Hermione Jean Granger slipped off her sandals so she could curl her feet underneath her as she attempted to get slightly more comfortable in her desk chair. Her office was entirely quiet except for the steady scratching of her quill against the parchment and the sound always seemed to lull her into a half meditative state.
At this exact moment, Hermione had very few complaints. Sure, there was the barely read letter from the Ministry currently resting in her wastepaper basket that was an annual source of annoyance, the permanent headache that pounded around her temples, and the slightly melancholic air that hung over her like a shroud; but other than that she was perfectly content with her life.
The Hermione Granger of seven years ago, the one trying to live post-Battle of Hogwarts, could not say the same thing. Hermione shook her head slightly as if not allowing thoughts of the past to linger. I am content, she reminded herself. It had become a mantra.
The listlessness that had plagued her in the years post war had finally abated somewhat. She now had all the challenges her mind could handle as she researched essentially whatever she pleased. The thirst for knowledge had quieted down some of the louder voices that haunted her dreams, and sometimes her waking hours, as her mind was focussed on breaking down and solving complex problems and theories. She wouldn’t claim to have an extensive circle of friends but she had somewhat of a social life and a few close companions. She had a house that she adored that was filled with books. She wasn’t attached to the Floo Network but there was one in the village so she could fire call her family members when she wanted to.
Hermione briefly paused her writing to try and remember the last time she’d spoken to Harry. The last time couldn’t be that short chat 5 weeks ago, could it? Hermione tried to think back. Surely Ginny would have owled in outrage if that was the case. Hermione glanced wearily at the pile of mail on the shelf behind her desk. The post was notoriously slow out this far but surely she’d have noticed a letter from the Potters? Hermione went to rise but dismissed the thought. No, she’d have sent a howler, no doubt.
With another head shake Hermione went back to her research. She had two different books and three scrolls all hovering around her eye level over the dozens of papers she had spread across her desk. She had just begun a new research project, after having her last one conclude perfectly on schedule with a new spell of her own design. She had filed the spell with the Patent Office of the Ministry four days ago and just yesterday heard word, from one of the few in her social circle, that the spell had already made its way across the pond and to St. Mungos. Hermione was inordinately pleased, as that had been her intention of the spell, but pleasure only occupied the mind for so long. For Hermione, it seemed to only last for half an outing out with her colleagues and neighbours. She had returned to her home that night, by far the soberest one of the group, and was already pulling books and spare bits of parchment with an idea for a new project.
Hermione shifted in her seat again before unfolding her legs and tucking them underneath herself the other way. She spent most of the time in her office and was used to basically living in this chair. The office was rather grand. The desk where she currently resided had her back to a wall of windows that provided beautiful natural light for reading. The entire side of the office was floor to ceiling bookcases. She had them handmade by local muggle who had tried, multiple times, to install a ladder system for the 12 foot tall bookcases. She had waived him off repeatedly and although he looked sceptically at the Brit he had abided by her wishes. The far side of the office, away from the entrance, was her potions lab. It was spread across three grand tables which held 5 different cauldrons. There was a ward that split her office in half that protected the desk side from the smells and sounds of her potions brewing; although more often than not Hermione lowered the ward as she found the sounds as soothing as she did her quill. The remainder of the office, along the opposite wall, was what she, and anyone who had ever stepped foot into her office, affectionately dubbed the bowling lane. It was the length of the wall and the floor was done in a lighter hardwood than the rest of her office so one could clearly see where it resided. The entire stretch was warded and protected to guard against all kinds of magical mishaps. It was, in essence, where Hermione tested her spells.
Yes, Hermione had no complaints. She had her home and her office, her work and her friends. She was definitely content. Her quill paused and her hands shook lightly. God, she tried so hard to be content. When was it ever going to be enough?
A tap on the window startled the witch and her hands, in a hair trigger response, had her wand in hand faster than she could blink; an owl hovering outside the window tapped its beak against the glass again.
Hermione sighed and shook herself. Clearly she had gotten too close to thinking of her past if she was that jumpy. Her wand was slid back into the sheathe attached to her forearm and a casual wave of her fingers opened the door for the owl to fly in. She made some room amongst the papers on her desk and the owl landed gratefully. Barely another finger twitch and a small container of owl treats and water appeared; the large tawny owl hooted in appreciation and he stuck out his leg for Hermione to take the letter.
The owl hooted again but Hermione was stuck staring at the red wax seal on the envelope; she knew that seal all too well. The ornate letter H stood out as it was surrounded by four animals; a lion, a snake, a badger and an eagle. Now Hermione’s hands really were shaking. She finally took the envelope simply because the owl raised its head from the water and seemed to be eying her curiously; the witch drew the line at being judged by an owl.
