enough Patronus Charm - which is the very embodiment of joy and happiness - acts not merely as a passive shield, but will actively repel Dementors.”
“Can they be killed?” asked Harry hopefully.
“Not to my knowledge,” said Lupin. “And they are not living creatures in a technical sense - they are defined as Non-Beings by the Ministry, and there is no evidence that any wizard has ever developed a means of destroying them...”
“In any case, the most final power of a Dementor is known as the ‘Dementor’s Kiss’... which is the act of sucking out a human soul, leaving one’s body a mere shell - which is surely a fate worse than death. Generally speaking, they are bidden by Law to only perform the ‘Kiss’ as an act of punishment...”
Hermione gasped in horror. Harry felt a flare of anger as he thought about what Sirius Black had done to his parents, for the umpteenth time having second thoughts about his promises to everyone to not go hunting for Black. It sounded terrible, even in his own head, but Harry thought that if anyone deserved the Dementor’s Kiss, it was Black. But something niggled at Harry’s mind; something still didn’t quite add up.
“How did Sirius Black escape from Azkaban then?” Harry asked with a frown.
“That is the million galleon question,” Lupin replied with a shake of his greying head. “That has yet to be determined. Now, unless there are any more questions, we should begin.”
Seeing that his pupils appeared more than ready, Lupin nodded and began the instruction, “Now... remember, the incantation is Expecto Patronum. And you shall need to concentrate very hard on the happiest memories that you have to fuel the Patronus Charm.”
Harry’s first thought was of his first time experiencing the exhilarating sensation of riding a broomstick, but that somehow didn’t seem good enough. Harry’s second thought was of the day that Hagrid had told him he was a wizard.
But an unbidden memory insistently overwhelmed all the others. Harry remembered the weeks spent in Diagon Alley during the summer with Hermione, the joyous smiles on her face, and one memory in particular stood out.
The memory was as vivid as if he were still experiencing it. He could still see a fat and fluffy orange cat curled around a large snowy white owl on top of a highly polished oak wardrobe, basking in the silvery moonlight pouring through an open window. Harry could still feel Hermione’s arm curled around his waist, the sensation of her gentle breath against the back of his neck, smell the minty aroma of her toothpaste; he could still feel her warm body pressed up against him and sense her beating heart as she slumbered...
Professor Lupin raised his eyebrows and Harry nodded. The hinges creaked as Lupin slowly opened the lid of the wooden chest, and a billowing dark wraith emerged. The air froze and the darkness began to close in around Harry... but the screaming seemed muted - more distant as Harry kept his best memory in his mind.
“Expecto Patronum,” Harry incanted.
Lupin gasped in astonishment when a bright pulse of silvery white light jetted from Harry’s wand, halting the advance of the Boggart-Dementor. Harry was just as stunned as Lupin, not knowing what to expect. Though he had been cold at first, Harry hadn't felt the deep chill in his bones which he had been preparing for, only the warmth of a loving embrace as he held off the imitation dark wraith with his glowing shield of light.
After a few moments Lupin stepped in front of the Boggart. It turned into a full moon and Lupin banished it back into the chest.
“Did I do it right?” asked Harry, feeling a small clutch of anxiety. “I... I thought it would be worse...”
“I must confess Harry - so did I!” Lupin admitted ruefully. “That is a remarkable Patronus for a first attempt at your age. And given your... circumstances... I wasn’t certain if you would be able to produce anything at all your first time.”
Hermione shivered in nervous anticipation as she watched Harry practice several more times. The echoes of banging and shouting in her mind began to sound more muffled as she felt the icy bite in the air diminish every time Harry’s Patronus shield emerged from his wand, each pulse brighter than the last. She was thrilled that Harry was doing so well, and kept the memory she had chosen at the forefront of her mind ready for her own turn.
“Well done!” said Lupin as he passed the grinning Harry a chocolate frog. “I’m not sure that you really need this, but Madam Pomfrey will have my hide if you don’t eat it.” Lupin turned to face Hermione.
“How about you Hermione? Are you ready?” When she nodded uncertainly, Lupin smiled and spoke again.
“Alright then, just give it your best. I’m going to release the Boggart in front of Harry again, because it will likely only become a Dementor for him. But aim your wand at it, and if you manage to produce a Patronus, it will still work.”
