The old-fashioned bell above the door of Flourish & Blotts jingled distinctly when Hermione Granger left the shop with the newest edition of A History of Magic under her arm. In less than four weeks the NEWTs would begin, and she still had tons of things to learn before she could sit for the exam halfway confidently. Not that Hermione hadn’t already been excellently prepared, but in her opinion there still was much to do.
The search for the horcruxes and the fight against Voldemort had cost Hermione an entire school year and she missed Harry and Ron terribly. Both of them had decided not to return to Hogwarts, and Harry wrote her enthusiastic letters about his Auror training. Ron seemed to be happy about the end of the schooldays as well, but he didn’t seem to like the work at the Ministry of Magic too much and already dreamed about running Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes with his brother, George, someday.
Unlike her two friends, Hermione was quite concerned about the upcoming farewell from Hogwarts. The school had become her home long ago and the future lay ahead of her like a scary, inscrutable lake. She would have to make decisions, set priorities, and she didn’t feel ready for that. And as if that wasn’t enough, Ron had asked her to marry him and had been waiting for her answer for months.
They’d been together for almost a year now and Ron really tried to be a good boyfriend to Hermione. She liked to spend time with him, especially because he was able to pull her out of her melancholia with his frank and forthright nature. As opposed to Ron, Hermione still dreamed about the horrors of the war and about the people who hadn’t survived; of Albus Dumbledore, Fred Weasley, Nymphadora Tonks, Remus Lupin, Mad Eye Moody, Cedric Diggory, and about the house elf Dobby.
Sometimes, the images were so overwhelming that they prevented Hermione from learning, and even her books couldn’t give her comfort then. At least Ginny was her classmate now, and Neville, Luna and other friends had also decided to repeat the seventh school year. So she wasn’t alone, but compared to the others, it was significantly harder for Hermione to deal with the past.
Her schoolmates hadn’t feared for their lives for an entire year, they hadn’t almost died fighting Voldemort’s snake, nor had Bellatrix Lestrange fired a Cruciatus curse on them. Only Harry seemed to be lost in the past as well sometimes, but his Auror training helped him to focus on the present. He devoted all his energy to becoming an Auror, which claimed him so much that he hardly had time to think.
After Hogwarts had been rebuilt last summer, all the teachers and students had been determined to leave the horrible past behind. The running of the school had continued, and after a few months, things had been back to normal. Only Hermione’s former professor for Transfiguration, Minerva McGonagall, seemed to notice that she often wasn’t well. Occasionally, the professor darted a concerned glance at her, but as Headmistress she barely had any personal contact with the students anymore. So Hermione hadn’t talked to her for months.
Things had been different during the rebuilding of Hogwarts, though. Back then, the professor and Hermione had often worked side by side, they had removed the debris together and had restored the old walls. Sometimes Professor McGonagall had used magic Hermione had never heard about, and the teacher had patiently taught her some spells so that Hermione could lighten her workload.
It had been a strange feeling working so closely with the teacher, whom Hermione had always deeply admired from afar. It had turned out that even Minerva McGonagall couldn’t maintain the façade of the strict head teacher of Gryffindor 24 hours a day. Many a time Hermione had seen her railing, doubting, cursing and groaning, and sometimes she had just sat somewhere on the debris, staring into space.
Nevertheless, the time of Hogwarts’ rebuilding had only intensified Hermione’s admiration for the teacher. She had seen Professor McGonagall fighting for the welfare of the school and its students, giving her best every day and making surprising decisions, which had turned out to be the correct choices later on. More than anyone else Professor McGonagall put her own horror and moaning aside to do justice to her duty as the new Headmistress.
Not once had Hermione and Professor McGonagall talked about the events of the past; nonetheless, an invisible bond had grown between them. Working together towards the same goal had led to a closeness that would have been impossible and inappropriate under different circumstances. But when the lessons had restarted again in September 1998, by some unspoken agreement it seemed the teachers as well as the students fell back into their usual roles at Hogwarts.
Like the others, Hermione took her old role as a student without hesitation, but a quiet wistfulness remained inside of her. She missed the closeness that had developed between her and the Headmistress, who now took care of the school operation again, strict and unapproachable. Only the concerned glances Professor McGonagall cast at her every now and then showed that she understood Hermione better than a lot of her friends and classmates.
