Chapter 1: Not the Worst Summer

[In which Mary has a bit of a breakdown over summer lessons, but gets back on the horse, as it were.]

July 1992 Urquhart Mansion

Looking back on the summer she turned twelve, Mary had to admit, it was anything but boring.

That said, it wasn't quite the break she'd been expecting.

In retrospect, it had been rather foolish to expect that with a professor as her guardian, she would have time off from learning things over the summer.

The first big surprise of Mary's summer was that Professor McGonagall was apparently a widow. The "safehouse" she had arranged for Mary to stay at was none other than the Urquhart mansion, with her former husband's family. The household consisted of Madam Urquhart, who was very old (possibly as old as the Headmaster) and very scary; Lord and Lady Urquhart, who were about the same age as the Professor, and rather stern (thankfully Mary didn't see much of any of the eldest three Urquharts); Lord and Lady Urquhart's son, Mr. Phillip Urquhart, and his wife, Mrs. Lilith Urquhart; Mr. and Mrs. Urquhart's three children, Mr. Stephan and Mr. Conrad, who were both married and in their twenties, and Miss Catherine, who was the youngest adult, and not married; Mr. Stephan's wife, Ms. Primrose, and Mr. Conrad's wife, Ms. Nanette, and their five young children. Laina, the oldest child, was almost seven, and Bryce, the littlest one, was only one year and a bit. It took Mary almost a week to work out which children belonged to which parents, because Miss Catherine seemed to do most of the actual childcare work, and spent the most time with them. She said it was her job, as the youngest woman in the house. Her grandparents were in no rush to marry her off, and she was in no rush to leave.

The second, less pleasant, surprise, was that apparently Mary behaved like an 'ill-raised rube,' according to Madam Urquhart. The only good thing the dowager Lady of the House had to say about Mary was 'at least she knows how to keep her mouth shut and her eyes down!' She was so old she didn't even pretend to be polite anymore. Mary didn't like her at all. She reminded her of Aunt Petunia, but worse, because she didn't even seem to be trying to be mean. Mary had been doing her best to behave politely, especially around the oldest Urquharts, but clearly her best was not very good at all.

According to Miss Catherine, the sum total of what she had managed to learn from the etiquette books in the library was about the equivalent of learning to say good morning and thank-you in French – not much at all, and the locals would realize that you were foreign as soon as you opened your mouth. It was also Miss Catherine who explained that Madam Urquhart was really upset with the Headmaster for allowing a pureblood girl like Mary to be raised by muggles (and that Mary had impressed the old hag in showing the initiative to at least try to learn what was proper), and it was Miss Catherine that Mary turned to on her third day at the Urquhart Mansion, when she decided that she needed to learn how to fit in among the purebloods, if only to survive the summer, and sooner rather than later.

She didn't regret that decision, precisely. She knew it would be helpful to know all of the things Miss Catherine and her mother were teaching her. But she quickly found that she hadn't realized exactly what she was getting in to when she asked Miss Catherine for her help. On approaching Miss Catherine, she was immediately informed by her relieved hostess that she was technically being fostered by the Urquharts. This meant her education as a proper heiress to her house was their responsibility. If she hadn't had the good sense, Miss Catherine said, to seek her out, Mrs. Urquhart would have had to bring up the subject to her later that evening. Mary had gained a lot of points with the elder Urquharts by requesting to learn. Her only thought on the subject was that she had very narrowly dodged that particular social bullet, since she had nearly not asked at all. She hated asking for help, even when it was clear she needed it.

Laina, William, Thomas, and Angelica were all old enough that they were learning to read and write, as well as basic numbers and magical history. They had lessons every day from eight to ten, and again after lunch from one to three. Laina and William had magic theory lessons and learned basic wand movements from ten to noon (though they weren't allowed to cast spells). Mary was enlisted to help with all of these (except history, about which she knew less than Laina), and kept an eye on the younger kids while Miss Catherine worked with the older ones. Between teaching the younger children, Miss Catherine lectured Mary incessantly on the history of the Old Families (including the Potters, the Urquharts, and the McGonagalls), the expectations and role of a girl in a traditional pureblood family, and recent political and economic developments in Magical Britain. Everything she did, from the way she sat to the way she walked across the room or ordered Tiffy, the Nursery elf, to change Bryce's diaper, was critiqued and corrected.

She was given copies of family trees, and lists of the Noble Houses and all the pureblood families in Magical Britain to memorize in order of relative status. Potter, she was informed, had been taken off the latter list because Mary's mother was muggleborn, and could not be reinstated until the heir to the house was "three generations pure," or in other words, didn't have any muggle great-grandparents (and there were no squibs produced in the intervening generations). She learned when she should sit quietly and when to speak, what to say and how to say it, when she was expected to meet someone's eyes, and when she should be demure.

She learned the different terms of address and degrees of deference expected when interacting with people nearer or further from the head of their house than she was to hers, and for members of houses with different statuses relative to her own, which was still "Noble" and quite well off (due to her parents' money and her own fame), despite no longer being "pureblood." She learned that she was technically the head of her house, but as she was underage, she was still considered "the Heir of House Potter" and her guardian was her "regent." She learned that she had a seat on the Wizengamot, which was currently controlled by the Professor, which meant Professor McGonagall's brother, Angus, was actually casting her vote. One day in the second week of summer, the Professor came to visit, and Mary finally learned the full extent of her financial holdings and investments, which was more money than she had ever conceived of, but much less, the Professor informed her, than many of the Noble families.

