Chapter One - Summertime
Life in Number Twelve Grimmauld Place was both exciting and excruciatingly boring.
Various members of the Order were in and out at all hours of the day, and most of them were happy to stay for a cup of tea and a chat, in which they patiently answered most questions Hermione fired at them. She learned more about the different job options after Hogwarts during those brief visits than she ever would during her upcoming careers consultation towards the end of her fifth year.
On the flip side, the cleaning and pest control efforts, which Hermione had expected to be over within maybe a week, were, by the middle of July, still in full swing.
It was at this point that the Weasleys were due to arrive, so that Mrs Weasley could help them wage war against their headquarters.
Part of Hermione was looking forward to this, since she loved spending time with the Weasleys, and although she’d been able to visit them at The Burrow, she felt a little guilty about leaving Sirius alone in Grimmauld Place, with only his bad memories for company.
Remus was away as often as he was around, and, now the school term was over and Harry was safely back with the Dursleys – safety being a relative term in her opinion – Mandy and Arabella were already on a mission for the Order, sounding out foreign wizards and British ex-pats in Europe, while Mandy spoke to her counterparts in the different Ministries about the European Quidditch cup, which was due to take place in Germany the following summer.
As such, Sirius and Hermione were often the only people in the house, which was doing nothing positive about Sirius’s general state of mind.
Plus, she would have preferred it if these visits weren’t punctuated by Mrs Weasley’s pointed questions about whether she was eating enough, whether the house was safe, and was it entirely proper for a young lady to be living in those circumstances?
“If I didn’t know any better,” Sirius had said, when she’d voiced this to him after her first visit, “I’d say she doesn’t trust me.”
Hermione had stifled both a laugh and a grimace at what he was implying Mrs Weasley was implying, and had changed the subject rapidly.
She could have explained to Mrs Weasley about her mother, of course, but the story had been difficult enough to tell Harry, Ron and Ginny, and Hermione didn’t entirely understand it herself yet.
Besides, the real reason for her visits to The Burrow had been accomplished during the very first, when she and Ginny had slipped away to the orchard, released the little beetle from the jar that Ginny had been keeping under lock and key, and watched with some satisfaction as she turned back into Rita Skeeter.
Hermione had listened to her ranting with a smirk, before turning to Ginny. “Do you know, Gin, I looked up the Animagus Registry in third year for my Transfiguration homework?”
Ginny had chuckled. “That doesn’t surprise me, Hermione – is that how you knew Miss Skeeter was an Animagus?”
“Actually, no – she wasn’t on the list.” Hermione had turned back to Rita with a smirk of savage triumph on her face. “I’m sure the Ministry would love to know how she’s been getting all her information …”
Rita’s protests stopped as abruptly as the colour drained from her face. “What do you want?”
Hermione shrugged. “Nothing much. I just want you to keep your Quick-Quotes Quill to yourself for a year. See if you can’t break your habit of telling lies.”
“I didn’t write anything that wasn’t the truth!” Rita shrieked.
Hermione winced at the sound. “Really? So even now someone has confessed to entering Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire, you’re still standing by your statement that Harry told you he did it himself?”
Rita’s mouth opened and closed, unable to form a response.
“And that little point in the article about Hagrid – about one of the students receiving a bad bite from a Flobberworm, which don’t even have teeth?” Ginny added pointedly.
“And of course that lovely article that implied I was using love potions on my best friend.” Hermione’s smirk fell, and she could feel her own Animagus form rising inside her. She took a deep breath, forcing it down again. “Do you know how much hate mail I received for that? Do you even think about the effect your stories have on people?”
Rita seemed to find her voice, but Hermione held up a hand. “One year.” She repeated, before flicking her hand imperiously. “You can go.”
With that … discussion out of the way, Hermione had been perfectly content to wait for the Weasley’s arrival.
The only downside, however, was that once they were there, her own use of magic would have to stop. And she had a feeling that the war with the house would get a lot harder.
Hermione waited in the drawing room, watching carefully out of the windows. She kept as still as possible, not wanting to disturb the doxies that had made their nests in the long grey fabric (Sirius had assured her that it was once white, but she couldn’t even imagine a lighter shade of grey at the moment).
A flash of red from the corner of her eye caught her attention, and she looked down to see a flock of redheads standing in the square.
She turned and hurried from the room – in no mood to deal with Mrs Black when the doorbell rang – only to stop abruptly to keep from running over a house elf.
Despite her soft spot for house elves, even Hermione had to admit that Kreacher was distinctly unlovable. He did no cleaning, preferring to find loopholes in every order Sirius gave him and to impede their task to the best of his ability.
More than once, Hermione had suggested Sirius free him – she knew what Kady had said about house elf magic relying on having a master and a family to serve, but she honestly believed that in this case, all parties would be better off. Unfortunately, Kreacher knew too much now about the Order, and freeing him would put everyone in danger.
Most frustrating of all, he had a habit of muttering insults under his breath – Hermione had yet to determine whether he thought they couldn’t hear him and was taking the opportunity to let his feelings out, or he knew they could hear him and didn’t care.
“Miss Granger,” he greeted, before adding under his breath, “The Mudblood wandering around as though she has every right to be in this house – oh, if my mistress knew, she …”
“Good morning, Kreacher.” Hermione greeted brightly, stepping over him. She had found the best way to deal with Kreacher, as with his late Mistress, was to talk to them as politely and as brightly as possible – not only did it throw them off, it made her feel like the better person.