The seal mocked her so she flipped the letter over; there was no address. Just her name. “Nope.” Hermione looked at the owl. “Not happening.” With a wave of her fingers Hermione banished the letter and it disappeared from her hand; after a second thought she swished her fingers again and the unopened pile of mail from behind her vanished as well.
The owl titled its head. “That kind of letter is an at home with an aged Cachaça kind of adventure. So if you were told to wait for a response you’re just going to have to wait.” The owl tilted its head even father and Hermione scowled. “I don’t have to explain myself to you.” She stood, slipped her feet into her sandals, and stormed from her office without a second glance. She waved her hand over her shoulder as she marched down the hallway and reset the wards in place around her office.
She actually very rarely walked this way out of the building; there were anti-apparation jinx’s in place on the building in general but each office allowed for the owner of that office to apparate in. But that would put her at her home in a second. Hermione needed more time to process than that.
Instead she planned to walk out of the research and administration building. The Ministry owned the building but it wasn’t for any specific purpose. Countless and various different professionals and consultants held offices and completed their work at the approval of the Ministry. The secretary and guard on duty seemed a little surprised to see her but they both merely smiled in greeting. Hermione wasn’t sure if they were surprised to see her leaving on foot or surprised the infamous workaholic witch was leaving in the middle of the afternoon. Before she stepped out of the building she waved her hand and instantly transfigured her outfit; lightweight material robes of a light aquamarine colour became short nylon shorts and a white tank top. Her hair, now chopped off to just barely brushing the tops of her shoulders, was pulled back into the tiniest ponytail she could manage. Her slip on sandals had been replaced with bright yellow running shoes.
When she finally stepped outside the humidity, that had taken Hermione at least a year to grow accustomed to, struck her instantly after being so long in her apartment and her office; both with spells to regulate the temperature. Hermione tried desperately to let go of her stress as she looked out into the city that had become her refuge.
The Ministry building she had just stepped out of was one of the very few buildings around that were taller than two stories. The inside, which was impeccably looking, did not match the slightly haggard appearance of the outside. Like all of their buildings the paint was chipped and the buildings were simply built squares for convenience and space; not style.
Hermione stepped out and stretched her legs a little before starting a light jog. She kept to the edge of the paved road having learnt her lesson three years ago that the rules of the road meant little here. There were barely any cars on the road; usually only pickup trucks Hermione thought might be older than her. Instead the norm was bikes. Countless motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles clogged the streets. As Hermione jogged past the town supermarket there were easily 25 two wheeled vehicles parked out front.
Hermione’s muscles finally loosened and the witch picked up her pace a little. She had started running soon after the war and now years of working her muscles had given her a lean, athletic runners build. Walking and running had been an enjoyment on her previous travels; in this town it is a necessity.
She quickly got off the main road and that was the end of the pavement; trodden down dirt and clay was now the road. It was barely over the width of one car; but bikes and mopeds weaved in and out of each other with ease.
The witch had worked up quite the sweat now; she didn’t usually run in the middle of the day and the sun was beaming down on her without mercy. Her skin had tanned remarkably while on her travels but years of South American sun exposure had turned her otherwise pale British skin a lovely tanned, caramel colour. She still couldn’t pass for Brazilian but she didn’t stand out as much as she used to.
Hermione continued her jog, her endorphins kicking in and bringing the first smile of the day to her face, and she headed for a different neighbourhood. The entire town was relatively poor, as this entire state of Brazil was, but the people were friendly and helpful and Hermione thrived on the entire atmosphere of it. Her neighborhood might be magical but no one ever looked twice at the Golden Girl; at least not for those reasons.
The houses thinned briefly and Hermione jogged along of stretch of grass, mostly dried up and dead from the heat with no one taking care of it, and soon her magic registered crossing the wards that kept the muggles from their neighborhood. To most it was unnoticeable but Hermione physically felt the difference in the ward like she was running through slightly thicker air. The houses picked back up again on the other side and now Hermione smiled and nodded or waved at the fellow witches and wizards she saw out and about on their day.
The one story houses were all small and simple rectangles, longer than they were wide, and side by side to each other. Simple wooden slat fences with large gaps or low built brick walls separated the houses from each other and the street. For the most part the windows were simple open holes with no glass or screens; Hermione drew the line somewhere and had hers warded against intruders as well as bugs. Most of the yards, the small patches that there were, were dirt and not grass. The grass was too hard to maintain and while those in the magical neighborhood part of Ariquemes could have used magic the locals simply had no reason to bother. Throughout the dirt road Hermione passed dozens of children running or playing soccer and her smile returned at the sight. This was what she had done everything for; to be peaceful and free and happy. It made everything worth it.
