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Trembling, I Listened

Chapter Text

Trembling, I listened: the summer sun

Had the chill of snow;

For I knew she was telling the bees of one

Gone on the journey we all must go!

~ John Greenleaf Whittier 1894

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore was three years old the first time he heard a bee whisper in his ear.

A brother is coming.

Though at the time he didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘brother’, Albus was truly excited to learn what such a thing entailed. Months later, he glimpsed Aberforth in the arms of his mother, while his father smiled with pride at the picture his family made. When the sunlight began to wane on his brother’s birthday, Albus’ father took his hand and walked with him through the fields of tall wild-grass and clover until they arrived at an open space that housed several large boxes.

“You must always tell the bees,” Percival explained. “You must tell the bees the significant events that occur within the family—births, deaths and marriages—or suffer the consequences when the bees become hurt by neglect.”

Albus watched as his father cast a Shield Charm and visited each hive, telling them of Aberforth’s birth. The lazy swarm that surrounded Percival hummed loudly, as if in congratulations, dancing with joy. When he had visited the entire colony, he ended the charm and returned to Albus, and both of them watched as the bees flitted here and there in the meadow.

The ritual was repeated when his sister, Arianna, appeared a little over a year after Aberforth. As before, his father told the bee colony of their gift, ensuring that the Dumbledore family prospered in Mould-on-the-Wold.


Some years later, when he was nearing his tenth summer, Albus heard not one bee whispering, but a veritable horde, hissing and fretful.

Beware the hedge!

Unable to make any sense of their warning, for the only hedge he knew was the high hedge in the back garden that shielded their home from Muggles, Albus promptly dismissed the insects’ message and went about his business. The next day, Arianna was attacked by three Muggle boys—all of whom had been peering through a gap in the hedge and witnessed her performing uncontrolled magic. In retaliation, Percival cursed the wayward children who assaulted his precious daughter, and earned himself a stay in Azkaban.

After his father went away, several weeks passed in nothing more than a blur to those left behind. Albus awoke one morning on a particularly gloomy day and had the idle thought that he should speak of the events to his father’s bees. He trekked through the fields of wild-grass and clover that drooped ever so slightly, only to arrive and find the colony silent. Not a bee buzzed; nary could a hum be heard. Carefully, Albus checked every hive.

Empty. Save one.

Inside the last hive box were four frames of dead honeybees, the body of the queen curled squarely in the middle. Honey, once so sweet and luscious, was now rancid and congealed in the wax cells instead of oozing freely.

Gone. All gone. All his father’s work, destroyed.

In a fit of rage—and perhaps guilt, for not coming to tell the colony sooner—Albus unleashed a spell that engulfed the dead hives in flames, the smoke rising fast and high. He did not stay to watch the destruction; he wouldn’t have seen it through the tears in his eyes.

A year later, Albus’ mother Kendra was forced to move their family to Godric’s Hollow. No bees whispered to Albus here, and he was heartily glad of it. He did not want to hear their news, did not want foreknowledge of the further failures that were to befall his family. If he didn’t know, he couldn’t possibly be the cause of any misery that might occur.

The first time he heard the word ‘consequences’, Albus had no context to give it life, to make it tangible to his young mind. However, as he grew, he became intimately acquainted with the term, in every possible shape, form and size.

The last time a bee whispered to Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore was the day before he met Gellert Grindelwald—the day his life was forever altered.

Do not be led astray by the Death Stick Hallow!

He could’ve claimed ignorance concerning the bee’s prophecy, but years later, as he begged Snape to end his life, Albus appreciated the true meaning of the word ‘consequences’.

The first time Hermione Jean Granger visited the Great Dixter house and gardens, she was four years old. She was accompanied by her aunt, Catherine, and Catherine’s annoying daughter Margery. Hermione disliked Margery particularly because, while Hermione was quite bright for her age, Margery was equally as dim—but no one seemed to notice, as Margery was an exceptional beauty. Though this wasn’t her most egregious fault, it did create an underlying tension between the cousins as they were frequently being compared to one another in mixed company. Thus ensued an enmity between the two, each one trying to overshadow the other in every way possible.

