- Character Bashing
- Alternate Universe
- Challenge Response
Straightening her clothing nervously, Hermione pressed against the letter in the inner breast pocket of her robes, wafting up the faint scent of parchment and Harry. Tipping her head down she breathed deeply, taking courage before marching up to the front doors of Hogwarts. The multitude of soaring turrets and random spires were so familiar that she couldn’t help but feel a surge of rightness at returning to her first magical home.
Before she got to the top of the steps the door opened and a female house-elf looked out at her with big brown eyes that narrowed in recognition. “I remember yous. Yous graduated. Harry Potter’s Friend.”
“Yous not here to trick us with clothes?”
“What? No! Winky, isn’t it? I’m here to see Headmistress McGonagall.” Hermione did her best to keep from scowling. She still didn’t like the way house-elves were treated, but she acknowledged that the topic was a lot more complicated than she’d originally seen as a teen.
Tugging hard on a batlike ear, Winky nodded and opened the door wider. “Welcome back to Hogwarts, miss. Headmistress be in South office. Winky take you there.”
Winky knocked on the office door and then departed after Professor McGonagall called Hermione in.
Hat off and hair back in the usual bun, McGonagall sat at a desk working on a large stack of correspondence. The increased responsibilities didn’t seem to have worn down Hermione’s former Head of House appreciably, Hermione saw with relief. “Headmistress McGonagall, thank you for agreeing to see me on such short notice.”
“I’m always happy to make time for my former lions, especially for favorite students like you, Miss Granger. Just give me a moment. Last night we unexpectedly lost our Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, despite the position no longer being cursed, so I have to mail these letters out right after our meeting to find another one.” Capping her quill, she tapped the parchment she’d just finished and replicated it ten times.
“I’m so sorry to hear that she had an accident,” Hermione said. Unable to keep still, she drifted towards the south side of the room. “Is she alright?”
“Not if I catch up with her,” McGonagall growled. “The foolish chit went to Hogsmeade for the weekend, fell head over heels for some musician, and decided to quit by owl post and join him in travelling the world to perform The Ballad of the Golden Trio. She’s supposedly the spitting image of Ronald Weasley, though not Ginevra.” Hermione grimaced.
McGonagall tilted her head to the side and shrugged before sighing gustily. “Whatever the case, with the term just starting I’m at a bit of a loss. I handed out essays from the reading for the students and otherwise let them roam free for the period. But enough of my troubles,” she rose from her desk and shook out her robes. “Not knowing what you wished to speak of, I took a chance and put in an order of tea with the kitchens. I hope you don’t mind.” At Hermione’s headshake, McGonagall tapped her wand on a metal teacup, making it ring softly.
Hermione let her feet take her over to the window and looked out at the Great Lake. Seeing a flash of tentacles and a splash she smiled, remembering her friends taking turns racing their brooms through the giant squid’s waving tentacles while trying to not fall into the water. The pleasant feeling increased as she moved several steps to the left where an inlaid circle of pale blue decorated the floor. The view wasn’t as good but it must be the perfect angle for the sunshine because the spot felt warm and inviting.
A house-elf popped in, set up a tea service, and popped out again. “We can sit at my desk, the corner table, or the couch against the wall,” McGonagall offered.
“If it’s not too much trouble, could we eat right here?” Hermione asked, not wanting to move.
“Why that particular spot, Miss Granger?” Eyes observing her sharply, the Headmistress nevertheless used her wand to move over a small table, two chairs, and the tea service.
Rubbing her toe against the blue circle, Hermione found herself caught without a logical answer. “No particular reason, it just feels like the best spot in the room. It’s nice.” The chair bumped up against the back of her legs and she sat down and let it scoot her into the table.
McGonagall hummed thoughtfully and took her own seat. “Did you know that Hogwarts is built on one of the largest magical nodes in Scotland?”
“Yes, I remember that from Hogwarts: A History,” Hermione said, lifting the teapot and pouring the Headmistress and herself some tea.
“Then you might also remember that thousands of ley lines radiate out from the node, intersecting along the way. Some of these lines shift over time while others stay constant. When a witch or wizard stands directly on top of an intersection or node, magic becomes easier to harness and the power of a spell magnifies.” McGonagall paused to take a sip of tea.