Most mornings, Mary managed to get up early enough to answer letters from her friends before Miss Catherine came to wake her. On the days when she just wanted to have a lie-in, and not worry about learning all of these silly rules and social niceties or deal with the younger children, she stayed in bed until Miss Catherine came to remind her that knowing pureblood customs would help ameliorate the fact that her mother was a muggleborn in the eyes of those who cared about such things, which would be useful when she joined the political world in five short years. At that point, Mary always hauled herself out of bed and down to the classroom without voicing her complaints. When she wasn't lecturing on history or politics, Miss Catherine quizzed Mary incessantly on these topics, and set her to re-copying the family trees and the lists of pureblood and Noble houses when she answered too many questions incorrectly. Mary didn't really want to think about what the penalty would be if she refused to participate in her lessons, and it was useful information, even if learning it was tedious.

Worse than the lists were the afternoon teas. The children took a nap in the afternoons, or were allowed to play quietly amongst themselves after their lessons, while Miss Catherine took tea with her mother and sisters-in-law, or occasionally an old school friend. Once, Professor McGonagall even attended. Mary had tasked herself with following Miss Catherine around like a shadow at these events, and learning her every move, so she found herself awkwardly mimicking the older girl and trying not to break one of the hundreds of little rules that separated "proper young witches" from everybody else. Tea was an exercise in making polite conversation, and it was worse than any other point in the day because the older women were much less forgiving about their corrections than Miss Catherine, and Miss Catherine expected more of her when she was in their presence. Poor performance reflected badly on her tutor, much like looking like an idiot in Slytherin reflected badly on the whole house.

After tea, if Mary had done well, Miss Catherine showed her new spells and helped her with her summer homework until dinner. If not, she was set to write for ages about what she had done wrong, and what she ought to have done instead, while Miss Catherine read novels or worked on her Italian. She hoped to study history in Italy when she finally mastered the language, but she said it was slow going with no one to practice with her. After dinner, Miss Catherine began teaching Mary the basics of proper romance languages, rather than just the "Latin" Hogwarts students learned for spellcasting, often while making her practice walking ("gliding") back and forth across the study, or sitting and rising smoothly from various chairs and sofas, or curtsying to varying degrees, or extending her hand gracefully in greeting, all the while correcting her posture and movement. She made Mary promise to practice French with Hermione and Italian with Blaise when she went back to school.

All of the lessons were strictly verbal, and Mary was not able to take notes because her hands were often occupied while Miss Catherine lectured. Reports and punishment-essays, however, more than made up for the lack of lecture notes. On Saturdays, Mary was set to write on the history and expectations she had learned, and Miss Catherine corrected her essays on Sunday while Mary translated simple Latin, French, and Italian sentences. Miss Catherine said this was how she had been taught, too, and it was the reason all the purebloods (and the half-bloods from good families) at school had such nice handwriting. Mary thought Miss Catherine would be a fearsome matriarch someday. She could easily imagine the young woman training her own daughters like she was Mary, and in fact Miss Catherine had said that Mary was a good practice-case for her, before she and Mrs. Urquhart started teaching Laina how to be a proper young lady.

Little Laina would be getting the same treatment next year (like all girls of her station), when she turned seven, and soon after that, when she could be trusted not to embarrass the family in public, she would be introduced to her peers from the other Noble Houses for tea parties, much like the ones Miss Catherine still attended once a month with her friends from Hogwarts. Laina would also be learning to play the piano, dance, draw, and speak French, Latin, and German. The pureblood sense of the word 'accomplished,' Mary gathered, was like something out of a Victorian novel. Mary would, she thought, be much more interested in learning to play the piano or draw than in learning to curtsey to someone like Draco Malfoy or properly condescend to address Tracey Davis, but Miss Catherine said that it was more important for her to know the basics of polite interactions and expectations outside the home before she returned to school. Mary had capitulated with little complaint.

It did not take long for Mary to realize that it was really very difficult to be a society girl. Girls like Miss Catherine and Daphne Greengrass (who, in retrospect, moved exactly like Miss Catherine was trying to teach Mary) just made it look easy.

The first four weeks of vacation passed more quickly than Mary had ever imagined was possible. The Sunday before her birthday, as she had negotiated with the Professor, she packed all her things and readied herself to stay with the Grangers for a week. She would return to the Urquharts the following Sunday, and then Lilian would come and visit her at the Urquhart mansion in the last week before school started. She made sure to bring all the essays she had written for Miss Catherine so that she could show Hermione what she had been up to all summer. Between the reports and punishment ("refresher") scrolls, lists and family trees, notes on French, Italian and Latin, and simple translation exercises, she had written nearly eighty feet, and she had finished her summer homework and kept up with letters to Hermione and Lilian. There were days when she felt like her right hand was going to just fall off, she wrote so much, but she had to admit, her penmanship was improving.

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Professor McGonagall arrived, as she had on every other occasion she visited the Urquhart Manor, in the Apparition Room, with a small pop.

"I wish I was that good at apparating." Miss Catherine had come up behind Mary, and was watching enviously as the older witch steadied her hat and looked around to catch her bearings.

"What do you mean?" So far as Mary knew, all apparition was the same, so long as you didn't leave a bit of yourself behind (that was called splinching, and sounded awful).

"Haven't you ever noticed how quiet Aunt Minnie is when she pops in?" The older girl asked. Mary couldn't get over how odd it sounded, hearing the Professor called 'Aunt Minnie.' "That's the mark of good apparitionist. Novices make a loud noise like a gunshot when the air around them is displaced. Experts can control the process enough that they're nearly silent coming in or out of the space between."

"Quite right. You'll get there with practice," the expert in question confirmed. "Hello, Catherine, Mary. I take it the household has been well since my last visit?"