Hermione took a moment to ponder whether she could use that phrase in Kreacher’s case, before throwing it off, and opening the front door, just as Mrs Weasley was about the ring the bell. “Ssh!” She hissed. “Don’t say anything, come down to the kitchen, quickly.”
Mrs Weasley, looking very put out, opened her mouth to say something, but Hermione shook her head frantically, waved them inside, and ushered them down the hall and into the kitchen. Mrs Weasley hadn’t met Mrs Black yet, and she wanted to delay that meeting for as long as possible.
“Sorry about that,” she said with a wry smile, once the door was safely closed behind them, “Sirius’s mother has a portrait in the Entrance Hall and the slightest sound sets her off.”
“Is it that bad?” Ron asked.
Hermione thought for a second, pouring a mug of tea. “You remember that Howler you got in second year?”
Ginny, Ron and the twins flinched, and their mother looked momentarily satisfied.
“It’s worse than that.” Hermione finished. “She’s twice as loud and has a rather … interesting vocabulary.”
“Well,” Mrs Weasley said finally, “it’s a good thing you kept us from speaking up there in any case. How are you, Hermione, dear?”
It was only as Mrs Weasley hugged her that Hermione realised that there weren’t enough people in the kitchen. Even taking into account Mr Weasley’s work hours, and Charlie’s return Romania, it was Bill who greeted her next, whilst Percy was nowhere to be found.
“I’m fine, thank you.” Hermione answered mechanically, as Bill released her from his hug. “It might just be me, but … Don’t even think about it.” She snapped, turning her attention to the twins, who’d been about to slip something into her tea.
“Who us?” Fred asked innocently, hiding whatever it was behind his back.
“Mya, you wound us.” George added, putting a hand on his heart in mock-hurt.
Hermione narrowed her eyes and they both dropped their gaze to the floor.
“Sorry.” They muttered in not-quite unison.
Bill chuckled. “Nice one, Princess. But I still wouldn’t drink that tea.”
“Didn’t intend on it.” Hermione started to dump the tea into the sink, but the name he’d used gave her pause. “Princess?”
“Oh, the twins and Ron and Ginny told me and Charlie so much about you.” Bill explained with a smirk. “I can’t think who started using the name first.”
“You’re the Gryffindor Princess.” Ginny explained with a smile. “Even if you don’t think you are.”
Hermione cleared her throat, trying to will the blush away from her cheeks. “Tea anyone?”
There was a round of agreement, and Hermione retrieved some more mugs, pouring herself another mug as she did so.
“Did Percy get a new job?” She asked, glancing up again. “I thought …” She trailed off, as Mrs Weasley let out a choked sob, and abandoned the teapot to Ginny in favour of hurrying over to her. “Mrs Weasley, what happened?”
“Oh, Hermione, it’s terrible!” Mrs Weasley cried. “Simply awful!”
Hermione patted the woman on the shoulder and handed her a tissue, looking up for some explanation.
“A couple of days ago,” Fred began, his face like thunder, “Percy came home and told us he’d been promoted. Junior Assistant to the Minister of Magic.”
Hermione raised an eyebrow. Not only had Fudge apparently made no secret of how he felt about the Weasleys, there was also that small fact of how Percy’s last employment had ended. “So he fails to notice his boss is under the Imperius Curse, and in response, they promote him? I mean that’s a really impressive position for someone only a year out of Hogwarts …” she trailed off. “Too impressive. Fudge wants to use him to spy on the family, doesn’t he?”
George nodded darkly. “That’s what Dad said. Told Percy as much as well.”
Hermione closed her eyes. She could only imagine how Percy – with his unshakable faith in authority and his high ambitions – would have taken that. “And it didn’t go down well.”
“Like a Quidditch player without a broom.” Ron confirmed. “There was a row – I’ve never heard Dad shout like that. Anyway, to cut a long story short …” he flashed a hand signal that told her he’d give her the details later, out of his mother’s earshot “… Percy’s left.”
Mrs Weasley began sobbing again and Hermione left her side, retrieved the bottle of firewhiskey from under the sink that Sirius didn’t know she knew about, and added a shot to one of the untouched mugs of tea, before pushing it into the older woman’s hand. “Here.”
“Thank you, dear.” Mrs Weasley choked out, taking a gulp. “I just … I can’t believe he’s gone.”
“Percy believes the Prophet.” Ginny added.
Hermione groaned. So far, Rita had kept her end of the deal and kept her mouth shut, but it didn’t matter. The Daily Prophet had more than enough to work from. It hadn’t come out and told everyone what Harry’s version of events was, but it had implied that there was one, slipping him in to completely unrelated stories like a standing joke, intent on tearing down his credibility and making him look like nothing more than an attention-seeking brat.
Hermione was furious – and she wasn’t the only one. Lily had spent at least an hour the other evening, ranting about the injustice of it all, and what she’d like to do to the people who were saying such things about her son.
Of course, that wasn’t the only injustice of the situation – Dumbledore had informed them all, very gravely, that it simply wasn’t safe for Harry to receive mail in case it got intercepted.
Hermione had guessed that it was the Ministry Dumbledore was worried about, more than Voldemort – from what she had gathered from the hints Sirius had been not-so-accidentally dropping, they knew no more than he did.
So she had put very little of substance in her letters, something she knew would be annoying Harry greatly. She’d sent one or two letters by Muggle post as well, with a lot more information in them, but Harry hadn’t even hinted in his letters that he received them, and she could only assume that his aunt and uncle had intercepted them.
Or there’s a mail ward that’s stopping them. She thought darkly, realising that the kitchen had gone quiet.
