In her heart of hearts, Hermione knew she had it easier than most. It was just hard to remember sometimes.
She was woken by the thin light sliding through a gap in the curtains. The clock read eight, which confused her at first. Monday mornings were for getting dressed and heading out. Guzzling strawberry milk, catching up with her classmates and sitting in maths class.
She liked strawberry milk, her classmates and maths.
She didn't like yet another holiday week stretching ahead, empty days, hours and hours waiting to be filled with nothing but staying home because it was the bloody summer holiday.
Hermione didn't want to get up just yet—because what was there to get up for?—but still, she swung her feet over the side of the couch, folded her blanket, fluffed the cushions, and padded along to the bathroom. After going to the loo, she washed her hands, splashed water on her face and closed the door quietly behind her. Silence was essential. The last thing she wanted was to wake her grandmother—asleep was when the woman was the most tolerable.
When Hermione was sure the coast was clear, she tiptoed into the kitchenette, found an open packet of cream crackers and stuffed several into her mouth. She washed them down with a glass of milk and peered into the refrigerator. A pack of sliced roast turkey caught her eye. After warring with herself for a full minute, she gobbled two slices, taking care to put the pack back in its exact place.
The sink was full of used tea bags, dirty mugs, cutlery and plates. It might as well sport a sign reading 'Rosalind Granger was here'. Hermione dragged the step stool over and climbed up. Better to get through morning chores while nobody was here to glare daggers at her back. Sleeves rolled up to the elbows, she filled a bowl with washing liquid and hot water, and worked like a finely honed machine. Plate. Into the soapy water. Good scrub. Rinse under running tap.
Outside, the sun was shining. She cracked the window open to let in the fresh morning air. Sounds of the neighbourhood preparing for a new day floated in. Somewhere down the street a lawn was being mowed. Probably Mr Wilson. He was a retired clerk who took religious care of his yard.
A dog barked two or three houses over. Then came the sounds of a mother yelling for her kid. Jason? Jamie? Maybe Jessica, the McCarthys' five-year-old daughter. She was a whiz on rollerblades, a pity for whoever had to run after her. Her mum and dad never seemed to mind, though.
Hermione turned a blue-and-white china plate and rhythmically washed the back.
When she'd moved in with her grandmother after her parents' car crash, she'd been one of the few kids living there. Since then the neighbourhood had grown and so had the families. There must be four toddlers on this block alone. Three of the boys in her class lived just two blocks over. Larry, Jay, and Dub—Adam, but everyone called him Dub since he was from Dublin. There were a number of girls as well, though most of them were older. Hermione had always felt that was a pity. It was so easy for boys to find someone to play with, while she'd have to be driven to someone's house. That took planning. That took having a parent to serve as chauffeur. That took being allowed to go beyond the garden.
No wonder she didn't have any friends.
On the positive side, the library was only ten minutes away on foot. On the negative side, any attempt to go would be met with disapproval, because 'Young girls shouldn't be out on their own' and 'People will talk!'.
Hermione thought people had better things to do than gossip about ten-year-olds but she had learned long ago not to contradict her grandmother. To voice any kind of opinion would be asking for trouble. She managed to go out on her own, anyway. It was just a matter of proper grandmother-management. For instance, Rosalind's afternoon naps provided the perfect opportunity to rush to the library and check out some books. And later, when she turned in for the night, Hermione would go on walks around the neighbourhood. She'd hang out with Larry and his mates. They'd show her stunts like riding bikes no-handed or wrestling moves. Sometimes Mrs Kane from next-door would give her cookies, she joked that Hermione had a lot of catching up to do in the cookie department.
An evening walk could make any bad day better. It was entertaining, passing through the neighbourhood where everyone was friendly and smiley and happy.
The sound of the lawn mower stopped. A sharp bang as Mr Wilson removed the clippings bag. He was probably dumping the grass on his flower beds. Working the soil vigorously with his wrinkled, tanned hands. Hermione had seen him do it a hundred times. She set the last plate in the drying rack, and attacked the kitchen floor, all the while thinking, This must be what house arrest feels like. Or being a fish, listening underwater to people living up above.