Hermione finally reached her house after a 30 minutes run. The hair that had escaped the short pony tail had plastered to her sweaty face and her tank top was sticking to her back. “I do not believing my eyes!” Hermione was smiling at the thick Brazilian accent before the sentence was even finished. She leaned her thighs up against the brick wall, that did not even reach her belly button, and smiled at her neighbor.
Their houses were both tight to this side of the property line while the outside, narrow piece of property that ran along their houses were on the opposite sides. Hermione could, and frequently did, lean outside of her kitchen window and pass fruits and treats to the woman’s various children reaching out through their window to her. “What don’t you believe?” Hermione smiled at the slightly younger than middle-aged woman. She was wearing simple, brown leather sandals and a bright pink, very light material dress that flowed down her slender but curvy frame and reached half-way down her thighs. Her black hair was pulled away from her face in a no non-sense bun and multiple bangles jingled from her wrists. Her face was round and warm and the laugh lines around her eyes and mouth punctuated her humorous nature. Although perhaps it was the constant groaning from any of her 4 children who thought their mother was not funny at all that kept Hermione laughing.
“I can’t believe to see minha branca not working! Are you very sick?” Larissa Sousa stopped waving her wand against her front porch, which she had been sweeping, and eyed her essentially 5th and oldest child.
“I’m not sick, thank you very much. Can’t I take an afternoon off?” Hermione chuckled.
“Aye, you could. Buts it’s, how you say, inédito?”
The younger witch rolled her eyes playfully. “It is not unheard of.”
Larissa pointed her finger at Hermione in a gesture she was very familiar with; having seen it used on herself and the woman’s children nearly daily. “It has no happened before. So tell me what’s happened?”
Hermione could see the genuine concern behind the playful glare and Hermione simultaneously felt the urge to flee and spill to the kind woman she considered family. “Nada aconteceu. Apenas uma carta de casa. [Nothing has happened. Just a letter from home].”
Larissa eyed the younger witch carefully. She knew there was many secrets the foreign girl had not shared. She had no desire to push, but she wished that she could erase the darkness she sometimes saw shadowed in her eyes. Instead she gave her an affectionate smile. “At least you no longer destroy the Português.”
Hermione laughed and Larissa considered it an accomplishment. “You mean like you butcher Inglês?”
The woman gasped and started cursing in rapid fire Portuguese but Hermione merely laughed harder and waved the woman off and she headed for her house. “You is coming to dinner here tonight! The kids would love to see their branca and you has no excuses!”
Hermione waved again to let the woman know she had heard her and she waved her fingers in a complex pattern to release the locks and wards to let her into her home.
Her running shoes were slipped off and kicked in the general direction of her shoe rack and she padded barefoot across the beige tiled floor. Her entry way, like most Brazilian homes, led right into the kitchen. It was, after all, the heart of a home. Hermione’s kitchen was neat and well-kept but simple. She had a nook underneath the window where she ate most of her meals as her three seater, wooden kitchen table was usually full of books and parchment and, like now, unopened mail. She opened her refrigerator and pulled a bottle of water free while waving her fingers; a package of breakfast sausages and a carton of eggs flew from the fridge and landed gently on the counter where they began unwrapping themselves. A copper pan unhooked itself from where it hung over the sink and dropped gently onto the stove; another flick of her fingers and the stove had lit and a slice of butter flew from the still open fridge and landed in the pan.
Confident her breakfast/lunch was well in hand Hermione headed further into her house, passed her home office/potions lab, and into her bedroom. With a flick she banished her sweaty clothes to a hamper, her wand sheathe, which she had rendered invisible when she changed her robes for clothes, to the dresser and headed for the shower.
With gentle water pouring over her Hermione tried to let go of the stress that had punctured her since the owl had arrived with her mail. She couldn’t fathom why Hogwarts, she assumed McGonagall, would send her post suddenly out of the blue now. A part of her, the witch who had fled Great Britain after the war with nightmares and PTSD wanted to burn the letter and forget its existence. But the other part of her, the inquisitive, logical and rational girl that had led her to even become the brains behind the Golden Trio, knew she would not be satisfied until she knew all the facts contained within the letter.
