Happy Sunday, peeps! Here is ch1 as promised. Thanks to all who took the time to read that ridiculously short prologue on its own! Need a refresher? At the bottom of the chapter there’s a ‘back’ button. Special thanks to CoquetteKitten for all her work as alpha-beta-gamma-theta 😉 (and for manning the social media desk).
Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry
Unplottable location, Scotland
She was bunking off again, this time behind a large outcropping of stone by the Great Lake, hunkered down on the rain-damp rock in a weak ray of Scottish sunlight. A brisk spring breeze blew through the bluebells at her feet and the pages of the large tome cradled in her arms, and every so often she smoothed down the ruffled pages and spat out a mouthful of windblown hair.
There was no shortage of such quiet nooks at Hogwarts, but this particular one was a good distance from the castle and, therefore, a favorite of hers. Unfortunately, the best hideaways weren’t all that secret. Footsteps crunched along the gravel path, interrupting her solitude. “Go away,” she ordered in a flat tone.
“You missed Reconciliation,” said the interloper. He didn’t need to add again. “She sent me to find you.”
“Oops.” She didn’t bother to lift her eyes from the page or try to hide her smirk. “I lost track of time.”
“Actually, she hasn’t yet begun – we’re waiting for you.”
“Oh, for Godric’s sake.” Hermione slammed the book shut and stood, hefting it with some effort. “If it’s another large-group activity where we’re asked to regurgitate our feelings . . .”
That was often the case, and just as often she ‘missed’ the class called Reconciliation – the one prescribed by the Ministry as treatment for the internal wounds of the Second Wizarding War in its youngest generations. It was the one part of the school day that nearly every eighth year student dreaded, and it was compulsory.
“She said to assure you it’s not.”
She rounded the outcropping to find him standing there, hands in his trouser pockets, regarding her warily. To the casual observer, they could have been friends. “It had better not be.”
He beckoned toward the castle with a jerk of his head, and the two began the trek back. “I apologize for disturbing you.”
“Apology accepted,” she said automatically. “If you feel the need to make amends, you may carry this for me.” But they weren’t friends. She swung the book sideways without warning, catching him in the gut.
“Oof.” He doubled over momentarily.
Hermione was unable to keep the satisfaction from her tone. “Sorry, Malfoy.” Not friends.
“Apology accepted,” he managed to wheeze.
“All in the name of personal progress,” she explained in a decent imitation of the Reconciliations professor. “Now we have something to share with the class. That has to be worth at least ten Resolution points for me.”
She could practically hear him calculating the degree of civility it would take to earn them the daily maximum of points; after all, she was doing the same: five points for initiating communication, five for a polite exchange, another potential five if either was willing to share their interaction in front of the class, and-
He interrupted her mental math. “Twenty if I offer to return this to the library, and you accept.”
Loath as she was to admit it, his suggestion had strategic merit; twenty was a decent score and five points below the daily max of twenty-five, thus circumventing the suspicion of their having choreographed the entire interaction. Not that she’d have expected anything less of him – he was just as behind in Reconciliation points as she was. “Fine.” More to herself than him she added, “Even a Divination teacher wouldn’t consider this education.”
They walked in silence for a long while. As they neared the castle, he shifted the heavy book in his arms and smoothed a gentle hand down its worn spine. “A little light reading?”
“It’s an old favorite.”
“My mother used to read it to me,” he said quietly, “when I was little.”
Not friends, but not exactly enemies, either. Not any more. Nevertheless, the rest of their trek was bound by the hush of an unspoken truce. They’d dipped into the shallowest waters of conversation and somehow ventured slightly deeper than intended. Now they were in danger of being sucked into that riptide swirling at the back of their subconscious, the one threatening to pull them in one of two directions: either back into the nightmare from whence they’d come or the uncharted waters of something entirely new. The ankle-depth of civility was safe, they’d wordlessly agreed, and so there they remained. Well, there and the library, where they borrowed each other’s class notes on a regular basis to earn points for the one school subject they both hated.
Had Ron decided to return to Hogwarts, he’d have been appalled at the cease-fire; what Harry might have thought was uncertain, for he, too had opted out of finishing school, instead holing up at Grimmauld with Sirius after the war, and his letters tended to avoid subjects tainted by the past. But Ron and Harry had abandoned her, and in doing so forfeited any right to the expression of opinion.
They reached the entrance hall to find the headmistress standing just inside the large doors, arms crossed and wand twitching in her hand. Hermione experienced a moment of regret and possibly even guilt, but she quashed those inconvenient emotions. “Good afternoon, Professor McGonagall.”
“We’re grateful you’ve managed to fit school into your busy schedule, Miss Granger.” When Hermione attempted to continue on into the hall, she added, ‘Oh, no; you’ll stay right here.”
The guilt resurged with a hint of shame, and she blushed. Had she ever been addressed in that tone by an authority figure? A flood of memories involving Harry and Ron washed the burn from her cheeks and curved her mouth into a smirk before she could stop it. Yes, actually, she had.
