July, 2010 - Seattle Washington
Miss Lily Fredericka Harris
The Upstairs Bedroom
542 South Walcott Street
United States of America
Hermione Jean Granger, more recently known as Hermione Jean Harris, looked down at the parchment envelope in her hands and sighed heavily. Of course they were able to find her here, even half a world and a three-thousand-mile-wide ocean away. The letter had been deposited on her front stoop, no doubt by some determined owl. She'd seen it as she was walking in the front door, home from work and looking forward to a pleasant evening having dinner with her daughter and her good friend.
Thank god Mary hadn't seen it, Hermione thought to herself. The last thing she needed was her very perceptive and inquisitive friend finding a letter of admission to a wizarding school on the doormat. She opened the door, and stepped into the entry hall where she could smell the lasagna Fred had already put in the oven. It would be ready soon, and they'd all three sit down for a nice dinner. Then once Mary left, she'd have to explain to her daughter all about magic, witches and wizards, a war, exactly why it was she'd never had a chance to meet her father, and the mistakes that had brought a much younger Hermione Granger to America.
As she was trying to work through the conversation in her mind, she heard a tapping and looked over at the porch railing. Still sitting upon it was a small, non-descript black owl who was holding yet another parchment envelope in its beak. She reached out a hand and it neatly dropped the letter onto her outstretched palm.
Ms. Hermione Jean Granger Harris
542 South Walcott Street
United States of America
The owl eyed her sharply, then gave up on waiting for a treat and flew off. Her hands shook very slightly as she broke the familiar Hogwarts seal and opened it.
Dear Ms. Granger-Harris,
I realize that these letters may come as something of a shock to you. That is not my intention, and I do apologize. While it is most common for the children of ex-patriots to be directed to the wizarding school nearest to them, we have made an exception for your daughter. Beyond that...
I have attempted to be formal, and I believe I am failing. While I don't understand the circumstances of your disappearance, I do know at least some of the effects that it has had. There are many people here who still speak fondly of you and who miss you. I had lunch with Arthur Weasley this very week and he asked if I had heard from you. I didn't mention to him, as I haven't mentioned to anyone, that your daughter is in the rolls for Hogwarts. I am, of course, the only one with access to the book.
You do have the option of transferring her into a school in the States - there are several excellent programs there and I would be happy to write her a letter of recommendation. However, I have secretly hoped these last few years that when the time came for her to start school, you would take the opportunity to come back as well.
Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Hermione stared at the letter for a long while. If she were being honest with herself, she could admit that she missed England dreadfully. It was the little things, language quirks she had never quite picked up, certain foods that she missed that were uncommon in America. She also missed the Wizarding world. She missed being a witch, and using magic, as well as the sheer joy and discovery that she associated with it. She had seriously considered (several times) moving into the Wizarding community here in America, but ultimately she'd always dismissed it because she knew that she was too prominent a figure in the wizarding culture to blend in. As she reread the letter in her hands, she remembered how everything had started to fall apart, and began to wonder if it was finally time to go home.
12 Years Ago, King's Cross Station:
The last time that Hermione Granger stepped off the train onto Platform Nine and Three Quarters, the only people who were there to greet her were the Weasleys and Harry. She'd received a letter from her parents a week before telling her that they had a dental conference in London to attend and wouldn't be available. She'd never had a truly close relationship with them, and the events of the war and its aftermath had changed what was often an indifferent relationship and turned into one that was bordering on strained. The Weasleys, on the other hand, welcomed her as they always did, with open arms, treating her as if she was one of their own. She gave Mrs. Weasley a hug, let Ron snog her senseless in front of just about everyone, and then walked hand in hand with him out of the station to the apparition point where they disappear to Harry's flat in Hogsmeade to drop off her trunk and let her have a shower and change her clothes. Afterwards, she walked into the living room where Harry and Ron were in the middle of what seemed like a rather intense conversation.
"Honestly, Harry, it's the strangest thing. I used to have to nearly force him to eat, and he'd stay up all hours drinking in his office. Suddenly, it's like he's a different person. No, that's not right. It's like he's himself again. I can't figure out why. I mean, I'm glad, don't get me wrong, but how do I know it'll last? I can't just stop watching him, can I? No one else is. He avoids Mum, Dad and Percy are far too busy rebuilding the damn Ministry, Bill's got Fleur and the new baby to worry about and Charlie's no help all the way from Romania. Gin's just got home from school, but she'll be heading off to the Harpies training camp in just a week or two, so if I don't deal with him, who will?"
"What about Angelina? Didn't she say something last week about moving in with you two?"
"No 'buts', Ron. Go and try out for the team. You should at least see if it's something you can do, then make the final decision afterwards."
Ron seemed drawn and tired, something Hermione hadn't noticed at the station when she'd arrived. She'd known that Ron was living in the spare room of George's apartment and picking up the slack in the shop, but he hadn't let on just how much stress he'd been holding in about the whole situation. "I'm ready to go when you are," she stated as a way of announcing her presence. Ron and Harry both jumped up, looking vaguely guilty, as if they didn't want her to know what they'd been talking about.
"Mum invited us all to dinner tonight," Ron offered. "She says it's a welcome home celebration but I think she really wants to interrogate the two of you about your plans."
"Of course. I love to spend time with your family, and I need to speak with your father anyway." She pulled out her wand. "Floo, or apparate?"
"Apparating's faster," Harry said, and grabbed his own wand off the table.
"Right then," Ron sighed. He looked much less thrilled than they did about the prospect of spending the evening with his family, but given what he'd been saying, Hermione wasn't entirely surprised by that. "I'll just swing by the Alley first and grab George and Angelina. I'm sure they'll be happy to see you and Gin."
"Alright. We'll see you in a few minutes then."
Hermione and Harry arrived at the Burrow with a faint "pop" moments later. Outside in the back garden, Mrs. Weasley had already started arranging the picnic tables out on the lawn, and Ginny and Luna appeared with chairs from the kitchen.
"Grab something you'll be able to sit on," Ginny offered as a greeting as she breezed by the two of them. Hermione studied Harry's face for a moment to gauge his reaction, but it remained blank. After a rather difficult summer following the end of the war, Ginny had finally broken up with him right before leaving for school, and while Hermione knew that they'd kept in touch by owl, she hadn't seen them spend any time together when they were in Hogsmeade or over the holidays. From his letters and conversations with her, Hermione knew that he was still in love with Ginny and was confused about her change of heart. She'd urged Ginny to sit down and really talk to him about her decision and her reasons for it, but it didn't seem that she'd done so. Hermione wondered if it was something that she ought to talk to Harry about - she'd had enough chats with Ginny over the past year that she felt she knew at least most of the younger girl's thoughts on the subject - but it felt too much like meddling for her comfort.
Ultimately though, Harry seemed a bit wistful, but not heartbroken, and for that at least Hermione was thankful. She couldn't stand the thought of everything being over and Harry being unhappy. To her mind, he'd earned a chance at a happy, peaceful life if he wanted one. Though as an Auror in training, she supposed that the "peaceful" part was relative.
She turned at the sound of Fleur's accented voice, and saw the young woman standing in the kitchen doorway. In her arms was a bundle Hermione could only assume was Victoire. She'd been just as excited as Ginny'd been when the owl had arrived straight from France with the news that Fleur had given birth to a healthy baby girl, the first of the next generation of Weasleys. Now Hermione went over to finally get a real look at her.
Fleur pushed back the edge of the pale yellow blanket to reveal a happy pink face surrounded by a shock of strawberry blonde hair. Two bright blue eyes looked up at her very intelligently and Hermione could almost swear that she smiled at her.
"Oh Fleur, she's beautiful," Hermione exclaimed.
"Yes, she is tres magnifique, is she not? Here, you must hold her," Fleur said matter of factly and proceeded to place the baby into Hermione's arms, despite the sudden look of terror on Hermione's face.
"Oh, I don't know - I've never actually held a-" Hermione tried to protest, but Fleur shushed her.
"Non, non. I mean, you must - I need to bring out food for the table!" she stated, and with a parting kiss on top of her daughter's head, she turned and left Hermione alone with the baby. Well, not alone exactly, as there were all sorts of people bustling around the garden, preparing for the welcome home dinner, but to Hermione it felt alone in a desperate sort of way. She hadn't had time to finish explaining to Fleur that she hadn't actually ever held a baby before and didn't honestly know what to do with one. Oh, she did know what one was supposed to do, and could recite all sorts of interesting facts about them and their care from the recesses of her brain, but that did her very little practical good.
"I see you've met Victoire," Ron said as he arrived. George hovered a few steps behind him, Angelina on his heels. He did seem to be better than she'd remembered from the Christmas hols when she'd seen him last. There was more color in his face, and a sparkle of mischief in his eyes that had been missing for a long time. Before he'd looked almost like most of the ghosts she'd ever met. It had caused her to wonder idly why Fred hadn't stayed as a ghost, or Remus or Tonks, for that matter? Why hadn't any of them stayed after they'd died if they'd left people who were so important behind?
"Hermione?" Ron prodded, and she came back to where she was standing.
"Sorry, I got lost thinking for a moment. What were you saying?"
"Dad's going to be in late, but he wants to talk to you about the internship you asked him about when he gets back."
"Good. Thanks... that's - here, will you take her?" She knew it was a bit cowardly, but the baby had started to squirm quite a bit and she was afraid she would drop her. Babies made her nervous, though she wasn't entirely sure why. Perhaps it was that they were so helpless - or maybe it was that she couldn't communicate with them.
About that time, Molly came out with the last of the dishes, and gestured them all towards the table. Fleur was carrying a basket of bread, but Bill was right behind her and he scooped his daughter up from Ron's arms, mumbling something in French at her. They all sat down to eat dinner, and she happily pushed away her earlier discomfort.
Arthur Weasley arrived at half past ten, well after dinner was over and done with, but before Hermione had actually thought about leaving. Ron was deeply involved in a game of Wizarding Chess with Luna, of all people, while Ginny watched idly from the couch behind Luna's head.
"Hermione, my dear, I'm so glad you're still here. I've been meaning to talk to you about the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."
"Yes, sir. Ron mentioned you wanted to speak to me, so we waited. I was wondering if there was going to be an opening for some kind of an internship this summer?"
He shrugged off his cloak and hung it and his hat on the hat rack next to the back door. "We don't technically have an internship position anywhere in the ministry as yet - still working on all the restructuring, you know. However, I have talked to Babbage - he's the head Clerk, been there forever, nice mild-mannered chap - and since we're hiring a new Barrister from Austria to come in and help out with some things, there's a clerk's position open. For all intents and purposes, it will be mostly like an internship, and I can't say as it will pay much more than one would've, but it'll get you in the door and started if you really want a career in Law.