One hour later, the countertops sparkled, the floor was freshly mopped, the stove, microwave and windows were clean. Now it was ten in the morning and Hermione didn't know what to do.
She plopped down on the couch and stared at the white doily on the coffee table. Eyed it steadily until it rose off, hovered above the table, twirled in the air.
As far as entertainment went, lace doily was as good as the living-room got.
Hermione didn't really understand what she was doing, or why she could do it, but her touch was instinctive, familiar. She'd been six when she'd realized that others couldn't do what she did. From what she'd read, it was like pure sleight-of-hand skill or something. She wasn't sure exactly. She'd been thinking about showing it to a teacher, but then again... She wasn't sure she really wanted to find out.
What if it wasn't natural?
She was already enough of an outcast without becoming the school's official mutant, thank you very much. What, with her orphan status, top grades, and unprettiness, she couldn't have been more of a target had someone painted her Day-Glo orange and tattooed a dartboard on her back. Of course, that didn't mean she went around handing out arrows for people to take their best shot. She gave back as good as she got. Fought back those trying to bully her with kicks and bites and scratches and, when someone said something slick about her parents, she'd been known to throw the first punch. Her adoptive parents were dead, her real parents too, and they were all completely off-limits to talk about. Though some people didn't understand that, such as Emily Taylor. She was one of those rebellious girls who skipped class and talked back to teachers and bullied others. Whenever Hermione raised her hand to give the—correct—answer in class, Emily rolled her eyes or made a snide comment; every time Hermione went to blackboard to answer—correctly—an algebra problem, Emily would try to trip her; and thrice now the bigger girl'd jostled her in gym.
Emily'd always been nasty, but she reached the culmination of her nastiness a few months ago. It was a free study period and Hermione had been reading while her classmates had been chatting and catching up on homework, Emily's voice louder than anyone else's. All the class could hear her going on and on about how her mum'd thrown a fit because she'd caught her putting make-up on.
"Not even proper make-up, just lipgloss, you know," Emily said breezily. "But my bitch mum goes bananas, right, acts like I'm this total slag. And when I told her that she wears make-up she got shirty like parents do as soon as you point out how stupid and useless they are."
Normally, Hermione ignored the girls in her class, but she was getting annoyed at what she was hearing. And apparently it showed on her face because Emily went, "What're you staring for, Granger?"
"Well, you shouldn't call your mum bad names."
"And you shouldn't wear your dad's ugly trousers or pee yourself with excitement every time you raise your hand in class. But I don't tell you anything, do I?"
The whole class seemed to burst into laughter. Hermione hadn't noticed people were actually listening. "Watch your mouth," she snapped, reddening. "Don't talk about my dad, Taylor."
"Screw you and screw your loser dad," Emily said nastily. "You're nothing but an irritating, brown-nosing know-it-all, Granger. No one's talked to you so maybe you should just shut your ugly mouth and go back to your coloured book."
Hermione didn't know what came over her, but the next thing she knew, she'd socked Emily in the mouth. It was satisfying, but stupid, because after the shock Emily started hitting her back, and she hit bloody hard. They rolled on the floor for a while, until they were pulled apart and sent to the headteacher's office.
As they sat on the worn-out leather couches outside the head's study, Emily kept glaring and glaring until Hermione hissed, "You started it. You've got no business talking about my parents."
"What's so bloody special about your stupid parents?"
A blank expression came over Emily's face, as if her bully instincts weren't fully capable of handling such information.
"And I don't need you to feel sorry for me!"
"Well, I can't help it, Granger. You're really pathetic. No one likes you, you're ugly, and you haven't got any parents."
Hermione pounded the coffee table irritably. That day she'd received her first detention, a blemish on her perfect record. But it turned out detention wasn't so bad. She did her homework until Emily said "God, you're such a loser" and hijacked her textbook for a magazine. They spent the hour defacing photographs of celebrities, adding moustaches, missing teeth, until it was an onslaught of scars and eye patches and bloodshot eyes and devil horns.