Lupin opened the chest again and Hermione gulped when she felt the glacial atmosphere cause goosebumps on her skin to rise. Hermione wasn’t sure that she had chosen the right memory, as it was from the night following the day of her Worst Memory, while she had still been feeling awful. The weeks which had come after that night had surely been some of her happiest...
But all Hermione knew, was that at the lowest moment in her young life, she had never felt happier than when Harry had held her in his arms and said that he loved her.
With careful resolve, Hermione enunciated the incantation flawlessly, “Expecto Patronum.”
And for the second time in one night, Professor Lupin witnessed yet another unexpectedly bright first-time-ever Patronus shield.
The weeks passed as autumn drew closer to winter, and the first snow lay on the ground two weeks before the end of term. A Christmassy spirit had already entered the castle. Harry and Hermione were both as delighted as Parvati and Lavender when they discovered that Professor Flitwick had decorated his classroom with real live shimmering fairies, who seemed to love nothing better than to preen themselves and show-off for wizards as they flitted to and fro.
Luna was thrilled when Hermione proved very receptive to Mr Lovegood’s articles about fairies - which turned out to be much more informative than the sketchy information in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Even Professor Vector uncharacteristically lightened up a bit, much to Harry’s relief. Harry was still struggling badly in Arithmancy, but at least he was managing to pull passing marks on more and more of his assignments thanks to Hermione’s tutoring. And at least he didn’t have to endure Trelawney’s continued predictions that Harry would meet an untimely death, which Neville and Ron informed him were a nearly daily occurrence in Divination.
“Harry’s not even in her class anymore!” Hermione snapped angrily when Ron filled them in on the details. “Why won’t she just let Harry alone?”
“Er... dunno really,” said Ron, trying to avoid Hermione’s glare. Everything was going alright at the moment and he was enjoying the game of wizard chess which he was playing with Harry.
Patronus lessons were going well for Harry and Hermione, and Lupin determined that they were as proficient as most adult wizards. But Harry was resolved to keep practicing until he could perform a Corporeal Patronus, and Hermione was equally resolute.
Finally the time came for students to decide whether to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas or go home for the holidays. Ron had already decided to stay on for Christmas. Harry didn’t want to upset Hermione, but he knew she missed her parents.
The snow crunched underfoot as Harry walked arm in arm with Hermione through the sparkling white grounds by the ice covered edges of the lake. Their frosty breath lingered in the air and icicles hung from the branches of trees, glittering in the wintry sun.
“I’m afraid Harry,” Hermione confessed after Harry tentatively broached the subject. “I don’t want to give my father another chance to keep me away from y... Hogwarts! You don’t want me to leave do you?” she suddenly asked, peering at Harry anxiously.
“NO!” said Harry, a bit more forcefully than he had intended. “Of course not! If you left...” Harry swallowed, not sure what he was trying to say. He started again.
“I... I just... I know what it’s like to not have proper parents Hermione. I don’t want you to lose yours... They must miss you too!”
“I suppose so,” Hermione muttered, casting her eyes down so that Harry couldn’t see her flash of anger.
A sudden horrible thought occurred to Harry, though he couldn’t really imagine that it was true.
“Hermione... do your parents... do they that know you’re here?” Harry asked. Hermione’s hurt look told him how much the question stung. “I... I just had to ask! I’m sorry Hermione... I’m not trying to imply anything - really!”
Hermione’s features softened. She knew that Harry hadn’t really meant anything by it.
“No... I’m sorry! You’re right Harry - it’s a fair question. But yes, I left them a note telling them exactly where I was going.” Hermione suddenly looked cross again.
“They know that wizards monitor the post for letters from muggle parents to Hogwarts - I made certain of it. And I haven’t received any letters from them... not one!” she finished shrilly, her bottom lip quivering as tears glistened in her lashes.
“Maybe...” Harry’s voice croaked and he wrapped Hermione in his arms, giving her a kiss on her forehead as the tears began trickling down her cheeks.
“Maybe you should write to them - at least to your mum - let her know that you’re alright,” he said gently. “You can send Hedwig.”
Hermione held onto Harry tightly in silence for a few minutes, except for the muted sniffles as she buried her face in his winter-coat. Finally she looked up at Harry and nodded.
“Alright! You’re right Harry! I’m being silly... I shouldn’t let my pride get the better of me.”
They strolled back up the hill to the castle and Hermione wrote a letter to her parents once they reached the Gryffindor Common Room. An hour later they made their way to the Owlery. Hermione was feeling much better already.
