Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling in all languages including but not limited to ancient runes.
A/N: Well, here it is: the end of first year. Things are definitely starting to diverge from canon by now, and they will continue to do so as arithmancy becomes more important. Hermione will be learning spell analysis and some spell reversal next year and proper spellcrafting the year after that, although she can work ahead to some extent. Remember, if you have an idea for a spell that you want to see, PM me or write it in a review.
I want to thank everyone who has supported me and come along for the ride so far—nearly a thousand followers, over six hundred favourites, and higher ratings than several stories I really admire. I'm very encouraged to see that so many people enjoy my writing. After all, I'm only doing this for fun. The reviews have been very encouraging, and I'm glad that so many people enjoyed my resolution to the Philosopher's Stone plot.
I intend to revise some of the early chapters in the near future to reduce the quoted material, especially Chapter 5, which is probably the biggest weakness of the story. But have no fear, for we'll be moving right along with a certain oddball house elf next week.
The meeting that convened in the Hospital Wing after breakfast the next morning was impressive. In additional to the three children and Professor Vector, Professors Dumbledore, McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout, Snape, and Babbling were all there, along with Hagrid, sitting in a large circle. Madam Pomfrey was tut-tutting in the corner at her space being so invaded. Hermione and Ron were all mended and sitting up in chairs, but Harry and Professor Vector were still stuck in bed. Harry and Ron were worried about the Quidditch final tomorrow, but Madam Pomfrey told Harry that if he behaved himself, he'd be able to play. Hermione couldn't fathom how the boys could be worried about Quidditch after everything that had happened, but she knew enough about Harry by now to realise that for some strange reason, that was how he dealt with stress.
"I believe that I should elaborate on the announcement that I made at breakfast," Dumbledore began. "The full story of what happened is that Professor Quirrell was, sadly, possessed by the spirit of Lord Voldemort."
All of the other adults plus Ron flinched. Snape discreetly rubbed his left arm.
Hermione only half-listened as Dumbledore described the events of the previous night, but she clutched at the arms of her chair as the images flashed through her mind. She was sure that the Dreamless Sleep Potion was the only way she'd got any sleep at all. Even now, she could see Quirrell's body slumping to the floor if she closed her eyes.
I saw a man die!
She pushed the thought into the background as best she could and tried to focus on the conversation.
"Have you informed the Minister that You-Know-Who is back, Albus?" McGonagall asked nervously.
"I have, Minerva. However, it seemed to me that Cornelius did not want to listen," he said flatly. "Fortunately for us, Voldemort's confrontation with Harry left him badly weakened. I do not believe he will show himself against for some time. But back to the matter at hand: we must understand exactly what went wrong with our protections."
The teachers went around the circle, each explaining as best they could how their obstacle had failed. The main problem seemed to be that they had underestimated their enemy. No one seemed to have expected that Voldemort would risk coming into the castle personally.
Snape, however, seemed to be more surprised that Vector, Hermione, and Harry had got past his trap. As he put it, "A know-it-all like Miss Granger should have 'solved' the riddle in one minute flat and then promptly drunk the Draught of the Living Death."
Oh, so that's what that was, Hermione thought. Professor Vector looked like she was about to tell off Snape, but Hermione forced down her own anger and said, "It was Harry, Professor. He thought the riddle was too easy and decided it was a trick. And he was the one who thought to test the potions on the moths."
A look of real surprise crossed Snape's face, and he appraised Harry carefully, before it turned back to his usual scowl. "Well, Mr. Potter," he ground out. "I can hardly believe it, but you have shown more common sense than ninety-nine wizards out of a hundred. If only this diligence could carry over to your class work."
Harry opened his mouth to respond, but Dumbledore cut him off. "That will do, Severus," the old wizard said. He then went on to explain his own trick of hiding the Philosopher's Stone in a mirror where Quirrell could not get it out. Unfortunately, Quirrell just responded by stealing the mirror. They then heard Professor Vector's account of last night, followed by Dumbledore's confrontation with Quirrell in the drainage tunnels, and finally Quirrell running back up to the Hospital Wing, where his last attack failed, and Voldemort left him to die.
I saw a man die!
I can't think about that right now. I have to get through this meeting.
"My scar hurt really bad," Harry said timidly as he described that final confrontation. "And my hands, but it was like I burned Quirrell when I touched him…Why couldn't he touch me, Professor?"
