The giggles and shuffling that signaled that a new school year would soon begin tickled at the edge of her consciousness as she examined the books in her arms. Although it was rather difficult to concentrate with all the exuberant first years that kept brushing by her in their search for school books, her eyes remained fixed on the titles in her hands. She drifted slightly from her path to the front of the store as she inhaled the musky scent of the books she currently held tightly in her hands.
Dalias Balmouth’s Mea Scriptura Malevolentairum and Madam Delavagn’s Portae Abysso were two books that she’d been almost frightfully anxious to get. She’d ordered them just before classes let out for the summer. After the whole year of melancholy and the deep depression that Harry seemed to be succumbing to, she knew that as the trio aged…her ability to help them faded. There were times when she had seen Harry look out over the lake in such despair that she felt an ache in her heart. Shouldn’t she have known that Harry’s dreams were deceitful? Why hadn’t she been prepared for more when they entered the Ministry?
Of course she’d known about the books long before her fifth year, but she hadn’t ordered them primarily because she was afraid that if she learned what was inside them- she would lose something of herself. What had seemed so unacceptable before now seemed inevitable. Between her and her two best friends, she knew that they had already lost too much…especially Harry. What more could she lose and wouldn’t it be worth it to even the odds stacked against them? What could it hurt?
As she made her way through Flourish & Blotts, she gave a slight nod towards Mr. Blotts to acknowledge that she had attained her books before she slipped out the door. Due to the intense nature of the books, the bookkeepers didn’t keep those sorts of books in stock. As a matter of fact, Mr. Blotts had taken her order himself and he’d seemed to agree to make an inquiry about them because of her overly wise nature and genuine love of all books.
Perhaps he’d seen something about her that made acquiring the books for her worth the trials and tribulations he’d undergone to get them. He hadn’t even told his partner about sending a taskmaster after them and he couldn’t place why. He usually told him everything…
The trip back home was tedious. It wasn’t really the walk through to muggle London that was the problem. Naturally her parents were waiting outside of the pub for her and they didn’t say a word as she got into the back seat and put her seatbelt on. It had been like this for years. They rarely talked when they were not out in public. Hermione assumed it was because of how often they were forced to get along. They worked side-by-side at the Granger Family Practice and she often thought that maybe they never should have. That combined with their attempts at keeping Hermione in the dark all these years had taken their toll. In the last two years they had stopped trying and it was nearly open war at home.
She’d known about their dysfunction. How couldn’t she know what they had sacrificed for her? In their younger years they had been happy working and living in perfect harmony together. They were surprised, but not unpleasantly so when they found out that Mrs. Granger was going to have a baby. How wonderful they must have felt!
Hermione snorted at the irony as she leaned her head against the cold window and watched with soulful eyes as the sun disappeared beneath the horizon. Gripping her books tighter to her chest, she closed her eyes every once in a while as the car would shutter and jar the window against her temples. It was almost comforting…
“Daniel,” her mother snapped waspishly. “If you drive any slower, we’ll never make it home in time for Hermione to start on her schoolbooks before she goes to bed.” The friendly faced woman that the Weasley family had met was gone and in her place was the real (or latest) Mrs. Granger.
Mr. Granger let out a harsh, over-exaggerated sigh before slowing the car down a little. “I’ll drive any speed I want when I’m driving, Helen. Would you like to walk?” Her father glanced at Hermione through the rear-view mirror. “Where the hell does she get her study habits from? When I was in school I never would have been caught dead studying before the year started. I bet she’s a bloody teacher’s pet. She must have gotten that from you.”
Hermione kept her eyes closed, but she had to fight to keep her breath calm. She didn’t want let her parents know that she’d heard. It had gotten to the point where they exploded often and at random. Her mother had made it clear before Hermione had ever started at Hogwarts that it was Hermione’s fault that they argued so much and Hermione would never forget it.
”Helen, how long can we handle this?” Mr. Granger mumbled through his hands from his seat on the bed. “As much as we love her, she’s a special child and has special needs. I don’t know how long we can handle her anymore.”
“What are you suggesting, David? That we just leave her there? At that hospital?” Mrs. Grangers eyes flashed as she paced the room. Earlier that morning, their little eight-year-old girl had “accidentally” trashed her grandmother’s chandelier. “She’s not crazy, David, she’s gifted.”
“Can’t you see that it’s the same thing? She’s tearing us apart, Helen, and she’s only eight-years-old. This is nothing new she’s been doing it since she was born. How do you think we’ll be able to handle it when she gets into her teens? You told her last night where things stand and she seems okay with it. If we send her now, it’ll be easier- she’ll understand.”
Mrs. Granger looked away from her husband tearfully. She hadn’t meant to tell her, but was her and her husband’s night alone and she’d sent Hermione to her mother’s house. They’d just begun to relax enough to really talk- like they used to before she was born- when they’d gotten the call. After dealing with her mother, Mrs. Granger had snapped. She’d stiffly dragged Hermione up to her room where she’d sat down and carefully explained to her daughter about the constant anxiety and miserable loneliness that she’d felt since she first became pregnant. It was almost as if she were talking to an old friend and not her own daughter as she explained how much trouble Hermione was and how much she’d wished she could take it all back and live a normal, carefree life with her husband.
Although she was heartbroken, Hermione had said nothing. Between being teased by the kids at school and the timidity of her parents, she just didn’t have anything to say. On the inside it felt like if she said or took the moment to think of it, her feelings would be real and cause problems on their own.