When she stepped out of the shower a quick drying charm was used on her body but not her hair. While it was shorter and easier to manage than when she’d been a teen it still required some work. She lathered a conditioner and hair care potion, one of her own design, onto her fingertips and massaged it through her brown locks. Her hair was a few shades lighter than it was when she left Britain, also attributed to the sun, and it was at least now not the constant annoyance it was once.
The witch pulled on another outfit, a long billowy skirt and another tank top, left the sheathe but placed her wand in her back pocket and headed back to the kitchen where she could smell her food. Just as she was plating her simple meal a slight flutter of air turned her head to the window and brought another smile to her face. “There you are. I was wondering where you’d gotten to.”
An elegant and proud bird now perched on the window sill; a white-necked hawk. Its body and head were pure snowy white but its wings were a shimmering slate grey. The bird hopped a few times to get further inside the house and with one flap of its wings it glided up and onto the witch’s shoulder. The sharp talons, capable of ripping through its prey, gently gripped the witch’s body with only enough pressure to remain balanced. Hermione ripped a piece of sausage in half and finger fed the bird. He cawed gently in her ear and Hermione, once she wiped off her greasy fingers, stroked him gently underneath his beak. As always, Hermione felt slightly more at peace in the birds presence. “What have you been up to, Oz? Hmm?”
After he had stolen another piece of sausage he took off from her shoulder and landed on his perch across the room. It was a simple wooden structure that mimicked a slight tree; Larissa’s oldest son had made it for her. Oz preened his feathers while she ate and then Hermione set the dishes into washing themselves in the sink.
With nothing else to distract her Hermione settled at her kitchen table and pulled the post towards her. Well, I guess there’s a few more things to distract me. The first piece of post was skimmed and then banished to the trash; it was simply a receipt from the Patent Office at the Brazilian Ministry. The next two letters followed the way of the first; one was a notice from her office building concerning an explosion last week and another was from the wizard who had caused the explosion promptly apologizing for disrupting any other persons work. The last few were junk advertisements. Well, that killed 4 minutes. Seeming far braver than she felt Hermione snatched the final letter and used her wand as a letter opener quickly so she didn’t have to face the Hogwarts seal. The parchment was thick and high quality and one glance at the clear, concise handwriting let Hermione know she had been correct about who had mailed her. Feeling as if the life she had finally settled into was about to be rocked the witch started to read:
Dear Ms. Granger,
I hope I find you in good health and pleasant straights. I have forthwith respected your wishes and have such refrained from writing you before now but circumstances have changed and now I feel I must.
I will admit, firstly, that I have kept an eye on your travels and your exploits. I do not think you will begrudge me that. I am of course proud of all that you have accomplished. I have read your research and your publications and delighted when news of the completion of your Masteries reached me. I have even read a few things which you did not claim responsibility for (but I have read a great many of your essay’s and I like to think I can recognize my favourite students works even hidden behind an alias).
All of this brings me to the point of me finally breaking my silence and sending an owl to find you. I have finally admitted, or dare I say been coerced into claiming, that I can no longer continue to fulfill the roles at Hogwarts of both Headmistress and Transfiguration Professor. In truth, had you been more readily available I might have admitted this sooner. Hermione, there never was, nor I doubt there ever will be, anyone I would rather hand over my title of Transfiguration professor to than you.
I know you said you did not want to come home and I respect your wishes. However, I also felt it was my duty to present you with all of your choices. Teaching is a pleasure but it is also a gift; one I know that can be mutually beneficial. I know that you could do many amazing things for the students of this school. But I also believe that the students could do something amazing for you in return. You have a talent for learning and teaching and every professor who was honoured to have you in their class, including myself, knows this.
This is me formally offering you the position if you so desire it. It is May 24th as I write this (as I do not know how long it will take my owl to find you) and either way I respectfully ask that you send your answer by June 30th so I will be able to fill the position if you decline. However, I truly hope you will consider the offer.
I kindly await your return owl.
Hermione heard a warning caw from Oz and glanced up at the owl that had flown through her open apartment window and landed on her table after clearly following her home. “Well. Shit.”
Laughter and thumping footsteps reverberated around the household and Larissa shouted warnings over her shoulder in Portuguese. “An animal pack those ones are.” She huffed to the younger witch seated at her table and sipping cachaça.
Hermione smiled beautifully. “I think they’re precious.” Matheus, Larissa’s 14 year old, ran past the two older witches and swooped down to kiss Hermione’s cheek on the way out the front door.
Seconds later Danilo, Matheus’s 12 year old younger brother, sped by after his sibling yelling, “What is pre-sous mean?”
“Algo que você não é jovem! [Something you are not, young man!]” Larissa screeched after her sons. Hermione simply laughed harder and swallowed the remainder in her glass. Still shaking her head at her sons’ antics Larissa nodded her head at the empty tumbler. “Again?”
