Act One - Best Friends

Chapter Three - Serious Plans


Not for the first time tonight, Hermione found herself marvelling at just how much easier this was with a partner. Rather than a complex series of clamps, gears, and wheels, she simply held a gouge in her wand – and dominate – hand against the rod of rowan wood as it spun on her transfigured lathe. Granted she was no professional woodturner, but carving a stick into a smaller stick was easy enough.

In the background, the whirl of gears produced a humming sound that could be heard even over the grind of wood shaving away on the lathe. Underneath all that, Harry could be heard sprawling around on a small pile of pillows nearby, never fully settled. He held his own rowan wand pointed at a large wooden wheel under the effect of a mobiliarbus spell, turning endlessly to power the lathe.

The entire setup was inefficient, but it was far easier than turning the wheel by hand or foot. Hermione had originally tried using a proper motor, hoping that magic only interfered with sensitive electronics, but it took her less than an hour to determine the problem was with magnetic fields, not electric. At Hogwarts, a mundane compass went crazy, an electric motor jittered unpredictably, but a light bulb, that would work just fine – well, mostly.

Frustrating, yes, but with Harry turning the wheel now while reading, she could not care less – well, not much, anyway. Sometimes her human-powered motor also had malfunctions.

“Problems, Harry?” Hermione called out from halfway across the room. Said boy refused to sit anywhere near in range of stray wood shavings. For her own protection, she had her hair and sleeves tied up and wore goggles.

A second passed, and Hermione had to call out to Harry again before she stole his attention away from his book.

“Sorry,” Harry replied distractedly, raising his wand back up into position. He ran through the wand movements for the mobiliarbus spell, having to try three times before he got it to work.

Hermione frowned. Only a couple hours ago, Harry had mastered the spell under her own guidance. She was sure he did it right the first two times, too.

“Is that wand working properly for you?”

Harry looked back up from his book again after painfully tearing himself away from it. This would have been a good time to poke fun at him about reading not being so bad, but Hermione would rather not risk upsetting the apple cart, especially considering the subject matter he was on.

After some thought, Harry nodded. “It’s fine, just different. Well, more totally opposite, but whatever.”

Hermione was tempted to end the conversation there and let them both get back to their equally engrossing projects, but she indulged her curiosity for the moment. “What do you mean?”

The spell turning the lathe broke, and the gears slowly whined to a stop. The noise gone, Harry said, “My wand is like…like… Okay, don’t laugh, but it’s like throwing a cricket ball at a target from a mountaintop, and this one is like throwing it from the ground, or a valley, or something. Mine goes farther, but it’s harder to hit the target with…wind and distance, I guess. I don’t know. That metaphor kind of broke down somewhere.”

“Simile,” Hermione corrected. “Comparisons using like or as are similes, not metaphors.”

“Same difference.”

Hermione just shook her head at that. “I think I understand what you’re getting at, though. Your holly and phoenix wand casts spells in unstable equilibrium, and your rowan and unicorn one is in a comparable stable equilibrium.”

To Harry’s blank look, Hermione elaborated, “In unstable equilibrium, you’re at a local maximum, and a little push in either direction causes you to change rapidly away, like being pushed off a mountaintop, so your spells are powerful but need to be precise.”

Hermione stopped there to let Harry fill in the rest by himself, which after a few seconds of thought, he did.

“Then continuing with the simile” – Hermione rolled her eyes – “stable equilibrium is like pushing someone up a mountain. Lots of work, and they just roll back to the bottom. Right?”

“I don’t think ‘roll’ is the word you’re looking for, but yes, basically. By the way, on a graph, the terms are crest and trough for peaks and valleys. That’s more a calculus thing, I think, but I’ll probably quiz you on it sometime over the summer anyway.”

Harry groaned, but that soon changed to laughter as Hermione sent off an opportunistic cheering charm with just a little too much power. Hermione herself was rather glad that had worked, as she was spared the embarrassment of messing up; her first and only read-through of the third year charms text in the library had been too long ago.

“I’m so glad you agree maths is fun,” Hermione said without a hint of sarcasm. “Anyway, try putting more power into your spells without worrying as much about form.”

Once the cheering charm wore off and Harry stopped laughing enough to speak, his rowan wand flowed through the motions for – Oh, shoot!

“Rictusempra,” Harry said quietly, as if Hermione had no idea what was coming. A silver light flew from his wand at the same time that Hermione tried to leap from her chair out of the way.

Unfortunately, Hermione was a moment too slow. The spell connected with her shoulder. As she fumbled with her wand, she bit down the growing urge to break into laughter as her entire body felt like it was being brushed with feathers. Her feet in particular were subjected to the cruelest and most bushy of them all. Finally when she went to speak the words to break the charm, it became all too much.

“F-f-finite,” Hermione eventually managed between giggles and the occasional desperate wheeze for air. She collapsed onto her back where she fell earlier and breathed deep, the occasional lingering chuckle escaping her.

“You’re right. Works like a charm.”

Hermione groaned at the pun, wincing at the perfect setup Harry had to return the favour for earlier. But then he probably thought she’d hit him with a tickling charm, not a cheering charm.

In a weak voice, Hermione said, “I am so going to get you for this.”

“You can try.”

Oh, I will, Hermione thought to herself as she plotted her revenge. “What is it I’m supposed to say? Tonight, if you want? Wizard’s duel? Wands only – no contact? Midnight in the trophy room?”

Harry scoffed, “Ha! As if I’d fall for that again.”

“Hmm, too bad.” Finally with her breathing completely under control, Hermione closed her eyes and let herself relax and her mind wander. “Awfully sexist, that. ‘Wizard’s duel’.”

“I suppose,” Harry replied idly. “There really was no reason to call it a wizard’s duel. I guess with muggle-raised, ‘magical duel’ would be unambiguous. Would that be better?”

“Hardly. It’d be an insult to witches. We’re not that pigheaded.”

“Oh, ha ha.”

Time passed in an easy silence, neither wanting to break the peace. There really never was enough time to simply lie down and enjoy each other’s company. But like all things, it eventually came to an end.

“Hey, Hermione?”

“Hmm?”

“If you don’t mind, what’s your wand like?”

Hermione picked up her wand from where it rested on the ground and held it up on the palm of her hand. “If you charm me while wandless, you will pay.”

“Wouldn’t think of it,” Harry replied, and Hermione had a hard time of it deciding if he was lying or not – about the thinking of it, not the doing. She could trust him enough not to tickle her when she was unarmed. “Mobiliarbus.”

A silver light surrounded Hermione’s wand, just bright enough to make the tips of her fingers seem to glow. It drifted off out of her sight toward Harry. Straining her neck, she saw him catch it in his off hand before switching to his wand hand.

“Hermione…”

Hermione rolled over and groaned as she sat upright, her back somewhat stiff from lying on the hard floor. “What is it?”

Frowning, Harry thrust Hermione’s wand up and said, “Lumos.” The tone of his voice on the second syllable clearly foreshadowed the results. “Lumos,” he said again, meeting with another failure. “How do you work with this thing?”

“What do you mean?” Hermione had never had any problems with her wand, although she did have to admit it felt a lot different than the rowan and unicorn hair wand Harry had now.

“It’s… I don’t know how to put it. It feels…sceptical?”

“I guess that makes sense. Ollivander – well, you know how I feel about what he said, but he said that vine wands are extremely loyal, and the dragon heartstring reinforces that. Except you could ‘win it from me’, whatever that means. I’ve lost my wand in a few duels, but it’s still my wand.”

Harry shrugged. Then he picked up his own wand again and sent Hermione’s floating back across the room.

“So when it actually works, what is it like?”

“Promise not to laugh?” Hermione asked. Only once Harry had both nodded and so vowed orally, she continued, “Opposites. I’m usually not…poetic, but there’s really no other way to put it. It sings in joy. It burns in wrath. It loves me just as surely as it loathes my enemies. It’s…eager. The bigger the spell, the better. When I cast a spell, it feels like my magic wants to rip itself in two and explode, but explode in a useful way. It’s – it feeds into itself, I guess. That probably sounds weird, but it feels like the most natural thing in the world. The surge of power and emotion – good or bad – that comes with it, it’s almost euphoric.”

As she spoke, Hermione could feel the slow buildup of magic spreading through her from her chest out to her limbs, seeping its way into her fingertips. Her wand sung in her hand, eagerly awaiting direction. A spell, anything right now would be fine; her magic demanded to be given form in the world.

“Hermione!”