"Because he was possessed by Voldemort, Harry," Dumbledore explained. "Your mother died to save you from Voldemort, and such a great act of love leaves its own mark—not a scar, but a protection of love in your blood and in your skin, a protection that works specifically against Voldemort to this day. For if there is one thing he cannot understand, it is love, and he could not bear to touch someone marked by something so good in opposition to him."
"So then I did—"
"You did not kill Quirrell, Harry, though you did, in self-defence, injure him rather severely. Nor did you, Hermione," Dumbledore added, as if he was reading her thoughts. "You cast a simple charm to incapacitate in defence of your friend, nothing more, and Voldemort would most certainly have killed Quirrell in any case as soon as he had outlived his usefulness."
Hermione digested that. It wasn't enough to make the sense of guilt completely go away, but it helped, though she was still left with the plain horror of what she had seen.
I saw a man die!
I saw a man murdered!
And I hexed Voldemort!
I had to do it. He was trying to kill Harry—or hurt him, anyway.
She tried to think what she might have done differently, and she couldn't come up with anything. It was just a bad situation, and she did what she had to do. But she still felt like a nervous wreck right now.
They backtracked a bit, and Professor Snape explained his suspicions about Quirrell from the beginning of the year—suspicious that, unfortunately, he had never been able to substantiate. Harry fell clean out of his seat when he learnt, admist much grumbling, that Snape had tried to save him from Quirrell's jinx at the first Quidditch match, not the other way around. Hermione was mortified as she remembered setting his robes on fire, but, luckily, the trio all managed to keep their mouths shut about that.
They were safe now, Dumbledore assured them when the meeting ended. Voldemort had been banished from the castle, and he would not be able to pull that possession trick over on anyone again. The Philosopher's Stone would be removed, and he would have a long talk with the Flamels about whether to keep it around at all. A new Defence Professor would be hired as soon as he could find one brave enough to apply for the job. He and the other teachers left Ron and Vector to get some rest. Most of the room look relieved that they wouldn't have to keep listening to him say Voldemort's name.
Only Professor McGonagall lingered behind. "I must apologise to you three," she told the children. "I'm afraid that, in my overconfidence, I was guilty of ignoring the concerns of my students. I hope you can forgive me for failing in my duty to serve you as your head of house. You three made better Gryffindors than I did last night."
Ron's eyes went wide. This was sure to be a story to tell his family. Harry just gave McGonagall a reassuring look and slowly nodded. Hermione also nodded, even though she didn't think she deserved the praise. She'd spent most of last night trying to drag Harry away from doing dangerous and Gryffindor-ish things.
"And Mr. Weasley," Professor McGonagall added sternly before leaving the room.
Ron gulped nervously. "Yes, Professor?"
"I demand a rematch."
Ron laughed nervously.
McGonagall left, and Hermione slumped in her chair between Harry's and Professor Vector's beds, not really interested in going anywhere else. She felt exhausted, and being left alone with her thoughts was only making it worse. She felt…strange, wrong. She wasn't even sure if she should be crying. She'd cried a lot over a lot less in the past year, but this wasn't exactly an apples-to-apples thing. Part of her wanted to, just to work it out of her system, but the tears didn't come. She just felt this awful hollow feeling in her chest, right behind her breastbone. All she could think was that she shouldn't have to deal with something like this.
I'm only twelve!
It took a minute—it was only when she looked around and saw all eyes in the room were on her that she realised she had screamed it out loud instead of just thinking it.
"Sorry," she squeaked. She could feel her face flushing and looked down at her feet.
"No, Hermione," Professor Vector said. "It's perfectly understandable." She pushed herself, with difficulty, back into a sitting position and swung her feet over the edge of the bed to face her.
"I just…How did something like this happen?" Hermione burst out. "How…?" She choked as she finally started crying.
She wasn't aware of Ron looking away in embarrassment, or the uncomfortable look crossing Harry's face. They were affected just as much as she was, but being boys, they had their own ways of dealing with it. She was only aware of a hand laid gently on her shoulder. She practically jumped at the touch and heard a grunt of pain as she bowled into her teacher, but she soon felt Professor Vector's arms wrap around her, and she just cried into her shoulder for a while.
"I'm sorry, Hermione," Vector said softly. "You should never have been involved in this. If we had really been doing our jobs right, you wouldn't have had to. Unfortunately, sometimes these things just happen, and you can't escape them…I know. I've seen times when it was much worse. I saw a lot of children hurt very badly in the war, and I lost friends myself. Hardly anybody didn't…Look, I won't pretend it's an easy thing, or a quick one, but you'll get through this. You're stronger than you think, Hermione. Yes you are," she added when the girl tried to shake her head. "It took a true Gryffindor to do what you did last night."
