The Council of Literary Heroines: The Letheans

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Norah was thankful to discover that she was on the espresso bar when she got to work. It gave her a chance to zone out a bit and think. She only needed a tiny fraction of her brain to make lattes, especially for all the morning regulars. Phoebe was working the till so they didn’t really get a chance to talk until the morning rush slowed down. Phoebe came back to help her wipe down and restock the bar.

“Did you get anything else written last night?”

“No. Just a start. But the weirdest thing happened this morning.”

“I was going to ask you what is up, you seem really in your head! I thought maybe you were just composing your opus.”

“I am a bit, but mostly because of what happened. I met my main character.”

“Oh that’s important! What is she like? Or is it a he?”

“No, you don’t understand, and you are not going to believe this.”

“Try me.”

“Ok. I mean I literally met my main character. In the flesh.”

“You mean like someone who inspired you?”

“No, I mean my actual main character.”

Phoebe looked blankly at Norah. They usually didn’t have this much trouble communicating. Phoebe was naturally intuitive but this also made her skeptical. Norah was wracking her brain for a way to explain when the woman walked in.

“That’s her!”

Phoebe didn’t have a chance to respond because the woman came up to the till and ordered a tea. She smiled at Norah and said “I would love to sit and chat with you more. And with you, Phoebe, if you want.”

Phoebe gave Norah a look. When the woman went and sat down she said “this is getting really weird but I am just going with it. I am guessing that’s her?”

Norah breathed a sigh of relief. “Yeah.”

Just then the next shift arrived. Phoebe had a lunch break and Norah was done for the day.

“Shall we go and talk to her?” Phoebe asked?

“Sure. I only met her briefly this morning. She is from the Council of Literary Heroines. Apparently I wrote enough last night to conjure her into being.”

When they all sat down together Norah and the woman took turns catching her up on the brief encounter that morning. Then the woman turned to Norah and said “it wasn’t really fair of me earlier, to ask you to commit to writing your story, when you don’t know everything that is involved.”

“What do you mean?” Norah asked.

“There are forces involved in this that are very powerful. They are the forces that make people forget the stories, both the fairy tales and the modern ones, and even make them forget their own stories. When you don’t remember the stories, including your own, then you are more likely to make destructive choices.”

“What are these forces? Do they have a name?”

“They are called many things, and very few people know their true name, which is how they would have it. They are called the Letheans, because they make people forget.”

“Wait. Letheans? Like as in the river Lethe?” Norah was familiar with mythology, and she had studied Greek in university.

“Yes, just like. They make people forget.”

“How exactly?”

“They have many ways of erasing memories, but their main tool is their ability to leach the beauty out of the world. They can’t actually take it away, but they are very good at distracting people so much that people can’t see the beauty right in front of their faces any more. They use money, power, anything in their grasp to lure people away from the truth. Then the people who do see are so marginalized that people tend to think they are crazy. In your case, Norah, they are using fear and monotony to dull your ability to see clearly. But you are stronger than they have imagined, I think. And you have a friend who is stronger still.”

“Me?” Phoebe asked.

“Yes, you are a naming force. You see the power Norah has as a storyteller, and you push her and encourage her to use it. The beginning of her story wouldn’t exist without you, Phoebe, and I wouldn’t either. Together you can be a powerful force for truth and remembering. But you should also know the dangers. Once the Letheans realize you intend to write your story, they will do everything in their power to stop you.”

“Why is my story so important?”

“I don’t fully understand that, and neither does the Council, but sometimes there are hinge moments, where the balance of the world can be tipped by just one small thing, and right now, that small things seems to be your story.”

Norah wasn’t sure why, but she believed the woman. “I hardly understand this at all, but I suppose I have to try. I really don’t know where to start, though.”

“Phoebe was right, you need to just sit down and write. The story will come through you if you just begin.”

Norah looked at Phoebe, who smiled and nodded at her, and then looked at the woman. “Well, I suppose I should start by giving you a name. I know what it is now.”

The woman looked up hopefully.

“It’s Aletheia.”

Aletheia smiled, and her edges seemed to grow stronger.

