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The Real Magic by goldensnidget92

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“Oh, Jo. Jo, you have so many extraordinary gifts; how can you expect to lead an ordinary life? You’re ready to go out and - and find a good use for your talent. Though I don’t know what I shall do without my Jo. Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it.” - 'Good Wives', Louisa May Alcott

"Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book. People who are fond of books know the feeling of irritation which sweeps over them at such a moment. The temptation to be unreasonable and snappish is one not easy to-”

–Hermione! It’s time to go to school”

Hermione Granger snapped her book shut, marveling at the eerily perfect timing of her mother’s hurried call from downstairs. Some people just didn’t understand that sometimes books were much more important than what was happening in real life. She placed her well-worn copy of A Little Princess on her bedside table, and left her room, holding her head high, and deciding to behave like the character in her book: dignified and graceful. She tripped over her school bag which was cluttering up the bottom of the stairs.

–Come on, Hermione, we’re going to be late, and you know I have to get to work on time today. We’ve got our new boss coming in, and you know how important that is for Mummy, don’t you?”

–Yes, Mum, I do,” Hermione said, pointedly: she had been trying to bring her parents around to the fact that she was far too grown up, at the wise old age of eleven, to call them –Mummy” and –Daddy” now, but they didn’t seem to have caught on yet.

Her mother smiled ruefully at the heavy emphasis. –Sorry, Darling, I’ll try to remember for next time.”

They hurried out of the door together, and walked the five minutes it took them to get to the small village primary school that Hermione had attended ever since she was four years old. After a quick, reassuring kiss goodbye from her mother, Hermione squared her shoulders and walked towards the loud, chattering throng of her fellow pupils, all of them talking loudly and greeting each other after spending a whole weekend apart.

Hermione walked alone into her classroom, and hung up her coat and bag on her assigned peg before heading towards her table in front of the teacher’s desk. It was a small table, room enough for two people, but only she inhabited it. Her classmates seemed to prefer to keep their distance, and generally gathered around the classroom in clusters, giggling noisily until the teacher entered the room, and they were forced to sit down in preparation for the morning register. Hermione didn’t really mind that they ignored her presence. It was much better than either of the alternatives: either that she actually try to talk to them and look like a fool because she hadn’t watched the latest episode of Grange Hill; or that they start to notice her, and undoubtedly come up with an ingenious idea for playing a –game” that usually involved some kind of dare or forfeit for Hermione. Last time they had played Truth or Dare, she had been told to pull down her skirt and run around the school playground shouting about how she wanted to kiss the headmaster. When she had refused, Lindsay Hannigan, the elected leader of the game, had actually tried to pull her skirt down for her. The next day, Lindsay had come into school wearing nothing but her jumper and underwear: she seemed to have forgotten to put on her skirt. In fact, a lot of strange things had happened to Lindsay over the years, usually after a session of tormenting Hermione. She seemed to have noticed the correlation, and that was why Lindsay and her friends no longer acknowledged Hermione’s presence.

This morning, however, Hermione was barely paying attention when the Teacher finally entered the classroom, as she had been thinking about her book. She must have read it at least ten times, and knew it inside-out, but she simply couldn’t stop. She loved the character Sara, with her boundless imagination and resolute optimism. She was such a strong girl, and Hermione aspired to be like her. She knew she was different to the other girls in her class, knew that she preferred fictional characters to real people, but she aimed to replicate the strength and tenacity of the Little Princess.

–Good morning, everyone,” the teacher called out above the noise of the classroom.

–Good morning, Miss Parr,” they chorused.

–Now, we have a new pupil coming to join our class from now on, and I want you all to make him very welcome.” As she said this, the school secretary walked through the door, with a small boy trailing along behind her. He looked very nervous, and looked around the classroom with fearful eyes. –Everyone, this is Jamie Lovell, and he’s come all the way down from the Isle of Wight!” she turned to Jamie. –I hope you’ll be happy in this class. Don’t worry, we don’t bite!” Jamie looked rather alarmed. –Why don’t you have a seat in front of me? You’ll be sitting next to Hermione. I’m sure she’ll look after you, won’t you, Hermione?”

Hermione smiled wanly. –Yes, Miss Parr.” She had often been asked to look after the new pupils - the teachers trusted her to show them around and help them out when they were just getting used to things - but sooner or later they all seemed to realise that there was something odd about that small, bookish girl, and they began to fade away, choosing instead to ingratiate themselves with the likes of Lindsay Hannigan. She gave this one a couple of weeks.

As Jamie walked over to their table, hauling along his PE kit, book-bag and coat, Hermione sighed to herself, and thought of Sara. Sara would welcome Jamie with open arms and make sure that, whether he was only temporary or not, she treated him like a close friend.

–You have to hang all your things up on a coat peg at the back of the classroom,” she said. –Then you don’t have to carry everything about with you all the time.”

The boy went red, mumbled an apology, and retreated quickly, stumbling over the hood of his coat which was dragging on the floor in front of him. He was quite sweet, really, Hermione thought; but she knew not to get too attached, as he would no doubt desert her, however apologetically, in a matter of time.

He returned to the table and sat down next to her.

–Hello! I’m Hermione Granger.”

–Jamie Lovell.”

–Where have you come from?”

–Isle of Wight.”

–Ok,” she said, wondering at the vague reply. –And where are you living now? Is it far from here?”

–Um, I’m not sure.”

–Right. Do you think you’ll like it here?”

The boy shrugged, and said nothing. Exasperated, Hermione turned to her exercise book, and began to copy down the title of their first lesson from the board. Honestly, what was the point of trying to be friendly when the boy was evidently not interested?