Emily Taylor wasn't so bad once you got past her bad attitude. Under other circumstances, Hermione thought grudgingly, they might have been friends.
The sound of a door banging open brought her out of her thoughts and made her bolt upright. She straightened out the crocheted doily on the table and put on a bright smile just as the door jerked open. "Good morning," she greeted.
Her grandmother flicked her a look then headed straight for the kitchenette, her footsteps creaking the wood floor. As usual, without answering or smiling or even nodding.
A familiar feeling rose, pushing up like a budding flower.
I wish she loved me.
Hermione squashed it down, then stomped on it for good measure.
"Bread or oatmeal?" Rosalind's voice came out muffled from the cupboard where her head had disappeared.
She produced two slices of bread and an apple, handing them without removing her head from beneath the shelf.
"Can I have some butter?"
"You'll get fat."
"Just a little bit? Please?"
Hermione nibbled on thinly-buttered bread on the couch while listening to her grandmother go through her routine of preparing her breakfast. It was always scrambled eggs, oatmeal topped with yogurt and fruit, three bialys, a cup of tea. And soon came the whisking sound of eggs being beaten in a metal bowl, the clunk of a pan taken down from the hanging rack. The click of the stove being turned on. The rustling of the kettle being filled up with water while the scrambled eggs fizzled and sputtered in the frying pan. Slowly the hissing of water boiling died down. Now Rosalind was scooping out oatmeal from box to bowl, pouring the hot water, stirring. A click as she shut the stove off and slid the eggs onto a plate. Silverware clunk as she arranged her breakfast on a tray. The thud of her heels on the creaky wood floors. The whoosh of the fridge door being swung open.
Then there was silence.
Hermione waited for the subtle rubberized squish-push of the door being shut. It didn't come.
Instead, "When did you wake up?"
A pause. "Did you touch anything in there?"
"No. No, I didn't."
Rosalind slammed the refrigerator door shut. "There's food missing. The turkey. I don't like being lied to! You little—"
She broke off. Hermione watched her chest fill, a conscious inhale. Then the slow exhale as no doubt she counted to ten. Wondering yet again how to survive an unwanted granddaughter.
"Tell me, girl," she said at last. "How long have you lived here?"
"That's not what I'm asking you."
"Five years, Grandma."
"In all that time, what's the only thing I've asked of you?"
"That I listen to you."
Rosalind smacked her palm on the countertop. "And?"
"That I clean the house."
"That I don't lie to you."
"I don't ask too much of you, do I?" Her voice was dangerously low. "You've lived here for a long time. You had no one, and I took you in. Nobody wanted you, not even your own parents. They threw you away like a bag of stinking rubbish, but I kept you."
Her grandmother rubbed her temples. "You have to learn to respect other people's things."
"Yes. I'm sorry. I... I won't do it again. I promise."
"I should think not," Rosalind agreed. For one moment, Hermione actually thought she might get away with it, but then she added, "Now go get it."
Hermione stood and walked slowly to the bathroom. A broom hung from a hook by the door, alongside a squeegee mop and a long-handled dustpan. It was a good broom, with a gloss wood handle and a sturdy straw-sweeper end. Her fingers shook as she reached out for it.
In the living-room she put it in her grandmother's outstretched hand, stripped off her shirt then turned around to give her back. And tried to remind herself that she had it easier than most, even if it was hard to remember at times.
. . .
School had finally come.
Hermione sat with an open textbook and a bunch of notebooks sprawled across the table, in her pyjamas, listening to her grandmother cursing up a storm as she tried to find her shoes.
The summer had been unusually hot that year, with record-breaking temperatures in August. The heat put Rosalind Granger in bad moods. When she opened her mouth, nothing but complaints spewed out. Everything, according to her, was wrong. Hermione was careless, she left a sponge on the table, how dared she? She slouched when she walked, she'd become a hunchback if she wasn't careful. She was greedy, stuffing herself with porridge at dinner. She was thin and scrawny. Why couldn't she be more like Mrs Roberts's granddaughter? Next to her she looked like a rat, Rosalind sighed, an ugly, skinny rat with bushy hair.