Hallowe’en 1996: The Case of the Sixth Spice Girl

Kelly opened the door to the Spice Girls and quietly sighed as she joined them. Under the costumes were her five best friends. They had tried to come up with a group costume for six for the Hallowe’en party, but the Spice Girls idea was too awesome to pass up, and Kelly drew the short straw.

“Oh cool, are you like, our manager or something?” Baby Spice (her friend Natalie) asked. Kelly rolled her eyes. None of her family members had figured out who she was either. She thought it was obvious. Plaid skirt, loafers, cashmere sweater, headband. And what made it the most obvious was the thing that inspired the whole costume, the magnifying glass necklace she found at the thrift store.

 

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The Bookstore

Lily almost missed the entrance to the bookstore, tucked away behind the beautiful but unruly mess of shrubs, flowers and vines. She hesitated before pushing the glass door open because she thought she saw the stooped figure of an old woman on the other side, but when she pushed open the door and went inside there was no one there.

“Hello?” she called. “I’m just dropping off a resume, I saw the ad in the paper at the University.”

 

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The Council of Literary Heroines

Norah believed that stories were true. She grew up reading and read her way through school, all the way through university. Once she graduated, she wanted to write stories. That was all she wanted to do. So she wrote. Or at least she tried to write. Mostly she read books that were like the ones she wanted to write, she read books about how to write, and she browsed Creative Writing courses online, but was too afraid to actually sign up for one. She fell into the life that so many artists fall into: that of the minimum wage job. She had to work so many hours to afford her rent and food that eventually she wrote less and less, and the stories she read became more like escapes from her reality than realities in and of themselves.

 

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A Rescue

Alarm rings. Press snooze. Groan. Turn over.

Alarm rings. Turn it off. Groan. Get up. Sit on edge of bed and stare into the abyss for a minute.

Get showered, dressed, fed, caffeinated.

Rush to bus stop. Wait for bus in the inevitable drizzle. Curse the fact that this spring has been unseasonably cold and rainy. Even though spring is always cold and rainy.

Board bus. Find a spot away from other people. Stare out the window.

This is how every day had started so far this year.

At least at the beginning of the year she had classes to go to in the afternoons. Now Steph only had months of other people’s groceries to ring through.

This morning was no different. Until someone sat directly across from her, right in her window-staring line of vision. Someone was a girl about her size and age, but much cooler. Half her head was shaved, and the hair that remained fell to her shoulders and was dyed bright red. She looked back at Steph and smiled. Steph smiled quickly back but looked away. She made small talk all day; she really didn’t want to interact with another person. But when she looked back at the girl, Steph swore she winked at her. Now she started to squirm in her seat. Her stop was coming up, so she decided to just get up and stand near the door. When it was time to ring the bell for her stop, the bus driver yelled back. “Sorry if anyone needs the next stop, the intersection up ahead is closed, so I’ll have to do a bit of a detour here.”

Steph looked back at the girl but she had disappeared. Suddenly overwhelmed, she walked to the front of the bus so she could ask the driver to stop the bus. She should just go home. She could call in sick for one day. But the bus driver who had been there before was gone, and the red haired girl was now driving the bus. Steph realized she was the only one left aboard. The girl smiled a reassuring smile as she cranked the wheel hard and took a fast turn. Steph was not reassured as she hung on for dear life. She ran to the door and tried to pry it open with her fingers. When that didn’t work she started banging on the door and panicking. Just when she thought she was going to lose it, the bus stopped and the front doors opened. They were on a small dirt road, and there was a wooded area in the distance. Steph stepped outside. In the middle of the field in between the road and the wood stood the oldest oak tree Steph had ever seen. It towered above them, and the thick trunk was covered in knots bigger than both her hands together. Steph frowned and shook her head as she realized that in the oak tree’s general area it seemed to not be drizzly. And the tree was in full leaf, while all the other trees still had their spring buds.

Steph looked at the girl, dumbfounded. She was still sitting in the driver’s seat, leaning on her arms on the steering wheel, watching Steph with a grin on her face.

“I know”. The girl said. “It is super weird. But it helped me, and when I saw you this morning I knew you needed help too. So it is yours now. Just promise you’ll show someone else when you don’t need it anymore.” She smiled again, then closed the bus doors and drove off.