He spent the morning in relative silence, speaking only when necessary, and by lunchtime, Hermione had forgotten all feelings of sympathy, and was eager to leave the classroom so that she could start reading again. When the bell rang, she tidied up her books and pencils and got up, heading for the door. Jamie hurried after her, apparently unsure of what else to do. She decided that the best way to get rid of him would be to get him to follow some of the other people in her class.

–So, Jamie, are you having a school lunch, or did you bring one with you?”

–I’ve got my own.”

–Well, you see over there, where the other children are? You need to take your lunch box and follow them. People who have their own lunch eat on separate tables to those who have school lunches.”

–Don’t you have your own lunch?”

–No, I have school ones. See you after lunch.”

She strode off in the direction of the canteen, and breathed a sigh of relief at finally having some time to herself. It was strange; she couldn’t quite work out what this boy was like. One minute he seemed completely unwilling to talk to her, and the next, didn’t want to leave her side. She was quickly distracted, however, at the sight of the unappetising array of food that was available for lunch today: mashed potato from a packet, overcooked peas, and some kind of unidentifiable meat substance. Oh joy. Hermione’s parents had offered to make her lunches for her, but she knew that they were always in a rush in the mornings; so she had assured them that school lunch was perfectly adequate, and had spent her lunchtimes wolfing down the suspicious excuses for food before heading off to the school’s library.

The library had always been a place of haven for Hermione. It was considerably quieter than the rest of the school, especially at break and lunch times, and the rows and rows of neatly-shelved books whispered to her invitingly every time she walked past. By this time, she had read most of the books in there, but she enjoyed revisiting her old friends from The Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden, and Alice in Wonderland (although, to be honest, she had never really got on with Alice ever since she had questioned the point of books without pictures). Unfortunately, the teachers seemed to have the idea that fresh air was necessary for the growth of all children, and when they found her sitting in a corner reading, they would chivvy her outside, and she would be forced to huddle against the corner of a building and wait for the blessed bell to ring to signal the return to lessons.

This year, however, Hermione was in Year 6, and that meant that she had to take a position of responsibility in the school. Most children had opted to answer the telephones at lunchtime, or keep the playground clean; but Hermione had offered her services as Librarian. It meant she had a perfectly legitimate excuse to stay inside during lunch, and make sure all the books were neat and in the right order. It was a job she relished, and she handled each book with loving hands, careful to preserve the stories that were intricately woven between the covers.

Today she headed straight over to the poetry section. It looked like one class had been learning about William Shakespeare, because all his books of plays had been scattered on the floor. She sighed disapprovingly at the mistreatment of the precious books, and set to work organising them neatly on the shelf. After a couple of minutes, she sensed that she was being watched, and turned around slowly to see Jamie standing at the entrance to the library, watching her. Stifling her frustration - she never liked being interrupted whilst doing her library work, almost as much as she disliked being interrupted reading a good book - she smiled warmly at him. –Hello, Jamie.”

–‘Hermione’. That’s from Shakespeare, isn’t it? A Winter’s Tale?”

–Oh!” Hermione was astonished: no child had ever made that connection before. –Yes, my parents named me after her.” Jamie said nothing. –Do you know the story? Have you read it?”

–My mum read it to me.”

–Oh. Has she read you any other Shakespeare plays?”

–Yes, she’s read me Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing.”

–Have you read any yourself?”

–I can’t.”

–Right.” She wondered why. Shakespeare was not easy to read - she had only read A Winter’s Tale because of her namesake - but if Jamie could understand them when his mother read them to him, why could he not understand them when he read them himself? –Do you read much?”

–I can’t,” he repeated, –I’m dyslexic.”

–I see. Does your mum read you many stories, then?”

–Yes, she always reads to me.”

–And do you like it?”

–I love them,” he said, simply.

Hermione thought for a moment. Perhaps she had been wrong to judge him so quickly: he might actually be quite interesting to talk to. It was certainly impressive that he had understood Shakespeare, and maybe she would be able to help him to read. She always tried to encourage a love of books, and here she thought she had perfect raw material to develop a love that even rivaled her own.

–Do you want to be able to read, Jamie?”

–Yes, but I’m so slow my teachers always get annoyed.”

–What if I help you?”

For the first time that day, Jamie’s eyes lit up. –Do you mean that?”

–Of course I do. I never joke about reading.”

–When can we do it?” he asked eagerly.

–Well, I’m here every lunchtime, so we could do it every day. Do you want to start now?”

–Yes please!”

–Ok, what do you want to read? Has your mum ever read you Peter Pan?”

As the two sat down together in a corner, an old illustrated copy of Peter Pan lying between them, Hermione thought tentatively that perhaps she had finally found someone who was like her. It was not often that she met someone her age who she could actually hold a proper conversation with, and it was because of this that she had got so used to being alone. It wasn’t that she didn’t like other children, it was just that she felt so different from them, and if there was one thing she had learnt from her books, it was to be yourself. She had vowed many years ago to stick to this rule, even if it meant sacrificing the company of others, because she knew they would never be proper friends if they didn’t know the real her. She watched Jamie curiously as his mouth slowly formed the shapes of the words, admiring the way his hands carefully turned the delicate pages of the book. This boy seemed different. But Hermione knew, deep down, that sooner or later he would discover how strange she really was, and then he would melt into the background, just as the others did, blending into the unnoticeable fabric that made up the paper on which her own story was being told.

Chapter Endnotes: The quote right at the beginning is from 'A Little Princess' by Frances Hodgson Burnett.