A\N: I don't usually think keeping secrets from parents is a good idea, but different rules apply to heroes, I guess.

Hermione had a very pleasant, if quiet, Christmas Eve. It was spent with her parents, at her home, which she had missed more than she had realised over the months she had been away.

Her parents had decided to forego visiting her grandparents, and having a big family celebration, so they could spend more time together.

"How you've grown!" was almost the first thing she had been told when she had arrived at the station. A dental exam had followed, partly in jest, after she had told them about all the different foods she had eaten at Hogwarts, especially the sweets.

"I'm glad they feed you well, at least," said Mum afterwards, once her parents had finally conceded that her teeth were as always in top condition, "I have heard some horror stories about food at boarding schools."

Her parents, for their part, had not changed at all. Not that Hermione had expected them to, but it was still such a comforting feeling to find everything was exactly as she remembered.

There was Dad, saying something obviously meant for teasing to Mum, a twinkle in his hazel eyes, so similar to his daughter's. They grinned at each other over Mum's head, which was no easy feat, her barely contained locks almost managing to obstruct their view. Mum shook her head in mock exasperation, sending escaped locks flying in all directions. "Oh, you," she said to Dad, the smile in her voice belying the chiding tone, before she turned back to Hermione, with another question for her about her life away at Hogwarts.

It was fun, being home again. And yet, perversely, Hermione caught herself missing her friends. Even during dinner on Christmas Eve, Hermione found herself thinking about Harry and Ron, and what they might be up to, back at Hogwarts.

"Have some more, dear," Mum's voice snapped her out of her thoughts, and Hermione was surprised to see the bowl of glazed carrots held in front of her nose.

"Uh, sure," she stammered, and helped herself, though she was not at all sure she really wanted any more carrots.

It was not that they were bad carrots. On the contrary. Her mother had put in a lot of effort into the dinner, and had made sure to include all her favourites. But it made her think of the dinner her friends were now most likely having, unfair though it must be to compare her mother's cooking to the festive dinners served at Hogwarts. She remembered the welcoming feast, and for a traitorous moment, wished to see what Hogwarts looked like at that moment.

Her parents exchanged glances over her head. Hermione had never been an especially sociable child. She had never really made friends at school or in the neighbourhood. Neither did she have siblings, or relatives close to her age. As a consequence, it had always been her parents she had interacted with the most, and they had all loved the time spent together.

They had had long discussions about every topic Hermione could follow. Her parents had delighted in their intelligent, precocious child, who was always trying to learn more, who never grew tired of asking questions, and arguing her beliefs. Hermione had always loved those moments, when her parents treated her like someone worth listening to – something children her age never seemed to do.

Recently, though, things had changed. The older Grangers had feared that after the revelation that their daughter was a witch. However, that had not been the cause. They had discovered that new world together. Even after Hermione had left for Hogwarts, things had remained the same. At least for a while. In the first few weeks, she had written excited letters about her lessons, and interesting titbits about magic and the wizarding world she had come to discover.

It had been some time in November that her parents had become aware of the change. Two names had started popping up in her letters more and more frequently. Both were boys in her year she had apparently managed to befriend, though she had been very vague about how that had come to be.

The letters had been one thing. But it was after her return home that Richard and Jean Granger really became aware of how much Hermione had changed. As enthusiastic as she was to discuss her lessons, compare them with muggle knowledge, and even include the two of them when doing her homework, there was this other part of her school experience, connected to those two boys, that she remained very vague about.

It was not that she did not talk about them. She did. They knew all sorts of details about the boys. One was the famous Harry Potter, who was excellent at quidditch, the wizarding sport, and though Hermione herself had never shown any interest in any sports, she had regaled them with tales of quidditch matches, quidditch rules, training, teams, brooms, and of course the Quidditch Cup at Hogwarts that Harry was trying to help win for Gryffindor.

She had mentioned very little about Harry's family, except that they were muggles like the Grangers themselves, which meant that Harry at least had no problems understanding Hermione's experiences prior to Hogwarts.

The other boy, Ron Weasley, did not even have that. He came from a long line of magical ancestors, and had very little understanding of the muggle world. They knew the names of all members of his large family, knew about his pet, even. They watched Hermione's attempts at learning chess after coming home, though it clearly was not her game – just so she could play with Ron, even though from her throwaway comments they had deduced that she tended to argue quite a bit with the boy.

