Send Not to Know

Part I: Christmas, 1997

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne

Chapter 1: I'll Be Home For Christmas

Hermione Granger thanked Stan Shunpike and Ernie Prang and wished them each a Happy Christmas before she stepped off the Knight Bus, with Crookshanks' basket in one hand and a rucksack full of clothing and personal items in the other. The week-old snowfall on her parents' lawn crunched under her feet as she made her way onto the walk and up to the front steps. Stomping her feet to remove any remaining snow, she used her key to open the door and slipped into the cold, dark house.

Dumping her rucksack at the foot of the stairs, she let Crookshanks out of his carrier and began to go through the rooms, switching on lights.

"It's really cold in here, isn't it, Crooks?" she said, rubbing her hands together.

Crookshanks gave her a disdainful glance from his baleful yellow eyes and turned his face pointedly away.

"I know you hate travelling on the Knight Bus, but it was either that or leave you at Hogwarts – would you have preferred that?"

He flicked his tail once in answer.

"I've never seen you as angry as you were the one time I tried to Apparate with you. Even Mrs. Weasley couldn't heal the scratch on my cheek!" She reached up and traced a finger across her left cheek, the smooth skin belying the deep, angry mark that had been there at the end of the summer. She had gone to the Burrow, meaning to spend a weekend with the Weasleys before September first. Proud of her still-new Apparition license, she had decided to travel by that method, with her rucksack on her back and Crookshanks in her arms. Crookshanks had violently objected to the sensation of being squeezed through a too-small tube. Molly Weasley had fussed over Hermione for several minutes after she had arrived that day, healing the evidence of Crookshanks' displeasure, but Hermione had required a visit with the Healers at St. Mungo's to repair the deepest scratch.

"It's a good thing you came, dear," the motherly Healer had told her, smearing a thick, yellow goo over the newly-healed skin. "Otherwise, you would have had a scar on your face, and what young girl would want to mar such pretty skin, hmm?"

Hermione had flushed scarlet at the Healer's statement. It had been less from embarrassment over the words than from self-consciousness triggered by the warm look of agreement in Ron's eyes, as he had stood with Harry and Ginny at the side of the room. That very weekend, Hermione and Ron had shared their first kiss, which had quickly escalated into a rather awkward and dissatisfying tryst in Ginny's room, with Ginny and Harry locked in a heated embrace on the other twin bed.

Hermione shook herself out of her reminiscences and moved to engage the heater. Her parents had left it set quite low when they had departed for Switzerland for their skiing holiday. Neither they nor their daughter had anticipated that she would be coming home for the Christmas hols.

Hermione went to the fireplace in the sitting room and began to lay kindling for a fire. Now that her memories had been stirred, it would be just as well to let them flow and get it over with, she supposed.

Having a boyfriend had been a lovely novelty after six years of silent hoping. Viktor had been her only interlude in that time. Being the choice of a boy so much older, and one who was famous, as well, had been a huge lift to Hermione's status amongst the other girls at Hogwarts. His physical dominance and sexual aggression, however, had been quite alarming for her, particularly when she had not felt that level of passion for him.

Ron had been different: sweet, tender, loving – as well as bull-headed, insensitive, and coarse. Hermione had very much enjoyed the hand-holding through the corridors, having a date for Hogsmeade weekends, and the desperate kisses, exchanged in the common room and at other odd places throughout the castle. What she had not enjoyed was Ron's insistence on frequent intercourse, a feat at which his only excellence was speed of completion. She had read several books about it, but could not persuade Ron to try any of the techniques listed there. She had begun to dread his entreaties and her reluctance had driven a wedge between them, in spite of her insistence that her lack of interest in sex had not indicated a lack of love for Ron.

The last weekend in November had brought about the first Gryffindor Quidditch match, during which they had soundly trounced Hufflepuff. Hermione had come upon Ron in a third-floor alcove, nailing Romilda Vane against the rough stone wall in a post-victory shag, his pale buttocks thrusting in time with Romilda's cries whilst his trousers hung at his knees. It had been difficult for Ron and Romilda to explain their subsequent injuries to their dormitory-mates: Ron had the word "cheat" traced across his bum cheeks as if drawn there by a sharp-bladed knife, whilst Romilda had the word "slut" gouged across the thigh which had been gripping Ron's waist as she had panted and mooed like the cow she was.

Hermione had been humiliated and infuriated; from that day forward, she had not spoken to Ron at all, in spite of Harry's frequent attempts to broker a peace between them. She and the boys had been set to spend Christmas at Hogwarts, where they would be the safest, but the rift between Ron and Hermione had brought out the git in the youngest Weasley boy. He had induced his mum to invite Harry, but not Hermione, home to the Burrow for Christmas.