Hermione shook her head again and looked up. "I was just trying to stop Harry from getting hurt," she sniffed. "I only did it because I had to."
"Now, I know you're smarter than that, Hermione." Vector smiled weakly. "That's the real meaning of Gryffindor courage—doing what you have to, even when it's frightening. Do you think just any first year could have faced that chessboard? I'm ashamed to say few of my own house would risk getting in as much trouble as you did just to leave your dorm after hours." And hexing You-Know-Who himself was left unsaid. "The Sorting Hat put you in Gryffindor for a reason, and you've proved that's where you belong. You'll get through this in time, and you have a lot of wonderful friends and family around you to help you."
Hermione shuddered once and started to relax. The hollow feeling in her chest started to fill in. But then, there was something else she had to worry about.
"Professor…What am I going to tell my parents?" she said, sitting back in her chair.
"You're still going to tell your parents?" Ron cried from across the room. "Are you nuts? I'm not even gonna tell my parents."
"I think you should, Mr. Weasley," Vector said. "While the Headmaster may want some degree of secrecy as to what happened, the rumours are going to get out. I think your parents would much rather hear it from you than from somebody else."
Ron shut up and looked down nervously.
"I…I don't want to lie to them," Hermione said. "And I told them I wouldn't keep things from them, but this…they were really freaked out by the troll incident. I think they would have rathered I transferred instead of coming back here."
"Well…I told you my feelings on the subject after Halloween," Vector said. "And I will add that your parents will be receiving a form letter informing them that Professor Quirrell has died, though not one mentioning any details or your own involvement in the incident. Sadly, Quirrell isn't the first Defence Professor to die in recent memory—many people believe the position is cursed. Your parents will likely want a further explanation."
Hermione whined softly. "That'll be a cheerful letter," she said bitterly. "Dear Mum and Dad, remember how I said an evil psychopath wasn't going to get into the school and try to kill somebody?"
Vector made a small snort that sounded like she was choking down a laugh, then sighed. "If you like, I can help you again in dealing with your parents," she said. "Actually, perhaps it might be better if you were light on details in your letter, and then I can sit down in person with you and your parents after the term ends to tell them the whole story."
Hermione's eyes grew wide. "You'd do that for me, Professor?"
"That much and then some, Hermione. I can honestly say I have no idea where you're going with that mind of yours, but I certainly don't want to miss it."
Hermione pounced on her teacher again. "Thank you! Thank you, Professor! I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Oh, I'm sure you could get by."
Hermione gave the Gryffindor girls a brief account of her ordeal that night—as much as she was comfortable talking about. This was more than enough to evoke squeals of horror and as much frightened sympathy as she could handle. It was hard enough for some of the other girls just hearing about a teacher's death, let alone an eyewitness account.
She dutifully attended the Quidditch final the next day. Harry was still reeling from the Quirrell incident himself, but flying seemed to be the one thing that gave him real joy, so she wasn't about to take that away from him. It was a close game. Ravenclaw's Chaser squad had a leg up on Gryffindor, but Harry caught the Snitch in time to win. There was a big party in the Common Room that night. After all, Gryffindor had won the Quidditch Cup for the first time in six years, and, if they could hold on to their ten-point lead for the next two days, they would take the House Cup for the first time in seven years. They managed that, too, which made for another party following on the end-of-year feast.
Hermione did her best to join in the fun, egged on by her friends, but the points seemed a lot less important now than they had at the start of the year. Truth be told, she was in a bit of a daze for the rest of the term, even though Ron, at least, seemed to have bounced back quickly from their ordeal. (Harry was just hard to read.) She spent quite a bit of time visiting Professor Vector, discussing calculus, arithmancy, and life in general. In the end, though, her professor was right: it was hard, and it would take time, but she was slowly getting better.
Harry and Ron decided to spend their time lounging in the sun in the remaining days of the term while they waited for their exam results to come out, and Hermione joined them, though she brought her calculus book with her. They'd all earned it. That much was sure. Harry, predictably, was not at all looking forward to going home again, while Hermione, like most of the students, decided it would be nice to be home again, except for the not being allowed to use magic part.