Hermione blinked. She blinked again as she realised that Harry was shaking her by the shoulders. Then there came a great crash from all around her – metal, wood, cloth, parchment, books, everything fell to the ground.

And through it all, Hermione cringed as she heard a snapping sound behind her. The wand she had been working on had probably just snapped in half.

Between blushing and a sigh, the sigh won out. Looking around, Hermione asked, “Accidental magic?” just to be sure.

Harry nodded. “Aside from me, you levitated pretty much everything not bolted down.”

Hermione took in the disordered state of their commandeered classroom. Indeed, pretty much everything that could be flipped over was, barring of course Harry and the extremely heavy desk by the door.

“How about we just call this a record and forget about this magical equivalent of wetting the bed?”

Despite his snicker, Harry agreed to her terms and then quickly went about setting the room back to rights. During their task, Hermione did indeed find a snapped, half-formed wand between moving parts in her lathe. Wands were supposed to be irreparable, so she sighed and burnt it to ashes. There was no sense leaving evidence behind in the rubbish.

Once everything was back in order, Hermione plucked another rowan twig from her bundle, thankful that she put in the unicorn hairs last. Finding the first unicorn had been more of a pain than she let on to Harry, and she was not looking forward to doing it again.

Sighing, Hermione started on the arduous task of removing the bark from the wood. There was probably a spell for this somewhere in the library – besides mobiliarbus, which was just as tedious – but it remained secreted away on whatever shelf Ms. Pince had it. Really, if she had any problem with Hogwarts’s library, it was how impossible it was to find obscure spells in it.

Bit by bit, Hermione tore the bark away, building a steady rhythm of snaps and cracks. This was her fifth try tonight, and after so many failures, she was ready to cave into Harry’s demands to just try to make a functioning wand rather than a better wand. Once she had the initial shaving finished, she would fix Harry’s rowan wand on the near side of the lathe and use it as a guide.

Really, there was nothing fancy to be done; it was only a truncated cone with minor detail work for a handle. And then the tip needed to be rounded, but that was easy, too. Any fool could do it. The part that Hermione was sure kept causing malfunctions and explosions had to be in inserting the unicorn hair.

Hermione frowned as she set up the lathe once more. Surely there had to be some secret beyond drilling a cavity and plugging it after; far too many expensive wand cores would be lost otherwise. But even if there were such a secret, she doubted Ollivander would just tell her if she asked. If only I knew a wandmaker who wouldn’t ask questions back. Or a wandmaker easy to get information out of, like Hagrid. She silently added an apology to the man.

The last screw tightened, Hermione turned to Harry. “I’m ready whenever you are.”

“Huh?” Harry looked up from his books again. “Oh. Right. Mobiliarbus.”

This time Harry got the spell right on his first try. The gears whined, protested the movement, but were soon enough up to speed and humming their own brand of music again.

This time Hermione was able to complete her task without interruptions. Having carved away the remaining bark and levelled the stick into a cylinder, Hermione withdrew her vine wand and said, “I’m ready for the base model.”

Harry held his rowan wand up on his palm, and with a few graceful flicks of her wrist, Hermione brought it over to her workstation. One clamp, two, and it was in place.

Holly wand already out, at Hermione’s nod, Harry set the lathe to turning once more. This was the hard part. Granted it required no more skill than any other, but one small mistake could potentially ruin the wand completely. Scratches were fine; missing chunks and unplanned furrows were not.

Several minutes of intense concentration later, Hermione sat back in her chair and lifted her goggles. She wiped the sweat from her brow with the sleeve of her robe and took a deep breath. Right about now would be a great time to have a water bottle, but alas, she did not.

“Hey, Hermione,” Harry said.

Hermione lifted her gouge back up just before she cut into the wand again. “Yes?”

“Do you think… Is there any… Nevermind.”

Glancing at the page of the book Harry was on, Hermione assumed he was currently reading about the end of the war, the Potters, the Longbottoms, and the three tragedies. It was hard to tell, but she thought she recognised a picture of Peter Pettigrew.

Hermione pulled her wand from her pocket and cast a finite on the lathe wheel. That part would need to be transfigured again, but it cut off the spell powering the machine, and the noise died down.

“What is it, Harry? I’m not an expert, but I can at least point you in the right direction.”

“I… Do you think we could find Remus Lupin? He’s still alive, right?

Hermione sat in silence for the longest time trying hard to remove the thorns from her reply.

“He was seen after the attack on the Longbottoms.” It was the truth, even if it was an obvious deflection Hermione was sure Harry would pick up on. “If he’s alive, he must have a good reason for not contacting you.”

Harry was shaking now. Hermione could see it from halfway across the room, and she leapt from her seat to cross the distance.

“Do you think that maybe he was the one?”

Placing herself right beside Harry, Hermione asked, “The one wha…” Oh, Merlin. I hope he’s not thinking what I think he is. Slowly, gently, Hermione pulled Harry into a hug, one that for once he just relaxed into. “Harry, I won’t go so far as to say it’s impossible, but there are DMLE records for the arrest of Sirius Black. That text references them, so the events of his arrest, at least, are accurate.”

“But why else wouldn’t he at least introduce himself to me? If Lupin was the betrayer, he could’ve done it all. He just had to imperius Black, and it all makes sense. The fidelius would be broken. The two loose ends who might be able to point the finger at him would be taken care of. He would get off scot-free. Did you know Black never got a trial?”

Hermione bit her lip as she deliberated on how to ruin Harry’s day gently. He clearly had a lot of thought put into this. Who knew how he’d have taken this if he’d met Lupin – or even Black – with even less knowledge of his infancy than a random witch off the street? Would he be happy just to have someone there? Would he be inventing these conspiracies?

“Lots of people never got trials at the end of the war,” Hermione tentatively began. “It’s awful, but it wasn’t unusual. And Black was caught laughing covered in blood with an enormous number of witnesses. The burnt toe of Peter Pettigrew was found at the site, and there was a burnt and…bludgeoned rat missing a toe nearby.”

“That doesn’t mean he did it,” Harry whispered, clutching the back of Hermione’s robes tightly.

“No, it doesn’t. But Harry, I don’t want you to get your hopes up. Black was an auror. They’re trained to resist the imperius.”

“But he’s my godfather…” Harry’s hoarse voice gave out on him. “He wouldn’t… He couldn’t… Why…”

Hermione rubbed Harry’s back, letting him quietly whimper out of sight, if not out of earshot.

“I don’t know if this will help, and all I have to offer is conjecture, so stop me if you want.” Harry made no motion toward either direction, so Hermione continued, “There are a lot of theories cobbled together about why Black might have betrayed your parents. According to Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century, the man himself rarely says more than that it’s his fault.”

Hermione gulped at the thought of Azkaban and perhaps wisely decided not to tell Harry why Black never said much more than that anymore. This was not the time to properly introduce the hell that passed for a jail in Magical Britain to him. If she had her way, dementors would remain just another dark magical creature for him.

“I think… Oh, Harry, you’ve heard what the Black family was like. They were like Draco Malfoy, but twice as loud about it. When you grow up in that kind of environment, it’s amazing just that Sirius had it in him to question those beliefs.

“When his brother, Regulus, was killed in Quirrelmort’s service, I think it changed him. Their relationship was supposed to be…complicated; they hated each other, but not like Sirius and his parents loathed each other. They was still brothers; the hate was personal. A lot of muggles will tell you that blood is thicker than water, and that belief runs especially deep in the magical world. There’s so many practical, magical reasons for it.

“Family comes first, it’s such a deep-seated belief that Sirius, being raised in the magical world in such a traditional family, surely held it, too. I’m just guessing from what I’ve read, but for a time, I think he thought of the Potters as his family. They took him in when he was disowned. But then his brother died, and…maybe he felt like he had to do something, like he had to avenge him. Caught between two families, forced to betray one forever, I think he just made a bad choice.”

Hermione pushed herself off of Harry, retaining hold of him by his shoulders. Unsurprisingly, she found him with a few tears trailing down his cheeks. She rubbed them away with her thumb and palm.

“But you know what I think?”

Harry shook his head.

“Family is obligated to care. It hurts when they don’t, or when they’re not around, but it’s nothing special when they do.” Hermione flashed the best smile she could manage right now. “I know I don’t have much right to say this, but friends – true friends, mind, not just people you hang out with. I’ve always thought they were what’s special. They choose to care. They choose to be there for you through the good and the bad.”

“Hermione…” Harry said weakly.

Hermione shook her head. This was something she’d been wanting to say for the longest time now. Better it be said now and when he was young and impressionable. It was past time Harry stopped pinning after things that were forever gone and looked to the future before he did something crazy.