Assuming they were waiting for her response, she patted Mrs Weasley on the shoulder. “It’ll be alright, Mrs Weasley – sooner or later, everyone’s going to realise that we’re telling the truth, and he’ll come home again.”
“I hope you’re right, dear.” Mrs Weasley mopped at her eyes, and Hermione returned the firewhiskey to its hiding place, just as the door to the kitchen opened again.
“Hermione, have you seen Kreacher?” Sirius called, descending the stairs. “I’m a little worried he’s … Oh, hello.”
“Hi, Sirius.” Ron and Ginny greeted in not-quite unison, as Mrs Weasley nodded stiffly.
“Worried he’s?” Hermione prompted.
“There’s an old necklace that used to be in my mother’s room.” Sirius explained, shaking Ron and Ginny’s hands. “I don’t particularly want the thing, but I’m a little worried it might be cursed and if he’s … er, hidden it.”
“Well, he didn’t have anything on him in the drawing room earlier.” Hermione assured him with a smile. “Oh, Sirius, this is Fred and George Weasley. Don’t bother trying to figure out which is which.”
Sirius shook hands with the only Weasleys (aside from Percy and Charlie) he hadn’t yet met. “Nice to meet you. Hermione said you were planning on opening a joke shop.”
The twins grinned. “That we are.”
“You will not.” Mrs Weasley snapped, getting up from her chair. “It’s a ridiculous idea and you’d do well to shake the notion once and for all.”
“Molly,” Sirius said carefully, “from what I’ve heard, these two have a real flair for business, and they’ve got the potential to do really well.”
Mrs Weasley swelled and Hermione, sensing trouble, set her tea down. “Come on.” She said, pushing Fred and George towards the stairs, and seizing Ron and Ginny’s hands. “Move it.”
They hurried up the stairs, and reached the hallway just as Mrs Weasley’s voice rose in indignation. The curtains fluttered, Hermione closed her eyes, and then a second voice had joined in.
“FILTH! SCUM! HOW DARE YOU …?!”
“Oh, shut up!” Hermione yelled, grasping one of the curtains. “Fred, shut the door; George, give me a hand.”
With both of them tugging at the curtains, they managed to cover the portrait again. Hermione gave the drapes a disdainful look, and headed up the stairs, the four Weasleys in close pursuit.
“Well, that was interesting.” Ginny remarked in a low voice, looking shocked. Her eyes travelled over the dismal decorations. “I thought you’d been cleaning.”
“We have.” Hermione sighed. “You want to see what it used to look like.”
“This is clean?” Ron asked bluntly.
Hermione shrugged. “Well, cleaner.”
“How did you know Mum would start yelling?” Fred asked, almost in awe. “She never yells at people like that, unless she’s related to them.”
Hermione sighed. “Sirius and Mrs Weasley don’t really get along.”
“She believes he’s innocent though, right?” Ron asked with a frown. “When we got back for summer, she wouldn’t leave me alone for days, going on and on about Scabbers being Pettigrew and …” He trailed off.
“No, she believes it.” Hermione grimaced. “She just doesn’t like him. I think it’s got something to do with Harry.”
“Harry?” Ginny repeated. “How?”
“Well, your mum’s very fond of Harry.” Hermione said slowly. “She’s practically adopted him, but at the same time, Sirius is his godfather, which makes him Harry’s legal guardian. I don’t know all the details, but I do know that Dumbledore’s given the Order strict … well, orders about what Harry can and cannot be told. Apparently, they’re not allowed to tell him more than he ‘needs to know’.”
“Except if Mum had her way, we wouldn’t tell him anything because “the poor dear, he’s been through so much, he doesn’t need any more on his plate.”” Fred concluded, finishing in a passable imitation of Molly Weasley.
“And Sirius will tell Harry quite a lot given half the chance.” Ginny added. “Because he knows that Harry has a knack of attracting trouble, and if he doesn’t know what’s happening, he can’t fight it.”
“Exactly.” Hermione nodded.
“That’s stupid.” George said finally, having been uncharacteristically quiet. “This is Sirius’s house. Not ours. Mum’s always going on about courtesy when other people open their homes to you.”
Hermione snorted. “Well, she’ll expect it from you four, I’m sure, but from what I’ve heard …” she trailed off, unwilling to voice the rest of her sentence.
“Besides,” George continued, “like you said, Sirius is Harry’s legal guardian, not her, not Dumbledore. He’s the only person who can make that decision.”
“Yeah.” Hermione agreed quietly, her eyes straying to the wand at her ankle, hidden in the swirl of her robes. “The only one.”
Hermione was confused.
The last thing she remembered was falling asleep, having been chatting to Ginny for at least an hour. The two girls were sharing a room, since there weren’t many bedrooms that were safe to inhabit. The twins had taken one, Mr and Mrs Weasley another, and Ron a third, on the third floor, which was the same room Harry, if he ever managed to get there, would take as well.
Bill had a flat in London, where he was staying to be closer to the bank – although part of that decision, Ginny had told her, giggling, was to do with a certain Triwizard champion who had just started work at Gringotts as well, and who Mrs Weasley didn’t approve of one bit.
She hadn’t woken up, however, in her bedroom at Grimmauld Place.
For a second, she thought that maybe someone was having a nightmare; that she had once more been pulled into their dreams, but that had been different.
Viewing Sirius’s nightmare had been like watching a film; she wasn’t really there. But here, lying on a sofa, she was very aware of her body … although it seemed smaller than it had been when she had fallen asleep.
A woman was smiling softly at her, a woman she knew, although the hand on her shoulder assured her that Lily Potter was very much solid in this room. “Come on, sweetheart, let’s get you to bed.”
