He didn't particularly like non-magical people's clothes, at least not what he was wearing. Properly picked out and sized by Malkin or not, they were still too stiff and made an annoying swish-swish-swish! when he walked, though the grooved brown coat sleeves and pants looked nice. The white flowy shirt with a ruff at top seemed a bit much but it wouldn't be for long, at least he hoped.
He checked the sign on the door; it had the name he was looking for on it so he went inside only to find himself in a small room with several comfortable chairs, though only two or three were occupied. There was a woman sitting on the wrong side of a glassless window, and nearby hung a sign saying 'Patients Please Sign In,' so he headed her way. It wasn't until he got closer that he saw another woman in a small office behind the window-lady.
"Good morning," he said to the window-woman gruffly, though it was closer to afternoon.
"Good morning," the teller-like lady replied. "Do you have an appointment, Mr...?"
"–Lichfield," Lester replied, answering the implied question first, "and no, I don't. I'm looking for Dan Granger, the father to a girl named Hermione Granger. The sign outside says a 'Dan Granger' works here."
"There something wrong with Hermione?" the office-woman asked, looking up from her work as both women's professional walls dropped from concern.
"Not that I'm aware of," he said honestly, wondering what he could say to satisfy the muggles without breaking Secrecy. "It has to do with a school-related issue," he explained, hoping it would do the trick.
"I'll see if he's available," the woman in the back said, back to being professional again, before picking something up from her desk and holding it to her ear, leaving nothing for the other woman to do but sit there and smile at him.
"You're welcome to sit in the waiting room," she said after a moment, indicating the chairs before them, "it may take several minutes for him to finish up what he's doing."
"Right," Lichfield said, hoping his lack of non-magical niceties didn't come off as too un-non-magical-peopleish.
He swish-swish-swished his way to the sitting area and quickly had nothing to do but gaze at the large telefission they had there. As strange as the distraction was, far more curious than figuring out how it worked was wondering why non-magical people would spend so much time using it to predict the future when all it seemed to tell you was about the weather.
"Oh! You're the–," came some time later from a frizzy-haired head peering out from around a door. "Come on back," the target of his search said, beckoning him forward.
Lester stood and followed the man to the smaller work areas deeper in the small building.
"Nice corduroys, love the ruff," Dan said with a laughing smile, making him think the outfit might not have been as non-magical as Malkin thought. "When Martha said you came from the school I thought–"
"–You have somewhere we can talk?" he cut in to ask, still very much conscious of all the Secrecy-breaking ears around them.
"Oh, sure, my office is down this way," the Granger man said, pointing one way before walking the other way to talk to the two women. "You can delay my next one, can't you?" he asked the lady in the back.
"You're not going to make Sam and I miss our lunch, are you?" she replied with a critical look.
"No, of course not," Dan said before turning back to him. "This isn't going to take long, is it?" he asked, perhaps remembering the last time they were together and how it ended with him locked in a bank for hours while goblins questioned his daughter and her friends.
"If you pull out the next appointments, I don't see why I couldn't fill in for an hour," the window-lady said as Lichfield pulled out his pocket watch to check the time. It was already past noon so he didn't know how much later lunch could get and still be lunch.
"I hope not," he replied, snapping his watch closed. "I'd be glad to avoid the office for the rest of the day," he said honestly, remembering the turmoil Umbridge was causing there, "but I hope this won't take long."
"Well, we can always run through it quickly and you can just tell them it took us all day," the Granger man said with a grin.
"I like the sound of that," Lichfield nodded.
Secretaries soothed, the muggle man led him down a cramped corridor to an office at the end. Lester couldn't imagine a place more non-magical than this; it wasn't the files, it was all the pictures of teeth and gums on the wall. He was so far out of his element though he thought it might be a bit too non-magical.
"You sure this place is private?" Lester asked as the man took a rocking swivel chair at an old desk.
"I think so," Dan said with a truly confused look on his face, as if he'd never had to consider the question before. "I don't see why anyone would want to spy on a dentist. What's all this about?"
"It's uh – sensitive, for a few reasons," he replied, not really knowing how best to broach the topic.
"It's not about Mr. Grumpypants and all that, is it?" the muggle man asked, referring to his inadvertent insult to all goblin kind in front of Barchoke. "That was a misunderstanding and has nothing to do with Hermione. My mouth can run away on me sometimes if there's a joke to be made."
"Same here, and no, it's nothing to do with that," Lester said with a wave. "I noticed your daughter opened her own account with us though," he added with a grin, choosing to stay with the more comfortable banking topic for as long as he could. "Your way of bypassing the higher exchange rate?"
The man couldn't help but smile in return.
"It seemed like it might work," Dan said with a shrug.
"It's good thinking, and don't worry, I'm not going to mention it to anyone," Lichfield said with a look as he made his turn to other topics. "During all the excitement on the day you stepped in it, I signed myself up as your daughter's litigator, so I could be there when they were questioned."
"The whole Philosophers' Stone thing, right," Mr. Granger said, using another odd name for things. "I have to say, I get a bit of a kick knowing it's real, and my Hermione had anything to do with it," he grinned. "Turning lead into gold is just a silly myth to us – kind of a crazy idea to even think anyone actually thought it possible in the first place."
"Right," Lester agreed, marveling at how different the magical and non-magical worlds were, laughing off as crazy what caused an international incident in their world. "Well, she sent me a letter earlier this week concerning issues arising from her attachment to my other client," he said before the secrecy young people had about such things with their parents came to mind. "You're aware your daughter's dating Harry Potter, are you not?"
"I kind of put it together, yes," the man said, flapping his arms about as if to wave away the topic and failing at it. "No one dresses that nicely or is that excited to go study with a friend from school, even my Hermione," the man said, visibly uncomfortable about the whole thing. "She's got a good head on her shoulders though, so I'm going to pretend nothing's going on until I can't possibly do it any longer."
"I can respect that," Lester replied, "but what she describes is – in her words – 'a gross violation of her privacy and invasion of her personal life,' so I'm afraid I'm going to have to poke at it a bit."
"She does have a way with legal-sounding words, doesn't she?" Dan said happily, flicking a pair of disembodied teeth on his desk just to make them chomp, completely missing the legal issue underlying his daughter's concern.
"Well this 'violation' had to do with a special class Hogwarts offers, usually reserved for older female students," he said, forcing his way through the uncomfortable topic.
"Oh! The Sex-Ed class?" the other man asked curiously, before his brow grin fell almost to his jawline. "Don't tell me she's already taking it," he said seriously.
"Isn't that what you arranged?" Lester asked, knowing he had never done anything of the sort himself and he was the girl's only other suspect.
"I arranged for her to have the option of taking it – you know," Dan flapped about again, "sometime down the road, if she ever got serious with anyone. I never thought she'd take it this year."
"Then why'd you pay for three years of it in advance?"
"I didn't, I only paid for one year," the man protested, before his face took on a curious look. "At least I thought I did. I had to send in normal money through the owl we've got, because it's not like I can go to your bank without Hermione, and I didn't know if the bank would be able to tell if it came from me, so–"
"So you did it at the higher exchange rate just in case?" Lichfield finished for him, starting to see how the muggle's mind worked.
"Yes, but now I think I may have been overthinking things," he said with a look. "Never thought they'd take it as three years payment either – so much for a refund, I guess. I mean, how many people need three years of Sexual Education?"