Really, that was why last year in the potions puzzle room Hermione had finally stamped out her childish fancy for him. Neither Harry nor anyone he ended up with would ever be truly happy if half of him was always stuck in the past.

Merlin, but I’m glad I never finished that ‘books and cleverness’ line. Things would have gotten so awkward.

Hermione shook her head again, getting her thoughts back on track. With any luck, she could start shifting Harry’s focus completely onto the here and now.

“Harry, I don’t think I can understand the feelings you have to deal with, not as well as I would like. If it helps, feel free to consider me, and Ron, and the Weasleys, and even the Tonkses as your family. I won’t ask of you otherwise. But for me, I’m always going to think of you as my friend, because the people I choose to be with and who choose to be with me, who are with me, they’re what’s important to me. Just…think about that, maybe?”

His voice was still hoarse, but Harry said, “I will. And…thank you. I think. For talking about that. I’m sorry if I ever made you feel like…”

As Harry fumbled around for the right words, Hermione suggested, “Like I was more invested in us than you were?”

“Yeah. That.”

Hermione sent a genuine smile back Harry’s way. “Don’t worry. I’ve always known that our ideas of family and friends are flipped around. We just have different words for the same thing.” She then waited until he at least appeared to stop feeling guilty, before asking, “If it doesn’t bother you that I ask, how long have you been thinking about…” Not finding a succinct and innocuous way to phrase it, she merely gestured to the still open books nearby.

“A few days,” Harry replied quietly. He cringed as he added, “I started reading at the end.”

Knowing exactly what that cringe was about, Hermione rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to scold you for starting at the end of a history textbook. Or any textbook, but especially not history. Do you want me to go grab you a physics book about the Big Bang? That’s where history starts.”

That managed to get a chuckle out of Harry, much to Hermione’s relief.

“Honestly, Harry,” Hermione continued, running with the joke. “I only have to punish you if you start a novel at the end. You haven’t, have you? You did look guilty earlier. For all I know, these history books are just a cover.”

“No! Please spare me! I’m innocent!” Harry pled in jest.

Hermione levelled a critical eye on him, humming in thought. “No, you are clearly guilty, but I am a merciful soul. I shall grant you clemency in return for your continued servitude tonight.”

“Oh.” Harry’s eyes widened at the reminder. “I completely forgot about – I’m sorry for interrupting. I didn’t ruin another one, did I?”

Speaking a bit scoldingly, Hermione replied, “Harry, there’s very few things and very few times that I would mind being interrupted, and this and now was not one of them. But no, since you ask. I need another five, ten minutes, maybe, to finish the carving.”

“Ah. Good.”

Hermione knew that face. The expression Harry wore as he said those words was the same one he had last year when he thought about the Mirror of Erised, the one he wore when he was thinking about something he knew he should most definitely not.

“You’re still thinking about him, aren’t you?”

Harry looked down at the ground, shame showing on his face. “I’d never even heard of Remus Lupin before. My godfather being wrongly imprisoned isn’t really that strange when lined up with all the other unusual events in my life, is it?”

Rather begrudgingly, Hermione admitted, “No.”

Harry sighed, no doubt at the tone of her voice. “It’s just easier to hope than to hate.”

“Just don’t hope too hard,” Hermione said. She received a small nod in return before she got back to her feet. Turning about, she made it only a few steps away before Harry spoke again.

“Do you know if Azkaban allows visitors?”

Hermione froze. There was more than enough misery in Harry’s life without putting him into contact with dementors, who literally stole your happiness with their mere presence. Then at the very bottom of Azkaban, where the worst offenders were kept with the dementors, awaited Sirius Black. It was almost certain that his and Harry’s meeting would end in heartbreak.

“I…don’t know,” Hermione answered honestly. “Susan would. You could ask her.”

“Hermione, I have to know.” Harry’s voice was resolute. “I have to know why my family is in pieces.”

“Harry” – Hermione crouched down so that her arms rested on her knees and she was at eye level with him – “I want to support you in this, but… Isn’t it painfully obvious that no matter what answer you get, it’s going to hurt? I think this is one of those things you’re going to regret immediately after it’s done.”

“I still have to.”

Hermione’s head drooped as she muttered a curse on her own house’s virtues. “Fine. But you are absolutely not going there without some way to protect yourself from dementors. I’ll ask…” Gilderoy Lockhart, while technically not fired yet, was unavailable and would be unhelpful even if he were. “Well, a lot of defencive spells are charms, so I’ll ask Professor Flitwick if he knows something.”

“Of course,” Harry readily agreed to Hermione’s completely reasonable terms. “No reason to invite more trouble than necessary.”

“Harry, you are trouble incarnate.” With that last retort, Hermione rose back to her full height. As soon as she arrived at her workstation, she transfigured a replacement input wheel and locked it into place. “Fire it up, Harry.”

From the other side of the room, Hermione heard, “Mobiliarbus,” and she set to work. Seven minutes later – she was very pleased with herself for her earlier estimate – the primary work was finished. She flipped a switch on the gearbox, switching from lathe mode to drill mode. From there, it was quick work to create a hollow for the core.

Hermione flipped yet another switch, and the sander went active. Using that, she rounded out the tip of the wand to have a pleasant hemispherical shape, which probably served more than an aesthetic purpose. There were too few data points to really tell one way or another, but there must be a reason all of Ollivander's wands had rounded tips.

Done with that, Hermione picked up a small velvet bag. From inside, she withdrew three unicorn hairs and set about braiding them together. The task was frustrating and involved a number of attempts, but eventually she succeeded and slid the braid inside the wand-to-be. With luck, it made it all the way in without coming unravelled or bunching up. Hermione was reasonably sure that the latter was one of the key problems that caused her wands to explode.

Lastly, Hermione had to create the plug for the hollow. She was one-hundred percent sure she was doing this step wrong. Ollivander had told her something vague about wrestling the core into the wand, not that that made any sense. But still, her method worked – or at least had proven to be workable. And that reminded her that Harry needed a warning about his rowan wand.

“Harry, one thing I forgot to mention. Don’t take your wand to a desert, or the bottom might fall out. Or anywhere else extremely cold or dry.”

Rightfully confused, Harry asked, “Why?”

Hermione first set aside the partially finished wand and then cast a warming charm on herself. Then as she set about creating a small, utterly freezing, dry area around her workstation, Hermione explained, “Everything expands when heated, and wood expands with increasing humidity. The only way I could think of sealing the wand core in without magic was to use a plug that’s bigger than the hole. It’ll come loose under similar conditions. The lacquer coating should help with that, but don’t count on it.”

“Huh. Alright,” was all Harry said in reply.

Back at her workstation, Hermione felt her spare rowan wood had sufficiently cooled and eyeballed the approximate diameter she would need and marked it with a regular muggle Sharpie. If it was too big, she could just shave off more. It only cost time spent in boredom.

At her word, Harry started up the sander again, and soon Hermione had her plug. She also had some minor burns from her fingers touching the sander, but that was a small price to pay and easily fixed.

A few minutes later once the heat from the sanding had dispersed naturally, Hermione positioned herself half in the cold and half out. In her right hand she held the main part of the wand. In her left, she held the tiny plug. Taking a deep breath, she began.

Hermione slapped the plug down onto the table in the warm part of the room with her left hand. With her right hand, she brought down the rest of the wand and was pleased to find that the plug fit with only a little pressure applied. In that position, she held the wand upright with the base flat on the table for several minutes, waiting for the plug to warm enough to wedge.

“Is it done yet?” Harry asked for perhaps the millionth time, hovering over her work.

“Well, it still needs a lacquer coating and a polish, but if you mean can it cast spells…” Hermione lifted the wand a fraction of an inch, finding that the plug came up with it. So satisfied, she said, “Would you?” gesturing with her head at his wand.

That was another reason why having a partner for this was wonderful. It was a lot easier to test safely.

“Protego,” Harry said, his wrist flicking through the trivial wand movement for the simple shield spell. Honestly, there was no reason whatsoever that the spell was fifth year defence material. The earlier years focused on defence from dangerous magical creatures over other wizards and witches, yes, but there was still no excuse.

Now protected, Hermione thrust the new wand up. “Lumos!” The tip lit just as it was supposed to, prompting Hermione to jump up and down shouting, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

“Hermione, I don’t think I could say this enough times a day. You are absolutely brilliant.”

In this, her moment of triumph, Hermione beamed and said, “I am, aren’t I?”

“Beyond doubt.”

