AN: Thanks to everyone who's stuck with this so far – I'm hoping to keep on updating every Sunday, and it's a real boost to see that you're enjoying it! There'll be more characters coming, has anyone got any particular preferences to see characters here?
Hermione didn't sleep a wink that night. Instead, the first Gryffindors down for breakfast found her clutching a glass bottle like a sports bat, staring at her books as though they were particularly gruesome vermin which she would swat at the first sign of movement. When someone tapped her on her shoulder, she wheeled around with a glazed panic in her eyes and leapt up, realised her legs had gone to sleep and fell awkwardly, her bottle smashing on the fire place hearth. Ron had just come downstairs, suddenly fully awake at the commotion.
"Hermione? Have you been here all night?" He asked walking towards her as a scared second year helped up the slightly deranged looking prefect.
"The books... the books are alive," she said, her voice course from lack of use.
"The books, Ron! The books are alive!" She grabbed him by the shoulders, shaking him slightly. "The Ancient Mariner, he was here! He's alive!"
"Er... what? Who's alive?"
"Dumbledore, I need to see Dumbledore, he'll know, he'll make it OK again." Hermione let go of Ron and rubbed her face, the bags under her eyes as prominent as they had been in third year.
"Maybe you should shower first, maybe some sleep –"
"NO! Dumbledore, I need Dumbledore!"
And with that, she gathered her wand, her books and swept out of the common room, leaving Ron utterly perplexed.
Charging down the corridors, she tried to think logically. A very fictional and very scary person had invaded Hogwarts last night, and he wasn't the first, if Ellie was to be believed. What if You-Know-Who could get in like this? Was it just the Muggle books that could do this? Was it Transfiguration? Had she just gone mental and was all this a very elaborate fantasy? More importantly, who else had figured out that magic makes characters come alive? She saw Dumbledore conversing intensely with a painting and breathed a small sigh of relief.
"Oh Professor, I need to... talk..."
It wasn't Dumbledore. His beard was the wrong colour and Hermione saw the gnarled, wooden staff he was holding. The robes were all wrong too, she'd never seen Dumbledore wear that much grey either.
"My dear girl, are you quite alright?" The man asked, the portrait straining to see her over his pointy hat.
"Reducto!" She screamed, red light erupting from her wand directly at the man. She staggered back as nothing happened to him, covering her mouth as she ran in the opposite direction, away from the wizard who was shouting after her. Eventually, she burst into the Great Hall and sprinted up to the teacher's table, the real Dumbledore reading a newspaper quite serenely. McGonagall looked at Hermione, perturbed.
"Miss Granger, what on Earth is the matter?"
"Pro – professors, sorry, but I – I," She gulped, trying to catch her breath. "Please Professor Dumbledore, I need to speak with you urgently." He folded his newspaper and stood. So too did Umbridge.
"I believe Miss Granger will need a moment alone, Dolores. She appears to have had a trying morning," he said, gesturing for Hermione to follow him.
"I'm sure that anything that has to be said to the Headmaster can also be said to the High Inquisitor," she replied neatly, following him. Only Hermione saw a steely flash across his face but he said nothing as both women silently walked with him to his office. Once inside, he conjured Hermione a winged back arm chair and a violently pink drink. "Here, this will clear your head Miss Granger. Now, what is the problem?" She sipped; her tiredness slipped away from her as her mind was enveloped in a cool, welcome clearness. Taking a breath to gather her thoughts, she told Dumbledore everything that had happened since yesterday morning, being careful to not mention anyone else by name. Dumbledore said nothing, resting his hands under his chin in great concentration. Umbridge was not so quiet though; her constant tutting and eye rolling made Hermione want to shove her out of the window.
"I see," Dumbledore said when Hermione had finished. "What do you make of this though Miss Granger?" Umbridge scoffed.
"Well, sir," she said, benefiting from a clear head and time to gather herself. "It's got to be something to do with the books. I read last night that magical books have personalities and a kind of sentience, like portraits do. But magic can't catch, can it? And why are the characters coming to life? It makes no sense."