Hermione blinked. “Bed?” She asked, her voice coming out very childlike.
“That’s right, sweetheart.” Lily said. “Can you be a big girl and walk so I can carry Harry?”
Harry? But Harry was fourteen, nearly fifteen – how was Lily supposed to carry him?
“You could levitate one of them.” A male voice suggested, and Hermione sat up, to see James Potter lounging on the sofa.
Lily gave him a weary look, as though they’d had this conversation before. “For the last time, James …”
Apparently, they had.
“… I don’t like the idea of levitating the children. Not this young.”
Young? The word reverberated though Hermione’s brain and with a thrill of horror, she realised that this wasn’t real, nor was it a dream.
It was a memory and the glowing Halloween pumpkin on the mantelpiece told her exactly what day it was.
Hermione tried to open her mouth, to warn James and Lily that they weren’t safe, but nothing happened – she was trapped in her own body, forced to relive the events of that night in stunning clarity.
I guess the Memory Charm broke.
Lily helped Hermione down and moved over to Harry. “Perfect timing.” She remarked with a smile.
Hermione looked over to see baby Harry opening those familiar green eyes.
“Mama?” He asked sleepily.
“Mummy’s here, pumpkin.” Lily soothed, picking him up. “Time for bed.”
Harry rested his head on Lily’s shoulder, blinking sleepily at Hermione, who gazed up at him as she took Lily’s hand, thinking how strange it was to see unmarked, unblemished skin where his scar would soon be.
She trotted along at Lily’s side until they reached the bottom of the stairs, where James bent and kissed his wife. “You take the kids to bed, sweetheart. I’m just going to check the wards.”
“James, I don’t feel comfortable with this.” Lily said lowly, despite her nod.
James frowned. “Alright. Well, do you want to check the wards while I put the kids to bed?”
Lily chuckled. “No! I meant the whole ‘Secret Keeper’ thing.”
“Lily, I trust Peter …” James began.
“I do too, James.” Lily insisted. “Don’t think I don’t. But … he wasn’t exactly acting like himself when we cast the charm, was he? Plus … he said something to me just before Dumbledore arrived … he said, “Dumbledore’s explained the dangers, right?” I assumed he meant the dangers of switching Secret Keeper – you know it can carry a risk if it’s not done right, it could have left us unprotected for a whole 24 hours – but what if that wasn’t what he meant, what if something …?”
“Lily …” James cut her off mid-flow, pressing a finger to her lips. “Would you just calm down, alright? Dumbledore would have told us if it was anything else, and Peter was probably a bit nervous.”
Hermione watched the two closely. If she had to relive this night, she might as well try to get something out of it, but they’d said nothing that she hadn’t already heard.
Lily looked down at her and smiled softly. “I just felt so much better when Sirius was the Secret Keeper. I know it was dangerous, but …”
“Well, I think the switch is a good idea, but if it makes you feel better, sweetheart, we’ll talk to Albus about switching back first thing tomorrow morning. Alright?”
“You’re humouring me.” Lily accused, with no heat. “But that would make me feel better.”
“Alright.” James kissed her. “I’ll see you upstairs.” He kissed Harry’s forehead. “Night, Harry. I love you.”
“Ni’ Daddy.” Harry murmured tiredly. “’Ove ‘oo.”
James knelt down and hugged Hermione as well. “Goodnight, Hermione.”
Hermione hugged him tightly – maybe if she didn’t let go, they’d know something was wrong – but she still wasn’t in control and she found herself releasing him. “Night, P’ongs.” Her mouth didn’t seem to want to form words properly, but apparently that was normal, because James chuckled quietly and straightened up.
Her thumb found its way to her mouth, a comforting movement she’d grown out of years ago – or, rather, been forced to grow out of years ago – and Lily took her hand and began helping her up the stairs.
It was slow-going, and they were barely halfway up, when James ran back to them. “Lily, take Harry and go! It’s him!”
His voice was calm, as Hermione had heard in her memories before, but as Lily spun around to face him, his face was anything but.
She found herself grateful that she couldn’t sense emotions in these memories, because that would not be a fun experience.
“GO!” James told her urgently. “Run! I’ll hold him off.”
Lily bent down, scooped Hermione into her arms, and hurried up the stairs. Looking over her shoulder, Hermione saw the front door shatter inwards with a shower of splinters.
Hermione closed her eyes, as James swung his wand up, and the first spell flew. She didn’t see if it hit its mark, burying her face in Lily’s shoulder; this was one duel she didn’t want to watch.
Lily darted into the nursery and turned sharply on the spot in a motion Hermione had learned to associate with disapparition, having watched Order members leave from the window enough times, but nothing happened.
Opening her eyes again, Hermione lifted her head to see Lily’s face, and she almost cried at the look in her eyes. With that one movement, Lily had proven that their protections held, and that only the Fidelius Charm had failed, ascertaining that Peter was either dead or a traitor – neither option, she felt sure, one that Lily wanted to consider.
Lily carried the two over to the fireplace, picking up a stone from the mantelpiece and holding it tightly. “Padfoot’s Place.” Her voice wavered ever so slightly and, when nothing happened again, Hermione felt her breathing begin to quicken as panic set in.
Voldemort had apparently taken the time as he approached to cut off every escape route. Harry began to whimper, and Hermione felt her own sobs begin to rise up, as Lily’s fear flooded through her and into them.
Lily turned to the fireplace now, starting a fire with a murmured incantation, not bothering with a wand. A handful of floo powder was thrown into it, but the flames died away immediately, and Lily turned away, making for a cupboard in the corner of the room.
