"Hermione! Wake up!"
Hermione groaned from the warm depths of her blanket, frowning in the hopes it might ward off the prodding she could feel from somewhere outside her safe cocoon. Giggling broke out at her noise of protests.
"Seriously Hermione, get up, it's your birthday!"
Relenting and pushing back the covers, Hermione rubbed her sleepy eyes and slowly grinned at the sight in front of her. Ginny bounced on the end of her bed laughing, while Harry flexed his fingers, threating to start tickling if Hermione didn't start stirring. Ron grinned up at her from his space on the floor. The door creaked, and Sirius leaned against the frame, raising an eyebrow as if to say "sorry, I tried".
"Come on Hermione, you're always the first one up, what gives! The one day we get up early to give you presents" Harry teased.
Hermione propped herself up on her elbows and smiled, blowing a curl away from her face with a huff.
"Maybe I thought I deserved a lie in for once?" she suggested. Harry raised his brow, motioning for her to try again. "OK, maybe I got a little carried away with my new book yesterday and didn't get to sleep until sometime this morning…"
Her friends laughed, and Sirius rolled his eyes.
"Well, start perking up. Kreacher's made you tea, and we've got presents!" Ginny launched a small pile of presents at her one by one, as Hermione flailed and attempted to dodge them. "Honestly Hermione, you'd think by twenty, and with the feat of saving the Wizarding World a mere notch on your belt, you'd have some sort of physical prowess."
Hermione shrugged and smiled, long ago accepting that sports just weren't for her. She'd left the physical pursuits to her best friends. Harry and Ron loved their jobs as Aurors, working all hours and returning exhilarated, with wides grins on their exhausted faces. Ginny had recently been signed as Chaser for the Holyhead Harpies. 'No wonder her throwing arm is so good' Hermione thought.
After the war, the group had returned to Hogwarts for a year, to finish their NEWTs. Hermione had maintained that, as easy as it would be, they shouldn't simply ride of the coattails of their fame and should ensure that, no matter what happened in the future, they were always employable. Though Harry and Ron hadn't necessarily agreed, they had returned with her, happy for a chance to snatch back some semblance of the adolescence they had missed out on before they had to leave for the adult world.
When they could finally say that their Hogwarts experience had come to an end, qualifications clutched in their mitts after owl delivery, Sirius had insisted Harry and Hermione join him in Number 12 Grimmauld Place. Hermione had been a little confused as to why Sirius had extended the invitation to her, but her confusion was overridden by her gratitude. The memory charm placed on her parents had been unable to be lifted, and Monica and Wendell Wilkins remained unaware of their daughter on the other side of the world. Unable to face living in her childhood home, her parents had been declared dead and their assets sold, leaving behind a decent sum in her new Gringotts vault. Whilst she wasn't poor, she didn't relish the idea of returning to an empty home at the end of the day, after everything they had all been through together. It left too much space to think.
Hermione had shunned law enforcement work to take up a role in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. She had surprised Harry and Sirius by pivoting away from her crusade on House Elf ownership (or slavery as she still maintained), instead focussing her work on reducing restrictions on Werewolf rights, in the hope that Remus and Tonks might raise Teddy in a world with less prejudice.
Hermione reached for her scattered presents, pulling the glittering paper from a new set of leather-bound books on philosophical theory from Sirius, an Ancient Runes puzzle book from Ron, and some suspicious looking muggle books from Ginny that she peered into and then quickly snapped shut when her eyes fell on the phrase "his tongue expertly exploring my mouth". Ginny grinned at her, waggling her eyebrows at the exasperated look on her friend's face.
"I'm not apologising, I figure if you have to spend so much time with your nose in a book, it might as well be something exciting" Ginny said with a giggle.
Hermione tutted and rolled her eyes, amusement colouring her cheeks as she moved on. Harry's present turned out to be a wand holster for her wrist, which she quickly strapped on. With a flick of her hand, her wand went from hidden to tight in her grasp and pointed at Harry's face as her eyes glittered.
Harry laughed, raising his hands in surrender. "Jeez Hermione, 7 years after we found out you were bad ass enough to punch Malfoy in the face and you're still the scariest witch I know".
Ginny snorted from the end of Hermione's bed, raising a dangerous eyebrow. "You be careful there, Potter. I'm sure I can give Hermione a run for her money if you tempt me. Right Hermione, you've got 10 minutes to drink your tea and get your butt downstairs, we're taking you for brunch and then to the British Library, Sirius here says there's a hidden wizarding section at the back".
Hermione looked up at Sirius in surprise and he smiled at her.
"Well what are you are waiting for then" she chided "get out so I can get ready!"
Her adored rag tag bunch trailed out of her room chattering happily, and Hermione threw back the covers. She smiled at the thoughtfulness of the day they had planned for her as she ducked in to her bathroom, working a wide toothed combe through her long curls and brushing her teeth. She pulled on a soft black skater dress, tucking her new wand holster beneath the long sleeves, and some black tights to go with her black boots. Sometimes she thought Sirius might be having a serious impact on her dress sense, but his easy rock and roll look just looked so damn cool that she couldn't help but fall in line, albeit a little more reserved than his tight ripped jeans and band tees looks.
When she looked up at a noise, she found Sirius again leaning on the door frame to her room, and she turned to smile at him.
"I didn't know there was a wizarding section in the British Library" she said, her eyes shining with excitement. "Do you think I'll ever stop finding things I didn't know about the wizarding world?"
Sirius chuckled and pushed off from the door frame to walk towards her. "You should hope not, keeps the magic alive".