Hermione nodded, her ego satisfied for the moment. Of course, she now had to put her new wand through its paces.

“Harry, remember what I said earlier?”

Harry cocked his head to the side. A lot had been said, after all.

Rather than answer directly, Hermione raised her wand and flicked her wrist back and forth with the kind of rapid, precise movements she was determined to drill into Harry if it killed her.

“Rictusempra.”

Harry saw it coming only too late. By the time he moved to dodge, the silver spellbolt had already found its mark. Fortunately for him, he already had his wand in hand and managed to cast a finite before he became any more than mildly uncomfortable.

“Of course you realise,” Harry began, completely serious, “this means war.”

Hermione smirked and cast another spell. Harry ducked for cover just where she thought he would, but he managed to conjure a hasty protego which broke under the impact to save himself. She next aimed between the legs of the desk he hid behind, hoping to hit his feet, but the spell fell short, and Harry was on the move again before there was time to try a second.

Moving with a speed that had to ruin his aim, Harry jumped out from behind a desk, making such a racket that she missed the spell he cast. More surprising was that the wand movements accompanying it were not ones she was familiar with.

Still, the spell flew wildly off course, not even coming close to Hermione. She smirked as she advanced forward, levitating desks and chairs out of her way and turning them upside down so as to be worthless as cover. All along her steady advance, Hermione dodged the occasional wild spell Harry flung her way, slowly backing him into a corner where there would be nowhere left to hide.

“Protego!” Hermione shouted in alarm, only barely catching the tickling charm Harry sent at her from the ground. Stealing tricks from me, eh? In retaliation, she sent her wand out in a wide arc, a volley of bluebell flames flying forward and cutting off Harry’s retreat.

“I remember that spell,” Harry said tauntingly. “I can hold it in my hand, can’t I?”

Hermione frowned but otherwise only answered his question with a rictusempra to the face. He dodged, but it was the thought that counted.

Preparing one last levitation charm to eliminate Harry’s cover and force him into the open, Hermione said, “Wingardi – eek!” She spat out the horrible taste in her mouth, only for more of it to enter. Opening her eyes just made it worse. “What is – sawdust!”

“Learnt the hover charm after Dobby used it on me,” Harry said calmly. “Rictum–”

Hermione’s rowan wand flashed and her tongue danced as she rapidly fired off three spells in order of importance. “Scourgify! Protego! Rictum–”

“–sempra!” Harry and Hermione finished together.

With all her luck at work, Hermione’s wand was actually aimed in the right direction. The silver lights met not far from where she stood, and then her ears stung with the sound of a dozen lightning bolts striking a metre from her head. The noise repeated itself as twin silver arcs of what could themselves pass as lightning bolted forth from their spells back into the tips of their wands.

What is this? No don’t come closer! Go away! And to her surprise, the eye-searingly bright ball of light connecting Hermione’s wand to Harry’s actually moved away from her, if only to get closer to him.

“Hermione! What’s happening!” Harry shouted, just as terrified as her.

The light moved back toward Hermione as she searched her mind for the answer – any answer. She panicked, dropping the half-formed ideas from her mind and focusing all her thoughts on how much she really did not want whatever that was to reach her wand.

“I don’t know!” Hermione managed to find the time to say, accepting the small push toward her wand and who knew what consequences her lack of focus allowed.

The light moved away again as Harry said, “Dodge right on three.”

Hermione nodded and hoped Harry could see her through the–

Oh Merlin, what’s happening! Hermione thought as an ethereal dome formed around them.

“One!” Harry called out, although it almost sounded like a question, no doubt wondering if it was even safe to move anymore. Not that Hermione had a clue. “Two! Three!”

Hermione jumped to the her right, careful to move so that her wand would be pointing away from her and Harry. She felt her wand resist the movement, but she yanked it away. Across the room, Harry mirrored her actions to his left. The connection – for lack of a better word – between their wands broke, and the ball of burning, silver light sailed past her dangerously close to her shoulder.

And just like that, the world returned to normal – normal and thankfully silent and dim.

Harry looked to Hermione. Hermione, still just as terrified, could only return the look.

“What the bloody hell was that!” Harry asked.

“I – I don’t – I don’t know,” Hermione eventually managed. Even now that her mind was free to think without other demands on its resources, it still came up empty. “I…” The only thing Hermione could think of to say was, “No duelling over the summer, Harry.”

“No duelling! Are you sure we should doing anything with these things?”

“No,” Hermione admitted. “But that…thing can’t be my fault! Wand failures don’t look like that. That’s beyond failure! Beyond critical failure! I – I don’t even know what to call that.”

Hesitantly, Harry said, “Do we ask Ollivander?”

“No!” Hermione said immediately and emphatically. “How would we explain it?”

“Urgh, you’re right. The library, then?”

Hermione’s thoughts tripped over themselves for a moment at Harry suggesting research all on his own. It was a good sign, she decided.

“I guess. But I’ve never even heard… I don’t know where we’d start. There’s barely any information in the library about wandlore, not even in the restricted section.”

“So we’re out of options.”

“No. No, we’ll still look, but I doubt we’ll find anything anytime soon.”

Harry and Hermione fell silent again. For her own part, Hermione was just glad that she was still alive and undamaged. At least so far as I can tell…

“Well,” Harry began, still somewhat in shock judging by the lack of a joking tone, “I guess that’s an important safety tip you forgot to mention, like not taking our wands into the arctic or a desert.”

Her mind rebooting, Hermione picked up on the obvious joke. “Yes, don’t cross the streams. It could be bad.”

Harry looked at her confused.

“You haven’t seen Ghostbusters, have you?”

“Hermione, I’ve seen parts of a few cartoons and clips of things on the telly. That’s it.”

“Fair.” After a second to think about it, Hermione added, “I have another summer project for us.”


“Yes, Ms. Pince, I know Professor Lockhart is at St. Mungo’s. He’s still a Hogwarts professor, though. This is the same pass that I showed you first term.”

Ms. Pince looked very much like she wanted to object but, just as before, was bound by the rules and allowed Hermione access to the restricted section. Granted, Harry had proven last year that anyone could sneak in after hours easily enough, but this was easier still.

“Thank you, Ms. Pince,” Hermione said before finding her way into the restricted section. Once there she made a beeline to where she knew her first target would be.

“Moste… Potente… Potions…” She dragged the words out just as she dragged a finger along the spines of the nearby books until it landed on her goal. “Aha!”

Hermione set her bookbag down next to her and pulled down Moste Potente Potions. Taking a seat at the table placed up against the shelves, she opened the book to the index. Her eyes immediately jumped to the end of the alphabet, moving upward until they reached the v’s.

Vo – vi – ve – ver – veritaserum. Page one-thousand-ninety-two. Hermione’s well-practised hands flipped to twenty pages before the page she wanted. Then with one more flip, she began reading.

Where’s the list of ingredients… Ah, there it is. Ground birch bark, easy enough. Diced… Diced sphinx tongue! Sphinxes are sentient!

Hermione briefly considered dropping the project here and now, but there was the rather reasonable alternative of buying the tongue of a sphinx that had died of natural causes.

Actually, now that I think about it instead of…well, flipping out, the tongues are pretty big. Maybe there’s not more demand than is naturally provided. Humans are known to leave their bodies to science when they die. Maybe this is the same thing.

Hermione shook her head, resolving to ask whoever she bought her ingredients from when it actually mattered. Looking over the rest, the remaining ingredients were not at all monstrous in nature, and excepting the eye of a satori – whatever that was – they were easy enough to find.

The brewing time is a bit of an issue, though. Harry isn't exactly known for his patience. It needs to boil for a full lunar cycle and has to start under a new moon. That would be…the twentieth, so the earliest I could let him go to Azkaban is July nineteenth.

Hermione let out a sigh. She would have a word with Susan to see if her aunt could work some bureaucratic red tape magic in the DMLE. Or better yet, maybe she could just keep Harry busy with the patronus charm for a while. Professor Flitwick had mentioned that it was difficult to learn.

I wonder if Harry would just wait for the veritaserum if I asked him to. He’s still the same headstrong, impulsive boy he’s always been, but he is listening to me right now. Maybe…

At any rate, Hermione pulled out quill and parchment and made a copy of the instructions. If she were to guess, veritaserum was probably fifth or sixth year level potions material, but that was no obstacle.

If I can brew polyjuice in a bathroom, I can brew this, too. Though the DMLE probably regulates it. I bet polyjuice is illegal, too, now that I think about it. Hmm… I should probably spend more time around Susan. I need a good influence in my life.