“Thank you for making me do this Harry!” she said, giving him a shy little smile. Then her eyes caught a flash of orange amidst the sea of Owls. “Oh... there you are Crookshanks! I wondered where you’d got to.”
Harry grinned at the owl and the cat. Crookshanks jumped down from the ledge upon which he and Hedwig had been sitting and curled around Hermione’s legs, purring while she tied the letter to the snowy owl’s talon. Crookshanks uttered a mournful little meow and waved his bushy ginger tail as he watched Hedwig fly off. Hermione bent down to pick him up and carried him all the way back to the Common Room.
Almost a week had gone by while Hermione waited for Hedwig to return with a reply, and everyone was talking about the upcoming Hogsmeade weekend on the last weekend of the term.
“I don’t suppose I can talk you into going too Harry?” said Ron, peering apologetically at Hermione. “It’s the last chance to buy a few presents before Christmas.”
“You should go Harry,” said Hermione, trying very hard not to look envious. “Black seems to have gone back into hiding for the time-being.”
“No! Not without you Hermione!” Harry said flatly.
“Alright then!” Ron sighed. “Just thought I’d ask. Neville and I are going with Seamus and Dean.”
George glanced at Fred and they had an animated conversation in whispers. There was a tapping sound at one of the common room windows. Parvati opened the window for the white snowy owl and it flapped across the room, lighting upon Hermione’s knee.
Breathlessly, eyes wide, Hermione took the return letter from Hedwig’s ankle with trembling fingers. Hermione glanced at Harry and he nodded, knowing that she’d rather look at it alone first. Hermione darted up the stairs to her dorm room and pulled the curtains around her bed as she tore open the envelope.
Harry gave Hedwig an owl treat and headed up to his own dormitory to wait on his own bed for Hermione with his curtains drawn. Fifteen minutes later Hermione poked her bushy head through his curtains. Harry could immediately tell from her puffy red eyes that she had been crying again.
“Here... I can’t...” Hermione began hoarsely.
She passed Harry the letter to read and curled up under his other arm, resting her head on his shoulder. As Harry gently stroked Hermione’s tawny-brown tresses, grateful for the curtains, he began to read the letter from Hermione’s mother.
Thank you so much for writing. I’m so dreadfully sorry for not writing sooner myself. I must have tried to write this letter a hundred times. But every time I start it, I can’t think how to say it, and it comes out all wrong. I’m really grateful that you have such a brave, kind friend in Harry Potter, and I’m glad that he’s looking after you well. His owl is really intelligent, not to mention very beautiful. I don’t know how she managed to find me, as I’m staying with your Auntie Joanne in Bournemouth at the moment.
Telling you why I’m with your Auntie is the hardest bit for me to write, because I know that deep down, your father still loves you very much. I just couldn’t stay in the same house with him after you left. But I don’t want you to feel like you’re to blame--because you’re not at all at fault dear.
The fact is, I don’t blame you at all for running away. I’ve NEVER seen your father in such a state as he was the night he wanted to snap your wand. You must have been terrified. And when we found that you were gone in the morning, and the note you’d left behind, he was even worse. He rampaged through your room breaking everything in sight. When I tried to stop him he struck me, and I was forced to call the police so that I could remove your belongings safely.
All your things are with me at your Auntie’s now. I know that you can repair them with magic, so I even brought the things your father broke. I know he didn’t mean to hit me. He’s apologised a number of times since and begged me to come back. I was hoping that with a bit of counseling, he could learn to cope a bit better. But it’s a bit difficult, because he can’t tell anyone about the world you belong to, and he refuses to be a part of it at all.
I won’t pretend that I’m not frightened of your world myself, but I understand the necessity of you attending a school like Hogwarts, despite the dangers. It would be far more dangerous for young people with abilities such as yours to go untrained.
I can’t be certain of this next bit, but I think it may also have something to do with how attached you are to Harry Potter. It’s hard to say, because your father refuses to admit to it. And really, that’s why I had to leave him as much as any other reason. I’m hoping that one day, your father will realise that you are still his daughter, and that you can’t help being a witch, any more than you can help your best friend being a boy.
So for the time being, you can send me letters here at your Auntie’s, and spend your holidays here as well if you wish. There’s plenty of room, and you can invite Harry to visit too if you’d like. Please write again soon.