"Don't know," Lester said, happy to take the brief moment of levity, "I never had it but still managed to figure it out. There's apparently a potion involved though to stop there being any uh – accidents? I suppose you could say – so that's probably where the money goes."
"I guess that makes sense," Dan said, shifting back into a semi-serious tone. "Contraception can get really expensive, if you're buying it yourself, so I can only imagine what magical contraception would be like. You lot could make billions selling stuff like that out in our world, assuming it works on non-magical people."
"And cause a lot of other problems, no doubt," Lichfield replied, brushing off the proposal to get back to the issue at hand. "So it was never your intent to force her into taking it? Because the way she presented it, they didn't really give her a choice."
Mr. Granger looked at him with a smile.
"You've got kids, don't you?" the man asked, unknowingly bringing up a sore subject.
"I was never so lucky," he said gruffly.
"Ah, well, they get particularly weird around this age," the muggle man said, as if neither had ever been that age themselves. "They're secretive, hormone-fueled, prone to extremes, and seem to take any suggestion adults make as the unreasonable demands of a tyrant," he said with a clenched fist. "Now, I never thought they'd offer her the class thingy this year, but it could've been a miscommunication and I just wasn't clear," he waved.
"Even then, what sort of school would force anyone to go through something like this?" he continued. "Have you spoken to Hermione and Hogwarts about it? Are you sure they didn't just 'strongly suggest' it to her?"
"I'd like to think it's just teenagers being teenagers," Lichfield replied. "It'd sure make things easier on me, but I can't deny there may be something to it. Unfortunately, it has some similarities to another case I'm working on."
"The child abandonment thing with the Headmaster?" Mr. Granger asked. "I hadn't thought about that. You don't think this has anything to do with it, do you?"
"I don't know," he said cautiously, trying to think through everyone who'd be involved. "McGonagall's privately come out against what he's done, so I'd like to think they'd know better than to do anything like this, even if he wanted them to. Violating an independent muggleborn's rights and going against parental wishes isn't something to take lightly.
"But, since she is independent, the next step is to discuss the issue with your daughter and see how she wants to handle this," Lester explained. "If I could, I'd bring her to you or you to her, so she could hear it from us ourselves, but you being non-magical and her in school makes it difficult."
"To be honest," the man was quick to say, holding his hands up to ward him off from going any further, "while I like knowing what's going on in my daughter's life, I'd prefer if Hermione didn't know that I know what's going on."
"Why?" the old litigator asked suspiciously.
"Because I am not emotionally ready to handle it," Dan said without missing a beat. "Ten years ago she was barely potty trained and now you're talking about her dating celebrities and taking contraception. Have you seen the books they have out about him?" he asked with a look.
"I have," Lichfield nodded, "and if it makes you feel any better, both kids don't like them and I'm trying to shut the writer down."
"Yes, well, good," the distressed father said rapidly, hardly seeming calmed in the slightest. "The last thing we need is them thinking they have anything to live up to, because dating young is bad enough. I wasn't expecting to have to deal with that for another three-to-four years, but at this rate I'll be a grandfather by then!"
Lichfield was torn between sympathizing and finding the whole thing funny.
"There was supposed to be time when she was just a kid going to a magical boarding school and it's all been sucked away from me," the man said, landing him right in the sympathy zone. "That was not part of the plan."
"Life really doesn't care what our plans are," Lester grunted.
"Yes, well, as long as I know what's going on, I can pretend not to know and she can play the role of the teenager who thinks they're better at hiding things than they actually are, and the relationship we have doesn't have to change unless she comes to me to change it," Mr. Granger said, patting the wild growth on his head that passed for hair. "If she knew that I knew what was going on, there'd be no pretending afterwards and the relationship would have to change. Her knowing I know she's dating celebrities and taking contraception? That's a level of adulthood I wasn't expecting to have to deal with until she was – Oh, I don't know – thirty."
"Yeah, I can see how that could happen," he agreed, seeing the man's sticky situation. "It'll be easier to catch her at Hogwarts tomorrow since there are no classes, so I'll think of some other way of putting it to her before then."
"That'd be much appreciated," Dan Granger said, looking like he'd want to hide in his little back office for the rest of the month.
Despite differing opinions on rights in the wizarding world, the morning hadn't been a bad one. Ron had used his righteous indignation to overcome stage fright and get the reserve Keeper position he wanted and Harry showed once again why he's the youngest Seeker in a century. All of it had been given a good goose-stepping trampling on though when the little Hitler Youth, Draco Malfoy, called her the magical equivalent of a racial slur.
The stupid word 'Mudblood' didn't mean anything to her, but she'd hoped it would have been appalling enough for Professor McGonagall to discipline Draco, or at least let Ron get off with a warning, but no such luck with either case. Belching slugs was the least Malfoy should have received for being so antithetical to a civil society, but now she and Ron both had Detentions for doing the right thing. Having to bite her tongue while Gilderoy Lockhart bragged about himself for hours had to be classified as torture somehow.
Going back outside to see Mr. Lichfield approaching the school was just another fine thing coming back to bite her.
"Now what?" Harry wondered aloud, no doubt thinking the elderly litigator was there for him. Hermione knew better though. After everything she'd put in her letter to him on their first night back, the man had to be here for her, at least in part.
"We might as well go and find out," she said wearily, really wishing they didn't have to but having nowhere to hide.
Harry's elderly bailiff came to a halt when he saw them walking his way and let them come to him. This didn't mean the man didn't have his mind on properly serious matters though…
"And here I thought I'd have to hunt you down," he said with a gruff, weathered smile before gesturing to Harry's scarlet robes. "What's this, Quidditch practice?"
"Tryouts," her boyfriend replied.
"Then why do these two look grumpy," Lichfield grunted, taking in her and Ron. "You not do well?"
"No, that's about Malfoy," Harry replied, understandably misattributing the cause of her mood as his own.
"You can't get us out of Detention, can you?" Ron interjected.
"Why? What did you do?" the man asked curiously.
They told him about what happened with Malfoy and Ron's Detention from McGonagall. Harry sounded like he wished it had been him to curse the boy instead, and Hermione had to admit she liked the thought better too, even if it did play into the archaic 'defending a Lady's honor' rubbish. Lichfield apologized for her having to hear the slur but it wasn't hurt she was feeling, it was a growing irritation the word existed at all.
"Hogwarts deals in rules, not laws," he said finally, "so there's nothing I can do but try to sweet-talk them, and I'm out of practice. Even if I did, McGonagall was uptight as a Prefect and she's not the type to soften with age," he smiled.
The last part struck Hermione as odd. His words and demeanor said he knew their Head of House at a young age, but Lichfield himself looked much older than McGonagall. Had he taught her as a professor or–
"So why were you looking for me?" Harry asked, cutting off her line of thought.
"More for her than you, really," the litigator replied, gesturing to her and making knots form in her stomach.
"Why, what's going on with Hermione?" Ron asked, as Harry looked to her and tried to piece together what he was missing.
"Just outside stuff. Nothing for you to be worried about," the man said evasively, which she greatly appreciated. "Besides that, I'm just here to tie up a loose end before your case gets to Disclosure."
"Disclosure?" Harry asked, properly distracted from other areas again.
"It's the pre-trial phase where evidence is shared with the Defense," Hermione answered for him. "It seems awfully fast," the studious part of her mind made her say. "You've proceeded through Pre-action Protocols, Claim Form and Particulars, and Directions already?" she asked the litigator.
