In which Hagrid takes Holly flying, and Hermione gets hypnotized.
Breakfast was probably Holly’s favourite meal of the day. Not because she was so incredibly fond of eggs and toast, but because at the Dursleys’, breakfast tended to be a pleasantly quiet and sedate affair.
None of the Dursleys were morning people, and so nobody really felt like making too much of a fuss, at least not before Uncle Vernon had finished reading the newspaper and had his second cup of coffee. After that second cup he might wake up a little and start getting more energetically unpleasant… but until then nobody was paying Holly much mind. Aunt Petunia drank her tea and pretty much ignored Holly unless she was telling her to get the mail or clear the table, and Dudley was usually too busy eating to talk to anyone, other than to ask for a second or third helping.
Which was why, this morning, Holly felt quite safe risking nabbing a few extra slices of bacon from the pan to celebrate. Today was the day: Finally she was eight years old. No more being “almost” eight for her!
Of course, she wasn’t expecting her family to care or even remember. Dudley’s birthdays were always a huge deal in the Dursley home, with cake and ice cream and lots of presents, but Holly’s birthdays tended to be quietly ignored. This year would be different, though. This year, for the first time ever, she had birthday plans.
As Uncle Vernon folded his newspaper together and raised himself to get ready for work, she said as casually as she could: “By the way, I’m going out for a walk afterwards. I might be home late.”
“So?” said Uncle Vernon, shooting her an annoyed glare.
“I just don’t want you to worry about me,” said Holly sweetly.
“Don’t cheek your uncle!” Aunt Petunia snapped. She hadn’t threatened Holly with another spanking ever since that failed attempt a few weeks back, but she was still as snappish as ever. “Be gone as long as you like, but if you’re not back in time for dinner, you’re not getting any dinner. Understand?”
“Yes, Aunt Petunia,” said Holly, as obediently as she could.
“And stay away from Number Seven!”
“Yes, Aunt Petunia.”
“I mean it. Those two freaks aren’t normal.”
“I’ll stay far away from Number Seven, I promise.”
“And before you go anywhere, you’re doing the dishes.”
“Yes, Aunt Petunia.”
“Properly, Holly. I’ll check.”
“Yes, Aunt Petunia.”
Dudley, who had just polished off the last of the fried eggs looked up. He seemed strangely thoughtful.
And as Aunt Petunia followed Uncle Vernon out into the hallway to kiss him good-bye, and Holly carried the dishes towards the sink, Dudley shifted in his chair and pulled a book out of his pocket. It was a small book, about the size of a common notebook if perhaps a little thicker. It was bound in red leather and its pages were yellowed, but it showed no sign of any wear from being kept in a pocket.
This was, of course, the Guidebook. It was an invention of Mr Dumbledore’s, and it was magic… though, and this was the clever bit, not so anyone who didn’t know about magic would notice. It looked to the world like a completely normal book, and thumbing through it would just reveal completely normal pages with random information about completely normal things… but if you knew the trick, which Dudley did, it was a lot more useful.
Now, Dudley closed his eyes, opened the Guidebook on a random page, and opened his eyes again. As he scanned the page, he at first grinned, and then grew serious. He put the book down, looked back at Holly and said, in a soft voice: “Er… Holly… if you are late for dinner… I’ll save you some.”
“Oh.” Holly wasn’t sure what to say. “Er. Thanks.”
“Yeah.” Dudley didn’t seem too sure what to say either. “It’s. You know. You shouldn’t have to go hungry when it’s your birthday and all. So. You know. Happy birthday and all that.”
The silence quickly grew awkward. Holly began working on the dishes in order to feel less self-conscious about it. Truth was, neither Holly nor Dudley were quite certain how to act now that they were supposed to be civil with one another. But they had promised Mr Dumbledore, and to Holly had to admit that Dudley was making an effort. He did have a way to go yet. He hadn’t offered to help with the dishes, or to get her a birthday present… but considering how Dudley had never in his life thought about anyone but himself, just offering to save food for Holly so she wouldn’t have to go hungry was a huge improvement. Not that she would need him to save food for her today, but Holly was starting to see the value of having Dudley as an ally rather than an enemy.
