Brightest witch of her age, Hermione scoffs to herself in her head. If that were true, she probably would have found a better way to go about this. What had she thought would happen? She had been absolutely confident that Harry had come back with her, after all, these sorts of absurd happenstances always involved him. And Harry was just like her right now, half feral from being on the run and quicker to strike than to listen. She’s lucky he recognized her before she actually got her face smashed, but she is a little proud of him when he doesn’t relent immediately. True, his shoulders relax fractionally at the sight of her, but he keeps his fist raised and her back pinned to the floor. When he speaks, his voice is low and hostile, but she has known him long enough to hear the waver of hope underneath.
“That night a week after this last Christmas, what did you confess to me?”
Hermione cringes minutely. It was an excellent question to prove her identity, as it had been just the two of them, and wasn’t something she had ever or would ever have admitted to anyone else, save Ron, though she hadn’t had a chance yet.
Harry had just barely recovered from their confrontation with Nagini and he’d...well snapped really. He had given her a long, hard look, one she recognized as his ‘I’m going to drag you into something fun but stupid’ look, then handed her the locket horcrux and said “If I’m not back in an hour, leave.” And she’d watched him stride right out into the snow. She didn’t stop him, she knew that when he got that look in his eye that neither hell or high water would stop him.
To her relief, he had returned in barely a half hour with a large bottle of muggle whiskey in hand. He dragged her out into the snow where they nearly tripled their protective wards. They then left the locket tucked safely into her beaded bag and spent the night huddled together by one of her bluebell fires, drinking whiskey out of chipped coffee mugs and sharing stories and secrets, both happy to just let go for one single night. Harry had told her about the cupboard and his Uncle’s abuse (not that he’d called it as such), much to her shame, she felt she should have noticed. In return, she told him that while she was sad about modifying her parents, she thought they might all be happier for it, that she didn’t plan to reverse what she had done, if she even could have. Only master Legilimens were known to be able to reverse an Obliviate. Since she’d started Hogwarts, she and her parents had grown further and further apart to the point it was like living with strangers. It didn’t help that Hermione never told them about any of the danger she repeatedly faced. They never even knew she had been petrified in second year, Hermione hadn’t wanted them to pull her from the school.
Pulling herself back to the present, Hermione smiles tremulously up at Harry. “I told you that, in a way, I was happy I had wiped their memories. That I felt freer for it.”
Harry releases the breath he’d been holding and promptly slumps in relief, leaning down and pressing his face into her shoulder. After a moment she feels him trembling and realizes that, for the first time in the nearly seven years she has known him, Harry Potter is crying. She wraps her arms around his too-skinny shoulders and lets him have the moment, not heartless enough to point out that she was still pinned to the floor, or that her jumper was getting wet.
When he finally manages to collect himself, he pulls away without looking at her. Not willing to have him shut her out she grasps his chin gently and makes him meet her eyes. Seeing her concern, he allows her a small smile before he finally scrambles off of her and the floor, offering a hand to help her up which she takes gladly. He motions for her to follow and leads them through the meticulously clean home, out the back door into the garden.
“How did you get here?” his volume a little higher now that they’re outside.
“Apparated as soon as I knew my parents were sleeping.”
“Don’t you need a wand to apparate?” he asks incredulously.
Hermione pulls her wand from the pocket of her jeans and shows him. “My birthday is quite a few months before yours. I’ve already gotten my letter and school supplies.
Harry scowls at her wand for a moment. “Bloody hell, no wonder you had time to memorize all our course books. I only had about a month”
Hermione nods agreeably. This had been something that had bothered her immensely for a few years. She’s done the research of course and knows that the Ministry registers most muggleborn students years before Hogwarts, usually as soon as they have their first bout of accidental magic. She can’t fathom why they wait so long to approach newly discovered witches and wizards, but she hasn’t had much time to delve further into her research over the years what with trying to keep her boys alive.
“What now?” asks Harry, and Hermione pulls herself from her distracted musings, reminded that they have more important things going on right now.
“Well…” she begins slowly, considering, “I plan to talk my parents into spending the last few weeks of the summer at the Leaky, convince them it’s the perfect way for me to immerse myself in the new culture. They’ll go for it I think. Can you get yourself there?”
Harry nods slowly. “Yes, I think so. What’s the date?”
“July 24th,” she says curiously.
Harry grins. “That’s perfect! My first Hogwarts letter arrived a week before my birthday last time, which is tomorrow morning. Once I get it, I’ll hide it from my family this time so they don’t go running all over the country. I’ll just...take off, leave Petunia a note explaining where I’ve gone. She won’t make a fuss, she’ll be glad to see the back of me.”
Hermione fights off the urge to march into the house and punch Petunia Dursley like she did to Malfoy in third year. Or hex Vernon, the bruise on Harry’s eye looks awful. She reaches out and sadly brushes her fingers along the edge of it. Harry just shrugs, entirely to casual about his injury for her liking.
“The Trace doesn’t start until we cross the Hogwarts ward line. I could heal that for you,” she offers.
Harry shakes his head. “If Vernon sees it’s healed in the morning before I can leave he’s likely to do worse.”
Once more Hermione is forced to rein in her urge to harm Harry’s relatives. Once, her instinct for immediate revenge would have worried her, but she isn’t as naive as she once was.
Then again, she did set Snape on fire in first year. Perhaps she was always willing to drop her morals for her friends.
When she’s sure she isn’t going to snap and assault the Dursley’s, Hermione nods her head decisively. “Okay. If all goes well you should be in the Alley by tomorrow, yes?” Harry nods. “If that works out, send me an owl immediately please. If I don’t hear from you I’ll come back here. Should...should we owl Ron, do you think?”
Harry seems to think this over for a moment before answering. “No. If his family sees he’s suddenly getting mail from people he’s never actually met they’ll be curious. I don’t want anyone caught on to this just yet, not even the Weasley’s. If he’s come back with us, I bet he’ll get in contact.”
There’s not much else to say after that. It doesn’t feel right to make any sort of decision without Ron there, and what’s more, Hermione knew that dawn wasn’t far off. Her parents were early risers, and she really did not need them asking questions right now. She hadn’t decided how she would handle them this time around, but for now she wanted to avoid any suspicion. She detested the idea of leaving Harry alone here with these horrid people, but her presence would likely make things worse. Harry seemed to realize the same after a few moments of silence and pulled her into a tight hug. She flushed in embarrassment when he had to push some of her absurd hair out of his face, but he just chuckled quietly.
“Stay safe, ‘Mione. I’ll get in touch as soon as I can. I’ll be fine.”
He steps back, gives her a strained smile and returns to the house. Once he’s safely inside, Hermione closes her eyes and breathes deeply.
Before she goes, she indulges in a fit of petty revenge. She weaves a curse into the soil under Mrs. Dursley’s prized petunias, the only plant in the garden that she never let Harry touch, (another bitter anecdote she learned that cold January night). It was something she had found in one of the nastier books in the Grimmauld Place library. It was dark magic but needs must. Over the next two weeks or so the curse would sap the life from the flowers and nothing would ever grow in that spot again. Satisfied for the time being and knowing Harry would be long gone before the petunias died, Hermione apparated home with a smirk.
Inside Number 4, Harry heard the familiar crack of apparition and sighed, tucking himself back into the cupboard and trying to get some sleep. If all went well, he’d be free soon. Or at least, as free as he ever was.