Steph walked towards the tree, and as she did she felt the air getting warmer. She looked up at a clear blue sky. When she reached the tree she found an alcove at the base of the huge truck with a sleeping mat, blanket and pillow rolled up inside. There was some food and a thermos of tea, which Steph started to drink while leaning against the trunk of the oak. It felt solid, supporting her, but it was somehow soft at the same time.

She spent the whole day at the foot of the tree. She ate, and alternated sitting in the sun and shade. She read some books that she found in the sleeping nook. After the sun set, she curled up under the tree and looked at the stars that she could see through the branches.

She woke up to sunshine and birdsong.

Fanfic Friday: Hermione, After – Part 2

Part 1

By the time the Knight Bus pulled into Hogsmeade, Hermione had somewhat pulled herself together, pushed aside the feelings of regret she had for being too hasty, and had the beginnings of a plan. She could use the Three Broomsticks as a base, and apparate to all places she wanted to go on her own gap year trip.

Madam Rosmerta saw her immediately as she walked in the door. “Hermione!” she called from across the pub, and started to bustle towards her. Hermione was surprised that Rosmerta even knew her name. “Hermione, I am so glad you are here! Did she call you? I was just trying to figure out if I should call her husband.”

Hermione had learned that if you kept quiet when you didn’t know what someone was talking about you could often figure it out eventually.

“Hermione?” A small voice from a table in the corner caught Hermione’s ear. She turned to see Fleur Weasley looking terrible. Well, terrible for Fleur, that is. Her skin was all blotchy and her eyes were so puffy it looked like she had been crying for days.

“Fleur? What are you doing here? Are you okay?”

“I…I needed to get away somewhere, I…” she stopped, obviously trying to hold back tears. “Hermione, I am pregnant” she blurted out.

“Oh! Well that’s…um, I was going to say that’s wonderful, but you obviously don’t think it is, and that’s okay. Do you want to talk about it?”

“It is just. It is wonderful, of course it is, and I am happy. I know I do not look it, but I am. But Hermione, I am also so scared. I do not think I will be a good mother.”

“Nonsense! You are good at everything” Hermione stopped short after Fleur shot her an angry look.

“That is not true. Just because I’m pretty doesn’t mean I am good at everything. My mother was not a wonderful mother. Veelas are not known for being warm and caring. That is why I feel such maternal feelings for my sister, since I was practically her mother.”

“Well, there you go then! You’ve had experience.”

“But I did not care for her when she was a newborn baby. I have no idea what I would do. And, well, that is not even the thing I am scared of most, actually.”

Hermione sat quietly and let her go on in her own time.

“Hermione, do not judge me, but I am afraid, because of what happened to Bill, you know, I am afraid this baby will be…will be…wolfish.” She looked ashamed as she said it.

“Oh Fleur, you’re pregnant, and you weren’t expecting it, of course you are worried about all kinds of things.” The two women sat quietly then, not saying anything for a minute. Hermione got an idea. It wasn’t her favourite idea ever.

“Fleur,” she said, not believing what she was doing even as the words were coming out of her mouth, “I was planning on going on a trip. I have some thinking to do myself and, well, would you want to come with me?

Fleur looked at Hermione and her face slowly brightened. “I think that is just what I need. I can leave immediately, I just have to go back to the cottage to collect my things and tell Bill. Can you apparate there too?” The two women went out behind the pub and Hermione braced herself before apparating.

They arrived at the cottage and Fleur opened the front door. “Bill? Bill, are you here?”

Hermione found a note on the kitchen table and showed it to Fleur.

Fleur,

I have to go. Emergency. I’ll be gone for a few days. Be well.

Love,

Bill

Fleur looked at Hermione in shock. “This is not Bill’s handwriting, and he would never be so short with me!” Her gaze hardened. “Hermione, we have to find him!”

 

The Puddle

Beth remembered again as she walked out to the bus stop.  She kept trying to distract herself with busyness but it always came to mind in the lulls, the times when she wasn’t really doing anything: sitting on the bus, before falling asleep, while brushing teeth.

