Losha stepped off the train, which she’d come to think of more as a large metal contraption. When her foot touched solid ground, she sensed the presence of everyone around her. The scent of happiness and anticipation filled her being. It was soothing in a way, after being overwhelmed by the smells of the students confined to a small space inside a metal cage in which she had less visibility.
She picked through the smells to find two in particular. The first one reached her, and she thought of curling up in bed, of safety and comfort. She drifted closer to the smell, searching for Tutela.
Losha heard barking and smiled. Tutela ran at her, jumping around her and barking. Losha could smell the happiness coming off her, stronger than she’d ever smelled it.
The second smell reached her, and she didn’t need to hear her father’s voice to know it was him. She turned her face up to him, receiving a little correction from Tutela before he reached her and threw his arms around her.
She smelled tears, but couldn’t tell if they were hers or his. She nestled into her father, having never been happier to be with someone in her life.
Neither of them spoke to one another for a long time. They didn’t need to. They both understood that the other had missed them. For a moment, she remembered Moon, the girl who’d fallen in love with Toad, the girl whose father was still with her. Not many of the others could say that.
She had Tutela, and she had her father. She longed for Toad, but for a moment, she allowed herself to be happy with what she still had.
After a time, her father eased off and led her out of the station. Losha was happy to leave; the sounds and smells were overwhelming. So many people bustling about, thinking, talking, feeling, and she could sense it all. She could smell their joy, their fear, their lust, their anxiety, their anger. It all flooded her head, making it hard to focus on her father and Tutela. She’d missed them so much.
No one spoke about Toad. For a moment, she wondered if he’d really gone, but then it came crashing down on her. Screams, her screams, pleading him to get out. Her desperation as she struggled to get into Hogwarts and save him. She would never smell him again, never hear his voice, never feel his arms around her. His warmth that was so comforting. It was all gone.
Toad was gone.
Hermione explained the plan she’d worked out with Moon when her parents and she arrived home. She did so calmly, concisely, and respectfully. In spite of this, her parents were less than enthusiastic about the idea.
“Absolutely not!” her father roared.
Much less than enthusiastic.
“You’re not going back to that world!” her father shouted. “After everything, how could you even want to go back?”
“Responsibility,” Hermione replied, “and closure.”
“You’re not responsible for any of this,” her mum said. “Hermione, what happened wasn’t your fault.”
Hermione shook her head.
“That’s not what I mean. Point me to the other person that can find out what Rose left, the other person with a chance of taking on Slytherin, and I’d be happy to let them handle this. I’m 17, I’ll be 18 in a few months, and while that might not qualify me to make my own decisions, I will point out that I am capable of taking care of myself.”
“That’s the problem!” her father said. “It’s too much. You can’t go out on your own yet.”
“The only threat is safely inside Hogwarts,” Hermione said. “It can’t leave, otherwise it would’ve followed us.”
“What about Du— erm, McGonagall?” her mum asked. “The staff there can—”
“Moon and I are the only two that know anything about Slytherin.”
“The staff are in a better position to—” her father started.
“Moon, Ron, Skyeyes, Princess, Firecracker, Toad, and I were the only ones that saw Slytherin. The problem is, it’s got this thing about people knowing it exists. It has stayed hidden inside Hogwarts for centuries. Even after the Yule Ball, no one knew it existed, and Rose brought it as her date.”
“She what?” her mum asked.
“As far as I can tell, it edited itself out of everyone else’s mind, except for mine and Moon’s. I’ve got mind blank, so it can’t touch me, and Moon’s been spending the past year improving her defenses out of fear of it. Even with the basic Occlumency lessons the others had, it wasn’t enough to keep Slytherin out. It was four against two, and if Moon and I had spoken up— which she tried— they would’ve dismissed us. I tried correcting them afterward, and they don’t believe me. They think Moon’s not right in the head, and they think I’m still obsessed with Rose.”
“Aren’t you?” her dad asked, his eyes fixed on Reflectesalon, who Hermione had fastened to her clothes.
“I’m not!” Hermione shouted.
Her parents shifted in their seats, looking like they’d rather not be sitting so close to her.
