Author's note, July 2012: Dear reader, welcome to my first - and as of now, only - Harry Potter fanfiction. Before you start to work your way through my humble prose, I'd like to address some points regarding the story. Most importantly, you should know that this work is for a mature audience; it will include some very disturbing things in later chapters.

It's also a femslash (HG/FD) story, but not a typical romance. I'm writing "A witch's shards" to explore the possibility of an independent, powerful Hermione, involved in intrigue, politics and the dark arts. Her relationship with Mademoiselle Delacour will play a major role in all that, but it's not the whole focus of this fiction.

Some technical stuff: I'm not a native English speaker. I will do my best to ensure correct grammar and orthography, but some bugs are virtually guaranteed. I'm currently reworking the format to improve readability, and in that process I will hopefully get rid of most obvious problems. If someone would like to be the beta- reader for "A witch's shards", I would be very grateful.

Disclaimer: JK Rowling and some mega- corporations own "Harry Potter". I do not, and I'm not making any money with this story.

A Witch's Shards

by NoxedSalvation

Prolog

Black clouds billowed in the sky over Malfoy Manor, indicating a swiftly approaching thunderstorm. The charged atmosphere fitted the mood of the estates owner all too well.

The occasional ray of dim light falling through the large lead glass windows of his office did nothing to illuminate the enormous study. Wide spanning wand hangings displayed golden threaded hereditary trees, and portraits of venerated ancestors looked down into the room.

A few embers were glowing in the great fireplace, but they didn't produce enough warmth to have any effect.

Lucius Malfoy wouldn't have felt it anyway, because the cold claw of hate held his heart in it's merciless grasp.

Most members of the public knew him as a philanthropist, a still suffering victim of "You-know-who's" imperius curse. A family man who used his considerable wealth to find peace in the face of the crimes he committed while under the monster's will.

No, the readers of Rita Skeeter's society columns wouldn't have recognized the stone faced wizard who paced menacingly in front of his massive mahogany desk.

He stopped for a moment, and cast a look full of rage on the tattered and dirty remains of the unremarkable little book that lay on his Victorian secretary. If his master ever returned, he would enquire after this particular item and then...

Lucius couldn't suppress the shudder that ran down his spine, as he remembered the tremendous pain the Dark Lord liked to inflict with the cruciatus curse.

How had all his well laid plans backfired in such a disastrous way? Instead of installing one of his own puppets in place of Dumbledore, he had lost all his influence on the affairs of Hogwarts.

The mudbloods and traitors held still sway where only those of purest wizarding heritage should place their feet.

Behind the strands of long, white- blond hair falling over his face, Lucius' mask of emotionless aristocratic "noblesse" started to show cracks.

Political damage could be controlled, through bribes, blackmail or even more direct methods, but to be humiliated by a halfblood social climber like Potter, and manhandled by his own house-elve- that was unbearable!

He would find a way to get his revenge, he would not rest until this smear on his honor was obliterated. The smug grin Potter had given him, when that creature Dobby threw him into a wall, would be burned away forever.

His visualization of Potter writhing in agonizing pain was interrupted by muted knocks. "Enter!" he called, shoving his irritation down forcefully. The door to his study opened slowly, as if the one coming in was fearful to disturb the master of Malfoy Manor.

Lucius suppressed his desire to frown at the less than confident manner of entrance.

At the moment, it wouldn't do to let his son see anything but cold calculation on his face. In the last few days, he had managed to minimize the damage he had suffered from the destruction of the diary.

Sure, he was sacked as a school governor of Hogwarts, but no one beside Dumbledore and Harry Potter knew that he had a hand in the opening of the Chamber of Secrets.

Even better, after a few deathly glares, not one of his acquaintances had dared to enquire further into the whereabouts of his thrice damned house elve.

His position in the ministry's power structure had been stabilized by some well placed "donations". Even his campaign to stop Arthur Weasleys laughable "Muggle Protection act" had survived the recent misfortunes unharmed.

Now was the time to gather information, and to look into opportunities for his revenge.

Finally, Draco entered the room and reluctantly approached his father's desk.

He had just returned a few minutes ago, collected by Narcissa from platform 9 3/4, and was still wearing his black school uniform with the green and silver Slytherin pendant on the breast.