It was a trying time. Hermione did a good job of avoiding trouble—especially after her rookie mistake with the ham. She'd had such a nasty whupping the bruises hadn't totally faded yet, but then again legs and back always took the longest to heal.
Staying out of the way was easier now that school had started. The transition from primary to secondary school had gone significantly better than expected. The secondary school was massive and they'd served Sunny Delight drinks and flapjacks at break the first day. Hermione's uniform—brown skirt, white shirt, maroon sweatshirt—was secondhand, but nicer than her usual clothes. Emily Taylor had told her that older kids flushed the ugliest Year Sevens' heads down the bog, but it had been two weeks and Hermione's head remained un-flushed. Emily seemed dead upset about this. All in all, classes had been great.
A blast of fresh air rushed in as the front-door opened. "Girl! Come here!"
Hermione dragged her feet to the hallway where Rosalind waited, wearing a beige knitted jumper and an irritated expression. "Clean the kitchen while I'm gone. I'll be back tonight, but you know how it goes. Don't leave the house, don't touch the television, and don't steal food from the fridge or else... Now lock the door, bolt it and don't let anybody in."
Hermione stood at the window and watched her grandmother scuttle in the street and disappear out of sight. Then she put her homework away, turned on the television and emptied her secret stash of food. She fully intended to slob about watching telly all day and committing forbidden acts. Who would tell on her? The furniture? She started with some Saturday morning cartoons, munching her way through a packet of Jaffa Cakes.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were dead wicked, though they had nothing on the moves the neighbourhood boys would pull on you. Just last year Larry had grabbed her in a wrestling move, she'd flown and hit a fence so hard an old nail ripped her thigh. Larry's mum had said she should go to the hospital for stitches and a tetanus shot. Rosalind hadn't even noticed the gash.
She wasn't one of those fussy grandmothers—actually she would rather not be a grandmother. She was ashamed of Hermione, embarrassed to have her in the family, and, when drunk, occasionally wished her dead.
"You should have died in that accident," she'd sob, clutching at her bottle of gin. "Christ, you should have."
These open exchanges of family sentiment always left Hermione feeling warm and fuzzy all over. At least she's honest, she thought, unfazed, as she licked chocolate off her fingers. Honest and volatile and unhappy with insults spewing out of her like missiles, that was Rosalind Granger all right. But Hermione thought she understood why; her grandmother hated her for being alive while her son was dead—and for being adopted. Must not forget that one.
Hermione wouldn't care about being adopted if it wasn't for her grandma reminding her at every turn. She couldn't even remember a time when she didn't know she was adopted. She didn't remember specifically being told, it was as though she'd always known, just as she'd always known that her dad and mum were dentists who worked in the same company and died in a car crash on the way home from that Company Christmas.
While they spurred murky and disjointed images in her mind, Hermione knew nothing about her birthparents—except that they didn't want her. They had abandoned her in a street when she was a baby, without even a note. That was not to say she didn't think about them from time to time. Or wonder who they were. Or if they were even alive. She wanted answers, names, faces. She didn't have that. She had a hundred questions and an ancient blue-and-silver locket.
Hermione leaned back on the couch, put her feet on the table—just for the thrill of breaking yet another rule—and pulled her locket out from under her shirt. It'd been round her neck when she was found in the street. It was, for lack of a better word, a weird thing. Once, Hermione, angry at her grandmother for nagging at her and at her mum and dad for being dead and then at her birth parents for throwing her away, had taken the locket and flushed it down the toilet. The next morning, however, she had got up to find the locket under her pillow. That had spooked her so bad she never tried getting rid of it again. To this day she wondered if she hadn't imagined the whole thing.
She tilted it slightly so the blue stone caught the morning light and glimmered silvery, and, not for the first time, noticed it was beautiful. She didn't understand why her birthparents would give it to her. What did it mean? 'Farewell'? Or maybe her grandmother was right, maybe it meant 'We can't keep you because you're a bag of stinking rubbish, but here's a necklace. No hard feelings'.