“Don’t raise your voice like that,” her mum said. “Not to anyone, especially not us.”
“You’re not listening to me. Rose left something behind that I’m sure will help me stop Slytherin.”
“How do you know it’s a problem at all?” her mum asked. “What if… Slytherin doesn’t mean any harm?”
“It killed Toad!” Hermione shouted. “It tried to kill me!”
Her parents exchanged glances, then turned back to her.
“Hermione, I think—” her mum started.
“What? What do you think? That I’m mad! That I’m as unbalanced as Rose was? I know I’m right! Rose left something for me to find, something she wants me to find, and I’ve got to do it! If I don’t stop Slytherin, there’s no telling what it will do! It manipulated Rose into attacking us, to killing Professor Dumbledore and Septima! Every bad thing people think about her is because of Slytherin!”
“Slytherin made her break all those rules?” her dad asked, raising his voice again. “It made her get into trouble time and time again? It made her destroy school property, decide that another student could be trampled by some beast?”
“But that… what? How do you know about any of that?”
“Did you honestly think the staff didn’t write to us? That they haven’t let us know how you were doing? To warn us of how out of control Rose was? She was lucky you vouched for her every time, otherwise we never would’ve let her in the house.”
Hermione stood up from the table, knocking her chair over.
“I’m going to find out what it is,” she said, “and you’re not going to stop me.”
She stormed off to her room, refusing to look back. They couldn’t stop her. She was going to find whatever it was that Rose left her, find out what clues she left, and then she’d destroy Slytherin. It didn’t matter if her parents let her. She didn’t need their approval.
Losha stepped onto familiar land for the first time in almost two years. Her old home felt foreign, yet comforting and safe. Tutela remained by her side, keeping an eye out for trouble. Losha didn’t need her help; she was more than capable of taking care of herself.
Her father had a different idea in mind.
“Careful,” he said, taking her hand. “Here, I’ll help you to the front door.”
Losha received a fuzzy picture of her surroundings from the ground. A familiar image of her old home appeared in her head. Apart from suffering from ill repair, everything looked exactly the same as it had when she’d left.
“I can find my way,” she said, slipping her hand out of his.
Without faltering or stumbling, and through protest from her father, she found her way to the front door.
“See? I’ve been asking the ground where I am. There’s no need to worry.”
She smiled in his general direction.
“But what about when we’re inside? Surely you—”
“I’ll be fine.”
They went inside, and Losha drew a breath, taking in the familiar scent of home. Memories of her old life flashed in her mind. A time when she’d been helpless, but happy. Now she needed to take care of herself.
“Rose left something for Brain,” she told her father after he’d closed the door. “Something that will give us answers. I’m going to go with her to find out what it is.”
Her father didn’t say anything, but new smells filled the air. Concern, confusion, fear, doubt. They were all a little sour to her, made worse that they came from her father. She didn’t want him to worry. Between herself, Brain, and Tutela, they’d be fine.
“We’ll be alright,” she said.
“Luna, I just got you back,” her father said. “I don’t want you to leave again.”
“I’ll be back,” she said.
“I have been while living in the forest. I can find my way.”
Her father walked around the front room. She moved her head to stay facing him.
“That’s brilliant,” he said at last. “How are you doing that?”
Losha moved her hair and pointed at the rune on her head.
“It’s from Mummy’s notes. It enhances my senses. I can hear and smell you.”
He walked over to her and stood in front of her.
“You’ll be safe.”
Her father put his arms around her, and she felt the love that so few of her other selves felt.
“You stay safe too,” she said, returning the hug. “I don’t want to lose you either.”
“You’re sure you’ll be alright?”
Losha smiled. Her father had so much faith in her. She’d never realized how much.
“I lost your mum. If anything happens to you…”
Tutela barked and wagged her tail.
“Tutela won’t let anything happen to me. I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time now. I know I’m blind, but I’ve been surviving in the forest that way for a year.”
Her father held her tighter, the scent of concern still abundant in the air.
“Promise me you’ll stay safe.”
Hermione stepped out of the car and closed the door behind her. Her aunt and uncle’s house loomed over them, feeling more threatening than she felt it should have.
