She was waiting by the window with faded eyes, watching people pass by in the streets below. The girl let out a wistful sigh. Again, she found herself imagining. Imagining that she was linking arms with the woman in the crimson dress, giggling with the girls who had just returned from the ice cream parlor, kissing the old man's cheek as she led him across the busy street. Hermione Barker looked on as her poor, insane mother shuffled through the streets, croaking for spare change. Even she, little old Lucy Barker, was more fortunate than Hermione.
She had been "adopted" by the honorable Judge Turpin at the age of four, when her mother had poisoned herself with arsenic, leaving her incapable of raising a child properly. It was around this time that she had started acting weird. She could make things happen, without trying. It was... odd... uneasy. For both her and her guardian. But when she was eleven, it had all been explained in a letter. Sent from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As it so happened, she was a witch. Born from non-magic parents, Benjamin and Lucy, she was what they called a muggle-born. Fascinated and hopeful, Hermione remembered she had received countless letters until finally, the Judge had no choice. He had to let her go. And so she had. That year had been the best year of her life. Filled with joy and wonder, she had studied everything she could, made two incredible friends, and had had the time of her life. But all good things eventually must come to an end. At the end of the school year, Hermione had returned home, never to return to Hogwarts again. Judge Turpin had made sure of it. He took her wand, forbade her to leave the house, hired a man to come and keep a watch on her. He had told her she was lucky he didn't hang her for what she was. A witch, that is.
Everyday she had gotten letters from Azkaban. They came to her window by owl; this was how wizards communicated. Now, during her year at Hogwarts, she had crammed as much knowledge into her head as she could hold, and Azkaban rang a bell somewhere deep inside. One day she remembered what it was, Azkaban, it was wizard's prison. Where the worst of the criminals were punished. The contents of the letters were curious, though. It was always information, stuff she might have been learning in Hogwarts was she not imprisoned here. Sometimes she wished for words of encouragement, a clue as to who was sending her this, but that sort of stuff never came. And so Hermione would read every word, memorize everything, captivate herself in it, pretend her hairbrush was a wand and wave it around to practice the spells. And the only hint as to who was sending it would be on the back of the last piece of parchment. It was signed 'padfoot.' And it had gone on in this way for a year. Then, at some point in the summer of what would have been her rising 3rd year at Hogwarts, things started to change. The letters she got from Azkaban were signed 'BBL.' The occasional letter she would recieve from Padfoot would be sent to her on a scrappy sheet of parchment, barely more than chicken scratch. It would ask her if she was still receiving letters to educate her. Padfoot's letters stopped completely as soon as she confirmed that she was still getting the letters from Azkaban.
The year she had turned fifteen, the letters from Azkaban were no longer sent from Azkaban. They became a great deal like Padfoot's had, except BBL wrote neater. Again, she was asked if she was still receiving letters from the prison. Except this time, she wasn't. Hermione decided it would be best to not write back at all. She never heard from BBL again.
She could not, however, stop herself from hoping she might see a speck in the sky turn into an owl flying towards her window. She could not stop her eyes from fluttering open in the middle of the night every time she heard an owl's hoot, in a fool's expectation that it might be for her. She could not stop regretting never replying to that prisoner- BBL. But a year had passed and she knew that now it was the time to let go of all her stupid hopes and dreams. This was how she'd spend the rest of her life, sheltered away from the rest of the world, with only her songbird to keep her company.
It was as she was thinking along these lines that she noticed a young man sitting on the bench just outside her window. A pretty face, he had. His hair was long and loose, a lovely shade of brown-gold. He had pale skin and looked to be exotic. She knew for a fact she had never seen him before, as she had made a habit of memorizing faces as they passed her little section of the street. He seemed to be absorbed in a book he had in his lap. Tilting her head curiously, she wished she knew what it was he was reading. Hermione turned to look at her bird, who was chirping a happy melody as always. How could the bird find voice for such beautiful notes? He was trapped just as much as she was, inside his cage, yet he found a way to sing. It was so odd. With a sigh, she began to pick up on its pretty melody and sang it back to him;
"Green finch and linnet bird,
How is it you sing?
