New Perspective 1
Disclaimer: This is a non-profit making tribute to the work of JKR; the characters are the property of JKR and her publishers.
Spoilers: post-HBP; pro-Snape.
Author's Note: The stories in the 'New Perspective' series will be HBP compliant and non-Severitus.
Thank you to Duj for her unofficial but rigorous beta-ing of this story.
THE CHOSEN is set in the summer, just a couple of weeks after the end of HBP.
Chapter 1 : THE PRICE OF FREEDOM
Friday 1st August, 7.30a.m. 'Pinch and a punch for the first of the month and no returns back'… Hermione would have pinched herself if she had realised what was in store. She didn't know it yet, but today was going to be the start of a lot more than just the month of August…
The scrape and swish of curtains being pulled back; the lazy groan of the quarter-light window being pushed open to the full extent of its alloy hinges; the intrusion of grey light filtering through the bedclothes. Hermione shut her eyes more tightly. By her side she sensed something soft, furry and radiator warm shift and stretch; the hot pads of four paws pressed against her stomach, pin-sharp claws flexing against bare skin.
"Wake up sleepy-head. There's a cup of tea there. Don't let it go cold. I'm off now – thought I should allow extra time this morning – the queues yesterday were quite ridiculous – didn't get to work till gone nine. The traffic from Bank Road's all being diverted down Pepper Street – it's because of that burst water-main… Mrs Questing says those four cottages down by Underbridge were completely flooded. Anyway, mustn't be late. Can you remember to hang out the washing, and then the gas man's due sometime between eight and noon to check the pilot light on the boiler – course, they can never give you a proper time… so annoying, dear, I know, but then you weren't planning on going anywhere today, were you? And if you do go out, you will be careful…? It's not a very nice day anyway – you wouldn't think we were in August already… I've taken some salmon out of the freezer for tonight, but if you've got a minute, if you could pick some beans… Hermione?"
Mrs Granger's voice droned through the duvet with her catalogue of news and arrangements and chores. In spite of her supposed haste to make the eleven mile journey to her surgery, Hermione's mother showed no sign of leaving.
"Yes, I heard… gas man, beans…" The sleep-tousled brown tangle rolled over just enough to mumble a muffled response.
"Hm. Well, don't forget. And drink your tea while it's hot and… oh, dear, I really don't think you should allow that cat…" She had caught sight of two ginger ears peeping out from beneath the covers. However much she disapproved, Mrs Granger knew better than to try to dislodge a comfortably ensconced Crookshanks: patients didn't like their dentist's fingers to be covered in sticking plasters. "He may be magical, but he's not hygienic." She moved towards the door, pausing momentarily before the dressing-table to pout her lipstick at the mirror.
"One more thing, Princess, the Today Programme was advising everybody to boil their drinking water - I know we're not Cumbria, but there's no need to take chances. Might as well be on the safe side. So stick to tea, there's a good girl. Or there's some mineral water in the larder – haven't had time to put it in the fridge…"
Hermione scowled. The last thing she wanted to be called at the moment was 'princess'. She'd had enough of spurious royalty recently. And apart from that, she'd be eighteen soon, for goodness sake! Was she never to be allowed to shake off that hideous childhood nickname? Hot water? What was that about? Fridges, kettles, boilers – the tools of the Muggle world were reassuringly safe and familiar: clumsy, functional gadgets, but predictable, understandable collections of banal components, not remotely exciting or mysterious (unless you happened to be Arthur Weasley, of course). She shuddered to think that any one of these innocuous objects could just as easily be something as dangerously powerful as a Portkey or a Horcrux.
"Right. I'll be home by six, dear. Have a good day. Oh, by the way, there's a letter for you."
"A letter?" Hermione sat up in bed. A disgruntled, overheated Crookshanks scrambled out, shook a pale flurry of moulted fur into the air and jumped down with a less than dainty thud. "Who's it from? From Ron? Mum, was it Ron's hand-writing? Or from Harry? How did it come?"