Everyone looked at her as if she'd offered to try the case herself.
"I looked them up when you said there'd be a court case," she said to Harry since he was the easiest to address without getting too defensive.
"You know you're not helping the 'Little Miss Litigator' perception any, right?" Lichfield said with a wink. "I'm not sure how your courts work but the Wizengamot likes to handle the pre-trial phase all at once after a Claim is submitted. It saves them time and gives them a look at the people involved, while making everyone else's lives difficult."
"I won't have to be there, will I?" her boyfriend asked, wishing to avoid the circus-like atmosphere of people gawking at him while he's bored out of his mind at the proceedings.
"Not if you have someone to go there for you," the litigator replied with a crooked smile. "I can keep you informed of everything, if you want, or leave you alone until I need you, if you prefer," he prompted.
"I don't know which would be worse," Harry said in return, making her smile at his subtle self-deprecating humor at the choice of being bored stupid or endlessly anxious.
"Occasional vague generalities it is then, until you say you want more," Lichfield said with a look. "And what were you three about to do before I showed up?"
Ron said "Lunch" over a growling stomach, as her boyfriend answered "Going to Hagrid's."
"I'm sure he'll have something there," the older man said. "I was heading there myself, why don't you two run along and see if he's in?" he said as a pleasant dismissal. "The girl and I will be along shortly."
Harry looked at her curiously, obviously half-wondering if this had anything to do with the potions mishap from the other day and not in the position to ask. She caught his hand and squeezed it, with as much of a smile as she could conjure, leaving her to hope he took it as an 'everything's alright' look rather than an 'I need to talk about this later' look when he walked away. As much as she may want answers herself, she wasn't particularly interested in sharing them at the moment, even with him.
"There's a tree over there by the lake," the old bailiff said once the boys were far enough out of earshot. "Seems a good spot for a bit of privacy."
"I'd prefer to get things over with, if that's alright with you," Hermione caught herself saying in her mother's cold tone.
"We can do that," Lichfield replied gruffly, shooting the school's main doors a look before deciding they must be far enough away not to be overheard. "Would you prefer to go right for the most awkward part of this or go through the nicer parts to get there?"
Now that he mentioned it, she didn't feel comfortable discussing anything about herself, whether it had to deal with him or not. He was really Harry's lawyer, not hers, and they'd only met a couple times, so she really didn't know him well enough to deal with awkward things yet. Moreover, if he had done what she thought he might have done, it was bound to effect her relationship with Harry, and maybe his case, so perhaps getting to know him better might help minimize the damage.
"Nicer works," Hermione replied, a bit less businesslike as she began walking towards the tree he mentioned.
"I appreciate you showing concern for Mipsy," Harry's elderly friend said as he followed along beside her, bringing up the last thing she included in her letter. "After everything she's had to do in the past month, it'd be unfair to expect her to go back to doing so little again.
"I've got nothing against her coming here to do extra work when she has the time," he continued with a smile. "It'll do her well to see others of her kind; in fact she seems to like the idea. I told her you'll be calling her up tonight to help her get settled in."
"I have Detention with Lockhart tonight," she informed him, "so it'll have to be before eight o'clock."
"On a somewhat related note," he said, making his transition. "I'm afraid there's nothing I can do about the gossip being written about you two in Witch Weekly," he said depressively. "Apparently the boy's a 'public interest' and you being with him makes you one too – and that was before you picked a fight on the front page of the Prophet."
"I told Harry it happens to celebrities all the time in our world," Hermione replied, "but I was hoping the magical world might be different. It's much easier to tell people to ignore it than it is to do it yourself."
"Rumors can be bad at Hogwarts, even at the best of times," Lichfield said understandingly as they reached the lakeside tree. "It usually dies down once people get used to whatever it is. The only advice I can give is either not to do anything in public you don't want the world to know or to do what you were going to do anyway, because they're going to talk about it either way."
"So be boring or be bold," she summed up the sagely wisdom.
"I'd go with sneaky or smart, but whichever works for you," he said with a shrug. "On the positive side of things," he added more professionally, "I was able to make a bit of headway on those advertisements you disliked. After a bit of a runaround, Sleekeazy's caved and offered to make a deal."
"What do you mean a deal?" Hermione asked skeptically, wondering why she would ever cooperate with anyone willing to use her image without permission.
"They admit 'other people' may have set up the ad inappropriately," the elderly bailiff explained with a look to say what he thought of that, "but they'd still like to make use of it, with some pretty reasonable terms."
"I am not a model!" she proclaimed, appalled how anyone could take her for one of those shallow and vain sexualized women who made their careers trading on their looks rather than their knowledge, intellect, and determination.
"If you don't want to do it, that's fine," Lichfield said with a shrug as he rooted through a pocket, "but it'll be harder than it's worth to make them stop, and it's not every day people want to pay you for nothing."
The passive-aggressive way he was trying to back her into agreeing did nothing to lessen her suspicion he was the one to back her into taking the Pregnancy Prevention Potion Pomfrey procured. But then again, she also couldn't dismiss the possibility he was only doing it because he didn't want to be the one to do all the extra work if she said 'No,' or that what he said was actually true.
"You can choose to fight it," the old litigator said, "but it may be harder than it's worth. Sorting out who's to blame between Sleekeazy's, the photographer, and the Prophet is going to take a lot of time, and is likely only going to confuse the Wizengamot. It'll also take someone more knowledgeable in this area than I am, which brings money into it, and if you're concerned about rumors, the Prophet's bound to turn on you if they stand to lose money."
Hermione had often heard about callous corporate interests crushing the little guy, but this was the first time she was the one being crushed. In addition, if there was one thing which should serve as the bulwark against such abuses it was the courts, but they were seemingly hamstrung by governmental stupidity. Perhaps she should dedicate her career to establishing an independent professional judiciary before working on ethical and legal reforms.
"Just so you know how much we're talking about though, this was their offer," Lichfield said, passing her a spare bit of parchment.
Hermione didn't know what she was looking at. There was a small column of numbers but she had nothing to judge them against. She assumed there must be some sort of scale as to how much 'spokespeople' were paid but had no idea how much was standard, though the numbers looked low to her.
"Is this in galleons?" she asked, thinking that multiplying everything by five would make it seem more equitable, in a muggle context at least.
"It is. They were happy to go for a very high-end price, seeing who you were, and the boy's connection helped a fair bit," he explained, all-but saying it was because she was 'Harry Potter's girlfriend.' "Apparently the boy's great-grandfather, Fleamont, helped get Sleekeazy's going and they still feel indebted to him, no matter how much money they've both made off it," he explained, making her wonder if there was any part of the wizarding world not connected to Harry in some way.
"The first number there is to pay for their past use of the ad," Lichfield continued, pointing to a number she now didn't think was too low, all things considered, since it was enough to pay for all of Lockhart's books five times over, even at full price. "The second one," he added, pointing to a number twice the size of the first, "is to continue using it, while the third is for something you might not be interested in, judging from the conversation."
Thinking of it in muggle money finally gave her a sense of scale, and it now seemed like a lot of money compared to what she had. She'd started her trip in Diagon Alley with twenty galleons and Harry had given her ten more, though she now had less after buying her supplies. Taking the offer would give her another twenty five times what she had at her highest point – with the third offer giving her almost as much again – giving her the equivalent of over seventy five hundred pounds, just for a couple pictures!