It was all very confusing. They simply could not understand why their studious daughter had befriended two boys who seemed to have little interest in school work, or books and learning in general, and the more they asked her about them, the more they heard about them, the less they understood.

Meanwhile, they had to deal with the new-found knowledge that their company was no longer enough for Hermione, who clearly seemed to be missing her friends, and never seemed as enthusiastic as when she was talking about them. It was uncanny how much she acted her age when she did – something they had despaired to see in their daughter before. That alone should have been enough for them to welcome their daughter's new friendships. But the feeling that they might be overlooking something remained.

"So, Hermione, what do you think Hogwarts looks like right now?" asked Dad.

The girl looked up, unnerved that her father seemed to have guessed exactly what she had been thinking about. "Oh, I don't know. Not too different from how I left it, I guess. The trees were already decorated. I don't think they'll do that much more, with most students away. They'll be having dinner now as well, I guess."

"Do they do special dinners, then? You said the food's good, usually, but do they do something special?"

Hermione nodded. "We had a huge feast on our first evening there. I guess it'll be a bit like that."

"What about Hallowe'en? Did they do something special that time, as well?"

Hermione felt the blush creep up in her cheeks, as she nodded quickly. She had heard all about the feast the next morning from Harry and Ron, who had become her friends overnight, but she still felt like she was lying to her parents as she agreed, because she had missed the feast and so had no first-hand knowledge.

Somewhere in the recesses of her mind she knew she should feel a lot guiltier about keeping her wild adventures from her parents, but it seemed such an impossible act to tell them about those that she could now easily suppress that urge.

"So, how many of your friends stayed at school, then?" asked Mum.

"Both of them," replied a surprised Hermione. "Didn't I tell you?"

"You mentioned Harry and Ron would be staying," Mum said carefully, "but what about your other friends?"

Hermione shifted in her seat. "I don't really have any other friends," she muttered.

"What about the girls in your dorm?" asked Dad. "Lily and Padma, was it?"

His daughter's eyebrows shot up in confusion. "Lily? And-" Hermione's face cleared after a moment. "Oh! You mean Lavender and Parvati." She giggled. "Dad, Lily was Harry's mum, and Padma is Parvati's twin sister. She's in Ravenclaw, though."

"So what about them, then?" Dad would not be deterred. "Aren't you friends with them?"

"Not really." Hermione said matter-of-factly. "I mean, we do get along-" she added, seeing her parents' alarmed looks.

"You're not being bullied, are you?" asked Mum.

"No, Mum. They're just... Well, they're friends with each other, and they get along really well. They seem to like the same things, and they agree on a lot of things..."

"But not with you?"

"Not as much. Not really."

"And those boys – they are more like you?" Dad asked sceptically.

As always, their mention brought an involuntary smile to Hermione's face. "They don't mind arguing with me. We all like different things, and we argue – well, discuss – what we want to do, and then we usually end up doing everything – what they want to do, and what I want to do."

"Sounds like fun," said Mum with a sigh.

Hermione nodded and hummed in agreement. She looked a lot more animated, bouncing in her seat, eating a lot more enthusiastically, and in general seeming to be enjoying herself a lot more. Her parents exchanged another look.

"But still," Mum tried once again, "wouldn't you like to have more than just two friends? The girls there are all witches like you, aren't they? I'm sure you'll have some things in common. What about those twin girls, for example? The one in your House and the other in Ravenclaw – that's the House for studious people, isn't it? Maybe you could-"

But she never got to finish that sentence. For at that moment, two owls arrived knocking at their window, and Hermione jumped up from her seat with an excited squeal, and rushed over to open the window.

The owls delivered two packages, both of which she took from them with great care. Then she gave them a generous amount of owl treats that her parents kept in the house for the Hogwarts owls their daughter sent home.

Hermione pressed both packages to her chest and carried them over to put them under the tree.

It was such an odd sight, seeing Hermione acting her age, showing a childlike excitement at receiving presents. It was a bittersweet feeling, knowing it was not due to them. And yet, had they not always wished this for her? To have such good friends? Was it selfish to feel excluded, to feel as if they were losing their only daughter to two, by all accounts, immature boys, whom they had never even met?