Hermione glanced at the new cover of A History of Magic before she put the book into her handbag. As she knew all too well, the original author, Bathilda Bagshot, hadn’t been able to finish the new edition, so a nephew had done it for her. Harry, Ron and Hermione were repeatedly mentioned in the last chapter, and there was even a big picture of the three of them on one of the last pages.
The chapter Bathilda Bagshot’s nephew had added was thoroughly researched and well written, but Hermione knew from her own experience that some events had been different from the description in the book. But that was how they would go down into history, and generations after Hermione would learn by heart what she, Harry, and Ron had allegedly done when they were searching for the horcruxes.
The sun had set down already when Hermione apparated to the front of the grounds of Hogwarts. It was still bright enough to get to the castle without additional light, and Hermione decided to make a small detour because the air was still so mild. The narrow paths were soon illuminated with torches and the silhouette of the castle looked from the distance like a medieval fortress.
A dull sound suddenly made Hermione jump aside and she sneaked, wand pulled out, through the bushes near the Forbidden Forest where the noise had come from. It had sounded like a body had fallen on the ground from some height, but Hermione couldn’t see enough in the twilight. ”Lumos”, she whispered, searching for an animal on the ground.
When her foot hit an obstacle she recognized the silhouette of a child lying on the ground. It was a young girl, maybe about twelve years old. When Hermione held her wand closer to her face she noticed that the girl was unconscious. Judging by the girl’s Gryffindor uniform, she had to be a Hogwarts student, but Hermione had never seen her before.
Cautiously, Hermione touched the girl’s neck with her fingers and realized her pulse was barely noticeable. The child had to be brought to the hospital wing right away, or she wouldn’t survive the night. ”Wingardium Leviosa”, Hermione whispered and guided the hovering body of the girl to the castle as quickly as possible. She couldn’t see any exterior injuries, but only a thorough examination would reveal the girl’s actual condition.
Madam Pomfrey hurried to Hermione’s side as soon as she had entered the hospital wing. “What happened, Miss Granger?” She immediately took the young patient’s pulse.
“I found the girl in the bushes,” Hermione explained, helping Madam Pomfrey lay down the limp body on one of the beds. Since the other beds were empty, they decided to take the one furthest from the door. “I heard something like a dull thump,” Hermione added while taking off the girl’s shoes. “As if she had fallen from a great height.”
“That’s not very likely,“ Madam Pomfrey said thoughtfully, examining the child. “She doesn’t seem to have any broken bones or bruises.” She carefully pulled up one of the girl’s eyelids. “Obviously she’s in a kind of coma.”
“In a coma?” Hermione shook her head in confusion. Why should somebody so young fall into a coma all of a sudden? That didn’t make any sense.
Madam Pomfrey made some preparations to make sure the girl's basal brain functions like breathing and heartbeat were working. Then she took off the Gryffindor uniform and put pajamas on the girl. “I’m going to inform the Headmistress,” she announced, already on the way out of the room. “You’d better stay here just in case something unexpected happens.”
Hermione put down her handbag with a sigh and cautiously sat down on the edge of the bed. Though she was sure she had never seen the girl before, she felt vaguely familiar. Maybe it was because the shape of her face and her slender frame reminded her of Professor McGonagall.
Hermione shook her head to banish the confusing thoughts from her head. It was more than ridiculous that random things constantly reminded her of the Headmistress. Sometimes it was a gesture, sometimes a remark, sometimes the verse of a song. And now a twelve-year-old girl, who was, moreover, unconscious.
Still, Hermione’s hand involuntarily moved to the child’s face, carefully pulling up an eyelid, like Madam Pomfrey had done just minutes before. The girl’s eyes were the same green as Professor McGonagall’s.
Hermione flinched in surprise and took a closer look at the sleeping child. The girl’s slender hands were similar to the Headmistress’s, too, but before Hermione could think about it any further, she heard footsteps on the corridor.
Shortly afterwards, the door of the hospital wing was pushed open and Professor McGonagall headed for the child’s bed. “You found the girl, Miss Granger?” she asked, followed quickly by Madam Pomfrey.
