Chapter 2: Hermione Granger's School Days
Rating: Still PG-13, though that might change.
Disclaimer: Same as in the first part.
A/N: The scouting program of the Department of Mysteries comes from Kaskait. See that and other interesting ideas on her livejournal. The pixie problem in Ottery-St-Catchpole is based on a legend about the town of Ottery-St-Mary, on which the town near the Burrow was based.
"Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts
Teach us something please,
Whether we be old and bald
Or young with scabby knees,
Our heads could do with filling
With some interesting stuff,
For now they're bare and full of air,
Dead flies and bits of fluff,
So teach us things worth knowing,
Bring back what we forgot,
Just do your best, we'll do the rest
And learn until our brains all rot."
-J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
All was well.
That's what Hermione Weasley's best friend Harry Potter had told her.
She envied his naiveness.
No, all was not bloody well. But, she couldn't tell him that, not yet. Even though he was her oldest friend, and Head of the Auror Department, she couldn't say anything until the Aurors "needed to know". Even though it was their job to deal with the dark magical threats to the wizarding world. Even though the rising storm that was about to break was coming from someone who was once a friend.
She couldn't even tell her husband, Ron.
Such were the duties of an Unspeakable.
She'd always been... different, as far back as she could remember. She never felt she really belonged in the world she was born into. She never quite fit in, no matter how hard she tried, always too curious, too thoughtful, too... whatever to belong. Then, there were the... things that tended to happen around her, unusual things, things for which there were no logical explanations. And, Hermione always wanted logical explanations.
Her best friends for years had been books.
She was an avid reader. She read anything and everything, absorbing books like a sponge. Her favorites, for a time, were fairy tales. Her parents would read her bedtime stories, and she would be fascinated by the far off magical lands, with their heroes, princesses, and monsters. Being such a smart girl, she learned to read, very quickly. Her parents bought her the Oz books by L. Frank Baum, knowing she'd love them.
And love them she did. While she had no one her age she could really consider a true friend in the real world, she found one in the books' heroine, Dorothy Gale, a girl that, like Hermione, was clever, curious, and, in so many ways, alone. Hermione imagined herself accompanying Dorothy on her many adventures to the Fairylands, meeting all the friends Dorothy met there. Dorothy had to return home to her family, of course, and so did Hermione.
Then, one night, everything changed.
Hermione was 7, reading the sixth book in the series, The Emerald City of Oz. She'd just finished the chapter where Dorothy decided to bring her family to Oz, and live there permanently. Hermione sighed, happy for Dorothy.
"If I could only visit you there," Hermione whispered.
A rather intense storm had suddenly risen that night, Hermione remembered.
That was about all she could remember.
The next morning, she woke up with absolutely no interest in continuing with the books. The very idea she found absolutely repulsive. This was just as well, because her books had disappeared.
Fairy stories were behind her, now. No, she had no interest in that silly nonsense. What was important was the real world, what could be seen and touched and explained. Nothing else mattered.
Only problem was, strange things still happened around her, things that had no logical explanation.
An explanation finally arrived when she was 11, though it was hardly logical. A letter arrived for her one day delivered by, of all things, an owl. It was an invitation to attend a school for magic, called Hogwarts. Strange...
Even stranger, her parents didn't seem remotely surprised. They told her someone would be visiting that would explain everything. That someone was a witch, who her parents introduced as Miss Croaker.
A real witch.
Hermione found it all hard to believe, even after a demonstration. The evidence before her was conclusive, however. It did explain the strange things she'd experienced. Hermione was informed that she, too, was a witch, and that there was a whole culture of people like her. She'd attend Hogwarts and learn how to use her gifts.
She learned that there were some families that had been witches and wizards for many generations. Hermione realized she'd be quite behind many of the other kids. So, she did what she'd always done, and read up as much as she could. By the time she was to start her first term, she knew more than most of the other new students, even those from magical families.
She also learned of the House system at Hogwarts, four Houses that were centered around specific traits. Her parents suggested she'd be a natural Ravenclaw, given her intelligence. However, the Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, had been a Gryffindor, the House that valued bravery above all things. She had read a bit about Dumbledore, his reported brilliance, his heroism during a war against the Dark Wizard Grindelwald, and decided that Gryffindor must be her House.