I’m putting everyone here at risk. If Slytherin comes after me, if it can leave Hogwarts, they’ll all die.
Worse than people getting caught in the crossfire was people sacrificing themselves for her. She couldn’t shake the feeling that Neville had done exactly that. Otherwise, why didn’t he leave Hogwarts? There were other exits he could’ve used. He hadn’t even tried. What good had it done? He could’ve saved himself.
She tried to shove it to the back of her mind and focus on what could possibly be her last family reunion. She didn’t know if or when she’d see any of them again. Her parents were right; there was every possibility that she’d die in the fight against Slytherin. There was no castle to hide inside anymore, no staff to protect her. She was sure the Order of the Phoenix would send someone to aide her if she asked, but they couldn’t spare anyone. They needed all hands to be on alert. Not that they knew that.
Her dad knocked on the door when they reached it. Her Uncle Paul answered it and greeted them all warmly.
Hermione walked inside to the noise of her extended family socializing. She had a nagging feeling that she didn’t belong among them. She was different, unique. As far as she could tell, no one else in her family could use magic.
“Hermione?” her uncle said.
“Sorry, were you saying something?”
“Would you mind talking to Estelle? She’s up in her room, and we can’t get her to come down.”
Hermione thought back to the last time she’d seen Estelle. Her own mind had been unraveling, and she’d been confined to her room. Estelle had ignored that and talked to her anyway, dragging Hermione out of the state in which she’d been stuck for weeks.
“Do you know why?” Hermione asked.
“Usual teenager stuff, I imagine.”
When did Estelle become a teenager? Wasn’t she eight the other day?
Hermione glanced at her parents. Both were still upset with her, and neither of them were budging. They did everything they could to keep her away from Ana, lest Hermione figure out the message and leave to pursue it.
“Erm… yeah, I’ll talk to her.”
Following the directions her uncle gave her, Hermione climbed the stairs leading to a landing overhead. Following the hall, she came upon a room marked as Estelle’s room, and knocked on the door.
“I’m not coming down, Dad!”
“I’m quite sure I’m not anyone’s dad.”
“May I please come in?”
She heard footsteps moving to the door, then the door unlocked.
Estelle opened the door then walked back to her bed. The room was small, and covered in posters with dragons, castles, and knights on them. Small figures lined a shelf near her bed.
“I don’t remember all this being here before.”
Estelle looked around he room.
“I’ve had these for years.” She picked up one of the figures from the shelf, carrying it gently. The figure was of a knight with a pearly white sword. When Estelle got closer, Hermione saw silver scales covering the knight’s body.
“Rose gave me one of her drawings of Bowie Uxmiirik,” Estelle said. “I sent it to one of Dad’s friends that makes these, and he made me this.”
Hermione nearly started laughing. Her cousin had tons of paraphernalia of knights and dragons, and it was all because of Rose.
“That’s brilliant,” Hermione said. “I’m glad you’ve found something in which you’re interested.”
Estelle smiled, barely containing her excitement, then returned the figure to its place.
“What about the rest of the Exalted?” Hermione asked.
Estelle’s enthusiasm vanished. She crossed her arms and sat on her bed.
“My parents don’t think it’s proper for a lady to be interested in any of this,” she said in a mocking tone of voice. “A lady’s supposed to be a princess, not a mage or a knight.”
“Princesses are always getting kidnapped,” Hermione said. “Well, my friend that we call Princess could talk her way out of it, and probably become best friends with her kidnappers once she got them to see the error of their ways, but most princesses can’t.”
“I know! Why would I want to sit around and be helpless?”
Hermione thought back on her own life. It felt a lot better to be the person saving everyone, rather than the person who always needed saving.
“I couldn’t agree more.” She sat down beside Estelle. “Is that why you’re up here instead of downstairs?”
Estelle folded her arms again.
“I want to take up archery,” she said. “Or martial arts, or fencing. Something I can use to defend myself. Mum and Dad won’t let me, so I’m not going downstairs until they do.”
Hermione nodded, understanding more than anyone there how it felt.