"Yes, Aunt Minnie," Catherine answered, moving forward to give the Professor the kiss of greeting, which was for family and close friends. Mary quietly curtsied as one was meant to for a familiar, respected elder from a family older than one's own. "And yourself?"

"Quite well, dear. Mary, you oughtn't hold that pose for longer than a quarter-second. Any longer and it looks a bit… well, mocking, really," she added in an off-hand, rather dismissive tone. She had been supportive when she learned that Mary was attempting to master the customs she ought to have learned growing up, but her supportiveness meant that she was treating Mary like any other pureblood heiress in training. The relatively-relaxed Professor McGonagall with whom Mary had spent Christmas Tea had been replaced by this strict, proper old woman, who was only slightly more kindly and less brusque outside of the transfiguration classroom than Mary had come to expect inside its boundaries. She was not a fan.

"Yes, Professor," Mary said, straightening her knees. She kept her features carefully neutral, though inside she was quite irritated. She couldn't wait to get to the Grangers'. Four weeks of constant corrections (and interminable essays) were starting to wear on her. She was clearly out of practice at letting criticism roll off her. She had been quite good at it by the time she left the Dursleys. It occurred to her that if she showed up at Four Privet Drive today, Aunt Petunia might even be pleased to see her, if only to mock her and not simply be shrugged off.

The Professor and Miss Catherine exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes, before the Professor said, "Well then, give my regards to the family, Catherine. I'll stay for tea next Sunday on the way back through."

"Of course, Aunt Minnie." And with that, Miss Catherine and the Professor exchanged the kiss of farewell. Professor McGonagall shrank and pocketed Mary's luggage – a borrowed trunk, much smaller than her Hogwarts trunk – and offered her arm for side-along apparition.

Mary was pulled into the familiar, crushing blackness, and then, just as they began to emerge from it, there was a sensation very much like running headlong into a brick wall. The blackness of the space between, through which witches apparated, was replaced by the altogether more comfortable blackness of unconsciousness.

Sunday, 26 July 1992 Granger House

Mary woke suddenly, to find a very concerned Professor McGonagall hovering over her, wand out.

"What happened?" she asked, right hand scrabbling at her pocket for her own wand, before realizing that she was lying on a familiar sofa. Moment of panic over, she looked around for her glasses instead. They were on the coffee table. All three Grangers, she saw on retrieving them, were lurking near the doorway.

Hermione, ever eager to answer any question, spoke up before anyone else. "You, ah… hit the anti-apparition wards, and bounced off, basically."

The Professor looked rather embarrassed.

"What do you mean we bounced off?" A killer headache was beginning to settle at the base of Mary's skull, and she was not in the mood for half-explanations.

"Well, I'm not really sure how the wards actually work, but it's my understanding that we had the option of doing something really nasty to you, but mum had them set so that anyone who tried to apparate into the house would be redirected into the garden shed, which is basically locked up tighter than a prison cell. There was an alarm going off, and mum and dad went to see who tried to break in, and found the two of you lying on the lawnmower."

"For future reference, Professor McGonagall, when I say my home is defensible, and I feel secure in allowing my daughter's friends to come visit, it is safe to assume I will not allow witches and wizards to come and go from the house as they please," Mrs. Dr. Granger said, giving the Professor a very hard stare. It actually reminded Mary a bit of the look the Professor had given the class in their first-ever transfiguration lesson. Ah, she thought, I haven't missed much, then.

The Professor, who had to be at least old enough to be Emma Granger's mother, now looked a bit ashamed of herself, as well as embarrassed. "My apologies, Emma, Dan. I'm afraid it never occurred to me that you would have taken precautions against magical transportation or erected magical defenses."

Emma sniffed at the older woman. "You expected that we would invite an internationally famous child who is, from what little our daughter has told us, still targeted for death by a significant minority of your population, into our home without taking any steps at all to minimize the security risks posed by magic? What on earth do you take us for?"

"Muggles, dear," her husband answered, barely subduing a grin.

"Well, muggles or not, we do have a bit of common sense."

"Wizards haven't," Mary and Hermione chorused. The Professor looked a bit startled at their opinion of her (their) people. It wasn't a new development, though: Wizards haven't any common sense had become Hermione's most frequent complaint about the magical world over the course of the previous term.

A frosty silence began to develop between the Drs. Granger and the Professor, the former obviously irritated that their main contact from the magical world thought so little of them that they were not expected to have found a way to protect their home, and the latter clearly unwilling to apologize a second time, since her first attempt hadn't been accepted.

Mary cleared her throat, breaking the tension. "Could I have an aspirin?"

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Several hours later, after the Grangers thoroughly explained their ward-scheme to the Professor (who had apparently expected the relative anonymity of the muggle world and the relatively short duration of the visit, along with an emergency port-key to the Urquharts', to make up for the presumed lack of magical protections) and the latter had disapparated from the back garden, life in the Granger household resumed its usual pace: Dan and Mary made lasagna for dinner, while Hermione and Emma asked incessant questions about what she had been up to for the past month. Mary decided, as she explained Miss Catherine's teaching methods, that she certainly felt older than she did at this time last year, but other than that, nothing had really changed at all. She fit right back into the place she had left at the end of last summer. She wondered idly if this was what it felt like to come home.

Monday, 27 July 1992 Kent

It was not until Hermione came bouncing into the guest bedroom at seven in the morning that Mary fully realized that Hermione taking muggle summer classes (in order to maintain a well-rounded education, as she had written in her frequent letters), meant Mary would be expected to show up to these classes as well. The Grangers, Hermione explained over breakfast, were worried that Mary would be bored sitting around the house all day without Hermione, so they had informed Hermione's teacher that her cousin, Mary Beth Evans, would be visiting for the week, and obtained permission for her to sit in. Mary couldn't decide if this was incredibly thoughtful of them, or incredibly irritating.