“How’s it going with your Guidebook, anyway?” she said after a while, more because she thought it would be polite to ask than because she was actually interested.
“Oh, it’s brilliant!” said Dudley, much more enthusiastically. “It has the answer to everything! I don’t care what Mum and Dad say; if Mr Dumbledore really invented this, he’s all right in my book!” He beamed at her as if he’d said something clever.
“Er… that’s good,” said Holly.
“Get it? My book?” said Dudley, a little more forcefully, as he picked the book back up.
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Cause, you know, this is a book.”
“I get it, Dudley.”
“Right.” Dudley seemed disappointed at the lack of a reaction, but apparently decided not to make a big deal out of it.
As Holly left Number Four about twenty minutes later, dishes done to even Aunt Petunia’s satisfaction, she mused how much Dudley had improved… a few weeks back, before the “baby girl” incident, Dudley’s idea of a joke had been to act like a bully and laugh as his victim cried. Puns and wordplay, however bad, were a step in the right direction as far as Holly was concerned.
But then, the Guidebook had probably helped. Mr Dumbledore had given it to Dudley on condition that he stopped bullying Holly and promised not to use the book for “anything worse than just mild mischief.” Dudley, who normally thought books were a waste of time compared to television, computers and video games, had quickly taken to the Guidebook after he’d been taught the trick: If you closed your eyes and opened the book to a random page, that page would always tell you the best thing to do at that particular moment. Not just general advice, but fun things to do when you were bored, or clever ways to tackle a particular problem, or words of encouragement, or just suggestions for how to turn a bad situation into a good one.
Apparently, the Guidebook also had a bit of a cheeky sense of humour and could even act as a strategy guide for tricky video games, which had raised Dudley’s esteem for it further. And, like now, it did seem to give him some hints on how to act in order to keep up his end of the bargain and actually be civil to Holly. She was pretty certain that it was the Guidebook that had reminded him that it was her birthday and that it wasn’t nice to let anyone go hungry on their birthday.
But then, Dudley wasn’t the only one who was now the owner of a life-changing object…Holly slipped her hand into her pocket to let her fingers lightly brush against her wand, just to make certain the still had it. She’d long since established that the wand would fit into any pocket if she just wanted it to; even the shorts she was wearing now, which barely had room for a bit of pocket change, still roomed the long wand with no problems.
“Right, Lily, we’re off,” she whispered.
She could almost feel Aunt Petunia’s eyes on her as she walked down the driveway… probably checking to see if Holly decided to cross the street and approach Number Seven. Grown-ups could be so predictable at times, she thought, and headed in the direction of Magnolia Road while making certain to not even glance in the direction of Number Seven.
By Magnolia Road, far away from Aunt Petunia’s prying eyes, Hagrid was waiting for her with his motorbike, wearing an enormous helmet and a pair of goggles.
“An’ here’s the birthday girl,” he beamed as he saw her. “Look at yeh. Eight years old already! Ready for yer birthday trip?”
Holly nodded eagerly, and then pulled her wand out of her pocked. “So’s Lily! She says hi, by the way.”
“Er. Hi, Lily,” said Hagrid to the wand before looking back at Holly. “Still talks to yeh in yer dreams, does she?”
“Yes,” Holly nodded again. She often spoke to Lily in her dreams now. Last night, they had talked for a long time about Holly’s birthday trip to the Witching District in London.
Lily had told her all about the district; hidden from Muggle eyes, it was the centre of the witching world here in England, and housed a handful of markets, alleys and squares, with funny names like Carkitt Market, Diagon Alley, Hexagon Square, Knockturn Alley… well, okay, Lily had made her promise to stay away from Knockturn Alley “at least until you’re a little older, and no, eight is not old enough.” Holly still wasn’t very good at this “having a mother” business, but she was starting to suspect that it involved quite a lot of being told to wait until you were older.
Oh well. Knockturn Alley aside, she’d get to see all these magical places today! She could hardly wait. She’d meet more witches, probably get to see a whole lot more magic…
“Where’s Mr Dumbledore?” she said, noticing that the sidecar on Hagrid’s enormous motorbike was empty.