It was cold and wet.  The snow from earlier in the day had turned to rain, and she took care to stand far back from the curb, protecting herself from the careless drivers who would unknowingly splash her as they drove by.  As she stood in the dark she noticed the puddle in front of her.  At first she thought it was just a really deep puddle, because of the way the ripples from the falling raindrops behaved curiously, disappearing into the inky depths before their time.  But then she realized that the depth of the puddle shouldn’t change the way that the ripples behaved.  Glad of a puzzle to take her mind away from what she had been thinking about, she continued to stare at the way the drops were almost being sucked right into the puddle, like maybe it wasn’t even made of water.  She stepped closer to the puddle to allow a woman to pass her on the sidewalk, taking the opportunity to get a better look.  She was glad of a reason to avoid eye contact with the woman.  It was awkward to meet eyes with strangers as they passed.  Instead, she stared deeper into the puddle, and it seemed to grab a memory.

They were sitting at Starbucks.  She had just told him her news.  The magazine that she had been doing some freelance writing for recently wanted to hire her.  It wasn’t quite her dream job, but it was definitely getting close, a lot closer than the job she had here at Starbucks which she just did so she could have time to write.  She had been waiting all day to tell him, and when he had finally shown up it had all bubbled out of her, she couldn’t stop smiling as she told him, and her excitement made him smile too.  But he didn’t say anything right away, and when he did, he asked the question that she didn’t want to deal with, not just yet.

“But, does this mean that you’ll have to move there?”

“Yeah, but…”

“But what?”

“I didn’t really want to get into this right away, but, well, I thought that maybe you could come too.”

“…”

“Ben?”

“I..”

“I know it is a lot to think about right now, but it kind of makes sense for you too, I mean, teaching is something you can do anywhere, and you’ll be closer to your family.”

He laughed nervously “I’m not sure that’s actually something that I want.”

She could usually deal with silences without getting uncomfortable, but not this time.

“To be close to your family you mean?”

“What?”

“You don’t really want to be close to your parents, or you don’t really want to move with me?”

“I…Beth, I don’t really want to talk about this right now.  Sorry.”

She forgot to stand far enough back from the curb, and she got some drive-by spray.  Normally she would care more, but right now all she could pay attention to was the way the ripples from the car that drove by hardly upset the water in the puddle.  It was almost like it was made of molasses.  She wanted to touch it to find out, but as she bent down, another memory came to her mind, again as if drawn out by the stickiness of the puddle.

Beth and Susan were already mostly done the bottle of wine.  Beth was trying to convince Susan that she and Ben were ok, but she wasn’t really liking where Susan was taking the conversation.

“He said he would think about it, I think he might say yes”

“Beth, honey, I think that maybe he’s just stalling.”

“I don’t know, maybe he just needs time to warm up to the idea.”

“How long were you two talking about moving in together before this?”

“Um, maybe, about six months?”

“Don’t you think he’s had enough time to warm up to the idea?”

“Maybe.”

Beth was unconvinced.  She knew he would come around.  He had to, Susan was right, they had been talking about moving in together for months already, but he probably just hasn’t had quite enough time yet.  Some people have a really hard time with change, and they take longer to come to terms with it.  She let Susan out and finished up the bottle before going to bed.

The next morning, she got up, called the magazine and told them she needed a bit more time to get her things together here.  They gave her an extra month.

That was two weeks ago.  In that time, she has been calling some local magazines, and some newspapers, but none of them have any openings, except one.  Beth was now on her way to an interview for that job, but she was unaware that the bus was late.  She was just so fascinated by this puddle.

He had made her dinner.  That was a good sign, right?  A great sign, she thought.  She imagined all the dinners they would share in their new place once they moved.  Or even in his place if she moved in here…which she was becoming more and more willing to do.  They ate in silence for a while.  Finally, he took something out of his pocket and held it in his hand for a while.  Beth’s heart stopped.  He then placed a key on the table and slid it over to her.  She exhaled heavily.

“What’s this?”

“The key to my place.”

“You want me to move in with you?” She wasn’t actually as happy about this as she thought she would be.