After the first day, she decided it might have been both.

The teacher's name was Mrs. Klein, and the class was mostly full of delinquents, who were there as a punishment, and special needs students, who genuinely needed the extra help with their studies. Hermione was, far and away, the best student out of all of them, and spent most of her day working quietly in a corner and ignoring the chaos all around her. Mary, on the other hand (and much to her embarrassment), felt that she fit in rather too well with the special needs group – she hadn't ever been a good student (she hadn't really been allowed, what with being punished for out-performing Dudley), and while her reading and writing abilities were up to par from a year of essays at Hogwarts, she wasn't familiar at all with any of the literature covered in year seven (or a good part of year six), or "earth sciences," and had forgotten most of the maths she had learned in primary school.

This became apparent in the early afternoon, when the class was talking about plate tectonics. Mary made it through the morning quite well, reading part of Romeo and Juliet aloud with a boy named Freddy, and writing a paragraph about where the lovers' plan went wrong (with a biro, which made it the easiest writing assignment she'd had all summer). She had no idea where all the counties in England were located for geography (she'd never been anywhere but Surrey, London, Kent, and Hogwarts), but she was only called on to label the UK countries, and she got that right. They'd covered something called mean, median, and mode in maths, which was new to everyone, so she didn't stand out there, but after lunch, when Miss Klein cheerfully asked Mary to explain how continents worked, she was completely at a loss.

After a few minutes of red-faced stammering, Hermione saved her. "I think Lizzie's school started with biology, Mrs. Klein. Didn't you tell me you had to dissect worms and things like that, Liz?"

"Erm, yes?" They had dissected worms, if you could consider dicing them for potions to be dissecting them.

Mrs. Klein's jolliness was unblemished. "Ah, well, then, I imagine you'll be a bit lost for this bit, but I'll give you a book if you'd like to try to catch up to what we've been working on."

Mary simply nodded. "Thank you, Mrs. Klein."

After half an hour more, they moved on to French. Mary didn't have the vocabulary to translate anything, though Mrs. Klein said her pronunciation was quite good when she was just reading the sentences aloud. The last hour of the day was spent on Civics, which was nowhere near as boring as Binns' lectures, but had about as much to do with anything Mary already knew, which was to say, nothing, and seemed like a bunch of Hufflepuff nonsense, anyway.

Hermione and Mary walked home in silence. Hermione tried to get Mary to talk for a bit, but she wasn't in the mood at all, and her answers were short and irritable.

Mary ran to the guest room as soon as they got back to the house, and locked herself in, trying not to brood on how little she knew, and the fact that she was never, ever going to be able to catch up. She failed miserably. Hermione knocked on the door and asked if she was okay, and she said she just wanted to be alone for a while. Even Hermione, who was actually a good student, and cared about this sort of thing, would be lucky to catch up, since everyone else had nine months to learn everything that she was trying to master in two. Mary knew that, and she knew there were more important, immediate things she needed to learn, like how to not make a fool of herself and her name in public, but she hated feeling like a failure. Aunt Petunia had worked hard, trying to accomplish this very state of affairs, but had never succeeded, because at least with the Dursleys, Mary had a reason to fail: she was never allowed to really try. Now, though, when she was able to try her best, she found that her best wasn't good enough.

She didn't know how long she moped before Mrs. Dr. Granger knocked on the door. "Beth? Are you awake? Hermione's worried about you, sweetheart."

"Go away," Mary said, mostly into her pillow.

"Beth, honey, if you don't answer, I'm going to have to go get the key…"

"I'm fine. I just don't want to talk," Mary said, to the door this time, and not the pillow.

There was a sound of footsteps moving away, and then nothing for what seemed like a very long time.

The quiet was broken by another knock. "Beth, dinner's ready. Dan made ratatouille. You really should come try it, he's quite good."

It smelled good, but Mary didn't want to see anyone. "I'm not hungry." She rolled over, hugging a pillow, and Mrs. Dr. Granger left again.

Sometime after that, Mary woke to find the sun was setting, and Mrs. Dr. Granger was sitting on the bed. There was a foil-wrapped plate sitting on the nightstand.

"I said I didn't want to talk," Mary said, rubbing her eyes. She hadn't cried. It had been years since she'd really cried, and not just because she'd been hit in the nose and teared up or something. But her eyes felt itchy like she had, anyway.

"Yes, well, it would look bad if Minerva came back and you'd locked yourself into a room to starve all week," Emma said in a dry tone that reminded Mary a bit of Professor Snape. She couldn't help but smile a little bit at the thought of introducing the two of them. They'd probably get on. "So why have you locked yourself in here to starve?"

"I wasn't going to starve," Mary rolled her eyes. "It's only one meal."

"Yes, well, I'm not in the habit of allowing my children to miss meals," the dentist said with a frown.

Mary snapped at the older woman. "I'm not your child."

Emma didn't miss a beat. "I meant Hermione and Dan," she lied. Mary smiled again. If anyone was likely to skip a meal in the Granger house, it was Emma, not Dan. He liked cooking too much to miss out on the food. "But that doesn't mean I'm going to let you skip your veggies either," Emma added, nodding at the plate.

Mary unwrapped it and began to work on the sauce-soaked vegetables and cold pasta. It was very good, even as left-overs. She was sorry she hadn't gone out to help and learned the recipe.