On the day she visited the famed gardens, Hermione’s life altered course, and yet had it not been for Margery and her obnoxious behaviour, this might never have come to pass. Such simple things: greed and envy—at least to a child used to always getting her heart’s desire. It was greed that caused Margery to traipse through a dense bounty of lush Cammasias quamash in the Front Meadow garden, the purplish-blue flowers of wild hyacinth crushed beneath the careless tread of a girl determined to reach the more ostentatious orchids on display.

Aunt Catherine had let go of Hermione’s hand to chase after Margery, commanding her to stop in petulant tones. Hermione quietly followed the path her cousin had created; as she went, she tried to coax the flattened flowers to a more upright position, hoping they wouldn’t wither and die. As she stroked each petal and stem, the hyacinth responded to her touch, as if they were cognisant of her desire to see them thrive, arching their blooms and leaves against the brush of her hands, nuzzling her fingers.

A smile of pure delight curled her mouth. “Pretty flowers,” she cooed quietly. She glanced after Margery, who had knocked down the stems of several orchids in her eagerness to reach the tallest and most colourful blossom. “You don’t show off, like those do.” Another look and her haggard-looking aunt was trying to pry her now-screaming cousin’s fingers from a young oak sapling.

Margery refused to budge, and the swaying of the tree loosened a small hive of honey bees from its highest branches. The nest plummeted to the ground where it shattered, breaking apart to free a swarm of angry insects which promptly attacked. Margery and Aunt Catherine screamed and ran, flinging their hands over their heads in a bid to stave off the invasion. Hermione sat calmly with her flowers and watched her relatives’ antics, giggling when Margery tripped and fell into a pond, emerging covered in green scum.

It must have seemed odd to a passing stranger, but Hermione had no fear of the bees. She simply sat cross-legged in her lavender and pale yellow dress, enjoying the slight breeze that drifted through her frizzy hair, letting her fingers play with the flowers she had recently rescued. The droning buzz that had accompanied the swarm died down once the threat was vanquished. A substantial mass was still circling in agitation about the broken hive, but the majority of the bees flew off in different directions, a few even coming to perch on Hermione’s knee.

And that’s when she heard the softest of whispers, a tiny buzz that tickled the fine hairs on the inside of her ear.

The brightest witch of her age, come to visit us!

Her eyes widened in curiosity. “I-I don’t know what you mean,” she murmured. “Who’s a witch?” So far as she knew, witches were ugly old ladies who kidnapped children or cast evil spells on princesses.

Hoping for an answer to her question, Hermione remained rooted to the spot, even when her aunt appeared from the corner of the manor house and called to her, demanding her presence. But the bees were silent and eventually the two that were grooming themselves on her knee took to the air. A moment later, she was jerked to her feet by a tight grip on her arm and the haze of anticipation dissipated as she was rudely pushed along the gravel path by Aunt Catherine, a sodden and foul-smelling Margery trailing behind them.

Even the tongue-lashing she received upon returning home whilst her aunt described their adventures to her parents did nothing to douse the fervent curiosity that had been aroused within her mind and heart. What did the bee mean by ‘brightest witch of her age’? Why hadn’t the bees said something to her before? Would they talk to her again? She had tried to tell her parents what the bee had said after Aunt Catherine had left, but they had only laughed, telling her, “What an imagination you have!”

In the years that followed, she found and embraced her magic, absorbing all the information she could that would enhance her abilities, whether at Hogwart’s or while living in the Muggle world during the summers. The bees’ greeting was relegated to the back of her mind, lost to that evanescent space where childhood memories linger then eventually fade away.

It wasn’t until her stay at Shell Cottage with Ron and Harry, after the terrible events at Malfoy Manor, that the memory was resurrected with a vengeance. That first night, Harry had locked himself in his room, brooding and planning their mission to break into Gringotts. Ron and Bill were in the small garden, helping Fleur tend the meagre vegetable patch.

Hermione, being the practical and pragmatic person that she was, would never have ascribed her intuition to flights of fancy. However, that evening she was drawn to the high dunes that were topped with sea oat grass, unable to resist the tug behind her navel. Barefoot, she followed an invisible line to a sparse sandy area, where a few stalks of grass waved lazily in the breeze.