“Yes, she lay in the bushes near the Forbidden Forest,” Hermione answered, but paused when she noticed the deep line on Professor McGonagall’s forehead.
“That’s not one of our students,” Professor McGonagall said thoughtfully. “I know all of Hogwarts’ students, and I’ve never seen this girl before.”
“Maybe she’s from the neighborhood and somebody put that uniform on her?” Hermione suggested.
“In that case somebody would miss it and nobody reported anything like that,” Professor McGonagall objected, frowning. “We will check that anyway,” she added and turned to Madam Pomfrey. “Do you have any idea what could have caused the coma, Poppy?”
“I need to examine the girl more thoroughly,” Madam Pomfrey explained unusually cautiously. Obviously she sensed that Professor McGonagall wasn’t in the best mood. “But I’d assume it’s a magical cause. The girl definitely hasn’t any exterior wounds.”
Professor McGonagall nodded wordlessly. “She looks like you, Miss Granger,” she said suddenly.
“What?” Hermione was sure she must have misunderstood the Headmistress. “Like me?”
“Yes, you,” Professor McGonagall repeated brusquely, as if Hermione had given her a wrong answer in class.
“I have to agree with Professor McGonagall,” Madam Pomfrey confirmed, trying to sound more gentle. “Look at her, Miss Granger.” She pointed at the child’s bushy brown hair. “And also the eyebrows and the forehead… and the mouth…”
Hermione reluctantly followed Madam Pomfrey’s gaze. “I would rather say she looks like… Professor McGonagall…”
There was a long silence.
None of the three women moved, then Madam Pomfrey stepped closer to the bed and pulled the blanket over the girl’s shoulders. “I’m afraid I have to agree with you, too, Miss Granger,” she said quietly.
Professor McGonagall stared at the young patient. “Nonsense,” she muttered and turned to go. “I’m going to find out whether any Gryffindor uniforms are missing,” she said, already at the door. “I think I can trust you not to tell anyone about the girl’s presence at Hogwarts.”
Without another word she was gone, leaving a confused Hermione behind. Why didn’t Professor McGonagall want to make an official announcement? Wouldn’t an owl to the ministry increase the chances that the girl’s parents would get in touch with the school?
Madam Pomfrey also seemed surprised about Professor McGonagall’s decision. “Don’t worry, my dear,” she assured Hermione, patting her shoulder. “I’m sure things will clear up soon.”
Hermione nodded absentmindedly. “Did the girl have a wand with her?” she asked, though not sure whether she really wanted to know the answer.
Madam Pomfrey picked up the Gryffindor uniform from the ground and frisked the black cloak. After a while she pulled out a dark brown wand. “The wood seems to be of fir,” she murmured. “Or maybe spruce?”
Hermione barely listened to her. She had spent enough time in the company of Garrick Ollivander to recognize that the core of this wand was of Dragon Heartstring – the same core that held Hermione’s and Professor McGonagall’s wands together.
“I need to give a first-year-student his potion,” Madam Pomfrey informed her. “You can stay if you like, but not too long. What the child needs most now, is rest.”
Hermione nodded, feeling strangely numb as she sat down on the edge of the young patient’s bed again. She looked so peacefully, as if she was just sleeping. Her features were relaxed and it almost seemed as if she was smiling. Hermione felt a wave of affection for this vulnerable being, and she softly stroked the girl’s cheek before pulling herself together and leaving the hospital wing.
Ten minutes later Hermione sat in the library in front of her a pile of books about pedigrees and genetics. Maybe Professor McGonagall was related to her in some crazy way? In one of the books the author had listed more than a hundred wizarding families back to the Middle Ages.
When Hermione looked more thoroughly at the chronologies, she was surprised to read that Professor McGonagall’s father had been a muggle. Maybe that was reason, why her former Head of House had always understood so well that Hermione so often felt different, having grown up among muggles.
Professor McGonagall had never talked about her personal life, and the fact that one of the most powerful witches on earth was also muggle-born, felt strangely comforting. Hermione had never believed Voldemort’s lunatic ideas about pureblooded wizards, but she often felt foreign and inadequate among people who came from wizarding families for generations.