Emma sat and watched, waiting until Mary's mouth was full to say, "Is this about school?"

Mary startled, choking on a bit of pasta, and Emma pointed out the glass of water on the nightstand.

"So, that's a yes, I take it? Hermione said you'd been very quiet all day, after your science lesson…" Emma trailed off expectantly, and Mary glared at her, still coughing.

"I don't know anything!" (cough) "I felt so stupid!" (cough) "It doesn't –" Mary started coughing badly again, and had to stop talking for another sip of water. "It doesn't even matter, that science stuff, or literature, or geography. I'm never going to need to know any of it!" She crossed her arms defiantly.

"But it bothers you that you don't?"

Mary froze. Emma was giving her a look. If Mary hadn't known better, she would have thought that Hermione's mother was reading her mind, but she didn't think even wizards could do that. After a long moment, she nodded.

Emma gestured at the plate. "Eat your dinner. I promise I won't surprise you like that again."

"Like you could," Mary muttered.

Emma grinned. "Is that a challenge?"

"Nope." Mary shook her head, retrieving her fork. She had no doubt that Emma could find some way to surprise her, and she'd probably die choking on a chunk of zucchini. What a stupid way to go. Mary Potter, survives Dark Lord, murderous possessed teacher, killed by a muggle wielding fearsome French cooking.

Emma sighed as Mary continued eating. "You're wrong, you know, about the mundane school stuff not being important. I've done a lot of reading about your magical subjects over the last year. There's a lot wizards could learn from muggles, much as they don't think so, and the very existence of magic has some exciting implications for muggle sciences, or at least that's what Dan says. He reads much more physics than I do. But even I know that Transfiguration could be improved by a better understanding of biology, botany, and physics, and I haven't done any of that since high school. Charms is almost all physics, and probably some neuroscience, from what I understand. Geomancy and Elemental magic use earth sciences and geography, even if they don't know it, and Alchemy has the same basis as chemistry, about four hundred years ago. Arithmancy uses a lot of maths: statistics for prognostication, and algebra, and even some calculus in the advanced spellcrafting. There's a magical geographic coordinate system that's used for travel, and is based on mundane geography, and the politics and history is inherently tied to mundane geography and history. Magic gives you more options, but it doesn't mean it's better than or can completely replace mundane knowledge, and there's a lot to be said for the accomplishments of logic and the scientific method in general."

"Well, great. Now I feel even worse." Mary stabbed a chunk of eggplant, scraping her fork on the plate. She winced. Miss Catherine would have given her an essay for that alone. "I'm behind, and I can't even say it's in something that's not important."

Emma rolled her eyes. "You're a smart girl, Elizabeth. And in a lot of ways, you remind me more of myself than Hermione does." She smiled. Mary didn't really see it, but she nodded anyway. Maybe it was just that Hermione was more like Dan. They were both very Ravenclaw. But Emma wasn't dumb. "You remind me of myself as a girl, and so I'm going to tell you a lesson no one ever told me, but that it would have helped to know earlier in life: You need to set your priorities, and understand that it's not wrong, and you haven't failed just because you can't do everything at once."

"I have priorities," Mary objected.

"No, you don't." She held up a hand to stop the girl's protests, and waited until Mary continued to eat. "You know what's important to you and what's not at all, but you don't know what to do when more than one thing is important. Have you not spent all night hiding in here and freaking out because you don't have the time to catch up with your muggle peers? I've looked over those scrolls you brought to show Hermione. You've already done a phenomenal amount of work this summer. I'm guessing that's all the stuff you should have learned before you went to school, if you'd been raised by wizards?" Mary nodded. "It's not so different from the sort of thing I had to learn growing up," Emma informed her. "And I know it's not the sort of thing anyone is expected to learn in a single summer."

That was actually… really nice to hear. All Miss Catherine and Mrs. Urquhart ever said was that she was doing something wrong. They never pointed out that she was making progress, just that she was nowhere near her peers, yet.

"Four years," Mary said quietly. "They start when they're seven, so they have four years until they go to school to learn everything that Miss Catherine's trying to catch me up on."

Emma nodded, as though that was only to be expected. Mary was suddenly very curious where and how this woman had grown up. "And of course they pick things up before then, just being around it all the time. You didn't write anything about it, but you move more gracefully now, and you kind of pose yourself when you sit." Mary's mouth almost fell open. She was astonished that it was a noticeable difference. Emma smirked at her. "Add ballet, tap, riding, drawing, singing, violin, piano, German and Greek to your lessons, strike the Italian, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what I grew up with."

"Why?" Mary couldn't imagine anyone needing to know all that in the muggle world.

Emma shrugged. "The trials of my misspent youth. I could bore you all night with it, I'm sure, but for now I'll leave it at: I grew up in a family and a society that had certain standards of expected behavior for proper young women."

Mary thought that sounded awfully like something Mrs. Urquhart would say, and she did know how to use a quill... "Are you a squib?"

"No," the older woman laughed, "Old Southern gentry, from the United States. Emma Mae Holmes, once upon a time."

Mary flushed. "You don't sound American."

"Ah've lived here for quite a while, now," Emma momentarily affected a slow, Southern drawl, before snapping back to her normal accent. "Plus Americans don't always sound like you'd expect from the telly."

Mary snickered and changed the subject. "I guess most Old Family girls do learn most of that. Dancing and drawing and such. German. But Miss Catherine said I didn't have time, so I needed to focus on the stuff you saw. We're only doing Italian because Miss Catherine's trying to learn it."