The door was flung open, but Lily turned away. Her heart was racing, Hermione could feel it, and her panic was palpable in the air, but her voice was casual and now unwavering. “Harry, Daddy’s left the broom in the kitchen again.”
There was no heat to her voice, no blame, and Hermione knew that her words were for the sole purpose of calming the two children in her arms.
Her calmness didn’t last long, however, because at that moment, there was an echoing bang from downstairs, and the hallway lit up with an eerie green light.
Lily screamed, but Hermione forced herself to listen closely, arming herself with one more nugget of evidence for James and Lily’s continued existence.
Sure enough, the light was followed by silence downstairs; no further noise, no further light, and, more importantly, no thud of a body hitting the floor.
Slow footsteps prompted Lily to drop Harry and Hermione into the crib and place herself in front of it, plunging her hands into her robes for her wand.
Hermione could have pinpointed the exact moment when Lily realised that she didn’t have it, just by watching her body language. She stiffened, moving back to lean against the bars of the crib, turning her head just enough that her words reached them. “Hermione, darling, I am so sorry. Harry, I love you. I love you so much, pumpkin. Just close your eyes and go to sleep.” She rocked the crib gently, and Hermione saw Harry yawn across from her, his hand curling around the embroidered blanket that lay beside him. “Go to sleep, Harry. And Mummy and Daddy will be there when you wake up.”
Her voice broke on the last word and Hermione suddenly understood – Lily knew she couldn’t hope to protect them without a wand, and she didn’t want either of them awake or alert when it happened.
“Hermione, close your eyes.” Lily whispered frantically. “Close your eyes, please!”
Hermione couldn’t help doing as she was told, even as a cold voice said, “Mrs Potter … it’s been too long.”
“Get out of my house.” Lily hissed, venom dripping from every word.
“My dear girl, you are in no position to be making any demands.”
Voldemort must have done something, lifted his wand maybe, because Lily’s calm exterior finally cracked. “Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!”
“Stand aside, you silly girl! Stand aside now!”
“Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead …”
“This is my last warning …”
“Not Harry! Please … have mercy … have mercy … Not Harry! Not Harry! Please … I’ll do anything …”
“Stand aside! Stand aside, girl!”
Hermione opened her eyes just a little, in time to see Lily turn to look at them. Harry’s eyes were wide open, and Lily met them, mouthing four words. Be safe. Be strong.
Green light enveloped her, though Hermione had heard no curse, and she vanished from before them.
Hermione’s eyes were fully open now, and she shrank back as Voldemort approached the crib. Harry was crying, startled by the sudden disappearance of his mother, and Voldemort paid her no heed, focussed on the screaming child in front of her.
Harry had described Voldemort in his first year, but that had been a wraith-like being on the back of someone’s head, and did nothing to prepare her for the monster that stood before her.
He raised his wand, aimed it very deliberately at Harry’s face, and chanted the curse that had taken so many other lives before their time.
The green light shot towards Harry, and the room around them seemed to explode into a chaos of dust, and noise, and debris.
The crib rocked and overturned, trapping Hermione and Harry beneath it, probably saving their lives as the ceiling caved in.
Hermione couldn’t see where Voldemort had gone or what had happened to him, her focus was fixed on Harry, who was lying not feet away from her, bleeding and unmoving.
Her own screams and cries echoed in her ears, as she begged for someone to hear her, to help them.
A loud rumbling sounded from outside and her sobs quietened as footsteps sounded from downstairs.
There was a muttered curse, and a reassuringly familiar voice called out, “James! It’s Padfoot – answer me, mate!”
Her own scream jolted her awake and she bolted upright, nearly colliding with Ginny, who was bent over her, calling her name.
“Hermione, dear, whatever’s the matter?!” Mrs Weasley asked from the doorway.
Still gasping for air, Hermione looked up, seeing Fred, George and Ron standing with their mother, equal concern on their faces, and behind them …
Hermione had moved before anyone had realised; throwing off the bedcovers, she darted across the room, past Mrs Weasley’s outstretched arms and assuming smile, and into Sirius’s arms, which closed around her comfortingly.
“Hermione!” Mrs Weasley protested, sounding scandalised.
“Mum …” Ginny sighed, standing up, but Hermione paid no attention to either of them.
“I remembered.” She whispered into Sirius’s shoulder, despite knowing he probably couldn’t hear her. “I remembered them … Prongs and Aunt Lily – they d-disappeared …” Her old names for them came easily to her lips, as though part of her mind was still two years old. “Harry wasn’t moving …”
“It’s alright, Kitten.” Sirius murmured, kissing her head. “It’s okay. That was years ago. You need to finish waking up, a chuisle.”
The unfamiliar word gave Hermione something else to focus on. “What language is that?”
“Irish.” Sirius answered, somehow guiding her around Mrs Weasley so he could sit down on her bed, never releasing her.
“I didn’t know you spoke Irish.” Hermione remarked, feeling her breathing begin to return to a regular pattern.
“I don’t, really.” Sirius admitted. “Addie’s family was Irish … she taught me a little.”
Later, in the light of day and with her mind back in some semblance of order, Hermione would realise that she should have been able to guess that – ‘McKinnon’ was, after all, either a Scottish or an Irish name.
“What does it mean?” Hermione asked, shifting her head to his shoulder.
“Sweetheart, I think.” Sirius said thoughtfully. “At least, that’s how Addie used it, but she did say that the literal translation was …”
“Alright, that’s quite enough!” Mrs Weasley snapped, hands on her hips. “Hermione Granger, I’m surprised at you!”