Hermione nodded her head to show she was paying attention. “Yes, I’ve read that ritual circles are almost always built on ley line nodes or static intersections. Being able to sense magic in general takes practice but isn’t that uncommon in magicals. However, sensing where ley lines exist and the location of nodes and intersections is an extremely rare and highly prized magical gift. Some theorize that only a handful of people are so blessed in every generation.”
“Indeed, almost completely right, Miss Granger.” The Headmistress took a biscuit and dipped it into her tea before taking a bite.
Mind racing, Hermione put down her teacup with a frown. “What did I miss?”
“It isn’t taught much since our Gifted population is so small, but powerful Sentinels are often able to instinctively sense the movement and pooling of magic. In other countries it is standard to employ such a Sentinel before building any sort of ritual space.”
Hermione’s mouth rounded in surprise.
“I bring this up because that circle you found yourself drawn to is a static intersection and the most magically powerful spot in this office. You walked right over to it as if drawn and haven’t moved since. With Mr. Potter coming Online so unexpectedly, I feel like I have to ask, could you be a Sentinel, Miss Granger?”
“I am not a Sentinel. I am just observant.” Taking a gulp of tea, Hermione pressed a hand against the pain in her chest. “That’s what pops into my head. I don’t know why I wanted to sit here.”
“Hmm, very well. It’s probably just wishful thinking on my part. Most people don’t talk about it anymore but I’m not ashamed to boast that I come from a long and illustrious line of Sentinels. One of my ancestors used her spirit animal as inspiration to create both the Patronus Charm and the Animagus Spell.”
“Really? I had no idea they came from the same person.” Hermione made a mental note to look up the history of both spells when she got home.
“Yes, it’s a shame so many magicals nowadays lack the mental discipline to get in touch with their primal form and master advanced spellwork.” Sighing, Mcgonagall took another sip of tea and looked out the window. “But you’ve heard me lecture on hard work often enough and don’t need a refresher. Why don’t you tell me what brings you to visit me today?”
Putting down the biscuit she’d just been about to take a bite of, Hermione licked her lips and took a deep breath. “I’m hoping to get a bit of life advice, Professor. In a letter Harry suggested I try talking to someone whose life path I respect and there’s no witch in the world that I respect more than you.” Hermione wiped her damp palms on her robes.
Professor McGonagall smiled and leaned back in her chair with the teacup cradled in her hands. “I’m honored, Miss Granger, but you still haven’t gotten to the point.” She arched one brow and took a sip of her tea.
“Last week I was called into my boss’s office at the Ministry and offered a promotion. I’ve been working for this position ever since I started there after the war. I was told I’d have to work for at least ten years to be trusted with it, but I managed it in five. To do that I had to dedicate all of my time and talents to work. It was a major source of contention in my relationship with Ron Weasley after Hogwarts until we finally broke up. In fact, it’s sabotaged most of my relationships since, but I thought I was serving the greater good and making a real difference there. I was proud of what I was accomplishing, even though I wasn’t helping people the way I first thought I’d be.”
“You should be proud. Most of the articles on your efforts in the paper were so glowing we could use them to teach lumos charms,” McGonagall teased gently.
Taking a sip of tea to wet her throat, Hermione gave her a quick smile. “Thank you. With all that being said, here’s where I need some advice. Most of the people I know think I’ve gone mental because, well, at that moment when they offered me the promotion,” Hermione took a deep breath and tangled her hands together in her lap, “I quit.”
Professor McGonagall almost dropped her teacup, sloshing her robes in the process. “You quit? Did I hear you correctly, lass?”
A burble of uncomfortable laughter escaped Hermione as she turned to watch the students outside the window gathering over by the shore of the Great Lake with blankets and books. “Yes, I know. It seems crazy to me too and I was the one who did it. At that moment I got this overwhelming feeling that I was meant to serve and protect our people in a different way, that the work I was doing was good but that it wasn’t the best use of my gifts, and that I was desperately needed elsewhere. I pride myself on being logical but at that moment the feelings were overwhelming and instead of accepting the promotion I quit the job entirely. Harry wrote that he believes me and I should trust my instincts, but I’m scared that I’m ruining my life.”
Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose and forced back the tears trying to escape her eyes. “After all, Harry hasn’t seen me in over four months, the longest we’ve ever been separated since starting school at eleven. I miss him like crazy. I never miss Ron like this, even when we only see each other a few times a year. Maybe I am going crazy. Maybe I did ruin my life.”