Anyway, I’ll need to be careful who I get the ingredients from. Professor Snape cast more wards on his storeroom after I snuck in first term, so I can’t get them from the school. Besides, this isn’t school related this time, so it wouldn’t be right.

Hermione felt a sinking sensation as she came to realise there was only one way she knew of to get the rarer ingredients she needed without attracting unwanted attention. Leaning back in her chair, Hermione let her head roll back to stare at the ceiling.

“I'm going to have to ask Daphne for a favour, won't I? Wonderful.”

There were worse fates than owing Daphne Greengrass a favour. She would ask for something she actually believed was of equal value in return. It could be Draco Malfoy instead. That would be awful.

Shaking her head at the thought – really, how on Earth would she ever get into Malfoy's debt? – Hermione closed Moste Potente Potions. She tucked away the recipe for veritaserum in her bookbag and then put away the text.

With the easy part of her visit over with, Hermione now had to figure out exactly where Ms. Pince kept the books covering legilimency. In the unrestricted section, occlumency texts were numerous and plentiful, all of which were located in the defence section with the other mostly obscure ‘miscellaneous’ spells. That seemed as good a place to start in the restricted section as any.

While she searched, Hermione kept in mind to pull down any books on wandlore she missed the last time she’d been here, but she was not optimistic that any such books existed.

Hermione wandered through the restricted section, her eyes running over hundreds of titles until she found books that matched her primary query. Her gaze passed over such wondrous – if somewhat questionable – texts as Slaying Dragons, Book of Spells, and, of course, Magick Moste Evile, because obviously such a book should be available to schoolchildren.

Magical Britain at its finest, Hermione thought, shaking her head in disapproval. Even so, a part of her thought it’d be a good idea to read it to know exactly what she and Harry were going to come up against in the future. She had, after all, given a lecture almost exactly to that effect to Harry not too long ago.

For the moment, at least, Magick Moste Age-Inappropriate went untouched. Hermione was already short on time; adding a reading project now would be impossible.

“Ah!” Hermione’s eyes fell on a tiny slip of a book with a spine so thin she could barely read, Secrets of the Mind.

Well, Hermione thought, if that’s not a book on legilimency, I don’t know what would be. It’s awfully thin, though. Maybe only thirty pages… She pulled the book down. If it covered legilimency and only legilimency, it might be big enough to be what she was looking for.

Opening to the first page – there was no table of contents – Hermione began reading. Then she paused, blinking, and started over again, translating as best as she could. Middle English was disgusting.

Those of you with the undisciplined mind should immediately return this tome to wheresoever you found it. Hermione frowned at the oddly confrontational passage but kept reading. Those of you who have not first passed the lesser trial of occlumency should immediately return this tome to wheresoever you found it, for legilimency is a… Unable to translate the next few words, Hermione substituted in ‘double-edged sword’ from the context. Entering another’s mind opens your own to retaliation, for the accomplished occlumens will twist your own probe onto itself.

Hermione snapped Secrets of the Mind shut. It was probably not that pleasant of a read, but it was already obvious that its focus was exactly and exclusively what she was looking for. Admittedly, the fact that the book was short was also appealing, since she intended to copy the whole thing by hand.

Five or so minutes per page and thirty pages comes out to be two to three hours. Two to three hours of hand cramps, sure, but that’s not so bad. I was willing to subject myself to much longer.

Hermione cleared off a nearby desk of stray, unshelved books, pulled out quill, ink, and a large stack of parchment, and then set to work.


“Check.”

Harry looked up from the frustratingly vague occlumency textbook Hermione had given him. The most basic occlumency technique was ‘clearing one’s mind – making it blank and empty’. So far as he could tell, the rest of the chapter was just a bunch of meditation suggestions, none of which he seemed to be particularly good at.

“There goes my queen,” Harry muttered underneath his breath. One of these days he would win a game, but it appeared today was not that day. He moved his queen to block Ron’s bishop. “Your move.”

Ron stopped his frantic scribbling on his potions homework to smirk at the board, quickly taking Harry’s queen and returning to his work.

There’s something to be said for Hermione forcing me to get my homework done early. It’s kind of freeing.

As if summoned at the mere thought of her name, Hermione appeared at the entrance to the Gryffindor Common Room, her usual bulging bookbag at her side. Although she was strangely flexing her right hand, she had an unusually satisfied smile on her face.

“What gotten into you?” Harry asked as Hermione approached.

“Not much,” Hermione replied, collapsing onto the other side of the couch. “Just finished a small project for summer quicker than I thought.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see Ron shaking his head in disapproval, muttering something to himself, probably something to the effect of ‘summer is not for studying’. With the distraction, Harry remembered to make his next move to take Ron’s bishop.

“How’s the reading going?”

Harry shrugged in answer.

“Come to think of it, what are you reading?” Ron asked, looking up from his homework. “That’s not any of our textbooks.”

For the briefest of moments, Harry looked to Hermione for direction. Their summer plans were all wrapped up in her still hilariously criminal actions, and he was perfectly happy to leave it to her to decide who knew what. They exchanged a silent signal, and Harry had his answer.

“Hermione gave me a book on occlumency.”

“Why?” Ron asked with a strangely confused expression, not the usual one he got when Hermione mentioned something she’d studied for fun. “Practically no one is a legilimens.”

In some part of his mind, Harry thought he owed Hermione an apology for the last two years. Only now after she’d explicitly pointed it out to him did he actually notice it. People raised in the magical world knew a lot just from having grown up in the culture, and practically everyone assumed he knew it all, too. It was, in a word, eye-opening.

“Because I have a pissed off” – Hermione nudged him, but he let his entirely accurate words stand – “crazy wizard with wounded pride who’s probably a master legilimens after me, and I’d rather not have him in my head when I next run into him if I can help it.”

A shiver ran through Ron. “Right. Have at it, then, Mate. By the way, check.”

Harry bit back the urge to curse, knowing that would just earn him a scolding from Hermione. But neither of them were paying that much attention to the game. How in Merlin’s name did Ron manage to get this good this young?

The two of them played through the brief remaining portion of the game, Harry’s moves becoming increasingly longer and Ron’s shorter as Harry found himself backed into a corner. Then finally, it happened.

“Checkmate.”

Harry groaned and leaned back into his seat. Another loss, and that brought the score up to zero to some absurdly large number plus one.

“Another game?” Ron asked.

“Sure,” Harry replied, and the pieces went about repairing and resetting themselves.

“Harry,” Hermione interrupted. “It’s nearly time to meet Professor Flitwick. Unless you think you can finish that game in five minutes?”

“I could lose that quickly for sure,” Harry said, chuckling. “But fair enough.”

Obviously curious, Ron asked, “Did you get a detention recently?”

“That would be a good guess,” Hermione said, earning a glare from Harry.

“No,” Harry said before Ron could start laughing. “Hermione has this strange obsession with keeping me alive. She won’t let me go to Azkaban without learning how to protect myself from dementors first. Absolutely mad, that.”

Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose, her eyes shut. Meanwhile, Ron broke out of the stupor Harry had put him into.

“Wait, what? Back up. You’re going to – bloody hell, Harry!”

“Language, Ron.”

Ron continued uninterrupted as if Hermione had never said a word. “Why are you going to Azkaban?”

“It’s…”

Talking about this with Hermione was one thing. She always had some insight to offer, as she typically had a terribly different perspective on things. Even on the rare occasion when she had no advice to give, there was always an underlying sense of support present. But with Ron – well, there was just something awkward about emotional conversations with other boys. Harry could barely imagine repeating half the things he’d said in private to Hermione in front of Ron.

Luckily, seeing Harry struggle for the right words, Hermione came to his rescue as always.

“Lady Bones has a lea – well, not a lead, since we all know Lord Malfoy and Quirrelmort were behind it, but she thinks Harry in particular might be able to get her some information relevant to what happened this year that could lead to an arrest.”

“Yeah…” Harry said, recognising that Hermione had not quite lied. Lady Bones almost certainly did think that. “I don’t really know what I can do; the headmaster knows pretty much everything relevant already. But I’ll help however she needs.”

“Can’t believe I’m saying this, but Hermione is right, Harry. Azkaban is… Just make sure you can cast the patronus in front of a dementor before they let you go anywhere alone there. Bloody terrifying things they are.”

“You’re welcome to join us, if you want,” Harry offered.

Ron shook his head and rapped his knuckles against his homework. “I need to get this done. Besides, I don’t plan to get within a hundred leagues of the things ever again. Dad took me to the ministry once, and there was a dementor on the other side of a wall. We only passed by for a few seconds, but man. They give you this right nasty, cold feeling deep inside.”

