"Mummy, was this your school?" the little girl with brown curly hair and big brown eyes asked, tugging excitedly at her mothers robe.
Hermione smiled at her daughter's excitement, remembering only too well that she felt just the same when she had laid wide eyes upon the castle for the very first time. The young woman sighed deeply. It's been eight years since the last battle, eight years without seeing the outlines of the castle in the evening sun. "Yes, darling, this is Hogwarts."
Stella stared ecstatically at the impressive building, following her mother to the doorway. "Wow, it's huge! Can I explore it while you meet that man?"
Hermione gave her lively little girl the best mother-look she could muster.
"Thatman is Albus Dumbledore. He is the headmaster and I'm sorry love, but I don't think exploring would be a good idea. You'd get lost within five minutes."
"I promise I won't get lost. I can take care of myself, you know!" The small voice sounded very serious.
"Yes Stella, I know, but please just do what you're told today. Mummy is really nervous."
Stella looked very affronted by now. Why on earth would her mother think that she would get lost? Just because that one time she stopped to stroke a lovely little kitten at the train station and was lost for a whole 5 hours?
Hermione patted her daughters head absentmindedly as the door swung open and they entered the castle.
The little girl was about to protest, but forgot what she wanted to say the moment she stepped inside. Her eyes went wide with wonder and for the first time in her life, Stella was at a loss for words.
When Hermione saw the doors of the great hall open, she grabbed her daughter's hand, waiting for the older witch who was coming through the doors to recognise her.
Professor Minerva McGonagall was on her way to her chambers, after stopping Peeves who thought it a good idea to 'redecorate' the great hall, when she saw two people standing in the atrium, which was more than unusual since all students had left Hogwarts for the summer break. She cursed her diminishing eyesight that wouldn't allow her to recognise the visitors on an instant and when she did, she began to wonder if her longing to see Hermione was starting to play tricks on her eyes.
"Professor McGonagall. It's so good to see you again!"
The young woman's voice was shaking slightly with nervousness, waiting for her former mentor's reaction. The older woman still looked wonderful. Of course, her hair had whitened and her walk was not as brisk as it used to be, but she was still beautiful. Hermione's overwhelming joy mixed with a sudden sadness that she hadn't been there to witness such graceful aging in her beloved professor. She hadn't been there for her and she did not stay in touch, though her promises were otherwise.
Minerva brought one hand up to her heart, placing the other against the wall in on order to steady herself. Hermione was quickly at her side, concern written all over her face, as the older woman reached out to touch her face. "Miss Granger, is that really you?"
The young witch swallowed hard and nodded her head, not trusting her voice.
"My god, it's been so long. Where have you been and…" she couldn't finish, because of a certain little girl that had had enough of being ignored.
"Mum!" The little girl crossed her arms in a dramatic gesture, glaring at her mother and interrupting the strange display she had just witnessed. Her mother had never acted that strange before. She was never nervous and she never ignored her daughter.
Hermione jumped slightly at her daughter's impatient tone.
"Oh, I'm sorry darling. Stella, please meet Professor McGonagall, Professor this is my daughter Stella."
"Your daughter?" The older woman looked absolutely shocked for a moment, but recovered quickly as the little girl held out her hand to greet her.
"Hello! Are you the Professor McGonagall who taught my mum when she was young?" she asked happily, recalling all the stories her mum had told her about the Professor.
"Hello Stella. Yes, I was your mum's teacher when she went to school and your mum is still young," she said, taking the little hand in hers.
Hermione smiled fondly at the scene before her, when the huge pendulum clock reminded her why she had come in the first place.
"Oh Professor, I'm so sorry, but I have a meeting with Professor Dumbledore now. Do you think we could talk later?" The young witch hoped dearly that her former mentor would allow her to explain everything.