“No, well, maybe someday, but for now, I thought you could just have the key, so you could come over whenever you wanted.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s great, thanks.”

She put the key in her purse and saw the note about her interview tomorrow.  Her heart sank thinking about it.  It was for a job copyediting at the local newspaper.  She had copyedited before getting the job at Starbucks.  She was good at it, but she didn’t love it.  And a full time job would mean that she wouldn’t have as much time to write anymore.  But he had just given her the key to his place.

“Will you stay here tonight?” he asked.

She hesitated.  “Actually, I really think I should go home tonight.  I have an interview tomorrow.”

“Really?  Where?”

“The Daily.”

“That’s great!  I’m sure you’ll get it.  Won’t it be great to not have to pour coffee for grumpy people every morning?”

“Yeah, except now I’m going to be the grumpy person getting coffee poured for her.”

He laughed a lot at that.  She hadn’t actually meant it as a joke, but she smiled anyways.  It was good to see him laughing for a change.  She changed the subject.

“Ben, this stir-fry is delicious, can I get the recipe?”

“Oh, we wouldn’t want you to be able to make it without me, now would we?”

She is jolted out of her memory by the felt presence of another person.  It is the same woman that passed her before, passing back on her way home from wherever she was.  “Still waiting honey?”  She asked.  Beth smiled and nodded as the woman passed.  Strangely, she walked right through the puddle, instead of walking behind Beth and keeping her feet dry.  As her feet moved through the puddle, Beth noticed the water moving more like normal water.  She looked at her watch and realized she had been waiting for over half an hour.  She decided the bus probably wasn’t coming and turned back to walk the two blocks back to her apartment.

Carnaval

Feel the slow rhythm of the life of my grandmother, Lily, as she wakes up every morning in her bed, beside her tall, strong husband, my grandfather, John.  Her bed is in a small bedroom, in a small house, with only a kitchen and a bedroom.  The house is beside a small barn where they keep a few cows.  The barn is beside the chicken coop, where they keep a dozen chickens, sometimes with some young chicks, and one rooster.  You can only ever keep one rooster.

The farm is close to other farms.  Mennonite farms.  Farms of men and women driven from the Ukraine and Russia.  These farms make up the settlement of Neu Witmarsum.  The settlement is beside the city of Curitiba.  Curitiba is beside the Atlantic Ocean, on the Southern coast of Brasil.

Feel the quietness of the morning when she is the first to stir.  She will get up, gather the eggs, cook my grandfather breakfast, which he will eat appreciatively, before grabbing her by the waist and kissing her, before going to milk the cows.  Feel the swell in her heart when he does this, the swell which carries her out the door to the garden, where she weeds and gathers vegetables for the noon meal.  Then she will go back to the chickens, this time to ask them for more than eggs, this time she will ask for one of their bodies, to nourish her body, and the body of my grandfather, and the now only thirty-two cells of my mother’s body, which no one knows are in existence yet.  She will steel herself and take the machete out to the stump, feed the chickens and pick one out.  She will chop off its head.  Feel the chicken’s legs move from involuntary posthumous muscle spasms.  The other chickens don’t seem to be disturbed by the slaughtering of their sister.  The sacrificed body will be carried to the house, to the kitchen, to the cooking pot.  It will be cooked as bread is mixed, and kneaded, and baked.  Bread will be baked as butter is churned.  Chicken and vegetables and bread and butter will be ready, all at the same time, by some mysteriously learned timing passed down from mother to daughter.

After eating, the afternoon will be spent washing clothes, darning socks, making coffee, cooking beans and rice for the evening meal. At night, she will help my grandfather milk the cows, and when she thinks he isn’t paying attention, she will squirt milk directly into the mouth of the barn cat.

After milking, there will not be much more to do other than go to bed. The candle will be lit in order to read a passage of scripture, and then blown out again to save for tomorrow night.

This is the rhythm of the life of my grandmother, and she thanks God every day for it. The rhythm she has come from is the rhythm of war, of chaos, of running and running to get away. She has settled into the settlement, and into the farm, and into my grandfather’s arms, as if she were a child settling into a rocking cradle.