Raising one of his eyebrows, Lucius greeted his offspring in a cool and detached tone. "Draco my boy, I hope you have better news for me than last year..."

He left the end of the sentence hanging in the air like a threat. After all, he had paid a handsome amount of galleons to buy the best brooms for Slytherin's Quidditch team, getting his son the seeker position in return.

But judging by the way the youths' face lost all color, Lucius' investment had been in vain.

"I'm very sorry sir." his heir answered in an unbecomingly faint whisper, looking at his feet in order to avoid his father's cool stare..

Lucius kept silent, watchful and detached. A few minutes went by, and the stillness of the room became suffocating. In the end, Draco looked up, met his father's gaze, and gulped dryly.

He straightened, visibly mustering his courage, and started to explain, this time a bit more forcefully.

"The damn Gryffindors were favored again by that fool of a headmaster! I really tried father, I promise you, but you can't win when the other side is rigging the game."

Draco's indignation at loosing the quidditch, as well as the school cup, showed clearly, and Lucius softened his face to show his son that he was forgiven.

"I'm disappointed Draco, but I know that Dumbledore and his cohorts are hard to overcome. I'm sure you heard how they forced me out of the board of governors."

The boy nodded, and his face became even more animated. "They are a bunch of imbeciles. Too cowardly to sack Dumbledore when he clearly deserved it for his incompetence!"

"Don't worry yourself overmuch with the politics Draco, the blood traitors will get what is theirs in due time."

Many a shark would have been jealous of the predatory smile that accompanied those words. "Well, if you can't give me good news about your success in beating a horde of worthless blood traitors and mudblood scum, maybe you can clear up some questions I have about this years events."

Nodding eagerly, Draco took a step towards his father. "Yes sir, I will tell you everything I know about the goings on in Hogwarts, and that's a lot."

"I expected nothing less, Draco." Lucius said with a satisfied air about him.

"You will start by telling me every little bit of information you gathered about the Potter brat. How is his health? His standing with teachers and students alike? His marks and abilities? His friends and enemies..."

About two hours later, Lucius was staring into the flames of his fireplace and contemplated all he had heard from his son.

The boy was a bit dense when it came to intrigue, naive about his own position in live, and hopelessly spoilt by his mother, but no one could deny his craftiness in spying and information gathering.

Despite the massive amount of new insights Draco had delivered, the older Malfoy hadn't made much headway in finding weaknesses or openings in his adversaries' camp.

Hogwarts' headmaster was a sentimental fool, sure, but he was also a very powerful wizard anyone underestimated at his own peril, as Lucius had learnt in the last weeks. And the "boy who lived"... he snorted derisively at the ridiculous title the wizarding masses had put on Potter after his lucky "defeat" of the Dark Lord.

No one knew for sure where the child lived outside of school, and the elder Malfoy didn't doubt for a second that Dumbledore had put up strong defenses around his wonder boy. No, those two were untouchable for him in the next months, probably even years.

He would have to contend himself with striking at them indirectly. But attacking Dumbledore that way would be all but impossible. Most of his family was dead and he had no known love interests or close friends outside of Hogwarts.

His brother Alberforth was a quite formidable wizard in his own right, no one Lucius wished to tangle with right now. That left Harry Potter again.

There were rumors that he resided with relatives of his late mother, but nothing substantial. And his "closest chum", as Draco had formulated it, was one of those accursed Weasleys.

Lucius would've liked nothing better than to send a pack of werewolves rampaging through the hovel they called their home, but after the latest events, and his well known hate for Arthur Weasley, going against them would be rather obvious- and therefore stupid.

Draco had mentioned one other person he thought close to Potter, had even ranted about the "know it all attitude" of "that insufferable mudblood".

Lucius eyes wandered over his notes, until they found the name his son had spat out like a curse word: Hermione Granger.

A thirteen year old witch, born to muggles, a brainy teachers pet, with enough moronic bravery to become a Gryffindor and meddle in things that were none of her business.

To be precise, nothing in the magical world was the business of breathing filth like that Granger abomination.

Lucius suspected that he'd seen her a year ago at Flourish and Blotts, but wasn't entirely sure. He had been occupied otherwise, after all.

Sighing in disappointment, Malfoy senior realized that if he wanted to act against Potter in the near future, he would have to settle for the weakest, most unprotected link he had identified.