"In the post, dear. I told you." Mrs Granger, conscious that she was now going to hit the rush hour traffic, answered impatiently. For an intelligent, professional woman she could be surprisingly obtuse. Hermione suspected that it was quite deliberate, a demarcation line between everyday Muggle life and the magical world her daughter now inhabited. Her attitude towards wizardry was tolerant – a rationalised acceptance, with Hermione's happiness weighing in as a significant factor – as long as it didn't encroach too far into her own conventional territory.
"But was it an owl?" Hermione insisted.
"No, dear, a letter."
It was nearly a week since Ron's last letter. A week! And that hadn't said much except that he and Harry had gone through Grimmauld Place with a fine-tooth comb using every dark detector available and had found absolutely nothing. There hadn't been a single word of apology, not even an acknowledgement that he was in the wrong. Which he was. It was almost as though Ron hadn't realised what he'd done. Well, she wasn't going to be the one to make the first move. It was up to him. If he couldn't see that… Did he honestly think he had the right to tell her what to do? To make her decisions for her? Did he think he owned her? It had been rather sweet at first, the protectiveness, being treated as though she were something special and delicate, and the cuddles were nice, she couldn't deny that, but the novelty had soon worn off. 'Nice' wasn't enough. Could they build a relationship on nice? Over the last few weeks the cosseting had begun to oppress her, stifle her. This overbearing concern for her wellbeing was like a straight-jacket. Ron had never bothered when they were just friends, but now… she felt as though she had become a piece of property that he was safeguarding, a valuable yet mindless chattel. When he had forbidden her - forbidden her! – to accompany them to Grimmauld Place on the grounds that if they found the locket it might be dangerous, that had been the last straw. She wished Ginny had never noticed Harry's fake Horcrux and remembered seeing something like it before...
And Harry? Since that night, that dreadful night, Harry had been on some jack of his own. He'd answered their questions, sure enough; he'd repeated his story for the Aurors, cooperated with the Ministry (though his idea of cooperation still fell far short of Scrimgeour's promotional ideal), but she could tell his heart wasn't in it. On the surface it was all fire, all action – track down the killer, hunt for the Horcruxes, destroy the Death Eaters… but the inner Harry had withdrawn, had closed his mind and shut them out. He didn't want their sympathy. He claimed to have given up on Occlumency, but the defensive barriers were still there, stronger than ever, shored-up by his conviction that the responsibility for killing Voldemort now rested with him alone. He had barricaded himself in an arena with his anger and guilt and grief and was battling it out by himself; his friends could spectate, helplessly, but they couldn't reach him. There was no reasoning with Harry just now - he was flying solo.
So who could be writing to her? If it were another facile self-defence leaflet from the Ministry, or one of Fred and George's jokey advertising flyers for 'Wizard Wheezes' why hadn't they sent an owl? She already had the provisional reading list for next term – if there was going to be a next term. Hogwarts without Dumbledore was unimaginable. And without Harry too? Did she even want to go back herself? Could she contemplate a future without a portfolio of Outstanding NEWTs? What was life without qualifications?
The letter could wait. Outside the sky was heavy and overcast, the uniform grey-white of over-washed nylon. Hermione stood at the window, feeling suitably tragic, a Hardy-esque heroine, the unlucky victim of circumstances, malign fate and bad weather. It was good to be home, she wouldn't deny that, but was she any safer here than out searching for clues with Ron and Harry? She felt trapped and useless, unappreciated and distinctly hard-done-by. Hogwarts was closed until September; she couldn't even use the school library to research any leads. It was all so frustrating. She was beginning to identify with how Sirius must have felt, stuck in Grimmauld Place.
Hermione showered and then, too lethargic to dress yet, sat wrapped in her bathrobe, staring at her reflection, wishing that the serious, humourless face which so dully returned her gaze was that of anybody but the careworn, lovelorn, Muggle-born Hermione Jane Granger. Everything was such a mess. Ever since Dumbledore's death everything had been falling apart. The school, the Order - no one seemed to know what was going on or what to do next. Hermione's faith was badly shaken: she needed to thrash out what had happened, to put to rest the whispering doubts that lurked in the wings, prompting her unspoken thoughts. Who could she talk to? At moments like this, shouldn't she be confiding in her boyfriend? But Ron was almost the last person she could discuss this with; almost, but not quite - the last person was Harry.