“No, no again.” Hermione teased. After chuckling she corrected, “Another. And no I would not like another. I may not have far to go home later but I do need to work in the morning.”
Larissa scoffed. “Says who? The way I sees it no one but you would know if you no work tomorrow.”
“Exactly.” Hermione deadpanned. “I would know.” She sighed. “Besides, my work is all I have.” Hermione was unprepared for the slap that assaulted the back of her head.
“Chega com essa história de ter pena de si mesma! Agora, diga-me, por que essa carta de casa te deixou tão nervosa? [Enough of that pity party right now. Now tell me, why did this letter from home get you so worked up?]” The Portuguese was rapid fire and Hermione felt properly chastised.
“Não quis dizer isso. Eu sei que tenho sua família, é só… [I didn't mean that. I know I have your family, it's just…]” Hermione sighed and looked around the home she knew as well as her own to avoid Larissa’s gaze. It was remarkably similar to her own, just a little more worn down, a little less tidy and a lot more lived it. There were signs of children and life everywhere. “É apenas…e-I jus…I don’t know, Issa. I left Britain for a reason and now…people are asking me to come back. My family has always asked me to come back."
“Well. Is the reason you left gone now?"
Hermione looked up startled. “What?"
“You left for a reason. Is reason gone now?”
Hermione tried to give the question the appropriate amount of thought. Finally she reached for her glass and rolled her eyes when it was empty. Larissa was already waiting with a refill. “I don’t know.”
Larissa arched an eyebrow. “Minha branca-”
Hermione cut the older witch off before she could start a full lecture. “I mean I really don’t know. I left Britain because, well, I didn’t feel safe there. I couldn’t breathe. Everything reminded me of the war. I couldn’t see the good things anymore. I saw death and destruction everywhere I went. I left because I needed to see new things. Things where I hadn’t seen gore and blood and bodies.” This was the most Hermione had ever talked to her about the war. She looked up into the beautiful, dark mocha features that were patiently waiting without judgment. “I had to leave because I couldn’t be there.”
“Well,” the woman put her hand on Hermione’s gently, “then there is answer.”
Hermione was, by all accounts, brilliant; and she looked at the woman utterly confused. “Huh?”
“You left because you could no stay. You were, uh, ghosted?”
Hermione gave a wry grin. “Haunted.”
“Sim, haunted. You was haunted. So, you go back. Test it. Easy.”
Larissa smiled like she would when teaching one of her children their schoolwork. “Sim. Go back and see if you can breathe. If you can see things else the death and the bodies. See good things. If you can, its time you go home. If you can’t, you no ready.”
Hermione stared at the woman like she was having an epiphany; which she likely was. She was only jerked out of her reprieve when small hands slapped down on her bare thigh. Hermione grinned and scooped up the little toddler. “Como você está, minha anjinha? [How are you, little angel?]” She cooed. Lorena, Larissa’s youngest, was wearing a little sundress and her curled, black hair was split and pulled into pigtails.
The three year old giggled as she stood on Hermione’s legs and was supported by strong hands under her arms. Hermione bounced her legs a little and she giggled again. “Branca, de novo de novo!”
Hermione rolled her eyes but heeded the little girls request and bounced her again. “Couldn’t your sons have taught her my actual name?”
Larissa grinned. “You the only white girl they ever seen. That is your name.”
Hermione scowled again. “Just for that, I’m stealing your daughter.” Hermione stood and hitched the toddler to her hip.
“No, not that one, she’s the only one I like!” Larissa laughed as she followed the duo out the door.
Hermione watched the two boys point and fawn over Oz in the sky before she whistled sharply. The hawk glided lower and lower in circles before landing on the brick wall between their houses. The boys had been taught by Hermione not to run over to the predator bird. Instead they approached cautiously and waited for Oz to spread a wing for them to stroke.
Lorena wiggled incessantly until Hermione set her down and she ran over to her brothers and the bird on slightly unsteady legs. Matheus picked up his sister and carefully held her wrist steady so she could pet the bird too.
Hermione watched the children and her familiar and a sinking feeling nearly overtook her. “I have nephews and nieces I’ve never met in person before. Did you know that?” Larissa shook her head at the translation. “Afilhados e afilhadas. I think you were right. I think I have to try.”
“Good.” Larissa watched her children with a laser gaze that would be appropriate on the bird they were playing with.
“You know Oz won’t hurt them.”
“Pshsst. I is making sure my demônio children don’t hurt him.”