"I have to tell you though - McMurty, the Scotsman they've brought in to take over the Department of Mysteries, he's heard quite a bit about you, and frankly he'd like you for himself. Said as much to me over lunch today. You could apprentice to the Unspeakables, even before all your N.E.W.T.s are in."
She was flattered at the prospect, but somewhere over the years she'd lost her taste for the type of work the Unspeakables did. She'd gotten a chance to see for herself up close and painfully what was in the Department of Mysteries, and didn't really have any desire to go back any time in the near (or far) future. But she'd always remembered the work that she'd done trying to free Buckbeak, and she still felt that there were glaring inequalities in the Wizarding world that she could actually do something about.
"Who are they bringing over from Austria? I haven't seen anything in the paper about it."
"Oh, no, they're not making any noise, they want to keep it as quiet as they can, but we've hired Roger Darkenwold, from the Austrian ministry."
The name was vaguely familiar to her, and she racked her brain to bring whatever it was she knew to light. "He's... didn't he do something with Austria's pureblood laws?"
"Exactly so! They had some of the most restrictive laws in all of Europe about who could hold government positions and who could do what with certain items and so forth. They also had a law for quite a long time forbidding a witch or wizard from actually marrying a muggle. Of course, they could still go out and get married the Muggle way, but if they were found out the witch or wizard was often charged with 'revealing the secrets of magic' or some other nonsense. Over the last thirty years he's managed to get them all struck off the books, but more importantly, he's managed to sway public opinion to support the changes. Which wasn't as much of an issue regarding marriage, but making the way for the potential of a muggle-born to hold the position of Minister of Magic over there, that was a huge undertaking. We're really quite lucky to have gotten him."
"And... you said that he needs a clerk?"
"The position's yours if you'd like it Hermione. You certainly have the qualifications, and the drive for the same kind of change he espouses. You will need to wait until your N.E.W.T.s are in before you can fill out a formal application, but we're not exactly advertising the position either. Still far too much of a mess for that kind of a thing, I'm afraid." He all but winked at her, and Hermione smiled. She didn't entirely like the idea of her job being arranged because of who she knew, but the opportunity seemed far too good to pass up. Getting to work, right from the start, with someone moving to change some of the very laws and trends that were of the utmost importance to her - that was a wonderful way to start what she hoped would be a long and successful career in Magical Law.
She had hopes of being able to tell Ron all about it, preferably tucked away in her bed in her new bedroom, but one look at the way he was arguing with his Mum and George and she knew that he wouldn't be coming over to stay the night. She caught his eye long enough to give him a quick wave goodbye, inquired with Bill about whether or not Harry had left yet (he had), and then apparated home.
Harry had already gone to bed, if his closed door was anything to judge by, but there was a note stuck to the kitchen table along with a cookie he must have swiped from Mrs. Weasley's stash. It said "Congratulations Barrister Granger!" in Harry's very angular handwriting and she smiled as she took a bite of the treat.
Happy and content with the state of her world, she quietly made her way to bed.
"Honestly, Hermione. I don't understand why you don't try to find a place in London. Aren't you at all interested in going to University? You mentioned it."
"Mum... I mentioned going to a Wizarding University, and that was only in passing. I'm going to start work at the Ministry of Magic next week." Hermione sighed into the phone and Harry shot her a commiserating look.
"I thought you were done with that after you graduated... that you were done with the magic thing after school was over?
"No, mum. I'm not... you don't just stop being a witch or wizard because you graduate. Look, mum, I'll have to call you back. We've really got a lot to do here."
She hung the phone up and ran her hands through her hair, tugging in frustration. "They don't understand. I've tried to explain, but it doesn't work. Mum and Dad just see magic as a lazy way to do things, and want me to make sure that I get a "real" Muggle education now that I'm done at Hogwarts. And of course, a career would obviously have to be in the Muggle world." Feeling somewhat defeated, she sunk down onto one of the boxes sitting next to one of the flat's sunny windows.
"So don't listen to them. You're a war hero, for god's sake Hermione. And an adult, for that matter. You're going to work in the Ministry. Someday, you'll probably run the ministry. It doesn't matter what they want. What do you want?"
She looked over at Harry and smiled. "I want to be an MLE. I want to finish what I started back in fourth year and help liberate the house elves. Not to mention the centaurs, and the goblins. Then there are the giants - something will have to be done about them at some point. And I want the chance to fix the laws and attitudes towards muggle-borns so that no other children have to go through what we did."
"So there you go. That's what you'll do." Harry stood up and picked up another box from the pile. "Does this go in your room or the den?"
"My room, I think. It should be books."
"They're all boxes of books, Hermione. I'll be surprised the first time I run across anything else." He grinned at her in that way that he'd adopted, much more carefree than he'd ever smiled while they were in school, and she couldn't help but feel cheered.
"I do own clothes as well, you know!" she shouted at his retreating back. He'd changed so much since the war, she thought. Even though they'd lost people, with Voldemort truly gone, he'd been able to mourn and move on. For the past year he'd studied to be an Auror, and he was healing. He was still Harry, and could still brood with the best of them on occasion, but the instances were fewer, and farther between. After speaking with Andromeda Tonks, he'd sold Grimmauld Place to the Ministry, and then put half the money he'd received into a trust for Teddy at Gringotts. Teddy had been good for Harry too, Hermione decided. He spent a fair amount of his free time with the toddler, eagerly throwing himself into the role of godfather.
Ron, on the other hand was a different story. If Harry had gotten lighter, Ron had gotten darker. Just a bit, just around the edges, but Hermione knew him well enough to be able to see it. They all mourned Fred's death, and more than one night that first summer, Hermione had taken turns with Ron, Harry, Ginny, and Percy (of all people) to make sure that George didn't do something... drastic. Ron had agreed (actually, he'd volunteered) to go to work at the shop until George got back on his feet. He'd also moved into the apartment above the shop once George was ready to move back in there, and seemed content enough with where he was. Harry had tried briefly to talk him into joining the Aurors with him, but Ron had stated flatly that he was done with fighting dark forces, thanks.
Her first priority had been finishing her education. While the Ministry had been more than willing to grant the three of them honorary status, she felt like it was cheating somehow, and was honestly disappointed at the thought of missing her N.E.W.T.s, so she'd arranged with Professor McGonagall to re-enter the school as a seventh year the fall after the war. Beyond that, she'd thought about Auror training (although neither of the boys - she would always think of them as "the boys" she was sure - had ever suggested it to her) but it was more that it was what she was familiar with than it was what she wanted to do. She'd remembered fondly all the research she'd done to try to help Buckbeak and the work she'd done on S.P.E.W. and had talked to Arthur about the role of law and the courts in the Ministry. Apparently, MLEs worked like most Wizarding jobs, on a sort of apprenticeship. With the letters of reference she'd gotten from Professor McGonagall, Arthur Weasley, and the Minister himself, Kingsley Shacklebolt, she had easily obtained an entry level position in the Ministry's legal department.
So she'd needed a place to live. And Harry, who'd taken his part of the sale of Grimmauld Place and bought a mid-sized flat in Hogsmeade to be his new home, just happened to have room. Molly had frowned, and reminded her that she was always welcome in their home, but Hermione had politely declined. (She imagined that as Ron's mother, her sense of propriety had been twinged, even if it was Harry that Hermione was talking about living with.) The flat had enchanted her from the first moment that she'd seen it, and she wondered if he'd intentionally bought a place with three bedrooms. She knew from a conversation with Ron that Harry had invited him to live there, too, but he wasn't comfortable leaving George on his own just yet. And it was far more convenient since he was still working at the shop for him to live just upstairs. So, for awhile at least, it was just going to be her and Harry.
Hermione's N.E.W.T. scores had arrived precisely on time two weeks later, and they were, as most everyone had expected, all exemplary. The following day she'd apparated to the Ministry of Magic and to fill out the application the desk clerk handed her for the MLE office. Harry was just finishing an early class session as she arrived and they made their way companionably over to Diagon Alley to see if Ron was interested in having a bit of lunch with them down at the Leaky Cauldron to celebrate.
The door to the shop was propped open in deference to the muggy summer heat and they slipped in just in time to see two children up-end a barrel of some sort of magical fireworks. With a series of loud pops and bangs, they began spinning off around all corners of the shop, in one instance taking one of the two boys responsible for them along for the ride. Several customers that had been crowded around the counter ducked just before they were hit upside the head, but Ron wasn't quite so lucky and the ends of his hair got singed as a red spinning fire wheel zipped by.
Almost in unison, Harry and Hermione both pulled out their wands and cast a disruption spell. Though it had originally been intended to stop curses flying at them in the heat of battle, it seemed to do tolerably well against fireworks instead. The burnt-out husks fell to the ground with a series of hollow tapping sounds and they walked over to where Ron was standing.
"Nothing like a bit of excitement to lighten up the day, is there?" Harry tried, hoping to lighten the mood. Ron was scowling darkly at the mess.
"That's the last of the batch gone, then," he mumbled. "I can't make anymore because George won't tell me how to do it, and he keeps 'meaning to do it' himself but hasn't."
"Sorry. We were coming over to see if you wanted any lunch, but if you need help here we can-"
"No. No. Don't... I can handle it. I can," he insisted when Hermione started to say something.
"I know that you can do it, Ron - but you could also let us help you out and maybe it might not be so unpleasant? Do you know if George has any notes or-"
"Hermione, look - I can't deal with all this right now. It's all in his head, and he's not coming down today, I don't think.
When I tried to go up there before I opened, the door was locked. I banged on it a couple of times, but he just yelled for me to go away."
She could see that his heart was breaking, and it hurt her that she couldn't find a way to fix it. Or even, apparently, help make everything else easier. Ron wasn't happy doing the shop work, and she knew he was upset about having passed up the previous month's Quidditch try-outs for a professional team.
"Do you need help with the counter then? I have the afternoon free... or well, no, I don't actually, but I have an hour and a half before I have to be back for an interview," she corrected herself as she looked down at the slip of paper the desk clerk had handed her when she'd turned her application in. Where before it had contained a large "?" in the slot for her interview time, now it read "one-fifteen in the afternoon" in an overly ornate handwriting.
"No, 's okay. Go have lunch, I can manage here. You should be celebrating anyway, yeah?"
"It won't be as much of a celebration without you. Can we bring you back something?"
"Nah. I brought a lunch Mum packed for me. It's in the back. And I figure I'll take a crack at getting George down here again. Maybe I'll have better luck this time."
She tried to smile, and gave Ron a quick hug and a slightly longer kiss before leaving the shop with Harry and going over to the Leaky Cauldron for fish and chips. The pub was crowded and it took them nearly all of the allotted time to get their food and eat. Harry promised to go back over to the shop and make sure things were still running smoothly and that Ron had eaten, and shooed Hermione on her way back to the Ministry, pointing out that the last thing she needed was to be late for her first meeting with her soon-to-be new boss.