Her birthparents might be the most selfish people in the world. Hermione knew that, and liked to believe that she hated them, but in truth whenever she thought of them she just had that indescribable emotion. A violent flash of loneliness, making her feel all hollow inside. Empty, in some horribly deep way, as if someone had taken an ice-cream scoop and carved her out. A question bubbled forth, one she'd lost count how many times she'd asked herself.
Is something wrong with me?
Excellent. Another morning, same old depressing rubbish. Hermione focused back on the television screen and engrossed herself in cartoons. Watching Inspector Gadget defeat evil made her realize that life could be worse. For example, she could have had to stop her archenemy from stealing the Queen's jewelled crown.
"You must get the Crown Jewels," Dr Claw lisped on screen. "I desired them since I was a child."
His acolyte was mystified. "You were a child, Boss?"
Hermione was slurping down a Capri Sun and wondering why Inspector Gadgets' niece Penny even wasted her time telling adults stuff—they never believed her and were too useless to help—when someone knocked on the front door. Loudly. She figured it was just some kids being idiots and didn't even think of answering it.
But then it went on.
What, could she not even watch her Saturday morning cartoons in peace? Was nothing sacred anymore?
Knock. Knock. Knock.
"Piss off," Hermione muttered when the noise had the audacity to repeat itself. God, what if it was one of her grandmother's friends? She didn't want to talk to these idiots. Last time she met Mrs Roberts in the street she spoke and spoke about herself and her stupid cats for what seemed like three whole goddamned hours.
KNOCK. KNOCK. KNO—
Hermione huffed and stomped out, muttering things like bloody hell and can't catch a breath, can we and if it's Mrs Roberts there'll be a bloody death in this neighbourhood all the way to the front-door.
. . .
Having been Hogwarts School's deputy headmistress for quite some time now, Minerva McGonagall was one of the few individuals who did the customary house-visit and delivered acceptance letters to Muggle families.
Thusly, she wasn't exactly a stranger to certain things. Muggles categorically refusing magic's existence. Muggles reading the supply list and going "Parchment? Quills? This isn't the Middle Ages!". Muggles and their overexcited children getting lost in Diagon Alley. Muggleborn children smuggling in non-magical pets, puppies, turtles and guinea pigs—not to mention all those calculators Argus Filch had confiscated over the years. Muggleborn children all decked out in neon-flashy scuba gear ready to do some diving in the black lake because they wanted to meet the mermaids. Muggleborn children asking her if it was possible to turn a pumpkin into a carriage with the spell "bibbidi-bobbidi-boo". Muggleborn children enchanting electric objects to work in the castle without considering their capacity to get sentient over time—students still told horror stories in hushed whispers about the Attacking Toaster.
Muggleborn children flat-out refusing to open the door wasn't something Minerva McGonagall had ever experienced before.
She pursed her mouth into a tight line and glanced at the side to make sure she had the right address. Number One, a redbrick terrace house, squashed between two other terrace houses, with a tiny patch of front garden.
It checked out, so she knocked again, firmly, steadily, and heard the sounds of someone shuffling from the other side of the door. Instead of the door opening, she listened to the metal covering scrape back from an ancient peephole. A childish, high-pitched voice came from inside. "If you're selling, we're not interested."
Minerva took it all in stride. "I'm not selling anything," she answered briskly. Did she look like a saleswoman? "Miss Granger, I suppose. I have a few questions for your—"
"How the hell do you know me?"
"My name is Minerva McGonagall." She couldn't repress the disapproving tone in her voice. "I am a professor, at a boarding school called Hogwarts. I have come to offer you a place at this school—your new school, if you would like to come. I need to talk to your parents—"
A muffled huff cut her off.
"I want you to know," Hermione Granger said from the other side of the door, "I can smell a scam a mile away."
Minerva was finding it it difficult to negotiate with a solid wood door, but she did her best. "Well, I never! I've come all the way to your home, because you have qualities we are looking for. Really, now, Miss Granger, what would I get out of it? I'm sure your parents would want to know about it. Given that, do you think I can come in?"