“It’s not about what you plan for, Ron,” Hermione argued. “It’s about what you’re ready for. It’s not like a dementor will just come up to you, tap you on the shoulder, and ask, ‘Do you know the patronus charm? No? Oh, well, I’ll just come back later, then.’ The whole point of defence class is to learn to be prepared for those kinds of surprise situations.”

Harry was well-versed in the Granger–Weasley relationship dynamic. Having seen enough of Ron’s and Hermione’s rows to tell when one was about to start, put himself between the two and said, “Maybe next time, then, Ron. Hermione, we should get going before we’re late.”

Hermione held her mouth open for a few seconds as if to keep arguing. She was right, even if she’d needed to clobber Harry with facts and his own failings to get him to accept it. But she let the matter drop there. She picked herself up and pulled her bookbag onto her shoulder in one neat motion. “Sure.”

“Later,” Harry said to Ron, getting a farewell in return. With Hermione in tow, he exited Gryffindor Tower through the Fat Lady’s portrait.

“You do know I haven’t actually talked to Susan yet, right?”

Hermione replied without missing a beat. “I know. I’m still glad you haven't, but you should really get on that. There’s barely a week left before term’s end.”

“Yes, yes. I’ll get on it. Which reminds me, I saw that girl she hangs out with… Er, Hannah something…”

“Hannah Abbott?”

“Yeah, that’s it. I saw her stand on the third floor’s disappearing-step today after lunch.”

Hermione hummed, sounding perhaps a bit irritated. “I’ll add her to the list, but I don’t know much about her.”

“I think she organises the second-year Hufflepuff study group, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her or Susan without the other. Pretty sure she’s not a pureblood or from a noble family. Oh, and she was nice enough to me for a while after the whole parselmouth thing until MacMillan got to her.”

“I hardly think that matters. Susan and Ron never doubted you, after all, and they jump the steps. But I’ll make a note of it anyway, I guess. With Abbott, that brings us up to six confirmed subjects: her, me, first year Luna Lovegood, Emily Johnson–”

“Who?”

“The seventh year Hufflepuff prefect. She caught us out after curfew last year.”

“Oh, right. Her.”

Hermione chuckled a bit to herself. “Don’t be mad, Harry. She was just doing her job, and she was nice enough about it.” Harry refused to dignify that with a reply, so Hermione continued, “Then after her, there’s Anthony Goldstein and…”

“Snape,” Harry grumbled.

“Professor Snape, but yes, although admittedly with the way his robes flow around him, he could just have a spell on his shoes. We'd never know the difference.”

“Maybe. Do you think it’s just students with good grades? I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d had them.”

Hermione shook her head. “No, I saw Daphne trip, and Padma jumps the stairs, too. Besides, how would the stair know?”

Harry thought about that for a moment, but only for a moment, as a ridiculous idea popped into his head.

“I bet–” Harry said at the same time Hermione said, “What if–” They turned to each other, and Harry gave her a nod.

“Okay, what if – and this is just an idea, mind – but what if it’s just something Headmaster Dumbledore does for…fun or something?”

“That’s exactly what I was going to say. It wouldn’t surprise me at all after that nitwit-bluster speech of his first year.”

“It was nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak.”

It really was a marvel how Hermione could remember the obscurest of things. Wish I had a memory like that.

“They make a certain sort of sense,” Hermione continued, “if you think of them as not Ravenclaw, not Gryffindor, not Slytherin, and not Hufflepuff, although the last one is a bit of a stretch.”

As Harry took Hermione’s words in, the only thought he came up with in response was, Huh.

“But…I agree.” As they approached the door to the charms classroom, Hermione quietly added, “That kind of takes all the fun and mystery out of it, though. I’d hate it if that actually turned out to be the answer.”

“Do you really think he would, though? A lot of students get hurt on them.”

Hermione knocked on the charms door. “No, probably not. Except for that, though, it does seem entirely in character for him to create a Hogwarts myth for fun.”

The door swung open, and an excited voice called out, “Come in! Come in!”

Harry and Hermione did just that. Entering the classroom, they soon found Professor Flitwick sitting on the edge of his desk in the centre of the room and visibly filled with his usual energy and enthusiasm. His wand was already in his hand, and a good deal of the classroom had been rearranged to create more space.

“Good evening, Miss Granger, Mr. Potter. How has the weekend been treating you?”

“Very well, Professor. Thank you for asking,” Hermione replied with the ease of someone in well-known company.

In contrast, Harry simply said, “Alright.”

“Good. Good. Now Miss Granger here tells me you two want to learn the patronus charm. Is this correct?”

Harry nodded, seeing as that question was mostly directed at him.

“Excellent! Miss Granger I expected to be pursuing such advanced material, but I’m very worried to see you here, too, Mr. Potter. I already have one of my ravens lost to McGonagall; it would break my heart to find I’ve lost another.”

“Er…”

Hermione nudged Harry, whispering, “It’s a compliment. Just take it.”

“Right…” Harry mumbled to himself. “I don’t think I’ll be breaking anyone’s heart tonight, Professor, but thank you.”

“Such a shame. Ah, well, that’s life, I suppose. Now then, the patronus charm is for chasing off one of the darkest of all creatures, the dementor. That, of course, I’m sure you already know, or why else would you have asked for it? I do trust that you realise a patronus cannot kill a dementor, yes?”

Harry nodded while Hermione said, “Yes.”

“Good. Dementors naturally diminish, although we do not know if they die or simply go elsewhere. I personally rather hope it’s the former. Similarly, they are known to occasionally increase in number, but most people prefer not to think about how that could possibly happen.”

Professor Flitwick chuckled at his own joke, and Hermione tried to play along, but her heart was clearly not in it. Sometime before I go to Azkaban, Harry thought, I should look up what dementors actually look like. But for now, I think I will do perfectly well without whatever mental imagery Professor Flitwick just inflicted on Hermione.

“Now the wand work for the patronus charm is a little complicated, certainly not something we ordinarily give to thirteen year olds.” Professor Flitwick paused, considering something. “No, I believe I must amend that statement. More and more these days, I see muggleborn and muggle-raised students coming in with exceptional hand-eye coordination.”

Harry and Hermione looked to each other, both somehow knowing they were thinking of the same explanation. “Videogames,” they chorused.

“Video what now?”

Harry left the explanation up to Hermione, who may have actually had a chance to play one.

“They’re… Imagine wizard’s chess, but played in real time in a portrait, and the pieces are controlled by a device you operate with your hands. Videogames have been around for nearly two decades now, but they’ve really only become widespread in the last five years or so.”

“Hmm… That does sound about right, although I admit muggleborn and muggle-raised in general have always seemed to do well with wandwork. And here I thought the muggle world simply became more interested in teaching their children to play music. Ah, well, five points to Gryffindor, you two, for giving me the solution to an interesting puzzle.”

Hermione beamed the way she only did when being praised.

“Getting back on track, then, the wand movement for the patronus charm is an inward spiral, making no more than a single wind. It’s very important that you perform the movement exactly in that fashion. If you underwind, your patronus won't form. If you overwind, it will collapse into itself. If you create a circle, you will at best get a shield able to keep a dementor at bay, but one which will not drive them away. Worst of all, if you create an outward spiral, your patronus will explode outward and attract dementors toward the sudden emotional spike. Might I see you two try it now? Miss Granger first.”

Naturally, Hermione did well. What else could anyone expect? On her first try, Professor Flitwick made a minor suggestion to tighten her spiral to a smaller diameter, but her second he declared as perfect as perfect could be.

“Now you, Mr. Potter.”

Harry held out his wand, forcibly loosening his grip. Hermione was always a hard act to follow.

“Not quite. Take it slower for the moment.”

“Better, but your spiral was too oblong. You might actually want to strengthen your grip for this spell to remove any niggling wiggles.”

“Let’s pull your arm completely straight. That should help you keep it level. Yes, good. Much better.”

After more than a dozen tries, Professor Flitwick finally pronounced Harry’s wandwork up to snuff.

“Excellent. Excellent. You’ll both want to practice the movements extensively. This is not a spell you want to make an error on or to let lapse from your memory. Now the words are simple. Repeat after me. Expecto Patronum.”

Harry and Hermione both did, easily passing inspection.

“Perfect. Now comes the difficult part. The patronus charm takes a fair amount of magic, true. As upcoming third years, you’ll likely not want to cast this spell more than a few times per day. Not that I hope you ever need to cast it at all!

