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The Ghost of Grimmauld Place

Chapter Text

Thursday 18 th  June 1970

Potter Manor, Front Garden

She landed – with a crash that winded her, leaving her gasping and crying silently with pain – in a field. At least, she assumed it was a field, for it was so large, but the building that rose above her gave lie to that idea. It definitely wasn't a farmhouse – she didn't know any farmhouse so grand, and it was grand, despite its image being rendered homely by years of additional construction. The centre of the house, presumably what had been the main house many centuries ago, was built from old stones similar to that of Hogwarts' walls. It was square, four windows chipped out, with a large wooden doorway leading to an impressive staircase that hugged the foundations to reach the ground and a driveway, both of which were a more recent addition, probably sometime in the 18th Century. Spread around that were small panels of Tudor architecture, where the smaller house had been expanded to accommodate a growing family, perhaps also to fix where it had been falling apart; it was hard to tell, what with its generally improvised appearance. The furthest wing to the west was built from the traditional Yorkshire sandstone, and the East was built in the Georgian style, smoothed sedimentary stone shimmering in the afternoon light. The roof was the only part that stayed consistent across what she could see of the building, the thackstone adding a quirky charm to bring the whole lot together. It was… charming, if you stretched the definition. Well-loved. Definitely beautiful, if not anything else.

Whoever lived there was both rich and had a sense of humour, Hermione thought with a dazed smile, realising with relief that this crossed the Malfoys from the list. She could feel wards buzzing around her, beginning at the end of the driveway where a set of wrought-iron gates prevented entry, and stretching overhead in a dome as far back as the eye could see, giving the impression of her being trapped inside a large, invisible cage. They felt thick and powerful, but subtle, and she had no idea how she had made her way past them, for it was fairly obvious she was uninvited.

Her head sent a fork of agony down through her neck and into her limbs, wrenching a cry from her chest as she attempted to sit up. Undeterred, she pushed on, coming up to her knees and panting, out of breath and exhausted. She couldn't remember the last time she had eaten – or, rather, she couldn't remember very much at all. Vague images of stars falling and a black-haired boy with green eyes opening his mouth in a shout swam through her head, but aside from that, it was quite blank. Memory-wise, anyway.

She could still remember magic, and spells, and her name – Hermione Granger. Her family was lost to the abyss of her brain, but she could recall learning to walk and talk, and knew that she spoke three languages; English, French and Latin. Strange names and knowledges popped up – like that strangely comforting line about the Malfoys. She knew that she had once known a Malfoy, and that she didn't like him very much at all, but for the life of her she couldn't remember what he looked like or how they met. Either way, with her knowledge of the French language, she thought she would have been wise enough to steer clear of him from the start.

Her hands scrabbled in the grass, searching for … she wasn't sure what, but she knew it should be there. They closed around a twig, which she held up triumphantly, before suddenly realizing that it wasn't right. Wand, she thought. She needed her wand.

On her hands and knees, she scoured the area, but aside from a few more sticks and twigs from the ancient oaks lining the garden – or field, she might stick with field – there was no sign of the wand her mind informed her was so very important to her livelihood. Eventually, she collapsed on her front again, completely knackered.

"What have you gotten yourself into this time, you complete and utter divvy?" she murmured, turning her head to the right for air and jumping slightly at the pitch of her voice. It seemed much higher than it used to be, but perhaps her hearing had been damaged in the fall. No answer to either question was forthcoming from her mind, rather a frustrating occurrence for the girl who knows everything.

It was a clattering and the dragging that followed it that warned her to another human's presence. The gates at the end of the road swung open to allow through two skeletal-looking black horses, pulling a regal looking black carriage. The horses slowed to a negligent trot as they turned onto the drive, coming closer to her. She realised as it neared that the horses were not horses but Thestrals, a fact that popped up in her mind accompanied by a dizzying flying sensation, neither of which were very comforting. The textbook definition she knew told her that only those who had witnessed death could see Thestrals, which didn't communicate any good things about how she had arrived at this place – she was quite certain she had never seen one in the flesh before this point. It occurred to her to hide, but it was already too late.