Hermione blinked, startled, too tired and too emotionally wound to catch up with Mrs Weasley’s train of mind. Not bothering to attempt to figure it out, she closed her eyes again. “Daddy, what does she mean?”
Like her names for James and Lily, her childhood address for him slipped out as though she still called him that every day.
“I don’t know what she’s implying, Kitten.” Sirius said softly, his smile audible in his voice. “But it might help if I explained that whenever your father hurt your mum, she used to drop you off with me, and that I love you like a daughter.”
Hermione opened her eyes again, to see Mrs Weasley opening and closing her mouth, apparently in shock.
“That’s what I was trying to tell you, Mum.” Ginny sighed. “Hermione’s mum’s a witch. The Potters were babysitting her that Halloween, and her mum put a Memory Charm on her. I think it just broke. Even if she didn’t have that connection to Sirius, he was the first person to arrive at the house after …” She broke off.
Mrs Weasley moved to sit on Hermione’s other side, rubbing her arm comfortingly. “I’m sorry.” She said finally, to the opposite wall. “I jumped to conclusions.”
“Quite alright, Molly.” Sirius assured her. “No one can be expected to think too clearly at half past two in the morning.”
His casual mention of the time caused Mrs Weasley to look up at her children. “Back to bed, all of you.”
The boys all looked as though they’d argue, but Ginny gave them a sharp look and, combined with their mother’s glare, it caused them to turn on their heel and retreat to their bedrooms.
“Will you be alright, Hermione, dear?” Mrs Weasley asked gently.
“I’ll be fine.” Hermione assured her, catching her hand and squeezing softly. “It was a nightmare. That’s all.”
Mrs Weasley still looked worried, but patted Hermione’s cheek and left the room, bidding them goodnight.
“I didn’t mean to wake the whole house.” Hermione said, sitting up.
“Oh, don’t be silly, Hermione.” Ginny sighed, climbing back into bed. “How many times have I woken you up with nightmares?”
Hermione chuckled, slipping back under her own covers. “True.”
Sirius stood up as well, hovering beside her. “Will you be alright?”
Hermione smiled softly, extending a hand to him. “I’ll be fine.” She repeated.
Sirius leaned down and kissed her forehead. “They’re alright.” He whispered. “Harry’s alright. We’ll get them back.”
Hermione took a deep breath and let it out slowly; the tension that remained in her body flowed with it. “Thanks, Padfoot. I love you.”
It was the first time she’d voiced it, but the words were as true as they had been fourteen years ago.
Sirius squeezed her hand. “I love you too, Kitten.”
“It’s not fair!”
Hermione sighed, massaging her temples. Three weeks had passed since her nightmare, Mrs Weasley seemed to have come to terms with everything, Harry’s letters were getting more and more frustrated, the house was still trying eat them alive every time they opened a new door, and Ron still hadn’t grasped how things worked.
“We should know what’s going on!”
“Yes, Ron, we should, but that doesn’t change the fact that we don’t.” Hermione snapped. “And if Sirius won’t tell me, there’s no way in hell you’ll convince your mother to tell you.”
“But we should!” Ron moaned.
Hermione and Ginny exchanged a weary glance, and the latter shrugged, reclining on her bed, allowing Hermione to handle her brother.
The three were sitting in Hermione and Ginny’s room, while the Order of the Phoenix had a meeting in the kitchen, and Ron complained about not being allowed to sit in on the meetings.
Hermione loved her best friend, really she did, but if he didn’t shut up, she was going to make what she did to Draco in third year look like a pat on the cheek.
At that moment, there was a double crack and the twins were suddenly standing in the middle of the room.
Used to their constantly apparating every few feet by now, Hermione just raised an eyebrow. “Was it that much bother just to walk?”
“Well, of course, Mya.” Fred smirked, holding a long, fleshy instrument.
“Don’t let Mum catch you with those.” Ron warned. “I didn’t think you had any left.”
George scowled, obviously still furious with their mother for destroying their hard work. “We’ve still got a few, no thanks to her.”
“They won’t work anyway.” Hermione said, leaning back against her bed. “Padfoot told me they were going to put in Imperturbable Charm up – whatever this meeting’s about, it must be really important.”
A hand seized each of hers and she let out a surprised squeak as Fred and George hauled her to her feet. “What the …?”
“You know who the Marauders are?!” Fred demanded, looking more serious than she’d ever seen him. “We gave Harry the Map and everything!”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” George asked, less heatedly, but just as put out. “Who are they?”
“Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius Black and James Potter.” Hermione listed quickly. “Respectively. So, technically, you returned the Map.”
“And technically,” Ginny added, “they’re not the only Marauders.”
Hermione chuckled. “That’s usually my line.”
“There were others?” Fred asked eagerly, releasing her hand.
Hermione sat down again, smirking up at them. “Of course. There were the girls too – by all accounts, they’re the reason the school’s still standing. Speaking of the girls, do Angelina and Alicia know what you’re planning with the joke shop?”
“They know what we want to do.” George said. “Whether they know we have the means to do it …”
Hermione smiled. “Maybe you should tell them. They’re smart girls – they might even be willing to help.”
The twins exchanged a look, holding a silent conversation, but before they could agree, Lily appeared in front of Hermione, who let out another startled squeak.
“Lily!” Hermione protested, one hand on her heart. “Don’t do that!”
“Lily?” Fred and George repeated in unison.
Hermione spared Ginny a nod to confirm that she could fill them in, the rest of her attention focussed on Lily, who was on the verge of hysterics.