After two hours Hermione put the books away with a frustrated sigh. She hadn’t found the slightest hint of a close or remote relationship between her and the Headmistress. What else could be the reason for the young patient’s similarity with them? Hermione didn’t know any incantation that was able to make a person look like someone else for such a long time. Not even a polyjuice potion was able to do that. Besides, a polyjuice potion just copied the appearance of another person and couldn’t mix the features of two people with each other.
And even if it was possible to do that, the person would look like the perfect mixture of Professor McGonagall and Hermione, and not like a little girl, who looked similar to them in several ways. Maybe the girl was a Metamorphmagus? Only a Metamorphagus could change their appearance for such a long time. But their changes would fade in a coma, so there was no doubt the girl’s look had to be her normal look, not the result of some kind of metamorphosis.
Determined, Hermione took a book with the title Progress in Genetics from the bookshelf and fought her way through a large amount of scientific formulas and studies. The book’s author, Oliver Peakes, had worked at a muggle laboratory at a young age, where he and other scientists had done research on manipulation of genetic material. Already years ago, the muggles had started to manipulate the DNA of mammals in order to increase the benefit of farm animals.
Oliver Peakes was convinced that it was possible to manipulate even human DNA. That way, two or more wizards or witches would be able to produce descendants without the necessity of sexual intercourse. Hermione wasn’t surprised that the Ministry of Magic had strictly forbidden any kind of further research on this theory. The ministry didn’t deny that Peakes’ theory could be true and his methods successful, but it had applied severe ethical concerns for the procedure could be abused too easily.
But what if Oliver Peakes, or somebody else, still secretly performed experiments about the manipulation of genetic material? What if the DNA of Minerva McGonagall and Hermione had been used for such an experiment without their knowledge? But why them of all people? And when could it have happened? If the girl was about twelve years old, she had to have been born at a time when Hermione and Professor McGonagall hadn’t even known each other yet. Or was the girl younger than she looked? Her medical data had been completely normal, and there was no indication that anything could be wrong or unusual about her.
The high voice of Irma Pince interrupted Hermione’s thoughts. “The Headmistress wishes to speak to you,” the librarian informed her while trying to get a discrete glimpse at Hermione’s pile of books.
“I’m on my way.” With a hastily produced Hover Charm, Hermione returned all the books back to their original places on the shelves in order to erase all traces of her research. She then hurried to the old gargoyle.
She was just wondering how on earth she was supposed to pass the stony guard, when the gargoyle made room without demanding a password. Amazed, Hermione climbed on the spiral staircase that carried her above to the Headmistress’s office. Like a miracle, the spiral staircase had survived the war, even though it made a lot more grinding noises than it used to.
Professor McGonagall’s office door was ajar, but Hermione didn’t find her behind her desk. “Professor?” Hermione exhaled when she spotted the Headmistress in front the window. She seemed to be deep in thought and Hermione almost didn’t dare to interrupt her. “You’ve sent for me?”
“Miss Granger.” Professor McGonagall turned towards her and asked her to take a seat next to the fireplace. In spite of the sunny weather in the daytime, the evenings were still cold in the castle. “I take it you’ve already started to do some research?” she asked, taking a seat in the armchair next to Hermione’s.
Hermione’s face turned beet-red. “I thought I might be able to help…” she said sheepishly. Professor McGonagall surely found it uttermost ridiculous that she took the child’s alleged similarity with them seriously.
“Do you have a sister or a brother we aren’t aware of at Hogwarts, Miss Granger?” Professor McGonagall asked, ignoring Hermione’s response.
She shook her head. ”My mother had one sister, who unfortunately died when she was eight years old. My father was the only child in his family.”
“Maybe a lost cousin? Or a secret second cousin?”
Again Hermione shook her head and there was a long pause. Eventually, Hermione, who already felt dizzy from all the theories in her head, couldn’t take it anymore. “I’ve taken the liberty to do some pedigree research on both of our families,” she explained hesitatingly. “And I didn’t find any indication that the blood of your and my relatives had mingled at any point of history. I’d rather think that our DNA was deliberately mixed up…”
“You believe the girl is a genetic experiment?” Professor McGonagall interrupted her, shaking her head in disbelief. “Even though Oliver Peakes seems to have great plans in this field, which I find by the way morally quite questionable, we were a long way from influencing human genetic material twelve years ago, not to mention from mixing up the DNA of two women.”