That reply earned her silence, as if the girl were seriously thinking it over.
"Look, lady, I don't know you. You could be one of those serial-killers we hear about all the time on the eight o'clock news."
Oh, for Merlin's sake. "Believe me, I have no intention of killing anyone, especially not someone like you. Let me in and I shall tell you about Hogwarts. Now open the door, will you?"
More silence. Some shuffling noises, as if the girl was dragging her feet. Finally, three sharp metal thunks as steel bolt locks drew back. The rasp of a chain being temperamentally released. A key turning twice. Seemed the Grangers took their home security seriously.
The door was flung open and a tiny brown-haired girl stood there, arms crossed, mouth set. "You can come in. But don't try anything, all right? I'm pretty sure I can bring down some skinny old lady if need be."
With a slight effort, Minerva refrained from answering. She stepped gingerly into the house as Hermione Granger went back to work on the bolt lock and chain.
Inside, a small, cramped corridor led to a small, cramped bedroom with the door partly opened. Straight ahead, the family room was half kitchenette, boasting a faded green tartan couch, three wooden chairs and a coffee table covered in lace doilies. Walls were painted a drab pumpkin-orange, and the two windows were trimmed out with scalloped shades made from a sunflower-covered fabric. The TV was on, blaring away on top of a cheap microwave stand. Hermione took a second to cross the space and snap it off. Then she asked if she'd like some tea or coffee.
"Tea, thank you."
Minerva sat on the couch while the girl shuffled off to a strictly utilitarian kitchenette with plain white cupboards and cheap orange countertops. The air held odours of bleach and medication mingled with the scents of frying oil and spice.
The Grangers have sickle-pinching ways, she concluded. Money was tight. Or perhaps the household was badly managed. Having run an entire school all too often without enough gold, she recognized the signs of economies being practiced. But the hardships that warlocks could endure in wartime were certainly not appropriate for growing children. So far her opinion of these Muggles was low—though she could not fault them on cleanliness. She scrutinized the room as though she were inspecting the Gryffindor common room.
It was spotless.
"Miss Granger, where are your parents?"
"My grandmother will be home soon." Hermione set a loaded tray on the table and sat opposite on a chair. "My parents died in a car crash. When I was five. You should drink your tea while it's hot."
Minerva murmured condolences as she helped herself to a chipped cup of pale tea. She took a sip. Dull-looking, but strong in flavour. Much like its maker, actually. At first glance, Hermione Granger appeared a skinny scrap of a girl, lost in washed-out pyjamas too big for her, but there was nothing dull about her spirit.
Minerva didn't so much think of a needy kitten as the feral kneazles skulking around Hogsmeade.
"So, what about this school?"
"Yes. I might as well start explaining now. As I told you my name is Minerva McGonagall—Professor McGonagall, and I teach at Hogwarts, which is a school for wizards and witches."
Hermione didn't say a word throughout her clipped explanation that there were witches and wizards still living in secret all over the world, and her reassurances that they weren't dangerous like Muggles portrayed them in history books because the Ministry of Magic took responsibility for the Wizarding community. Hogwarts was, she explained, one of the finest schools in the world where students were taught a variety of lessons from making pineapples dance across desks to learning about creatures such as unicorns and dragons.
Hermione regarded her, stony-eyed. "Is this some kind of joke?"
"Of course not. Look."
And she turned the sugar bowl into a guinea pig.
"But," said Hermione breathlessly, watching the guinea pig gnawing on the corner of the tray with a mixture of awe and shock, "but why—are you telling me—I can do magic?"
The professor smiled for the first time since she'd entered the house. "Absolutely. And at Hogwarts, we will teach you not only to use magic, but also to control it."
"When do I start? Hogwarts, you say? Where is it? In London?"
"Scotland. Only eleven-year-old students attend Hogwarts, and term starts on September second. Given that you'll turn eleven next week you'll actually board next year—"
"Um, what do you mean, eleven?"