She got the job. There really hadn't been much question in anyone's mind that she would, though Hermione herself had felt a few twinges of doubt. Roger Darkenwold hadn't actually had anything to do with her interview, and she'd found out much later he hadn't had anything to do with hiring her, either. She met him halfway through her first day of work when he left a meeting with the Minister and came back to his office in search of files. His first act as her boss was to bark out orders for her to find those files, all of which happened to be written and titled in Austrian, which Hermione didn't read. It wasn't the most auspicious of beginnings, even when she found the files with only ten minutes of looking.
He eyed her suspiciously over the manila barrier between them and mumbled something she couldn't understand. "I'm sorry, sir?" she tried to ask, and he put the papers down with a snap.
"I asked you to find me a cup of coffee in this place. They say you're some kind of genius - a war hero. At present, I am far from impressed, Miss Granger."
Hermione was horribly taken aback. She had endured such treatment from Professor Snape on occasion, as well as that woman, Umbridge, but she hadn't expected it here. She pulled herself upright, and hoped that she schooled her face into impassive lines. "Of course, sir. I'll go fetch your coffee," she said clearly, but plainly. It felt somewhat demeaning, but she'd known coming into the position that being an intern meant she would be at the bottom of the ladder and she could accept that. So she would deal with this - deciding that surely once he saw that she wasn't just trading on her reputation of being friends with Harry he would come around and see how valuable she could be.
A few months later, things hadn't gotten any better. If anything, they'd gotten worse. It seemed that Herr Darkenwold (as he preferred to be addressed) had made up his mind about her and was unwilling to be convinced otherwise.
Hermione had just settled herself into a chair in the den when she heard the front door open. "I'm back here!" she called, and looked up as Harry entered the room. "Well, you look like you've had a day," she commented dryly when she took in his appearance.
"Something like that, yeah."
His robes were covered in patches of muck, and his hair and the edges of one sleeve had what looked suspiciously like scorch marks across them. "What happened?" she asked.
"Obstacle day. Jenkins made it especially brutal." He regarded her for a moment. "You look like you've had quite a day yourself."
Hermione grimaced before tossing her head back and running her hands through her hair. "It's nothing really."
"Hermione..." Harry's tone was a warning, the kind that said he wasn't going to let her get away until she'd told him the whole story.
"Really, Harry. It's not a thing. I'm inclined to think it's all in my head, actually."
"What are you inclined to think is all in your head, exactly?" He collapsed into a chair near where she was sitting at her desk. He was probably getting dirt and mud all over the upholstery, but that was what cleaning charms were for.
"Have you ever met Roger Darkenwold?"
"Not personally, no. He's the one that Shacklebolt brought over from Austria to help repair the Legal department at the ministry, right? Your boss?"
"Something like, yes. There are actually three MLEs of equal rank on staff, and he is one of them. But he's the de facto head of the particular office that I'm working in." Her face was tight as she spoke about him, and it didn't take a genius level of insight for Harry to realize she didn't like him.
"So, what's wrong with him? I can tell there's something."
"Well, no. Not exactly, really. Not wrong anyway. I don't think he's a former Death Eater or anything like that."
Harry arched an eyebrow. "There are more ways for someone to be wrong than just being a Death Eater. You know that."
"Granted. Alright, then. He's a genuinely unpleasant person, with a rather sour outlook on the world and horribly inflated opinion of himself. His idea of the proper work for a clerk is to be seen and never heard, basic filing, fetching and heaven forbid one of us have a question. He also feels that if we 'children' had left the 'business of the war' to the adults then it would have been over much more quickly and with much less bloodshed, and that I, in particular, am simply trading on my fame and have no intention of doing 'real work' and therefore have no business being there."
"He sounds absolutely dreadful. Why on earth did Kingsley hire him? Surely there were other perfectly good barristers in Europe he could have picked."
"I'm sure there are other barristers, but very few that have his record on Pureblood laws. Despite all his other failings, he is adamantly opposed to segregation from the Muggle world, and has spent his entire career in Austria and Germany working to get their Pureblood rulings overturned and the laws removed from the books. He's been a true pioneer in muggle-born and mixed-blood rights and we're lucky to have him working here with us, no matter how unpleasant he is in person." She sighed. "He's not going anywhere, and I have no intention of leaving, so I'm just going to have to learn to live with him. I think that wine may be involved in the process, however. What do you think?" She smiled at him, and for the first time all day it was a real smile.
"I think that wine would be wonderful, just as soon as I've had a shower and change. Shower and change should definitely happen first in my world. Why don't you ring Ron up and see if he's done for the day and wants to come over for dinner? Unless... if you wanted to have a more private dinner, I could clear out-"
"Harry! Don't be ridiculous! Just because Ron and I are dating and I'm living here, I'm not going to run you out of your own flat! If we want to go out on a date, we can certainly go out. That said, no, we don't have any plans, and I'm sure that he'd love to come over and all three of us have dinner." She stood to go over to the fireplace, then turned back and looked seriously at Harry. "We're still your best friends, Harry. You know that, don't you? Just because... well, just because we're together... it doesn't mean we're any less with you."
Harry grinned warmly, and Hermione was pleased. She knew he had a propensity to consider himself the odd man out and think of himself as somehow being in their way. "Brilliant," he said, and stood up to head to his room, and more importantly, the shower. "If you can, see if you can talk him into stopping at that Indian place on the way, yeah?"
"Sure, Harry." Hermione laughed, already knowing what Ron would say.
Over dinner, Ron announced that Angelina had finally talked George into marrying her, and George had told Ron he'd better find someplace else to live. Not in a mean way, Ron had assured them, but in the "I'd like to be able to shag my fiancé all over the flat and you're in my way" sort of way. He'd also gotten another announcement from the Quidditch Federation, saying that the Cannons were taking one more round of try outs before their new season started. Something about one of their back-up keepers taking two bludgers to the face and deciding it was time to retire, according to Ron. Harry and Hermione peppered him with questions, and both agreed that he should move into the spare bedroom of the flat right away.
When Hermione lay down next to Ron in her bed that night, she felt for the first time in months that things might just be getting back to what she thought of as "normal". She was glad that the three of them would all be under one roof again, and she was thrilled that George was to the point that Ron could finally move on. He'd been intensely unhappy at the shop and seemed very pleased, about the try outs. She nestled closer to him under the quilt and drifted off to sleep, not thinking about the next morning and her job for the first time since she'd started.
At the end of August, Ron announced that he'd been recruited by the Chudley Cannons. They'd all three gone out to dinner to celebrate. Harry had bowed out early to give them a bit more privacy, and she and Ron decided to take a walk around Diagon Alley before returning home.
"This is really exciting, Ron. I'm very happy for you."
He looked genuinely happy - happier than she'd seen him in months, maybe even a year. "I'm excited about it, and nervous too. But it would be like a dream, you know? Playing for the Cannons."
"I know. You'll do smashingly."
"I... won't be around that much during the season though. There'll be a lot of travelling, and training sessions will take up a lot of my time, they said."
She bit her lip instead of asking how that would be different than things were now, because she *did* want him to be happy, and didn't want to upset him. But the brief visions of life returning to the way she'd expected it to be went up in a little puff of disappointment. She'd always thought that once they were done with the war, things would settle down, and she would be able to have a real, somewhat normal, boring life. She'd held on to images of herself and Ron, sitting around having tea, or him playing wizarding chess while she read a book in the evening, but most importantly images of him being there. Instead, so far, she'd more often spent her free time with Harry - somehow their new life away from school and the war had done more to break the three of them apart as a unit than the worst the war had ever offered.
They ended up going back to Ron's room and they made love, but there was a hollowness to it that made her want to cry rather than smile.
True to his word, Ron was away more than ever before. First, he'd had to attend a three week training camp in Ireland. They'd been given one night a week off to floo home and visit, but he'd been alternately exhausted from the long training sessions and unable to stop talking about what it was like to play for a professional team. He'd even tried to talk Harry into joining him, but Harry had been nonplussed and assured Ron that he was perfectly happy as an apprentice Auror.
Once he was back, he was still gone much of the time, as practices often flowed naturally into socializing with his teammates and the hangers-on that followed them. Hermione had tried going along once, but she'd been bored to tears and far too busy worrying about her work to really enjoy herself. She'd also been a bit nonplussed to watch the girls that hung around flirt openly and rather shamelessly with the players - including Ron. He flirted back, though very mildly and in such a way that she didn't really think he was doing it on purpose so much as being friendly, but it still put her on edge. After that, she often blamed her work schedule as an excuse not to go with him, and silently wished he would take the hint and stay home with her sometimes. But the night or two he'd passed on his friends' invitations, he'd sulked about the flat and that hadn't been pleasant either. She felt like she was in a lose-lose situation and slowly retreated more and more into her own concerns.
She had many of her own concerns to retreat to. Despite her hopes, things hadn't improved at work, at all. By the middle of December, she was still catching the rough edge of Darkenwold's temper more often than not, and despite her best attempts to anticipate his wishes or complete the work he grudgingly gave her to the best of her rather exceptional ability, he was entirely unimpressed. It seemed that he had decided from the beginning who and what she was (none of it flattering) and he was sticking to those assumptions. Harry had asked her several times to go to either Arthur or Kingsley and talk to them about it, or see if they could get her transferred, but Hermione felt like that would just prove much of what Darkenwold thought of her, and she couldn't bear that. So she stayed, despite how miserable it was making her.
They celebrated George and Angelina's wedding at Christmas, and with a week off as a holiday present to all the Ministry employees, Hermione actually found herself enjoying things again. She spent the afternoon with her parents on Christmas Eve, but they were entirely uncomfortable trying to explain to all the other Muggle relatives what exactly it was she did for a living, and why she wasn't "pursuing her education" as her Aunt Jeannette put it. Returning to the Burrow for their overnight celebration was a relief. She enjoyed watching everyone with their presents and the food - especially the antics of Teddy, who was just old enough now to toddle around and get into things no matter how many people tried to watch over him.
Before she knew it, it was New Year's Eve, and Ron was gone - again - for some kind of overnight training session and tournament event. A few hours after he'd packed up his things and left, Harry had come through, mumbling something about seeing Ginny and looking for a bottle of wine, but he was in and out before Hermione had a chance to question him about it. Sighing softly, she'd gone to the kitchen and made herself a pot of tea to keep her and her books company over the holiday evening. Almost as an afterthought she'd picked up the carafe of brandy and a brandy glass and set them on the side table.
She put her book down an hour or so later when the door opened and Harry walked back in.
"Harry! What on earth are you doing here? I thought you were out for the evening."
"I was. Or I thought I was going to be. I went over to Ginny's." He dropped into the chair next to her and laid his head back with his eyes closed. "She already had New Year's Eve plans. With Luna. I had thought that she and I..." he trailed off.