A barking noise arose from the cabin, and seconds later a tan-and-white nose poked itself through the curtains. Immediately, its little black eyes fixed on her in the grass, and it set off another volley of barks that set Hermione to wincing, a hand automatically reaching up as if to soothe the pain in her head before she aborted the movement in favour of more immediate concerns; see: the yappy little dog whose territory she had apparently invaded, which seemed quite desperate to teach her a lesson. With a bend of its legs, it propelled itself from the window to land feet from her in the grass, though it didn't allow the distance to remain so far for very long, as despite Hermione's frenzied backpedalling, it bounded to her, panting and whoofing, and proceeded to bathe her face with its tongue.

Through a sheet of crup saliva, Hermione watched the worst guard dog in the world yelp excitedly at its owners over its find.

"What is it, Monty?" A woman's voice called, her head appearing in the window. The Thestrals had slowed to a complete stop the moment the crup had been released, allowing the woman a perfect view of Hermione laid prone on her lawn, the puppy sat proudly on her back. She blinked large grey eyes in shock upon noticing Hermione, before her eyes drifted back to 'Monty'. "Oh, Charlus!" The woman laughed, stifling it behind one gloved hand, "Monty has incapacitated an intruder!"

"Baby's first catch," a very male, very dry, voice rumbled from the confined of the carriage. "Quick, Dorea, get the camera. We'll need it to document the occasion, for it most assuredly will never happen again."

Hermione felt the little dog pad over her back to settle its nose between her buttocks, an eminently uncomfortable position. She shifted, turning doleful eyes on its owner. "Can you have him release me, please?" she asked, very nicely she thought. The odd pitch to her voice remained, leaving her sounding like a child. Certainly, the woman in the carriage wasn't acting like she had just found a teenage witch sprawled across her lawn.

"He can't do that, love," the male voice said again, his face now coming into frame. He was an older man, perhaps in his late forties, with a bristling moustache and a smile on his face. "What if you're dangerous? How would poor Monty feel if he released you and you suddenly murdered his family? The elves certainly aren't going to feed him."

"Oh, stop it, Charlus," the woman scolded, opening the door to step down. Hermione could now see that she reached an impressive height of over six feet, and her entire image was that of supreme elegance and sophistication. Hermione, laid on the grass with a dog on her back and her face in the mud, felt suddenly insignificant. "She won't hurt us, she's a child. Besides, can't you see she's scared?"

Was she scared? Ok, well, she felt a little scared, but mostly very confused. She didn't get any sinister vibes from the couple, who if anything looked amused and concerned by the situation, which allowed her to focus her attention on the bigger question – how did she get here? And, to that end, where did she come from, and how did she go back?

"It's alright, dear," Dorea said, kneeling down by Hermione's head, heedless of her beautiful gown getting trampled in the mud. They were obviously on their way to or from some fancy occasion, and Hermione felt an odd sort of guilt for disrupting it. Dorea, seeing her line of sight or perhaps sensing her thoughts, looked down at her gown and chuckled. "Lunch with Augusta Longbottom. Do you know her, child? She insists on formal attire, despite the fact that she'll just sit there in trousers and a duelling robe because she lost track of time while working. I don't know why she bothers."

The name rang a bell, but not personally. She was too focused on Dorea and Charlus, wary of their attentions. Dorea seemed nice, but lots of people seemed nice at first – the Child-catcher one of them. They were obviously trying to put her at ease, which, while working, was also more disturbing. Apparently the woman could also read these thoughts in her mind, for she immediately changed tack. "Do you know how you got here?"

It was an odd question. Most people would say, "what are you doing here", or even "how did you get here". Asking whether she knew… that required a whole different set of answers, and more questions, like how did she know to ask that one? Was it so hard to believe that she had simply come across the house, found nobody inside, and decided to take a nap in the garden?