Hermione still felt that way. Although she studied and used her brain frequently, her thoughts were precise. Arithmatic, Potions, historical facts, hypothesis…there was simply no safety in anything more. It felt dangerous to feel.
She’d been lucky that her mother’s guilt had carried the two parents another two and a half years. They were nervous and pleasant words were often forced in order to hide how close they came to truly having her committed. Fortunately, it was the middle of her tenth year when she’d received her Hogwarts letter. For her parents this was a blessing and although they were deeply uncomfortable with all the magical whatnots, they focused instead on the fact that she would be gone all year except for three months.
After a reasonable period of silence Hermione opened her eyes just in time to see the pink and purple sky shift to blue. It sometime comforted her to know that her friends all saw the same sky that she did. She pulled that one lonesome fact around her like a blanket and in her moment of serenity, her mind slipped and she wondered about Harry and how he was fairing with his family. The thought brought a shudder through her because as horrible as she felt at home, she knew that at least she wasn’t locked in a closet or thrown around.
She watched each car as they were passed by and her chocolate eyes found one with several other children in a minivan that seemed to be singing and having a good time. She noted that even the mother, who was driving, seemed to be singing along with them. It made her think of the Weasleys. It was bittersweet each time she went to the Burrow.
Due to her affection of facts only, she sometimes didn’t notice what she was missing until she saw the laughter and companionship of the Weasley family. It almost hurt to see them all together. It cracked at her mask and it made her want to…cry? She stumbled through her thoughts again, chastising herself for drifting into her own emotions again. For a moment there she almost heard an echo in her head.
When they got home, Hermione didn’t waste any time getting in the house and up the stairs to her bedroom. She never bothered saying goodnight to her parents anymore. It’s not that they wouldn’t respond, but she just grew tired of the token answers that they gave her to atone for how they really felt. She was a freak and she always would be. Oddly she really didn’t mind.
Sitting on the edge of the bed she waited to hear their movements downstairs that signaled they had gone to bed. Once she heard that tell-tale groan of the house settling, she stood and walked to the window. After opening the window, she let her package of books drop to the ground below and prepared to join them. One handy thing that she had learned growing up is that her room was in the attic and the window faced away from the street- therefore no one noticed or cared that it didn’t have a screen on it.
As she climbed out of the window, she paid special attention to her journey through the large tree next to the roof. When she was younger she used to have flashbacks of the movie Pollyanna where she would fall from the tree and be crippled for life. Unfortunately she figured that her parents probably wouldn’t give her the great going away party that Pollyanna got and wherever she went she didn’t figure that she’d ever come back from. Therefore she knew to be especially careful.
Once down from the tree, she brushed the bark off of her pants and looked for her package. She found it plopped right on top of some of her mother’s pink tulips. What a shame. Hermione tried to feel guilty and couldn’t seem to find that feeling enough to enflame it. Last year, Crookshanks had pulverized her entire garden of tulips in search of a lone gopher. Despite the fact that he’d gotten the gopher, her mother had been livid.
Speaking of Crookshanks, where was he? She looked around, eyes skimming over the back yard for a fat lump of orange fur. Oh, there he is. She couldn’t help but roll her eyes. Crooks had become something of a popular cat with the la femmes in the area. He was currently next door with Tinker Belle, Mrs Avant’s white Persian.
Finally admitting that she’d have to do her exploring on her own this time, she tread quietly across the lawn and out the side gate. She headed straight for the old playground a few blocks down. The place was rarely used anymore since the community she lived in mainly housed more mature individuals who had already sent their kids packing decades ago and children weren’t really welcome.
Taking a quick look around, she ducked inside the small playhouse and then pulled out her wand.
“Lumos.” She pulled out the first book which was thick and covered with a leathery crimson material. She gripped her wand tightly as the book seemed to arch in her hands when she opened it to the first page. Although she’d seen much worse in her Magical Creatures book, she still couldn’t help feeling very uncomfortable when her books moved.
Once she had the book open, she just sat there. Despite its thickness, she couldn’t seem to turn any pages. Instead there seemed to be a red handprint on the yellowed paper and immediately, she shuddered. It was red enough to be blood and some places around the curve of the palm were almost black…suggesting that the hand had been dipped into a significant amount of blood rather than a shallow wound. How ironic that she’d paid so much for a dysfunctional book with only a bloody handprint, weren’t there any pages to this thing?
Unsure if the sound had come from outside the playhouse or in her own mind, she froze. Although logic told her that she was being silly, she felt an anxious tingling in the back of her neck. Her eyes never left the book in her hands. Such is the cowardice of a Gryffindor alone. Before Hogwarts, she’d always done that when she was scared. Through a combination of complete stillness and a repetitive chant of “It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real,” she could handle anything.
Bloody hell, while on one hand she knew that when a strange male voice whispers touch it that she should typically run, she also felt the impatience and curiosity that had compelled her to purchase the books to begin with.
It was that same curiosity that now motivated her hand to align with the one on the page. The hand print was much larger than her own and for the few seconds before her skin met the bloody print, she reasoned that the ‘writer’ must have been male. There was one thing that she knew for certain, whatever was going to happen when she touched this book, couldn’t be taken back. Everything she knew would change. Did she really want to risk everything with the threat of something she couldn’t predict?
With the answer in her mind, she pressed her palm hard against the bloody print beneath her fingers.