“I see.” Refreshing Hermione’s teacup, McGonagall slid it over. “Drink another cuppa and let’s talk this over.”
Inhaling the curling steam, Hermione took a bracing drink and looked to the Professor for wisdom.
“While I can’t say whether quitting was a good or bad decision, I can tell you that there’s no need to be so dramatic. You haven’t ruined your life. You are much too young, intelligent, and hard working to not bounce back from this, even if the trajectory of that bounce is currently unknown.”
“Right, thank you professor,” Hermione nodded, silently repeating the words to herself.
Looking out the window, a pensive look came over McGonagall’s face. “I’ve had several pivotal moments in my life where I’ve been forced to choose between logic and emotion, between what seems good for the present and good for the future. I’m still not sure that I’ve always chosen correctly, but I do know that none of those choices ever ruined my life because I refused to let them do so.” She turned and looked Hermione straight in the eye. “I trust that the brightest witch of our age is wise enough to do the same.”
Blushing and straightening her spine in her chair, Hermione nodded. “Of course, Professor. I’ll make sure to remember that.” She popped a biscuit in her mouth before she said something embarrassing.
“As for your missing Harry, you always were exceptionally close to him both during and after school. I don’t gamble, but if I did, I’d have lost a lot of money over the years on whether the two of you would end up romantically involved, not that there’s anything wrong with a close platonic friendship, of course.”
“Harry is my good friend and only my friend.” Putting down her teacup with a sharp click, Hermione rubbed at the tearing sensation in her chest and grimaced. “At least that’s what I always tell people. It’s hard to think about changing that, hard to think about even talking about it,” she centered her toe in the blue circle on the floor and gave a humorless laugh, “but it hurts even more to think about not changing and losing him.” Pushing back her chair, Hermione rose to her feet and faced the window to gain her composure.
The students outside lounged on their blankets reading and playing. A Gryffindor girl with blond curls and a Slytherin boy with slicked back brown hair were arguing over something and pointing fingers at each other. The fact that it wasn’t wands was frankly a bit startling, though maybe her experience with Draco Malfoy wasn’t as normal as she’d always thought. She gave a half-smile as the girl stooped over, picked up a half-eaten apple off her blanket, and threw it at the boy. He batted away the apple and stormed off. “They’re so young. I don’t remember ever feeling so young and carefree.”
Joining her at the window, McGonagall chucked under her breath. “They do seem to get younger and younger every year, but the truth is that we all are just getting older. I can promise that you were just as young and small once, though I don’t know if many of us were really allowed to be carefree during those years with Voldemort running loose. I don’t think we can ever repay Harry for what he did for us, allowing us to raise and teach these children in relative peace.”
“Their innocence deserves to be protected,” Hermione agreed. A sudden swell of emotion filled her core, just like when she’d been offered a promotion in the Ministry and felt she should walk away instead. This feeling was pushing her to stay. “I should do that.”
“I think you’ve lost me.” Professor McGonagall examined her curiously.
“Whatever I’m supposed to be doing, I think I’ll figure it out quicker here at Hogwarts. I’d like to help protect the students for a while by taking over your vacant Defence Against the Dark Arts position. I can submit a resume if you need one of Dark wizards I’ve fought against over the years,” she offered seriously. “In the interest of full disclosure, I still sometimes struggle to cast the Patronus charm if I haven’t practiced it recently.”
Laughing, Professor McGonagall turned and leaned against the wall. “Miss Granger, I am more than aware of your accomplishments and would be delighted to have you on staff for however long you are willing to teach. However,” she held up a finger sternly, “you must promise to give me more notice than an owl when you choose to move on.”
“I will, I promise,” Hermione said, a rush of excitement lifting her mood for the first time in days.
“And…” McGonagall added with a dramatic pause, forcing Hermione to drag her eyes away from the sparkling waters of the Great Lake outside the window, where for a moment she thought she’d seen a glowing woman staring up at her from the surface of the waves.
“You should let me help you achieve your animagus form. I have a feeling it’s closer than you think and will serve you well in the future. Agreed?”
“Oh, thank you, Professor. I would love to learn that,” Hermione told her with a wide grin.