“Ah, he’ll be meetin’ us in Diagon Alley,” said Hagrid. “Some work-related things he had ter take care of first. By the way, I hope yeh don’ mind, but… there’s a sligh’ change o’ plans. We were gonna go straigh’ ter London for yer birthday celebration, but we’ll need ter pop a quick trip down ter Brighton first.”
“Brighton?” Holly repeated, a little confused.
“Yeah, but don’ yeh worry. We’ll be flyin, so we’ll be there in no time. Shouldn’t take more than half an hour extra, at most.”
“Okay… but why are we going to Brighton?” said Holly.
“Didn’ I say? Blimey, forget me own head next,” said Hagrid sheepishly. “We’re pickin’ up a couple more kids, as a favour ter the Weasleys. New Muggle-borns, ’bout your age, jus’ discovered their magic. Albus has promised ter help ’em out.”
“Oh!” said Holly excitedly. “Muggle-borns!? Witches who grew up in the Muggle world, like me?! What are they like?”
“Dunno,” said Hagrid. “Haven’t met them in person yet. On’y thing I know is that one of ’em’s a wizard.”
“Like a boy?” said Holly.
“Tha’s right,” said Hagrid. “Firs’ Muggle-born wizard in ages, firs’ one since… but, well, we’ll see what he’s like, won’t we?”
Holly nodded slowly. Even if Dudley was getting more tolerable lately, she wasn’t completely sure about the prospect of spending her birthday with a boy… but if Mr Dumbledore had promised… besides, you never knew, maybe this boy was a decent person. Hagrid and Mr Dumbledore were boys, technically, and they were among the kindest people she knew. And it wasn’t like anyone was telling her to enter a coven with this boy straight away or anything. If she didn’t like him, she just wouldn’t talk to him, and instead focus on all the other strange and wonderful things she’d be seeing in the Witching District. She had no doubt there’d be plenty of things there to distract her.
“Well,” said Hagrid. “Get in the sidecar, now, we’ll be off.”
Holly climbed into the sidecar. She wasn’t surprised to find that it was nice and roomy; even roomier than it looked from the outside… and Hagrid’s bike was large enough that even from the outside it looked like the sidecar would have room for three Hollys. But just like her bed in the garden shed, this seat was somehow bigger than the space it took up; there would have been room for five Hagrids in this sidecar. At least if they were very close friends.
“Comfy?” said Hagrid. “Righ’ then! Don’ seem ter be anyone around… so watch this!”
He pointed at a switch near the speedometer, and flicked it. All of a sudden, the motorbike, Hagrid and even Holly herself… faded.
Well, no, Holly immediately realized. They didn’t fade. They were still there, as solid as ever. They just turned… not invisible, exactly, more like they were taking on the colour and texture of their surroundings.
“Disillusionment Charm,” said Hagrid, who was now rather hard to make out against his surroundings. “Keeps us from bein’ seen. Wouldn’ to ter end up in the newspaper, would it? UFO shaped like motorbike spotted over Surrey.”
With a surprisingly soft, but still notable, roar of its engines, the motorbike started to move. The wind ruffled Holly’s hair as Hagrid steered the bike down Magnolia Road and began speeding up as they reached Magnolia Crescent.
And then… then they were flying. Holly had to bite her lips not to squeal in delight as she felt the bike lift up in the air and saw over the edge of the sidecar how the streets grew smaller beneath her. All thoughts of boys and covens and distractions fled out of her head, crowded out by the sheer exhilaration. They were flying. They were flying. Soon, they were soaring high above Little Whinging, its houses the size of shoeboxes, then of matchboxes, then of ants… and soon they had put left the entire town behind and were flying over the woodlands and green hills of Surrey.