Students were sorted by a talking hat. The hat was about to put her in Ravenclaw, when Hermione insisted on Gryffindor.
It was in Gryffindor that she finally made real friends, two boys named Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. Ron was from a very large family, and felt insecure about measuring up to his older brothers, three of which were there at Hogwarts. Harry was rather famous, due to an incident when he was a year old. A dark wizard had sought to conquer the wizarding world. He was known as Lord Voldemort, though most feared to use his name. He had systematically slaughtered all who opposed him, until he came to Harry's family. He killed the baby's parents, but something strange happened when he tried to kill the boy. His curse backfired. A war that had been raging for ten years ended, just like that. Or so it seemed...
As Hermione learned during that first year at Hogwarts, Voldemort wasn't quite dead.
Not only wasn't he dead, he was looking to regain his power, and was rather fixated on Harry. Hermione, Harry, and Ron would wind up spending much of their school years fighting Voldemort's various schemes. A lot happened along the way.
For one thing, she met the Weasleys, Ron's family. She quite liked them, which was a good thing because of something else that happened. It seemed she had gained the attention of the Department of Mysteries.
It was before the start of her third year at Hogwarts that Hermione received a surprise letter from Professor Dumbledore, requesting a private meeting to discuss her future career. She'd hadn't thought, at such a young age, about possible career plans as a witch. As far as she knew, no one planned their careers that early. She was very curious, and a meeting was arranged.
"Have you ever heard of the Department of Mysteries?" Dumbledore asked her.
Of course, Hermione had already learned as much as she could about this most mysterious of Departments in the Ministry of Magic, the Government of magical Britain. Problem was, there wasn't much available for her to learn. The Department of Mysteries lived up to it's name. Even most within the Ministry didn't know what they did.
So, she was very surprised when Dumbledore began telling her, a 13 year old Hogwarts student, about it.
The Department of Mysteries was the intelligence community of the wizarding world, their activities kept secret from the general populace. Those who were part of it were called Unspeakables. They studied the most ancient and mysterious of magics, the magic difficult to understand and almost impossible to control. They also kept the darkest forces in check.
"But, isn't that what the Aurors do?" Hermione asked.
"The Aurors are our most elite law enforcers, yes. But, there are more dangerous things than dark wizards out there."
"More dangerous than... You-Know-Who?"
"Yes... As dangerous as Lord Voldemort is, there are things beyond even him."
"Then, why aren't we told about them?"
Dumbledore sighed, his eyes, for a moment, those of someone who had seen too much over his long life.
"You've seen how Lord Voldemort frightens our people into a panic just with his name. Imagine how people would react to knowing there are far more dangerous things in the world. There is so much of our history most are better off not knowing"
Hermione had noticed a distinct lack of a sense of history in the wizarding world. Sure, they learned History of Magic, but she always knew something vital was missing. Now, it was like a door opening, an opportunity to truly learn, to understand. But...
"Then... Why are you telling me all this?" she asked.
"The Department of Mysteries needs the best minds to run it," Dumbledore replied. "They seek potential candidates, early. I've convinced them that you should be considered."
"Well... It's a bit early for me to choose a career..."
"Many who've been part of the scouting program have chosen other paths. I did, myself. But, even those who've chosen another path have found what they learned very beneficial."
Hermione noticed a slight twitch when Dumbledore said that. She had a very good idea who another candidate was. Still, she was curious. This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"What do I have to do?" she asked.
"You have to earn twelve OWLs. Then, high scores on your NEWTs. After that, there's a vigorous screening process."
OWLs, Hermione knew, were the tests taken during a Hogwarts student's fifth year, followed by NEWTs in their seventh.
"But, how can one possibly take twelve OWLs, let alone pass them? There's not enough hours to take that many classes."
Dumbledore smiled, and said: "As it happens, the Department of Mysteries has a method of doing just that."
"I don't know... That's a lot of classes..."
"It's one of the most important callings in our world. The Department of Mysteries usually scouts the Ravenclaws. But, it would be good to have a Gryffindor there..."
Well, that convinced her.
"Also, Miss Granger, you can tell your family nothing. In fact, it would be for the greater good if you distanced yourself from them, entirely. The less muggles know, the better."