She waited.

A seagull cried overhead, hovering on the warm updraft. She shielded her eyes and scanned the horizon, seeing nothing of note save the surf crashing upon the sand and slipping back out to sea. She waited ten minutes or so, then shrugged, giving it up for naught. As she rose to her feet and turned to make her way back to the cottage, however, a lone bumblebee landed on her upraised hand and a barely perceptible vibration hummed along her skin.

Free the White Dragon. The end is near!

The words carried on the breath of the wind were faint, fleeting. Hermione’s eyes widened as the long-ago memory filled her mind. She smiled tremulously, tears fringing her lashes.

The bee groomed and frisked its head with its front legs, as if content to wait.

She sniffed and cleared her throat. “Thank you, Bombus. I’d call you by your proper name, but sadly, I’m lacking when it comes to classification of your species and subgenus.”

A twitch of its wings suggested that the bee was not impressed.

She couldn’t help but smile. “Well, I promise to free the White Dragon, then, whatever that may be.”

The bee wriggled on her hand as if agitated. Minute vibrations of its abdomen sent a shiver of apprehension through Hermione’s body. The fear and frustration that had been her constant companion these past few weeks built to a crescendo, and she tried to stifle her hiccoughing sobs to no avail.

“I’m sorry! I don’t know what you want!” she cried. “We’ve been on the run for months, only to be captured by the Snatchers and that foul beast Greyback. Then I’m tortured and the only reason we escaped is because Dobby rescued us and died in the process, and I—”

The bee lifted itself from her palm, buzzed a moment, then flew high into the air and vanished into the forest bordering the shoreline.

Hermione scrubbed at her eyes, her mind confused. Why had the bee left? She felt sure it had had more to tell her. Had her anxiety produce pheromones that overwhelmed it? Even had she wanted to, she didn’t have the wherewithal to apologize to a bee for irritating it, and besides, the little creature was long gone. Unable to face the others for the time being, she sank to the ground and stared out at the ocean, her toes digging into the sun-warmed sand. Things would make sense soon.

They had to.

Four years later, the Final Battle won—and a white dragon having played a part in their victory—found Hermione Granger sitting in the office of Patrick Gaskins, Partner and Head of Property for Kitsons Solicitors, LLP—or so attested the sign that hung crookedly on his door. She had received an owl from the law firm requesting her presence on the last day of June, which she thought odd considering it was the anniversary of Dumbledore’s death. In fact, she would be attending a service with Harry and her other friends that very afternoon.

Ron was waiting for her in the reception area, having been informed, politely but firmly, that he was not to be privy to the conversation between Hermione and the solicitor. Of course he was annoyed at the exclusion, but she had long lived with Ron’s moods and insecurities and soothed him by promising that she would tell him everything once they arrived at Hogwarts for the memorial. As expected, he grumbled and muttered petulantly under his breath for the better part of an hour, so Hermione was more than happy to leave him with the tray of tea and biscuits that the firm made available for their clients in the rather sumptuous waiting room.

When she entered his office, Gaskins rose to greet her, smiled politely, then sat down in a high-backed leather chair, the creaking of the material giving away the fact that the chair was new. “Thank you for coming, Miss Granger.”

She returned the smile with a nod. “Your message said it was important.”

“Yes, quite important. It pertains to the last execution of one particular Will.” Gaskins withdrew a thick file from a drawer on his left. “It’s a rather interesting gift.”

Hermione frowned. She tried to recall whether she had any relative that might have passed away recently, one that she might have been particularly close to, only to conclude that the last person in her family to die had been her uncle on her father’s side—a man she barely knew, and eighteen months ago at that. Who would have left her something? She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, chewing on the side, contemplating the possibilities.

“You are familiar with one Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, correct?”

Startled, Hermione nodded. “Yes, of course. He was the Headmaster during the majority of my years at Hogwarts.”

“Good, good. Since you were acquainted with Professor Dumbledore, you will, no doubt, not be surprised at the length, varied requests and peculiarities of his Will.” Gaskins’ mouth quirked into a lop-sided grin.