"Surely you didn't think... but she said she talked to you, Harry," Hermione said tentatively. She'd felt guilty about this particular point for over a year and a half. Ginny had begged her not to mention it to Harry, so that she could talk to him about it herself, and Hermione had agreed. It had seemed right for Ginny to be the one to discuss it with him. And for a long time, Hermione thought that Ginny had told him everything that was going on. The two girls certainly hadn't seemed to be keeping their relationship a secret after all. But apparently she'd been wrong with that assumption, and now Hermione wondered if she shouldn't have talked to him before. She got up and pulled another brandy glass off the shelf, and poured it half full before handing it to him. He downed it in one swallow.
"I... I knew that we weren't together, if that's what you mean. We talked about it after she graduated, and she said that she just couldn't separate what had happened from me and her." He propped his head up with his hand, elbow firmly planted on the chair arm. Hermione noted idly that he'd forgotten to trim his hair again, and it was starting to get shaggy around his ears and collar. She poured a bit more of the brandy into her glass and gestured in his direction with the bottle. When he nodded, she topped his glass off as well.
"So you mean to tell me you didn't notice anything going on between Ginny and Luna this last half year? You're not blind, Harry - and obliviousness is usually Ron's forte." It was said with a bit of a bite to it, and if she'd been a little bit more sober she might've regretted her harsh feelings towards Ron. But she'd had her fair share of the brandy, and their last conversation hadn't exactly been on the best of terms, what with him telling her rather suddenly that he was going out of town again and was going to miss both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. By the time that Harry had gotten home from his disastrous encounter with Ginny and Luna, it was almost eleven and she'd already had a glass and a half.
"I did, alright? Yes. But I never thought that they were involved like that. I just thought - stuff happened during the war. Look how close the three of us are! Well, the two of us, usually... if Ron were ever here, then - but not like that!"
"There's close, and then there's... close, Harry."
He arched an eyebrow at her. "I know that."
He hung his head. "I thought that maybe, if I brought over dinner and some wine, maybe we - Ginny and I - could talk about things. I thought that maybe enough time had passed, and she and I could start over and get to know each other all over again, so she could see that I'd changed. Instead, I found out just how much she's changed. Luna was over and they were, well, they'd had dinner a bit ago, so they'd moved on to other things."
Hermione blushed and couldn't help laughing just a little bit at the mental image that conjured up. "Oh, Harry. You have the worst timing, don't you?"
He glared at her. "Thanks loads, 'Mione. In any case, she made it perfectly clear that she and Luna were together - really and completely - and she'd meant to tell me but it had never seemed like a good time. So, I am officially a single man. Who apparently turns women gay."
"Well!? Ok, no I don't, I guess. But I'm not feeling too great at the moment, thanks."
"You're a *very* attractive man, Harry. Surely you know that? Do you know how many women out there would jump at the chance to be with you?" In keeping with what she had just said, she gave him a long look up and down. He'd started to fill out through the chest and shoulders - to the point, she realized, that he probably was in need of a shopping trip for new shirts again. He wasn't skinny anymore, not exactly, but he was lean. His features were losing some of the roundness of youth and becoming a bit more straight-edged. He wasn't angular the way some men were, but there was a solid rectangular sort of shape to his face now. And his hair brushed across his forehead in a way that made her want to reach over and try to arrange it.
He gave her an incredulous look. "Hermione..."
"No, seriously Harry. You've been in love with Ginny since what, fifth or sixth year? And don't you dare try to bring up Cho - she was in love with an idea and no one ever has a chance against that. Why, if I weren't with Ron-" stunned, Hermione clapped a hand over her mouth as soon as she realized what she'd been about to say.
"If you weren't with Ron... what, Hermione?" he asked, his eyes suddenly darker.
"I... " She sat, frozen, with all of her might-have-beens running through her head. All the days that Harry had been the one she had come home to, who had been the one to smile at her and say "Hey, let's get something to eat and you can talk about it."
She looked over at the clock, and saw the second hand just a few ticks away from midnight. What she wanted to do was stupid. It was utterly stupid and potentially disastrous, and right at that moment, Hermione didn't care. She leaned over as the chimes began to sound, and kissed him. They were both a little surprised when he kissed her back.
Harry pulled away first. "Hermione. What about Ron?"
"There's nothing about Ron," she said bitterly. "For there to be something about Ron, he would have to actually be here, wouldn't he?"
"Hermione." Harry looked at her disapprovingly.
She was feeling reckless. She was tired of all of the people around her trying to force her into their assumptions of who she should be and what she should do. It felt like trying to fasten on ill-fitting clothes. "I've been with Ron for the last year because that's what I was supposed to do. I don't know anymore whether what I'm supposed to be doing is right or not, but I know what I want to do. And right now - I want to be with you."
It was all true, she realized in the recesses of her alcohol-fogged mind. What she wanted right at that particular moment in time, was to be close to Harry. He was her friend, her confidant, and undeniably sexy. Ron was - or had been - all of those things too, and maybe she loved him in what might be considered a more traditionally romantic sort of way than the way in which she loved Harry, but all the recent events with Ron just tied into a great ball of hurt at the center of her chest that she didn't want to think about. With Harry there was just warmth and the spark of attraction.
She stood up and grabbed Harry by the hand so that he would stand up with her. Something he never failed to do, she thought. Her fingers laced into his hair, and she pulled him in so she could kiss him again. Any further protests Harry might have made were quieted by the meeting of their mouths and her hands skimming down to start tugging on the hem of his shirt as she led him back to his bedroom.
The first day of the new year dawned bright and sunny, much to the chagrin of those who had over-indulged the night before. Hermione came to slowly, rolling over and stretching against the warm weight at her back. She'd almost forgotten what it was like to wake up with someone next to her, as often as Ron had been gone lately...
Ron. Who was in Belfast at the tournament this morning.
She turned over in the bed with her heart in her throat as she looked at Harry lying next to her.
"Oh god," she whispered, but the sound was enough to start waking him up, and he smiled briefly before opening his eyes and meeting hers.
"Hermione," he said, concern shadowing his features as he reached a hand out towards her. She jerked away without thinking about it, and watched his face fall.
"It was a mistake, Harry. What we did, we shouldn't have," her voice was raw, and she felt vaguely nauseous.
"If that's the way you want it," he said mildly, but she could see that she was hurting him. He was entirely too calm for this, she thought and she climbed quickly out of bed, taking the sheet with her as she made a beeline for their bathroom.
She was fell to her knees in front of the toilet and began to retch.
They were dry heaves, because she hadn't eaten much dinner the night before. She didn't hear footsteps, but a cool washcloth was pressed into her hand and she felt strong fingers combing through her hair and pulling it back into a sloppy tail to keep it off her face.
"I'll go start tea," Harry said softly before leaving the room.
Miserable, she stayed there a long time, trying not to cry and failing.
The rest of New Year's Day went on as normal, except that this year, instead of the Weasley family having dinner and then facing off over who was rooting for which Quidditch team, they were united in their support of the Chudley Cannons and the team's newest Keeper. Hermione spent most of the afternoon and evening sitting in the corner trying not to let Harry catch her sneaking glances at him, while he tried not to look at how Ginny and Luna were cuddled together on the couch despite Molly Weasley's occasional disapproving glances. At least, that's what she assumed he was doing. She was making a point not to look at him long enough at any given time to figure it out.
Ron came home two days later, not quite victorious, but feeling over the moon about their third place finish. "Higher than they've placed in years!" he crowed happily as he swept Hermione up in a huge hug and spun her around the room. He was far too involved in recounting all of the miraculous plays the team had made to notice the strained look on her face.
He offered to take both of them to dinner to celebrate, but Harry begged off, claiming a big day at the office the next morning. Hermione knew he was lying, but Ron was happily oblivious. She thought very briefly over a lovely plate of lamb biryani about blurting out that she'd slept with Harry but couldn't bring herself to do it. He was so happy, and she didn't want to ruin that.
The more days that passed, the harder she found it to even think about telling him. While she had originally been annoyed with how often he was gone, now it was more like a relief. But Harry was avoiding her, too, and she found herself spending almost all of her time away from work shut up in her room, all alone.
"Miss Granger. My office, please."
Herr Darkenwold stood in his doorway like a dark, stormy shadow, and Hermione felt her stomach sink as she followed him inside. Today was not the day for her to deal with the tongue lashing she knew was surely coming.
"Sit. Down." He ordered in clipped tones.
She sat, taking a deep breath and willing her stomach to settle.
"I was looking through your records yesterday, and I found something very interesting."
Hermione looked up in surprise.
"I found several interesting... abnormalities. It seems that you requested three Port Keys in the month of July, of the year before last. The first one, as I'm sure you'll remember, was designed to go from Bristol - I believe that is where your parents live, yes? - to Stockholm. Now, per these records, Stockholm should have taken you to Helsinki, which should have routed you to Belgium. A bit circuitous, which is what made it stand out, I'm afraid. I checked the records there, did you know that most Ministries keep records of incoming and outgoing Port Keys? Hmm? Well, yes, Stockholm does show the incoming Port Key from Bristol, and it does show one leaving almost immediately thereafter. Helsinki, however, doesn't show anything that corresponds with it. I had to search quite a ways before I found an unregistered transfer with the same timestamp in Shanghai, of all places.
"And since there wasn't anything leaving Helsinki, there couldn't very well have been anything coming in to Belgium, could there have been? No, so I focused instead on the records that Shanghai has. Someone, almost immediately after this mysterious person arrived in Shanghai, transferred over to Sydney, Australia."
Hermione felt her stomach twisting and writhing under his gaze, and she forced herself to find the inner strength that had kept her going while she was being tortured at Malfoy Manor.
"I couldn't figure out what could possibly have caused you to take such measures to visit a country that your own country has perfectly amicable relations with. Then I realized that you didn't return from Australia via Port Key. You traveled back as a Muggle, under your own name. Quite sloppy if you were trying to be discreet. You British wizards may disregard the Muggle world in your overbearing belief in your own superiority, but I do not. You re-entered the country with your parents, but you left Australia with a Monica and Wendell Wilkins.
"I went and spoke with your parents, Miss Granger. They didn't seem to have any idea they'd taken a trip to Australia, nor had they ever heard of these two people, this Monica and Wendell." He templed his fingers in front of himself as he rested his elbows on his blotter. "At first, I thought that you'd simply misappropriated Port Keys to go on a summer jaunt, a bit of a holiday mixed with some rule-breaking - you have a bad habit of rule-breaking, don't you? Now, however I see that it was far more serious. I would hazard to guess, Miss Granger, that you used some rather powerful memory charms on your parents, didn't you? Without any kind of Ministry sanctioning, while you were still a student, no less."