"Your birthday, Miss Granger. Do try to keep up."
"How do you know that? When is it?"
"When children of Britain show magical abilities, their names and birth-dates are written down in our records. And when they turn of age—and in your case, on 19 September—we offer them a place at Hogwarts. You know your own birthday, don't you?"
"I do now," Hermione said, and she left it at that.
The professor pulled out an elegant-looking white letter and gave it over.
Miss H. Granger
1 Virginia Street,
"All the details are in here. You will leave from King's Cross Station on the first of September, of next year. There is already a train ticket too. If your grandmother wants you to, of course. Muggles—non-magical folk, that is, they have a harder time accepting magic than us. It's quite rare when a magical child is born of muggle parents, just like you. Muggleborns, we call them."
"Maybe I'm not completely muggleborn," said Hermione, her mind spinning with the possibilities. "I'm adopted—that's why I didn't know about my birthday. I only knew I was born round September. And it'd be better if you didn't tell my grandmother about the witch bit. She wouldn't understand, like you said."
Nothing a good spanking won't cure, Rosalind would most likely say about magic.
"Certainly not. Mrs Granger may not be your real grandmother, but she most certainly is your legal guardian, and there's no way around her consent. I am sure she would understand the situation, if I, an adult, would explain it to her.""She won't listen, I'm telling you."
Professor McGonagall didn't look convinced. "We shall see about that when she comes home," she said in a final tone. "By any chance, you don't know your birthparents' names, do you? They could be wizards—"
"They could be dead for all I know," Hermione cut her off. "I don't know anything. They found a necklace and some sheets on me when I was a baby. That's all."
"Found it on you? So you weren't exactly given to the orphanage?"
"No. They found me like most kids."
"On the doorstep?"
"Abandoned in the street."
Hermione shrugged, acting as if Professor McGonagall's tiny gasp and her admission meant nothing—even though it did.
Who'd want to admit that?
She was only a baby when she was wrapped in white sheets and left in some dirty street. Must have been a terribly cold night, pretty standard for London in March. Temperatures in the single digits. Worst wasn't even the weather; it was wondering how anyone could just leave a baby out there, in the dirt and dark, for some big dog to eat.
"I was about a year old when the Grangers adopted me," she said aloud, "so they're all I know."
"I see. Perhaps that necklace is some kind of family heirloom. I know that muggles also have them. Is there any name on it?"
"No. And it's broken, anyway. It's a locket, so I tried to open lots of times but it won't budge."
"May I see it?"
Hermione pulled the blue locket out from under her shirt and unclasped the silvery chain around her neck. Handling it with the same reverence her grandmother carried the Bible, she gave it over.
Professor McGonagall weighed it in her hand. It was old and valuable-looking, made of a sapphire stone, and imbedded around the edge with silver. "Goblin-wrought, obviously," she commented, and Hermione nodded like she perfectly understood what a goblin was. Then she tried to open it from all the sides—with no luck—before taking out a fawn-coloured wand and tapping the locket lightly, tracing a pentagon with the tip, all the while muttering unintelligible words that Hermione couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at.
Her second eyebrow joined the first when strands of smoke erupted from the wand, encasing the locket until all of it was covered in a glow of light spreading to the chain.
With a final tap of the wand, the light vanished, and they could clearly hear an unlocking noise.
Hesitantly, Hermione put the locket on her knee. It was hot to the touch. With a shaky breath, she opened it.
Nous N'oublions Pas
She brushed her fingers across the carved words, wondering their meaning, wondering who chose to write them here. A photograph was fitted on the other side. She turned it around and stared at the people forever captured by the camera's lens.
It was a young couple. A dark-haired, gorgeous woman wearing a blue skirt flowing around her calves stood next to a lean, tanned man, his white shirt loose at the collarbone and cuffed at the elbows. He had glanced down while the photograph was being taken. Messy blond curls tumbled over his brown eyes, the hint of a smile tugged at his lips. As for the woman, she flashed a double-dimpled grin at the camera, green eyes alight with dancing sparks. It was impossible not to think of a firework.