The next morning the slow rhythm is broken.  This day my grandmother is going to Carnaval.  None of her sisters are going with her, they all must stay home with children.  John also must stay home to milk the cows.  But none of them would go, even if they did not have excuses. Lily is the adventurous one in her family, the one with the vivacious personality.  When her sisters all get together, all of them fight to be the one who gets to sit next to Lily.  But her sisters will not accompany her to Carnaval.  They will ask her to tell them about it, later.  They will listen, rapt, as she recounts her adventure.  They will live vicariously.  Did my grandmother know that this would be her only chance to go to Carnaval?  Did she feel those thirty-two cells of my mother’s body, already putting demands on her own body?

Lily has only heard bits and pieces about what Carnaval is like from people that have passed through the settlement.  Never from her neighbours.  She is the first to venture to this place.  And she has heard the whispers, the stirrings of people in the settlement, about how scandalized they are that she is going.

But Lily is undeterred.  She is curious, and once her curiosity takes hold, she will take any measures she can to assuage it. She sets out walking down the road that will take her to the bus stop.  The bus that she catches there takes her to the town of Curitiba, the town where Carnaval is already in full swing.  The bus is already crowded when she gets on, and becomes more and more crowded as it moves towards the town.  She doesn’t really know where to get off the bus, so she just waits until a large crowd gets off and follows them.

At first she is disoriented.  But then she hears music.  Feel the far away beckoning of the Samba. Feel the beat getting louder as Lily follows the sound of the music into the heart of Carnaval. Feel her eyes grow wider with each step. There are men selling food from carts on the side of the road. There are men drinking beer in the doorway of every restaurant. But it is not the men she sees. It is the women, she can’t take her eyes off the women. They are wearing so much, and it is covering so little. The colours of their costumes are the brightest Lily has ever seen. She is almost blinded by the colours. Their feathered headdresses sway in rhythm with the music. Their bodies shine with the sweat of their dancing. They are all smiling. Their faces are indistinguishable. Their bodies are indistinguishable. They blend together in the dance. You can’t tell where one body ends and another begins. The colours blur together in my grandmother’s vision. She is swept away by the dance. Feel the rhythm of the dancers, the rhythm of stomping feet, of twirling costumes, of swinging breasts, get caught up in the rhythm, lose yourself in the rhythm.

My grandmother forgets who she is in the dance. She forgets Brasil. She forgets Curitiba. She forgets Neu Witmarsum. She forgets the cows, the chickens and the garden. She even, for this dance only, forgets John. Another man, not-John, is dancing with her. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even occur to her to question this. To question the dance. She is twirling, she is swinging her hips, she is moving her feet.

And she doesn’t stop. She is carried by the Samba throughout the day, into the late afternoon, when the dancing slows, and she notices the golden afternoon glow of the sun, and she begins to remember herself. She remembers Brasil. She remembers Curitiba as she finds her way back to the bus stop. She remembers Neu Witmarsum as she gets off the bus and begins to walk back to her house. And, when she sees him, standing at the end of the drive, brow furrowed in worry, she remembers John. She runs to him as he sees her and the worry melts off his face and leaves relief. He doesn’t ask her about Carnaval, she doesn’t tell him, but he feels something different in her embrace, in her kiss. He feels the rhythm of the dance.

This night, my grandmother goes to sleep to the rhythm of the dancers.  Tomorrow morning she will wake again to the slow rhythm of the farm on the settlement.  But the rhythm of her dance is still within her, it still lives inside her body, with the now sixty-four cells of my mother’s body, which no one knows are in existence yet.

Fanfic Friday: Hermione, After

“What now?” The question was keeping Hermione awake. School was over. “Ceremonial Graduation” they called it, although it seemed very unceremonial to Hermione. Unceremonial and Anticlimactic.

Everyone in their year was thrilled, but Hermione was disappointed. She had been looking forward to her last year at Hogwarts. She assumed that by the start of next year she would either be dead, or that she would be making up her last year. All her professors reassured her that “killing Voldemort” would look better on a resume than one more year of school. But Hermione liked school. She was good at school.