"Sounds about right. And your Miss Catherine has the right idea: you need to figure out how to best use your time. You can't get upset because you don't have time to keep up with Hogwarts and catch up with your society lessons, and catch up on everything you've missed in the muggle world at the same time. Maths and science will still be there when you've learned all you need to about your political position and responsibilities. They'll still be there even if you have to wait until you're out of Hogwarts to look them up."

Mary nodded. "I know. I just…"

"Hate feeling like you're behind?"

Mary nodded again, refusing to meet the older woman's eyes. She couldn't quite bring herself to say it, especially to an adult, but this method of "opening up" by just agreeing while Mrs. Dr. Granger read her mind – however she was doing that – was a lot easier.

"Well, I don't know that it will help, much, but try to keep in mind that you're now going to know a lot of things Hermione doesn't. You already do. She's catching up on the mundane schoolwork, but she hasn't the faintest idea how to behave at a proper dinner party, or what it means to be a good hostess, or who you would invite for high tea versus afternoon tea, or what to say when an old family friend sends veiled insults to you by letter, but is perfectly pleasant in person. She can't sing or play an instrument or draw any more than she can cook, and her Latin really isn't that good. Your penmanship is now much better than hers, and I'm pretty sure she couldn't curtsey to save her life. If I were to introduce her to my grandmother, the old woman would probably disown me," she said, and then added with a grin, "Again."

"Why didn't you teach her all that growing up?" Mary asked, partly out of curiosity and partly because she was uncomfortable being compared to Hermione by her mother.

"Because I hope she never needs to know it, and she was never interested. I'll teach her to dance before her cotillion, but I didn't want her to have the childhood I did."

"Not good?"

"Oh, it was, in hindsight. But I wasn't very happy at the time, if that makes sense."

"Not really."

"Hmmm… put it like this: Do you think it would be fun, being raised by the Urquharts?"

Mary thought about it. It would probably be better than being raised by the Dursleys, even though Mrs. Urquhart was just as strict as Aunt Petunia, and Madam Urquhart was just as mean. But would it be fun? "No, probably not."

"But do you think your Catherine regrets her childhood?"

"No, she seems happy."

"Well, it's our experiences that make us who we are. I like the way I turned out, so I consider my childhood good in hindsight, and I don't regret it, even though I was miserable being forced through etiquette and elocution lessons – which is why I don't sound very Southern – and I was terrible at piano."

"Okay, I think I get it. I still wish I had grown up in Magical Britain, though. There's just so much I don't know!"

"Do you really?" Emma peered at Mary over her glasses. "The magical world is very small, you know, and you'll have an enormous advantage over your wizard-raised peers when you get out of Hogwarts, because as far as I can tell, no matter how things seem at school, the magical and mundane worlds are drawn into contact all the time, and the magical world is seriously lacking in people who know how to manage that contact. Their solution seems to be, more or less, erase everyone's memories, until the next time magic happens. You and Hermione, and all your other muggle-raised peers, unlike their wizarding counterparts, know about technology, and pop culture, and have a basic understanding of how the government works, and the economy, or at least the resources to help you figure it out. You know how to dress like normal muggles and blend in, without looking like you've just walked out of a movie from the early 1900s, or else a crazy person who's escaped from an asylum. If you ever need to import anything from the muggle world, for example, you could do it far more easily than, say, that Malfoy boy I've heard so much about. There's a lot to be said for being raised in the dominant culture of a country, even if you decide to leave it eventually. You have… options. Influence. Potential allies, from both sides of the Invisible Curtain. And that can be worth almost as much as, if not more than, the respect you'll get for your heritage and position, once you've caught up to society."

Mary raised a skeptical eyebrow. "So you think I'm better off with being raised in the muggle world, and then having to cram everything I should have known already, and just leaving the muggle maths and such for later?" She wondered what Emma would say if she knew Mary spent ten years living in a cupboard and working like a house elf.

Emma hesitated. "Not quite. I wouldn't say 'better off.' But… I think you can make it work for you, as long as you keep your priorities in order and don't spread yourself too thin. Make allies of people like Hermione, who have skills and knowledge you don't. Don't forget that you have your own strengths and expertise that they may be lacking. And if you need help with something, don't be afraid to ask. It… took me a long time to learn that. But you'll find that people like to help each other, sometimes for favors, but often just because they think you need it, and it doesn't hurt them, and makes them feel good."

Mary sighed, "Thanks, Emma." She appreciated the advice, but there was no way she was actually going to go around asking for help. She could take care of herself.

The woman winked at her. "So you're going to take my advice on priorities and allies, but you still don't think it's a good idea to ask for help and thereby admit you need it."

"Are you a mind reader or something?" Mary interrupted.

Emma laughed. "No, your face is actually very expressive once someone gets to know you, if they're paying attention." Mary immediately tried to make her face completely blank, and Emma laughed again. "You do have a better poker face than most kids your age, but I'm very, very good at this game. And like I said, you remind me of myself. That makes it easier. Anyway, if you don't need advice, but just want it, you can still ask me. And I'll keep an eye on you and tell you if I think you need to know something. How's that?"

Mary nodded tentatively. "Okay. Yeah."

"Good. Now pass me your plate, and talk to Hermione tomorrow after school, yeah? She didn't beg and plead to have you over just to have you hide yourself away all week."

"Okay. Do I have to go to school?"

Emma shrugged. "I think she'd like it if you did. But no one's going to force you if you don't want to." She headed for the door, apparently done with what she'd wanted to say.

Mary thought about it for a few seconds, and said, just as Emma was opening the door, "I'll go."

The older woman looked over her shoulder and grinned. "I thought you would. Good night, Beth."

"Good night, Emma."