“I’m sorry Hermione...” Harry began, feeling badly that Hermione’s father had come over all Dursleyish. He was also starting to feel really awkward about the likelihood that Mrs Granger’s use of the term “best friend” to describe Harry was a euphemism for something more meaningful.
“Th... thanks Harry!” Hermione stammered, “I... I think I’ll be alright now that I know I still have Mum at least...”
Hermione surprised herself when the words popped out of her mouth. But then she remembered that her father had been mean about her liking Harry since First Year. And she was furious with him for hurting Mum. Hermione still felt confused by it all, but feeling angry about things felt much better than being scared to death when he’d gone ballistic that night and tried to break her door down to get to her wand. She shivered briefly, wondering how far he would have gone to take it from her.
There was a rustling of Harry’s curtains and he gulped, his eyes widening when he heard a knocking on one of his posts. Hermione gasped, bolting upright and out from under Harry’s arm, her face flushing.
“Can we come in?” called out Parvati’s voice. “Is Hermione with you?”
“We saw her come up the stairs,” said Lavender’s voice. “And she looked upset.”
“It... it’s alright,” Hermione squeaked. For a moment she panicked and tried to think of a lie to put them off, but then she realised that could just make things worse for Harry. “You can come through the curtain. Nothing’s going on! I... I just got an upsetting letter from my mum.”
Lavender and Parvati entered through Harry’s curtain and both gave Hermione a hug before sitting on the bed cross-legged to peer at Hermione’s letter. They both gasped in horror and made sympathetic noises when they read about Hermione’s father.
Harry began to blush furiously, hoping that nobody else entered the boy's dorm, not sure that he’d be able to live down the rumours which were sure to start flying if Seamus, Dean, or Ron found three girls sitting on his bed.
The week leading up to the Hogsmeade Weekend was relatively uneventful, and fortunately, nobody had noticed that Lavender and Parvati had been up to the boys dorm. And as Hermione had visited the boys dorm to see Harry, Ron, and Neville on numerous occasions before, nobody had given her presence a second thought.
Saturday morning Harry and Hermione bid Ron goodbye as he departed for Hogsmeade with Seamus, Dean, and Neville, all bundled up in coats and scarves to weather the falling snow. Parvati and Lavender both gave Hermione a hug when they left as well. The castle seemed very still and quiet as nearly all of the students above Second Year had gone to Hogsmeade.
As they made their way back up the marble stairs to the Common Room, Hermione mentally kicked herself for not having the foresight to ask her mum for permission to go to Hogsmeade. Harry almost seemed to be able to read her mind when he saw the expression on Hermione’s face.
“There’s no way you could have predicted your mum’s response Hermione!” Harry pointed out reasonably. “You thought they’d both still be cross with you for running away!”
Hermione turned crimson at being so easy to read again.
“Psst - oi, you two, over here...”
Hermione looked up, startled to see two grinning freckled faces which she thought would be gone already. Harry turned around to see Fred and George peering at them both from behind the statue of a one-eyed witch
“What are you still doing here?” asked Hermione. Harry raised his eyebrows questioningly.
“Early Christmas present for you!” beamed George as he handed Harry a bit of parchment.
“Mind you, it's a bit of a wrench giving it to you...” said Fred.
“...but we decided that your need was greater than ours...” continued George.
“...after all, it’s about time that you two had a proper date...” smirked Fred, giving Harry a wink.
“Remind me why we’re doing this Harry?” Hermione moaned, feeling terribly guilty for inadvertently encouraging Harry to sneak her out of the castle for a “date” in Hogsmeade.
“Because Sirius Black hasn’t been sighted recently, and we’re both good enough at Patronus Charms now to ward off at least a few Dementors if there are any in the village,” Harry retorted, grinning. “And besides, we’ve got my Invisibility Cloak if we need it, but I doubt anyone will notice you among hundreds of other students.”
“But what if Black knows about these tunnels?” whimpered Hermione. “Shouldn’t we turn the map in?”
“Maybe!” Harry admitted. “But not until after you’ve had a good chance to look around Hogsmeade. I suppose I can always turn it in later if you really think I ought to... But it’s not going to make much difference today...”
“Besides, you heard Fred and George - this is the only passage which is really accessible. We’d have heard about it if Honeydukes had been broken into the last time Black got into the castle, and we know that Dementors will be swarming all over the village at night...”
“The chances of Black actually knowing about this passage and being able to access it to get into the castle are pretty slim if you think about it.”