“Not surprised at all.” She envisioned a lifetime supply of Cockroach Clusters being delivered to orphanages around England. A sudden thought occurred to her. “Is that why Molly Weasley received a house-full of knitting patterns last year, and why Harry Potter was given Professor Dumbledore’s journal this past January?”

Gaskins arched a brow. “I am not at liberty to discuss other client dealings, but if I were, I would imply that you have the right of it.”

“But I thought Rufus Scrimgeour was executor of Professor Dumbledore’s Will.” How could she forget being sat down at the Burrow just before Bill’s wedding and given the Tales of Beedle the Bard by the weary, taciturn Minister? “In fact, he delayed releasing the bequests for over a month.”

“Ah, yes,” Gaskins said, shifting uncomfortably. “You must understand, Miss Granger, that certain provisions were put in place in the event of a, erm, ‘questionable’ death in regards to Professor Dumbledore. There are three Wills that I am aware of—the one executed by Minister Scrimgeour, the one currently with our law firm and one that was handled by a private solicitor in Cardiff, Wales. We were not privileged to know the contents of that particular Will, but our firm was informed that execution of it was completed this past January. To my knowledge, none of the Wills negate or conflict with the others, and the gifts were specific to each. You should have no fear that your gift will be revoked.”

Hermione was stunned. Just thinking of all the legalities, the morass of tangled laws that had to be navigated, let alone the Muggle laws of inheritance, made her head spin. “I can scarcely imagine what else he left me,” she murmured.

Gaskins opened the file and removed an ancient-looking parchment, complete with red wax seals in various places, the imprint of a fuzzy bumblebee clearly stamped into each one. “May I?” he asked, indicating the document. At her nod, he cleared his throat and began.

“I, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, being of sound mind and judgment this 10th day of September, in the year 1991, declare that the proper law of this, my Will, shall be the law of England and Wales. I appoint the firm of Kitsons Solicitors, LLP, to be the Executor and Trustee of this my Will. Upon dispersion of my remaining properties, trusts, and charitable legacies, I bequeath the following {free of inheritance tax and free of mortgage and charge}:

1.1: All my interest in the property known as The Old School in Arlington, East Sussex to my former pupil, Hermione Jean Granger.

1.2: My Executors shall hold my estate in trust for four years from the date of my death and then complete the bequest, in hopes that Hermione Jean Granger will at that time have use for the estate and the provisions therein.”

When Gaskins didn’t expound on what those provisions might be, Hermione was too flabbergasted to ask what they entailed. A house and property… for her? And, according to the date of the Will, Dumbledore had designated the ‘gift’ to her just after she had started Hogwarts. Why? For what purpose?

“I take it, Miss Granger, that this gift was unexpected?” Gaskins asked, breaking through her haze.

“Yes,” she said quietly. “I-I had no idea…”

Gaskins passed a thick envelope across the desk, the paper finely crafted, creamy and obviously expensive. “Here are further instructions; they are for your eyes only.”

She took the packet, gripping it tightly to still the trembling in her fingers. “Thank you, Mr. Gaskins. Is that all?”

He peered at her intently. “You are more than welcome to sell the property, Miss Granger, if you think you will have no use for it. After all, it’s quite a lucrative plot, valued at £445,000. I’m sure we would have no trouble marketing the property.”

Her eyes widened at the figure. “£445,000?” She swallowed past the lump in her throat. If she sold the property, the money would allow her and Ron to marry without having to scrape and skim for years afterwards. However, this wasn’t the time for snap decisions, especially when she hadn’t even seen the place. “I’ll think about it,” she said, standing.

Gaskins shook her hand, a bit of avarice glinting in his gaze. “Yes, do let me know.”

Disconcerted, she left the office quickly, barely stopping to collect Ron on her way out the door.

Hermione stood at the end of the no-through gravel road, staring at the modest house surrounded by hedges of every size, shape and colour. Off to her right, rolling meadows faded into a dense forest which climbed into hills that dotted the landscape. It was listed as a detached period property, and detached it certainly was—the nearest neighbour was kilometres away. Probably wise if, as according to Dumbledore’s letter, it used to be part of the estate where he, his brother and sister were born.

