The week following the Third Task was horrible all around. Alongside the stress of exams, Harry insisted Voldemort was back, and despite all the whispers about his sanity, and the barely-disguised jabs the Daily Prophet was taking at him, no one could argue the fact that Cedric Diggory was dead. Hermione would have believed Harry even without that proof, considering what happened at the end of their first year, but she couldn’t see why the other students doubted him after he returned, battered and terrified, with Cedric’s body.
One thing was certain though. The wizarding world was dangerous to someone like her, and with Voldemort back, it would only get worse.
She spent the week in the library, mostly revising for the end-of-term exams, but also looking up spells she might be taught in sixth year, and what she could find of the laws surrounding them.
Back in first year, when the only person who would talk to her was Percy Weasley, he had imparted all sorts of context no one else had bothered to tell her about the wizarding world, including some details about the Trace. It wasn’t just forbidden to use magic outside of school (which Professor McGonagall hadn’t mentioned when she visited, but maybe she assumed Hermione wouldn’t figure out how to cast anything before attending classes?) it was actually illegal for someone underage to do so. Before she started at Hogwarts the Ministry would have assumed anything she cast was accidental magic, but after first year, practicing spells would be obvious. The Trace apparently came from Old Magic, the understanding of which had been lost to a plague or a witch hunt. The Hogwarts Registration Quill was based on similar magic. The Trace reported magic done in a minor’s presence, while the Quill reported the names of children who performed magic, but neither artifact reported the combination of name and magic cast. Percy speculated it was courtesy at the time, to let adults choose which names to be known by rather than identifying them magically. (When Hermione asked Susan Bones, whose aunt worked at the Ministry, Susan mused that the Trace might have been intended to prevent child abuse but added cynically that the people who created it probably didn’t want to be caught if they did illegal magic, or perhaps they were bribed to never connect the identification to the spells cast so that other people could continue to do as they pleased.) Percy’s explanation reminded her of the story of Rumpelstiltskin. Names had power, then and now. She wondered how that related to everyone’s fear of Voldemort’s name. Dumbledore wasn’t scared to use it, but Voldemort was scared of him in return.
Relevant to her research at the moment, though, was the fact that the Ministry wouldn’t investigate magic done in a magical area, like a home or Diagon Alley, both because they could never prove that a minor did anything, and because they trusted parents not to let their kids do anything too dangerous magically and to prevent them from being spotted by muggles. Muggleborn children like herself were at a disadvantage, because even accidental magic would trigger the Trace, and because any magic done at home would be doubly illegal – once due to her age, and again due to the presence of her muggle parents, even though they knew about magic already.
Percy had warned her that she couldn’t practice magic at home, and why, and why her practice done before first year was probably ignored. She had been frustrated at the time, but now? Now she might be able to make the ambiguity of the Trace work in her favor.
One of the things she prepared was a rucksack with a strong Notice-Me-Not charm on it, so strong that even she could barely spot it when she wasn’t holding it or looking for it, and when she carried it in the common room, even Ron walked right by her without a word. When she stashed it in her trunk and came back down, Ron immediately cornered her, asking for ideas to bring Harry out of his shell. Harry had been spending as much time in the dorms as Hermione was spending in the library, if not more because he was exempt from exams this year. Hermione felt bad that she didn’t know what to suggest to help him, and a little guilty knowing she didn’t have time to figure out anything to suggest.
On the train ride home, she ignored the ever-growing rumor mill, and the way Ron and George were bickering about something, the way Harry slipped away briefly, focusing instead on the next steps of her plan, rehearsing them in her head.
When she got home, she snuck all her parents photo albums into her charmed rucksack. She removed all the photos of herself, and stacked them carefully in a small, shoebox for safekeeping. The next afternoon, she slipped the now-childfree photo albums back onto the shelves, trading them for her academic awards from before Hogwarts, and anything else of hers, including a football participation trophy from a league she had been in when she was four, which all got stuffed, slightly less carefully, into the bag.
After a few days of similar behavior, the only reminders of herself in the house were the things in her room. Fortunately, her parents hadn’t noticed or hadn’t questioned the sudden lack of keepsakes. She mentioned over dinner that she’d been invited to the Burrow for a week, and would her parents mind taking her? Both of them, please, she hasn’t gotten to spend much time with either of them all year. Her parents easily agreed.
She packed up her room that night, sending Pigwigeon back to Ron saying yes, she could stay for the whole summer. She got up early in the morning, changed the sheets on her bed and made it neatly, and tried not to look at her barren room as she closed the door behind her and lugged her trunk to the front door. When her dad asked why she needed her whole trunk for such a short stay, she insisted she needed all her school books, and it made sense to do her summer homework while staying with a magical family, especially if Percy was around to ask questions of. (She didn’t mention how Percy had seemed to avoid them after the third task.)
The drive to Ottery St. Catchpole was long, and Hermione tried harder than she ever had to talk to her parents, listening to their anecdotes about funny patients, scrubbed of identifying details of course, and offering her own heavily-edited stories about Harry’s participation in the tournament as highlights of the year. “The second task required the champions to swim through an obstacle course to find ‘hostages,’” she fibbed at one point. “They even got a merman to ‘guard’ us as an obstacle. I got to be one of them, and it was pretty boring while the three of us waited to be ‘rescued.’”
Her father helped her carry her trunk inside, and both her parents thanked the Weasleys warmly for having her stay over.
“Oh, it’s no trouble,” Mrs. Weasley replied, smiling broadly. “It’s always lovely to have more girls in the house, and Hermione is welcome any time.”
Hermione breathed a silent sigh of relief that neither set of parents mentioned how long she was staying. As conversation wound down, she offered, “I’ll just walk my parents back to the gate, to say goodbye, alright?”
The walk back to the gate was just long enough for her mother to comment fondly on how engaged Hermione had been in their conversations all day, and to compliment her on how grown up she was becoming. A cold sensation was building up in Hermione’s stomach, but she forced a too-cheerful smile and hugged each of her parents goodbye, one last time.
They turned to walk to the car.
She aimed her wand carefully, at her father’s back, focused, and whispered, “Obliviate.”