Meanwhile, with all the chaos and parties, it was the day after the House Cup was awarded when Fred and George finally caught up with her.
"Hermione," they said, leaning on either side of her chair.
"We've been looking—"
"—everywhere for you."
"Sorry," she sighed, not sparing the energy to react to their usual bizarre selves. "I've been kind of out of it lately."
"Oh, dear, you sound kind of out of it, too," George said sympathetically.
"Where's our regular unbridled enthusiasm Hermione?" asked Fred cheerfully.
"She's in therapy," Hermione groaned. "She should be back in the fall."
"Ah, I think I see a spark of something in there," Fred replied with a grin.
George, however, turned uncharacteristically serious. "Look, we don't want to bring up painful memories, but Ron's been telling us some pretty wild things about what happened with Quirrell."
"Come to think of it, so's Alicia and some of the other girls," Fred chipped in.
"Right. So you were really there when Quirrell…" George trailed off.
Hermione took a deep breath. "Yeah, I was. I…I saw the whole thing," she said shakily.
"Wow," George sounded awed. "We're sorry about that."
"Yeah, you didn't deserve that," Fred added. "Still, was Quirrell really possessed by…" He dropped his voice to a whisper. "…by You-Know-Who?"
Hermione shuddered and nodded once. "Yeah, there was…an extra face growing out of the back of his head."
"Wicked! So is it true that you used a Body-Bind on him?"
"Uh huh. He was attacking Harry. It was the only thing I could think of."
"Okay, so this might be not the kind of thing you want to hear right now," George said, "but just to be clear, technically, that means you hexed You-Know-Who to his face."
"Don't remind me," Hermione replied. She leaned back and covered her face with her hands. She still felt her heart race every time she thought about it. Hexing the most feared and vicious dark wizard of the past half century should not be on a first year student's resume. But then, a thought struck her: "Wait a minute, remember that snowstorm in December? When you kept hitting the back of Quirrell's turban. Technically, you repeatedly hit You-Know-Who in the face with a snowball."
Fred's and George's eyes went saucer-sized instantly, and they looked like they might faint. "We hit You-Know-Who in the face—" Fred started.
"Repeatedly—" George said.
"With a snowball."
"I don't know if that makes us the kings of pranksters or dead men walking."
"Or both. Especially once Mum gets involved."
"Bloody hell, we haven't even heard from her about Ron's part in all this yet. She must really be flipping out if it's taking her this long."
"Better be prepared for that one, George. Anyway, Hermione, Ron also told us some interesting things about your skills at sneaking around the castle at night."
"Oh, yes, something about pulling our little brother into a broom cupboard." George wagged his eyebrows.
"Oh, no," Hermione groaned.
"And at only twelve years old, too. They certainly start early these days."
"Can we just not mention that?" she pleaded.
"Oh, no, this is too good to pass up, isn't it Fred?"
"I should say so."
"Or how about you don't mention that, and I'll pretend it really was Peeves who booby-trapped all the doors on the sixth floor with dungbombs," Hermione threatened.
"You wouldn't!" Fred gasped.
"How did you—?" George started.
"Sonya and I noticed when we were exploring. Did you know Professor McGonagall's apartment is on the sixth floor?"
The twins stared at each other so intently that Hermione wondered if they were communicating telepathically. "We did," Fred replied, "and I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that you do, too."
"Well then, Hermione, it seems you've outwitted us again," George said. He was trying to sound offended, but his face was cheerful.
Hermione smiled. "In the muggle world, that's called 'mutually assured destruction'."
"You know, you're scary sometimes," George said.
"Yeah, brilliant, but scary," Fred finished.
"You know something else," George continued. "We thought it would be great if you could come and stay at our house for a few days this summer."
"Yeah, Ron thinks so, too," said Fred. "We'll invite Harry, too, while we're at it."
"Really?" Hermione squeaked. "But your Mum—"
"Ah, she'll come around. She loves house guests. And Dad'll bring her around if she gives any trouble."
"Dad'll probably want your folks to stay, too. Mad about muggles, he is."
"Well, that…that would be great!" She'd never been invited to stay at a friend's house overnight before. "I'll ask my parents if I can come."
"We'll send our owl—"
"If he doesn't keel over first."
"Um, sure, thanks."
Hermione may have been excited, but the coming summer was still weighing heavily on Harry, to the point where, the next day, she found him sitting alone in a shaded part of the Common Room, working feverishly with his wand and quill over some scraps of wood.