She'd noticed she'd been a little distant from her parents, lately. They were what wizards called muggles, non-magical folk. But, to cut herself off from them, completely...
"They're my family."
"Yes, well... You like the Weasleys, do you not?"
The method of fitting all the subjects she'd require was called a Time Turner, which allowed her to be in two classes at once. She had to be very careful no one but those who absolutely had to know was aware she was doing this. She couldn't even tell Harry and Ron. But, as usual, there was Voldemort related danger, and she had to reveal the Time Turner to Harry so they could save the day, once again.
She returned the Time Turner after that adventure. She was worn out. She just couldn't keep up the pace, handle the pressure. She wouldn't be able to get those twelve OWLs.
So, she spent the next summers with the Weasleys, only seeing her own family as briefly as possible. Ron's father, Arthur, worked for the Ministry and had an obsession with muggle gadgets, though he couldn't comprehend the functions of most of them, or even their names. Molly was the Mother Hen. Ron had no less than five older brothers, and one younger sister, Ginny. Ginny Weasley had one mission in life, and that was to marry the famous, and quite rich, Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. Ron found this rather annoying, but Hermione thought it was cute. Ginny would grow out of it, Hermione was certain. Harry, for his part, was oblivious.
In her fifth year at Hogwarts, Hermione met a Ravenclaw in Ginny's year named Luna Lovegood. At last, a girl who, like herself, had a brain and interests besides gossip, fashion, and boys. Unfortunately, Luna made Hermione feel uneasy.
Hermione couldn't quite figure out what it was. She heard a great deal of gossip about Luna from Ginny, none of it good. Now, granted, Ginny's negative comments probably had a lot to do with Harry's interest in the Ravenclaw, but Hermione felt almost compelled to insult Luna to Harry, as well. Harry took exception, given that Luna was one of the few people supporting Harry during a Ministry smear campaign that was going on at the time. The Ministry just didn't want to acknowledge Voldemort was alive and at large, and Harry was inconveniencing them a great deal by talking about it. Ron and Hermione had been involved in Harry's adventures, so they knew Harry was telling the truth. Luna hadn't, but believed him, and openly supported him when few others would.
So, why was Luna bothering her so much? She was eccentric, sure. She was what they called an "outside the box" thinker. She cared little about what others thought of her, a determined individualist. She was driven by a deep faith. She was everything Hermione was not...
Or everything Hermione kept herself from being.
That was part of it, Hermione knew. But, it wasn't quite everything...
No, there was something familiar about Luna Lovegood, her eyes, her dreamy nature, something...
Why couldn't she remember?
What especially got to Hermione was the creatures Luna would insist existed, with names like the crumple-horned snorkack and the blibbering humdinger.
"Luna," she told her during one of their arguments on the subject, "you're believing in things that sound like they're from fairy tales!"
"There's a lot of truth in fairy tales, you know," Luna said, smiling serenely.
"Look, I loved fairy tales when I was little, but you have to put that nonsense aside!"
"Oh, I'm not saying the fairy tales have everything completely accurate. Stories go through a lot of changes as they're told and re-told. But... Fairy tales, fables, myths, legends, parables... They're all true. Some are even factual."
"Wait... How can they all be true but only some factual?"
"There's a higher truth. What is the story really saying?"
Hermione now had a headache. Bloody Ravenclaws...
"You're muggleborn, aren't you?" Luna asked.
"Yes. What does that have to do with anything?"
"What would you have said if someone had told you dragons and unicorns exist, before you got your Hogwarts letter?"
"Look... This is different!"
"I know dragons and unicorns exist! I've seen them!"
"And when you see the crumple-horned snorkack?"
"I'm not GOING to see the crumple-horned snorkack, because it doesn't EXIST! Ron's from a wizarding family, and HE says they don't exist."
"He'd also tell you the duck-billed platypus doesn't exist."
Well, yes, Hermione had to concede that one. Still, between Luna and her creatures, and Ginny still doing her Snow White impersonation, she was sick of fairy tales. She considered it fortunate that the Weasleys didn't have muggle things like DVD players. She didn't think she could stand Ginny singing "Someday My Prince Will Come."