"A meeting with the headmaster?" Minerva looked slightly confused at her former student. Why did Albus not inform her of the girl's arrival? Especially knowing how much she missed the girl…
"Yes, he sent a letter, asking me to meet with him today and I have no idea why." Hermione interrupted the other witches train of thought.
"Well, I'd love catching up with you and you have much to explain. Why I didn't get a single letter for example or when this young lady entered your life. Just come by my quarters when you're finished."
Minerva regarded her carefully. Now that the first moment of joy was gone she felt the disappointment of Hermione's sudden disappearance she had felt so many times in these past years come back to her.
"Can I explore the castle now?" Stella asked hopefully, facing her mother, her eyes glowing with excitement.
"No, I already told you, that is out of question." There was that mother-look young Stella disliked so intensely again.
"Can I stay with Professor McGonagall then?" It was worth a try…
Hermione smiled uncomfortably at her daughter. "Oh love, Professor McGonagall is a very busy woman. I don't think…"
"Nonsense. Of course you can stay with me if you want to." Minerva didn't very often have the chance to spend time with children that young and she liked this little darling.
"Really?" Stella hopped happily, wanting to share her excitement.
"Professor, that's very nice, but you don't have to…" Hermione had a hard time calming the little bouncing ball beside her.
"Miss Granger, it would be a pleasure and I think you're two minutes late already," Minerva said in her best professor tone, then smiling reassuringly at Stella.
"Oh my god! You're right! Stella, please behave yourself and try not to bother Professor McGonagall," and turning to face the older woman again she added, "and thank you so much. I'll come looking for you when we're finished." And with that Hermione hurried to the headmaster's office.
"So Stella, would you like going for a walk with me? I'd like to show you the lake." Minerva asked very kindly in a voice not many of her students ever heard.
"Oh yes, is it true that there are living merepeople in it?" she asked, slipping her hand into that of the older witch, as was custom with her.
Minerva was taken by surprise by the girl's action, but recovered soon enough to give the small hand a light squeeze and smiled at her question. She was very much like her mother.
"Yes, that's true. How old are you? "
"I have my fifth birthday next week!" Stella answered so proudly it made Minerva laugh.
They walked slowly, heading for the lake in silence until the little girl tugged at the professor's hand, asking a question that shocked the deputy headmistress so much she had to stop walking. The older woman was more than glad that they reached their destiny; a bench near the lake. She sat down while Stella remained standing in front of her.
"Are you my grandma?" Stella stared up at her with her big trusting eyes.
"No dearie, I'm afraid I'm not your grandmother. What makes you think such a thing?" It nearly broke Minerva's heart that she just couldn't say yes.
The little girl let go of the professor's hand immediately with a frown. She looked exactly like Hermione when someone told her she was wrong, while she had no doubt that she was right.
"But my grandmother is the mother of my mummy, isn't it?" She spoke very slowly now to make sure she got everything right.
"Yes darling. That is true. Your mum's and your father's mothers are your grandmothers. I'm sure you know at least Mr. and Mrs. Granger" The older woman's voice was soft now. She really hated to disappoint the little girl.
"But they're not! They told mummy that she is not their daughter anymore, because she won't stop doing things with her wand. I think mummy was very sad about it, but when I asked her she said that I didn't need to worry, because her real mother is a teacher she once knew. A professor McGonagall. She said she is just sad because I won't have grandparents."
Stella interrupted her lecture to take a deep breath and eyed the older woman suspiciously.
"You are Professor McGonagall, aren't you?"
Minerva could only nod; desperately trying to grasp everything she was told. She didn't have the time to think very long before Stella resumed her lecture.
"But when a grandma is the mother of my mum, and you are mum's real mum, then why is mummy sorry that I have no grandma when I have you? I really don't understand that and I don't like it when I don't understand things!"
The little girl looked positively confused now and began to wonder why the older woman before her was so pale. She could swear the professor looked perfectly fine when they started walking.