Hermione felt a bit better after mulling over Harry’s logic. The fact that Black couldn’t have used the Honeydukes passage when he’d got into the castle previously was what ultimately assuaged her worries. And remembering the terrifying experience with Mr Weasley’s car - there was no way that anyone could have got through the one being guarded by the Whomping Willow without being bludgeoned half to death...
Hermione was thrilled with Hogsmeade. It looked as pretty as a Victorian Christmas painting with its snow covered thatched roofs, holly wreaths, glistening icicles dangling from window frames, and old fashioned street lanterns. She enjoyed Honeydukes much more than the daughter of two dentists ought to have.
Zonko’s was almost as entertaining to Hermione as it was to Harry. The Post Office full of owls was fascinating, but most exciting to Hermione of all was the lovely bookshop, Tomes and Scrolls. While Hermione’s nose was buried in a book, Harry quietly bought her the one which she had already peered at longingly, and another one which he knew that she hadn’t seen yet, for her Christmas presents. Harry also found a book for Ron, which he was almost certain Ron would actually read.
Harry spotted a Firebolt in the window of the local Quidditch shop, but he didn’t even bother to waste his time drooling over something that he knew he couldn’t afford. Finally they ended up in the Three Broomsticks just after spying Ron, Neville, Seamus, and Dean leaving it.
Harry and Hermione had a late lunch and drank several Butterbeers until they spotted Hagrid, McGonagall, Flitwick, and Cornelius Fudge entering the pub. Harry quickly passed Hermione the Invisibility Cloak and she ducked under the table to put it on.
“Hello Potter!” said Flitwick. “Hope you’re enjoying Hogsmeade!”
“Hi Harry! Nice ter see yeh takin’ the chance ter get out fer a bit while it’s daylight,” said Hagrid.
“How delightful to see you again Harry!” beamed Fudge as McGonagall eyed Harry suspiciously. “Yes indeed... you should be perfectly safe here in Hogsmeade as long as you’re back at Hogwarts before nightfall.”
“Speaking of which, I was actually thinking of heading back now while it’s still early,” said Harry with a grin. “I just thought I’d have a quick look around and get a few presents, but I don’t want to push my luck!”
The Invisible Hermione stuck to Harry like glue as he made a pathway to the door of the Three Broomsticks, and they made their way back to Honeydukes. Harry groaned when he ran right into Ron, Seamus, Neville and Dean, who were just leaving the sweet-shop.
“Harry? You did come after all!” Ron grinned.
“Er... yeah! I... er... just thought I should pop out quick to buy a couple of presents for Hermione and you,” said Harry, turning a bit red. “I really should be getting back though.”
Hermione stayed as still as possible under the Invisibility Cloak, not saying a word, her heart pounding. Harry thought that maybe it was best to keep the news about the map between himself and Hermione. The last thing Harry wanted was for Ron to feel bad that Fred and George had given the map to him so that he could take Hermione out, instead of giving it to their own brother.
“Alright then, I’ll see you back at the castle Harry,” said Ron. “You’ll love Honeydukes - it’s got everything.”
Hermione and Harry managed to get back into the Honeydukes cellar without being noticed, and ran all the way through the tunnel back to Hogwarts. They both breathed a huge sigh of relief once they made it back safely to the Gryffindor Common Room without Hermione being caught. Hermione was glowing from the exertion and the excitement, and felt a bit giggly with the release of the tension.
“Thank you Harry!” Hermione beamed, still sounding breathless as she threw her arms around him and squeezed him tightly, giving him a kiss on the cheek. “I had a lovely time.”
“Me too Hermione,” Harry grinned, thrilled to see her radiant smile as he hugged her back. “That was loads of fun. It was a bit nerve-wracking though! I’d swear that McGonagall knew something was up.”
“I’ll get a permission slip from mum before we go again Harry... I promise!”
“And the map?” Harry looked at Hermione hopefully.
“Keep it Harry!” said Hermione without hesitation, and a gleam of fiery determination in her eye. “It could come in useful, and if Sirius Black does show up back at the castle again, we can use it to help the professors find him.”
Harry nodded cheerfully, and carefully hid the map at the bottom of his trunk.
Harry blinked as the pale sunlight of winter shone through the frosty window of the dormitory. Except for the buzzing of Ron’s snores it was silent in the dorm. Harry put on his slippers and tiptoed down to the Common Room still in his pyjamas, finding it empty. For a moment Harry was puzzled, then he remembered that everyone had left for Christmas Holidays. They must have left really early. Of all the Gryffindors, only Ron and Hermione had remained with Harry this year.