Holly clutched the edge of the sidecar, nearly hypnotized by the incredible view. This must be what it felt like to be a bird, soaring high above the earth, completely free from everything. Nothing but blue skies above you and below you a wonderful mitch-match of woodlands and roads and hills and fields…When she was older and learned how to fly, she’d never come down to the ground. Well, maybe occasionally, to eat and go to the loo and things like that. But the rest of the time she’d be up in the skies, soaring around, free and happy, just like that naked lady over there…
Holly blinked. No, her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her. Right there, soaring on the breeze like it was the most natural thing in the world, was a naked lady. She was beautiful, there was no other word for it… but she was also clearly not human. Her skin was as blue as the sky around her, and her long white hair flowed behind her like a big white cloud, and she was shooting through the air like a playful dolphin, up and down, as if gravity was something that only happened to other people.
As Holly watched in astonishment, the naked lady twirled around on the winds, and then looked straight at Holly to give her a cheerful wave. Apparently, the Disillusionment Charm wasn’t enough to hide from her.
“Hagrid!” Holly squeaked.
“Well, would yeh look at that!” Hagrid’s voice was easily heard over the roar of the motorbike and the wind. “Don’ see many of them around! ALL RIGH’ THERE, MISS?” he called to the lady.
The lady beamed at him and blew him a kiss. She winked at Holly with an almost cheeky expression, and then swooped around to do an elegant loop around the motorbike before flipping around and flying off in another direction. Holly could hear her laugh as she sped off; a merry and melodious laughter that carried on the wind even better than Hagrid’s voice.
Holly could only stare as the lady vanished in the sky.
“That was a sky nymph, Holly,” said Hagrid. “Rarest kind o’ nymph there is, or so they say. Don’ worry, she wouldn’ta hurt yeh none.”
“That was a nymph?” said Holly. She remembered Mr Dumbledore mentioning nymphs as one of the many magical races that lived in secret for the Muggles, but he hadn’t really gone into detail. “I didn’t know they were so…” Incredibly beautiful. “…naked.”
“Well, yeah,” said Hagrid, as if this wasn’t a big deal. “Nymphs, they don’ like clothes much. Kinda vain, ter be perfec’ly honest, love showin’ off… They’d take it as an insult if yeh tried ter get ’em ter cover up. Yeh’ll prolly see more nymphs at the Witching District, come ter think of it, there’s usually one or two aroun’ the green areas. So… er… y’know, when yeh do see them, make sure yeh don’ tell ’em ter get dressed.”
“Um… okay,” said Holly, feeling a little embarrassed. “But if the sky nymphs fly around like this, without Disillusionment Charms or anything, why don’t the Muggles see them?”
“Not sure the Muggles can see ’em, at least not norm’ly,” said Hagrid. “Sides, they’re pretty high up, right? So yeh wouldn’ see ’em from the ground anyway.”
“What about aeroplanes?”
“Oh, the sky nymphs stay well away from those,” said Hagrid. “Much too noisy.”
“Wow…” Holly was in awe. So many magical people and creatures that existed all around her, and she hadn’t known about it before now. All of a sudden, she felt sorry for the Muggles… imagine living in a world full of magic, a world where motorbikes and naked ladies could fly, and not being allowed to know about it. If she’d been in charge, everybody would know how magical the world really was. And Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon could grumble all they liked.
She didn’t really have the time to think too much about this, though, because all too soon Hagrid called out: “Goin’ in for landin’ in a moment!”
Holly got a pretty good view of Brighton, out by the sea (and looking like a lot friendlier and more interesting place than prissy old Little Whinging), but they weren’t actually entering the city. Instead, they came to a landing by a cluster of stone buildings by the coastline, a little way away from the city.
Well down on the ground, Hagrid switched off the Disillusionment Charm, and the motorbike faded back into view as they came to a halt outside a wrought iron gate, beyond which were the stone buildings of what looked to be a school of some sort.
A small group of people were waiting for them; three children and one adult. Holly’s heart gave a little skip when she realized that she knew one of the children.
“Holly!” Even before she could climb out of the sidecar, Holly found herself wrapped in an enormous hug from Ronnie Weasley of the Prewett line. “Happy birthday!”
“Ronnie!” Holly returned the hug. It was weird; she’d only met the girl once before, but here and now it felt just like meeting an old friend again. “I didn’t know you’d be here!”
“I nagged them until they let me come!” said Ronnie and eased up on the hug to let Holly climb out of the sidecar. She hadn’t changed at all since Holly saw her last; she was just as tall, skinny and freckled as before. But instead of the blue dress and mismatched stockings, now she was wearing a bright yellow tunic and flowery pink leggings. “Hi, Hagrid!”