For all its weight, the actual letter within the packet was a single sheaf of parchment, consisting mostly of instructions in Dumbledore’s long-flowing script. He also alluded as to the reason he had chosen to bestow the property upon her, which sent shivers up her spine, even on a hot and humid day.

Dear Miss Granger,

It has recently come to my attention that you are in possession of a most precious and rare gift: the language of bees. I observed this phenomenon just after your sorting, wherein a small number of bees tended to fly about your person, yet you did nothing to dissuade their interest in you. I’m sure you are familiar with Karl von Frisch’s work in discovering their second form of communication—dance—but their first is only audible to a select group of individuals, you being one of them. As surely as I know that Harry’s future lies down a certain path, so does yours as well, one that may very well divide you from loved ones. This talent is not for the faint of heart, Miss Granger—there will be days where you long for rest and are too weary to carry the burden, but carry it you must. I can give you no advice save this: what lies behind you and what lies before you are tiny matters compared to what lies within you. Use this house and surrounding lands to once more bring life to the region, as the joy my family knew in better days is sorely missed.

Remember, time is always moving.

Yours with greatest respect,
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

P.S. ~ The other documents entail the use and locations for the keys included. Do enjoy yourself.

Along with the letter had come several skeleton keys that fit a myriad of locks within the house as well as the greenhouse in the rear of the massive garden. There was also a lone brass key that had the emblem of a bumblebee on its bow or grasp—this key, the additional documents had said, was to be used only if she decided to keep the property, as it would only fit a warded lock that would be revealed to the proper owner.

The house was fronted by a wooden picket fence, with roses, ivy and other climbing flowers dripping over the edges. At one end, an abundance of pale pink and white hydrangeas swayed with the breeze, their scent swirling lazily around Hermione, making her smile.

Welcome home! We have missed you.

Hermione went very still, her eyes darting everywhere, searching for the source of the susurration of minuscule voices. Her gaze skimmed over the hedges, finally spotting a few bees making lazy circles while visiting every bloom on the hydrangea bush. Her last interaction with a bee had been confusing—and eerie, if she were honest. How had they known about the white dragon chained in the near-bottomless depths of Gringotts? Or that it had a part to play in the end that had loomed over the horizon? Surely they didn’t know the future. They were just insects… right?

Shaking her head at such fanciful notions, she approached the bees slowly so as not to disturb their work. It was early July, the weather warm and a bit on the stifling side, so she had worn Muggle blue jeans and a gauzy cotton blouse with a blue and peach confetti pattern printed on it. The closer she came to the hydrangea, the more bees hovered around her, clearly interested in the colours on the shirt. She raised one hand, palm up, and watched as several bees landed to inspect her skin.

And suddenly, she was bombarded with voices.

The red male’s time is at an end.

Tragedy will befall the land across the ocean!

His guitar gently sleeps.

The Chosen’s first will be a boy!

A princess that loves others will bloom for the Chrysanthemum Throne!

Hermione had to close her eyes and consciously steady her breathing to avoid yielding to the outright panic that coursed through her veins—too many sounds, too many voices, overwhelming her senses. The bees could smell the fear, feel the tension in her limbs, and a cacophony of angry buzzing filled the air, setting her teeth on edge. Eyes squeezed shut, she felt the insects swooping around her like a flock of tiny starlings, until gradually, as she calmed herself, things became quiet.

Cautiously, she opened her eyes and looked around. All the bees had disappeared from the garden. She muffled a hysterical sob and backed away, down the gravel path. Dumbledore might have considered her ‘gift’ rare and precious, but at the moment, she wanted nothing to do with it. Once she reached the road, she Disapparated back to the Burrow.

“Hey, you okay?”

Hermione sat underneath an apple tree in the orchard at the Burrow, legs pulled up to her chest and chin resting atop her knees, idly watching the garden gnomes tackling each other in a bid to gather the Red Gravenstein apples that were starting to fall from the trees. She barely registered the fact that her best friend had sat down next to her.

“Harry, when you heard the prophecy surrounding you and Voldemort… did you believe it? I mean, I know you did, eventually. But at first?”