It was still well and truly dark when Jean woke the next morning. She heard some odd noises from downstairs, and went to investigate. Not entirely unexpectedly, she found her daughter in the living room, eating from a bowl of cereal, and watching some children's show on the telly, but her whole attention seemed to be diverted towards the Christmas tree in the opposite corner.

Jean did not know how long she had stood there, contemplating her daughter, when Richard stepped up behind her. She looked up and met his eyes, which were filled with amusement, and Jean was not sure if she had imagined the trace of sadness underneath.

Hermione must have heard something – or maybe her magic alerted her that she was being observed – and she turned around, looking sheepish and excited.

"Go on, open your presents," Richard told her.

That was all the prompting she needed, and a moment later, all three of them were sitting around the tree, sorting through the brightly wrapped packages.

Hermione went straight for her friends' presents, tearing the paper with little finesse, and her excitement was so infectious that even her parents could not wait to see what the owls had delivered. The first package, from Harry Potter, contained a book and a number of sweets in colourful wrappings. The frog Hermione unwrapped tried to jump away, to her parents' astonishment, before she caught it mid-jump, and started munching on it, without any worry about what the sugar might do to her teeth.

She moved on to Ron's present right away, which contained a jumper in a dark teal colour with a golden 'H' stitched on the front, and some home-made fudge. She pulled on the jumper, and tried the fudge as well, before offering it to her parents, who declined. Then she opened both of the letters that had come with the boys' presents.

"The jumper's from Ron's mum. She knitted it for me herself, can you believe it?"

Hermione had a goofy smile on her face while she was reading the letter, and Richard had to remind himself that the boy who had written it was only eleven years old.

They moved on to other presents eventually. A lot of books were exchanged – something that was very common for the Grangers. Hermione seemed happy enough about everything she received – books, of course, both fiction and non-fiction, clothes, some educational games, even a book from the wizarding world her parents had bought months beforehand, when shopping for her school supplies, so they would have it ready to give her for Christmas – but still she kept coming back to the boys' letters and presents.

With a sigh, Richard picked up the book Harry had sent. 'Fantastic beasts and where to find them', it read on the cover. A book was a good guess for a present for his daughter, he had to admit. Why this one, though, he had no idea. Then again, it had come from an eleven year old boy. It was probably one of the few books he could conceive of reading.

Richard leafed through it, and as expected, it was exactly what it said on the cover. That such things should really exist, he thought to himself, and he hoped – as he did about so many things he had heard of in the wizarding world – that his daughter would never encounter them.

He was about to put it back down again, when he saw the inscription in spidery handwriting on the front page:

To Hermione,

Looks like we might need to read this in the future!

Check out the section about three-headed dogs. Do they look familiar?

From Harry

Richard suspected he was better off not knowing, but he could not help himself. He leafed to the corresponding entry in the book.

"Extremely rare beasts... indigenous to Greece... shoulder height of six to seven feet... known for their ferocious nature..."

It was only during the ensuing quiet, faced with Jean's surprised, and Hermione's frighteningly knowing, startled look, that he realised he had read aloud.

"Would you please tell me why your friend thinks a three-headed-dog should look familiar to you?" he asked his daughter in such a calm voice, he barely recognised it as his own.

Her parents were looking at her expectantly, waiting for the answer. For one wild moment, Hermione wanted to blurt out the truth. She was a Gryffindor, and hiding was not the first response her mind came up with.

"It's – Um, it's nothing," she managed after a pause.

Dad raised his eyebrows sceptically, and Hermione knew he would not let it go easily.

Suddenly, she was frantic, trying to come up with an explanation. "It's – we, uh, we learned about them in class – in Defence against the Dark Arts."

She realised as she spoke that her explanation had holes in it. Why would Harry have needed to buy the book for her if it was about something she had already learned in class?

"It was not part of our proper lessons," she tried again, aware that she might be rambling, but unable to stop. "Our professor – he's a very nervous sort of fellow. I heard he spent all of last year travelling, to gain first-hand experience, and there are rumours that something happened to him – that he had a run-in with some dangerous creature."