“All righ’ there, Ronnie?” he greeted. “Everyone ready fer the trip ter London?”
“Yeah!” said Ronnie. She took a step back to motion to the three others. “Molly-Mum’s with us. She’s my birth mother,” she explained to Holly. “Flora-Mum was supposed to come, but then Dolly decided she wanted to be born tonight…”
“‘Ere now, what’s this?” said Hagrid, his bushy eyebrows raising in surprise. “Dolly?! Flora’s daughter’s born already?”
“It happened at four o’clock this morning, Hagrid,” said ‘Molly-Mum.’ She was a woman of indeterminate age, with a plump build and a round, good-natured face. The red hair and freckles confirmed her relationship with Ronnie. “A healthy little girl, seventeen and a half inches. We’ve named her ‘Dahlia,’ but the children immediately agreed to call her ‘Dolly’.”
“She looks like a dolly,” said Ronnie sweetly. “A tiny, pink, wrinkled dolly. Besides, it rhymes with ‘Holly,’ and since they share a birthday…”
“All right, young lady, that’s enough,” said Molly-Mum before turning to Holly. “Hello, Holly dear. I’m Molly Weasley, of the Prewett line, Ronnie’s birth-mum. Happy birthday!”
“Thank you, Mrs… er… Mrs Weasley of the Prewett line,” said Holly, a little uncertainly.
The woman laughed. She had a nice laugh; not quite like Lily’s, but there was a slight similarity nonetheless… a tone that, for want of a better word, might be called motherly. “Just call me Molly, dear. We witches aren’t that big on formality. And this is Dean and Hermione.”
Holly turned to the two children who weren’t Ronnie, now taking the time to look a little more closely at them. The boy, who had to be Dean, thankfully didn’t seem like too bad a sort. He was tall, taller than Ronnie, and actually kind of handsome with his dark skin and pleasant face. He had an air of laid-back cheerfulness about him that made her think she probably wouldn’t mind spending her birthday in his company. The girl, who of course had to be Hermione, also had dark skin… but that was where her resemblance to the boy ended. She was short, just slightly taller than Holly (and Holly was well aware that she was small for her age), with large front teeth, a mop of bushy brown hair, and an expression of energetic curiosity.
“Hello,” said Holly. “I’m Holly. Are you the Muggle-borns we’re picking up?”
“Apparently,” said Dean.
“We’re not related!” said Hermione, hurriedly.
“Er, okay,” said Holly, a little taken aback.
“Sorry, but everyone else asked if we’re related,” said Hermione sheepishly. “We’re not. We just met up here at summer camp, we happened to be here at the same time, you see, and we discovered that we both had magic powers. And things got kind of out of hand for a bit…”
“We made the entire camp fall asleep,” said Dean cheerfully.
“Right,” said Hermione. “And apparently the witching world watches for really strong displays of magic in the Muggle world, so these two witches from the Ministry for Magic showed up to see what was going on, and they told us they’d help us set everything straight, and apparently Dean being a boy was a really big deal, because there aren’t all that many boy witches – wizards, I mean wizards – and there was this long talk about what to do with him…” Here, Hermione had to stop to take a breath. “Eventually they said they’d arrange for us to get a little introduction to the witching world so we could help explain things to our families, and figure out where to go from here. Oh, happy birthday, by the way,” she added, looking at Holly. “They said it was your birthday. How old are you?”
“Eight,” said Holly proudly.
“Oh! So are we! Well, I’ll be nine in September,” said Hermione.
“We’ll all be in the same year at Hogwarts!” said Ronnie excitedly. “Maybe we’ll even be in the same house! Well, not you, Dean, cause you’re a boy. You’ll be a Merlin.”
“Merlin?” said Holly. “Like, the wizard Merlin? From really, really long ago?”
“Yeah, House Merlin is named after him,” said Ronnie. “It’s the boy house at Hogwarts. Er, you know about school houses, right?” she added a little uncertainly with a glance at Dean and Hermione. “Like, houses for students?”