Harry budged up next to her and shrugged. “I wasn’t really given much of a choice, to be honest. When Hagrid showed up on my eleventh birthday and told me I was a wizard, I thought he was a complete nutter. Thought he’d escaped from a mental asylum. Told him I was quite sure I wasn’t a wizard, he had the wrong person, and that he’d better leave, or Uncle Vernon would go round the bend. I don’t think I actually believed any of it until we were all Sorted. Then it hit me in the middle of the night and I couldn’t sleep a wink.” He smiled to himself. “I talked to Hedwig all night, trying to convince myself it was real.”

Hermione smiled and nudged his shoulder. “I’d have thought talking millinery would’ve been empirical proof of a person losing their mind.”

“It’s a bit daft, isn’t it?” Harry mused, laughing. “Leaving our fate up to a manky old hat.” His laughter faded when he glimpsed Hermione’s expression. “But that’s not why you asked me, is it?”

She sighed heavily and shook her head. “Did you know I could talk to bees? Or rather, bees can talk to me?”

He stared. “Bees talk?”

“Apparently. Although I don’t really think one could call it speech. It’s more like cryptic sentences every once in a great while, followed by long periods of silence.”

“Sounds like they’re the life of the party.”

She snorted. “Well, bees have been shown to be anti-social and less likely to fly when they’ve drunk alcohol. Some have even become so inebriated that they can’t do anything other than lie down on their backs with their legs in the air.”

“Only you would know that,” Harry said with a laugh. “So go on then, tell me what they’ve said to you.”

Her expression grew pensive. She’d tried to blot out the information she’d learned from her trip to Sussex, but like a bad memory, it refused to be erased. “Ginny’s pregnant.”

Harry’s brows rose into his hairline. “How did you…” He and Ginny had just been married in May, and no one had suspected a thing. He turned away and focused on the rock wall edging the orchard. “We just found out—”

“A week ago.” At Harry’s incredulous look, she sighed. “That’s when I went to look over the property Professor Dumbledore left me. Want to know the sex?”

“Um, sure?” Harry gave her a wan smile, his unease clear.

“The first will be a boy.”

“First?” he said faintly. Harry was evidently having difficulty processing Hermione’s new ‘talent’. “Did the bees tell you this?”

She nodded. “You have to sift through the information—some of it is very clear, even mentioning dates and names. Other times you have to decipher it, determine if it’s meant to be literal or figurative. And there’s no specific pattern to the time frame for the occurrences—some of the information could be about past events, or things that will happen the next day… or in a few months, or maybe even years.”

“How long have you been talking to them?”

“Since I was four,” she murmured, plucking a purple clover bloom and twirling it. “They told me I was the brightest witch of my age. I didn’t know what they meant, of course. Not until almost a decade later.”

“Have they told you anything… horrible?”

She squeezed her eyes shut, just as she had on that day in Sussex. “Several things. The one that keeps repeating in my head is, ‘The red male’s time is at an end’.” After letting out a pent-up breath, she opened her eyes and glanced at Harry.

“You don’t think they were talking about…”

“I don’t know. We both know there are a lot of ‘red males’ around here. Then again, it could be someone neither of us has any prior knowledge of. Just…” She laid a hand on Harry’s arm and squeezed tightly. “I know you’re Ron’s Auror partner; don’t let him bungle his way into a situation he can’t handle.”

Harry placed his hand over hers and gripped it just as fiercely. “I promise. Have to get him to his stag party next month, don’t I?”

She tried to return Harry’s infectious smile, truly she did. But in the end, it didn’t matter.

Hermione stood numbly, her gaze unseeing, as Ron’s casket was lowered into the ground. No tears filled her eyes, no sobs wracked her frame—she had grieved long before this moment. At one point, she heard Molly’s voice, bitter and uncomprehending, wailing that Hermione was an unfeeling, cold-hearted wench who had played with her son’s affections. She heard Harry and Ginny both try to silence the grieving woman, but she was too distraught and would not be swayed. When a stray Stinging Hex grazed Hermione’s arm, it finally forced her to react. Her own wand raised in defence, she backed away from the small cemetery, heedless of the voices of her friends calling her name. At the entrance to the graveyard, she Apparated to the house in Sussex, knowing it was only a matter of time before she heard those wretched whispers again.