Ok, she could accept that that seemed an unlikely situation, yes, but to skip right to drugs/kidnapping/whatever she might be thinking was a little extreme.

However much it might be true. She didn't know for sure.

"Errr…" she responded, the height of intelligence. "No?"

"Poor dear," Dorea murmured, reaching a hand out to stroke a curl back from Hermione's face. She tried not to flinch at the contact, she really did. "Well," the older woman continued, getting the message and removing her hand. "How about you come in, we'll get you sorted out with a nice cuppa, and see what we can do for you, hmm?"

Hermione, thinking that this was probably a better idea than braving the wards and trying to find her way back to Scotland (why Scotland? She asked her brain. I'm from Islington. Again, no response came), nodded and made another attempt to stand up. "Argh!"

"Oh dear," Charlus chipped in, eyeing the young witch laying on the grass in a heap, looking somewhat perturbed. "Is she injured or drunk?"

"Charlus," Dorea hissed in warning, scooping Hermione up into her arms in an impressive show of strength.

He widened his eyes innocently. "Whatever is it, my wife? It's another pertinent question – do we really want our young son subjected to pretty young prepubescent drunks?"

Hermione felt the woman's laugh in her chest even though it didn't come out of her mouth, choosing instead to level a scolding glare at her husband. "Send Batty out for the Thestrals and have Bell put on some tea. I'll get her settled."

"You know James will be waiting," he told her, even though he was already on his way back to the driveway.

Dorea secured Hermione closer to her chest and began the trek up to the door on her own. "Well now, do you have a name?" she asked. It took Hermione a moment to decipher the words, her brain spinning more with every step the other woman took across the grass.

"Hermione," she muttered, stopping herself as she felt nausea rise up her throat. She swallowed it back down and took several deep breaths, the best she could do squashed up as she was. "I think I can walk," she spat out in a rush.

"Really?" Dorea said, looking down on her sceptically.

Well, no, not really, but walking seemed a better alternative to being cradled like a baby and having to endure the mortification of vomiting on an admittedly lovely woman's equally lovely (and expensive looking) gown. "Yes." She said firmly, wriggling to get out. Dorea wrinkled her nose but leaned over obligingly, letting Hermione slip to her feet.

This was new. She was about waist-height on the other woman, and while she wasn't all that certain of her past life, she was still pretty sure she had used to be taller than this. Also, her jumper suddenly seemed incredibly spacious, and her jeans several inches too long.

Glancing down, she stifled a gasp. Not because of the blood – though there was a little blood – nor the bruising, but because she was missing certain things she knew she had grown quite used to.

Breasts, for one.

Hips, another.

"Problem?" Dorea asked, looking even more curious as she watched Hermione have a little freak out. It probably did look quite odd, actually, finding a girl on your lawn in too-large clothes who immediately, at the first opportunity, seems to stop and inspect her chest with great interest. Still, it wasn't strange to Hermione. She felt, instead, an odd sort of loss. She had waited years for her figure to come in, for the day that she would be obviously feminine, no longer one of the boys, and while what the Gods had granted her wasn't all that to shout about, it had been hers. Now, inexplicably, it was gone.

"How old am I?" she questioned, still staring at her too-small body.

"About nine? Maybe ten?" Dorea slid her wand from her sleeves gracefully, twirling it in her fingers. "I can check, if you like?"

That the question didn't come across as offbeat to the older woman should have made Hermione more suspicious, but there was something about her that said she took a lot in stride. Hermione couldn't imagine her stressed, she had that aura of entitlement that seemed to scream "I get what I want, and nothing less". If a strange girl showed up on her land, fine, she would make it work, just another Tuesday.

If it was still Tuesday.

How did she know it was Tuesday?

"Please," Hermione could hardly disguise the relief in her voice, but Dorea didn't seem to mind. Instead she swung her wand in a professional manner, matte red symbols appearing in front of her face.

"Nine years, nine months. Almost ten. Why, is that not correct?"

Hermione paused, her head whirring rapidly. Should she tell them? What would be the point? As soon as she was able, she would leave this place, get back home (wherever home was) and get fixed. No problems.