"Out of curiosity," Hermione said, wary of any trap and certainly not because she was in any way tempted, "What was the third offer for?"
"Oh, they wanted to use your likeness, and possibly your name, for a new line of haircare products," he said offhandedly. "They say it's similar to you putting Sleekeazy's in shampoo, but with different strengths. Since it's something you're already known for, they were happy to keep throwing money at you for it.
"I'm not sure what all they had in mind," Lichfield continued, "but I think they were going for seven-or-eight pictures, showing what each strength did to your hair. It's sure to take them a few months to set everything up though, so you have a while to decide. There was also mention of a self-filling bottle of whichever strength you liked best as an additional 'Christmas Present,' for you," he explained.
Hermione didn't know what to think. Her father said she could do her own banking and this being in the wizarding world, it made it her decision. She didn't want to take advantage of anything to do with Harry but it would be good to have her own money, and it seemed to do more with her than it did him.
When she thought on it though, what did it matter if she was 'Harry Potter's girlfriend' or not? They might be paying her more because of it but it didn't change who she was, and if anyone looked at her differently for it it'd be their mistake, especially if they underestimated her. She never asked for this, and she'd still have her mind – which she's shown by exposing Lockhart in the Prophet – she'd just have more money for books to further improve it.
And when it came to being a 'public interest' or 'celebrity,' she supposed it could have its legitimate uses. Any sort of activist for social change had to have a public face and appeal, and this would be a way to put it out there and develop it before having an overt message, which could turn people away. Plus, doing it could also help the public's perception of muggleborns – because they were sure to learn she was one soon, if they hadn't already.
"So, did you want to take their offer, or should I look around for someone better to represent you?" the elderly man asked, getting them back to business.
"Well it – it wouldn't be helping Harry any if I got the Prophet turned against me, would it?" she asked, looking for a way out of the corner she had painted her way into.
"No, I don't suppose it would," Lichfield replied, seeming to get where she was going. "No doubt there'd be some reporter out there who'd say you were doing it for the money, distracting everyone from the boy's case, or trying to use him for your own benefit. I can see how it would poison people against you and make the whole thing even worse," he agreed.
"In that case, I suppose letting them continue really would be the best solution," Hermione said judiciously, only feeling a bit of a hypocrite climbing off that particular high horse.
"I'll take care of it then," the Litigator replied, without a word being said of her cowardly backtracking. "If you don't want to take up the follow-up offer, it'd probably be best to let me know sooner rather than later. That way I can tell them to go on and find someone else."
"I'll – I'll give it some thought," she said finally, wondering if even she could truly talk herself into changing her mindset enough to actually agree to it. 'It can't really be sexualized if they're only concerned about how frizzy my hair is,' she reasoned. 'I suppose pictures of my head wouldn't be too bad.'
Lichfield cleared his throat before continuing.
"I suppose this brings us to the, uh – health-related concern of yours," he said a bit uncomfortably.
"The Pregnancy Prevention Potion, yes," Hermione replied with a scowl, intent on making the manipulative old man wallow in his discomfort for what he did.
He looked at her before continuing.
"My crude 'last of his line' comment at the Leaky Cauldron aside," Lichfield began seriously, peering down at her with a stern look on his stump-like face. "I'm a bailiff, it's not my position to care what you two get up to when no one else is around. For what it's worth, I hope you get on well together – anything else is not my concern.
"Would you getting pregnant pose problems for him becoming independent?" the bailiff asked, now surprisingly okay with throwing the word around and making her wonder if they were far enough away not to be overheard. "It might," he answered himself, "or it might give me another argument to use to get it – that he needs to be independent because he has a family to look after – and that's if you two want me to mention it at all.
"If you don't specifically make it my concern, it's not my concern," he reiterated, "but if you do make it my concern, that's when I'm concerned. If you want me to prevent it, hide it, or even help you get it – come to me and it becomes my job, even if it means trying to get you two wed three years before you're eligible," Lichfield explained in no uncertain terms. "I'll give you advice, but the last thing I'll do is try and dictate your lives. If you want it, and getting it's not illegal, that's good enough for me."
Hermione stood there for a moment as the implications of it washed over her. For all her protests against being treated like a child, she'd never had anyone so bluntly tell her that her life was completely in her own hands before. That was a level of adulthood she was not expecting, and really wasn't emotionally prepared for.
"So you didn't order them to make me take it," she said, swallowing the lump in her throat.
"No," Lichfield said in a somewhat lighter tone, "and if it makes you feel any better, I don't think your father did either."
Her insides seemed to seize as the ground almost fell out from beneath her.
'He asked my dad?!' the panicking child in her cried, before the logical part came over to thump it. 'If he's treating you like you're thirty, of course he's going to ask Dad about it. What did you expect?'
"Don't worry, you're not in trouble," he said gruffly, bringing her back to Earth. "I made it seem like I was a go-between between him and Hogwarts so they could clear up a few things."
Hermione was starting to get a new appreciation for what Harry must've gone through this summer. Being around Lichfield was like living on a rollercoaster. It was not fun.
"So what things did you clear up?" she asked, waiting for the next sudden drop.
"Well, it appears your father did arrange for you to take the class, but maintains it was only supposed to be an option, in case you wanted to go through it in the future," the old bailiff explained. "He also seems to have accidentally overpaid due to the insult at the bank."
"And you believe him?"
"He seemed far too uncomfortable to lie," Lichfield said simply. "He also wasn't all that eager to talk to you about it, which is all forcing the issue would do, I think."
Hermione had to agree. She'd always thought asking about a magical Sexual Education class would be the most her father would do, and everything else seemed to add up. It still didn't explain what happened though.
"Are you sure there wasn't a misunderstanding," the old litigator asked, "either on your part or theirs?"
Her mind seemed to recoil from the idea and entertaining it only made even more things about it seem wrong.
"It can't be," she said definitively. "They specifically said they had been going to give me the option until you wrote to sign me up for it as well, implying you were making the argument that having you as my litigator is tantamount to picking a magical guardian for myself. They even implied I'd have to fight you in court if I wanted to refuse."
The old bailiff had a studious, almost irritated, look as his brow lowered to make him even more wrinkled in the morning sun.
"That's an insidious argument to make," Lichfield said finally. "If they can't abridge your rights by having your parents name a magical guardian, they back you into doing it yourself when you find someone to help you defend yourself. Still," he said consideringly, as if weighing the argument, "underage muggleborns have always had a rather ambiguous position under the law, even with magical guardians, so the question now is how do you want to handle this?"
The question made Hermione feel like she just hit a conversational T-junction she hadn't seen coming. She had certainly been outraged when it happened, but the proper time to 'handle it' seemed to have passed almost five days ago. Indeed, with everything else that happened in the aftermath, she felt like she'd made her peace with it and was just glad she'd come out of it with only (hopefully) minor alterations to her normal physical development.
"What do you mean?" she asked, hoping the T-junction could become a roundabout.
"Hogwarts forced you to undergo a healing procedure you didn't need by lying to you and outlining an expansive and untested definition of what constitutes a magical guardian as a threat against you," Lichfield explained, making the issue seem far larger than it had at the time. "They coerced your compliance when they had no right not to take 'No' for an answer. Taking legal action against them would be the best way to ensure they don't do it to you or to anyone else again."