She sat silently before him. He was off in his interpretation of the situation, but not about the bare facts, and she had learned over the months she'd worked for him that trying to explain would only be seen as giving hollow excuses.
"I see you don't have anything to say for yourself? I didn't think you would. You are bright, I will grant you that, but you are obviously grossly irresponsible, and have absolutely no regard for the rule of law if it doesn't suit your purposes. I don't care who in this joke of a Ministry you have wrapped around your finger. You are to leave this office, pack your things - and only your things - and exit the building. You are through with this Ministry, and quite possibly in additional legal trouble beyond that, if I have anything to say about it. If it weren't for people like you," he added as a parting blow, "this war would likely have been over much sooner, and with much less carnage."
She wanted to protest - she knew she should protest. But she was cold all the way to her heart. It was highly unlikely, given who held the highest ranking Ministry positions, that she would be sent to Azkaban - the things she'd done weren't those kinds of offenses in any case, and his assessment of her effects on the war wouldn't be supported by anyone who'd been there. But it was the end of her career, before it had even started. She knew that he did have the power to see to it she didn't work in any important field again.
She left the room mechanically, and packed her things the same way. Several of the other clerks shot her concerned looks, but she actively avoided their gazes. Her very first thought was that she wanted to talk to Harry - followed almost immediately by a desire to talk to Ron, but with a fresh tear of pain she hadn't realized she could feel, she remembered that neither of them were really on the best of terms with her right now either.
The front lobby of the Ministry was blessedly empty, and she made her way to the London street. Once there, she stood on the corner, unsure of where she should go. She was, she realized for the first time in her life, utterly alone. All the touchstones, the support systems she'd come to rely on, they were all gone. When the thing she wanted the very most was a hug, or a kind look, she felt like she had none that she could go to.
The apartment was blessedly empty when she got home. She put her box of things from work down on the small table they used for meals and mechanically unwound her scarf and hung it and her winter coat on her peg by the door. One of Harry's spare robes was hung at an awkward angle on his hook, while Ron's battered Cannons cap was still on his - he always seemed to forget to wear a hat in the winter.
The breakfast dishes were still in the sink, and her books and journals were scattered all across the coffee table in the den. On the surface, it looked like a home should, lived in, and a mix of people and personalities, but underneath she could feel the same chill that had been taking over since the year had begun. Now whenever she and Harry were both in the same room there was enough tension to suffocate a small army, and she couldn't bring herself to look Ron in the eye when he was around. She wasn't sure how Ron and Harry were getting on because she'd actively avoided being around the both of them at the same time.
"I can't do this anymore," she said out loud, and it echoed around her. The box was still sitting there, packed up. The rest of her things could be packed up just as easily, she reasoned. She still had the bag that she'd enchanted during their search for the Horcruxes and it would comfortably fit most of her possessions.
And it was that simple. Her mind was made up almost as soon as the thought had occurred to her, and she went directly to her room. She was halfway through packing her closet when she realized that she wasn't sure where she would go. There were her parents of course - but that was the first place Ron and Harry would look if they came to find her. She would have to explain why she'd run away and the whole awful story would come out. Next she dismissed her aunts and uncles, because there was no way she could explain to them why she needed a place to stay or what she'd been doing with herself.
She wracked her brain for anyone else she knew outside of the wizarding world. The only person that came to mind was her second cousin Eileen who Aunt Jeannette had mentioned moved to America to go to school. That was a possibility, she supposed. America was certainly far enough away that she wouldn't have to worry about Harry or Ron finding her, and she knew she'd never mentioned any of her family beyond her parents to them, or any of the Weasleys, for that matter.
She would have to go to a Muggle street or pub to find a phone she could use to call Aunt Jeannette, but then it would just be a matter of finding out where Eileen lived....
Or she could just go on her own. That idea started to percolate, and the more she thought about it, the more she liked it. Paperwork... she would need paperwork if she was going to enter the country as a Muggle. For that matter, she would need to live as a muggle, so she would need to get a job - or she could go to Muggle university after all. She knew a bit about Muggle schooling, and it wouldn't take her long to figure out what sorts of papers she would need to apply to a university. They wouldn't be that hard to create magically.
She felt slightly giddy at the prospects that were opening up before her. The last few years had revolved so much around who her friends were, and the things that she'd done for the war. In Muggle America, she would be completely free of everything, free to become whoever she wished to be.
It took a remarkably short time for her to finish packing. Then she added the most important contents from her work box to the bag and slung it over her shoulder. With a flick of her wand, she sketched a note on a peice of parchment for Harry and Ron.
Dear Harry and Ron,
I know you won't understand what I've done, or why I've done it, but I'm leaving. Darkenwold found out about Mum and Dad and Australia, and plans to bring charges against me (for misuse of magic, I'd imagine) and has already fired me from my position at the Ministry. I'm tired of living in the shadow of the things that we did during the war, and I want a fresh start.
I truly hope that you will both have happy and successful lives, and please believe that I will miss you both.
All my love,
She wasn't sure if they'd believe her, but it was at least part of the truth. She couldn't tell them the whole truth of what had happened, but hopefully it would be enough.
It was raining when she left.
Late February 1999, New York, New York:
Hermione sat in the small hotel room she'd rented upon her arrival in the states, and poured through the various university pamphlets she'd sent for. First, she'd ruled out all the science and technical schools. It hadn't taken her very long to realize that she didn't have the preparation in muggle mathematics and sciences that she would need to pursue a technical career, though computers did interest her quite a bit. She also marked off the schools that focused primarily on the fine arts, as that had never been where her interests lay.
She'd thought about several different career paths and had settled on either law, the classics, or history. Since she didn't feel like it would be prudent to make a snap decision between her top three choices without some experience in the Muggle versions of the fields, she was looking at colleges with strong programs in all three. That still gave her more than 20 schools to choose between (and that was just the ones she'd heard back from) but something about one of the brochures kept drawing her eye. The architecture appealed to her, she decided. It looked a little like someone had decided to take a gothic influence, and mix it with an eastern Asian sensibility that gave it cleaner lines and more soothing edges than she was used to castles having. She liked that. Flipping over the booklet, she read off the address and took a quick glance down at the map of the United States she'd bought. Seattle, Washington, she thought as she located it. It was certainly far away from England. That was good.
She'd been staring at it for awhile when a wave of nausea rippled through her. She took a deep breath and slowly laid her forehead against the cool surface of the table. It was the third time in as many days that she'd eaten something that had upset her stomach, and she was really starting to wonder if it was actually some kind of stomach flu. It was probably food poisoning, she reasoned, because it didn't stay bad like the times she'd been sick when she was a child. Probably her stomach just wasn't getting acclimated to the American fast food she'd been eating for most of her meals. She chastised herself for putting off trying to find a more suitable way to prepare food in her small room and waited for the feeling to pass.
The wave of nausea finally started to subside and she groped along the bed for her purse. There was a druggist at the corner on the end of the street, and she could probably ask for something for an upset stomach there. She'd been meaning to go by anyway and pick up feminine supplies so that she'd be prepared, she reminded herself.
Then she stopped cold.
In her mind, she skipped backwards through her calendar, trying to remember the last time she'd needed any such supplies, and the only thing she could think of was popping several aspirin her Mum had given her for cramps while she was visiting on Christmas Eve.
Nausea, no periods, and a tiredness she'd assumed was lingering jet lag and depression all came together and made her sit back down on the edge of the bed in a cold sweat.
Dear god, she thought to herself, I'm pregnant.
On the heels of that thought was the sickening realization that she really wasn't sure whose it was. The timing wasn't quite right for the one night she'd spent with Harry, but... it wasn't impossible, either. She couldn't remember either of them using any of the various contraceptive spells they'd learned, but she didn't remember using any with Ron when he'd gotten back and she'd been so distracted by other things....
It certainly put a different spin on what she was going to do with herself. She forced her mind into a place of practicality, the same place she'd visited so often during their school years, and again when she'd tried to protect her parents.
She certainly had to change her situation now, she decided. A small hotel room and bad, unhealthy food wouldn't be good for either her or the baby if there was one, so she would need to find a more permanent place to live and some kind of job so that she wouldn't have to be quite so frugal with her money. She still had enough for several more months socked away (the remnants of the university fund her parents had reluctantly turned over to her when she'd gone to work at the Ministry.) She could go back down to the library a few blocks over that she'd used to research universities. A librarian might be able to help her get a better idea.
The pamphlet from USW drew her eye yet again. Seattle really did look like a beautiful city to raise a child in, she thought a bit fancifully. But first, she needed to go find some kind of a pregnancy test.
It took her half and hour to locate the druggist, find what she needed, and return to her room. It was another two hours before she felt well enough (or calm enough) to actually take the test. After what seemed like the longest five minutes of her life, Hermione looked down at the tiny plastic stick and it's two pink lines and sighed heavily. Mentally, she added "finding a doctor" to her list of things to do, and wondered if the American system had any provisions for foreigners on student visas. On a whim, she'd used the payphone in the drug store to call the airport to book a reservation on a flight to Seattle. It seemed reckless, and she really ought to do more research first, but it felt like the right thing for her to do.
Seattle, Washington, March, 1999
"Now Hiring" was written in large, neat writing on the cardboard sign in the bookstore window. The street was a side street (almost an alley), but it was within walking distance of the University. The bookstore itself wasn't one of the large chains she'd seen in many places, but instead was a rather quirky-looking shop, obviously privately run and specializing in school texts and used books. Not rare, collectible books, just books that were used and discarded by the myriad of students coming in and out of classes.
Inside, it was cluttered, but clean and well-organized, which pleased Hermione, who felt all bookstores ought to have those qualities. The counter was just to the left once you entered the door, and had a girl about Hermione's own age behind the counter. She had glasses perched on the end of her nose, hair that was either dark blonde or light brown depending on the angle, and an intensely studious expression on her face inspired by whatever it was she was reading. Hermione liked the look of her immediately. Instead of stopping to browse as she would normally have done, she made a beeline for the counter.
"Hullo," she said pleasantly, "I noticed the sign in the window said that you were hiring?"
The girl looked up, startled. "Oh, hi! Sorry - I didn't hear you come in. The bell must be stuck again. Can I help you with something?"
"The sign in the window - the one that says you're hiring? I wanted to inquire about a job." Hermione's hand went unconsciously to her bag which contained her paperwork. The birth certificate and passport were real except for her last name, but the rest were all magically forged. The wizarding world didn't use the same sorts of paperwork that the Muggle world did, and she hadn't had the proper school records to get a student visa or other entry papers another way. She had what was perhaps a twinge of guilt about it, but like so many things she had done during the war, in her mind it was necessary and not terribly harmful after all.
"Oh! Wonderful! I just put it up yesterday, but so few people come by here since the spring semester is over that I was worried it would be weeks before anyone came in." She cocked her head and regarded Hermione for a moment. "You're British, aren't you? What a wonderful accent you have!"