The end of the school year was yet another adventure, but the most significant one, yet. She, Harry, and Ron went to the Department of Mysteries itself, with Ginny, Luna, and Neville Longbottom. There, they fought the Death Eaters, and Harry learned of a prophecy about himself and Voldemort. The Ministry finally acknowledged Voldemort's return. They had no choice, really, since he waltzed right into the Ministry. Luna had really come through for them, fighting bravely against the Death Eaters, and frankly handling herself better than Hermione did. They'd have never even made it to the Department of Mysteries if it hadn't been for Luna's outside the box thinking.
Much to her surprise, though, when Hermione recounted this to Dumbledore, he was... less than pleased.
"Yes," Dumbledore said. "Professor McGonagall had to award Ravenclaw points. She wasn't happy about that. You shouldn't have allowed her to go with you."
"She's as brave as any Gryffindor..."
"But, she's not a Gryffindor, Miss Granger. She's a Ravenclaw. Never forget that."
"What does it matter? I was almost sorted into Ravenclaw, myself"
"But, you chose Gryffindor. That makes all the difference."
"I don't understand."
"It's our choices, Hermione, that show us what we truly are."
"And Luna chose to fight alongside us, when she had nothing at stake... Just because it was the right thing to do."
"Have you ever heard of the Doctrine of Predestination?"
"It says that Man can never be deserving of salvation. It can only be given by the Grace of God. Therefore, God has already chosen the Elect and the Damned. You are either born among the Elect and are good, or you are not."
"I... can't accept that, Professor."
"But you must. God has sorted His people. Here, the Sorting is done by the Sorting Hat."
"The Sorting Hat that wanted to put me in Ravenclaw, and I'd bet it considered Gryffindor for Luna."
"Possibly. But, you chose Gryffindor, while she chose Ravenclaw. You made that choice because you are truly one of the Elect. Miss Lovegood choosing Ravenclaw shows that she is not. Whatever she may seem to be on the surface, never consider her as good as any Gryffindor. Your House is your family, and she is not your family."
"But, Professor... I've seen some of my fellow Gryffindors... Well, a lot of them, actually... Behave in ways that are less than... good. Some of the things they've said and done... I've even done some things that are... a bit questionable."
"Only for the right reasons, Hermione. I assure you your actions have been for the greater good."
Maybe, Hermione thought, but there was no justification for some of the things her fellow Gryffindors had done, often the very same actions they were so quick to condemn those of other Houses for. She was beginning to understand Professor Snape's hostility towards her House, and why her fellow Gryffindors treated Cedric Diggory of Hufflepuff being chosen by the impartial Goblet of Fire to be Hogwarts' representative in the Tri-Wizard Tournament as a crime against nature.
Hermione wasn't quite sure when she fell for Ron, or even why. Of course, the other main boy in her life was Harry, and while she loved Harry, he wasn't the most fun person to be around. Ginny hadn't gotten over her crush, even though she was dating Dean Thomas, a fellow Gryffindor, an artist, and a gentleman.
Ron's oldest brother, Bill, was at the Weasleys' home, the Burrow, with his fiancee, Fleur. This didn't make Molly or Ginny happy. You see, Fleur was part Veela, an offshoot of the Fae that males were especially attracted to. Molly Weasley didn't like the Fae, not one bit. Hermione learned this when she suggested inviting Luna for a visit. After all, Luna lived not far from the Burrow, located just outside the town of Ottery-St-Catchpole.
"Yes, Dumbledore told us she went with you to the Department of Mysteries."
Uh oh... Hermione knew she'd have to defend Luna, again.
"She has some unusual ideas, sure, but she's the nicest, most loving person..."
"She's half Sidhe."
Well, that explained a lot. Hermione had read about the Sidhe, the Fairy Folk. There were so many stories about them, both good and bad. Luna had unusual eyes, large, silver, reflective, and moonlike. Just like the wandmaker, Mr. Ollivander, Hermione suddenly realized. And, like Mr. Ollivander, Luna had an Old Magic feel to her, something ancient and... primal. Luna reminded her of a wood nymph. Now, Hermione understood why.
The Sidhe had divided themselves into two Courts, the Seelie and Unseelie. The Seelie was the more benevolent of the two, and had many fairy creatures in it's Court, including fauns, pixies, and brownies. The Unseelie Court was hostile to humans, and their Court included many dark fairy creatures, including goblins, the very goblins who now ran the wizarding bank, Gringotts. Hermione wondered if there was a connection between the brownies and the house elves that were slaves of the wizarding world, but couldn't find anything confirming her suspicions.