"But wouldn't it mean everything would become public?" she asked, remembering the second potion she'd taken that night and hadn't told anyone about, already seeing the headlines and gossip about her at the thought of what everyone would make of things.
"It would," he nodded. "It's one of many issues I'd bring up if you wanted to go this way – though that particular one is likely one Hogwarts is counting on for you not to pursue it. The other is the fact there's a lot of people in the Wizengamot who'd love nothing better than to use a case like this to take rights away from underage muggleborns and enshrine the tradition of magical guardians even more firmly into law."
The next thought made her heart skip a beat.
"And couldn't that be used against Harry in his case?" an anxious Hermione asked.
"His case is different on a number of issues," Lichfield replied, squinting one eye in thought. "Your case would likely be decided faster though, but them taking a more heavy-handed stance on magical guardians could give them a taste for it. It might work against him becoming independent, but shouldn't effect anything else since I'm emphasizing his wizarding origin."
She breathed a bit easier with that.
"In truth, I hadn't been thinking about it legally at all," Hermione admitted. "All I was really after when I wrote you was information on why you would do something like this, and perhaps vent my feelings about it."
"In that case I'll take it as a 'No' on the legal front until you tell me otherwise," he said in a professionally offhanded way. "If you're interested in information though, I can tell you the last time I spoke to anyone from Hogwarts was when I notified McGonagall of being your litigator."
It was a very curious thing, the feeling of your perception being turned inside out, but it was strangely clarifying too. The answer had been there from the beginning, only she hadn't seen it for what it was. Lied to, coerced, forced – and all by someone she trusted most.
That's when she got mad.
"OH THE NERVE!"
"What do you think's going on with her?" Ron asked as they tromped their way to Hagrid's hut at the edge of the Forbidden Forest.
"I don't know," he replied, debating with himself whether the answer he gave was true.
Harry knew there had been a lot of things weighing on Hermione's mind since they got to Hogwarts, but didn't see how they'd involve Lichfield. She had asked McGonagall about other house-elves when he'd asked about Dobby coming to work here, so he supposed it could be that. It didn't seem like a big enough thing to keep private though, so he didn't see why they'd want them to leave before discussing it.
Harry supposed all the fighting with Lockhart might have something to do with Lichfield, but he wasn't sure how exactly. Maybe the buffoon had received enough bad fan mail from it he decided to sue Hermione or something. If so, it'd explain why he was overseeing her Detention, and why McGonagall wanted the fighting to stop – but it was more of a mad leap to make than Ginny jumping off her broom at tryouts.
"Well, something definitely got into her," his best mate pressed as his empty stomach made another gurgle.
The bad thing was, Harry knew he was right.
The only secret thing he knew about that Ron didn't was Hermione somewhat-accidentally drinking a bit of a heath potion meant for him. He didn't see how it would involve Lichfield either, not unless it was much worse than what they made it out to be. She wasn't keeping anything serious from him, was she?
"I'll ask her about it," he said worriedly.
Talking about things that were bothering your girlfriend, even when she didn't seem to want to, was the boyfriend-like thing to do, wasn't it? Harry was pretty sure it was, since Ron kept thinking he should know what was going on, but he didn't want to pry and ruin things with her. Still, not helping her feel better when she was out of sorts didn't seem like the boyfriend-like thing to do either, so he supposed he really should try to get her to feel better, rather than leaving her to feel bad on her own.
As the gamekeeper's cabin came into view, Harry thought he caught a hint of something in the air.
"Do you smell that?" he asked.
"Yeah, d'you think he's cooking?" Ron replied, prodding them on even faster.
The pungent smell became stronger the closer they came, but as strong as it got, it didn't seem to come from the cabin. Curious, they went around Hagrid's hut to see if they could find out what it was. Halfway around, they heard the front door open and someone come striding out.
"It's a simple matter if you know what you're doing!" Lockhart said loudly, making Harry dart out of sight and drag Ron with him. "If you need help, you know where I am! I'll let you have a copy of my book – I'm surprised you haven't already got one – I'll sign one tonight and send it over.
"Well good-bye!" the overly-cheerful man hastily said before the door closed on him and they peeked out to see Lockhart make a face before striding away towards the castle, the palest of mauve robes flowing along behind him.
He shared a look with Ron at the near-miss and thought it perhaps lucky Hermione wasn't there to see him. If anything was going on with her he didn't know about, she might need all the hours until their Detention to cool off before facing him again. He was about to move back to the front door when they heard an odd squelching sound coming from the small vegetable patch behind Hagrid's house.
Looking over the small stone fence, they found the source of the strange sounds and smells. The vegetable patch was filled with a dozen of the largest pumpkins Harry had ever seen, each the size of a large boulder. Many of the pumpkins had split open, spilling their contents on the ground, and everything was being swarmed by bright red slugs as long as his arm.
"Urgh, gross!" Ron said loudly, before turning to him with a grin. "Too bad I couldn't put those in Malfoy's stomach."
The back door banged open and Hagrid appeared at once, looking very grumpy.
"Yeh get away from there!" he thundered. "Tha's dange–"
The large man's expression fell when he saw who they were.
"Oh," Hagrid said, looking at him guiltily. "Bin wonderin' when you'd come ter see me."
"What's all this, Hagrid?" Ron asked, nodding to the carnage-filled garden.
"Flesh-eatin' slugs," the man said dispiritedly, prompting Ron to move away from the wall. "They've bin ruinin' all the school's cabbages. Haven't bin lookin' after 'em like I aught ter."
"And what did Lockhart want with you?" Harry asked, trying to figure out Hagrid's strange behavior.
"Givin' me advice on getting' rid o' them, of course," the giant man said, a bit of annoyance entering his voice for the first time. "–Like I don't know, and bangin' on about some banshee he banished. If one word of it was true, I'll eat those slugs."
It was most unlike Hagrid to criticize a Hogwarts teacher, but Harry had to smile. It might do Hermione good to know she wasn't alone in what she thought of him – whenever she got here, that is.
"Malfoy didn't like his slugs too much," Ron snickered, ridding him of his smile as an unexpected wave of jealousy wormed through him at not being the one to stand up for his girlfriend.
"Whassat?" Hagrid asked, acting more like his normal self before a round of crunching, squelchy sounds from the vegetable patch changed his mind and he beckoned them inside. "Come in, come in."
Crossing the threshold into the one-roomed cabin, Harry heard the skittering of paws on the floor as Fang, Hagrid's big boarhound came running over to see them in the cramped entryway.
"Go on, Fang," Hagrid waved at him. "Move, go on."
Fang was still intent upon sniffing every bit of him he could reach, but they did make it inside. The cabin had an enormous bed in one corner and a fire crackling merrily in another, but they made their way to the table and chairs, prompting Hagrid to move a half-plucked rooster so they could sit.
"You were sayin'?" their large friend asked, placing down a plate of treacle fudge in front of them, which Ron readily dug into as Hagrid looked around, almost like he had misplaced something.
The treacle fudge seemed to have glued Ron's jaw shut, so it fell to him to explain what happened with Malfoy as Hagrid bustled around making tea. Hagrid was outraged at what Draco said, and while Harry might not have been the one to curse him for it, it did give him a sense of satisfaction telling him what Ron had done.
"Well, I don' blame yeh fer cursin' him, Ron," Hagrid said approvingly, setting down the teapot as Ron tried to pry his teeth apart, "but it might've bin better if yeh missed. 'Spect Lucius Malfoy teh come marchin' up ter the school when he hears yeh cursed his son."
