By Niels van Eekelen

--Chapter One--

Summer Holiday

Hermione Granger was a very normal-looking, thirteen-year old girl. In fact, if Hermione was standing among a group of other children of her age, she was impossible to tell apart from the rest. She wasn't (so she admitted herself) particularly pretty, but neither was she noticably unpretty. Her crop of bushy, brown hair could have adorned any thirteen-year old girl's head. (Provided, of course, that that girl was also normal-looking.) Hermione's front teeth were perhaps a bit large, and stood out a bit more prominently than Hermione would have liked, but that wasn't in itself out of the ordinary. Even the clothes she was wearing on that hot summer day, a pair of cut-off jeans and a bright red t-shirt, Hermione's favourite, were about as normal as they got.

And yet Hermione was anything but a normal girl. Under that bushy hair that we came across earlier was a brain, and what a brain it was. Hermione liked using her mind, liked thinking and learning. She liked learning so much, actually, that the summer holidays when she was away from school were her least favourite part of the year. Even though she loved her Mum and Dad very much. That love for her school was the second thing that made her such an unusual girl.

But it was the third thing that really made Hermione an extraordinary girl. It was a secret thing, and it had to do with exactly what kind of learning it was that Hermione did all year long. Hermione was a witch, and for the past three years, she had been attending the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. At Hogwarts, Hermione was learning Spells (from Professor McGonagall), Potions (Professor Snape--blech!), Defense against the Black Arts (never the same professor for long) and a load of other interesting subjects. She had even had Divination (predicting the future) classes for a while, but she had dropped them, because Professor Trelawney was just a big old fraud.

What made going to Hogwarts even better than the classes did, though, were Hermione's friends. Harry Potter and Ron Weasley were the best friends Hermione had ever had in her life. She reckoned that they were the best friends that anyone had ever had, even if the two of them, especially Ron, kept insisting that they do things that would get them into trouble.

Unfortunately, it was summer now, and Hermione was not with her friends. Ron had promised that she and Harry could come with him and all the other Weasleys to see the Quidditch World Cup, but that wasn't for a while yet.

So, meanwhile, Hermione was on holiday with her parents. After going to France last year, her parents had decided to stay in the UK this year, and now the three of them were out camping near a beautiful Scottish loch. Hermione had tried to convince her parents to pick Loch Ness, because she had read so much about it in The Wizarding Ways of Scotland and What the Muggles Know: A Comprehensive Guide to the Ministry of Magic's Foul-ups by Rita Skeeter, but the Grangers had finally chosen the less touristic Loch Leigh. Hermione had to agree that it was very beautiful there.

They had a good spot on the camping site, too, directly facing the lake. Hermione was lying on her stomach on the grass now, her feet swinging lazily through the air. She was studying the water intently as she chewed on a blade of grass. How cool would it be if she discovered this loch had a monster in it, too? Hagrid, the Hogwarts groundskeeper and Care for Magical Creatures professor, would be so excited if she managed to discover a new monster.

Because Hermione spent so much time looking for a monster and reading, her Mum was worried that Hermione didn't play with the other children at the camp site a lot. 'C'mon, honey,' her Mum would say when the kids were out on the volleyball court again, 'I'm sure they'll let you join in if you ask.'

But Hermione was fine where she was. She wouldn't have been able to talk about her magic with the other children anyway. Nor could she really with her parents. Mr and Mrs Granger knew that Hermione was a witch, of course. She could hardly go to wizarding school all year without them knowing! But Hermione's Mum and Dad were Muggles, meaning that they were non-magic people. They weren't a witch and a wizard. In fact, they were dentists. Which was perfectly all right, but it did mean that they  didn't really understand Hermione when she talked about spells and stuff. They usually just gave some vague responses ('That's wonderful, dear.' 'Good for you, honey.') and tried not to show how uncomfortable they felt.

Her books were Hermione's best friends out of Hogwarts, and she loved spending time with them best. A few hours after lunch, she got up from the grass and decided that that was what she was going to do. It didn't seem that she was going to discover any monsters today. Hermione spent the rest of the afternoon immersed in Trewe Tales  of the Greate Gryffindor, a somewhat exaggerated account of the life of one of Hogwarts' founders. Then the Grangers had a barbecue, and after that Hermione wrote postcards to Ron and Harry, to send when she found an owlery in the neighbourhood. And then Hermione went to bed early.