Tipping his left index finger against his lips thoughtfully, Lucius began to formulate the outlines of a plan.

Part One

Justly deserved holidays

Chapter 1

The soft sound of waves rolling up a sandy beach front was relaxing, and the warm light coming from the Mediterranean sun made her feel like she was surrounded by a cocoon of benevolence.

But she remembered very well what happened when she exposed her sensitive skin too long to these conditions. A retreat into the shades of the umbrellas, set up about a hundred feet back, nearer to the hotel pool, was in order.

Pushing a few strands of bushy hair out of her face with a well practised motion, the young girl, who was laying on a large towel, looked up from her reading to search for her parents.

She spotted Miriam and Charles nearby, and a happy smile sprang to her lips. The Grangers were absorbed in an intense game of beach volleyball against another British couple, whom they had met two days before, when they arrived at this resort.

Hermione stood up, and brushed away a few errand sand corns, which had found their way onto her red one-piece swimsuit.

Tucking her copy of "Magical Travel: Discovering Wizarding France" under her right arm, she was careful not to dislodge the romance novel cover she used to hide the rather suspicious book from the muggles around her.

Slowly making her way over to the playing field, the young witch had to concentrate for a moment to banish all images of wizarding Paris and its most famous sights from the upper levels of her consciousness.

If she let herself dwell on thoughts about magical locations, people or practises, it was all too easy to slip up when she was confronted with normal people.

After some very embarrassing experiences, garnering her everything from odd looks to rumours about her "delusional state of mind", not to mention some "earnest conservations" with her father, the young witch had learnt to compartmentalise her mind and direct her thinking into save waters whenever she met muggles.

It felt wrong to spring from one track of thought to another in this way, but Hermione knew it was necessary.

She arriver at the volleyball net, rested her shoulder against one of the poles holding it up, and watched her parents play while she waited for a pause in the game to address them.

Her dad was a very lean man, toned muscles covering his six foot frame. Despite his work as a dentist, he held his body as fit as possible, frequently working out, jogging and playing golf with his colleagues at least once a week.

In his early forties, Charles Granger looked at least five years younger and the only wrinkles on his face were a few laugh lines around his brown eyes.

Many of his friends teased him about his rather wild and full brown hair, but he tolerated the jealous quips of his balding buddies good naturedly.

If Hermione had inherited her eye color and hair from her father, the rest of her physique came undoubtedly from her mum. Miriam Granger was about 5'7, with a well formed body and womanly curves at all the right places.

Her daughter shared many features of her pretty face, but no one could've accused Mrs. Granger of using her good looks to unduly further her career.

She was a practising dentist like her husband, and the two held shared ownership of a flourishing praxis in the inner city of London.

The set ended with a resounding win for the Grangers, announced by a jubilant "whoop" from Charles. Hermione clapped enthusiastically to show her support and her parents heads turned in her direction.

"Great game, mum, dad! I just wanted to let you know that I'm going back to the pool."

Miriam nodded approvingly. "Run along then, darling, we don't want to be seen traveling through France with a lobster. Too many gourmets around in this country..."

Charles and their game partners laughed uproariously at the joke.

"We'll catch up with you for dinner" Miriam promised, before starting the next set with a brilliant service.

Hermione strolled back to the hotel pool leisurely, then got herself a big glass of iced orange juice at the bar. Taking small nips, she ambled to an unclaimed lounge and sprawled herself over it.

"It's really nice to have some time alone with mum and dad, where I can just hang around and do nothing at all." she pondered.

After the events of her second year at Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry, she had earned that much, if she said so herself.

A small shudder ran down her spine when memories of her petrification by a monstrous Basilisk, set free in the old castle, wormed their way into her awareness.

Before she had lost consciousness on that terrible day, all her nerve endings had been aflame with unbearable pain, as if they were immersed in red hot magma- a sensation more horrid than anything she had ever experienced.

Surprisingly, no one - not even her best friends Harry Potter and Ron Weasley- had asked her how it felt to have your body forcefully transformed into a heap of stone-like, insensitive substance.

"Well, if mum and dad had gotten any more information from the headmaster - or myself - about my so called "magical malady", they would've asked me all kinds of questions about it - mostly if I'm totally out of my mind to stay in such a dangerous madhouse as Hogwarts." she told herself with mirthless irony.