"He'll find me in Detention with Filch then," Ron replied, his teeth finally free of each other. "He and Draco can have a laugh at my muggle cleaning."
"I don't think he'll be coming," Harry said shrewdly, as he felt Fang slobber on his leg. He scratched behind the dog's ears as he told them what he'd noticed about Malfoy's old goons, Crabbe and Goyle not being around, Pansy not being able to stand him anymore, how Snape got onto him in class, and even what Pansy said about Draco's father refusing to buy his way onto their Quidditch team.
"Serves him right, I suppose," Hagrid said before looking at them both. "An' where'd yeh leave Hermione? Didn't run off on account of Malfoy, did she? 'Cause there's not a spell bin invented our Hermione can't do," he said supportively.
Ron was busy trying to swallow a mouthful of tea and fudge at the same time, without chewing anything, so it fell to him to explain again.
"No, she's talking with my litigator about something," he said, feeling rather uncomfortable bringing him up with someone new.
"Yer–?" Hagrid started, before his face fell again. "Oh, right."
Their large friend stood and went back to his rooster, absentmindedly pulling out handfuls of feathers to fall on the floor. Harry shared a look with Ron, who seemed to be taking it as strange too, though was still more interested in the treacle fudge now he'd discovered the trick to it. He supposed this left it up to him again to figure out what's wrong, but he didn't have a clue why Hagrid would be acting this way.
Harry noticed Hagrid's flowery pink umbrella leaning against the back wall of the cabin. He'd had reason to believe before that this umbrella wasn't all it looked to be. He knew Hagrid wasn't supposed to do magic but had the strong suspicion Hagrid's old school wand was concealed inside it.
The only other time Hagrid was ever like this was when he'd tried to find out more about when he'd been expelled from Hogwarts in his third year. If they went anywhere near that he'd clear his throat loudly and become mysteriously deaf until the subject was changed again. Hagrid hadn't been doing magic he regretted, has he?
Instantly the thought of twelve boulder-sized pumpkins flashed through his mind, but that hardly seemed like something Hagrid would worry about. Harry remembered McGonagall's head saying something about Hagrid when she'd been in the fire several weeks ago, but so much had been turned upside down since then it was hard to keep anything straight, even when he remembered it. Instead, he went for something simple.
"Hagrid, why weren't you at the station when we arrived?" Harry asked, cutting through the silence. "You missed the Sorting too."
The man's trashcan lid-sized hands stopped what they were doing.
"I didn't think yeh'd want ter see me," he said sadly. "Not after what I'd done. I'm–"
A knock on the door stopped Hagrid saying anything more as he went to see who it was. Harry hoped it was Hermione rather than Lockhart again, he could use the extra help. The door opened to show Lichfield standing there very much alone.
"Hello, Rubeus," his litigator said, looking up at the giant of a man.
"Do I know you?"
"I don't see why you would," Lichfield replied, "but I know of you. I was a couple years behind you in school, before they…," he trailed off rather than bring up a sore subject. "Lester Lichfield, I represent the boy," the bailiff explained finally. "May I come in?"
Ron leaned over to whisper in his ear, "Hagrid can't be that old, can he?"
Harry shrugged as Hagrid stepped aside to let Lichfield pass, looking very defeated.
"Where's Hermione?" Harry asked as Fang went to smell the new arrival.
"She ran off to take care of something," Lichfield replied.
"I s'pose yeh want ter know why I did it?" Hagrid asked suddenly, voice thick with emotion he hadn't seen coming.
"We know why you did it," his litigator replied in a softer gravelly voice. "You did it to repay him for all this," he said, gesturing around the inside of the cabin. "It looks like you did alright for yourself, thanks to him. Nobody blames you," Lichfield said comfortingly.
"Well, yeh aught ter blame me!" Hagrid cried. "I blame me! I brought him there. I took him to those muggles!"
Suddenly Harry felt incredibly stupid. Of course this would have to do with Dumbledore. Almost everything in his life did, except Hermione. He had been so distracted wondering what Lichfield wanted with her that he never thought about what he'd want with Hagrid.
Then things became worse. Now he remembered McGonagall saying Hagrid had been taking what Dumbledore had done to him rather hard. It was no wonder why he'd been hiding himself from everyone.
"You only did it because he asked," Harry interjected, finally drawing Hagrid's eyes back to him. "There's no way you could know what he was doing was wrong. He took advantage of you."
Ron looked at everyone a little wide-eyed before taking another purposeful bite of treacle fudge and tried to blend in with his chair.
"You see?" Lichfield asked as he reached up to pat Hagrid's arm. "Why don't we take a seat?"
The great bed groaned as Hagrid sat, his beetle-like eyes glistening as he reached over to grab a sock to blow his nose with.
"I never should've left yeh there," he said with a sniffle like tearing sheets.
"Why don't you tell us how it happened?" his bailiff prompted.
In the minutes that followed, Harry learned more about the night his parents died than he probably wanted to know. Dumbledore sending Hagrid to them, the house in ruins when he got there, the neighbors milling about, waiting for someone to tell them what was going on, Hagrid going inside to find his dad dead in the living room, hearing him crying on the second floor and going up to find the nursery door blown off and the furniture in shambles. And his mother, dead on the floor.
He had seen her in pictures and the Mirror of Erised, but right then Harry imagined her as Ginny Weasley with her white dress and fan of red hair as she fainted at the Burrow. He even thought he could hear a high-pitched laugh and a flash of green light–
"–An' it was Sirius Black o' course," Hagrid said, dragging him back to the present.
"Isn't he the man who killed all those muggles?" Ron asked beside him.
"Before that," the gamekeeper replied, "–Said he was there ter check up on 'em an' I should give Harry ter him. 'I'm his godfather,' he said, and I said, 'I got my orders from Dumbledore himself' an' he could take it up with him if he wants."
"I bet he didn't like that," Lichfield added, prompting him to continue as a weight pressed down on Harry's feet from Fang laying on them.
"Tha's just it," Hagrid said curiously, "I don't think he heard me. There was somethin' about him that night that wasn't right. We had Order people die before, this was different."
"He betrayed my parents," Harry said sternly, refusing to sympathize with a murderer. "I'd hope it'd be different for him."
Lichfield tried to catch his eye but Harry refused to acknowledge him. The last thing he wanted right now was another fight about whether the man who gave his parents to Voldemort deserved to have a trial.
"Might be it," the large man shrugged. "After that he told me ter take his motorbike, cause he won't be needin' it, and said he'd take care of everythin' else."
"What do you think he meant by that?" Lichfield asked, making Harry give him a look.
"I thought he meant the muggles watchin' us," Hagrid explained with a dismissive wave. "Next I heard he'd killed a lot of 'em. Never thought he'd go bad."
"What happened with the motorbike?" his litigator asked, focusing on the strangest things, though something about it tugged at something for him too.
"I've still got it. It's in the back," Hagrid replied, making Harry wonder how they could've walked by it without seeing it.
Something made him ask the question: "Does it fly?"
Everyone turned to look at him.
"It does, as a matter of fact," Hagrid said curiously.
"Wicked," Ron added, perhaps already wondering if they could take it for a spin.
"How'd yeh know tha'?