“Yes, Ronnie, we know about school houses,” said Hermione. “Believe it or not, we do have schools, and boarding schools, in the Muggle world too. This is a school, as a matter of fact.”
“Right now it’s a camp,” said Dean.
“But it’s usually a school.” Hermione insisted.
“Well, I wasn’t sure,” said Ronnie defensively. “I forgot to ask Mandy-Mum about it. Oh, by the way,” she added as she thought of something else. “Holly, is it true what they said, that you didn’t know about magic at all when I met you last?”
Holly could feel herself blush. “Well…”
“Wow,” said Ronnie. “And I was going on about Muggles and the Hogwarts Express and everything! You must have thought I was mental!”
“I didn’t!” Holly assured her. “A little weird, but not mental.”
“That’s all right then,” said Ronnie. “Being weird isn’t bad. I’ll tell you all about the witching world. All three of you,” she hurried to add, looking at Dean and Hermione. “And don’t worry about being a boy, Dean, I’ve met lots of boys before.”
“Er, yeah, so have I,” said Dean.
“I personally know three,” said Ronnie, as if this was an impressive number. “Four if you count Dad. And I’ve seen many more. Can’t even count all the boys I’ve seen, it’s that many.”
Luckily, before any of them had to figure out how to respond to that, Molly called: “All right, everyone, get in the sidecar.”
Just like Holly had suspected, but which seemed to greatly impress Dean and Hermione, all five of them fit in the sidecar with no problem. Holly sat between Ronnie and Hermione, with Molly and Dean on each side, like they were on a roomy couch.
“It’s an Expansion Charm,” Ronnie explained, eager to make good on her word of telling them about the witching world. “Everybody uses Expansion Charms, on cars or suitcases or rooms or beds…It’s a great way to make more room, without taking up more room.”
“I get it,” said Dean. “It’s like the TARDIS, isn’t it?”
“The what?” said Ronnie, confused.
“You know… bigger on the inside.”
“Does it work on books?” Hermione interrupted. “I mean – could you use an Expansion Charm to fit thirty books into a backpack?”
“Probably,” said Ronnie. “Have you been doing that?”
“Yes, but I didn’t know it was magic,” said Hermione. “I thought I was just good at packing books.” She made herself comfortable, looking around with curiosity. “I’ve never been on a motorbike before. How long will it take to get to London? When my parents drove me here in their car, it took about two hours.”
“Well, we’ll be goin’ a bit faster,” Hagrid chuckled and patted the motorbike. “This ol’ girl’s gonna get us there in fifteen, twenty minutes. At most.”
“It’s a flying motorbike!” said Holly.
“F-flying?” Hermione blinked.
“A flying motorbike!” Dean exclaimed. “Now that’s cool!”
“Yes!” Holly agreed. “We flew here from Surrey! It was amazing!” She was already looking forward to flying to London, and this time it would be even more fun because she’d have three other children with her to share the excitement.
“Oh…” said Hermione, a lot more softly.
“Our family has a flying car,” Ronnie offered. “It’s Dad’s pride and joy. But we hardly ever use it, because the Invisibility Booster’s faulty, and my sister Charlie once got in trouble for – are you okay?” she added, looking at Hermione.
“I’m fine, I’m fine!” said Hermione. “Flying motorbike! Really! How fascinating! Not just a regular motorbike with an Expansion Charm on the sidecar, but a flying one! That’s obviously a lot better! Flying is the safest way to travel, my mother says!”
“Righ’ then, we’re off!” Once more, Hagrid activated the Disillusionment Charm, to make the bike and everyone in it take on the colour and texture of their surroundings (which greatly fascinated Dean, who immediately wanted to know if he could learn this kind of spell) and started the engine.
“This is very fascinating,” said a near-invisible Hermione in an oddly high-pitched voice as they picked up speed and zoomed down the road.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” said Ronnie.
“Yes! I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m– AAAIIIIEEEEEEEEEEE!” Hermione’s voice raised to a loud squeal, because now the motorbike took off and rose up into the air.
“We’re flying!” Dean called excitedly. “Hermione, look, we’re flying – Hermione, let go!”