Tuesday, 28 July 1992 Kent

Mary did attend school the next day, reminding herself all the while that she didn't need to worry what the teacher thought of her, or even try if she didn't want to – she would only be there for the week, after all. She tried to fill Hermione in a bit on the way there, but it was harder to say it than she thought it should be, and their conversation was cut short by the beginning of lessons, so, as predicted, they really didn't have a chance to talk until after classes.

They took the long way back to the Grangers' house, kicking a rock in front of them down the sidewalk. They mostly talked about school, and Mary's summer, and all the catching up she still had to do. By the time they reached the house, Hermione more or less had figured out what Mary was trying to say without saying it.

"So you were just upset because you were… kind of overwhelmed?"

Mary shrugged. "Yeah. I guess that's a good way to put it."

"But you're better now?"

"I think so."

"Are you sure?"

"Your mum came in and talked to me for a while last night. Well, at me, more like. She made me eat so she could talk, I think."

"Ah, yes, very Slytherin, mum is."

Mary laughed. She hadn't given it much thought, but she supposed Emma probably would be a Slytherin, if she were a witch. "Yeah, well, she kind of just… told me a bunch of stuff I already knew,"

"But in a way that made you actually believe it?" Hermione finished. Mary nodded sheepishly. "She's good at that. So what do you want to do for your birthday?" the older girl changed the subject.

"I…" that was an excellent question, and no one had ever asked it of Mary before. "I don't know. I've never celebrated it before, except last year, and all I did then was explore Hogwarts' grounds with Hagrid and eat cake."

"Well, if you want a suggestion, I was thinking maybe we could go for dinner in Diagon? If it were my birthday, that's what I'd do."

And then Mary had a horrifying realization: she had no idea when either of her friends' birthdays were.

"Lizzie? Are you alright? You've gone pale."

"When's your birthday?" she squeaked out.

"Nineteenth September, which is why I can't drag my parents to the Alley – we'll be at school."

"I missed it! I'm so sorry! It didn't even occur to me until now to ask."

Mary, still on edge over school and priorities and constantly being told she wasn't good enough for Society, was momentarily certain that she was a terrible friend, but Hermione brushed it off with a grin. "Well, from what I remember, you were doing your best not to be killed by your housemates that week so… don't worry about it."

"No! I'm buying you a belated present, when we go to the alley."

Hermione gave Mary a rather bemused look. "It was nine and a half months ago. You really don't have to…"

"But you're my best friend. I don't want to be the kind of shite best friend who doesn't even know when your birthday is."

"Well, now you do know. But you don't need to get me anything. And definitely not for last year."

"Too bad. I'm going to, anyway."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Whatever. Did you get Lili anything? Hers was over winter hols."

"No, I didn't." Mary bit her lip.

"It's been months, Lizzie, relax. Neither of us is offended. If we minded, we'd have mentioned it before now."

"But what if –"

"It's fine, I promise. I wasn't planning on getting you anything this year, either, it's just, you know, an excuse to have cake."

"You don't have to get me anything, though. I'm staying here. That's a great present."

"And because you're here, we'll get to have cake, with real sugar! It balances out."

"You… you're sure?"

"Elizabeth," Hermione said in her most serious voice, looking Mary directly in the eye, "I don't know if you know this about me, but I love cake. And I live with dentists." And then she cracked up.

Mary smiled as well. It was nice to see Hermione being silly. It didn't happen at school all that often. "I'll get you real chocolate, to take to Hogwarts with you. How's that?"

"Well, I wouldn't say no to it. But you really don't need to get me anything for my birthday. It was ages ago, and I wasn't expecting anything. I didn't even tell anyone, because it's not a big deal."

"Fine." Mary didn't entirely believe her, but this argument was going nowhere.

"Fine."

"So what do you want to do tonight?"

"Let's just watch a movie or something. We never do that, and it's not like we could at school."

The Drs. Granger arrived home just in time to catch the last few minutes of Indiana Jones, and then it was time for dinner, and homework. Dan was reading, and Hermione had schoolwork, but Mary asked Emma to speak French with her, because it was one of the few things she could practice away from the Urquharts.

They had a very long and confusing conversation (with extensive commentary from Hermione and frequent pauses for Mary to look up words) about either flying or ballet and Persians or drills, or possibly mythology or Percy Weasley (but probably not Weasley), and then either common sense or a census. It didn't really matter which for the last one, Mary supposed, as the Wizarding world seemed to lack both, and that was the gist of what Emma was saying. Probably.

Friday, 31 July 1992 Granger House

Wednesday and Thursday were similar to Tuesday, and Friday differed only insofar as instead of Dan and Mary cooking dinner, they did end up going to the Alley. Mary decided to get a present for herself, dragging the Grangers into Bagnold's Brooms (where Dan talked to the very confused salesman about aerodynamics, and Mary placed an order for the top-of-the-line Nimbus 2001 Racing Broom – perfect for seekers, to be delivered to the Urquhart Mansion the following Monday), and they ate dinner at a little French restaurant. They stopped at Florean Fortescue's for ice cream at Emma's suggestion. Hermione was a bit put out that there was no cake, but found an ice cream flavor with chunks of cake in it, which she admitted was possibly even better.

When the Grangers (and Mary) returned to their house, however, Friday evening took an unexpected turn. Hermione went to her room to fetch a book, and let out an ear-shattering screech. Mary and the Drs. Granger came running, and burst through the door as a house elf, poorly clad in an old pillow-case with rips for arm-holes, bowed low and introduced itself to Hermione.