"I've – had dreams of flying motorbikes before," Harry replied, feeling a little stupid again for mentioning it when the whole thing was starting to feel strangely surreal. "Once was just before I got my Hogwarts letters," he added, hoping it made him seem less stupid and more childish.
For the first time since they got there, Hagrid broke into a grin.
"Yeh shouldn't've remembered tha'," he said merrily. "You was only a baby after all – and yeh only flew in it twice."
"Once when you picked him up and once when you dropped him off?" Lichfield asked, running the risk of putting Hagrid down in the dumps again. "Where was he in between? There's almost a whole day that's missing."
"He was here, of course," Hagrid said happily, before turning a bit more somber. "Yeh cried a fair bit at first, havin' yer forehead cut open like tha', but nothin' a bit o' dittany didn't fix. An' I could tell yeh didn't know what was goin' on, so I tried ter distract yeh, and you was happy as can be once yeh met Fang," he added, with his smile back on his face.
"I met Fang?" he asked automatically, looking down at the big boarhound keeping his feet warm, the whole series of events sounding like something from somebody else's life.
"He was just a puppy, but yeh didn't want ter go anywhere without him," Hagrid grinned. "Kept callin' him 'Paf' fer some reason."
Ron looked over and gave him a silly grin.
"Did you see Dumbledore that day?" Lichfield asked casually, making Harry feel torn between wanting to hear more about this strange time in his life and knowing what the man was getting at.
"Nah, but he's always bin busy," the giant man said by rote, "plus he knew Harry was looked after. Only time I saw him was tha' night, and if I knew wha' he was doin' I'd've kept Harry here with me. We'd have fun, eh?" Hagrid asked with a joyous smile.
It was a strange thought and made him wonder what life with Hagrid would've been like. Growing up in a cabin with a gentle giant, right next to a castle, a lake, and a monster-filled forest was bound to be exciting. He'd even have a dog to make him more of a pet person – not to mention Fluffy and Norbert – that was sure to make Hermione happy.
Whether through thoroughness or a lack of anything else to say, Lichfield got Hagrid to take them out back into the pumpkiny smell to see the flying motorbike he'd been carried in. For a moment Harry thought it might be an invisible flying motorbike because he still didn't see anything when they got outside but a load of firewood and the stone fence of the vegetable patch, but it turned out it was only really well hidden. The old burlap tarp he'd thrown over it was covered with years of fallen leaves, pine needles, and twigs so it looked like another lump of firewood, but underneath–
"Woah!" Ron crowed, as much in awe of the shiny black and chrome bike as he would be the latest broom.
For himself, Harry didn't know what to think. It belonged to a murderer – a mass murderer from what Ron had said – the man who'd betrayed his supposed best friends to Voldemort… but it also did look really cool. It should be some sort of rule or something that evil people couldn't have nice things, then maybe people would think twice about it.
The sidecar seemed to pull his eyes and trap them there. The inside had more sticks and leaves in it, and was big enough to fit him and Ron both, despite looking like a big black egg with a bit of shell missing from the top, but it seemed strangely more… solid than everything else. The motorbike didn't belong here, a strange intrusion that didn't fit, but with everything he had learned about his parents' death – with this bike and Hagrid having actually been there – it made it seem all the more real than it had before.
"Can we ride it?" Ron asked, going up to the handle bars to figure out how it worked.
"Of course not!" Hagrid said instantly, ending Ron's flight of fancy before it could begin. "It'd be more than my job's worth if yeh go flyin' into the Whomping Willow," he added, showering them with pine needles as he threw the tarp back over it again.
"That's everything I was looking for," Lichfield announced, pulling out a pocket watch to check the time. "I may need to call you in to testify, but I want to thank you for being so open about things. It's a refreshing change."
"There's no harm in tellin' the truth, eh?" Hagrid shrugged, forcefully reminding Harry of all the trouble telling the truth caused in the last month. "Tha' reminds me," he said abruptly, "I've gotta bone ter pick with yeh, Harry. How come I haven't got one o' those signed photos yeh've bin givin' out?"
"Wha–How'd you know about that?" a shocked Harry asked, wondering just how quickly Colin was spreading it around the school.
"Don't tell me Lockhart got sumthin' right," he laughed. "An' here I said yeh didn' need teh. So much fer bein' more famous than him without tryin', eh?" grinned Hagrid, his beetle-like eyes twinkling.
"It was only one," Harry said, flattening his hair.
"An' next you'll say yeh just forgot teh tell me about you an' Hermione, eh?" his large friend joked, making him feel even more awkward. "Ah, go on an' get outta here," Hagrid said, his sausage-like fingers ruffling up his hair again and almost knocking him off his feet. "Let me take care o' these slugs."
"Those are very serious concerns, Mister McLaggen," Minerva said in a grave tone of voice. "Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Now, if you'll excuse us…?" she added, gesturing towards the door so she could take care of matters.
"Of course, Professor," the growing third year said, shooting Wood a triumphant smirk as he turned to leave the office.
She waited until the boy had time to be well down the hall before turning to her Quidditch Captain.
"Is there even the tiniest bit of merit to what he's saying?"
"I can't run tryouts while trying out myself," Oliver said honestly, "but everything else is a load of bunk. He, on the other hand, seems to think he can play every position at once and be his own Captain," he added frankly. "If he wasn't as good as he is, I wouldn't have him on the team at all, and he may be more trouble than he's worth even then."
"So I gathered," Minerva replied, in complete agreement with the sixth year's assessment. "How do you plan on dealing with him?"
"Before he made a scene and came running to you, I thought to put him with Angelina to train up the reserves, but needless to say it didn't go over well," Wood explained. "Luckily, one of the Weasleys volunteered to take his place, so now he'll be under my thumb until he learns to play on a team or I have to give him the boot."
She quirked an eyebrow at him. The boy's reluctance to cut ties with a problem player was already leading him to be too lenient by half, but it could teach him a valuable lesson. If the year goes well for him, she may have to suggest both him and Percy Weasley for the Head Boy position next year.
"Which Weasley?" she asked instead. "McLaggen says we have four of them playing now, and I don't see any of them being up for the responsibility."
"George," the boy said at once. "And don't let his appearance fool you," he added quickly. "He's a lot more responsible than his brother, he just pretends not to be."
"In three years I've yet to see a difference," Minerva said critically. "They're still team players though, which is more than I can say for McLaggen. You see them more often than I do, when they're not in Detention, so if you think he's up for it–"
Her office door opened swiftly and a thunderous-looking Miss Granger stormed in.
"Can I speak to you in private?" she asked, tone clipped in righteous anger over something as she glanced to Wood.
She looked at the girl for a moment to impress on her the impropriety of storming into a professor's office before calmly turning back to Oliver.
"I believe that will be all, unless you have anything else to add," Minerva said smoothly, giving the boy leave to go.
"Nothing else," he replied. "Have a good day, Professor."
Wood left, and Miss Granger barely waited for the door to close.
"How dare you try to control my life!" the girl said, bypassing an affronted tone and going directly to shrill.
Minerva's lips were immediately pressed into a thin line. Quarrels with students over their Detentions was common enough, but she thought the girl was mature enough to accept it when it was earned.
"Miss Granger?" she said warningly, knowing full well the effect she had on students.
"You lied to Madam Pomfrey," the girl batted back, landing an unexpected Bludger in her stomach. "You used a medical professional to coerce me into taking a potion I didn't need when you knew full well you had no right to do so. It's unconscionable!"