"I... yes, thank you. I'm from Bristol originally."
"Well, I'm Mary. Mary Francis, actually. Francis is my last name, not my middle name. That's Elyse, but I hate it because it reminds me of my Aunt Elyse, who I'm named for. She was completely awful. What's your name?"
Hermione couldn't help but smile. "It's Hermione. Harris," she added quickly, remembering at the last moment that she'd changed all her papers over to her mother's maiden name. "Hermione Harris. I'm rather new in town."
"So you're not a student over at USW?" The pencil started to slip from Mary's hair and she reached back without looking and twisted it up again before stabbing the writing instrument back through it.
"No - not yet. I'm hoping to study law eventually, though. But I didn't move here in time to register for any of the summer classes."
"That's alright. Summer classes are hell, trust me. This year I'll have the second semester of BioChem, and I'm supposed to cram it all into 6 weeks? No thanks! But I need the credit, and the professor is taking a sabbatical next year. And I don't' want to take it from her replacement, he's a horrible little troll of a man. I had Chem II from him once, and ended up switching sessions. Awful, totally awful, just like Aunt Elyse. It's why we're hiring, though - well, one of the reasons. Because I'll have to be in class from 8 in the morning to noon. And Dad's recovering from a heart problem, so the doctors told him not to come in to work anymore. He still does some of the paperwork, but no running around and waiting on customers. He's the owner, by the way. It's pretty much a family run thing here. But we definitely need summer help. What sort of work experience do you have?"
"Ah- none, really," Hermione admitted. There hadn't been any way to document the time she'd spent at the MLE's office, and she didn't have any references because even if a Muggle employer had managed to get someone on a phone, it would've told people where she'd gone. "I didn't work while I was in school, and now I've moved here. I'm quite fond of books though, and a quick study."
"Well, that certainly counts for something. Can you talk to people?"
"I - yes, of course."
"Good. Cool. Well, if you're free this afternoon or tomorrow, I can give you a test run. I think I'm supposed to interview you, but I've never understood how you're supposed to decide if you'll like working with someone, or if they'd be any good at it from just five minutes of conversation. Really."
"I don't have any plans today. Or tomorrow, actually."
"Great!" Mary closed her text book with a snap and all but bounced around from behind the counter. "Mostly, what you'll be doing is greeting customers, helping them with whatever they need help with - looking up books, etc - ringing up their purchases and that sort of thing. We also buy used books from customers, and help them get books we don't have from other sellers. That's all on the computer and by phone, so I'll show you how that works in a little bit." She grabbed Hermione by the hand, and they spent the next several minutes going through the store (which was actually quite a bit bigger inside that it had looked at first glance because of how far back it went). Mary explained how things were organized, and where supplies could be found. Once they wound their way through the stacks and back up to the front counter, she explained the register and credit card scanner, the computer, and the database that was set up to handle the used books being bought from customers. Then she showed Hermione how to hook the computer up to the modem and go onto the internet to look for rare books or find other sellers. "We also have a database of used book sellers all over the country - sometimes if someone has a really obscure request, we spend a few hours calling around trying to find it. That's pretty rare though, it normally only takes about ten or fifteen minutes. After awhile you'll get a sense of which sellers tend to have what kinds of books, and I've made notes in the database about some of them and what they usually to have. Ready to get started?" Hermione nodded, and Mary cheerfully scooted another stool over to sit next to hers behind the check-out counter. She went back to her text book and let Hermione field the handful of customers that trickled in during the rest of the afternoon. She happily answered whatever questions Hermione had, but otherwise let her handle things herself.
Around 6 in the evening, Mary snapped her book closed again, and looked up. "Quitting time! Hallelujah. We'll just lock up here, and then we can go grab a bite to eat at Jake's."
"Jake's?" Hermione went through the routine Mary had outlined to close down the computer system and the register while the older girl checked the doors and back rooms.
"Yeah," Mary said as she came back up front, "Jake's the guy that runs the sandwich shop on the corner. He's cool - and kind of hot, too. They've got awesome food, and a bunch of the people who work on this street eat there pretty regularly. There's also a Thai place a few doors down, and you can get Chinese a block away. Dad's favorite is the hamburger joint one street over, and my mom prefers the meat and three just across the road there," she pointed out the window. "I'm a sandwich type of girl though, how 'bout you?"
"I'm... sandwiches are fine. Really."
"Great! Let's go."
Mary Francis was one of the most enthusiastic people Hermione had ever met. On the way down the street to the sandwich shop she chattered almost non-stop about the neighborhood and the school. She managed to fit more information about the popularity of the Asian studies department into their three minute walk than Hermione would've thought was possible. She got the impression that the neighborhood was home to many of the international students who came to the US to study, and decided she'd made the right choice when she'd rented her apartment.
The afternoon at the store had gone well, too. She'd picked up the database quickly, and had been able to answer several customer's questions without any assistance. Most of the things that had given her trouble had been about specific class requirements or the odd American language quirk here or there that she hadn't been familiar with.
As they entered the sandwich shop, Mary waved to several of her friends but none of them seemed interested in coming over to join them. Hermione was grateful; she'd discovered it was easy for her to get overwhelmed these days. They got in line to order, and Hermione read over some of the menu offerings, turning vaguely green at one point at the thought of a grilled chicken sandwich. She hated what being pregnant was doing to her appetite.
She hadn't really realized Mary had stopped talking until they sat down again.
"So," Mary started, "when are you due?"
Hermione nearly choked on her water. "I... I'm sorry?"
"You're pregnant, right?"
There was a long pause. "Yes," she finally admitted.
"So when are you due?" Mary treated it like it was a matter-of-fact thing and Hermione relaxed slightly.
" September, I think."
"Have you seen a doctor?"
"No. Not yet." She picked at her sandwich, plain turkey on wheat with lettuce.
"You probably should. There's a clinic around here, and it's free. A lot of the students use it. They can take a look at you, make sure that everything's ok. If you want, you can go during your lunch break tomorrow. I won't mind if it runs over - once I'm there after class is over I'm there anyway."
"Tomorrow? My lunch break?"
"Yeah. Assuming you still want the job, which I imagine you do."
"Yes. Of course. That would be wonderful, actually."
"Awesome. Right now we're closed while I'm in classes - I figure we'll keep it that way at least another week until you get comfortable being there by yourself, then you can come in and open in the mornings and go to lunch once I get there. Where are you staying?"
"I'm renting a room over on Green Street. It's small, but all I can afford right now."
"I know the place - it's older, but pretty safe. Make sure you lock your door and windows and you'll be fine. My apartment's on McCauley, which is about a block and a half east and in towards downtown. I've got a roommate. She's a musician - something classical. I suck at music classes, so I don't bother to keep up. But she's pretty good."
They continued to chat like that for the rest of the meal, and Mary never asked a single question about where she'd been or what she'd been doing before arriving in Washington.
The rest of the spring and summer passed in a blur of books, sandwiches, and doctors appointments. Mary had introduced her to the neighborhood, and the students who frequented the shop had become - if not friends, at the very least friendly acquaintances. In late July, Mary arranged for a baby shower for Hermione, who had been both surprised and very touched.
The doctors had told her she was due sometime in September, so when she woke up in the middle of the night just a week into August with sharp pains, it frightened her. She called Mary, who came straight over and called a cab to take them to the nearest hospital. Several hours and a caesarian section later, Hermione had been presented with a healthy, if very premature, baby girl. She hadn't been able to hold her for the first few days because they'd rushed the baby to the neo-natal intensive care unit to make sure that she was breathing on her own. Hermione had spent the day immediately afterwards in bed on medication for the pain, but had quickly fought her way down to the nursery ward and had hovered there as often as they'd let her.
The baby herself seemed fine, just tiny. She didn't have much hair yet, but what little there was came in the same shade of brown as her mum's. Hermione realized that she'd been waiting to see if the baby would come out with a full head of bright red hair, thus confirming her paternity and maybe relieving some of the sense of guilt she still felt about what had happened with Harry. That, or she would have black hair, thus proving Harry to be the father. In which case, well, she would've felt a sense of relief about leaving, she supposed. In reality she had neither, and as the days wore on, the baby stubbornly insisted upon looking completely unlike either of them. Unsure of what else to do, and feeling quite homesick, Hermione decided to name her Lily Fredericka, after Harry's mother and Ron's brother, but Mary ran with that and started calling her "Fred" and it stuck. The only thing that Hermione told Mary about any of it was that she was naming her after two people that Hermione herself had admired greatly, neither of whom were still alive.
Mary had said that it was too early, but Hermione insisted on going ahead and starting classes the following fall. She found another student that Mary had known for several years who was willing to help watch such a young baby, and Hermione threw herself head long into a routine of class, work, and taking care of her daughter. She took classes in Muggle history, English literature, and Introduction to Law, deciding very quickly that the law (even if it was Muggle and not wizarding) was where her academic heart lay.
There were times when she would see something that reminded her of England, or magic, or of Harry or Ron, and she would feel an ache in her chest where something was missing, but months passed and turned quickly into years. She finished her course load in better than average time and transitioned to the nearby law school so that she could get her Doctor of Juris Prudence and sit for the Bar exam. Fred started pre-school, then kindergarten, and Hermione made the conscious decision to cease doing even the smallest magic, lest her very intelligent and inquisitive child ask questions Hermione was entirely unready and unprepared to answer. For her part, Fred had a few brief instances of childhood magic, but nothing that couldn't be written off and easily forgotten about - much like Hermione's own early experiences.
When Fred was four and asked why she didn't have a father, Hermione still hadn't come up with what she felt was a satisfactory answer and said only "I loved your father very much, but he couldn't be with us here" (true no matter which of the two of them it happened to be).
Seattle, Washington, 11 years later:
It was almost nine o'clock when Mary finally left after dinner, and Hermione had a chance to talk to Fred alone.
"Can you sit down for a minute, darling?" Hermione asked before Fred had a chance to leave the kitchen. "We need to talk about some things."
"What's wrong, mom?" Freddie looked concerned, and curled up next to her mother on the couch with her legs tucked up underneath her. She looked like a carbon copy of Hermione at that age, but more poised, more sure of herself. She was entirely American, from the jeans she wore to the tank tops and the hoodie that Hermione knew concealed the girl's iPod and cell phone in its pockets. Her hair, while just as frizzy as Hermione's had always been was tamed back with a complicated French braid her best friend had taught her a few years ago.
"You know that I left England, right before I had you, right?"
"Yeah. You talk about England sometimes. And anyone with ears knows you're British. It's cool," she stated with a small smile.
"Well... I lived in a very special part of England. A very special and... exclusive community there. Fred... I'm a witch. And so are you."
As she'd expected, Fred gave her an incredulous look. "Mom. Have you been staying up too late with your books again? You're sleepwalking or something, right?"