“Oh, Hermione!” Lily cried. “You’re not going to believe what just happened!”
It was pure fluke that led Jessica Brown to her front garden that evening. Her hanging baskets were starting to droop so once she’d finished her dinner, she filled up a watering can and stepped outside to remedy that.
She was distracted from her task, however, when she spotted Harry and Dudley moving down the road towards her, accompanied by Mrs Figg.
Jess knew that Harry suspected that Mrs Figg was a relative of his mother’s friend, Arabella, but since neither was certain, they hadn’t said anything to her.
What concerned Jess most about the picture was that Harry seemed to be half-carrying Dudley home.
Concern gripped at her heart and she resolutely pushed it aside before it could morph into fear. Dudley’s ‘gang’ terrorised the neighbourhood and, with Dudley himself being a ‘Junior Boxing Champion’ – as his father was too fond of telling everyone – no one was stupid enough to mess with them.
One of them probably got their hands on some beer or something. She set the watering can down on her front step and wiped her hands dry on her jeans. Although you wouldn’t think someone so big was such a light …
Her thought process ground to a halt as she reached the end of her drive, and she realised that Harry’s wand – usually tucked into his back pocket – was in his hand.
“Harry!” Jess called, running towards them. “Harry, what happened?!”
“Dementors.” Harry gasped out, straining under Dudley’s weight. “Two of them.”
“Harry …” Mrs Figg began.
“She knows.” Harry managed to reassure her. “Cast my Patronus. Drove them away. Dudley’s … not taking it well.”
For once, Jess felt nothing but sympathy for Harry’s cousin – she wouldn’t wish the creatures Harry had described after his third year on anyone.
“Well, I had better go and await instruction.” Mrs Figg said. “Can you get him inside, Harry?”
“I’ve got it.” Harry said, managing a weak smile. “Thanks, Mrs Figg.”
“You’re welcome. Jessica.” Mrs Figg acknowledged her with a smile, and Jess raised a hand in farewell as the old woman set off down the road, her carpet bag swinging wildly.
“Harry …” Jess said softly. “Do you want me to come inside to talk to your aunt and uncle?”
Harry shook his head. “No offence, Jess, but you’d probably make things worse.”
Jess pulled a face, but didn’t begrudge him his point. “Alright …” she said reluctantly. “I’ll talk to you from the usual spot then.”
Harry nodded, heaved Dudley better on to his shoulder, and dragged him up the driveway of Number Four. Jess watched them go, remembering Harry’s stories about his parents from his latest school year. “If you two are here, Mr and Mrs Potter,” she murmured, “you might want to let Hermione know what’s happened – she’s got better connections than I do. I’ll look after him for you.” With no way of knowing whether her message had been heard, she hurried back inside her own house, locking the front door firmly, and dashed into the kitchen, pressing her ear against the wall.
Unfortunately for her, the walls were very thick, and she gave it up as a bad job, deciding to wait for Harry upstairs in one of her own spare rooms.
Halfway up the stairs, she stopped, an idea hitting her. It was all very well leaning out of their windows, but it was very difficult to have a decent conversation, and if the Dursleys didn’t lock Harry in his room for this, she’d be very surprised.
She went back downstairs and unlocked her backdoor, stepping out into her back garden. An owl swooped past her and flew straight into the kitchen window of Number Four. Hearing Vernon shouting something about owls, Jess jogged down to her garden shed and pulled the door open.
It took a few minutes of searching, but she finally found what she was looking for: a curved piece of drainpipe from when she’d had the guttering replaced.
She took it back up to the house and rinsed off the cobwebs and dirt under the outside tap. Then she went back inside, locked the back door again, and carried it upstairs to the spare bedroom, pausing only to rescue some masking tape from a kitchen drawer.
Opening the window, she leaned out, letting her gaze wander over the back gardens of Privet Drive, as she waited for Harry to go upstairs.
Finally, a door slammed. A few minutes later, the window to her left opened, Hedwig soared off, and Harry’s head popped out. “Well, that was fun.”
“What happened?” Jess asked urgently. “What was that owl for?”
“To tell me that I’ve been expelled from Hogwarts.” Harry answered dully. “Then I got another owl from Mr Weasley telling me not to surrender my wand and to stay put. Then I got an owl from Sirius telling me not to leave the house. Then I got another owl from the Ministry telling me that I haven’t been expelled, but I’ve got a trial to decide whether I should be or not.”
“But they can’t expel you for defending yourself, surely!” Jess protested. “It doesn’t make sense!”
“None of it makes sense.” Harry sighed, rubbing his scar.
Jess’s brow creased in concern. “You look tired, sweetheart.”
“I am tired.” Harry admitted. “But …” He broke off, staring down into the dark garden.
Jess glanced down as well, just to make sure he hadn’t seen something. There was nothing there, so she turned back to Harry. “Who did you write to?”
“Ron. And Hermione. And Sirius.” Harry scowled. “And I want actual news this time – not just “There’s lots going on, but we can’t tell you”.”
Jess grimaced in sympathy, as Harry yawned. “You should get some sleep, Harry.”
“But …” Again, Harry broke off, and Jess retreated inside for a second to fetch the drainpipe.
“Mind out,” she warned, threading one end out of the window and towards him.
“What’s this for?” Harry asked, grabbing hold of it.
“Well, I don’t happen to be in possession of a mobile telephone.” Jess pointed out briskly, taping her end of the drainpipe to the window sill. “And if it rains, we’ve got a problem sticking our heads out of the window. Is your bed up against the wall?” She asked, tossing the tape along to him.