Molly, having had the story of the break-up poured into her ears by her patently heartbroken son, had readily agreed, hoping that time would heal the friendship between Ron and Hermione, if not the romance. Molly had not, however, relished the notion of having feuding teenage lovers in her small house for the hols, so she had left Hermione out of her invitation, meaning to make it up to the young witch at a later time. After all, Molly had reasoned, Hermione had parents with whom to spend Christmas, but Harry had no one.

Ron had staged a loud conversation with Ginny in the common room, informing her of their mother's plans, all for Hermione's ears. Mindful, as always, of her Head Girl status, Hermione had bit back her scathing opinion of Ronald Weasley and his immature posturing. Instead, she had turned her mind to plans for her own Christmas holiday. With Harry and the Weasleys going to the Burrow for the winter break, Hermione would be the only Gryffindor remaining; she had no desire to kick around the castle on her own for the best part of three weeks.

Her parents had invited her to Switzerland for their skiing trip when they had planned it back in October. Hermione had declined, wanting to spend the holiday with the boys. It was far too late now to ask to be included in the Swiss trip; furthermore, if her parents became aware of her dilemma, they would give up the trip for themselves to spend Christmas with her. Hermione could not bear to be the cause of that kind of sacrifice. She had determined that she would wait at school until her parents departed for the ski lodge, then she would go home. It would be an excellent opportunity to really get a head start on revising for N.E.W.T.s, and she could indulge in the kind of comfort-food eating that was not possible at Hogwarts – she would enjoy spending Christmas alone, she thought defiantly, with angry tears standing in her eyes.

Now she lit the fire in the grate with one of the long hearth matches, chuckling to herself at what a creature of habit she could be. Dropping the Muggle match in the grate, she tried her hand at a bit of non-verbal, wandless magic, and was gratified to see the flames leap up from the carefully stacked logs.

Now all she needed was a tub of chocolate ice cream and a pot of steaming cocoa, and her evening would be perfect! It was the Friday night before Christmas, the beginning of her holidays, and she could do anything she wanted.

The sour-faced man slumping in the chair before the headmaster's desk resembled nothing so much as a student who had been called on the carpet for a scolding. His shoulders were pulled in on his chest, his eyes were firmly fixed on his belt buckle, and a world-class sneer graced his lips. Oily black hair hung like curtains on either side of his sallow face, obscuring his expression from the patient man facing him on the other side of the desk.

Albus Dumbledore did not have to see Snape's face to approximate what his Potions master's expression would be. He knew that what he had to ask of Snape was uncommonly inconvenient, but it had to be done, and Snape was the only one who was both available and capable.

"If there were any other recourse, I would not ask you to do this."

"You might have given me some notice, Headmaster," the Potions master muttered, refusing to meet the older man's eyes.

Dumbledore's eyebrows rose. "You had plans for Christmas, Severus? I had no idea!"

Snape raised black eyes, fathomless as an abyss, to glare at his mentor. "You know very well I do not. Nevertheless, it is common courtesy to allow one's colleagues time for planning when asking a favour."

Dumbledore nodded sympathetically. "I apologise for the lack of notice. I am afraid that Hermione's decision to go home alone for Christmas took us all by surprise. And, as you are well aware, both Professor McGonagall and Nymphadora Tonks are conducting undercover surveillance assignments which it has taken us months to arrange. We do not have a single female Order member available to assist in this matter."

Snape sniffed. "I do not understand why you did not compel Miss Granger to remain at Hogwarts or, at the very least, insist that she go to with her friends." Snape infused the last word with such loathing that he might have been speaking a swear word. "Then she would be the Weasleys' problem, rather than mine."

Dumbledore studied him for a few moments. "No, I don't suppose you would understand, Severus. Take my word for it that it was a kindness to Hermione not to prevent her from going home – but it is not safe for her to remain unprotected while her parents are abroad. I only ask that you remain until her parents return – it is eight or nine days – and then you will have fulfilled your obligation."

"You expect me to skulk about a Muggle neighbourhood inconspicuously for over a week?" Snape demanded peevishly.

Dumbledore laughed out loud. "Certainly not! It is very cold, even down south. Arabella Figg tells me that there has been snow on the ground in Surrey for days. No, you'll be staying in the house."

Snape stood abruptly. "I hope you have informed the girl to expect me."

Dumbledore stood also. "I have not – she would only have objected. I mean to present her with a fait accompli."

Snape's lip curled in self-derision. "I'm sure she will be delighted," he said, his tone between anger and insolence.

Dumbledore extended an envelope, inscribed with Hermione's name and bearing the Hogwarts seal. "The letter will explain everything to her, dear boy. I'm sure that you will be comfortable at the Grangers' home. Happy Christmas to you!"

Snape turned on his heel, his robes billowing dramatically in his wake, and flung out of the room without deigning to respond.