How can you jubilate,
Sitting in cages,
Never taking wing?
Outside the sky waits,
Just beyond the bars.
How can you remain,
Staring at the rain,
Maddened by the stars?
How is it you sing
How is it you sing?
Green finch and linnet bird,
How is it you sing?
Whence comes this melody constantly flowing?
Is it rejoicing or merely halloing?
Are you discussing or fussing
Or simply dreaming?
Are you crowing?
Are you screaming?
Ringdove and robinet,
Is it for wages,
Singing to be sold?
Have you decided it's
Safer in cages,
Singing when you're told?"
Again, she glanced down into the streets, suddenly aware of the boy looking up at her. Occasionally Hermione would catch someone staring up at her whenever she chose to sing. And she could sing, sitting in her room with literally nothing else to do, she had a lot of time on her hands to practice. She had gotten used to it. So she gave him a small, sad smile. She could still see the brightness, the optimistic glow in his eyes. He didn't know how pained she was. And he was still staring at her, transfixed...
"Hermione!" a sharp voice called her away from the window. The brunette quickly jumped away, forgetting the bright-eyed boy as she left her room to answer the sound.
"Yes, sir?" she replied. "Is there a problem, sir?" Hermione rounded the corner and stood at the doorframe of the library, where Judge Turpin was seated comfortably on the sofa.
"Indeed there is, Hermione, I seem to recall leaving you with the task of cleaning the kitchen, is that correct?"
"Yes, sir, a task I completed an hour and a half ago," Hermione replied curtly, trying her best to hold her tongue. She knew that her life would only get worse if she wasn't polite to her guardian, but sometimes he made it extremely difficult for her to keep cool.
"I am aware of this, however, you did not touch the counters. Why is this?"
"I did, I-" she cut off as he silenced her with a glare. "I suppose I thought Mrs. Eldeton could do that," she mumbled.
"Mrs. Eldeton left town and won't be returning for two more nights, I assume you knew of this?"
Again, Hermione bit her tongue. "Yes, sir, I'm really sorry."
"You are forgiven, of course," the Judge replied, his face softening a little as he stood up in order to look down at her. "Now, I need you to finish the job and return upstairs. Yes?"
She gritted her teeth, refusing to look him in the eye. "Yes." With this, she stalked past him into the kitchen, fetching a rag from underneath the sink and starting to reclean the counter, making sure she got it right this time. As Hermione was about to leave the room, she heard a new voice in the library, a voice that forced her to pause mid-step and listen.
"I think there's been some mistake," he said.
Then Turpin's voice. "I think not. You gandered at my ward, Hermione. You gandered at her, yes, sir, you gandered."
"I meant no harm."
"Your meaning is immaterial." Suddenly, her guardian's voice grew quieter and Hermione had to push her ear against the door to be able to hear. "Mark me. If I see your face again on this street, you'll rue the day you were born." Hermione heard the Beadle yelling something at the stranger, but she didn't stick around to listen. She did not want to be caught listening at the door. Taking the door that would lead straight from the kitchen upstairs so as not to be spotted by Turpin, she rushed back into room, fumbling around in her closet until she found what she had stolen some three nights before. A key. Clutching it to her chest and feeling it rise up and down in her anxiety, she watched her window intently, looking for a face...
She saw him coming into view from the alleyway behind her house, whistling a tune. His mouth was covered in blood she could only assume was from that awful Beadle and his cane. Grimacing slightly in empathy for him, she opened the window and quickly threw the key down to him as soon as she knew he was looking, knowing this was quite possibly her last chance at freedom. She watched as he picked it up and turned it over in his hands before looking back up at her. She gave him a soft, somewhat pleading smile before drawing the curtains. It would be dangerous for him to stay any longer.
And that night, she dreamed not only of owls, but of the sailor. And of hope.