"Come on, come on, Initium!" he muttered. He picked one of the wood scraps up and let it go. It clattered to the table. He groaned in frustration.
"Harry?" Hermione said.
Harry jumped and tried to cover up what he was working on until he saw who it was. "Oh, Hermione, it's you."
"Harry, what are you doing?" she said.
"I…I was just…" He looked down guiltily.
"Well, it's like when Professor Babbling told us how runes can store spells to use later. I was trying to enchant something so I could use spells this summer."
"This summer? Harry, you mustn't. We're not allowed to use magic over the summer."
"I know, but I thought…I know we're not supposed to use our wands, but Ron's allowed to fly and stuff, so I thought if I could enchant something with a spell so that it'll activate without using a wand, I could still use it."
"I don't think you should," she said, even as she started wondering about the same possibility herself. "What if you get caught? You could get in big trouble."
"I have to try it, though." Harry started writing another combination of words. In the seminars, Professors Babbling had taught them to use "INITIUM" and "FINIS" runes to activate and deactivate a spell using wand taps, but most activation patterns that didn't use wands were much more complicated.
"But what for?" Hermione pressed. "You weren't going to hex your relatives, were you?"
Harry looked even guiltier. "Not bad," he said. "Just enough to scare them a little. My aunt and uncle don't know I'm not allowed to use magic outside of school, but they might get suspicious if I don't use any all summer."
"But…but…but wouldn't your aunt know from your Mum?"
Harry stopped and looked up. "I…I don't know…She talked about my Mum doing magic at home, though. Maybe they just give us a warning the first time, or something."
"Hmm…well, I still don't like it. I think you should talk to Professor McGonagall about your problems."
"I don't want to bother her about it," he muttered. "Come on, Leviosa!" The runes again failed to activate.
"It'll bother her more if you get in trouble." He didn't respond. She leaned in closer and whispered, "Harry, I didn't want to bring it up before…but if your relatives are abusing you, someone in charge needs to know about it."
Harry nervously looked her in the eye again. He seemed to consider this for a moment, but he whispered back, "They're not. We just can't stand each other. They don't hit me or anything—well, Dudley does, but he's a bully to everyone."
"But even if you just can't stand each other, that's not a good situation to be in," Hermione insisted.
"You don't need to worry about me," Harry said. "I can take care of myself."
Hermione sighed and stood up. "I do worry about you, Harry," she said. "A lot of us do, even if we don't say it. And even if this works, it's not going to solve your problems."
Harry just shrugged at that. Hermione gave up talking to him and made for the portrait hole. She gave him one last look before leaving the Common Room and whispered, "I'm sorry Harry," too quietly for anyone but her to hear it.
She walked straight to Professor McGonagall's office.
"Miss Granger, the exam grades will be out tomorrow," McGonagall said when she opened the door.
Hermione gave her an exasperated sigh. Why did everyone always think that was want she wanted to ask about? "It's not about that, Professor."
"Oh. My apologies. How may I help you?"
"I…well, it's kind of sensitive, ma'am."
"Please come in, then. Have a seat." She closed the door and at across her desk from Hermione. "Miss Granger, I know we haven't got on as well as I would like this year," she said, "especially with my being your Head of House. But I hope you know that you can confide in me, and I will do the best I can to help you with whatever you need."
"Thank you, Professor. I do know that. But this is actually about Harry."
McGonagall's face fell. "Has he gone and done something else, now?"
"No! Well, sort of, but that's not why I wanted to talk to you. He's trying to make some of those rune-based spells that Professor Babbling taught us to use at home, and I want to make sure he won't get in trouble."
McGonagall's mouth became a thin line. "Did Mr. Potter say why he wished to attempt this sort of magic?" she asked sternly.
"Well, that's what I wanted to talk to you about…" Hermione took a deep breath. "I'm worried about Harry's life at home, Professor." A very knowing look of concern crossed McGonagall's face, and Hermione told her what Harry had said over the past year: that his aunt and uncle didn't like magic and thought it was "freakish", that they blatantly favoured his cousin over him, that she was a little worried that he didn't get enough to eat there, and, most tellingly, that Harry talked like he was absolutely miserable there and wanted to jinx his relatives just to scare them into treating him better. When she finished, McGonagall made a noise like an angry cat.
"Miss Granger, I wish you would have brought these concerns to me sooner. I had some worries of my own, but I had very little to base them on until now," she said. "I can't tell you much of what I would like to for confidentiality reasons, but I promise you that I will speak to the Headmaster about this and see if we can't do something to help Mr. Potter this summer."