Harry and Ron were already planning a gap year trip. And of course she would go with them. She wanted to. She did. But their idea of a fun trip was not really the same as hers. Bits of it would be, but she wanted to see historical sites, and art, and they would just make fun of her for that. Ever since her first year she had been keeping that part of her bottled up a bit. Harry was her best friend, and Ron was…he was Ron, but their insults from first year still stung from time to time. She knew that they respected her cleverness now, and Ron had told her it was part of why he loved her, but still. She knew that sometimes it bothered him that she was smart. Its like he couldn’t see that it was such a big part of her, and it never occurred to him that the fact that she was smart didn’t have to mean that she was just a stereotypical nerd. She was constantly reminded of how much Ron and Harry didn’t understand her.

And then there were her parents. This was only her second night at home with them. She had lifted the memory curse and had to explain to them why it felt like no time had passed since the last time they saw her. They were crushed. Both her parents were soft spoken people, and the harshness with which they had been speaking to her since they found out hurt deeply. Her heart was already raw and she needed her parents so badly to comfort her. She had been holding it together for so long. She understood why they were mad, but she needed them! But she didn’t know how to tell them all of this, and so she had just been avoiding them. Her fists were squeezing the blankets and her jaw was clenched. She had to relax and try to sleep. She looked at the clock. Three a.m. But her body wouldn’t relax, and neither would her mind. She didn’t fall asleep until the sun was starting to come up.

She was woken up by the sound of loud voices. She went downstairs to find Ron and Harry in the kitchen, talking to her parents.

“There you are!” Ron exclaimed when he saw her, and folded her in a huge hug.

She smiled, happy to see them, and hugged Harry as well.

“We thought we would surprise you,” Harry said in response to her sleepy and confused face, “and come to finalize the plans for our trip! We were just telling your parents.”

“You told them? I hadn’t had a chance yet, and I’ve only just come back, so I was thinking…”

“Right.” Ron jumped in. “We were thinking the Greek islands first. Some sun and sand? And We’ve heard on some of the busier islands, they make this magical ouzo that…”

“Just some relaxing, right?” Harry interrupted. “We’ve certainly earned it.”

Hermione smiled weakly but didn’t look anyone in the eye.

“Hermione?” Ron said.

“It’s just that, I’m not sure…”

“We thought you wouldn’t be,” Ron said, “so we invited your parents to come meet up with us so you can all go to some museums.” He beamed at her.

They had it all planned. They had already thought of a perfect solution, the four of them.

Her father spoke gently to her for the first time in two days. “It would be a good time for us to reconnect.” Her mother smiled weakly in agreement.

Hermione couldn’t tamp down her anger any more. “No.” she said.

“What?” Harry said

“I said no. THANK YOU,” Hermione continued, the rage bubbling over now that she had let it out “I don’t want to just run away and have a relaxing trip! Plus my idea of a relaxing trip is NOTHING like what you two have planned. Did you honestly think I would be interested in MAGICAL OUZO?”

“Hermione,” her mother started gently.

“No, mom, don’t try to calm me down. You and dad are just as bad. You snap at me for two days, when I haven’t seen you in months, and I’ve just been through HELL, and now you just want to plan a wee trip together like we’ll all just be like lah di dah, everything is fine.”

“We know you’ve been through a lot, but so have we, this was a lot to take in.”

Hermione didn’t know what to say. She glanced at Ron, hoping he would step in.

“Your mum has a point, Hermione, this last while has been hard on all of us. Let’s just run off and have a bit of fun.”

Hermione gaped at Ron. He grinned at her with that lopsided grin he had. The silence hung around them all for a full ten seconds before Hermione broke it with a hoarse whisper.

“I don’t want to go anywhere with you, Ronald. Not ever again.” She ran straight out the front door without thinking. It was just the closest door. But then she had a thought. In one flourished movement she summoned her beaded bag, which was still packed, and hailed the Knight Bus. There was a new witch taking tickets, who didn’t even look at Hermione when she asked “Where to?”

Hermione hesitated with her mouth half open and then said “Hogsmeade please.” It would be the perfect place to plan her own trip.

She went up to the upper level, which was almost deserted, sat down, opened her bag and peered in, closed it again, and then burst into tears.