"No, baby. I'm not. There's... magic is real. We don't talk about it with Muggles - that's non-magic using folk - but it's very real. When I was your age, I didn't know about it either, until I got a letter in the mail. At first, I didn't believe it. I thought that some of the other children in the neighborhood, the ones who'd always teased me about my books, had done it. Then a woman showed up on our doorstep, calm as you please, and told me and my parents that she was a witch, and taught at Hogwarts, a school for young witches and wizards. Then she said that even though both of my parents were Muggles, I was a witch, and was welcome to come study at Hogwarts. So I did. She demonstrated magic for us, of course, which is what led my mum and dad to believe it was real. I'll show you too, of course, although it's against the rules for you to use magic outside of school until you're a legal adult in the wizarding world."
"The... wizarding world? Mom..."
"Here," Hermione pulled out the letter and handed it to her daughter. "You read that, while I go get my wand."
"Read it. Please." With that, Hermione stood up and fled the room, glancing back over her shoulder at the doorway to verify that Fred was, in fact, opening her envelope.
Fred had been tough to convince, but once Hermione had gotten out her wand and transfigured one of their glass tumblers into a raven and back, she'd believed her. Then she'd proceeded to pepper Hermione with all sorts of questions about what the wizarding world was like, and what magic could and couldn't do - finally working her way back around to Hogwarts.
"So what's it like? You went there, right?"
"I did. From the time I was eleven until I was nineteen."
She watched as her daughter did math in her head. "I thought it was seven years?"
"It... usually it is. But there were complications. There was a war." How do you tell your child, she wondered, that you'd fought in a war?
"A long time before I was born, there was a man named Tom Riddle. He was a very talented wizard, but he was also evil. And he decided that he wanted to cheat death itself, and take over the Wizarding world in the process. So he styled himself as Lord Voldemort, and did all sorts of unforgivable magic in the mean time. He hated anyone who wasn't a pure-blooded witch or wizard, and thought that everyone else should hate them too. Part of his plan was to kill or enslave anyone who wasn't a pureblood.
"He was charismatic, and very intelligent, and did quite a lot of damage before he was stopped, a couple of years after I was born. He tried to kill a baby boy named Harry, and a spell that Harry's mum put on him rebounded the curse and Voldemort disappeared. But no one knew what had happened, and the baby was sent to live with the only relatives anyone knew about, who happened to be Muggles. So no one knew where he went, either, until he turned eleven and got his school letter, very like the one you've just gotten.
"About the same time, Voldemort gained back enough power that he tried to come back, because he wasn't really dead, just very badly injured. There were still people, called Death Eaters, who were loyal to him and his ideas. Voldemort continued to preach that muggle-born witches and wizards, people like me, shouldn't be given a place in Wizarding society, and that they and all Muggles should be enslaved or destroyed. For the next several years, he worked on building up his armies again, to try to take over Wizarding Britain. Harry, well, Harry was just trying to be a normal little boy going to school and learning to be a wizard, but things didn't really work out that way. He and his friends were some of the only people who believed that Voldemort was really back, and all that it entailed. So we were trying to stop him."
"A bunch of kids?"
Hermione smiled at the incredulity in her daughter's tone. "Yes, a bunch of very brave, occasionally very brilliant, and sometimes very stupid, kids. Of which I was one, by the way."
"I... can't picture it. Sorry mom, but it's like a story. It just doesn't sound real."
"That's alright. I think I'd have had trouble believing it myself if I hadn't lived it. But I did, we did. There were adults fighting him too, but Harry was "the Boy Who Lived" - and because of a prophecy he had to be the one to stop him. By our seventh year, the Wizarding world was at war, and the three of us, Harry, myself, and another boy named Ron, were sent out to find several items that had to be destroyed in order for Voldemort to be destroyed. There's some advanced magical theory involved there, but for the moment I'll leave it at that. It took several months, and we missed an entire year. So I had to go back later and finish."
"What happened? You can't just start a story like that and not tell me how it ends!"
"Well, there was a battle - a big one, on the school grounds. Several people died, one of whom, Ron's brother Fred, you're named after actually. But ultimately Harry was able to defeat Voldemort, and things eventually went back to normal."
"That's.. and I'm supposed to go to this school? Are there no wizarding schools in America?"
"There are, yes. But it's not uncommon for the children of prominent Wizarding families - or prominent witches or wizards - to be invited to their parents' alma mater, which is what's happened here. The headmistress was a friend, once upon a time, and she wrote me a letter as well, inviting me back."
"So... why did you leave in the first place? You've never really talked about England, or before I was born. I guess... I guess I understand why a little better now, but-"
"It's an even longer story."
"It was because of me, wasn't it?"
Hermione had been looking absently at the bookcases without really reading any of the titles on the books there, but she turned quickly back to her daughter now. "No. Not really. It was about me, I think. I made some bad choices, and didn't handle them very well. I ran away."
"So who's my father?" Fred asked in a quiet voice.
It was a question that Hermione had been dreading since she'd started the damn story. It wasn't the first time that Fred had asked about her father, of course, but Hermione had always been able to brush it off with vague comments about her time in England and how it didn't matter anymore. She somehow doubted that such tactics would work on her daughter now in light of all this new information.
"Honestly, darling... I don't know." Hermione realized that she was fidgeting with the clasp on her bracelet and forced her hands to be still, just like she forced herself to look up and meet Fred's eyes.
"Mom!" Fred's brown eyes were wide with shock. "How can you not know, unless... mother!"
Hermione felt herself blush. "It was a stupid mistake, Fred - and a perfect example about why one should be particularly cautious when drinking alcohol." It was like ripping off a bandage, she decided. Better to just do it all at once. "I told you about my friends, the ones I went to school with, and fought in the war with?" Fred nodded. "Well, after the war was over, Ron and I started dating. It was sort of inevitable, really. We'd been dancing around the issue for years by that point. After I finished school, he decided to try out for professional Quidditch - it's a sport for wizards, but I'll explain all that later. Because of his training schedules, and the games themselves, he was gone quite a lot. We both shared a flat with Harry, of course. I don't think the three of us really thought much about that, considering how close we'd been at school. And Harry had been dating Ron's sister for awhile, but they'd been over with for a year or more. Harry didn't quite think it was over yet, so on New Year's Eve he went to Ginny's flat to surprise her with dinner. And walked in on her and someone else.
"I was home alone, because as I said Ron was gone so much and New Year's Eve wasn't an exception to that. Harry came home, miserable, and so we had brandy and talked about things - mostly about him and Ginny, I think. But by the end of the evening we were drunk, and things just happened between us. It would've been lovely except that I was still with Ron. I woke up the next morning, horrified with myself, and Harry and I made it a point not to speak about it again. I tried to go on like normal with Ron, but then I got fired from my job at the Ministry where I was a clerk. One thing that you need to understand is what it was like after the war. Everyone had these expectations of us when it was all over. Some of them were about who we should be, and others were about what we had or hadn't done during the war. I did some things that I think were right, but weren't necessarily correct, if that makes sense. And the man I worked for took issue with it. He had a very negative opinion of us and made it clear I would never be able to work in the Wizarding government again. It felt quite a bit like the world was crashing down around me, with things falling apart at home and at work, so I just decided to leave. To leave England, and the wizarding community behind and start over somewhere else. Mum and Dad had never been happy with my choice to remain in the wizarding world, and I think looking back on it, I was hoping that someday I could come home and show them what I'd done once I was a powerful Barrister in the Wizarding courts. Then that stopped being a possibility for me. I didn't realize that I was pregnant with you until I'd been in the states over a month and by then I couldn't even fathom going back and facing Harry and Ron with that sort of news. All I could think about was finding a good place to live and a decent job so that I could take care of you, and that's what I did."
"So you really don't have any idea which of the two of them it was?" Fred looked crestfallen.
"No. I thought maybe once you got a bit older you might favor one or the other, but you have always looked entirely like me and yourself and not anyone else." She gave her daughter a half-smile.
"But... you said before you named me after Ron's brother?"
"Yes. Fredericka, for Frederick, who died during the war. He was a good friend and one of the most amazing people I'd ever met. But I also named you Lily, after Harry's mum. Mary's actually the one that started calling you Fred and it stuck."
"If we go back... will I finally get to meet him? Do either of them know about me at all?"
"Once I left, before you were born, I didn't go back, and I didn't talk to anyone back home. No one there knows about you, except for Professor McGonagall, and that's only because of the book at Hogwarts. It's magical, not mundane, so it knew when you were born. And yes," she finally added after a long pause, "it's entirely possible that if you go back, you may get to meet your father. But to be honest, just like I've not talked to them, I haven't heard anything about them, either. I haven't kept up with news from the wizarding world in years and years."
They lapsed into silence for awhile, until finally Fred took a deep breath and said "I think I want to go, Mom."
Packing for her trip home proved more difficult than Hermione had imagined. She had quite a nice selection of suits and blouses, indispensible in her work as a lawyer for the Public Defender's office. They were all very precise, very tailored, and incredibly boring. They were also a far cry from the robes she had always worn to work as a witch in the MLE's office. Actually, she realized, she didn't have the first clue what anyone was wearing in the wizarding world these days (though if fashion hadn't changed all that much in the last five hundred years, it wasn't likely to have made drastic changes in the last twelve.) And she didn't know why she was worried about it anyway - it was hardly like her, after all. But... the idea of seeing Ron or Harry again, let alone anyone else, had her completely at sixes and sevens. They would never forgive her when they found out what she'd done - any part of what she'd done. Ron would assume, if he could do the math, that Fred was his (and she'd named her after his brother, hadn't she? That was just more damning evidence there) and would be furious she'd run off and taken his daughter with her. At that point, she would have to explain about having cheated on him. Idly, she wondered if she might be able to get away with leaving it at that, and not actually bring Harry into it. Maybe, if she didn't tell him who, she wouldn't ruin their relationship as well.
Of course, Harry would corner her, the first chance he got, and demand a full explanation. He would probably be more difficult to dodge or shake off than Ron. Would he suspect that Fred might actually be his? Or would he make the same assumption based on her name that Ron would? (Assuming, of course, that he didn't find out that her first name was Lily. That right there - if he found out - would be the final nail in her coffin.
Another thought came crashing down suddenly, strongly enough that, had the wall not been within arm's reach, she might've fallen. Just like they had no idea the things she'd done and the life she'd made in the last twelve years - she had no idea what they'd been doing, either. Was Harry still an Auror? Did Ron still play for the Canons?
