What's love but a second-hand emotion?
...Who needs a heart when I heart can be broken?"
-- Tina Turner
A Lesson Learned - Chapter 1
Hermione Granger was a bit different than the average fourteen-year-old girl. She adored schoolwork, hated shopping (except for books) and had never been to a slumber party. She rarely thought about her appearance, except for tying her hair back so it wouldn't fall in her cauldron. Her two closest friends had never loaned her clothing or even nail polish. And of course, Hermione was a witch.
Make that a witch-in-training. As she was apt to remind herself when her focus wandered, Hermione still had three years to go at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry before she could consider herself a capable sorceress. (The word sorceress has a certain dignity that the more common title certainly lacks. But I digress.) As our heroine was determined to be no less than one of the world's great female magical practitioners, her studies at Hogwarts were by far the most important thing in her life. Only two people could drag Hermione away from her precious notes and study guides - her friends Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. These two were also the only people who could ever induce her to break a rule, disobey a teacher, or otherwise endanger her status as one of Hogwarts' brightest and most dedicated students ever.
One might be inclined to wonder about Hermione's male friends, especially as they were both courageous and charming boys. However, these suspicions would be embarrassingly out of place in this instance. Although Hermione had begun her second year with a slight crush on the quick-tempered Ron Weasley, she had soon grown out of it. (Nothing like a few months of being Petrified to clear a girl's head.) When she thought about romance at all (very rarely), our heroine usually ended with the thought that two friends like Harry and Ron were worth any number of boyfriends.
Unfortunately, it seemed that Miss Granger's practical views on romance put her in a very small minority at Hogwarts - especially among the older students. Harry had been dreamy-eyed about Cho Chang since he had first played Quidditch against her. Lavender Brown and Parvi Patil spent most of their time watching the Weasley twins and giggling. Even that loathsome Draco Malfoy was simpering and smiling at stupid Pansy Parkinson. And Ron ... well the less said about him and blonde-pigtailed Hannah Abbott, the better. Love - or teenage hormones - was definitely in the air, and it left a bad taste in Hermione's mouth.
With all this going on, was it any wonder that the last Hogsmeade visit before Christmas saw Hermione walking alone and looking distinctly annoyed? Ron and Hannah were at the Three Broomsticks, sharing a butterbeer and holding hands under the table. Harry, Cho, and some other Ravenclaw Quidditch players were having a noisy snowball fight up ahead. This left their old friend to march down the street by herself, holding her head high and imagining the lovely shrieks certain people would make if ... well, let us not inquire. Hermione's hair was darker than Ron's, but her temper was almost as volatile. Certain Zonko's items and curse books that were later found in her trunk have no relevance whatsoever to this story, and were probably planted there by malicious Slytherins or an infatuated Lee Jordan.
"Hermione Granger, what on earth are you doing? Get inside this instant!" Minerva McGonagal fixed her best student with her time-honed Don't-Mess-With-Me Glare. Usually it sent wayward youths scampering for cover, but Miss Granger simply glanced up and then wandered toward the castle. Through the snow. Wearing an old nightgown, thin robe and bunny slippers. What was wrong with that girl? "Miss Granger!"
"Yes, Professor?" Hermione's teeth were chattering, her eyes were red-rimmed, and there were circles under her eyes. She seemed absent, preoccupied - and not with schoolwork, as her last assignment had proven.
"Come with me. You need something hot to drink, or you'll catch your death. I don't want Madam Pomfrey spending her Christmas nursing you back to health." She took the girl firmly by the shoulder and turned her in the direction of a side door. Opening it, she ushered Hermione inside.
The room was simple and neat. A teakettle whistled over a crackling fire. A large desk and several filing cabinets took up one corner, while a low table and several squashy chairs stood in another. Through a door, Hermione glimpsed a neatly made bed and several floor-to ceiling bookcases. A music stand and a black leather case were half-hidden behind an armchair.
Minerva deposited her student in an armchair and pulled an old tea service from a cupboard. "Regular tea or chamomile?" When Hermione didn't answer, her mouth twisted into a wry half-smile. "Chamomile then." She filled two cups, spiking both with lemon, honey, and a splash of liquid from a battered flask.
Hermione sipped her tea slowly, letting her thoughts wander. The honey soothed her throat, the chamomile was lovely and delicate, and ... she sputtered. "Brandy?"
"Of course. Merlin, Mordred and Morgana, it's all of twenty degrees out there! I have no intention of letting you make yourself sick." Minerva took her cup and sank into the chair opposite Hermione's, tucking her leg under her. "Now," she continued briskly, "what are you brooding about?"
Our heroine sputtered, overturning her teacup and spilling steaming tea all over her nightgown. "Brooding? What?" Taking a deep breath, she fixed Professor McGonagall with her best star-student earnest expression. "Nothing's wrong. I was just having trouble sleeping, so I thought I'd go for a walk."
"Really." Minerva's tone was gentle. "I see. Is this a regular thing, or was it just tonight?"
"Ummm ..." Hermione stammered. She disliked lying on principle, but sometimes it was a better idea than the alternative. Nostrodamus only knew what kind of trouble she could get in for wandering outside every night! On the other hand, McGonagall was reputably very quick to spot a fib and prone to asking trick questions. Either approach could be a disaster. What was it Fred and George said about the 'gray area?' "Well, it's not really a regular thing …"
"In other words, something IS bothering you. I've been watching your grades and habits for a while, Hermione." GRADES! Oh no! She'd have to stay up another hour AND get up early, every single day, to catch up!! "Don't worry, you're doing quite well." High praise from McGonagall. "But given your relationship with Ron and Harry ... " OH NO! Hermione wanted to sink through the floor.
"Let me rephrase that. Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley are bright boys, but they have a habit of getting into situations that can be dangerous. The whole to-do with the Chamber of Secrets could have gotten them both killed, and as for that flying car and the incident with Sirius Black ..." Her voice had gradually gotten sterner. "Miss Granger, I understand your affection for your friends, but if they are up to more foolishness, especially if the other Weasleys are involved ... well, PLEASE tell me. I'm not as interested in rule-breaking as I am in their safety."
Now Hermione could safely looks McGonagall in the eye. "No ma'am, not that I know of." That would make things so much simpler. "I really haven't been around them much lately, though."
"Thank you. That takes a bit of a weight off my mind. Now it's late, and I have no intention of letting you sleep through my class tomorrow, so get to bed. Not that you'll have much of a choice, with the charm I set on that tea."
"And, Hermione? As tempting as it may be, stifling one's friend with their own love letters is NEVER a good idea. Men tend to be a little sensitive about that."
How the &^#% had she known?
Author's Note: Sorry it took me so long to continue this, but I think I'll be posting regularly from now on. These aren't my characters, yada yada yada. Don't sue me. I don't care if you flame me -- that just shows you have nothing better to do, and I pity you. :)