Severus chewed over the bad news. His tongue would take the better part of a week to regrow with magical help, and the process was going to be unpleasant. Already his skin was inflamed with the itchiness of stubble all over, which made him restless and surly - not a long throw. What passed for what Madam Pomfrey espoused as restorative peace was interrupted with thoughts of the events of the night before. The new charge was hidden from prying eyes, but Severus was incredibly curious, and watched for any sign of movement. He gathered that she appeared to be his age or maybe a little younger. She didn’t seem to be waking up, and the tension on the Mediwitch’s face as she buzzed back and forth did nothing to reassure Severus that this was all routine. It was a distraction to the tedious succession of runny noses, stomachaches, and magical accidents that passed through the hospital wing.
Severus was usually ahead on his reading and assignments as it was, so he quickly ran out of things to do. Spoiled for choice, he passed much of his time by working on non-verbal spells, a subject covered this year in Defense Against the Dark Arts. This would be a huge advantage eventually and was not as easy as it looked. For the moment, being able to cast an Accio wordlessly without beaning himself with the desired object was requiring practice. After making the mistake of using a marble at first, he switched over to a softer knot that he had fashioned out of some discarded bandage. At least it didn’t leave a bruise.
Once upon a time, he would have had Lily as a visitor, but he had lost her friendship. Breaking the monotony, one of his yearmates had stopped by to drop off more homework. When he asked for help with a potions assignment, Pucey was rebuffed by Madame Pomfrey’s quick intervention. Severus couldn’t speak, and was frankly embarrassed. Truly, he owed Mr Filch for finding him before the other students were up. He’d have to do something nice for the man. These thoughts were interrupted when Madam Pomfrey came over with potions for Severus to take and a tea to help his itching, both of which were vile. “And how are we getting on, dear?” She asked.
Severus waved his wand and words hung in the air as if they were written in molten gold before they faded. “Passable. I regret being able to taste again.” He cast a disparaging eye on the proffered medications, making the Mediwitch snort in response. The very edge of his mouth crooked up, as he had meant it in his usual humour. His smile vanished and a thoughtful look replaced it. He wanted to know. With another wave of his wand, he wrote in the air, “What happened over there? I have never seen Peeves act like that.”
Madam Pomfrey forced the potion vial to his lips and indicated that she would not be answering until he had taken it, which he did with a dramatic amount of gagging and glaring. Eyes streaming from the volatile medication, he glimpsed a succession of expressions travel across the matron’s countenance as she tried to settle on a response. Uncertainty, concern, and an instant of fear passed therein before a professional mask overtook it all and she was again picking up the empty vial, before pressing the teacup into her patient’s hand. “I am not sure I can answer that for you, Severus. You need to apply to the Headmaster, I’m afraid.”
She was no longer making eye contact and was making to turn and bustle away, so it was out of desperation that Severus reached out and plucked at her sleeve before she could get too far. He had let the teacup clink down to the tray hastily which elicited a frown, but she looked up in time to see him write out again in glittering letters, “Is she going to be okay?”
Madam Pomfrey’s expression softened for a moment before she answered quietly. “I don’t know, dear. I don’t know.” With that, she turned away and busied herself elsewhere.
25 May, 1998.
Main Office, Ministry of Magic.
Harry and Ron sat waiting for the Minister for Magic to return from a meeting. He was late, but Harry didn’t want to be shoved off one more day as he knew what the wizard had on his plate between piecing back together the fractured wizarding society and cleaning up the loose ends left by the passing of Voldemort’s regime, some of which were very resistant indeed. Ron has always had problems staying still, and not for the first time, he got up to pace. Both he and Harry had been nervously looking over their shoulders at Dumbledore’s portrait, hung in a position of honour between the windows overlooking the open hall below.
Dumbledore was sitting with his chair tipped back, taking a cat nap. The tassel on his velvet hat swayed with every exhaled breath, its sway hypnotic. The fireplace behind the massive desk of the Minister flared to life with a green flame, admitting two Aurors who seemed to be acting as security, before the shorter one stuck his hand back into the fire, indicating that all was clear. The tall figure of Kingsley Shacklebolt stepped through, squinting in the bright afternoon light. Dusting himself off, he walked over to Ron to shake his hand. “Gentlemen.” Porcelain white teeth flashed in a genuine smile for the two young wizards. He turned to Harry, who had stood up to greet his friend in turn. Shaking hands, Harry got straight to the point, “We wanted to talk about Hermione Granger, sir.”