Hermione sighed with relief. "Thank you, Professor. I know I should have told someone sooner. It's just that Harry doesn't like to talk about his home life, and—"
"That's not uncommon in these kinds of situations. I do understand. However, please write to me at once if anything leads you to believe that Mr. Potter is in danger at home."
"Yes, ma'am. What about those spells, though? I don't want him to get in trouble for using magic."
McGonagall seemed to wrestle internally for a bit on that one. Finally she muttered, "I suppose it couldn't hurt…Alright—I'm only telling you this because I know you to be responsible, Miss Granger. I won't ask you not to act on it because both you and your parents are far too intellectually curious for that. But I must urge you to be careful and to respect the Stature of Secrecy. And that goes doubly so for Mr. Potter."
Hermione nodded intently.
McGonagall laid the cards on the table: "The Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery is one of the most poorly-written and poorly-enforced laws in the wizarding world, and deliberately written with many exceptions that benefit pureblood wizards. Obviously, accidental magic is not restricted, since you cannot control that. But the use of magical artifacts is also not restricted because many magical children play with magical toys, do chores with magical cleaning implements, and of course ride brooms—though those fall under a separate provision. I doubt that the pureblooded wizards who wrote the law considered the possibility that a muggle-born would buy such artifacts, must less make them, but while it may go against the spirit of the law, these rune spells would not go against the letter, and moreover, there is no enforcement mechanism to deal with them."
"Really?" Hermione said, wide-eyed. "So Harry—or I—could do magic with these runes, and it would be okay?"
"That is correct. As long as you don't use your wand over the break, you would not be disciplined. However, I will stress again that you must obey the Statute of Secrecy. If you fail to do so, you could easily be charged on both counts."
"I understand, ma'am. Thank you."
Much relieved by her conversation, Hermione reported back to Harry what she had learnt about the runes, and her curiosity got the better of her regarding his little project. She roped in Ron, who was eager to have some way to get back at Fred and George after their mother inevitably confiscated their wands, and the trio put their heads together. Just in time for the end of term, they got it. Ron worked out that the most important words they needed were "SOLVO" (release), "LOQUITUR" (speak), and "TENET" (hold); and Hermione figured out a circular pattern to use them in. When they were done, they had a runic circle that would store one spell written in the middle with the Potentia incantation, plus the one Professor Babbling had shown them to empower control runes, and release it when the person holding it spoke the name of the spell. At least that was the theory. Hermione warned that it probably couldn't store very powerful spells, and it might lose its "charge" over time, like a battery. But when they tested it with a Hardening Charm, it successfully turned a soft cushion stiff and starched—not perfect, but it was enough for Harry, who thanked them both profusely.
"I'm going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer," he said.
The day before the Hogwarts Express returned to London, with the packing mostly done, and Hermione's own repertoire of runic spells ready to show off to her parents, there was just one thing, in her mind, that was left to do.
"Oof, how do you climb through this place all the time?" Ron demanded as the the trio crawled up the tiny staircase off the Great Hall.
"Honestly, Ron, it's not that hard," Hermione said from up front. In truth, she had got pretty good at navigating the elves' living space by now.
"I don't see why we have to do this anyway," he complained. "They're just house elves."
"They're not just house elves, Ron. They cook all that food you love so much. The pick up the rubbish, and they do your laundry—and that's got to be pretty brave of them"
"They don't get much contact with humans, and it's only friendly to say goodbye for the summer," she finished.
"Makes sense," Harry said. "It'd be nice if I got some thanks for doing all the chores at home."
Ron grunted and kept climbing.
Soon they came out into the long hallway that led to the elves' Common Room. As they crawled down it, a small elf came out of one of the bedrooms and spotted them.
"Hermione Granger!" he squeaked. "And Harry Potter! Harry Potter!" The elf ran down to the Common Room, calling, "It's Hermione Granger, Ronald Weasley, and Harry Potter!"
The trio stepped out into the square, yellow Common Room to what looked like a heroes' welcome. The elves were jumping up and down and reaching to shake their hands more eagerly than they had since they first met. Hermione soon spotted a familiar pair of cobalt blue eyes as Sonya pushed her way through the crush.
"Miss Hermione Granger! Is it true, miss? Is it true?" the blond elf squeaked.
"Er, sorry, Sonya?" Hermione said.