The next morning, she was up just as early, excited about the tour of the lakeshore castle that they had planned for that morning. Hermione hadn't known there was a castle at Loch Leigh before they had arrived at the camp site, but she had read all about it in a pamphlet she'd found at the local post office.

The Granger family set out right after breakfast, because the guided tour started at 10 a.m. You could look around in the castle by yourself at any time you wanted to, of course, but the Grangers' preferred to stick with the orderliness of an organised tour. The castle was only about a twenty-minutes' walk from the camping site, but Mr Granger insisted that they were on vacation, after all ('Dangerously high stress levels, the doctor said!') so they walked the distance at a leisurely pace and took three quarters of an hour to get there.

Hermione and her parents weren't the only people taking the tour. There were Mr and Mrs Blueman, the elderly couple from the tent next to the Grangers', a bunch of people Hermione hadn't seen before, and Mrs Cracker and her son, Melvin. Melvin Cracker was one of the children Hermione's Mum tried to get Hermione to play with, but he reminded her of nobody so much as Draco Malfoy, the biggest and meanest bully in all of Hogwarts, who was in the same year as Hermione. Both Draco and Melvin enjoyed themselves best when others around them were as miserable as possible.

'So, everyone's here, then?' the guide asked. He was a broad man with greying hair and an unruly beard. The question, Hermione thought, was rather silly. How were they to know if anyone who wasn't there yet wanted to come along?

'Let's get this show on the road, then,' the guide said, and they started off into the castle. Naturally, Hermione listened closely to what the guide was telling them, but since she had read about most of it in the pamphlet already, looking around was more fun. Muggles had built the castle in the fourteenth century, and for a long time, it had been forbidden for anyone to enter the building because it had fallen in such bad repair. Almost twenty years ago, some people had even died in the castle because they hadn't been careful enough. Only three years ago had the place been opened to the public again, though Hermione hadn't read anything about the restoration work the Muggles must have done.

While the guide, who told them his name was Mr McHommer, told them all about the Scottish lord who had built the castle, Melvin Cracker did his best to ruin everyone's fun.

'Then in the eighteenth century ..." Mr McHommer was saying.

'Mommy, I want to go back to the tents. I'm bored!'

'As I was saying ...' Mr McHommer continued after Mrs Cracker had shushed Melvin.

'Mommy! I'm hungry!'

It was surprising, really, how many things Melvin could be that required him to be somewhere else. He kept droning on about them, until finally, in a small hall deep inside the castle, Mrs Cracker gave in and took Melvin away. It was while the rest of the group waited for Mr McHommer to return after leading the Crackers outside that Hermione noticed something curious.

Hermione's Mum and Dad were standing in the center of the hall, talking with the other people on the tour. But there was someone else in the room, someone who hadn't come in with the group.

A man was standing on one side of the room. He was standing in front of a thick wooden door that showed no sign of the rot that was apparent in all of the other woodwork in the castle. Oddly enough, everyone else seemed to be ignoring him, or maybe they didn't notice he was there. What Hermione found most interesting, though, was that the man was wearing dark, tartan robes. Those robes weren't unlike the school robes Hermione wore most of the year. They were the traditional wizard clothing. Which, again, was rather odd, because one of the wizards' most important rules was not letting the Muggles know about them. Thus, Hermione deduced proudly, this wizard must have a charm on him that made the Muggles not notice him. She wondered why he was there at all.

When Mr McHommer came back and led the group to the next room (a dining room, which Hermione knew would never be as impressive as the one in the Hogwarts castle) Hermione pretended to look interested in a small gargoyle carved in the wall, and stayed behind.

When they were alone in the room, Hermione approached the wizard. She stood right in front of him, looking up at his face, but still the wizard remained as still as the Muggle guards Hermione had seen outside Buckingham Palace in London.

'Excuse me,' Hermione said. 'Excuse me, sir?'

After a few moments, as if the words had taken a while to get through to him, the wizard looked down at her and he jumped into the air as if he had a Firebolt broom propelling him upwards. 'Boiling boggarts! Ye cannae see me, can ye?'

