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Dawn

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Hermione Granger hasn't broken a rule in her life.

Hermione Granger has broken every rule in the book.

For one shining moment, both are true.

Then she opens her eyes to darkness, the scarlet hangings of her four poster bed only barely noticeable during the night. Hermione smiles into that very same darkness and slips out of her bed. Her robes are brand new, the fit not quite right. They hang down her shoulders and Hermione absently pokes at her nearly flat, boyish chest. Someone save her from puberty. It will be even less fun the second time around. Her shoes are sensible at least, even now. She’s always been a sensible girl. She slips out of the first year girls' dorm room, then out of the common room, then into the castle proper. It’s dark and quiet. The only noises are from the portraits’ occasional whispers and the rare movements of the suits of armor. Hermione is careful, but there are no professors to be seen. She’s cant say whether it’s too early or too late for rounds. All she knows that it is warm, and it is lovely, to be in this castle once again and to know that even if she gets caught she will only face detention.

No prefects roam the hallways. And why would they? It’s the night on the day of the welcoming feast, when most students have either eaten themselves into a food coma and have fallen into slumber or are staying up late in their beds to catch up with their friends. It feels as though she is the only one to walk the corridors, her and the ghosts passing by.

Hermione only stops once she reaches the top of the Astronomy tower. She won't sit on the ledge—the information in her brain is too necessary for her to do something as silly as get herself killed, and also she's never liked heights—but she'll lean out, watching the sky as it lingers in darkness for as long as it can before dawn arrives. It's early, then, not late. Gaze on the horizon, mind wandering, she still catches the sound of soft footsteps making their way up the tower. Hermione doesn't bother turning around; after years of planning, she knows the presence behind her as well as she knows her own.

Pansy's magic is familiar, and so is her disgruntled huff as she sits down on the ledge, folding her robes out to prevent creases beforehand. "I should put a tracking spell on you."

"You found me eventually, didn't you?" Hermione says, forcing her gaze away from the sky. With one look comes a choked laugh. It rises from deep in her chest and fills her with mirth. "Dear god, you look so young."

She's teasing, but it's true: Pansy looks like a child. So does Hermione, she has no doubt, but it must be so much more galling for Pansy. Eleven is too young for her to even try to use makeup to hide her baby face. She's shorter than Hermione and will always be, though the difference between their heights will shrink in the next decade until it's only a centimeter or so, plus the height Hermione's hair gives her. Her nose is more prominent than Hermione is used to. Either Pansy grows into her nose, or she's been covering it up through makeup and glamours. Hermione actually can't say which is more likely; even in the middle of a war, you'd have been hard-pressed to find Pansy looking any less than perfect. Hermione doesn't feel guilt for making comments on Pansy's nose when she'd actually been this age; Pansy had been a little witch of a kid and started each and every one of their fights. There had been a lot about Hermione's teeth, her hair, her blood all mixed in there. It's old news. Hermione can't even recall the hurt that came from Pansy's words, the pain of war easily overcoming schoolyard girl's squabbles. It's been too long.

"At least I was a cute child," Pansy sniffs, patting the spot next to her. "Sit down already."

Hermione rolls her eyes, but allows herself to be argued onto the ledge. "If we die, you're the one explaining what happened in the afterlife. Dumbledore would be so disappointed in the both of us."

"Would it still be Dumbledore?"

"I can't imagine anyone else."

"Potter. He's self-righteous enough to be a bother even after death."

"He's a perfectly sweet eleven year old boy now." Hermione tries to be irritated, but she's too used to Pansy to take any real offense. That's what Slytherins do: they're all arrogant and snotty around you for too long until you begin find it endearing. It's terrible. Hermione wants a refund. Still, Pansy had been the only one willing to believe in Hermione's idea. Even when the ministry collapsed, when most of the original Order of the Phoenix was killed in one fell swoop, when Harry died, Pansy stayed. At first, Hermione trusted the unbreakable vow Pansy gave to her to stay loyal to the ideals of the Order. Later, Hermione just began to trust her. That's another thing Slytherins are good at: worming their way into your space and getting you to trust them.

Better Pansy than Malfoy, anyway.

"Ew," Pansy just replies. "That doesn't make it any better. I can't believe I agreed to this."

Agreed, brewed potions, and researched, too. Hermione could have done it without her—somehow, she's certain—but it would have been a great deal harder. "Second thoughts?" Hermione asks. "I know how tempting it is, what with Voldemort currently possessing our Defense professor."

"I'm pretty sure that vow—which I agreed to under duress—still applies. Also, no thank you, I still remember how Quirrell smelled. I could never ally myself with someone like that."

"Of course not," Hermione says, rolling her eyes.

"You barely make the cutoff, by the way. I'll brew you some proper hair potions this week."

Hermione plans to disagree, but Pansy does make great hair potions, among other things. Perhaps her vanity has rubbed off on Hermione. She hasn't looked into a mirror yet but it'll be soon and it'll probably be terrible. "Oh, fine."

"Fine," Pansy says, smugly.