Harry sat in the sofa nearest to the crackling flames in the hearth, letting the peace and quiet wash over him. He heard a rustling sound and looked up to see Hermione approaching in her dressing gown with an armful of books, quills, and parchment. She set her things down on the table and sat next to Harry.
“Getting your homework out of the way early I see,” said Harry, grinning. “That’s a good idea. I’ll go and get mine too.”
Harry started to get up, but Hermione gently touched his arm.
“Don’t just yet Harry,” said Hermione with a slightly pleading smile. “It’s nice and peaceful here. Let’s just enjoy it for a bit until Ron gets up. Then we can go and get breakfast together and do our homework after.”
Harry settled back down, sighing in contentment as Hermione snuggled up next to him. He put an arm around her shoulders as she wrapped both of hers around his middle and lay her bushy head on his shoulder. Harry wasn’t certain how long they sat like that, cuddling in the warm glow of the fire, but when he finally heard Ron’s footsteps clomping on the stairs, he thought it must surely be getting on for lunchtime.
Hermione pulled away from Harry when she heard the heavy footfalls, hurriedly opening several books and scattering her parchments across the table. Ron grinned when he saw Hermione and Harry in the Common Room, both with their noses in a book.
“That figures... homework already!” Ron chortled. “I hope you’re planning on leaving a bit of time to enjoy the holidays.”
“Of course we are Ron...” Hermione said briskly.
“...we just thought we’d get it out of the way...” continued Harry, grinning back at Ron. “But we can do it later. It’s almost lunchtime, you must be starving!”
“Just a bit!” said Ron.
Lunch was a quiet affair, as there were only three other students left in Hogwarts, two nervous First Years and a sulky looking Fifth Year Slytherin. Harry frowned when he noticed Hagrid wasn’t among the other professors.
“We should go say hello to Hagrid,” said Harry quietly as Hermione and Ron nodded in agreement. “See what’s up.”
When lunch was finished, the three of them waded through the snowy drifts down the hill towards Hagrid’s hut, leaving a furrow behind them as the snow continued to fall. Harry was glad again for the Self-Warming Gloves which Hermione had got him for his birthday the year before, because all three of them were otherwise wet and freezing by the time they reached the snow-laden cabin.
A few icicles fell from the eaves when Harry knocked on the front door. An odd low keening sound could be heard from within.
“Maybe we should get someone,” said Hermione anxiously when she heard the moaning.
Harry began to feel even more worried and thumped on the door loudly.
“Hagrid, you in there?” he shouted.
There was a heavy thudding of footsteps and the door opened creakily. Harry winced when a sobbing Hagrid flung his enormous arms around him, the gigantic hairy wizard's big fat tears freezing as they splashed against the hood of Harry’s coat.
“Yeh’ve heard,” bawled Hagrid.
“Malfoy!” Hermione fumed as she and Harry and Ron pored over the heavy dusty tomes. “I hate him! That evil, disgusting, loathsome little worm! He barely got a scratch from Buckbeak...”
“And Pomfrey had it fixed in two seconds flat!” Ron muttered angrily.
Despite his own freshly stirred bitterness, Harry was pleased. For once Ron seemed as eager as Hermione and Harry to search through books from the library. Malfoy’s father had lodged a complaint about Buckbeak the Hippogriff, and a date for a hearing before the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures had been set for April 20th. And all three of them were determined to find something to help Hagrid win his case.
But as Christmas Eve approached, it was difficult not to become distracted by all the decorations and the smell of delicious cooking wafting throughout the entire castle. Scabbers poked his nose out of Ron’s pocket for a sniff, and Ron left Harry and Hermione to it in the Common Room when he spotted Crookshanks glaring at him.
Harry woke abruptly early on Christmas morning when Ron whacked him with a pillow.
“What the...?” muttered Harry as he found his glasses and peered at the grinning redhead.
“Oi - presents! Wake up sleepyhead!”
“Blimey Ron! It’s not even light yet - besides, I want to open them with Hermione too!”
Ron grumped a bit as the pair of them hauled their heavy sacks down the stairs to the Common Room. But Ron's snores could soon be heard as he dozed off on the sofa while they waited for Hermione to wake up. Harry suddenly remembered that he’d left the presents he’d bought for Hermione and Ron in the dormitory.