After the adventures around the philosophers stone in her first year, Hermione had quickly realised that telling her parents the full truth about it - or even half of it, really - would get her pulled out of school faster than she could cast a "Lumos" spell.

Careful editing was required, ideally in a way that made outright lying unnecessary. After all, telling lies was "like the caries of trust", as her dad was fond of telling her when she was younger.

With a flicker of shame, she remembered the car drive with her parents back from Kings Cross station a few weeks ago.

"So, how did you do in your end of year exams, darling?" her mother had asked with an inquisitive smile, while her dad was steering their Volvo through the thick London traffic.

"Well, there weren't any exams this year."

Her moms mouth had hung open in surprise, but before she could recover from it, Hermione had hastened on with her much rehearsed cover story.

"I wasn't the only one in school this year with a severe case of magical, eh, illness. Many of the pupils were, err, infected and it disturbed our learning so much that headmaster Dumbledore decided to forgo the exams this year."

At that point, her dad had interrupted in a very serious tone.

"That sounds highly irregular to me, Hermione. How can he guarantee the quality of your education this way? Maybe I should send him a letter and ask what he's thinking!"

With a lot of very mercurial answers and well planned excuses, she had avoided that disturbing possibility, but not without feeling queasy about it for the rest of the day.

Luckily, the preparations for their long planned holiday in France had absorbed her parents for the next weeks, and then they had set out for the Loire Valley - or Vallee de la Loire - for the first leg of their trip.

The Grangers had traveled by car through the world famous heartland of France, visiting several wineries, staying in lovely old hotels and checking out many of the historical sides.

In one of the awe-inspiring renaissance castles on their way, Hermione had even met a ghost, the very talkative astral remnant of a former baroness, who had entertained her with love stories from the 17th century.

And now, they were staying in a four star resort at the Cote D'azure, near Nice, reveling in sunshine and comfort.

"I'll better get back to reading, so that I'm prepared for next week in Paris." Hermione thought wistfully, but before she could make much progress, she had dozed of, book still firmly in her hands.

/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG

"Honey, wake up!" she heard her mother's disembodied voice whispering in her ear.

Forcing her eyes open slowly, she found her pool lounge surrounded by the Grangers and their volleyball pals, the Rutherfords.

"We decided to take dinner together this evening" her dad said.

"Come with us now, we'll freshen up a bit and throw on more acceptable evening wear."

Groaning in half hearted protest, Hermione heaved herself from her resting place and followed her parents into the hotel complex, still groggy from her nap.

While they were rising up to their floor in the elevator, her mum told her that the Rutherfords would bring their son with them, a boy of 15 she hadn't met jet.

"That means I'll have to endure a football centric dinner conversation with enough testosterone flying around to kill a breading bull." she thought despondently. Aloud, Hermione just groaned again to show her displeasure.

"You should wait until you get to know him before you start complaining" her dad said. He paused and sent her one of his best "Behave yourself" looks, only to destroy the effect with his next, lightly sarcastic remark.

"Maybe he is smashingly handsome and willing to discuss Shakespeare with you." Never able to resist her dads teasing for long, Hermione started to giggle and could suppress outright laughter only by clenching her teeth together forcefully.

After arriving in the five room apartment she shared with her parents, Hermione went to her room to change.

"Hmm, lets see if I even have something that would fit the occasion." she pondered while opening her dresser.

She had never been interested in clothes, and nearly all of her things had been bought by her mum, dragging a hesitant Hermione through the shops and malls of inner London.

A red and white two piece dress stood out to her inexperienced eye. "I guess this'll do. It's not as if I can hide my face and hair anyway."

Taking a quick shower, drying her bushy hair and changing took only fifteen minutes, and so she was back in the main room before either of her parents arrived.

She settled on the huge leather couch in the middle of the room and wondered what she should expect from this evenings' talk.

Mary and Jim Rutherford both worked in the financial sector, the wife was a stock broker and her husband something obscurely called a "business attorney". It stood to reason that British and world economy would be their topic of choice.

Their son, of course was a blank card, but if any of the slightly older boys she'd met before were an indication, he would probably be a sports freak.

"This seems to be a natural law concerning male adolescents, regardless if they are muggle or wizard" she thought sourly.

Even understanding Harry's and Ron's Quidditch fanaticism was beyond her, and that sport at least included magic.

