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Curse of Broken Promises

Chapter Text


 

Something was… odd about the house at the end of Hallow Street. To all appearances, it was perfectly respectable with its perfectly white trim and cheery blue siding. Lace curtains hung in every window, shrubs were trimmed with precision… even the walkway was impeccable at all seasons. It fit in quite well with all the other homes on Hallow Street and at first glance was quite ordinary.

But quickly after that first glance came a second and a lasting third, and every busy body neighbor was quick to fill in any new comer of the stories and suspicions about the house at the end of Hallow Street.

The proper Hampstead house was odd indeed but perhaps it wasn’t the house so much as it was the occupants. An elderly woman only seen through brief glimpses in the front windows and a young girl.

Perfectly respectable in most cases people visiting the street would say. A grandmother and her granddaughter surely. Something tragic must have happened to the girls parents. Surely.

However the residents of Hallow Street who have lived there the longest knew something was just… odd about the two.

They remembered when the house briefly sat empty some eighteen years ago. The previous occupants having caught a lust for wandering had sold their quaint modest home and taken off for parts unknown. And the very next day a tall woman with iron grey hair had swept into the neighborhood with a tiny bundle in her arms.

That day, a certain melancholy had settled around the powder blue house at the end of Hallow Street.

In the stately lady went, and any welcomes that had been offered went unanswered until the Hallow Street inhabitants settled for watching the house with suspicion and gossip. And their minds worked tirelessly when some years later, the girl first appeared walking down the street from the bus stop and the tender age of somewhere around five. Children were a rarity at Hallow Street with the young having moved on to more adventurous parts of town, leaving the older to tend to their flower beds and spoil their dogs in peace.

Whether out of genuine concern or the wish to be the first to break the mystery of the house at the end of Hallow Street, Merryl Strop had promptly dropped her trowel and approached the young girl with mousy brown hair wrestled into two prim braids on either side of her pale face.

The girl, seeing the woman dressed in worn overalls and a dirty flower print blouse approach had paused at the walkway to her home and waited silently. Her brown eyes had startled Ms Strop for a heartbeat and she was never able to properly explain why.

“Young lady, why are you walking alone?” Ms Strop had asked, her voice shaking just a tremor. The child had been dressed in a tightly starched uniform, not a stitch out of place, nor even a scuff on her gleaming black oxfords.

The child had shown no fear, a complete stranger approaching her so, but offered a smile to the concerned neighbor.

“The bus does not stop before my house, therefore I must walk. It was… the logical choice.”

Ms Strop had never heard a child speak so, not one so young at least. But before she could manage to shove the shock aside, the still unnamed girl had turned toward her home and a moment later disappeared through the door.

That three sentence interaction had been discussed at length by those of Hallow Street for many months to come and was repeated to every new visitor. Details such as how the smile had seemed… practiced, and the words too perfect…

It had unnerved Ms Strop and rather than attempting to find out more, she settled for watching from her petunias as the girl walked home each evening after what had to be school. And the others silently did the same.

Soon the eerily quiet house became not so quiet.

The sound of crying during the midnight hour had nearly send Mr Peterson into an early grave as his dear little Chi-Chi piddled in the yard. This sent Hallow Street into a frenzy of late night dog walks and tea visits but everyone agreed… Mr Peterson had not imagined it.

A pattern had emerged and every third midnight gentle weeping was indeed heard from the uppermost window. Always closed, with darkness beyond the lace, but the sounds were clear as a summers day.

But by the chime of the next hour, all was quiet, and the day dawned again with the girl in her pristine uniform and braids, leaving for the bus.

Years moved by and when Ms Strop’s grandson, Johnathan had moved in with his father, plans were made over tea cakes and biscuits. Johnathan Strop was their way in. He was roughly the same age at this point, the gangly age of ten, but he had the makings of a handsome lad and he had charming manners.

He didn’t particularly care about solving the mystery surrounding the house at the end of Hallow Street nor its occupants, but he knew Ms Silas made excellent black berry pies and was no stranger to the stings one could pull to get their hands on one.

So on the first day of school that year, Johnathan had tucked in his starched uniform shirt and allowed his Gran to fuss over his hair before joining the mystery girl at the end of the street. She had offered a polite nod but nothing else.

He’d sat with her on the bus, asking dozens of questions drilled into his mind by his Gran and the other ladies and gents of the street. What was her name, how old was she, who she lived with and what they did for a living, and every boring question an adult could think to come up with.