That in mind, she shook her head and carried on, refusing to wince as pain twinged through her nerves. The door was much closer than expected, only the stairs to go now. Stairs weren't that bad, she climbed dozens of the things everyday. She had well developed calves from all of the exercise – or, would that be had? She took a peek down at her legs, but they were swathed in layers of denim. She could no more see the shape of her thighs than communicate in Mermish.

Sighing, she took one step after the other, excruciatingly slowly, with Dorea behind her waiting patiently. Her pounding head begged her to ask for help, but her already injured pride refused to allow her to do so, which left her limping at a snail's pace, clutching the stone balustrade with one ludicrously tiny hand while the other attempted to hold her jeans up. She dreaded to think how she much look – a child who was not a child, with mud in her hair and dog spit on her face, swimming in clown's trousers, battered and bruised and practically crawling up the stairs to an ancient manor house in the country.

When she was older, she panted to herself, she was going to make it illegal to have stairs like these without an accompanying lift.

Finally she reached the top, the door towering over her. She was the same height as the handle, which would mean she would have to reach up to open it. If everything else hadn't been completely demeaning, that would have finished her off, surgically removed her dignity, never to return. Instead of risking that she simply stood to the side, one hand bunched in her waistband but her head held high. If she was flushed and breathless, Dorea sweetly ignored it.

The doors swung inwards without a sound, which somehow made them more imposing. Dorea beckoned her in, careful to keep her distance like Hermione was some sort of unpredictable wild animal, and closed the door behind her. "Well then, where's that tea?" she asked, pulling her gloves off and looking around, though Hermione had stopped listening.

Up on the staircase that took up the centre of the room, seated on the second to last step, was a little boy. He looked about ten, with messy black hair and deeply tanned skin, grazed knees and cheeks red from an afternoon in the sun. His mouth was stretched into an impish grin, his eyes sparkling with excitement. "Mum," he shouted, getting to his feet and bowling down the stairs, not taking his eyes from Hermione, "Who's this? Where did you come from?"

"Monty found her in the garden, love," Dorea told him, ruffling his already disastrous hair affectionately. "You know what I'm like with strays, had to bring her home."

"Cool!" He was hopping around now, coming close to Hermione. She realised that he was ever-so-slightly taller than her, with dirt smudged on his cheeks that she wanted to wipe away in the worst way. Everything about him was familiar, from the way he walked to the curve of his lips, except that his attitude was all wrong and his eyes a different colour. "Can we keep her?" He asked, grabbing her hand and swinging it gleefully. "I've always wanted a sister."

"I've always wanted a brother," Hermione confessed, not sure why. There was something about him – when their eyes met there was an affection bursting inside of her, like it was just waiting to awaken. His touch on her hand was gentle, fraternal, and though he was watching her like she was his exciting new toy there was also something else there, a desperate loneliness, and a hope for something to fill it.

Hermione was lonely too, she realised. She would like to be his sister. He actually cheered, his other fist pumping the air at her response.

"Now, James, we don't know anything-"

"That's it sorted, then. You're my sister." James talked over his mother loudly, his face almost split in two with joy. "And I'm your brother."

He pulled her into a painfully tight bear hug, and while it hurt, it also helped. She tucked her face in his neck, laughing at his exuberance, revelling in how she just seemed to fit. She might not know anything about her life but the basics, and she might not be able to remember her family or friends, and she might be worryingly young, and there was something very familiar about them all that seemed very important but she couldn't place them just yet… but right then she had James, and somehow she knew, a bone-deep knowledge that was as much instinct as logical sense, that James would look after her. She felt safe, which was something she hadn't felt in a while, so she sank into the embrace and just let the world spin on.

Over James' shoulder Charlus stopped to drape an arm around his wife's waist. "And so the family grows," he muttered in her ear, and then, smiling, raised his voice. "Welcome to Potter Manor, Hermione."

And that… That was the exact moment Hermione realised she was in trouble.