Hermione doesn't know what the other girl has to be smug about; she's just signed herself up for at least two hours of work on top of their already busy schedules. This early in the school year, they have their work cut out for themselves. Hermione runs through the plan once again in her head, ignoring the urge to panic over everything that could go wrong. It's taken a year of constant work to get where she is now; it's far too late to regret this.

And she doesn't, not really, not when darkness turns to dawn and Hermione can feel the morning sun on her face. She's at Hogwarts again, out in the open with no need to worry about the Undesirable No. 1 bounty on her head. At this very moment, she's a tiny muggleborn child who's tried half a dozen spells. No one is scared of her. No one knows to expect her.

"We're really doing this," Pansy eventually says, breaking the silence. "We must be insane."

"We're saving the country." Hermione tears her gaze from the sunrise across the treetops of the forbidden forest to find that Pansy is already looking her way, something resolute in her gaze. It's too solemn of an expression for a child, but Hermione's probably isn't better. It doesn't matter; Pansy is the only one who can ever know that there's a woman behind this small body of hers. "I've calculated our odds and created dozens of backup plans. I'll start work today after classes."

"I'm only here to look beautiful, aren't I," Pansy huffs, but she's only joking. Has to be, since her role is just as important as Hermione's. Since Hermione trusts her enough to carry it out.

Hermione smiles. "It's too early for that—you're cute at best."

"Granger—"

Hermione avoids the elbow to her ribs with a muffled shriek, then carefully gets off of the ledge, her feet meeting the hard castle floors. She offers her hand to Pansy, helping her off. "Come on, Parkinson. We have work to do."

"Charm the mirrors first, or I really will put a tracking charm on you."

The first thing Hermione does is head back to the Gryffindor tower, where she takes stock of her possessions. It's been a decade since she'd packed for Hogwarts the first time. The trunk is packed with books, most of them old favorites that Hermione hadn't been able to leave at home, along with newer wizarding books and robes. There's a pouch of muggle and magical money at the bottom of the trunk, all mixed together alongside a note from her parents. The content is uninteresting, but it's signed Love, Mum and Dad, and Hermione blinks tears from her eyes as she reads her mother's smooth handwriting.

Still, she slips the letter back in her trunk and gets to work.

Right now, all she has to do is successfully impersonate an eleven year old.

It's harder than expected, for a certain measure of hard anyway. This isn't nuclear physics—or time travel. It's just an exercise in patience, of which Hermione has never had much of when it comes to people and learning, and a touch of acting. Hermione isn't bad at it, per se, but dear god is it boring to pretend to fail at spells until both her patience and the clock run out and she can succeed. Pansy isn't that much better. Hermione hears her voice behind her in Potions. Hermione is in the front row; Pansy, somewhere behind. It's irritatingly comfortable to have Pansy at her back.

"Drakey," Pansy is whining in a terrible impersonation of her former self. Pansy used to speak to him with obsessive affection; now, Hermione can hear the amusement in her voice as Draco tells her to cut it out with that nickname. "But I don't want to."

She's a mouse playing with her food, not that Draco is aware of it. So is Hermione, in a way. They've both arranged this set for themselves in a way that will profit them and has the best chance of an outcome they want. It's hardly self-serving to save the world from Voldemort, but the way they're doing it? Cheating their way into the past through a combination of arithmancy and potions, creating plans to defeat Voldemort without having to duel him, forcing the wizarding world to right itself without Voldemort running around tearing things down again? Well, Harry wouldn't approve, that's for sure. But her Harry is gone and the one that sits in his place, complaining about the creepy dungeons with Ron, will be happy in this life. That's close enough to right and selfless, Hermione decides.

She's one of the few Gryffindors not overtaken by nervousness when Snape finally appears. Even the Slytherins sit up straight and look attentive at his presence. Draco's an exception, looking smug and prepared for preferential treatment. Pansy is, too, but Hermione knows that it's because she's always regarded Snape as a rival in potion-making. She'd improved upon his potions in her spare time and made her own competing ones, but it's hard to compete with a dead man. Now she can do it properly. Hermione chances a peek to the back of the room, catches Pansy's gaze, and has to hastily turn back again. Otherwise, she'll smile, and one can't just smile in Professor Snape's potions class.

Classes in general are less enjoyable than she remembers. Maybe if she were studying the seventh year curriculum, which she'd never gotten the chance to properly sit through, she'd be more interested. A decade has left her memories of first year incomplete, but not to the point where she can't remember exactly where to find the books she needs for essays or how to dice fluxweed.

Or, how to pronounce a spell.

She tries to stop herself. She really does.

But it's that Charms class, and nostalgia is a heady thing. Ron and Harry are already thick as thieves, sitting together at the desk behind Hermione's. Next to her sits Neville, but he hasn't said a word beyond a few quiet hellos since the beginning of the year. Hermione turns around in time to see Ron poke at his feather despondently. Elsewhere in the room, someone sneezes, sending a few feathers into the air.

