Disclaimer: The Harry Potter universe and all related materials are the property of J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury and Warner Brothers. I am in no way affiliated with JKR, Bloomsbury or Warner Brothers, and use their materials without their permission or knowledge.
The Price of Knowledge
She had always loved books.
It was a love born of an intimate relationship forged when frustrated adults, parents, and teachers alike, driven to distraction by her endless stream of increasingly complex questions, thrust thick tomes into her young hands with the advice, "Read this and find your answers there."
The answers weren't always there of course, but what was there inspired her to more questions, and so onto more books.
When her peers turned their backs on her, citing the unwillingness she displayed at freely giving answers she had worked hard to find, the books were there to fall back on for companionship.
They talked to her, told stories and kept company, inspired imagination and coached wisdom. Tales of heroics and flights of fantasy took the place of adventures in the playground and normal school social interaction.
Never impatient or rude, they never lied or mislead, nor did they call her names and make fun of her, unlike the few people she had actively tried to befriend.
She gained the praise and acceptance through the knowledge gleamed from her silent companions. Though adults may not have been able to expend the energy and concentrated effort required to satisfy her thirst to know, they were more than willing to accredit the highest awards and citations for the continuous study she undertook.
Years ahead of her classmates, she found older children even less accommodating than her peers. The wedge between her and others became even wider, despite her eager and willing nature.
As time progressed, the comfort offered by dusty volumes and quiet rooms filled with knowledge became her only true friend; until she started at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Acceptance of the existence of the magical world came easily to her; she had been well prepared by her books, and expectation that there would be other children like her raised her hopes and aspirations of finally finding a true home filled with others that shared her passions.
Alas, it was not to be.
Wizards and witches, she despairingly discovered, were no different from normal children in their pettiness and selfish point if view.
As the pressure and rejection reached its peak, a miracle occurred that made all other magic appear only as special as conjuring tricks of a two-bit street magician; she made two friends.
Harry Potter, a boy born to be a hero as a bird is born to fly, and Ron Weasley, an otherwise normal child caught up in the maelstrom of Harry's life.
They saved her from death, had purposely done so, with no prior commitment. While others would have turned their backs and left her fate in the hands of uncaring gods, Harry and Ron had come and fought for her; risked their own lives in order to save hers. It was a feat unparalleled in her history, and forever broke her reliance on books for every emotional need.
But when it came to knowledge, when she again felt an irresistible desire to uncover the mysteries of the universe, books and the worlds they held were still the places she needed to go.
Her skill and empathy with arcane volumes was such that while most people saw words on a page, she felt them. They didn't just give her instructions; they guided her like a companion standing at her shoulder. Ron more than once commented that she didn't read; she absorbed.
Any spell was possible for her, so long as she had a book on it. No matter how complex a potion, if it had been written, she could decipher the instructions and produce it. There was often practice needed, especially when it involved complex wand movements or perfect timing, but always the knowledge was there for her to apply.
So it was with increasing anger and frustration that she found a spell defying her after months of her most ardent attempts to master.
She had the information, explicit instructions on its casting, descriptions of the wand movements and effects, even first hand accounts of its casting, and yet she found herself unable to perform it.
She knew the problem; it was an emotion based spell. Like the Patronus charm Harry taught her to drive off the happiness sucking Dementors, this spell required feelings to work, feelings that she was not able to produce in the required concentration.
Harry had once produced a Patronus so powerful that it had driven off over a hundred Dementors; a feat nobody in history had ever equalled. He had no problems delving into a depth of emotions mere mortals should drown in.
But to Hermione, deep emotions like the one she required now were foreign. They were a world away from the calm and serenity induced by her books.
That had been a bad year for Harry. The Dementors had caused him to relive memories of his mother dying, he believed he was being hunted by the most dangerous killer in the wizarding world, was constantly being targeted by Dementors, and had been harassed as usual by that git Draco Malfoy – who had managed to arrange to have the Hippogriff Buckbeak executed on false charges, and yet he had still managed to access such deep feelings of happiness that his already impressive stag Patronus had exhibited unheard of power.
Malfoy; the very name made her brows crease.
Hermione had never truly loathed somebody before she caught Malfoy, excited at the prospect of the noble creature Buckbeak's impending murder, laughing with his cronies.
She had struck him then, and it had felt good. She had enjoyed striking the self-satisfied smirk from his face. Her hatred rose to the surface again as she vividly recalled Malfoy's laughter at Hagrid's sadness.
"Have you ever seen anything quite as pathetic?" said Malfoy. "And he's supposed to be our teacher!"
Hermione raised her wand and pointed it at enlarged spider in the box she had been practicing on.
"Avada Kedavra!" she shouted.
A sickly green light flew from her wand and hit the spider, instantly killing it.
Her first flush of success was quickly replaced with the horror of what she had done; could do.
It was what she had been studying and practicing, but the final result did not give her the pleasure she normally received after mastering a difficult task.
Instead, she closed the books, and took the body of the spider to bury in the soft forgiving earth of a garden bed. The books hadn't failed her, they once again had unwaveringly led her to her goal, but she felt betrayed; they hadn't warned her how she would feel afterwards.
As she left the room, she left behind a bit of love, a piece of the joy she had always known when studying. It had died with the spider – murdered by the killing curse – and only a ghost of it could ever return.
A/N – Thanks to SlightlyFrumiousBandersnatch for the great title