A one-shot ficlet (featuring implied Harry-n-Hermione) set during their first year at Hogwarts, in which Hermione learns some truths about transfiguration.
All devoted parents of children who go away to school have that urge to slip reminders of home into the child's luggage, and the urge strengthens in direct proportion to the distance of 'away.' Hermione Granger, who was, in a way, leaving behind her parents' entire world, found the first of the two parental mementoes while she was still on the Hogwarts Express.
She hadn't known a thing about Hogwarts or the wizarding world before the day the latter arrived, but she'd set to work remedying her ignorance immediately, reading every wizard text she could lay her hands on. Sometimes, when she wasn't buried in a book, her nervousness would surface. There was an awful lot to learn, but that had never bothered her before. The frightening part was that, in learning it, she felt as though she were shattering her old world to step into a new one. She saw it in her parents' faces: behind the pride and delight, there was an unvoiced sadness. She read out loud sometimes, trying frantically to drag them with her, via the printed pages, into this exciting new world of spells and magic, but she knew that at the start of the school year she'd be crossing a border, and her family would be unable to follow her there. Sure, they could visit, but...it would never be the same. She would never be the same. She was being remade.
Still, this new world was so enticing, so utterly absorbing, that she looked forward with guilt-tinged enthusiasm to the day she could leave what she now knew was the 'muggle world' behind. She was leaving it behind in spectacular style-the first-ever witch in her family, and she'd been admitted to the very best school of witchcraft-and she was determined to live up to that. She'd been studying at home since the day her books arrived, practicing simple spells just to be sure that there hadn't been some mistake, and that she really could do magic. She didn't dare try anything too complicated until she'd had some proper instruction, but she was dying to learn transfiguration. Turning one thing into another: that sounded like real magic. She hoped she'd do well at it. She was hoping to fit in. Sometimes she worried; she'd never been skilled at making friends. What if no one at Hogwarts liked her? But she reassured herself by reasoning that her previous lack of social success had probably been because she really was different: she was real witch, not a muggle at all. She'd do better among people more like herself, right?
To that end, she changed into her robes as soon as she was settled on the train. No one else did, she saw, except for a couple of prefects, but her robes were the first real wizard clothes she'd ever owned, and she couldn't get them on fast enough. When she pulled them out of her trunk the first item her parents had tucked in fell out. It was a small glass unicorn, wrapped in a note from her mother, and the horn broke off when it hit the floor of the compartment. Hermione felt more annoyance than sadness-how could she have known to be careful, when her mother hadn't told her it was there? -and she stuffed the pieces hurriedly out of sight among her clothes. She hoped no one had seen it, and she felt still more embarrassed when she read her mother's well-meaning note. "You always loved this," her mother had written, "so I know you'd hate to leave him behind." Hermione shoved the note into her luggage. She'd loved it when she was a child, yes, but that had been when she'd believed silly, girlish things about magic. Now that she had the chance to study wizardry, it was embarrassing to be reminded of such childish ideas. She was too preoccupied to notice the other students' reactions to her robes, or to reflect that a reputation for keenness wasn't the surest way to make friends at school.
She'd heard of Harry Potter before she ever met him, because he was in the books. Somehow, that had led her to expect him to be more manageable than other people: after all, he was safely written down. She also felt a certain fellow feeling for him the moment she realized he knew nothing about his famous past; he must be having to learn and adapt as fast as she was. Without making a production of it, she decided to be as useful to him as she could, dropping hints and reminding him of rules. She was surprised, and a little hurt, that he didn't see the good intentions behind her well-meant nagging. It was bewildering, too, that he didn't listen to her: didn't change into his robes quickly, didn't study enough, didn't obey the rules. He was another outsider: why didn't he care about doing well and blending in? She didn't believe for a moment that his fame had spoiled him. She could tell he wasn't like that at all. With a growing sense of failure, she began to understand the truth as the term wore on: she was trying her very hardest to succeed, but none of the other students particularly liked her for it.
It was that boy, Ron, who put it into words, so bluntly and accurately that she burst into tears. "It's no wonder no one can stand her," he'd said, right in front of Harry, and alone in the toilets she sobbed over the injustice of it. She'd tried to help them. Why couldn't they see that? Hermione wasn't prone to melodrama, but right then it felt as though her heart would break under this rejection of her friendship.
But they must have known, on some level, that she'd tried to be their friend, because they came rushing in to help her when the troll had her cornered. And, groping for some way to say without saying that she liked them for themselves, for the first time ever Hermione lied to a professor, tacitly signalling her approval for Ron and Harry's more casual attitude towards the rules.
From that day, it was different. She had friends, two of the best friends she could have imagined-no, better than she could have imagined, because her imagination had painted a more cautious, careful Harry, and the brave but reckless real Harry was, she reluctantly admitted to herself, an improvement. An unspoken balance had been reached: she continued to remind them of the importance of rules and homework, and they continued to include her in adventures. She helped them, and she was smart enough to see that they were helping her too. Not just in the obvious ways, like when she took on an extra-credit project for herbology, and sent them scouring the grounds for leaves-Harry uncovered an unusually beautiful fern, and Ron brought her ivy leaves from higher up the wall than she liked to think about-but in the way they pushed her to do things she wouldn't have dared alone.
It was when they were studying for exams that she found the second gift her parents had concealed in her luggage. Ron hadn't turned up yet, and Hermione, hurrying to join Harry in the library, had grabbed her stash of extra extra quills from the bottom of her trunk. When she laid the pile down on the table she saw the little tube of all-purpose extra-strength glue, with the note from her father still folded around it. "I know my very bright, very practical daughter will find a use for this," the note said," and I bet even wizards might find it useful." For a moment Hermione sat holding the tube of glue, lost in thought. The gifts had a synchronicity, a kind of mute message; they just went together, exactly the way her parents fitted together, with no fuss or fanfare. She felt as if she were on the edge of an important insight, but it slipped away when Harry's voice broke into her thoughts.
"That stuff's dead useful," he said, nodding at the glue, and grinned conspiratorially. "There are some muggle things that just can't be improved on."
"No," she said distractedly, and then, "I mean, yes. Would you excuse me, Harry? I just remembered, there's something I need to do."
A few minutes later, sitting cross-legged on her bed, she eyed her handiwork critically, but the result was almost flawless. The horn fit back into place perfectly, with only a tiny crack marring the unicorn's forehead to show it had ever been damaged. She set the unicorn and the tube of glue on her nightstand with a little burst of pride and homesickness and love, and knew that the real secret of transfiguration is understanding how to make use of pre-existing characteristics, so that you don't discard anything you need to hang on to.