"Is Luna's family Seelie or Unseelie?" she asked Molly.
"Seelie, but don't let that fool you," Molly replied. "The Seelie Court gives the Ministry all kinds of trouble. The truce we have with them stops them from abducting people outright like they used to. But, if somebody happens to stumble into their lands, or they decide they've been invited..."
"They have a pretty loose definition of what they consider an invitation. That's one problem with the Statutes of Secrecy. Muggles don't believe the Fae exist, so they sometimes don't watch what they say. And nobody can watch what they dream. They still like to take people to their lands and make them theirs. Once they have you, and decide to keep you, they'll enchant you. The Ministry sometimes can put a stop to an abduction if they get there in time. Means a lot of memory charms, though..."
Hermione thought that sounded horrible.
"They also get nasty when they're offended," Molly continued. "In Ottery-St-Catchpole, they still talk about the pixie attack hundreds of years ago. Wizards had to drive them off, and the Fae who sent them. They were driven into the woods up north from here. Most of us know not to go anywhere near those woods. But Xenophilius Lovegood went there, and one of them enchanted him."
"That would be her. Morgan was her name. Her daughter looks just like her."
"Look... I got to know Luna pretty well..."
"You think so? The Sidhe have a charm about them... Maybe not like their Veela cousins, but they can put their fairy charms on you and convince you they're the best people in the world. Blood will out. She'll show her true colors, someday."
Hermione trusted Molly's judgment. She trusted Dumbledore's. Yet, she couldn't believe Luna was what they were saying she was. But, if that were so...
"Harry likes her."
"Does he?" Molly asked, her eyes narrowing. "We'll just have to do something about that, then."
"So, Harry has told you about the Prophecy, and what we're doing?" Dumbledore asked her upon her return to school.
"Yes. He said you said he could."
Dumbledore and Harry were hunting dark magical objects called Horcruxes that Voldemort had created in his quest for immortality. Each object had a piece of the Dark Lord's soul, but an act of murder was required to make one.
"Good, good. And Ron, as well?"
"Excellent. You know not to tell anyone else?"
"Good. And I must implore you to avoid Miss Lovegood as much as possible, this year."
OK, this was getting annoying.
"And why is that?" Hermione asked, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice.
"She's a Legilimens."
A Legilimens could read emotions and memories. Hermione had noticed that Luna always seemed to know what was going on with Harry, and how best to reach him when nobody else could, even her. She'd hadn't thought about how Luna always maintained eye contact with whoever she was talking to, eye contact being a part of Legilimency.
"I think she can be trusted, but I'll do as you say," Hermione promised.
Harry showed a sudden interest in Ginny... Well, Ginny's body, at any rate. Nevertheless, Harry took Luna to Professor Slughorn's Christmas party. Hermione was alarmed for a while, but his sudden obsession with Ginny's looks soon flared up again. Finally, she got him in a very public display, right in front of Dean. Harry practically flaunted it in front of him and everyone, taking an obvious delight in Dean's misery. Hermione was happy for Ginny, or maybe she was just relieved that she wouldn't have to listen to Ginny going on about her Prince Charming. But Dean didn't deserve that.
Another battle happened at the end of the school year, this time at Hogwarts, itself. The Death Eaters were driven off, but at the cost of Dumbledore's life. Luna came through for them once again, despite how much they'd been avoiding her. She did make a point of reminding them, in her Luna-ish way, that they'd hadn't been the best of friends to her, that year.
At Dumbledore's funeral, the usually emotionally reserved Luna cried. Hermione wondered if she would be grieving if she'd known the things Dumbledore had said about her. She probably still would, Hermione thought. Luna always looked for the best in people, and was always forgiving.
Harry decided enough was enough. He wouldn't return to Hogwarts the next year, but would hunt down the remaining Horcruxes and destroy Voldemort once and for all. Hermione and Ron decided they would go with him.
Hermione Granger, the smartest witch in her year, would end her school years as a Hogwarts dropout.
An even bigger irony was yet to come. Hermione would soon find herself chasing a fairy tale.