At 2pm the next Saturday, Hermione was stood in the dungeons waiting outside Snape's office; she knew he wasn't there yet as she had left lunch before him. Knowing she had a few minutes spare, Hermione took the opportunity to read again the letter she had received this morning. It was another from her parents, this time telling her that they were planning on going skiing for the Christmas period and that they desperately wanted her to go with them. Hermione had already decided it was time to reply to their letters but there was no way she was spending the holidays with them. The tricky part was how to tell them that. She didn't really want to hurt them – she was done punishing them for something that happened 16 years ago and wasn't anybody's fault. All the same, she wasn't quite ready to be stuck in the French Alps with them for 2 weeks.
"Still torturing your parents I see." Hermione looked up startled to see the potions master looming over her, having approached without making a sound.
Hermione hastily shoved the letter back into her bag before following him into the classroom and standing in front of his desk.
"Well?" Snape asked once he was sat in his chair.
"I'm not torturing them." Hermione said simply. Then, at Snape's incredulous look she added, "At least that's not my intention."
"Well as long as it's not your intention."
"I'm going to reply…I just haven't worked out what to say yet."
"Possibly the first time you've ever had a difficulty finding something to say." Snape drawled nastily.
"Yeah, well, it's not as easy when you're trying to find a nice way of saying that the idea of spending two weeks stuck with them in some chalet up a mountain sounds like hell on earth." Hermione snapped back.
For a few moments there was silence as the two stared back at each other, then Snape broke the trance as he waved his wand nonchalantly and writing appeared on the blackboard in neat flowing script.
"You will be writing lines for your first detention."
"Yes, Sir." Said Hermione, and tried not to roll her eyes as she started her assignment. The sentence read:
'I will not attempt to kill my classmates.'
Later, having finished her detention and had dinner with the boys, Hermione was working by candlelight in the library; furiously scribbling on parchment as she tried to finish the extra potions essay Snape had given her at the end of her detention. She was secretly grateful to him for the extra work as she now knew that she would have to double her efforts in potions theory if she was going to brew successfully in such a distracted state. Having been studying for a few hours, Hermione found that she needed to clarify the properties of Jobberknoll parts and so got up to peruse the shelves for a potions text which would help her.
Walking amongst the rows of books, Hermione found a peace of mind that she had not possessed in a long time. Amongst these shelves she felt safe. Safe in the certainty that these books, and all the facts inside them, provided her. She strolled down the aisles, reaching out her arm and trailing her fingers across the worn leather spines as she went.
And then she froze.
Unexpectedly, Hermione had come across a section on hereditary potions. In this small corner were a collection of texts on potions that would reveal blood status, family history and…parentage. Staring at the books, a hundred thoughts entered Hermione's head and yet she didn't move a muscle.
Suddenly, a sound from the corridor outside the library made her jump. Forgetting the accursed texts, she noticed the time and realized that she had missed curfew nearly two hours ago without noticing. Quickly ducking into the shadows of some large bookcases lest a teacher find her out of bed, Hermione heard Peeves go by, singing a lewd limerick unnecessarily loudly. He was followed shortly after by a limping Filch who Hermione half heard muttering under his breath. "…blasted…tell Dumbledore…strung up…"
Hermione breathed a sigh of relief as she heard both his mumblings and his footsteps abate. Stepping out of the shadows, Hermione quickly packed up her belongings and left the library quietly; the last thing she needed was to be caught out of bed after curfew. Tip-toeing down the corridors toward Gryffindor Tower, Hermione tried to keep alert for Filch and other members of staff who might be checking the castle for wayward youths. She was particularly concerned that Snape might be prowling the hallways as he was known to do often. His almost nocturnal habits were one of the reasons he was known as the 'bat of the dungeons' amongst the student body, past and present. Needless to say, given the amount of trouble she was already in, Hermione would be lucky to make it out alive if Snape were to come across her now.
As she neared the Gryffindor common room Hermione began to relax slightly and hoped that she had gotten away with her night-time jaunt. This was, perhaps, slightly pre-emptive, as around the corner, strolling towards her, was none other than Albus Dumbledore himself.