Harry heard a tapping on his window while he collected the parcels next to his bed.
“Merry Christmas Hedwig!” he said, opening the window.
Harry grinned and stroked his owl’s feathers as he looked at the envelope and the little parcel which she had just brought to him. He was happy to see that they were for Hermione from her mother. Eagerly, Harry returned to the Common Room, forgetting to latch the window.
Ron woke with a start when he heard Hermione squealing excitedly.
“It’s a card from Mum, and she’s sent me a book too!” Hermione’s face shone brightly with happiness, and without thinking she pounced on Harry and gave him a kiss on the lips as Ron’s jaw dropped.
“Thank you so much for making me write to Mum, Harry!” squeaked Hermione, tears of joy glistening in her lashes. “Having her back is the best Christmas Present you could have given me!”
Harry beamed at Hermione’s radiant face, his head spinning as his heart began to race. His lips burned where Hermione’s had touched his. The kiss had been brief, but Harry’s bitterness about Black and Malfoy evaporated in a puff of smoke as the luminescent feelings the kiss had stirred, surged within him.
“Well, I suppose you can always return these then, if they don’t measure up,” Harry chortled teasingly as he handed Hermione the two parcels he had wrapped for her.
“Don’t be silly Harry,” giggled Hermione as she daintily unwrapped her presents. “I’m sure they’re just as lovely...”
Hermione’s eyes widened in delight when she saw what Harry had given her. The book she had been ogling the most in Tomes and Scrolls. She ran her fingers along the gold leaf lettering on the embossed surface of the vintage edition of Hogwarts, A History and inhaled the musty aroma of the red leather binding.
Hermione gasped in surprise when she read the title of the other book Harry had given her: Potioneer Extraordinaire: Hector Dagworth-Granger, A Biography.
“He could be one of your ancestors Hermione,” said Harry quietly.
“But my dad...”
“...is a muggle... I know! But still - that doesn’t mean anything if you go back far enough Hermione.”
Hermione flung herself on Harry again, this time being more careful to kiss him on the cheek. But she let the kiss linger as long as possible before she remembered that Ron was goggling at them both. Hermione plonked herself down in an armchair, blushing furiously as Crookshanks jumped on her lap.
“Here Ron, I got you something too,” said Harry, feeling a bit dazed and looking more than a bit red-faced as well.
Ron must have been a bit dazed too, Harry thought, because it took Ron a moment to blink before realising that he was holding a present in his hand. Ron tore off the wrapping and gawked at the book. He began flicking through the pages excitedly looking at the moving illustrations in The Making of a Champion: Winning Quidditch Techniques for All Ages.
“Blimey Harry! This is amazing... thanks!” said Ron, a gleam in his eyes. “I can practice some of these techniques on a school broom... Maybe even make the team next year!”
Harry grinned and nodded as he and Ron and Hermione tipped out the heavy sacks which had been at the end of their beds. They had all received knitted jerseys from Ron’s mum of course.
“Urgh... Maroon again?” Ron grumbled.
One by one, Harry opened his presents and set them on the table: as well as the jersey, Mrs Weasley had sent him some knitted socks, a scarf, a dozen mince pies, a cake, and a box of nut-brittle. Lupin had given Harry a photo book with pictures of Harry’s mum and dad. Harry put that aside to look at later. Hagrid had sent Harry a bag of his rock-cakes, which were better for use as bludgers than they were for eating.
When Harry got to the biggest parcel, he had a strange sense of foreboding. It was a long thin box without a name card. He opened the box and gasped in shock when a sleek, gleaming broomstick rolled onto the scarlet and gold Common Room rug.
“I don’t believe it!” Harry croaked. Hermione drew a sharp intake of breath.
“Wicked!” Ron exclaimed in awe. “Who sent that to you Harry?”
“No idea!” Harry muttered darkly as his stomach churned. This didn’t make any sense.
“Maybe Lupin?” said Ron eagerly. “He likes you!”
“Lupin doesn’t have any money,” said Hermione in a strained sort of voice.
“What about Dumbledore... or McGonagall?” Ron proffered.
“Ron... this is the most expensive broom there is!” Harry said in exasperation. “It’s an International Standard! Neither one of them would spend thousands of galleons on me!”
Harry glanced at Hermione worriedly, and from the crestfallen expression on her face, he could see she was thinking the same thing.