The Bludger in her stomach crumbled into jagged shards, which immediately began to grate against each other. How had she known it was her? Some part of her guilt must have shown on her face.
"Did you honestly think I wouldn't give Mister Lichfield a piece of my mind for acting against me, when he's supposed to be my lawyer, or for his presumption in thinking it remotely necessary in the first place?" Miss Granger pressed, making her feel like she was the child in this situation. "Did you think he wouldn't ask my father about his part in it directly and tell me everything he knew? What could possibly make you think you could do this to a student?"
"Do you have any idea how many girls we have in this school, Miss Granger?" Minerva asked, getting her roiling stomach under control and wrapping the authority of her office around her like a cloak.
"I fail to see how it has anything to do with me."
"It has everything to do with you," she rebutted. "Hardly a year goes by without one girl or another having to leave quietly due to an easily preventable condition, while you and Mister Potter are already discussing the possibility–"
"–It was a joke!" the girl cried angrily.
"And you'd be surprised to learn how often joking about having children turns into actually having them," Minerva rebutted. "Do you have any idea of the hardship it causes when children start having children?"
"So because a few girls are too stupid to handle the responsibility–"
"–It's not a matter of intelligence or responsibility, Miss Granger," she cut in to say, choosing to stand for the extra authority it brought. "This is about sound judgment in a critical and turbulent period in your life. You'd be surprised at how often otherwise intelligent and responsible girls like you will have their entire futures ruined when their bodies convince their minds a quick tumble in the dark is worth the risk."
"The only thing I'm surprised at is how quickly you repeated Dumbledore's mistake: being so pretentious in your lofty tower you think it gives you the right to control everyone from the shadows," the girl returned. "Who are you to decide what kind of life girls should strive for? You're a school teacher, nothing more. You're here to educate and serve as a role model, not to dictate our lives to us.
"And frankly, I find the hypocrisy of it rather galling," Miss Granger continued. "You have the audacity to sit down with my parents, explain to them how rights in the magical world work, profess your 'sincere commitment to preserve parental and muggleborn rights' – only to immediately work to subvert them when we make a decision you dislike. Why bother giving us 'Mudbloods' any rights at all when you can just force us to do whatever you want?"
"I resent the implication, Miss Granger," she said sternly as a cold chill ran through her.
"And I resent everything you've done," the girl countered, "so if the shoe fits, wear it!"
"You are in serious jeopardy of a week's stay in Detention," Minerva said warningly, having had quite enough of the girl's misguided rebellion.
"And you're in serious jeopardy of losing your job," the girl threatened. "Dumbledore's name is lower than dirt after what he did to Harry and Lockhart's career is in trouble, how do you think you'll fare if this gets brought to the Daily Prophet? 'Deputy Headmistress Coerces Harry Potter's Girlfriend' has a rather strong ring to it, don't you think?" Miss Granger pressed, making Minerva rue the day the girl first set eyes on the newspaper.
"Dumbledore abandoned and embezzled from only one child, I'm sure mothers all over the country will want to know how many girls you've been treating this way – ten, a hundred, a thousand?" the girl asked as Minerva saw just how small a step it took to go from studious schoolgirl to Rita Skeeter's apprentice, only for it to be worse for being grounded in truth. "And do their parents even know, or is it only muggleborns you treat this way?"
"You can't possibly be serious," Minerva replied, marveling at just how bad an influence Mister Potter had to be to take this teacher's pet so far afield in such a short amount of time.
"I assure you, I am," the girl replied, staring daggers back at her. "Mister Lichfield has already assured me we have a good case against you, and at the very least it'd do everyone a world of good to destroy the insidious expansion of magical guardianship you're arguing for. The only reason I'm not taking you to court this instant is because I value muggleborn rights above my own – because you know full well there are people who would love to use this case to end them completely!
"I am thoroughly disappointed in you, Professor, and ashamed I ever wanted to be anything like you!" Miss Granger said with watery eyes before turning to flee from her office in tears.
Minerva stood in shocked silence for a moment before lowering herself to her seat. In her thirty-six years teaching at Hogwarts she'd had any number of disagreements with students, but never one which left her as shaken as this, and she wasn't sure why. Everything about it called into question not only her actions but who she was as a person.
She knew she was in no way bigoted. She had adored her muggle father and faced a kind of discrimination herself when she wanted to marry another, back before it was socially acceptable to do so without leaving the magical world behind. But even with all her love for Dougal, she could never bring herself to challenge the way things were and find some way to make it work – if she had, they could've had decades together, with children and grandchildren to look forward to.
As it was, she'd never had children, though she thought she made up for it by being a supportive aunt and looking after her charges as if they were her own. No parent or teacher was supposed to admit to having favorites, but it didn't stop them from having them. Mister Potter had been one as naturally as her own niece, Mary, had been twenty years ago, and it was impossible to stop Miss Granger from being one, even with her short-sighted adventures.
The girl had an exceptionally bright mind and was driven to succeed; there was no telling what she could accomplish, given enough time. She was precisely the kind of girl most likely to trip herself up by being careless though; all the thoughts and plans she had for the future blinding her to the danger her heart could bring if she let it take control at the wrong moment. It was only right to want to protect her from that, wasn't it?
Of course it had been the right thing to want – the girl's own father had explicitly wanted to pay for three years in advance because of it – but the decision of when to start should have remained Miss Grangers to make. Second years engaging in such behavior was extraordinarily rare, but she'd encountered third years becoming enthused by the prospect more than once. Miss Granger didn't seem to be one of those sorts of girls, but with three years of protection being offered, a little push to get her to take it could get her into the habit of safeguarding her future until she was ready to choose how she wanted to spend it.
Good intentions or not, conspiring against the girl made the Dumbledore comparison quite appropriate. If Hogwarts is ever going to right itself, they couldn't simply replace one secretive and manipulative Headmaster with another. If they were going to get better, she'd have to become better herself.
Minerva would have to find a way to make it up to her.
AN: The most curious part of this organic way of writing a story – where I let the characters do their own thing and effectively 'film' the result – is that I'm not always conscious of why characters respond the way they do. In this case, Hermione's visceral reaction to learning about McGonagall's deception didn't make itself known until after she threatened McGonagall's job or, as I put it to Gandalf's Beard in one of our many messages, "she brought a nuke to a PTA meeting." I had expected it to be nothing more than a determined defense of her rights but it became something far more intense.
For Hermione, this wasn't just a favorite teacher and role model lying to her and going behind her back, this was a betrayal by someone she'd come to see as a surrogate mother figure, one who has given her the positive feedback she'd never received from her real mother. That changed everything for me and even put McGonagall's reasoning for doing it into a different context. I was like, "Woah, I've been working towards this for almost two years and I'm just seeing this now?"
It almost caught me as off-guard as Dumbledore being a religious True Believer. XD
On another note, a Chinese company approached me to try buying "priority rights" to my story – essentially offering to pay me to release updates through their site/app first. It didn't seem particularly scammy, in theory, essentially being a 'readers pay for early access' kind of setup, like the 'perks' people gain through Pa-treon (FFN doesn't seem to like this word lol). But still, you have to look side-eye at any deal which requires you to accept 'donations' through third parties rather than getting a guaranteed payment; it seems the dream of making money off fanfiction is still far too dubious to be practical.
I think that's all for me so, as always, thanks for reading.