Unsure how she could possibly get herself out of this situation, Hermione stood still and waited as the Headmaster sauntered towards her in his purple robes and half-moon spectacles.
"Good evening, Miss Granger… Or should I say good night?" Dumbledore's eyes twinkled and his face creased in a smile.
"Headmaster…I can explain…What it is…" Hermione began but was swiftly interrupted.
"Oh please allow me to have a stab at it." Dumbledore grinned. "I imagine that this evening, after dinner, you left Misters Potter and Weasley and went down to the library to study in peace. Perhaps you wanted to look up a transfiguration theory or finish a potions essay." Dumbledore looked at Hermione knowingly. "I then expect that you were so caught up in your work that you completely forgot the time and missed curfew. Then a few minutes ago you suddenly realized that you should be in bed, packed up your stuff and were just on your way back to your dormitory. – Does that about sum it up?"
"Well…yes, actually. That's kind of it." Hermione replied sheepishly.
"I thought as much." Dumbledore smiled kindly. "Well, as it was innocently done, and as you don't make a habit of this kind of thing, I'm sure we can let you off without any repercussions just this once."
"Thank you, Professor. I promise I won't let it happen again." Hermione graciously replied.
"I do think, however, that I ought to escort you back to your dormitory. After all, some teachers on duty might not be quite so forgiving were they to find you out of bed at this hour."
"I think you're probably right, Professor." Said Hermione, knowing just the particular teacher to whom Dumbledore was referring.
With that, the student and the headmaster turned and walked towards Gryffindor Tower in companionable silence. It wasn't long, however, before Dumbledore broke the quiet.
"Do you have any plans for the Christmas holidays, Miss Granger?" He asked in a deceptively casual tone.
Hermione wasn't fooled. She knew that Albus Dumbledore didn't ask anything without reason and he was most definitely snooping. "Not really, Sir." Came her equally nonchalant response, "I'll just be staying at Hogwarts. I want to start revising for my OWLs in summer. You know me."
Dumbledore looked down his crooked nose at her as they walked, concern etched on his face. "Well that is a shame. You really should take Christmas off, my dear. Christmas is a time to relax and spend time with family."
Here we go, thought Hermione, though she kept quiet.
"I had rather hoped that you might use this season of good will, as it were, to patch things up with your parents…?"
"I was going to write to them tomorrow actually."
"Really?" The headmaster seemed incredulous.
"Yes." Said Hermione. "I need to tell them I'm staying at Hogwarts over the holidays, don't I?"
"Ah. I see. And there's no way you might reconsider and spend Christmas at home with your family?" The old wizard asked hopefully.
"Absolutely no way at all." Came Hermione's matter of fact reply. "Now if you'll excuse me, Professor, we've arrived at Gryffindor common room and I really must be getting to bed."
"Yes I suppose you must. Sleep well, Miss Granger."
"Thank you, Headmaster. Good night." And with that she gave the Fat Lady the password and quickly disappeared behind the portrait, leaving arguably the country's most powerful wizard just a little bit stumped.
The next morning Hermione woke up later than usual; probably due to her late night. She quickly got ready and ran down the stairs leading from the girls' dormitory to the common room, expecting to see Ron and Harry waiting for her there. Unfortunately, Hermione was disappointed. As she descended the stairs she cast her eye over the common room and failed to see the two boys anywhere. For a brief moment annoyance filled her as she couldn't believe that they would go to breakfast without her, especially when they hadn't seen her return from the library the night before. Then she noticed that their head of house, Professor McGonagall, was stood in the common room, who proceeded to catch Hermione's eye and beckon her over.
Hermione walked over to her dutifully. "Professor McGonagall?"
"Miss Granger, could you please accompany me back to my office. There is something of which I must inform you."
Now, that Hermione stood closer to the elder witch, she noticed that the Professor looked rather more harangued than usual. Indeed, her hair was slightly frazzled, her eyes looked tired and her general expression foretold her distress.
Hermione followed McGonagall to her office in awkward silence. She desperately wanted to ask her teacher what was going on but figured that if the elder witch had thought it appropriate to tell her in the common room then she would have. Hermione therefore kept her mouth shut and they soon reached McGongall's office, which wasn't situated far from her house's common room.