"Athletics aside, social events like this are torture anyway." Hermione thought, pouting.

She couldn't talk about her school, her friends, her subjects, her books or even her dreams about her future profession (not that she had any fixed ones), without lying through her teeth.

That she despised telling untruths would nearly guarantee her a very boring evening, everybody else chatting away while she sat there like a mute, nodding her head along and trying to stay out of conversation.

After a few more minutes, her mum and dad came into the room, wearing formal attire and making a quite striking couple. Seeing her sitting on the couch, Miriam strode over to her in hurried steps, her high heels hammering a staccato on the parquet floor.

"Oh darling, why do you never use the make-up kit I got you for your last birthday? And the hair again!"

She cast a long suffering look at her bookish daughter. "At least the costume is a nice one. Come honey, we're running late!"

The hotel restaurant was rather crowded and it took the Grangers a few minutes to find the Rutherford family, sitting at a table prepared for six in a secluded corner. As they made their way over, Hermione caught a first glimpse of her male counterpart.

Even in sitting, he looked tall, with blond hair and a handsome, if rather square, face, attired in a well tailored tuxedo and a displaying a pose that spoke of many hours spend in similar situations.

"Ah, Charles, Miriam and Hermione, welcome!" Jim Rutherford greeted them, standing up. "I would like to introduce our son, Kevin."

The boy came to his feet and a round of handshakes and "How do you does" commenced.

Hermione sat down at one end of the table, facing Kevin Rutherford, who sent her a calculating look over the perfectly set silver cutlery on the table.

His blue eyes were penetrating, and Hermione felt herself flush when she saw his gaze moving from her face and lingering on her upper body for a few seconds longer than common decency would permit.

"How dare he stare at me like I'm some meat puppet?" she asked herself with rising temper. "He seems like the perfect jerk, and that after 30 seconds. This will be a long night, indeed."

The very finely clad garçon arrived and handed them the menu cards. Hermione was happy to have something to block Kevin's stares and pretended to study the food choices intently.

"So, what if they're in French and I only speak enough of it to ask for directions and buy something in a store? He wouldn't know!"

A few minutes passed while the adults discussed the wine and the cuisine they wanted to sample, then it was decided everyone should try the fresh ousters with an assortment of other "Fruits de mer".

The waiter came back, was given the order and took the menu lists away.

Her father and Jim Rutherford were already involved in a discussion of Tory party politics, and Miriam Granger was telling Mrs. Rutherford about their tour down the Loirainne valley.

They didn't seem to notice that a tension filled silence hung over the end of the table between the two youngsters.

Kevin hadn't stopped to muster Hermione as if she were some strange specimen and she was nearly bursting with the desire to give him an earful about boys and their ingrained rudeness.

Before she could come up with the courage to do just that, the young man in question leaned forward and addressed her in a velvety voice, just loud enough for her to hear, but not audible to anyone else.

"So, are you mute like all the other wish mops I met until now, or do you have your mouth for a reason?"

Hermione fell back in her chair as if he'd punched her in the face. "Not only a jerk, but one without inhibitions to boot!" she fumed after the shock wore of.

"He could be the bastard brother of Draco Malfoy!"

Gathering her wits, she bend over the table herself. "My hair is an inherited trait, nothing I can do about. But in your place I would wonder from whom you acquired the table manners of Vlad the Impaler."

Kevin looked surprised for a moment, but after a few seconds he spat out a vicious comeback.

"My father said your parents are dentists, but they can't be very good ones, judging by your buckteeth."

Hermione felt her eyes begin to water and looked down on her lap. If she had her wand with her right now, she wasn't sure she could've stopped herself from hexing that nasty excuse of a human being into next week!

Wringing her lightly trembling hands around each other, she tried to settle down and just ignore the youngest Rutherford.

For a few minutes, it seemed like she could get away with that tactic, but then the talk between the two mothers beside her took the seemingly unavoidable turn to their children's schooling.

"Our Kevin goes to Buckingham College; the tuition fees are expensive, but it's one of the best private institutes available in greater London" Mary Rutherford proclaimed.

Then she went on to the much dreaded question Hermione had been sure would come up sometime this evening.

"And where does your young Miss get her education?" she asked Miriam Granger.

Her mother turned to Hermione. "It's a very special school in Scotland. Maybe you could explain the details, darling?"