Because everything was still Disillusioned, details weren’t the easiest to make out, but Holly found she could still make out the shapes and forms of the others… and what she saw was that Hermione had, on what seemed like pure instinct, grabbed hold of Dean and was clutching onto him as if for dear life. She had shut her eyes tightly and instead of letting go she just clung harder to him, she just clung on harder, letting out a high-pitched whimper.
“Are yeh all righ’ there?” called Hagrid over roar of the wind. “Want me ter land?”
“No!” Holly, Dean and Ronnie all cried at the same time.
“Oh, dear,” said Molly. Unlike Hagrid, she didn’t have to shout to be heard over the wind; it seemed like everyone in the sidecar could hear each other okay. So Holly had no problems making out the words as she said: “Ronnie, Holly, please trade places with me.”
As Holly and Ronnie slid out of the way, Molly carefully sat down next to Hermione, very gently loosening her grip on a grateful Dean. “Hermione, sweetie… you’re afraid of flying, aren’t you?”
“No,” Hermione squeaked. “Flying’s the safest way to travel, flying’s the safest way to travel…” Made to let go of Dean, she instead clutched onto Molly and refused to open her eyes. She seemed so small and helpless that Holly felt incredibly sorry for her,
“It’s all right, there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said Molly soothingly as she stroked Hermione’s frizzy hair. “Just focus on me… open your eyes…. that’s good. Now take a deep breath and count to thirty.”
Hermione heaved for her breath. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven… eight, nine… ten…” To Holly’s amazement, as Hermione counted, she started to relax, her grip on Molly easing up. “Eleven… twelve… thirteen… fourteen… fifff-teen… ahh…” The panicked tone on her voice gradually lessened as well, and her counting was going slower and slower.
“What’s going on?” said Dean, alarmed.
“Shh, don’t worry,” Ronnie whispered. “Molly-Mum’s just calming her down. She’s done it to me loads of times. It doesn’t hurt.”
“Sss…six-teen…. Seven-teen… eiiight-tee-e-eeen…” Hermione droned. She’d gone limp, resting against Molly, her eyes drooping. “Nnn… n-n-nnineteen… twenty.” The last number was almost a whisper.
“There… starting to feel better, isn’t it…?” Molly brushed the hair away from Hermione’s forehead.
“Twenty-one…. twenty…twenny… hhh… twenny-twoo-oo… ah… twenny-three… twennyy-y-y-yyy… ff-fff… fah… aaah-h-h-hhh-hummm…” Hermione’s counting drowned in a long. soft yawn. “…twenny… mmm…” Then, she was silent. She was breathing softly, as if asleep.
“Hermione?” said Dean uncertainly.
“Mmm…?” she answered.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you sure? You sound… hypnotized or something.”
Holly had been following this little scene with growing fascination. She couldn’t help but think back a few weeks, when she herself had been made to fall asleep by magic. There were some very clear similarities here, except Hermione clearly wasn’t asleep… the Disillusionment charm made it hard to see, but the girl’s eyes did seem to be slightly open, and she was at least responding when they talked to her, even if it was mostly in sleepy murmurs… maybe Dean was right and she was hypnotized.
“She’s calm-weaved,” Ronnie explained.
“Calm…what?” said Holly.
“Calm-weaved,” Ronnie repeated. “It’s a sort of magic that makes you all calm, and you just stop caring about whatever’s scaring you. Makes you sleepy, though, you kind of go into this trance thingy…”
“So she is hypnotized then,” said Holly. “Hermione, meow like a cat.”
Hermione took a deep, sleepy breath. “No thank you…”
“All right, let’s not bother the poor dear,” said Molly in a motherly tone, and began stroking Hermione’s hair. “I am sorry about all this, Hermione. You’ll feel a little drowsy and lethargic for a while, but you’ll wake up when we land. If we’d known you had a problem with heights, we wouldn’t have taken you in this motorbike. We’ll find a different way of getting you back to Brighton afterwards, all right?”
“Mmmmm…” Hermione breathed. “Okay…”
“Why didn’t you just tell us you didn’t like flying before we started, Hermione?” said Ronnie.