"Miss Mary Potter! I is Dobby! So long has Dobby wanted to meet Miss Mary Potter!" It had a very high-pitched voice and enormous green eyes. Its nose was very long and thin. Mary was certain she had never seen it before, which seemed a reasonable assumption, given that it seemed to have mistaken Hermione for Mary.

All of the humans spoke at once: "I'm not Mary," "How did you find me?" "What is it?" and "Where did it come from?" vied for attention until Emma clapped her hands loudly.

"I propose we move to the living room," she announced, and turned her back on the assembled crowd. Everyone else, including the strange elf, followed obediently and found their usual seats. The elf stood in the center of the room as they scrutinized it.

"What is this creature?" Emma asked the girls.

"Dobby is a house elf, Miss!" the elf squeaked.

"I wasn't talking to you," Emma said, raising an eyebrow at Hermione and Mary.

She was clearly awaiting confirmation of the elf's claim, but before Mary could explain what a house elf was, Dobby began twisting its ears (Mary couldn't say with the pillowcase whether it was male or female), shrieking, "Bad Dobby! Very bad Dobby!"

"Stop it!" Hermione shouted. The elf collapsed into a ball, hugging its knees tightly. Mary just stared. She had never seen any of the school elves act like that.

"It's a house elf, Emma. There are dozens of them at school. Maybe a hundred. They're like servants, in the wizarding world. Well, slaves, I guess. But most people treat them well, at least according to Cammy, and all the ones I've met have had only good things to say about their work." Dobby was trembling and rocking a bit. Mary felt she should probably revise that statement. "Erm. Perhaps not this one."

"Bad Dobby!" the elf began shrieking again, throwing its head against the floor.

"Dobby!" Emma snapped at the elf, "Stop that at once and explain yourself."

The elf froze, halfway through another convulsion. "Dobby had to punish himself, Miss. Dobby almost spoke ill of his family, Miss."

"Who are your family?" Dan asked.

The elf sat up again. "Dobby cannot say, sir. Dobby is bound to a wizard family, sir, to serve one house and one family forever, but Dobby is not supposed to be here, sir, and cannot betray his family by speaking their name, sir."

"So they don't know you're here, then?" Dan looked very uncomfortable with the constant 'sir's.

"Oh, no, sir. Dobby will be having to punish himself most severely for leaving without permission, sir. Dobby will have to shut his ears in the oven door for this. If they ever knew, sir –"

"But won't they… notice? If you shut your ears in the oven door?" Hermione sounded a bit faint.

"Dobby doubts it, Miss. Dobby is always havings to punish himself for something, Miss."

"But that's awful!"

"No!" Mary tried to stop Hermione, but she was too late. The elf was already twisting his ears again. "Dobby, stop! You are not to punish yourself in our presence." He stopped, looking torn between relief and terrible anxiety. "Hermione, Dan, Emma, don't say anything about his masters. If it's negative and he agrees with you, he'll have to punish himself later. Right?" she asked, looking back at the elf. He nodded, ears flopping. None of the Grangers looked happy about this.

"Fine, then," Dan said irritably. "Why are you here, Dobby?"

Dobby looked back and forth between the two girls, before apparently realizing that he'd had the wrong one before, and settling on Mary. "Dobby is come with a warning for Mary Potter!" he squeaked. "Mary Potter must not go back to Hogwarts!"

"Why not?" There was no way Mary would not go back, but it wouldn't hurt to see what the elf had to say. He had doubtless come for a reason.

"Mary Potter must stay where she is safe. She is too great, too good, to lose. If Mary Potter goes back to Hogwarts, she will be in mortal danger!"

Mary had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. "What kind of mortal danger?"

"There is a plot, Miss Mary, a plot to make most terrible things happen at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this year," the elf whispered, trembling again. "Dobby has known it for months, Miss. Mary Potter must not put herself in peril. She is too important!"

"Erm… what? Why?" Dan snorted at the confused look on Mary's face. "No, seriously, it's not like I haven't been in mortal peril before. And I'm pretty sure I'm not actually that important. I didn't do anything to defeat the Dark Lord, either when I was a baby or last year. I just… have a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And escaping."

"What's this about you defeating the Dark Lord last year?" Emma didn't miss a trick. Damn. Mary thought Hermione had told them, but apparently not, since she was suddenly looking very guilty.

"Ah, perhaps we can talk about that later, mum? After we get rid of the elf?"

"Fine," Emma glared at her daughter, and then at Mary, who was mouthing sorry, Maia over her shoulder, "But I'll not forget about this! Elf! What does this plot entail, and who is plotting it?"

The elf looked as though he very much wanted to beat his head on the floor again. "Dobby mustn't say, Miss. Dobby must not."

Mary groaned. "It's got to be his family, or else they've specifically ordered him not to say. He can go against their implied wishes, which is how he got here, but not against specific orders, which is why he can't say who they are."

"Fine, we'll keep it in mind. Anything else cryptic to add?" Dan asked somewhat sarcastically.

"No, Dobby is havings nothing more to add, sir."

"I've still got a question! How did you find me?" Mary glared at the elf. "And how did you get in?"

"Elves goes where elves is needed," Dobby said, and on that ever-so-cryptic note, the elf vanished with a crack.

"Well, bullocks," said Dan. Mary thought that fairly well summed up her response to the elf as well.

And then Emma rounded on the girls: "Dark Lord, last year, explain!"

Fully informing the elder Grangers of the insanity that was their first year and the Quirrellmort Adventures took far, far longer than Mary had hoped, but it was nothing compared to the argument that followed on whether Hermione ought to be allowed to return to the (admittedly somewhat dangerous) school.

Bullocks didn't begin to capture the latter half of the evening.