Having successfully regained her cool after the preceding incident, she looked up, avoiding eye contact with Kevin, and directed the sermon she had first thought up two years ago at Mrs. Rutherford.

"The school is called Hogwarts..." - a barely suppressed snort from Kevin nearly derailed her, but she soldiered on - "It's in northern Scotland, in a medieval castle lying between mountains, on the shore of a great lake. It's very exclusive, they choose their students on the basis of their abilities."

Hermione paused a second and savored the secret knowledge that those "abilities" could be used to make Kevin Rutherford gulp up slugs for the rest of his live.

"You can't get in, regardless how much you're willing to pay, unless you have the right marks and, eh, disposition." she concluded her spiel.

Mary Rutherford had a surprised look on her face, as if the notion that you couldn't buy your offspring's way into every school had never crossed her mind.

She nodded once, murmuring an unconvincing "Interesting" and the two women's conversation swung back to much more harmless topics, like the newest fashion from Paris and the socialite gossip of London's higher middle class.

The night wore on, with Hermione avoiding being caught up in the talk of the table again. She felt extremely relieved when dinner was served and everyone began to chat about - as she had foreseen – sports.

/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG/HG

The next morning, Hermione was awoken by loud banging on her door.

"Rise and shine, darling! Time to get up!" she heard the muffled voice of her dad through the thick wood.

She fought her desire to just role over again for a few moments, then her dutiful side won and she struggled sleepily out of her bed.

"Another beautiful day on the beach- and hopefully Kevin Rutherford will stay in the hiding hole slimy gits like him retreat to when the sun comes up." she told herself.

It irked her that he had been able to bait her so effortlessly, but she admitted to herself that he had pushed all the right buttons.

She was sure that her hair, large front teeth and general bookish appearance had been the main reasons why she never had any friendships in her muggle primary school.

"At least if you don't count those "friends" who were only interested in copying my homework" she remembered sourly.

All that had changed of course after the incident with the troll in her first year at Hogwarts- she wasn't the most popular girl in Gryffindor house, but she had true friends now and the teasing had slacked off.

When Hermione entered the living room, she saw her father sitting on the couch, still in his pajamas. He looked up from his Times and smiled.

"Your mum is already out, shopping for god knows what with Mary." he explained. "What about a father- daughter day at the pool? We could just read, talk and." he rose an eyebrow mischievously "have the occasional game on the outdoors chess board."

Wrinkling her nose, amused at his obvious attempt at hoodwinking her into a series of disastrously lost games, Hermione nodded affirmatively nonetheless.

"He might think he can trounce me as easily as last summer, but I'll show him. I'm not a genius at the game, but I think I'm over the slightly distracting memories of the murderous chess board that nearly killed Ron when we went to protect the stone."

After taking a quick shower and intense teeth brushing with the "Dr. Granger approved" method, she donned another of her swimming suits and a bath robe. Grabbing her magical tourist guide from the bed stand, Hermione headed for the breakfast menu.

"I'm going down already, dad!" she called over the rushing of water from the bathroom. "I'll wait for you by the chess board, prepare to be humbled!"

An hour later, after a filling breakfast, Hermione and Charles faced each other on the huge outdoor board. The largest pieces were as high as Hermione shoulders, but they were made of plastic and therefore lightweight.

Her dad opened the game by moving his central pawn two fields forward. Blocking him with her opposing black figure, she smiled cheekily and decided to needle him.

"And here I expected a Ruy Lopez opening gambit. Looks more like a standard tactic to me. I'm disappointed."

Grinning at her words, Charles Granger went on the offensive with his left knight, but refrained from commenting.

"It seems as if he wants to play the first game for real." Hermione decided. "Well, I can do that, and I'll win too."

The next half hour saw them getting more and more involved, neither one speaking a word. She had learnt some advanced strategies from watching Ron winning against Harry again and again, and she tried to use them now.

But her father was experienced enough to see through most of her manoeuvres, and after 45 hard fought minutes, he ended the game with a "check mate" that came out of nowhere.

"Not so sure of yourself any more, eh young lady?" he teased, while they restored the board.

"But you are better than last year, if it's any consolation."

When all pieces were back at their starting positions, Charles walked over to one of the banks standing around the area.