It took several seconds before Hermione answered. When she did, she spoke quite clearly, even if her tone was still distant and dreamy. “You seemed so excited… I didn’t want you to think I was a coward or something… Imagine a witch who’s afraid of heights…”
“I’m a witch who’s afraid of spiders,” said Ronnie, wrapping her arms around Hermione in a warm hug. “Ugly, nasty, creepy things. Everyone’s afraid of something, right, Molly-Mum?”
“That’s right, dear,” said Molly. She slowly let go of Hermione to let her daughter cuddle her instead. “Just relax, Hermione, we’ll be in London before you know it.”
“Mmm…. that’s nice…” Hermione murmured. She flopped against Ronnie, resting her head on the girl’s shoulder.
She spent the rest of the flight dozing in Ronnie’s arms, while the girl cuddled her and talked to her in a soft and comforting voice about pretty much anything she could think about: Her five mothers and their careers, her father’s odd hobby of collecting Muggle devices, funny things her sisters had said and done, the various shops and sights at the witching district, the time she’d met a baby hippogriff and been allowed to pet it, several stories about someone named Cissy or Sissy… of course, the half-asleep Hermione probably didn’t need the distraction anymore, and might not even be awake enough to remember everything that was said to her, but Holly thought it was sweet of Ronnie nonetheless…
Under pretty much any other circumstances, Holly would have been closely paying attention to Ronnie’s stories, and the tales of the witching world she was about to get to know better… but who could pay attention to stories when they were flying? Holly and Dean (who thankfully seemed to share Holly’s enthusiasm for flying, and seemed satisfied that Hermione would be okay) spent most of their time looking out over the landscape far below them.
“I keep thinking how insane this all is,” said Dean after a while. “The calm-weaving, I get. I’ve known how to put people to sleep for ages. But… motorbikes that fly and turn almost invisible? Secret magic societies? A couple of days ago, I didn’t even know things like this was possible.”
“I did,” said Holly. But was honest enough to add: “But I haven’t known it for very long. I found out about magic a few weeks ago.”
“Ever been to this Witching District before?”
“No, but my… er… a girl named Lily told me about it.” Holly almost absently moved her hand down to feel the contours of her wand in her pocket.
“Oh, and she’s a witch?”
“Cool.” Dean paused. “Never knew any witches before. But I’m going to have to get used to it… They say there are a lot more witches than wizards.”
“Yeah… I asked Lily why, but she didn’t know. Said she always just thought magic likes girls better than boys.”
“No accounting for taste,” said Dean.
“Joking! Joking!” Dean raised his hands disarmingly, which looked rather odd with the Disillusionment charm. “Did they tell you about the covens, by the way? These two witches held a pretty long lecture for Hermione and me about how witches lived in covens, and one guy had to marry several girls…”
“Yeah,” said Holly. A little hesitantly, she asked: “What did you think about that?”
“Perfectly honest? It sounds absolutely mental,” said Dean. “One guy, having to marry five or six girls? I don’t even want to marry one girl, and now they tell me I have to marry several?”
“I know! It’s crazy!” said Holly, relieved that he seemed to be on the same page. “And when I said that to Lily… when I said I didn’t ever want to join a coven, she just smiled and said we’d see if I felt the same way when I was older!”
Dean rolled his eyes, or at least Holly thought he rolled his eyes. “Isn’t that just like a grown-up? ‘Oh, you’ll understand when you’re older. You’re too young to know any better, you’ll change your mind when you’re a wise and experienced adult like us.’ That’s what the two witches from the Ministry said too. Well, Ronnie’s Mum, I mean Ronnie’s other Mum, the one who’s not here because she had a baby… she was at least nice about it. That other Ministry witch was much worse. When I said I didn’t like the idea of a coven, she went into this long tirade about a bloke called Tom Riddle…”
“Tom Riddle!” Holly repeated.
“Yeah, he was an evil wizard or something, but he died. Have you heard of him?”
“Er… yes,” said Holly, suddenly feeling very self-conscious. “Er… I think my mother kind of… killed him? Or, well, he and my mother killed each other?”
It took her the rest of the flight to explain.