“Do they know this?” she asked. “Did you tell them that’s what you wanted?”
Estelle shook her head, and Hermione held back a condescending sigh.
“I don’t think that’s ever worked on my parents anyway,” she said. “Besides, don’t you need food?”
“I’ll figure it out.”
Hermione resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
“Try starting with self-defence,” she said. “That’s something everyone should know. If they’re anything like my parents, they’re worried about you all the time. Knowing that I can take care of myself puts my parents at ease… usually.”
“Whatever,” Estelle said. “Why isn’t Rose here? I thought she’d be with you.”
Hermione visibly sank on the bed, and ran through her prepared story in her head.
“She had to go back home.”
“Oh,” Estelle said, looking as bad as Hermione felt. “I was hoping she’d have another story. Or that I could hear another about Carolina. She’s my favorite.”
Hermione nodded, then snapped out of her stupor and processed Estelle’s words.
“When did she tell you a story about Carolina?”
“When your dad had his birthday, Rose visited me in the hotel. She told me more stories, and then said to make sure I talked to you when I was at your family’s house.”
For a moment, Hermione was back in Dumbledore’s office, having realized Rose had wanted to go to the ball with her. But it was worse; it hadn’t been good fortune that Estelle had pulled her out of her stupor, Rose had made sure of it. Even from miles away, Rose had been watching over her, thinking beyond her usual tactics for solving problems.
“I’m fine,” she said, wiping the tears that had started forming away. “I’m fine.”
“I didn’t mean—”
“You didn’t say anything wrong. When you saw me, I was at one of the lowest points in my life. Talking to you, it helped me a lot. Over the past year, I’ve been struggling with… never mind.”
“You can tell me,” Estelle said.
Hermione sized up her cousin. Dumbledore had told her that her feelings for Rose were grief. Even after realizing everything Rose had done amounted to a temper tantrum, Hermione still loved her. That, and something wasn’t sitting right with her. Once she and Luna followed Rose’s clue, they’d find the answer.
Still, admitting that she loved another woman wasn’t something she was in a hurry to do. The Magical World seemed to readily accept it, but the Muggle one was a far cry from accepting.
“Well… Rose was… is my best friend, and she means a lot to me. Now she’s gone, I might never see her again, and I’ll never get to tell her how I feel. Knowing she was working to help me, even when I didn’t know it…” Hermione smiled and wiped tears out of her eyes. “Thank you for telling me.”
Hermione leaned over and hugged her cousin.
“Sure. You’re my favorite cousin!” Estelle said.
“I think I can remember some of Rose’s stories. Would you like to hear one?”
Estelle looked as though she wanted nothing more.
Hermione eventually convinced Estelle to go downstairs, if only to get something to eat. Hermione herself avoided that topic, claiming she wasn’t hungry. As she’d feared, more and more people asked her about Rose. She kept herself calm as she lied about Rose.
The alternative is telling them that she died, and that won’t do any good. They’ll ask too many questions. This isn’t the Magical World where they accept everything you tell them without scrutiny.
She and Estelle stuck together during the party. Estelle was happy to be downstairs with Hermione; it gave her an excuse to ignore her parents.
“Nothing’s going to change if you don’t talk to them,” she said.
Estelle glowered at her, and Hermione backed off the subject.
It’d crossed Hermione’s mind that she should take her own advice and talk to her parents again. Neither side would budge, but she had a feeling they would if she could find the right argument. She hadn’t told them everything that had happened in Hogwarts. They knew Rose was dead, but Hermione had danced around the subject of how exactly Rose had died.
Talking about it won’t help. Rose is still dead, and I still killed her. Nothing can change that.
She felt a tap on her shoulder while she was once again spacing out thinking of Rose.
“Hermione,” Estelle said, “isn’t that Reflectesalon?”
Hermione wasn’t sure what surprised her more: that Estelle had noticed the clasp (no one else had mentioned it), or that she knew his name.
“Erm… yeah, it is. Rose gave him to me before she left.”
Estelle nodded, not sure what to make of it otherwise. She didn’t say anything about it though, which Hermione took as a kindness. She wasn’t in the mood to talk about anything that had happened that awful day.