"We have heard tell that Harry Potter and his friends met He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named here in the castle—" The elves all shuddered. "—and they escaped him alive."
"Oh, right," Harry said. "Yeah, we did. He was possessing Quirrell."
The elves all shuddered again.
"Harry Potter and his friends are valiant and bold to face such dangers, miss," Sonya said.
"Well, we were just doing what we had to do," she insisted.
"Miss Hermione Granger is too modest," sounded a creaky voice they had not heard before. Silence fell over the other elves, and they parted to let the newcomer step forward: a wrinkly old female elf with white hair growing more from her ears than her head. She wore a tea towel toga that was fancier than all the others and carried herself with the closest thing an elf could have to a regal bearing.
"I is Flory, the head elf," the old elf said. "I is being most pleased to meet Harry Potter, sir, Hermione Granger, miss, and Ronald Weasley, sir. We elves is owing you our thanks. You has done a great service to all magical Britain by banishing the Dark Lord from Hogwarts.
"Well, thanks," Harry said. "But Professor Vector and Dumbledore helped, too."
"Yes, sir. It is very good to see wizards standing against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named before he becomes strong again." The other elves chirped in agreement.
"Will you tell we elves what happened, sir?" Sonya asked reverently.
"Erm, I guess," Harry said.
They sat down and relayed most of the story of what had happened that fateful night, excepting only the most sensitive parts, from Harry's initial suspicions to Quirrell's death. All three children still quivered at bit at the last part, especially Hermione.
"It was pretty awful," she said. "I've…I'd never seen…"
"Miss Hermione Granger and her friends are very brave," Sonya assured her.
Then, to her surprise, Tilly reached out and laid a hand on her shoulder. "It is hard to be seeing death, miss," the grey-eyed elf said. "We elves see much of it. We live longer than wizards, and we can feel our masters' magic. Since we is bound to the castle, we all felt when Professor Quirrell died, even the elf children. But we takes comfort in our families, miss, be they wizards or elves. It will be different for witches and wizards, but it helps we elves to have someone else to care for. And you should not be letting fear or pain keep you from what you care about, miss."
That was news to Hermione. That had to be pretty bad when the little elf children felt a professor die. And her advice was actually pretty good, allowing for the species difference. "Thank you Tilly. I'm sure I'll feel better after the summer," she said.
"You is leaving for the summer tomorrow, miss?" Sonya asked.
"Mm hmm. We just wanted to visit you one more time, since we won't be back till September."
Many of the elves squeaked at that. "Miss Hermione Granger and her friends are very kind. Other wizards never visit we elves in our home."
"I should really introduce the more of the muggle-born students to you," Hermione replied. "I think some of them would be interested. Muggles think it's important to learn about other cultures."
"Maybe…" Sonya said timidly. "Maybe you could teach the other wizards more about that."
Some of the older elves looked a little scandalised at the presumption, but Hermione thought it was a good idea: "Yeah, they could probably use it if all those goblin rebellions are any indication."
They spoke a little longer about their plans for the summer—or rather Hermione and Ron did. Harry didn't have any plans. Then, they said goodbye to the elves, and before they knew it, it was the next day, and they rode the boats back across the lake to the train station. A few hours after that, they were back at King's Cross, saying goodbye to each other. (The train had pulled in twelve minutes late by Hermione's watch, but, of course, right on time according to the station clocks.) Hermione caught a glimpse of Ron's mother and little sister, both as redheaded as he was, and Harry's family: a large, purple-faced man who eyed Harry contemptuously, a scrawny, horse-faced woman who gave Hedwig a disgusted look, and a very fat blond boy who, to Harry's delight, looked terrified of his wizard cousin.
Then, she spotted her own parents and ran over and hugged them tight. Now that she finally saw them again, it was all she could do to keep from breaking down crying.
But she was saved when Professor Vector came over to meet them (on Hermione's advice, wearing a muggle dress, if an antiquated one). "Mr. and Mrs. Granger, a pleasure to meet you again," she said.
"Likewise, Professor," Mum said. She and Dad both shook the professor's hand.
"I can't tell you how pleased I am in Hermione's performance this past year," she continued as Hermione turned quite pink. "Highest marks in the class by a considerable margin."
"Well, thank you, Professor," Dad said. "But your letter—"
"Yes, as I said, the incident that led to the unfortunate death of our Defence Professor—Would you permit me to buy you dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Granger? I think we may need to have a long conversation."