Were they even still alive? Surely, if one of them had died, she would've heard. Wouldn't she? But there wasn't anyone who would've told her. She'd cut herself off completely from the wizarding world since she'd left just like she'd cut herself off from England. They could be dead, or married, or have children. They might not even live in England anymore. Ron could've transferred any number of places with his Quidditch career, and Harry had always thought about travelling someday. Or... it was even within the realm of remote possibility that Ginny might've had a change of heart and taken Harry back by now. Twelve years, she realized, was almost a lifetime in some respects.
Nothing from her closet was going to do her any good. She could take some of her casual clothes with her instead, and just buy robes in Diagon Alley if she needed to later. She would have to come back to Seattle long enough to finish out her cases she had pending, and to close out her accounts, put the house on the market and have her things shipped back to England. On the other hand, she would also need to start looking for a flat somewhere in England. Even though she'd saved, and they'd get a bit of money from selling the house, she didn't think it was apt to be enough to buy a house in England right away, so she'd find a place she could rent in the meantime. It would give her a few more weeks to decide if she wanted to move back to Wizarding England or just plain Muggle England. This trip, she only intended to spend as much time as she needed to get Fred settled in, and possibly see her Mum and Dad. Assuming that they would want to see her. Would her nice, normal and grown-up muggle career make up for the disappointment they must have felt when they'd been told what she'd done to them?
They could stop by the bank in the morning on the way to the airport and get out enough money she'd have funds to change at Gringotts when they arrived in Diagon Alley, plus spending money for the rest of the trip. Travelers checks, she decided, they would be best. She would leave the house keys with Mary to look after, and she'd have to take the time with her to explain where they were going. A private school in England, that was really about all she could tell her.
A few blouses, then, and a jumper along with a skirt and a pair of slacks. That was easy enough to grab out of her drawers and shove into her carry-on. She dumped her purse out onto her bed, and began sorting through the contents of that, as well. With a sigh, she took her PDA and cell phone out and placed them on her nightstand - those she wouldn't need. She left in her make-up kit, and her wallet, as well as the small bag containing emergency supplies (everything from a bleach pen to band-aids.) Then, she changed her mind and pulled it back out - those were all situations she could deal with as well or better with a wand, which she'd have again.
The day after Fred's eleventh birthday, they took a Muggle flight from the States into England, which also meant dealing with Muggle security and customs. Once they'd gotten through Heathrow, Hermione very deliberately chose a nice Muggle hotel near her parents home rather than a wizarding establishment. After getting settled, Hermione rang up her parents and spoke with them for about an hour, though they said remarkably little of import. Her mother was quite pleased to hear that she had a successful law practice in America, and showed little surprise other than a moment or two of silence for the news that she had an eleven year old granddaughter. Hermione and Fred got up early on their second day in England, and visited them in person. It was civil and polite, and everyone was walking on eggshells, completely unsure of one another or how to handle the intervening time. Hermione told them Fred would be staying in England and going to Hogwarts as she had, assured them that it was perfectly safe there now, and arranged tentative plans for Fred to spend part of the Christmas holidays with them. That night after dinner Fred said that they seemed like pleasant enough people but were very boring and she sort of could see why Hermione hadn't really made much of an effort to stay in touch with them.
Their third and fourth days were spent sight-seeing in London, while Hermione put off the part of the trip she was dreading the most. Diagon Alley ought to be relatively safe, except that there wasn't any way at all to tell where Harry or Ron were or weren't apt to be. She finally broke down and wrote a letter to Professor McGonagall asking to speak with her, then realized that she didn't have access to the owl post from where she was staying. The letter, written in ball-point pen on hotel stationary would have seemed absurd clutched in an owl's claws anyway, she told herself.
Diagon Alley hadn't really changed, not a bit. Hermione felt Fred's hand tighten on her own as the bricks of the wall pulled back and revealed the quirky little street.
"Mom - that wall..." Fred trailed off in wonder.
"I know," Hermione smiled down at her daughter. "I was amazed the first time I saw it - when I came to shop for my first year at Hogwarts." She repressed the urge to reach over and ruffle her hair. "Have I mentioned that I'm proud of you for wanting to do this? Coming all the way across a whole ocean?"
"Yeah, Mom - a lot," she blushed, embarrassed by Hermione's show of motherly pride and affection.
"Well, I am. You're going to be a great witch, I know it."
"Ok, I'll stop."
"So where do we go first?" Fred asked, looking around in a way that said she was trying very hard to be unimpressed and grown up but was fascinated and full of child-like wonder all at the same time, a combination of feelings Hermione knew all too well.
"First... I think we should go to Ollivander's Wand Shop. The first step to being a witch or wizard is getting your wand. It's a bit like being fitted properly for shoes, only much, much more interesting." Hand in hand they walked down the street to the small shop crammed in at nearly the end of the strip. The musty, dusty smell was familiar to her, and like so many other things brought up happy memories of her own first time there, but other things had changed. There weren't so many teetering stacks of wand boxes threatening to fall upon one's head, and more importantly, it was no longer old Mr. Ollivander standing behind the till at the front counter. Instead, Hermione came face to face with Luna Lovegood, who was honestly one of the last people she'd expected to see.
"Lu-Luna," Hermione stuttered in surprise. "How nice to see you again." She felt Fred tug slightly on her hand, but didn't look over. She found she couldn't take her eyes away from Luna's still dreamy, preoccupied ones.
"Hermione! It's good to see you this afternoon. I'm glad the scallop-helmed Argonauts brought you home."
"Scallop-helmed Argonauts..." Fred mumbled in confusion.
"I, erm, yes. We're... this is my daughter, Fredericka. We're here to get her wand, for school. Has Mr. Ollivander retired?"
"Oh, yes. Well, in as much as he will, he still comes to the shop each morning to make wands, but he leaves much of the actual shop-keeping to me now. Her first wand, then? We've had ever so many first years through this week. Come along, my dear," Luna turned her attention to Fred and took her free hand, "let's see what kind of adventure we can find for you, shall we? Watch out for the nargles on the ceiling though - they like to clump near the doorways."
While Luna led Fred through the ritual of wand-selection with its magic tape measure and stacks of slender boxes, Hermione tried to get her pulse back under control. This was one of the few places she hadn't expected to run in to anyone, yet here Luna was. If it was some kind of a sign, it was an effective one. She couldn't do this - have Fred become a part of the Wizarding world, without rejoining it herself. The community was too small, too tightly-knit for her to be able to avoid it. And one look at her daughter's face as she got her first real taste of magic assured her it wasn't something she could deprive her of.
And just like that, she resolved that she would do whatever she had to do to give this gift to her daughter. The anxiety she'd felt over deciding to sell their house or quit her job melted away, because despite all the hell they'd endured as children and teenagers, magic had made it all worthwhile, and that was something Hermione had forgotten along the way. She realized that she'd gotten far too tied up in survival, and in seeing the bad things that magic could do.
It wasn't going to be easy, not by any stretch of the imagination - she was fairly certain that it was actually going to be rather awful, facing all those people she'd abandoned. Not to mention having to see Ron and Harry again and explain to them what she'd done, why she'd left, and most of all why she'd stayed silent for the last twelve years. But running couldn't last forever, and now it was time to go home.
The trip into Diagon Alley had been nerve-wracking, but it hadn't gone at all how she'd feared it would. There were plenty enough double-glances and looks shot her way, but no one came right out and spoke to her. She hadn't actually recognized most of them, and wondered if it was because they were strangers or if the people she'd known had just changed that much. It also made her wonder just how much she'd changed herself. The only other person she'd seen that she recognized had been Parvati Patil, who was working at Madam Malkin's and helped fit Fred for her robes. She'd gotten all big-eyed at first and sputtered just a moment before slipping into the sociable "it's been so long, how are you?" standards. There also wasn't anyone jumping out declaring to all the world that she'd had the illegitimate child of the Boy Who Lived or possibly his sidekick One-of-Those-Weasleys (the sorts of headlines that damn mosquito of a reporter might've written once.) Above all else, she reasoned over dinner that night, she'd managed to make it through a day of shopping in Diagon Alley without running into a Weasley or Harry.
The first day of September was warm as Hermione helped Fred wheel her trunk and other belongings from the car park into Kings Cross Station. Fred was wearing her favorite jeans and her "strawberry pi" t-shirt, the one with the red trim around the collar and shirt sleeves. Her hoodie was thrown carelessly on top of her trunk between her backpack and the basket that held her new cinnamon-colored kitten, who she'd insisted on naming Commodore Von Squishy Mittens (Squish for short). Her hair was tugged ruthlessly back into its customary French braid, and she was wearing the tree frog earrings Hermione had bought for her when they'd visited Harrods one afternoon. They'd had a brief row in the morning about her leaving her MP3 player and laptop with Hermione instead of taking them (even though Hermione had already explained that they wouldn't work around magic and there were no electrical outlets in the castle besides) but she chalked the outburst up to nerves on both their parts. Fred had seemed to go back and forth between the extremes of nervousness and excitement for the entire car ride, but now that they had arrived, she was settled and calm, more like the Fred Hermione was used to.
"Alright then?" Hermione asked for the fifth time.
"I'm fine, Mom," Fred rolled her eyes. "Did you know that you talk different now that we're here? Not in a bad way, but you're accent's stronger now that it was back home."
"I'm not surprised."
"I'm going to be the one with the accent now, aren't I?"
"Probably. One of the ones, at least. But children in England have all different accents just like in different parts of the states, and there will be students here from Scotland and Ireland as well. People won't really notice after the first little while. You'll be fine, and happy - I promise."
"Honest," Hermione replied. "Despite the war, the days I spent at school were some of my very happiest." She reached the barrier and started to explain one more time how to pass it, but Fred rolled her eyes.
"I remember, Mom," she muttered, and squeezed her eyes closed before taking the barrier, trunk just ahead of her, at a flat run.
Hermione came through in time to see her stop with just inches to spare before hitting a brown-haired boy that was probably only a year or so older and remembered a somewhat similar incident of her own. What had seemed long ago and far away was suddenly the immediate past and like when they'd gone to Diagon Alley, she was swamped with memories from the sounds, sights, and smells of the platform.
They were stowing Fred's trunk when she first saw them out of the corner of her eye, down at the far end by the last car. It was impossible to miss the Weasleys, even when there were only one or two of them - and Ron's build hadn't changed enough that she could not identify him. Beyond that, the boy with the shockingly blue hair and the beautiful, willowy blonde girl standing next to her equally blonde, ethereal mother would have given them away. Harry's dark hair and the glint off of his glasses rounded out the picture, and she stared just a little too long, long enough that Harry felt it and looked up in her direction. Their eyes met over the crowd for just a moment before Fred launched herself back into Hermione's arms for one last goodbye hug.
Moment broken, Hermione focused her attention back on her daughter, and hugged and kissed Fred, wishing her good luck and a good trip. Fred climbed onto the train, and when Hermione turned back, she saw what might have been a hint of Teddy's bright blue hair disappear into the train, but she didn't see any sign of Ron or Harry.