Kingsley’s face flattened out into a more guarded expression, covering a deeper rooted feeling of defeat for he had already spent considerable time and effort searching for the young heroine. The Grangers were dead for months, victims of a vicious attack at their home in South England. None of the neighbors even remembered Hermione or the little family now and the lot where her childhood home had once stood was now empty. He had scoured Hogwarts, enlisted the House Elves, and done everything he could think of, even to the extent of involving the Department of Mysteries. He gestured for the querents to sit, and Percy Weasley appeared, carrying a tea service which was dealt out with the quiet clinking of fine bone china. “I am afraid that she will only come back if and when she wants to be found, boys.”
Debriefings of the Malfoys as well as the rest of the Order had painted a picture of a woman who had been holding the team together, but suffered greatly over the past year. Worry etched lines into Harry’s face as Ron interjected. “Isn’t there something we haven’t thought of? A point-me spell, or something?”
Professor Dumbledore was only feigning sleep, as he now stood with his hands tucked into his sleeves, as if he was once again poised to direct the meeting. “Mr Weasley, what did the deluminator show?” It was the way he had found his way back to Harry and Hermione the last time, and it had found them through Hermione’s layers of wards. Ron took the device out of his pocket and slapped it down on the desk in response. Glaring at the silver case, he muttered, “Think it’s broken.”
If Hermione were here she would have found a way if it was either of them missing. Both boys understood this, and Ron just couldn’t let it go. “And you checked with the Portkey office again?” Percy answered for the Minister, “Yes, there are no records that would help us here. All of the international Portkeys were locked down immediately after the Battle, and nothing was registered in Scotland on that day.” Of course, unregistered and illegal Portkeys were another matter entirely, but he was powerless to do more.
Harry pleaded with them, “This isn’t like her, Kingsley. You know her. She is a true Gryffindor. She’d never run away from anything.” The Boy Who Lived Twice stood as he couldn’t seem to hold the nervous energy in lockdown any longer. Facing Dumbledore, he added, “Whatever problems she had, we’d have seen her through it together, like we always have done. I know Bill didn’t find any evidence of foul play, but I just can’t believe she’d do this to us.” He turned his head away, swallowing in an effort to control the tears threatening to break through.
Dumbledore offered his thoughts in response. “I sometimes think we do ourselves a deep disservice, insisting on facing problems head on. To do less, is considered weakness. We suggest that in stepping back, we give the problem agency over us.” He raised his right hand to make the next point, as around the room the wizards took in every word, drops of wisdom for their parched souls. “But consider this. It is not always wisest to take this approach. There are problems that cannot be solved without a great deal of pain when one is forced to face them openly and unprepared, lacking perspective.” The old painting squints a smile at Harry, adding, “Like the Muggle expression, you can’t see the forest for the trees.”
Ron nodded curtly, hand turning over in a “go on” gesture, hoping the Headmaster had something more material to offer beyond worn out platitudes. Indeed, he was having trouble understanding what problems Hermione might have had to deal with after the battle was over. She hadn’t lost anyone. What did she have to worry about? They had won! All she had to do was sit back and wait for the accolades to file in. Surely she hadn’t left them to go find that ugly cat of hers!
“Perhaps Hermione was faced with what seemed an unsolvable problem? It may have been that the only way for her to move forward was to, in fact, do the opposite of what Godric Gryffindor taught us. Deal with a difficulty by running away from it. To achieve a better understanding of the obstacle by putting distance between it and herself, and perhaps in time, re-approach it from a different angle.” This was wholly unsatisfying to the gathered group, and Harry noticed the adults exchanging expressions of skepticism.
Harry did think that he was beginning to understand what the portrait was trying to say, but his attention was interrupted by Ron who had reached over to swipe the Deluminator up and jammed it back into his robe pocket. “I’ve heard enough, Harry. They don’t know any more than we do.” Ron stood and stuck out his hand to Shacklebolt, giving it a perfunctory shake before executing an about-face, marching out of the office without looking back.
With the air of inner conflict and distraction, Harry reached over to also shake the Minister’s hand before trailing out after his irritated friend. He paused before leaving, adding over his shoulder. “Thank you for your time, gentlemen.” Meeting Dumbledore’s eyes, he nodded before disappearing back into the bustle of the outer office.