Professor McGonagall turned to Malfoy. “Thank you, Draco; you may return to class – and tell Professor Hipthripple that Miss Granger will be spending Reconciliation class with me in my office.”
Hermione’s smile widened. She shot Malfoy a smug look.
She whipped her head back to the headmistress. “Wh-”
“For the remainder of the year.”
“Yes, ma’am.” His tone was one of neutrality and respect; as he walked away, however, there was a distinct swagger to his gait.
Hermione’s brain began to spin with unhelpful information. Resolution Points could only be collected in class. No points could be earned in detention. Points counted toward graduation.
Professor McGonagall interrupted her epiphany. “You may continue to dwell on the scope of your short-sightedness on your own time.” She pointed in the direction of her office. “Some of us have work to do.” And then she set off at a brisk pace.
Hermione followed blindly. How would she earn points? “Professor,” she began, only to be cut off right away.
“Not a word, young lady.”
She spent the rest of the short walk trying to think of anything besides points, turning her thoughts instead to the official-looking parchment that had arrived by Owl Post last Wednesday, now tacked in pride of place above her desk. An entry-level job at the Ministry might not be glamorous, but it was a way to get her foot in the door. Then look out, Wizarding world, because she had plans for change in the DRCMC! Just as soon as she had her diploma in hand, she’d be signing her first job contract, free at last to move on and leave the past where it belonged: far, far behind. And she was so far ahead of her classmates in ninety-nine percent of her classes that, really, all that was left to do for the rest of the year was attend lectures, hand in all the completed assignments filed in her desk drawer by due date, and earn as many poi-
Damn. She’d led herself straight into that. Just as they reached the revolving staircase and the headmistress murmured the password to the gargoyle, her brain offered one more unhelpful thought for consideration. She paused in mild panic. Oh, gods – could points be taken away?
She had no recollection of entering the office; suddenly she found herself parked in a chair in front of the headmistress’s desk, pinned in place by a pair of bespectacled, age-clouded eyes that nevertheless managed to see everything. She squirmed under the intense scrutiny for several uncomfortable moments.
Finally the headmistress sighed. “Whatever shall I do with you?”
“It was a rhetorical question.” The headmistress removed her glasses and rubbed her temples. “What were you doing out by the lake?”
Hermione’s hands tightened into fists under the cover of her robe sleeves as she studied a spot on the wall directly to the left of Professor McGonagall’s head. “Reading.”
“I don’t suppose it was something Professor Hipthripple assigned for class,” the professor said wearily. And then, when Hermione opened her mouth to answer, she continued, “You have rarely attended Reconciliation, refused to take part in both large group and individual therapy sessions, and failed to turn in any of the work assigned in that class. I’ve had the pleasure of reading your entire file this morning.” She gestured toward a stack of parchment on her desk.
“Is that what she told you?” Hermione met the headmistress’s gaze in an attempt to avoid gawking at the enormous file. She’d handed in exactly one assignment for the entirety of the year, which meant all of that could only have been written by Professor Hipthripple. Her observations. “Because it’s not true; I turned in the Christmas Holiday project – the one about our families.”
“Ah, yes,” the headmistress said drily, holding up what appeared to be a toddler’s crayon drawing of three stick people and a nondescript black scribble standing beside an ochre rectangle, a yellow circle with several odd appendages smiling down from one corner. “The ‘Portrait of a Family’ assignment. Not your best work, dear.”
Her eyes darted to the file before she could find another neutral point of focus. “It was meant to be abstract.” Good Godric, but the thing was huge . . . how could anyone have written that much about a student who didn’t participate on the few days she actually attended class?
“It was meant to be an essay! It amazes me how much time you’ve invested in being difficult this year.” The headmistress made a few notes on a piece of parchment and then returned her attention to Hermione. “Did you read any part of the Ministry document you signed for Reconciliation?”
That was enough to break free from the pull of the file. She turned her full attention back to the headmistress. “Of course I did!” If she sounded affronted, it was because she was; she’d never been accused of not reading something.
“Then you’re aware of the fact that you’re in violation of it.”
“I have written multiple letters, both to the director of the Department of Post-War Studies and Minister Shacklebolt, protesting the program.”
For a split second it looked as though the headmistress was trying not to roll her eyes. “And has either responded?”
“Not yet,” she conceded, “but I’m sure there’s a considerable backlog of complaints.”
The headmistress gave another sigh. “Hermione, the Ministry has put time and effort into rebuilding our world through programs like Reconciliation, and in doing so it has already begun the-”
If she heard the term ‘healing process’ one more time, she was going to scream. “If it’s all the same to you,” she interrupted, “I’d rather not talk about this any more, Professor.” She returned to her study of the wall. “May I please have my detention assignment?”
“That won’t be a problem.”
“I’ll need to borrow a quill.” Hermione watched her pick up a large rubber stamp and apply it viciously to several parchments. “And ink.”
The headmistress peered over the rims of her glasses. “What I mean to say is that won’t be necessary. I’ve discussed the situation with your parents at length.” She returned to her assault of the parchment for a long minute, silencing Hermione’s muted noise of indignation with a withering glare. “Since you, in the sagacity of youth, haven’t communicated with them since the Christmas holidays.”