Minerva was at a loss for words. She couldn't find a mistake in the girls thinking, and it seemed Stella had given the whole thing much thought. She could see now what made the little girl think she was her grandmother. Why did Hermione never say a word about how she felt and how could the Grangers outcast their own daughter? A woman so bright and brave and caring? Minerva would need much time to think everything through and Hermione would have to explain an awful lot, and Minerva didn't know how everything would turn out, but she knew that this adorable little girl would have a grandmother if she wanted.
"I know you don't understand why your mum said that, and why I told you I'm not your grandmother, but I promise you will understand when you're a little older."
Minerva reached out and took Stella's small hand in hers, looking at the little girl very seriously.
"What is far more important is, would you really want me to be your granny?"
Stella's eyes lit up, a big smile gracing her mouth, as she nodded franticly. "Oh yes!"
"Well, if you're sure then I am your grandma."
The older woman could barely finish her sentence when Stella leaped onto her lap, throwing her arms around her newly gained granny's neck.
Minerva felt her heart warm and a single tear slide down her cheek when she held her grand daughter close, wiping it away quickly when the little girl leaned back.
"Granny, what do grannies do?" A bright smile was still on Stella's face.
Minerva chuckled heartily. "I don't know love. You are my first grandchild. What do you want me to do?"
Stella didn't need to think long about that. "I think grannies read bedtime stories and allow things mummy wouldn't and give sweets of course!"
"Reading bedtime stories will be no problem! Allow things mummy wouldn't…well, we will think about that when the time comes and what was the last one? Oh yes, giving sweets… What do you like? Ginger biscuits?"
That was enough for the little girl to make a grimace. "Urrrgh! No, I hate ginger biscuits! Mum eats them all the time. I love sherbet lemons!!"
"What a twist of fate!" Minerva made the girl laugh, making a very melodramatically gesture. My girl, do you want to meet you grandfather?"
"I have a grandfather?" Stella was very excited by the news.
"I think you should ask him, but I'm very sure he'd love to be your grandpa. And I promise, he will give more sherbet lemons than you can eat…"
"Can I meet him now? Can I?" The girl slid from her grandmother's lap and reached out to grab her hands, pulling the older woman up to achieve maximum speed. She was excited and in a hurry.
"Oh all right, lets go," Minerva chuckled, allowing herself to be pulled up.
Stella didn't let go of her hand, tugging a little because her granny walked much to slow for her.
"You need to be patient with me darling. Not everyone has as much energy as you." The old witch spoke kindly but firm, reminding Stella very much of her mother.
The two of them entered the castle and Minerva led the little girl to the headmaster's office. Stella loved the phoenix gargoyle, but didn't like the moving staircase at all and held her hands up to the older woman, who picked her up and smiled when Stella snuggled against her. "Are you a little nervous?" Minerva felt the girl nod against her and rubbed small soothing circles on her back. "Don't worry darling. He'll love you."
Albus Dumbledore was just about to finish his little discussion with Hermione when he heard a familiar knock on his door. "Come in".
They say Albus Dumbledore knows things before everyone else does, and that is indeed true most of the time, but he hadn't seen this coming. His wife entered the study with a sweet looking little girl in her arms, looking more comfortable than he had seen her in a very long time.
Hermione was mildly surprised when she saw her daughter snuggled up against her former teacher and wished she could start working here as Albus had offered. He didn't know of Stella of course, otherwise he surely wouldn't have asked her to join the Hogwarts' staff.
"Hello Albus. I'd like you to meet little Stella here. She is Hermione's daughter."
Albus gave Hermione an understanding smile and stood up to greet his unusual guest. "Hello young lady," he said smiling kindly.
"Granny, is that him?" Stella whispered into the older woman's ear, not noticing her mother's shocked face.
Minerva nodded and lowered her to stand, giving her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. Stella took a deep breath and moved in front of the nice looking man.
