"I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world."
– Mary Anne Radmacher Hershey
12th March 2004
Hermione is 31
Today is my thirty-first birthday.
Not if you're following the Gregorian calendar, of course. But it's still the unfortunate truth. According to the hours and minutes and seconds recorded by my Chrono, I have lived for thirty-one years.
And I can read it in the tiny lines that feather from the corners of my eyes. I stare into the mirror, and I prod at the telling lines. My reflection scowls at me, barely recognisable as the young, eager witch I used to be. Time has changed me. Inside and out.
The last time that I had a proper birthday party was during my NEWT year at Hogwarts. Harry and Ron came up from London, and Neville shaped the Room of Requirement into a beautiful garden gazebo for me. For one perfect afternoon, I was happy. I forgot that I was so lonely at Hogwarts that my heart would echo with emptiness in the quiet of the library sometimes; that I was desperately worried about what I would do with my life when I finished my NEWTs; that Ron didn't visit me as often as I wanted him to, as often as Harry visited Ginny. I sat between Ron and Harry and we were solid again, with Ginny and Luna and Neville completing the silver knot of friendship.
Since then, I've begged off on any birthday celebrations, and year by year the firm knot of true companionship has unravelled. Now, the ties that used to bind us flutter in the breeze, fraying and loose. Sometimes the bonds get tightened again when we owl each other. That happens because I'm selfish. You see, I can't bear to sever the ties completely—like I should, like Julia has urged me to, time and time again. Even after all this time—and I've had so much longer to distance myself and heal—I can't bear to make it final. Because they are the bonds that tie me to who Hermione Jean Granger was. And because I feel like, sometimes, I've lost myself in Time.
I'm afraid that if I really break the ties to my old life, I'll drift away.
I stop sulking (I try, I really do) and get dressed—all ready to Travel in a non-descript and boring set of robes with Muggle clothes underneath them. I pick up my Chrono from my dressing table and fasten it around my wrist. I don't look at the display—I think I've explained that it's just a depressing exercise today.
While I'm inhaling a cup of coffee, which has become my number one vice—like a sailor with a girl in every port, I have to have a favourite coffee spot in each place I visit—I read the Daily Prophet. The current news never really draws me in like it used to; I'm more involved in the past, shall we say.
But today, there's an article that draws my eye and really stabs at my heart. Professor McGonagall is retiring. There's a big photograph of her above a blurb that lists all her achievements like they're a grocery list of accomplishments for the modern woman. She's not smiling, but there's that slight tightness in her lips that means she wants to smile.
I know that because I spent a lot of time with her during my last year at Hogwarts. By the end of the year I'd sort of become her unofficial aide. I helped to organize the Yule Ball and the very first Freedom Day celebration that May. She had even invited me to visit some of the next year's Muggleborn students with her, and I'd been thrilled. As it was, I never did make that outing. That was mostly her fault, though.
If I'd known what would come of my meeting with Professor McGonagall that day, I might have turned around and run the other way. I'd have packed my trunk as fast as I could, boarded the Hogwarts Express for the very last time and gone on with an obvious life. I'd probably have worked for the Ministry of Magic; married Ronald Weasley; freed the house-elves; had two or three or maybe even four red-headed children and bought a Crup to guard them all; lived in an ordinary house with broomsticks in the hall and a sedan in the driveway; had weekly dinners with Harry and Ginny and their brood. And in the end I'd have died an old woman with my family around me, and my tombstone would have read: Here lies Hermione Weasley. Beloved wife and mother. Brightest witch of her age.
But I was too full of righteous yearning that day (that whole year, for that matter), too eager to make my life count. I wanted to be extraordinary; there was a fire in my soul to be more than a hard worker and a wonderful friend. I was nineteen, for Merlin's sake! Helping Harry defeat Voldemort couldn't possibly have been the pinnacle of my achievements. I had my whole life ahead of me, and there had to be something better.
Crookshanks had taken to sneaking into Professor McGonagall's office, so he was there that day, too, curled up on my lap with his eyes half-closed as I complained to the woman I'd come to view as my witchly role-model, my mentor.
25th May 1999
Hermione was 19
"I've been offered a post at Beings and Beasts and with the Unspeakables, but—"
"And there is always a teaching post waiting for you here," she said with a hint of wry amusement.
She'd been hinting that the school would need a good Transfiguration teacher in the next few years, and I think she had genuinely hoped I'd consider taking on an apprenticeship like Neville was going to do with Professor Sprout.
"I know," I whined, sounding half my age and maturity. "But…" I know Hogwarts. I don't want to work for the Ministry or Hogwarts or St Mungo's. I want…
I struggled to put to words and coherent thought the magnitude of the desperate longing I felt, to adequately explain what I wanted because I hadn't even defined it for myself. It was like the secret of my future was hidden on a high shelf and I wasn't tall enough to grab it or even see it, and yet when I reached for it, I could sense its warmth and promise just shades away from my questing fingertips.
But she leaned forward in her chair and regarded me with wise eyes and an astute expression. "You want more," she said, rolling the sounds of the last word in her broad Scottish brogue so that it sounded rich and inviting.
"Yes," I said with a longing sigh.
And then she rested her chin on steepled fingers and stared at me for a long time, as if weighing and measuring something very carefully. I started to shift under her intense scrutiny after a bit—Crookshanks meowled his discontent and jumped off my lap to lie in a slant of sunshine—and I really had to bite my tongue in a sincere effort not to bounce in my chair and say, "What, what?"
Eventually (after an eternity), she seemed to make up her mind. "I have… a friend who I could give you an introduction to," she said slowly.
Who is she? What does she do? Will she fill this hole inside me? But I forced myself to sit still and be mature, in case she changed her mind.
"She has never taken an apprentice…" She twisted her Gryffindor ring on her finger, and it seemed like she was still considering whether to tell me or not.
"What does she do?" I asked quietly, but my voice wavered with suppressed excitement and interest.
Professor McGonagall sighed, and she stuck a finger under the edge of her glasses to rub at her eye.
The longer she stalled, the greater my conviction became that whatever this friend of hers did was brilliant and groundbreaking and truly extraordinary. I wanted to fall to my knees and beg her, clutch at her robes, plead for her to tell me the secret of living a full and meaningful life.
"I… do not know, exactly," she said carefully.
What? My mouth fell open as my hope spiralled downwards, headed for a crash landing.
My spine straightened again and I gazed at her with huge, pleading eyes. Tell me, please!
"—I have a vague idea. It is… She leads a very… interesting life." Professor McGonagall pursed her lips.
Yes! I leaned forward in my chair, wishing with all my might that I had been a Legilimens so that I could pluck the secret from her mind and hold it to my chest.
"But I do not think that it is an… easy life, Hermione." Her voice held a grave and sombre warning, but I didn't hear it.
"I don't mind," I said, and I was close to falling off my chair I was so close to the edge, now. "I just…" Want.
She nodded. "Very well."
And that was the moment that my life changed forever.
I fold the Prophet neatly and make an entry on my to-do list to buy Professor McGonagall a retirement present. I sigh. My thoughts about Hogwarts and my life there have made me nostalgic. That, and the fact that it's my birthday and I'm alone, leaves me yearning for Britain. My quill hovers above my travel log and in an impulsive moment of whimsy, I scratch a line through my planned trip.
I have to be careful when I Travel to Britain. So, I flip through a calendar and choose an innocuous-looking mid-week day. After I've made sure I've got my brolly, I close my eyes, touch two fingers to the tiny Saint Christopher charm that hangs on a silver chain around my neck, and I Travel.
A/N: Written for Absolute_Tash for the 07/08 Winter SSHG Exchange.