“Yeah it is.” Harry caught it deftly and proceeded to copy her actions.
Jess caught the tape again when he threw it back and pulled her head back inside, settling on the bed in her own room. “Is that better?”
“I can still hear you if that’s what you mean.” Harry answered, perfectly audible through the pipe.
Jess smiled in satisfaction. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but it meant she could still talk to her boy. “Now I think it’s time for you to go to bed, sweetheart.”
Harry sighed. “Alright. But …”
“Goats butt.” Jess quoted. “Birds fly. And teenage wizards who have just fought off Dementors need their sleep.”
Harry laughed weakly, becoming a little dimmer. “Alright. I’m changing first though.”
“That might be a good idea.” Jess agreed, leaning against the wall. “How did your aunt and uncle take it?”
Harry laughed again, derisively this time. “How do they take anything magical? Uncle Vernon was all for blaming me for what had happened to their Ickle Diddykins, then Aunt Petunia knows what Dementors are – apparently she heard Dad telling Mum …”
“She actually used your parents’ names?” Jess asked in surprise.
“Well, she said she heard ‘that awful boy’ telling ‘her’.” Harry amended. “I assume she meant Mum and Dad. Though why Dad thought Dementors were an appropriate subject of conversation, I don’t know.”
“It might not have been your dad.” Jess said fairly. “Your mum was a Marauder, you said – there are four boys there who your aunt might have and probably did consider ‘awful’, any one of whom could have visited her during the summer.”
“That’s true.” Harry conceded. “Oh, and then Uncle Vernon was all for throwing me out – which I’d have been all for – I’d have come to you – except those letters told me not to – and then Aunt Petunia got a Howler of all things that said, “Remember my last, Petunia,” and she said I had to stay.”
Jess let out a steady breath. “Well.” She said on the end of it. “That’s a turn up for the books. Who was it from?”
“No idea.” There was a rustle of sheets. “Alright, I’m in bed, but don’t expect me to sleep.”
Jess smiled softly. She had been looking after Harry for long enough that she knew one or two tricks to get him to sleep, no matter how wired, or how scared he might be.
“Dancing bears, painted wings,
Things I almost remember,
And a song someone sings,
Once upon a December …”
Her voice, though quiet, filled the room and floated through the drainpipe to the room next door. She had built up a repertoire of songs to use as lullabies over the years, but this was one of her favourites, simply because its background – a film about a young woman who didn’t remember who she was – had struck a chord with her.
“Someone holds me safe and warm,
Horses prance through a silver storm,
Figures dancing gracefully
Across my memory …”
She had given up trying to puzzle out her own history, and had done just weeks after waking in hospital on August 2nd, 1982, with no idea why she was there.
She had been found, doctors told her, by the postman, who had knocked on the door to deliver a package. She was a creature of habit, so when he hadn’t answered, he had become concerned and peered through the letter box to see her lying motionless at the bottom of the stairs.
An ambulance was duly called and she awoke a day later, only able to offer a tentative explanation of falling down the stairs.
The doctors gave her some pain-killers and discharged her, once they were certain that she was in no further danger.
As soon as she got home, she climbed the stairs and found the culprit in her accident – the carpet had become loose and must have tripped her on her way downstairs that morning.
“Far away, long ago,
Glowing dim as an ember,
Things my heart used to know,
Once upon a December …”
She had been able to tell the doctors her name, of course, and where she lived, and who her parents were – had been (they’d died in a car crash four years previously) – but she couldn’t actually remember anything.
She just knew it had happened.
She had been assured that her almost-amnesia would disappear over time, but so far she had seen no improvement. She could remember that she grew up in America, before moving to England to finish her schooling after her parents’ deaths, but she couldn’t actually remember doing it.
Plus she had no trace of an American accent in her voice, and her passport claimed she’d never left the country.
“Someone holds me safe and warm,
Horses prance through a silver storm,
Figures dancing gracefully
Across my memory …”
And then there were the dreams, which had been around for as long as she could remember – although that was only just over fourteen years.
Thinking of the dreams caused her eyes to flicker up towards the sky, where the moon peeked out from behind a cloud.
It would be full in just over a week, and that dream – the one she had never told Harry about – would return. The dream of pain and agony – not hers, but someone else’s, and she couldn’t help feeling that if she just knew where they were, she could help them.
“Far away, long ago,
Glowing dim as an ember,
Things my heart used to know,
Things it yearns to remember …”
Jess may have given up on figuring it out, but she still wished that she could.
“And a song that someone sings …
Once upon a December …”
The last note shook slightly as she held it, and died away into the night.
There was no sound through the drainpipe, and Jess’s smile returned; she knew that Harry would have fallen asleep, lulled by her voice into accepting his own exhaustion.
She had no doubt that the nightmares would return, but that was no reason for him to try to stay awake. However terrifying they were, that would only end badly.
She stood up and moved to the window, her eyes tracking the direction Hedwig and flown in. “You’d better be able to do something about this, Sirius.” She murmured. “Because I can’t do a damn thing. I wish I could.” Her gaze drifted upwards to the few stars that shone through in the cloudy sky. “Actually, while I’m on the subject of wishing, I’ve got a few more for you. I wish I knew what was going on – really going on, not just what Harry could tell me. I wish I could talk to the other people in Harry’s life and get someone to listen when I say he needs help. And I wish I knew who I am.”
Her voice cracked on the last word, and she turned away from the window, a tear escaping her before she could guard against it.
Little did she know, in just three days, all of these wishes would be granted.