Albus looked so astonished that Minerva could not suppress a warm laugh. It was wonderful to see her husband staring at her utterly amazed. Indeed an expression he rarely showed and Minerva knew there was still more to come.
"Hello. Would you like to be my grandpa? Granny said you like sweets like me." The little girl gave him a bright smile, which only faltered when she heard her mothers shocked voice. "Stella what do you think you're doing?" Hermione had paled considerably.
The girl turned around to face her mother, but seeing her granny taking care of that by placing a hand on her mum's shoulder and shaking her head no, she faced her soon to be grandpa again.
"Would you allow me to pick you up, my dear? I'm too old to kneel to see you properly." Of course Albus knew the answer already. He loved children as well as Minerva and they both were very sorry that they never had a real opportunity to have their own. The moment he saw the happy smile on his wife's face when she was called granny he knew he'd love to be grandpa.
Stella nodded happily as she held her arms up to him. He was amazed how light she was in his arms. He hadn't held a child since he had to leave Harry on the doorstep.
"So, your granny told you that I like sweets? Well, what kind of sweets do you like?"
He could barely finish his sentence when Stella squealed with excitement. "You smell like sherbet lemon! I love sherbet lemon!!"
Albus gave a hearty chuckle. "I'd be honoured to be your grandfather my little one. How about we celebrate this new beginning with a sherbet lemon?" He reached into his pocket and took out a small package, offering its content to his newly gained granddaughter.
Stella couldn't recall a happier moment in her short life. She had a granny now to tell stories and a grandpa to give her sweets and a wonderful mommy. Well, her mommy didn't look very happy at the moment. She looked embarrassed and as if she'd wish there would open up a hole in the floor for her to jump in, but granny spoke quietly to her now and Stella was completely sure granny would fix it, whatever was wrong.
"Wow, grandpa, look at that bird. It's so beautiful!"
"This is Fawkes my honey. He is a phoenix." He walked over to the bird, who regarded the scene carefully.
"Hello Fawkes. You're very beautiful! I'm Stella. May I touch you?" From the secure position in her grandfather's arms, she was at the same height as the phoenix's head.
Fawkes cooed gently and, much to his master's surprise, he leaned forward to let the little girl pet him.
"It seems you have a new friend, my dear."
Albus smiled gently, seeing his granddaughter yawn and snuggling deeper into his chest. He turned to join Hermione and his wife and Stella waved Fawkes goodbye. "Bye Fawski" she whispered tiredly.
"I think it's bedtime for you, honey."
"I'm not tired grandpa!" Stella tried to protest, but failed when she had to yawn again.
Albus smiled amused. "I know you're not, sweetheart."
"Minerva?" he called his wife who was still talking to Hermione. Both women gave him their full attention now.
Stella shook her head weakly. "Don't call me that. Mommy only does when she is angry with me. 'Stella Minerva Granger, come here on an instant!' The young girl's imitation of her mother was quite spectacular, both in intonation and mimic.
Minerva stared wide eyed at Hermione now, while Albus returned his attention to the girl in his arms.
"I didn't call you. Actually I called your grandmother. Her first name is Minerva, you know?"
Stella felt very awake suddenly. "Wow, granny! You're named just like me!" She flounced excitedly in the old mans arms, who whispered "I think it's the other way round, my dear. You're named after your grandma."
The older witch felt her knees weaken and reached out to Hermione for support, which steadied her immediately. "Hermione did you really… I mean...is…" Minerva didn't need to finish.
"Yes, I named her after you" the younger woman confirmed timidly, observing the floor now. "I hope that is all right. I didn't mean to offend you," she whispered quietly.
Minerva pulled her former student in a bone crushing hug. "My dearest child, how could I be offended? You gave me a granddaughter I thought I'd never have and you named her after me. And you came back to me after all these years. I couldn't be happier. This is the most wonderful day since my wedding day!" She didn't let go of Hermione and let her tears fall now.
Hearing that the young woman recovered quickly. "The two of you are married?"