"On the contrary Miss Granger, it makes more sense than you realise. I believe that these books, once mundane, are now magic, but without the outlet magical books usually enjoy, they've responded differently. Where some books bite and others point out your personal physical flaws, these Muggle books appear to be projecting their reader's imagination." Umbridge threw up her hands in dramatic frustration.
"You can't really be serious, Headmaster! Granger's obviously just attention seeking, her crowd all are."
"Miss Granger is the most scrupulously honest and intelligent student we have, Professor; I see no reason for her to lie, let alone lie to me. May I see your book, please?" Hermione gave him her poetry book wordlessly. He waved his wand in a complex pattern, a haze of shapes and words appearing over it. He sat back, satisfied.
"As I thought; yes, I'm not going to enjoy the next Governor's meeting. It appears that my transfiguration stunt at the Feast triggered a chain reaction of magic. I was very foolish and I apologise for your sleepless night Miss Granger."
Umbridge was almost beside herself. "Headmaster! I demand an explanation or I will have the Minister for Magic fire you tomorrow! What. Is. Happening?" Dumbledore looked at her, as if he were looking at a petulant child.
"I will show you, Professor, though perhaps not with this book," he said, handing Hermione back her book and summoning another. "Yes, this will do nicely; I must admit I'm rather excited," he said, opening up a battered copy of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He placed his wand carefully on the page and waited. Then, like the previous night, a whisper filled the room, but this one sounded less menacing and more... depressed?
"Pardon me for breathing, which I never do anyway so I don't know why I bother saying it... Oh look, another surprise. I guess this is my lot in life isn't it, always jumping from one dimension to another without so much as a how's-your-father about it". The robot, who had grown out of the pages of the book like a blossoming flower that really didn't fancy it all today, looked around him, saw Umbridge cowering behind a table and Hermione sat open mouthed. Dumbledore smiled brightly. "I presume you're Marvin the Paranoid Android?"
"Yes, but that name makes me very depressed. What's the point in having a massive brain if people only know you for one character trait, which, may I add, is wrong anyway? I'm not paranoid; everything really is out to get me." He looked down to where Umbridge had just fired a spell at him. "See? No peace, not even a five minute rest from things trying to kill me. Do you mind if you send me back now? I'm sure they don't miss me, but I was in the middle of a conversation there", the robot said, gloomily. Hermione reached across and shut the book, Marvin disappearing into nothingness. Umbridge stood, quivering with fear and rage. Hermione was quite surprised by her own lack of fear; in the broad morning light, a harmless book character suddenly seemed much less scary.
"Well... I see... Can we remove the books from the premises, professor?" Umbridge asked, her voice icily cool.
"I should think not. Madame Pince has set powerful spells around the school to prevent library property from being taken away, she seems terrified by the prospect of students reading during the holidays." Hermione smiled weakly at Dumbledore. Umbridge picked up the book, turning it over in her hands.
"Well I think the only course of action is to burn them all then." She said flatly.
"No! You can't!" Hermione clapped her hand over her mouth, the words having already bolted from it. Dumbledore stood, towering over the diminutive woman.
"I can assure you that any such barbarism will be dealt with swiftly and finally, Professor Umbridge. If a single page is found to be damaged, you and only you will be held responsible, and will be to the fullest extent that my authority will allow. Do I make myself clear?" Umbridge seemed to bite her tongue, composing herself once more.
"Perfectly, Headmaster. No if you excuse me, I think I have a decree to draft before my first lesson." She walked out, haughtily, only pausing to drop the book outside the door. Dumbledore shook his head, wearily.
"I would ask you not to tell anyone about this conversation Miss Granger, but I believe that to now be a useless request. If there is nothing else, I think you should get some rest; I'll inform your teachers of your absence this morning, but I expect you to be ready for your afternoon classes." She thanked him and walked slowly back to her bedroom. If that boneheaded woman was going to make it a decree to not conjure characters, Hogwarts would very soon become more interesting than it had ever been before, which in itself would be a feat of high magic indeed.
A/N: Exposition, exposition, who doesn't love exposition? I promise that the Sherlock fun is coming very, very soon.