"With a three-headed dog?" asked Mum.

"A vampire, I think," Hermione corrected, unwilling to lie unless she absolutely had to. "But he keeps mentioning all sorts of dangerous creatures that we aren't supposed to deal with for some years yet," she added quickly.

"What for?"

"To warn us, I guess. Or because he's scared of them himself." That part was most likely true, she supposed. "But he won't tell us about them properly. So I guess Harry thought I might want to look them up," she finished weakly, all the while fuming at Harry for getting her in that situation.

"Hermione," Mum began hesitantly, "you are doing all right, aren't you?"

"Those boys aren't getting you into any trouble, are they?" asked Dad.

"No! No. They're the best friends I could wish for."

"That's not what we asked, dear," said Mum. "I mean, we can't know what goes on at your school unless you tell us. And if you get in some sort of trouble-"

"No, Mum. I'm fine-"

"Hermione, you know, if you did have problems, we could think of something-" began Mum.

"Though our options may be limited, what with Hogwarts being the only magical school in the UK," muttered Dad.

"But if she wanted to leave, I'm sure we could do something-" Mum replied directly to his comment.

"What, take her out of Hogwarts?" asked her surprised husband.

"Well, yes. If she's asked to deal with such dangerous creatures, and who knows what else. They said magical education was compulsory, but I'm sure that's not an actual law."

"Yes, it is!" said a panicked Hermione, who was unable to understand how the discussion had deteriorated to that point. She had not even told them anything.

"Oh, Hermione, don't worry. No one can make you do what you don't want to. If you want to leave, we'll think of something, you'll see," Mum tried to comfort her, misunderstanding the reason for her panic.

"It's only magical education that's compulsory," said Dad, "not Hogwarts. There are other schools-"

"Not in the UK," argued his daughter. "You said it yourself-"

"No, but I'm sure there's at least one in every country. And who knows, maybe they don't teach about three-headed dogs-"

"Of course!" Mum agreed at once. "We could try Ireland, or maybe France. Hermione, you learned quite a bit of French when we went there last year over summer. Maybe-"

"No!" shouted Hermione. "I'm not leaving! Hogwarts is where I belong. For the first time, I belong somewhere-"

Her parents reeled back, hearing that. How could she be saying such a thing?

"You don't think you belong with us?" Mum did not try very hard to keep the hurt from her voice.

"I – Well, I – Well, yes – I just-" Hermione broke off her stammering, and silence fell between the family.

"It's not the same thing, though, is it?" asked Dad after a while.

"No, it's not."

"Hermione..." Mum did not know what to say to that.

"Mum, I didn't mean it like that. I love being here. I love you both. But I also love my – my school. I have friends there – real friends, not just people I hang out with. And, yes, there are dangers in the magical world, but I'm a witch, and I'll be a witch no matter what school I'll go to.

"I'm also a Gryffindor. I told you what that means, didn't I? I'm not scared of the world, magical or otherwise. I'll learn well, so if I ever have to deal with things like that, I'll be prepared."

Her parents agreed reluctantly, their momentary panic at the unknown dangers fading slowly, and Hermione relaxed, again safe in the knowledge that soon she would be going back to Hogwarts.

The words of the Sorting Hat came back to her, spoken to her as she had argued with it over where to place her. She had not had a real preference between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, but she had challenged the Hat to place her exactly where she belonged.

She had been a little put out by how quickly Ravenclaw had been dismissed. The Hat had explained then, told her that while she might learn like a Ravenclaw, she would never be satisfied with just knowing something; that she would always need to find out for herself; that understanding the world would never be enough for her; that she would always feel the need to change it. Hopefully for the better, Hermione added to herself.

What she did know for a fact was that learning was no longer her highest priority, hard pressed she would have to be to admit it, though. There was friendship, and bravery, and wild adventures, all for the sake of doing the right thing. She had to admit to herself that the Sorting Hat had been right all along – she wanted to become more like Harry and Ron, and care about others' problems and try to help them, the way her friends had saved her.

And she would not let anything stand in her way, not even her parents' worries – even if she had to keep some secrets from them. She did not want to, but who knew, if they found out about the things she got up to, they might really take her out of Hogwarts, and where would that leave her?