“But no, it’s not the magic requirements that make this spell so difficult. It’s the prerequisite feelings. You see, the patronus is a spell of passion. Like the killing curse requires darker emotions, to cast the patronus, your need to put all of your happiness into the spell.

“For most people, it helps to have a particular happy memory in mind. It can be something that puts butterflies into your stomach, or it could be a loving moment with your family. Whatever you choose, it must be unyielding! It must be something with which to burn away the darkness! Something which says, ‘I love living!’ Understood?”

“Yes, Professor,” Harry said in time with Hermione’s own nod and thoughtful frown.

“Then go ahead and try once you’ve chosen a memory.”

With the phrase ‘I love living’ firmly in his mind, there was one particular memory that leapt to the front of Harry’s thoughts. His first time flying a broom was such a rush. The world of magic was still brand new and mysterious. Flying about with the wind in his face and his feet off the ground with the kind of freedom he’d never had growing up under the Dursleys’ thumb was an experience unlike any other.

Harry held that feeling of giddy freedom in his chest, his eyes closed as he embraced the memory to its fullest. He twirled his wand about in a spiral, shouting, “Expecto Patronum!” But as he spoke the words, it felt wrong, somehow, and he knew the spell would fizzle.

“Hmm… What memory did you use?” Professor Flitwick asked.

Harry opened his eyes. His failure confirmed, the remnants of that earlier light, happy feeling spreading throughout him vanished completely. Glancing at a very interested looking Hermione, Harry said, “I was thinking about how free and wonderful riding a broom for the first time was.”

“Hmm… That could work, but you’d really have to work at it, I suspect. Perhaps I was misleading. It doesn’t have to be a memory that gets your blood racing. It should be a more softly burning happiness, a quiet moment of peace even.”

Hermione let out a small gasp, sudden inspiration no doubt hitting her.

“But you were certainly headed in the right direction. Don’t worry about that!” Turning to Hermione, Professor Flitwick asked, “I take it you have a memory, Miss Granger?”

Hermione nodded, a small smile creeping its way onto her face.

“Well go on, then. Give it a go.”

Not needing to be told twice, Hermione brandished her wand and said, “Expecto patronum.”

Nothing happened.

“Expecto patronum,” Hermione tried again. Her face looked almost heartbroken at her failure.

“Ah, well, don’t take it too personally, Miss Granger. It’s many a Ravenclaw’s and Slytherin’s fate to never cast the patronus. Far too much thinking in our heads; not enough feeling in our chests. I must admit I’ve never managed a fully corporeal patronus myself.”

That clearly failed to comfort Hermione, but she managed to force a small smile back onto her face.

“What memory did you use, if I may ask?”

“It’s…” Hermione’s eyes flicked in Harry’s direction, something both Harry and Professor Flitwick picked up on.

“I’ll just step outside,” Harry said, already in motion. He saw Hermione mouth an apology to him as he made his way to the door.


*click*

With the door shut and privacy charms cast, Professor Flitwick turned to Hermione, whose eyes instantly dropped to her feet. She shuffled about awkwardly as he spoke.

“You certainly don’t have to say anything you’re uncomfortable with, Miss Granger, but my assistance is here if you’ll have it.”

“I… There was…”

Hermione fingers fidgeted with her wand, passing it back and forth from hand to hand. This was not something to be revealed lightly. But Professor Flitwick had been so helpful and friendly ever since she came to Hogwarts. The headmaster and Professor McGonagall were a little distant and – if Hermione were being honest – far too intimidating. Professor Flitwick was the exact opposite: warm, bubbly, and approachable.

Sucking up her Gryffindor courage, Hermione gulped. “I’ve never told anyone this, but I’m pretty sure Professors McGonagall and Snape and Headmaster Dumbledore know. And” – Hermione’s voice descended to a mumble – “You-Know-Who.”

A frigid silence fell over the room, and suddenly the excitable Professor Flitwick vanished for the serious and sharp-eyed duelling champion he was.

“Miss Granger, anyone with a brain knows what happened last year in the third-floor corridor, but if you’ll excuse the derision, perhaps twenty people at Hogwarts are aware, most of them Ravenclaws. It’s not wise to speak of things that are being kept quiet. More than one Ravenclaw has met an unfortunate fate in such a way.”

Hermione shook her head rapidly back and forth. “It’s not that. Do you remember the troll attack in my first year?”

“Ah, I see now. Yes, McGonagall, Snape, and Quirrell were the ones who first arrived at the scene.” A very ashen faced Professor Flitwick paused. “Oh. Oh dear. I never thought – Miss Granger, I must admit I’m surprised. I’d have thought you could outsmart a troll even in your nappies.”

Hermione’s head fell down in shame. She must have replayed that encounter in her head over a hundred times counting all of the things she did wrong and figuring out what she could have done to save herself if she were not such an idiot or such a coward.

“Miss Granger, it’s hardly anything to be ashamed of. Twelve-year-old witches, muggleborn especially, are not supposed to be able to face down a mountain troll alone.”

Hermione kept herself from mentioning that no one had been surprised that a barely eleven-year-old, muggle-raised Harry Potter had taken on the troll and won, plus or minus a little assistance.

With a silent flick of his wand, Hermione found a chair behind her. Professor Flitwick himself choose to sit on a large stack of books to bring himself up to eye level.

“A life debt at your age, and to two younger boys, too.”

No,” Hermione interrupted, unconsciously stomping her foot. “I owe a life debt to Harry. Only Harry. Ron was the reason I was there to begin with, and he only acted because I’d dropped my wand and told him to. I’m reminded of that every waking hour of each and every day.”

“And yet you’re friends with him.” It was not quite a question, more an observation.

“I guess,” Hermione replied, her flaring temper cooling. Ron had at least had the decency to listen and act. “He’s…alright. He’s more Harry’s friend than mine, though. He has his moments, but they don’t make up for the insults and the constant arguing.”

“A wise perspective.” Without warning, a pair of cups and saucers appeared in Professor Flitwick’s hands. “Tea?”

Surprised, but not opposed, Hermione took the cup offered to her.

“Unfortunately, I must tell you the last young lady like you I had the pleasure of teaching eventually wound up with the opposite opinion, although no life debts were involved. I still have somewhat mixed feelings regarding her marriage despite personally having enjoyed the young man’s company. But to be fair, her husband did undergo a great deal of growing up to woo her.”

Hermione set her cup back on the saucer resting on the armrest of her chair, savouring the taste of a rich cream tea with perhaps a hint too much sugar for her tastes.

“Who was she?” Hermione asked. She was hesitant to call this woman a bad example to learn from, but it might be worth looking into her a bit all the same.

Professor Flitwick waited until Hermione was mid sip before replying, “Lily Evans.” He chuckled before asking, “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” Hermione croaked out, fighting to make the tea in her throat go down the right tube. It was tempting fate terribly, but a little more tea would help things along.

“You know, if I had to pick one of the three of them, I’d say her son has grown up most like the other young man who attempted to win her hand. Well, during his childhood years at least. I doubt Mr. Potter will grow up to be as bitter considering the company he keeps.”

“I – I see.” Hermione was almost afraid to ask. “Who…”

“Her best friend Severus Snape.”

Hermione felt herself choking on air.

“Nigh on inseparable those two were. They had a falling out before graduating, and their friendship never recovered to what it once was.”

“But… But…” There were too many competing objections. “Why is Professor Snape so…”

“Abusive to Mr. Potter? Intolerable? We know what the man has grown up to be like, Miss Granger. Unfortunately, Dumbledore’s hands are tied as far as his contract goes; there’s politics at play.” Professor Flitwick said the world ‘politics’ with the kind of disdain that made Hermione think Harry would get along with the man fabulously if he only would come out of his shell.

Oh, Merlin, Hermione thought, just realising a terrible truth. Look at me. I’m gossipping! With a professor no less! “Professor, has anyone ever told you you’re entirely too easy to talk to?”

Professor Flitwick grinned, which was slightly unnerving this close up; his goblin heritage showed in the slight points on his teeth. “Someone on the staff has to be.”

“Heh. Of course.”

“Ah, but I think we’ve kept your own friend waiting long enough.”

Hermione fought hard to keep a blush off her face as she realised that Professor Flitwick had been subtly suggesting that she herself was in the same situation as Lily Potter. Why is it that I have to deny that there’s anything between me and Harry to both the students and the professors?

“Now then, if I might offer some advice to you, I suspect Miss Ginevra Weasley also owes Mr. Potter a life debt. You might want to seek her out to talk.”