"Come darling, lets sit down for a while and have a little talk, then you'll get your chance for revenge."

Hermione took a place next to him and looked up expectantly.

"You know your mother and I supported your decision to attend Hogwarts, Hermione" Charles Granger began with a unreadable expression.

"Uh, oh" she thought with a sinking feeling in her stomach. "What is this about now? Have they seen through my smokescreens?"

Her worry must have shown, because her father shook his head and smiled reassuringly.

"Don't stress yourself, we wont pull you out of the school as long as you're happy there. But now that you'll start your third year in a few weeks, I have begun to ask myself what will happen when you graduate."

She felt quite confused and unsettled by this statement- after all, Professor McGonagall had talked at length with her parents about the wizarding world when she delivered Hermione's Hogwarts letter.

The Deputy Headmistress had explained the secrets the Grangers would have to keep, but had also mentioned the many job opportunities for people with a good magical education.

"Dad, you know that I can do all kinds of things when I get my NEWTS!" she exclaimed fiercely.

Her father looked taken aback by the vehemence, but before he could get in a word edgewise, a flood of words from his daughters mouth rolled over him.

"I haven't chosen what I want to do, but that's hardly a surprise, is it now? I doubt that many muggle children in my age group know what profession they'll take after graduating."

Charles held up his hands and made calming motions, but his little girl wouldn't let herself be stopped now. Her cheeks had taken on a soft red color and the agitation made her voice louder than was advisable in the middle of a muggle holiday resort.

"If it's so important to you dad, I'll have you know that I made a list of possible jobs last year. On the top of the list is a healer apprenticeship, it would allow me to become the equivalent of a medical doctor. I have also thought about working for the ministry of magic, maybe help them to find better ways of integrating muggleborn children into wizarding society."

She took a deep breath to resupply her lungs for another machine gun like barrage.

"Third place on my list is becoming a teacher. I love Hogwarts, the atmosphere of learning, the fantastic library and I even like most of the professors. And those are only my top three, I have also thought about working in a apothecary or getting my master in potions. There are some other things that would interest me, like magical creatures..."

She stopped herself when she saw her father begin to chuckle, then laugh uncontrollable. Soon he was holding his sides and roaring so loud that some of the other guests began to look over to them.

"How dare he?" Hermione thought indignantly. "I tell him my plans for the future like he wanted, and he goes of on a ridiculous laughing fit!"

She balled her fingers into fists and had to fight herself to remain sitting. After another few bouts of laughter, Charles Granger finally stopped and leaned back, gulping air in like an industrial size cooling machine.

When he looked up and saw Hermione's furious expression, he grabbed her right hand quickly.

"Sorry honey, but your "verbally exploding like Krakatoa" act is priceless." he said. "I wasn't talking about your future job at all, you totally misunderstood..."

Her eyes went wide in surprise and some of the agitation vanished from her expression. "But what did you mean? The most important thing after finishing school will be to choose a profession, won't it?"

Charles shook his head. "Sure, its important for your mum and me that you have a fulfilling job that also pays for your living. But that's not as important as the question that worries me the most..."

He hesitated, and the skin on his forehead scrunched up, as if he was thinking hard.

"It's not easy to formulate darling, but basically, I'm scared that you will become more and more … distant. You'll be socialised in the wizarding world for seven years by then, you'll have a job that'll make you do magic every day... I'm scared that you will become something like an emigrant in your own land, estranged not only from the "muggle" way of life..."

He paused for a moment, as if it pained him to end the sentence "but also from us."

Hermione sat there for a long moment, unblinking, trying to process her fathers words. When the implications finally began to sink in, it felt like huge gates in her subconsciousness had suddenly opened up, and she couldn't identify all the feelings that began to run amok in her mind.

There was guilt for never even thinking about this, worry if her dad was right, nostalgia for a time not too long ago when there was only one world she belonged to. And finally, a fierce resolve to not only placate her father right now, but to make absolutely sure that his fears wouldn't become reality after all.

"Oh dad!" she cried, before she threw her arms around him and hugged him as tight as she could.

"You know that I love you and mum with all my heart! I promise you, I'll never ever let that happen to me. I'll be with you always!" Hermione felt her dads arms come around her, returning the hug, and relieve flooded her.

She never saw the deep doubt and worry hidden in Mr. Grangers eyes.

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