"It's Levi-o-sa," Hermione says, completely unable to help herself. Ron's just trying so hard, bless his heart, and he's doing it so wrong. She says it gently this time around, a small smile slipping in without prior thought. "Win-gar-dium Levi-o-sa. Try it again?"

Ron shares a look with Harry, then shrugs. "Alright, fine." He clearly doesn't expect it to work. "Wingardium Leviosa!" There's little enthusiasm in his words and his wand movement is a few degrees off. Still, the spell is a simple one, and despite Professor Flitwick's warnings, it would be very hard to manage an adverse effect from a first year spell. When the feather lifts a few inches from the table, Ron makes a wordless exclamation of surprise. "It worked! Harry, you do it now. Win-gar-dium Levi-o-sa."

She doesn't get a thank you. Ron's innocent happiness is enough, and so is Harry's afterward. Hermione isn't the first in the class to manage the spell this time around, but she wouldn't have been even if she hadn't helped the boys. Being a know-it-all is both too attention-grabbing and too exhausting. Hermione's spending her nights in preparation for Voldemort's defeat. She doesn't have time to keep up an act of her eleven year old self. Hermione doesn't want to be the best student at Hogwarts. She just wants to save it, wants to make sure that generations of muggleborns like her will be able to study here.

By the time she turns back, Neville is watching her, his mouth opening silently as he repeats her pronunciation in his head.

"Levi-o-sa," Hermione says to him, expectantly.

It takes him a few tries, but he manages it.

It hurts to be a friendly acquaintance to Harry and Ron, but Hermione doesn't try to befriend them. She's not the girl she used to be; she doesn't know how to be the Hermione Granger who was Harry's best friend and Ron's once-girlfriend. She indulges her selfishness by strengthening her relationship with her parents instead. Hermione writes home every other week like clockwork and her owl returns the next morning with a letter from her parents. Hermione cherishes this small interaction more than she can say. It's not strained by years of lies, memory alterations, and lack of trust. Her parents are delighted to hear about everything she's learning and call her their darling girl. Hermione isn't twelve anymore, but she's still a daughter, no matter how old she is.

Her parents send her a bundle of books for her birthday. Pansy makes good on her threats and covertly delivers hair potions and an enchanted hairbrush, similar to the one Hermione would frequently borrow from her in the future.

Even though she doesn't mean to befriend Harry and Ron, Hermione manages something, anyway. Almost by accident, she starts a study group. She doesn't notice what's happening the first time; that time, all she does is help Harry and Ron find the books they're looking for as they frantically write papers due the next morning. They take a seat at her table, but she assumes it's out of convenience. The second time, Harry asks for help with using a quill, and the third, they just sit down next to her with a few hellos. It's easy, comfortable, and despite the fact that it doesn't factor into her plans, she lets them join her. She's missed them so much that she prefers even these young versions of her friends to the nothing she had before. They're alive and whole—or more or less whole—and so very young. Ron is insecure and arrogant by turns, Harry is lost and confused by his fame. Both are still growing into the men they one day will be and Hermione can't wait to see it happen.

Still, she's too busy to tutor them properly or nag them about their grades. Neither will fail out with or without her interference. Hermione steers them the best she can and leaves the rest up to their own work ethic, even if she does at least order planners for the both of them. Honestly, how they expect to simply keep track of all their assignments in their heads is beyond her. Hermione can do so with the ease of an adult mentality, but at eleven she would have been hopeless even with how comparatively little homework first years are assigned.

A few weeks into their study times at the library, and a week after Hermione began sitting with them during meals, Harry asks, "What book are you reading? That's not for class, is it?"

"Books don't have to be read just for class," Hermione says, looking up from the page. "You can read them because you want to and it's fun." It's useless, she knows. While Harry never stooped to Ron's level of literary disdain, he's also never found peace through reading. "It's an in-depth look into the ward structure of Hogwarts."

"Oh," Harry replies. "That's interesting."

Hermione laughs at Harry's expression. Boys, honestly. "Come on, I'll find you a quidditch book. I think you'll like Quidditch Through the Ages."

"Thanks, Hermione. How do you know the library so well, anyway?"

"I absorb knowledge like a sponge," she says, cheerily.

Harry looks perfectly content to believe it.

Strangely, Hermione finds that her older personality has boosted her popularity. She would have thought it would be the opposite; these days, she comes off as an absentminded bookworm instead of a teacher's pet, which doesn't seem like it would appeal to eleven and twelve year olds. But Lavender and Parvati tell her she's refreshingly calm—whatever that means—and Neville has even willingly asked for her help with his potions homework. There's another person at Hogwarts who Hermione sees regularly in charmed mirrors and weekly meetings in dark corridors, but she and Pansy ignore each other in public. It's not worth it to call attention to themselves, to be the poster children for Gryffindor muggleborn and Slytherin pureblood friendship. Pansy is tight-lipped about her family life, but Hermione doubts her parents would approve. Neither would the rest of Slytherin house. Gryffindor wouldn't either, except Hermione couldn't give a damn about their approval. It's been a long time since she cried in bathrooms.