"Please do take a seat, Miss Granger." McGonagall said as she sat herself in her own plush green leather chair behind her desk. "Would you like some tea?"
"No, thank you." Hermione declined politely, though the old witch poured out two cups magically anyway and levitated one to sit on the desk in front of Hermione. Hermione just sat anxiously, waiting for her teacher to hurry up and say whatever it was that had her so frazzled.
Finally, the elder witch lifted her weary eyes to Hermione and opened her mouth to speak. "Miss Granger – " She stopped abruptly. She pointed her wand towards the office door and cast a silencing charm and then turned back to her concerned student.
"Hermione," She started again, though she still spoke in hushed tones. "Last night, Mr Weasley – " She paused and clarified, "That is, Mr Arthur Weasley was…" Minerva chose her words carefully, "… injured whilst carrying out work for the Order."
Hermione was instantly worried; the Weasleys were like a second family to her and she cared for all of them deeply. "How badly injured?"
McGonagall seemed to take in a deep breath. "Almost fatally." She answered honestly.
Hermione gasped in horror. "Is he ok?"
"The last I heard he was still in a critical condition, but the Medi-Wizards are doing everything they can and are positive about his recovery."
Hermione was silent for a while as she digested this.
"Professor, when you say Mr Weasley was injured, do you mean that he was attacked?"
For a moment, Minerva merely narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips at the shrewd student in front of her.
"Yes. He was attacked."
"I can't go into that right now."
Hermione left out a huff of frustration.
"There is more I must tell you." The Professor said quietly. "Obviously there is much that I cannot say here. All I can tell you is that, last night, in some way, Harry was aware of what had happened to Mr Weasley. He informed Ronald, then myself, then Dumbledore, which is how we were able to get help to Mr Weasley so quickly."
Hemione could hardly breathe. She was struggling to get her brain around all of this, but she knew that things were very bad. In her panic she felt tears sting her eyes.
"Mr Potter and all of the Weasleys were transported to Headquarters last night by portkey. They are all perfectly safe." Minerva tried to reassure her student.
It didn't work. Hermione's tears spilled over as she gasped, "Harry isn't safe! He isn't even safe at Hogwarts anymore. Not with Umbridge leaning down his back and not when Voldemort can get into his head even when he's supposed to be protected by the strongest magical walls in the country." Hermione buried her head in her hands as she cried silently.
After a few minutes of the Professor's gentle comforting, Hermione raised her head. She had calmed greatly but unstoppable tears still leaked from her reddened eyes. "Professor, may I go now? I have to write to Harry as soon as possible."
Minerva didn't really feel like she should allow Hermione to leave in her current state, but decided it was probably best to let the girl have some time to herself.
"Very well, my dear, you may go, but you must come to me if you feel you need to talk or need anything else."
"Yes, Professor." Hermione responded dutifully before rising from her chair and exiting the office swiftly.
Minerva sighed. They were all too young to have to go through this. Too young.
Hermione kept her head down as she ran through the corridors and as she turned a corner bumped straight into the looming figure of Severus Snape.
Severus sneered at the wild hair in front of him as the girl beneath took an anxious step back.
"I'm sorry Professor," She offered in a weak voice keeping her head down as if the most interesting text was written on her shoe. "I wasn't looking where I was going."
"That much is evident." He drawled unforgivingly. "Tell me, Miss Granger, do you purposely try to spend your days annoying me or does it just come naturally?"
Hermione finally looked up, straight into his onyx eyes, with hurt etched on her features. Now Severus noted her wet cheeks and her red, puffy eyes. He realised that she had been crying and that she had probably just been told about Arthur Weasley, and possibly about Potter's involvement as well.
"Please," Her voice was strangled and her eyes pleaded, "I can't deal with this right now. Please just leave me alone." She didn't take her eyes off of his and he mentally squirmed under her glare.
He felt an unexpected pang of regret in his gut and stepped silently to the side. "Miss Granger, please keep your eyes open as you return to Gryffindor common room." He said coldly. Then, he watched as she fled down the corridor and disappeared around a corner.