“Maybe it was an unofficial experiment?” Hermione didn’t find it unlikely that studies and experiments had been carried out without any knowledge of the ministry. “I don’t see a motive, though,” she admitted.
“Well, there might be one.” Professor McGonagall thoughtfully looked at the flickering flames in the fireplace. “Maybe somebody tried to mingle the abilities of two of the greatest witches alive? However, twelve years ago nobody knew you were a witch, not even you.”
Hermione stared at her in amazement. Was Professor McGonagall serious? Did she really think Hermione was a great witch? Even gifted enough to mingle their genes with each other?
Professor McGonagall smiled when she noticed Hermione’s blushing. “Don’t be so modest, Miss Granger. We both know that I’m right. You have a great future ahead of you.“
Hermione failed to reciprocate the Headmistress’s smile. Professor McGonagall couldn’t know how much Hermione’s thoughts about her future troubled her. Possibly, she’d never get anywhere because she couldn’t decide what to do.
“Are you all right, Miss Granger?” Professor McGonagall asked with concern.
“Yes, of course.” Hermione straightened her back. “I examined the girl’s wand, by the way. Its core is of Dragon Heartstring.”
“Hmm.” The deep line on Professor McGonagall’s forehead came back. “Maybe we should just wait until the girl wakes from her coma,” she said eventually. “Speculations won’t get us anywhere.”
“Yes, you’re right, Professor.” Hermione couldn’t help but admire Professor McGonagall’s calmness while they were talking about something that could be of prime importance for both of them. How could the Headmistress keep such a clear head considering all those unanswered questions?
Surprisingly, the silence between them wasn’t uncomfortable, maybe because they had removed the debris of the castle side by side for weeks, talking only if necessary. Professor McGonagall sat motionlessly in her armchair, still staring into the fire. Her face looked worried, almost frightened now, and Hermione wondered what she was thinking about. Maybe it had something to do with an idea that secretly worried Hermione as well. So much so, actually, that she hadn’t even dared to really think it through yet.
“You’re probably aware that there could be an entirely different explanation,” Hermione started so timidly that she feared the pounding of her heart would drown her words.
“Of course.” Professor McGonagall nodded without looking up.
“And?” Hermione asked when the Headmistress didn’t elaborate her words.
“And what?” Professor McGonagall abruptly raised her head. “That’s nonsense, of course.“
“Why?“ It hurt Hermione that Professor McGonagall dismissed the idea with such certainty. All of her school years she had been sure that her affection for her Transfiguration teacher had been nothing but a simple crush, but what if it developed into something more? What if her feelings endured beyond her school time, what if they thrived and grew? And what… what if they weren’t as one-sided as she had always believed?
“You’re seriously asking me that?“ Professor McGonagall looked at Hermione as if she had lost her mind. “You’re one of my students, Miss Granger!”
“I won’t be your student for the rest of my life, Professor.“ Hermione unsuccessfully tried not to get hurt by the harsh words. “I will leave Hogwarts in six weeks.”
“Then you will be my former student,“ Professor McGonagall replied angrily. “I won’t discuss this with you.”
Hermione could barely suppress her disappointment, but it was more than obvious that she couldn’t talk about any of her theories with Professor McGonagall. The more she thought about it, the more likely it seemed that the girl had come from the future. Maybe things would be possible in a decade or two that still seemed utopistic now. It wasn’t utterly impossible that the child was some kind of a daughter of them, who had traveled to the past with a time turner. That theory would at least explain the ominous coma of the young patient, and it would also explain why she seemed to be a real Gryffindor student, although she didn’t go to school here.
“I think it’s time to end this conversation, Miss Granger.“ Professor McGonagall made a vague gesture. “I’ll keep you informed about the girl’s healing process.”
Hermione dejectedly rose from her armchair. Even though she understood the professor’s request not to get lost in speculations, she had hoped to be able to talk to her about her ideas. This issue concerned the both of them after all. “Good night, Professor McGonagall,“ she said formally and walked towards the door without turning around again.
“Good night, Miss Granger,“ she heard the professor’s muffled voice when she was already on the spiral staircase, getting downstairs.