After the party, Hermione rode back to her house in silence. She had an urge to dimension door home, but the idea that someone might be there, however remote such a possibility was, stopped her.
“Thank you for talking to Estelle,” her mum said. “I think you made a difference.”
“She only wants someone to respect her opinion.”
“Your uncle told us,” her dad said. “Something about her wanting to learn to defend herself. It sounded like Rose’s influence has corrupted two members of our family.”
“I’m glad I’ve got such a great example of diplomacy in you, Dad.”
“So it wasn’t Rose that made Estelle think she had to fight back?”
“Archery is a respectable sport,” Hermione said. “Martial Arts would be a good thing for her too. It’s not like she’s trying to move to America and buy a gun. The world’s a dangerous place.”
“No, it’s not!”
“People attacked my school! The one place I was supposed to be safe, and the Death Eaters hit it in full force! This wasn’t some random attack or simple negligence, this was a planned invasion. People died! How can you say the world is safe when something like that can happen at any second?”
Her father started to raise his voice, but her mum cut in before he could.
“That’s enough! Both of you! We’re going to sit in total silence until we are all back in our house.”
True to her mum’s words, no one spoke until they’d all gotten inside and shut the door.
“I told you that the heads of house killed Rose,” Hermione said. “I… I lied.”
Her parents froze.
“But then… Hermione, is she still alive?” her mum asked.
Hermione shook her head, tears falling down her face. She couldn’t hold back sobs as it hit her again that Rose was dead, and it was her fault.
“I killed Rose.”
She covered her face, tears falling through her fingers. Everything felt as though it were crumbling.
Her mum wrapped her arms around Hermione and squeezed her. Hermione felt safe in her mother’s arms, a strange feeling after everything else that had happened.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” her mum whispered.
Hermione nodded her understanding, but couldn’t stop herself from crying.
“I’m not an idiot,” Hermione said through her sobs. “I know it’s dangerous. I watched Rose kill Septima. She turned to dust while I sat there and did nothing. Professor Snape’s last words were urging me to help. Professor Dumbledore’s dead. Toad is dead! I know I could end up like them, but I can take care of myself. So can Moon! She took down Bellatrix Lestrange, the worst of the lot, by herself. We’ll be fine, I promise.”
“There must be someone—” her dad began.
“There’s no one else! It’s only us, that’s it! We’ve got to do it. We can do it! I know we can.” She looked into her father’s eyes. “Please. Rose was my best friend. I owe it to her to find what she left me.”
“Rose tried to kill you,” her dad said.
“She’s the one that convinced Estelle to check on me back when I was stuck in my room. If she hadn’t, I might never have gotten better. Even through all of that, Rose knew she had to help. She did help! I can’t believe that she’d turn on us, on me, over anything so petty as jealousy. Never mind Moon or Toad. She’d just grumble or snap at Ron if she’d been jealous of him, but this was all too much.”
Her mother held her in her arms while she continued to cry. Her father kept up his stern exterior, but inside, she could tell he was crumbling. She was getting through to him.
“I knew Rose better than anyone. Something’s not right. I know it. I want… no, I need to find out what happened to her, what really happened. I don’t want to run away.”
“We appreciate that you’re still arguing your point instead of doing just that,” her mum said.
“It might get worse,” her dad added. “People might come after you. If this Slytherin is as resourceful as you make it out to be, I doubt it’s going to stand by and do nothing.”
“It chased Moon out of Hogwarts because she knew something. I’ve no doubt it’s going to, but Rose was clever about it. Probably too clever, knowing her, but so long as we don’t attract attention to ourselves, we should be alright.”
“You’ll send us some word to tell us how you’re doing,” her dad said.
“You won’t go looking for trouble beyond what’s necessary.”
“I never go looking for trouble, it goes looking for me.”
Her mum held her tighter, and Hermione knew she’d been given permission.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Stay safe,” her mum whispered. “Please.”
Hermione wished she could promise with certainty that she’d be alright, but she didn’t know for sure. Moon would be with her, so she knew they’d look out for each other. That would have to be enough.