"Of course, mommy. Grandpa's and grannies are always married!" It was beyond Stella's understanding how her mother could not know perfectly clear things like that.
Than she discovered her grandmother wet face. "Granny, why are you crying? The name is not that bad, you know?"
Really! Adults act so strangely sometimes!
Minerva reached out and took Stella from her husband. "I cry because I'm very happy my sweet pea. I like it that we share one name."
"I like that too!" Stella wiped the older woman's tears away with her small hands. The scene was so touching Albus thought he might cry himself.
He walked over to Hermione now and laid an arm around her shoulder. "Is that why you couldn't accept my offer?"
The young witch nodded.
"I'd like you to rethink your decision, my dear. We'd love to have you and little Stella here. My offer still stands."
Hermione was absolutely astonished. "Are you sure? I mean she can be quite a handful and you don't have to do this. She is not your real granddaughter after all and I'm sorry she took you by surprise. I swear I didn't know what she was up to…"
She was cut of by the headmaster's serious look. "Hermione, please stop. I'm very sure and I would love to be her grandfather. Look at Minerva. I haven't seen her that happy for very many years. Please come back. Teach our students and live with us. Let us be your daughter's grandparents."
Now it was Hermione's turn to cry when she hugged the old man tightly.
"I'll take that as a yes, my dear," he whispered in her ear, holding her close.
"I need to ask her first. This is a decision I can't make alone."
"That is quite understandable. Why don't we put our tired princess to bed? She can stay in our bedroom and we could talk everything through. I know it's late, but I'd like you to move in here as soon as possible. If Stella agrees of course."
"All right. Do you want to bring her to bed? " Hermione asked kindly, looking very happy.
"Let's all go."
Together they walked over to Minerva and Stella, informing them of their decision to put the little girl to bed. Stella was so tired she didn't even protest very much when Minerva carried her and laid her in the big bed. Stella moved in the middle, let Albus cover her with a blanket and smiled happily when her new grandparents sat on both sides of her, grabbing both of them with her small hands as if to make sure they are really there.
Hermione smiled gently at her daughter. "Stella love, I need to ask you something very important."
The little girl looked at her expectantly. "Hmm?"
"What would you think of living here in the castle?" Hermione looked very serious now.
"Really? We could live here with granny and grandpa?" Suddenly she didn't look sleepy at all and sat upright in bed.
"Yes dear, but I want you to think about it properly. That would mean you have to leave your friends behind, and you mustn't forget that your grandparents have lots of work to do. They can't entertain you non stop, though I'm sure you'd spend much time with them and make new friends."
Stella looked thoughtful for a few moments. She didn't like leaving her friends, but living together with her family was worth everything. She leaped forward, throwing her arms around her mother. "Yes mommy, I want to live here! When are we going to move?"
"As soon as possible. We stay here tonight and get everything ready. We'll be living here by the end of the week."
Minerva was utterly shocked now. She had completely forgotten that Albus had a meeting with Hermione. She hadn't even thought about what they were discussing.
"Albus? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I wanted to spare you the disappointment if she said no. I know how much you missed her."
Minerva was speechless and leaned in to kiss her husband soundly. "I love you."
"And I love you my dearest. It seems we have a family now. I can't wait to get to know them better." Albus stroked Minerva's cheek lovingly and she closed her eyes, enjoying his touch.
"I don't want to interrupt, but I'm still here and you're doing adult things." Stella squeezed herself between them and lay down, while the adults shared a good laugh.
When she was settled down comfortably she received a good night kiss from each member of her newly enlarged family and Fawkes, who was sitting on a bedpost now, sang her to sleep, while her mother told her grandparents the story of how her dad had left them when she was born in Australia.
Of course she didn't know her new grandparents very well, but she was completely sure the best part of her live would begin now.
She couldn't wait to wake up again.
Please review! A special thanks to my beta-reader artemissan09! You're the best!!