As he approached, Hermione laughed easily and flicked her wand out from its holster, pointing it at him in a teasing threat. His eyes darkened as his grin widened, his steady gait catlike as he prowled towards her.
"Oh kitten, you don't scare me" he growled as he dived, throwing her over his shoulder as she shrieked and laughed, showering him with sparks from her wand as he carried her down the stairs.
Sirius tipped Hermione back onto her feet at the bottom of the stairs as Harry, Ron, and Ginny looked on in amusement. Harry was grateful for the easy way they had all fallen into step after he and Hermione had joined Sirius at Grimmauld Place the few months before. Hermione hadn't been certain about joining at first, but he had seen the pain in her eyes as she thought about her other options and had worked at convincing her to accept Sirius' offer. They had been a small group of tired and damaged fighters, who needed someone understanding around to lean on when times got tough. All three maintained silencing charms around their rooms at night due to their nightmares, and morning often found one or other in a bed other than their own, having gone to seek comfort in another's understanding hold.
Ginny grabbed Hermione's hand and pulled her into the fireplace, throwing floo powder down and calling out for Diagon Alley. The happy group made their way to Hermione's favourite brunch spot, a small café in which she could normally be found curled up in the window seat with a book.
"'Ere, where's this lib'ry then?" Ron choked out, mid scarfing his bagel with egg and bacon. Hermione sipped her tea and rolled her eyes, prodding him in the side as her usual reminder for him to swallow before talking. Ron grinned sheepishly at her and swallowed as Sirius explained the library was next to Kings Cross station. Hermione smiled at the nostalgia, not having had a reason to head to that part of London in a while.
They apparated from the café, stepping out from an alley beside St Pancras International station and joining the heavy crowd of tourists and students heading to the library. Sirius took Hermione's hand and pulled the group along past rows of desks and glass covered shelves. Dipping into a reading room, he pulled out his wand, and tapped a green leather-bound book on the back shelf. The book tipped forward and the shelf swung open. Hermione couldn't help but be momentarily reminded of childhood Saturday mornings spent watching the adventures of Scooby Doo, before she stepped forward into the space behind the shelf and gasped.
Beyond the shelf was a cavernous hall, with marble flooring, chandeliers glittering from the ceiling, and intricate gold filigree paintwork. But it was the endless rows of shelves stretching from floor to ceiling and lining the full room that made her jaw drop and her breath catch. Her sudden awe-induced stop caused Harry to crash into her from behind, and he caught her around the waist as he steadied her, laughing at the look on her face.
Ron grinned at her. "We thought you might like it. We weren't sure what to do for your birthday, until we remembered your mantra. When in doubt, go to the library."
Hermione nodded distractedly, already heading for a shelf and sighing happily, as the others settled contentedly into scattered cushions and armchairs, preparing to relax.
Hermione flopped happily on to the sofa at Grimmauld place, closing her eyes as Harry and Sirius grumbled good naturedly at the amount of time she had managed to spend lost in the offerings of the library. She could hear the familiar sound of Sirius pouring himself a fire whiskey, his usual evening source of hydration, and Harry groaning as he stretched his back out over the arm of the armchair by the fire. Smiling in contentment, she allowed herself to doze in the warmth.
Hermione drifted off and found herself dreaming of Hogwarts, her footsteps echoing across the familiar flagstone flooring of the entrance hall. A shout from behind her made her turn around.
A young Harry was running towards her with a grin on his face, arms up, calling for her to slow down so he could catch up. She could feel warmth filling her chest as she looked at him, his easy grin making her shoulders relax. She hadn't noticed how tense she had felt before seeing him.
Except as he caught up, Harry was looking at her with sparkling hazel eyes, and her breath caught in her throat. Something in the back of her mind niggled at her and started to break through. Not Harry, James.
She could feel her brow furrowing in confusion. The warmth in her chest started to shrivel, and Harry looked at her with the wrong eyes, eyebrows raised, asking if she was alright. The shrivelling in her chest constricted her breathing, it wrapped an icy hand around her heart. She couldn't breathe, she couldn't think. Her heart felt like it was breaking, like she was aching with loss, like she was watching the love of her life die in front of her, taking a piece of her with them. Harry was calling to her now, shaking her shoulders, and she was screaming and screaming without pause.
"Sirius! What's happening to her?"
It felt like she could hear voices while she was under water, distorted and far away, and the Harry in front of her with the wrong eyes was gripping her shoulders as she screamed.
"Sirius! What do we do?"
"Floo call Remus. Tell him it's happening, we need him now."
The voices from above the water carried on as her chest continued to ache.
"Hermione, come on now kitten, open your eyes for me."
The vision in front of her faded, somehow still in her periphery as she fought her eyes open, beads of perspiration dripping from her brow. Sirius was peering down at her. The periphery vision began changing as she tried to focus on Sirius but couldn't. Flashes through Hogwarts, people she didn't recognise, started to swim through her field of vision. Harry, but not Harry. A sandy haired boy with a scar along his jaw. A beautiful red headed girl. And…and Sirius? Younger, without the haunted look in his eyes that had never left after his escape from Azkaban.
And the visions carried on devolving as the right Sirius called to her, trying to get her to focus. Darkness swirled, she could see curses flying. Her chest gripped with fear and sorrow like she hadn't felt in years. Her lips parted, and the scream erupted, no longer contained in her head.
She looked desperately at her Sirius in front of her, and Harry as he returned from the fire place, agony encasing her.
"Sirius" she gasped "I'm begging you, make it stop."