Hermione shrugged. She was almost as startled by the outburst as the wizard was himself. 'Well, you're sort of just standing out in the open, sir.'

The wizard squinted closely at Hermione. 'Wait. Yer a witch, aren't ye? Prob'bly of'n age tae be going tae Hogwarts.'

Hermione beamed proudly. 'Yes sir,' she said, 'I'll be starting my fourth year there in september.'

The wizard slouched back visibly. 'Och, that's all right then,' he told Hermione. 'I thought ye were a Muggle fer a bit there. Muggles are nae supposed tae see me. Though I cannae see really what diff'rence it makes,' he added dejectedly under his breath. Then the wizard yawned, loudly.

'Do you have a charm that makes you invisible to Muggles, sir?' Hermione asked curiously.

The wizard nodded tiredly. Hermione noticed that the wizard looked completely worn out. There were dark circles under his eyes, and he looked as if he hadn't bothered to shave or comb his hair for days. 'Aye, the Nonvideocus charm. Only works if ye dinnae move around tae much, though. Not as if I got anywhere tae be, anyway. Whatcher name, wee lass?'

'Hermione, sir. Hermione Granger.' She held out a hand, and after a moment the wizard shook it.

'Henry McNuggett,' he introduced himself.

'Mr McNuggett,' Hermione asked, 'if you don't mind me asking, what are you doing here? You don't look like you're on holiday.'

Mr McNuggett looked at Hermione again. 'Well, I'm nae supposed tae talk about it ... I think.' He sighed. 'But if ye really wantae know, I cannae see what it matters.' Hermione stood very still while she waited for Mr McNuggett to continue. She should, of course, tell the wizard that if it was secret, he shouldn't tell her. Hermione didn't want Mr McNuggett to do anything that he wasn't supposed to. But she was really curious. Hermione almost groaned out loud. After three years, it seemed that hanging around Ron Weasley was starting to rub off on her. The horror.

'There's dangerous magic in this castle, there is. The Dark Arts were used here, used fer killing, and there's still a wee bit o'them left. I'm with the Ministry. We stand around here tae make sure Muggles dinnae wander of intae the places that's still dangerous. Fer all that's worth.'

'But I thought this was a Muggle-built castle?' Hermione wondered.

'Aye,' said Mr McNuggett. He yawned again. 'But this here castle was You-Know-Who's headquarters fer a few years way back.' Hermione gasped. You-Know-Who (or Lord Voldemort for the very few wizards brave enough to call him by his name, like Harry) had been the most powerful dark wizard for centuries. Before Hermione had been born, You-Know-Who had held the entire wizarding world in a state of terror for many years, killing wizards, witches and Muggles indiscriminantly, until he had tried to kill Harry Potter as a baby and had subsequently disappeared. But he wasn't all gone--ever since Harry and Ron and Hermione had come to Hogwarts, You-Know-Who had caused different sorts of trouble for them. If there was still some of his magic left in this castle, Hermione understood why the Ministry of Magic didn't want to have it widely known.

'You-Know-Who left a couple o'nasty surprises here when he left. We performed counter-spells fer all the curses we understood, but there's still things left. Couldn't keep the Muggles from the castle indefinitely, either, so we guard the place.' He rapped his knuckles on the door behind him. There was a heavy padlock on the bolt that held it shut, with no keyhole that Hermione could see.

Hermione nodded. She knew that the Ministry regularly put memory charms on Muggles to make them forget wizard things, but they couldn't possibly make everyone forget a castle that had existed for centuries.

At that moment, Hermione's Mum's voice called from in the distance. 'Hermione? Honey, where are you?'

Regretfully, Hermione said, 'I have to go now, I'm afraid.'

Mr McNuggett shrugged listlessly. 'If ye think it matters.'

Hermione ran off to find her Mum. She hadn't meant to worry her. At the door to the hall, she paused and waved. 'Bye Mr McNuggett! Thanks for talking to me!' Mr McNuggett didn't call back.

--To Be Continued--

Story written by Niels van Eekelen. © Copyright 2004 Telltale Productions.

Harry Potter and the world of muggles, witches and wizards © Copyright 2004 J.K. Rowling, used with gratitude if not permission.