Hermione shook her head. “She doesn’t; I all but asked her outright. She didn’t meet the conditions for a life debt. I think Headmaster Dumbledore would have arrived by phoenix fire with the chamber opened if Fawkes hadn’t already gone to save Harry, so Harry didn’t save her from certain death.”

“Ah. Well, I suspect that’s for the best. Miss Weasley is going to have a hard enough time as it is with what happened to her. Having a life debt on top of that poking at her thoughts and emotions would be too much. Now what was that memory you were using, if you don’t mind?”

“I… Recently I had long conversation with Harry. In short, we ended up waking up to a wonderful day, and my life debt hasn’t been bothering me as often ever since. It still flares up from time to time, but when I woke up and realised it was quiet, and that Harry…” Hermione shook her head. Professor Flitwick did not need to know about her fears of burying her best friend. “That morning, I felt so…content, happy. I don’t really know how to phrase it.”

Professor Flitwick nodded along with Hermione’s story. Only after she found herself faltering for words, he said, “I can only imagine how strong those feelings must be, especially with whatever it is you’ve omitted. But I don’t think they’re right for a patronus. They’re too passive, I believe. Relaxed might be a better word. Yes, I think that’s exactly it! Relaxed it is. You’ll want something with a bit more kick to it.”

“Kick?”

“Yes, more something that makes you want to leap to your feet or to act without thinking. Hmm, maybe… You don’t have to answer who, but do you perhaps have a crush?”

Had.” Hermione made sure there would be no room for doubt with her tone of voice. “I’ve had two, one because I was too much of a fool to see what Harry picked up on in an instant.”

“Yes, well, let’s work with the other one, then. I’ve often found that new patronus users tend to do well with memories of lovers. Although they do tend to be a few years older than you. Still, let’s give it a try! Do you think you could dredge up old feelings?”

Could Hermione summon up her old feelings for Harry? Yes, it would be easy enough. What girl would not be at least a little infatuated with a boy who wrestled a troll three times his height and a hundred times his weight right in front of her eyes to literally save her certain doom? Even other boys might swoon at that!

But those feelings were from before she actually knew him, and Hermione suspected the life debt had egged them on. No, best friends would do just fine. Plus she would rather not have those thoughts floating around in her head for Harry to rummage through.

And in the chance that Harry grows up into someone properly fanciable, I’d rather not have the baggage. If we fall in love, we fall in love. I won’t dredge up feelings for someone that never really existed to begin with.

So resolved, Hermione shook her head. “It’s done, and I’d like to keep it that way, Professor.”

“No worries. No worries. We’ll just have to think of something else, then. Meanwhile” – Professor Flitwick waved his wand toward the door – “please come in, Mr. Potter.”

Panicked, Hermione thrust her wand toward the door and locked it. Turning back toward Professor Flitwick, she pled, “Please don’t tell Harry about” – she realised then that the privacy spells were lifted and lowered her voice – “the debt. He blames himself for everything, and he’ll think I’m being forced to be his friend. Please.”

“You have my word, of course, but as you keep Mr. Potter’s company, I should warn you. In the future, swear someone to secrecy before you tell them the secret.”

Hermione flushed, embarrassed. Of course you swore someone to secrecy first. That was such basic Slytherin that everyone knew it.

“Now with your permission…”

Hermione nodded, and soon the door creaked open to reveal a frowning Harry. Hermione was about to apologise for kicking him out again and then locking the door in his face when he said, “Professor? I think I’m doing something wrong.”

“Oh? Have you gotten the charm partially to work for you!”

Harry shrugged and proceeded to demonstrate. “Expecto patronum.” At the words, a dim, silver light erupted from his wand to form a shield in front of him, not entirely unlike a more opaque protego.

Well, there goes that plan. I’ll need to find another way to stall Harry from going to meet Black for a month.

“Marvellous!” Professor Flitwick exclaimed. “Simply extraordinary! Twenty points to Gryffindor. And you said you wouldn’t be breaking my heart tonight.”

Hermione chuckled at Harry’s expense as his face warped through confusion to embarrassment.

“Are you feeling drained at all from the practice? Magically or emotionally?”

“Er… No, I don’t think so,” Harry replied.

“Wonderful! What memory did you use?”

Harry hesitated for a few seconds. “I…didn’t exactly use a memory. Not at first.”

“Nothing to worry about that, Mr. Potter. The memory is a crutch intended to get you in the right mood. Would you be willing to elaborate for Miss Granger?”

“The first thing that worked was thinking about…” – Harry gave Hermione a look that said he fully expected a scolding – “what I saw in the Mirror of Erised.”

Oh, yes. There is definitely a scolding coming Harry’s way. Hermione sent him a glare that she hoped meant they would discuss it later.

Harry cringed, but he continued on. “Once I got the feeling down, I tried other memories. But I can’t get anything more than this mist.”

“An incorporeal shield is more than impressive enough for your first night of practice,” Professor Flitwick said. “As I said before, I’ve never even managed better. It takes a bit more unyielding passion than I think I have in me. For now, why don’t you help Miss Granger and maybe bounce ideas off each other. I suspect you may be more qualified to teach this than I am!” Professor Flitwick’s laughter at that was high-pitched, yet hearty.

Harry fidgeted bashfully, no doubt still unused to positive reinforcement from adults. He eventually managed to say, “Okay,” before turning to Hermione. “I know I’m not supposed to think about it or go looking for it, and you can scold me later, but the mirror really would explain better than I ever could.”

Which was cheating in Hermione’s book. But is anything really cheating with extracurricular activities? My only goal is to learn the charm. I…guess pragmatism is more important when it comes to application. “I’m still scolding you later,” Hermione said to make sure Harry never got the idea that he was off the hook. “But just this once. If that would be okay, Professor?”

“Certainly. There’s no harm from a single viewing of the Mirror of Erised. Wait here, and I’ll be back in a snap.” Professor Flitwick punctuated his words with a snap of his fingers and was out the door before Harry or Hermione could say anything.


Harry kept his eyes firmly fixed on Hermione’s reaction, not letting them so much as stray to the mirror. Such were Hermione’s terms for letting him be present when Professor Flitwick returned to the charms classroom with the Mirror of Erised.

But it was oh so tempting. It was all an illusion, but such a convincing, ensnaring illusion.

Suddenly, without the slightest warning, Hermione stirred from her frozen staring. She casually turned away from the mirror as if she’d seen nothing more than her own reflection.

“Thank you for your time tonight, Professor,” Hermione said, turning to him to bow. Professor Flitwick returned the gesture, which Harry suspected was a goblin cultural thing.

Harry made his own bow and offered his thanks. Mid-bow, Hermione swept past him and out of the classroom. “Hermione?”

The usually organised, ‘all things in their place’ Hermione was already gone, not even bothering to close the door behind her.

“Thank you, Professor,” Harry said again, dashing out after Hermione. Luckily, she was headed along the shortest route to Gryffindor Tower, so he managed to not only catch up to her fast pace but actually found her as well. “Hermione, what did you see?”

“Not now, Harry,” Hermione said. Her gaze appeared focused on something invisible on the floor forever just in front of her.

“Her–”

Not now.”

Stunned silent, Harry followed Hermione back to Gryffindor Tower and finally lost her when she slipped up the stairs to the girls’ bedrooms, unable to follow. With nothing better to do, he retrieved his occlumency book and camped out at the base of the staircase. Hermione had been there for him far more times than he could count. The least he could do was try to return the favour.


Hermione kept a vigilant watch over her own emotions, knowing she was on the edge of a breakdown. The last time this happened, the Sorting Hat had been kind enough to keep her under its influence long enough for her to recover. The mirror had no such mercy, and even for what was reflected for her, it had a terrifying enthralment to the dream it painted.

How can that be my heart’s desire? Hermione asked herself, careful not to sound pleading even in the sanctuary of her own mind. If the Sorting Hat were here on her head, it would tell her it told her so. I know I want more out of life than that. I’m not that boring. There’s so much I want to do, and even more that I have to do. The mirror has to be broken.

In the second year Gryffindor girls’ bathroom, Hermione used her robe to wipe away the condensation on the bathroom mirror from Parvati's shower. She stared at herself, hoping to find some truth hidden in her reflection, but the image would only be complete with Harry watching her off to the side and a vigilant Professor Flitwick in the background of the charms classroom.

That was, after all, what she saw in the Mirror of Erised.


Hermione’s heart’s desire is probably not what you’re thinking. She’s a little too caught up in her own story for something simple.