Hermione was transfixed by their expressions, how their fingers were entwined in a gesture so natural they didn't even seem aware of doing it. Oh, but how happy they looked. There was real love there. A painful knot lodged in her throat. She drew her eyes up, tried to swallow, and met the professor's gaze. Whatever was in her face made her push the locket away.
Minerva reached for it. She read the French words, extricated the picture from the locket, scanned it briefly and turned it over to see if there was anything written on the back. Nothing. She moved to return it to its place but stopped short: in that empty space was engraved a name.
Louise Sirona de Bourbon
Minerva removed her spectacles. Methodically, she polished the lenses with her lace kerchief, then balanced them back on her nose.
She eyed the name again.
Bourbon! was her first thought, followed shortly by old French pureblood, which collided with Death-Eaters! and produced the baffling thought of is this girl related to them? which was most logical, so her brain jumped to if she is the Bourbons' child then what in Merlin's name is she doing here? and realized only the people involved could offer an explanation, and about that time she registered that Hermione had leaned in to see what she was staring at.
"Louise?... Could it be my name? Could they be my pa—" She broke off, unable to continue. Her hand pressed hard over her mouth, her other arm curled protectively around herself. Tears leaked from her eyes.
Minerva gave her a minute. The girl pulled it together. Chin coming up, shoulders squaring off. She didn't understand the story here, she had a lot of questions, actually. But by all appearances, Hermione Granger, Bourbon—whoever she was, she had been raised right.
Eleven years old, but she was tough.
"Pompous name," Hermione finally said. "These people look fancy, too. Do you reckon they could be my parents?"
"Let's not lose our heads, Miss Granger. All of this is very unexpected. See, the Bourbons are a French family. An old, wizarding French family."
"You mean they're wizards? And they're also still alive?"
"To my knowledge, yes," Minerva replied in a brisk tone. "I don't concern myself with politics, but I know for a fact that Mr Bourbon is a representative of the French Ministry to the International Confederation of Wizards." She squinted, bent closer. The photo was small, but upon closer inspection... "He looks young," she said, scouring her memory, "but I do think it's him. Merlin! What a small world."
"No, it's a large world," Hermione said, sniffing. "If it were a small world I'd have already run into these people who carry the same blood as I do."
There was a silence, and it gave Minerva a moment to collect her thoughts. And add to her mental notes. She was getting a good idea of the situation. Hermione had been orphaned while the Wizarding War was raging in England. French purebloods were regal socialites, famous worldwide for being elegant and snobby, and the Bourbons were a very ancient family noted for a liking of grandeur. They could have been involved with darker roots in some way or another, all those years back... You-Know-Who's followers who had hidden their child away? Lost her? What were the chances?
"You said Ministry..." Hermione's voice grew an edge. "Meaning that Bourbon bloke isn't poor, right?"
"He is rich, powerful, and well-connected." Minerva set the heirloom on the table with a soft clunk. "Being a Bourbon is no small thing."
"Really? Then why did they give me up for adoption? In another bloody country?"
"What you must understand, Miss Granger—or Miss Bourbon, is that it might not have been intentional. You don't know but we were at war, years ago."
"War? What happened?"
"About ten years ago now, there was this—dark wizard, and his army. He wanted power, and planned a revolution against the Ministry of Magic... Those were dark days. Cold, dreary days. He started taking over the country, killing whoever stood up to him. Simply horrifying, every week, news came of deaths, muggles and wizards alike, disappearances, torturing..." Minerva trailed off.
"What I mean is that life sometimes separates us from our loved ones. I doubt your parents ever wanted to give you up, as you put it."
She gestured toward the locket, reminiscing as hundreds of thoughts and faces and names and deaths and memories fought for room in her head, before she stated in a firm voice, as if her words held an intangible truth, "Family is a responsibility that wizards don't take lightly. We take care of our own."
A/N: This is a reboot of my fic LZG, I wasn't satisfied with the way it turned out so after a lot of debating with myself I decided to rewrite it. Overall the plot is the same but with some noticeable differences.