“Well, someone likes you,” said Ron, oblivious to the looks being shared between Harry and Hermione. “Let’s go give it a spin then!”
“No!” Harry shook his head.
“What?” Ron stared at Harry in bewilderment, not sure that he’d heard correctly.
“Not until it’s been checked out by a professor!” Harry muttered. ‘I think McGonagall should have a look at it.”
“Are you barking?” moaned Ron, beginning to grow angry, wondering if Harry just didn’t want him to mess it up.
“Ron, don’t you think it’s a bit odd that someone would anonymously send me the best broom in the world - when there’s a mass-murdering-maniac on the loose?” asked Harry, trying to be as patient as possible while wondering how Ron could be so thick sometimes. “He probably stole it and put a curse on it to try and kill me...”
“That’s bloody ridiculous!” fumed Ron.
“No it’s not!” said Hermione quietly. Crookshanks glowered at Ron from Hermione’s lap as his bushy tail began to wag in agitation. “Ron, be reasonable...”
“Oh... of course you’re going to agree!” Ron snapped. “Bloody hell! Can’t keep your hands off him can you...?”
“RON!” Harry growled warningly.
Ron caught the tone and he quieted, but he shot Harry and Hermione a mutinous glare.
“Fine!” Ron muttered, “Take the broom to McGonagall to be mutilated! See if I bloody care! I’m taking my things back upstairs.”
“He’ll calm down eventually!” said Harry sadly, when he peered at Hermione’s anxiety-stricken face. “He usually does...”
But a loud roar of fury from upstairs curdled Harry’s stomach and an icy feeling that things were going from bad to worse coursed through his veins. Ron slammed the door with a loud bang and stormed back down the stairs. Hermione turned white and began to shake with fright, flashing back to the night her father had tried to take her wand.
“HE’S GONE!” bellowed Ron, his face red with rage. “SCABBERS IS GONE!”
Ron strode aggressively across the Common Room towards Hermione. Crookshanks bristled on Hermione’s lap, hissing and spitting. Harry jumped up from his seat and Ron halted.
“LOOK!” Ron shouted, holding out his hand, “IT WAS HERMIONE’S BLOODY CAT - I KNOW IT!... THIS IS ALL THAT’S LEFT OF SCABBERS!”
Harry peered closely, and sure enough, in the sweaty palm of Ron’s hand was the tip of Scabbers tail and a few ginger cat hairs. But something wasn’t adding up.
“It can’t have been Crookshanks Ron!” Harry said firmly. “He came downstairs from Hermione’s dormitory with her, and he’s been down here the entire time... He’s still on Hermione’s lap!”
Ron scowled at Crookshanks malevolently.
“He probably snuck upstairs when you weren't looking and came back!” Ron snarled. “And for all I know your BLOODY BIRD was in on it too Harry! LOOK WHAT ELSE I FOUND!”
Ron opened his other hand and two snowy white feathers fluttered to the floor. Then Ron spun around on his heel and marched back up the stairs, banging through the door to the dormitory and slamming it again as Harry stared after him in shock. Harry thought back to the incident at the Leaky Cauldron with a hollow feeling in his gut, wondering if Hedwig really had gone for Scabbers.
But whatever had happened to Scabbers, Harry knew Crookshanks had nothing to do with it. And after Harry’s initial pangs of guilt faded, he began to feel very angry towards Ron for how badly he’d frightened Hermione. Harry walked over to Hermione who was still trembling violently, tears streaming down her cheeks, and took her hand. Hermione let Harry lead her to the sofa and they both sat down together.
Harry clutched Hermione to him tightly with both arms and stroked her hair until her quaking and sobbing subsided. Finally, he could feel her calming and loosened his hold. Hermione snuggled into a more comfortable position under one of Harry’s arms and leaned her head on his shoulder. Crookshanks jumped up, sprawled himself across both of their laps and began purring.
There seemed to be very little Christmas Spirit left in the Common Room that morning, and Harry wondered if his friendship with Ron was over. But as Hermione continued to rest her bushy head peacefully on Harry’s shoulder, he caught the minty scent of toothpaste and felt her gentle breath against his neck again.
Harry closed his eyes and saw a flicker of luminescence in the dark. As the warm glow spread through Harry, he felt it growing in Hermione as well, and he knew that no matter how bleak things seemed at the moment, eventually everything would work out.
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