Acting on impulse, she scraped her hair back severely from her temples, tugging it tight, imprisoning it in a McGonagall style bun, hoping by imitation to assume the dignity and composure of her new Headmistress… Within seconds the outlaw curls had made a break for liberty, bursting free of the elastic band, wayward and unrepentant as ever. Sometimes she just hated her hair; she wished she could cut it all off, become a different person, a softer, more manageable, less awkward person. Chic, competent, stylish, self-disciplined – that was the image she would have liked to project, but what chance did she have with this untamed, feral frizz? Dejectedly she teased out a few knotted, brown strands and began twisting them into thin plaits…
In the kitchen there was no sign of her copy of the Daily Prophet. Bother! That made the fourth day in a row it had failed to arrive. She would have to owl the subscriptions department and complain. Which would mean going to the post office in Diagon Alley that afternoon, once the gas man had been. Should she risk it? They had all been warned not to make unnecessary journeys and to travel in twos or groups wherever possible.
"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance," McGonagall had told them. Hermione had wondered at the time whether the old witch realised she was quoting Jefferson, or whether it was just a coincidence - tragic circumstances leading us all to the same basic truisms. McGonagall had also told them not to worry, to go home and have a good summer – her eyes glittering bleakly behind the square spectacles; her dry, Scottish tones now parched with the effort of self-control and conveying about as much holiday cheer as the wail of a bagpipe. The Headmistress had then gone on to recount the fable of the sticks: individually fragile, but together, as a bundle, unbreakable - just as the Sorting Hat had warned them the previous year. Had they listened then? Was anyone listening now? Not Harry, that's for sure.
Idly turning the pages of the local paper, uninspired by the attempts of some ardent cub reporter to describe the festivities at last week's village fete, Hermione dismissed the Muggle news as irrelevant and uninteresting. How could they be fussing about the funding for a new district Scout HQ, when all around them the wizard world was facing its worst crisis for umpteen years? Then the word 'Cumbria' caught her attention and, brushing away toast crumbs, she looked more closely. An outbreak of some virulent, as yet unidentified, gastric bug which had so far claimed no lives but had filled all available hospital beds, had been traced to a contaminated reservoir in the Lake District. Hermione rolled her eyes. Trust her mum to make a fuss – that was hundreds of miles away. Still, she'd stick to hot drinks for the time being. Further down the page was a rather sensationalised account of a farmland fire in which an entire field of ripening wheat had been set alight by stray sparks from a damaged pylon cable. Half-heartedly Hermione flicked through the rest of the paper, scanning the reports: more about the burst water main; aggressive strain of wasp terrorising picnickers in Norfolk; small boy rescues sick owl; power cuts halt performances by the Shakespeare Society; environmentalists warn that acid rain is already taking its toll on our native forests; petrol tanker explodes on M25…
Doom and gloom, she thought, folding up the paper. As she pushed it away from her plate she noticed the letter lying underneath, unopened on the table in front of her. Hermione picked it up. The hand-written address was jammed tight up against the left hand side of the envelope; the stamp was stuck neatly but unconventionally in the bottom right-hand corner. Recognising the writing with a start, she slit open the flap and pulled out a sheet of parchment, her eyes widening in alarm as she read the carefully quilled letter-head: Malfoy Manor.
End of chapter. OK, a quiet, conventional beginning, but things begin to get more involved in the next chapter…
Next chapter: A Bit of Earth. Who has written to Hermione? (Any suggestions?) Why is he/she at Malfoy Manor? What is a cardoon?
Thanks in advance to anyone who takes the trouble to review. I really appreciate your comments. Ffnet says we're not supposed to post individual replies, so if I don't respond please don't think it's because I'm ungrateful.