The slight twinge of remorse she’d harbored to that point died then, replaced by an anger she only just managed to restrain. Of course her parents had been kept abreast of her progress; she’d signed the consent form to allow it along with every other student who’d reached the age of majority. Because it’s not enough for my past to be dredged up constantly in the Magical world – it needs to be done in the Muggle one as well. “That was very thoughtful of you, professor.” She couldn’t help glancing at her file once more. How much of that nonsense had they been told?
“It was necessary because plans for your immediate future have changed, thanks to your sheer pigheadedness.”
For one brief second, Hermione entertained the hope that this entire meeting had been a ruse, an attempt to scare her onto the straight and narrow road to Reconciliation. Had the Ministry reached a decision regarding her petition? She leaned forward. “What do you mean?”
Professor McGonagall shuffled the parchments into a neat stack, tapping them into order with efficient finality. “I mean you won’t be graduating with the rest of your class.”
“But I already passed all eight of my-” she faltered under the professor’s glare.
“Indeed you did, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell the ‘brightest witch of her age’ that receipt of N.E.W.T.S. qualifications is contingent upon graduation. You’ll get them just as soon as you retake Reconciliation and pass it.”
Hermione spent the next forty-five minutes staring at the same spot on the wall and, by sheer dint of will, not crying as, for once, her magnificent mind failed to find a solution to the problem at hand.
Finally, finally, the dinner bell gonged from deep within the castle, and the headmistress said without looking away from her paperwork, “You may go.”
The curt dismissal would have stung earlier; now Hermione found a cynical sort of humor in its irony. She almost laughed, but at the last minute her innate respect for Professor McGonagall regained control. Instead she stood abruptly, school bag in hand, and made her way to the door.
“I expect you on time tomorrow,” the headmistress snapped at her rapidly retreating form.
For a long while Hermione remained locked in thought, navigating the castle by muscle memory alone while she chewed on this new injustice as a dog with a bone. Much had been promised to those who returned for the Eighth Year Experience; academically, it had been delivered. But despite the advanced coursework, it was clear from the very start what the true focus was to be: Reconciliation, the Ministry’s one-size-fits-all plaster for the damage caused by the war. Because the Ministry’s need for the Magical world to relive every horror of the Second Wizarding War again and again and again until all traces of its ugliness had been scrubbed clean was greater than the needs of its citizens, some of whom just wanted to be left the hell alone.
Hogwarts had been breached once more by the Ministry, whose employee – in the guise of teaching robes – spent each school day exposing the most private pains of every eighth year student before an audience of their peers, collecting them in exchange for points as proof of the program’s effectiveness. Individuals who refused to participate or didn’t show adequate progress in ‘the healing process’ wouldn’t be allowed to graduate. This was the Reconciliation that Hermione chose to boycott: the false promise of a government more concerned with statistics than individual citizens proven by the fact that Kingsley Shacklebolt hadn’t bothered to reply to any of her letters.
It was the cold that finally brought her back to awareness – that and the deepening shadows; she realized she’d wandered far past the walls of the castle and into the ruins of Greenhouse Six. She shivered, considering her options, and decided the bleak desolation of the space was far more suited to her current mood than anyplace else. She’d have cast a Hot-Air Charm to warm herself, but lately her magic had been a bit . . . Well. If she were to be perfectly honest, her magic had become increasingly difficult to conjure on good days and impossible to control on bad ones, and she’d reverted to doing many things the Muggle way.
There was a pile of supplies nearby, evidence of the Advanced Herbology students’ current restoration work on the crumbling building, and she dug through it until she’d found what she wanted: a bolt of jute Hessian. Then, wrapping the coarse fabric around her like a blanket, she curled up under the cover of a dying potted palm and tried to recall a time when the world had been bright with promise and magic a joy to wield.
*** . *** . *** . *** . *** . *** . *** . *** . *** . *** . *** . ***
Long after her office door had slammed shut behind Hermione, Minerva McGonagall sat at her desk in a pose that looked just the slightest bit like defeat.
“I always said that girl was even more trouble than Potter.” The voice came from a portrait frame on the wall to her left, where a wizard regarded her with dark, hooded eyes.
His sneer would have terrified anyone else, but Minerva dismissed it with a withering glance. “As much as I admire your keen wit and intellect, I’m in the mood for neither at the moment.”
He pursed his thin lips and was silent for a long while. Finally he said in a much different tone, “If anyone can help her, it will be you and Hestia.”
“Thank you, Severus. I hope you’re right.” The headmistress made a contemptuous sound and waved at the enormous file on her desk. “If only she wanted to help herself!”
“Must I remind you the most wounded souls rarely recognize the gravity of their condition?” he asked quietly.
For a moment the headmistress’s eyes were suspiciously bright and her wrinkled chin wobbled, but when she turned to the portrait a few moments later, there was a familiar fire in her eyes. “If you have some advice, you might as well spit it out.”
See you next Sunday, peeps!