And her answers were just as boring.

Hermione Granger, ten years old, guardian who did nothing but stayed home reading.

To say Ms Strop was disappointed… Johnathan quickly abandoned his mission for more interesting things such as children who lived on the next street over, one of which had a gaming console and he essentially forgot about boring Hermione Granger and the boring house on the end of Hallow Street.

Ms Strop never forgot however. Particularly as they grew older. The Granger girl never showed signs of typical teenage girl behavior. She never had guests over, didn’t sneak out of the house to find some brand of teenage revelry. Never was her uniform out of place or her choice of hairstyle.

Nothing ever change about the girl Hermione Granger except for growing to be just around five or so feet and developed the curves that Ms Strop and overheard Johnathan describing as could be bigger but fit anyways. She’d chased him to his room with a wooden spoon for that and he no longer ran his gaze over her figure.

He still stuck by his original judgement that Hermione Granger was boring. She had zero friends, unless she counted the teachers to be her friends as they were the only ones she ever spoke to and even then only after raising her hand to answer some dull question.

The children often snickered when the Granger girl gave more details than what the teacher had really been expecting and Johnathan had not been surprised the first time he saw a peer deliberately trip the girl. But what did surprise him had been how she’d merely stood, straightened her uniform, and gone on as if it never happened.

He kept such details of the girl’s life from his Gran. As he aged he found all of it completely nutters and wanted nothing to do with any of it. Even after hearing the midnight crying for himself. But he didn’t see the harm in giving the little details away. Her affinity for reading, perfect hand writing, and requests for extra work on weekends.

Johnathan had even given his Gran the details of her lunch one day. Every day in the school yard alone at the bench below the tree: An apple- red. Sandwich- dark rye with unknown contents. Water. Boring.

Ms Strop had been prepared to declare it child cruelty to feed a child as such and had sent a napkin of chocolate chip biscuits with Johnathan to pass along to her. One had survived the mission and when he discreetly offered it to her so that none of his friends saw the exchange, she had given that polite smile of hers and shook her head with her refusal.

She was allergic.

To what? The chocolate? The brown sugar? Eggs?

Johnathan hadn’t cared enough to ask for specifics but his Gran had been practically frothing with curiosity.

As for Hermione Granger herself, she knew she was odd. Her lack of desire for human connection was odd. Her thirst for knowledge was odd. Her addiction to detail was odd. According to the boy down the street, her lunch was odd. Or so Ms Strop had thought so.

There was a great deal that Hermione had learned in her eighteen years of life. She knew how to calculate the force of gravity and an overabundance of history facts such as the birth of the alphabet and its evolution into the Latin alphabet.

But there was a great many things she admittedly did not know. Such as why she was prone to drawing what she discovered through curious research were runes. Or why she had to open every book bound with red leather only to feel a wave of disappointment at what she found written on the pages. The feeling of constant unfulfillment was, Hermione knew, odd.

Her guardian, Athena, upon hearing Hermione describe her feelings of confusion and emptiness, had suggested more reading and arithmetic was needed and that had been when Hermione had begun asking for more work from her teachers.

Despite the negative treatment from her student peers, the extra work had successfully distracted Hermione. Learning and work had chased back the shadows that lingered after dreams she could never quite remember.

With this feeling of control, Hermione thrived in her boring existence. The future was something that always seemed so far off from the present. Beyond the current academic year, Hermione was without direction. Life after graduation had always been hazy whenever she thought about it.

She heard what the others said about her- as they likely intended, felt the gazes that followed her, but she never allowed them to bother her. Instead she carried on with Athena’s voice in her mind telling her that others will never understand her and so she needn’t bother with trying to make them.

What it was they could not understand, Hermione did not know herself. Perhaps what Athena had been referring to had been whatever made her stand out even when she tried not to.

All this had been well and good until one day… it wasn’t.

For all appearances, it was a normal mid spring day. The sun was bright and high in the sky, the breeze caressing Hermione’s cheek as she walked into the school after finishing her lunch was cool and carried the scent of fresh cut grass.

But it wasn’t a normal spring day. It was May second. A day that Hermione Granger had been looking forward to since November.

Held tightly to her chest with crossed arms, a bundle of papers. But not just any bundle of papers, they were a lengthy essay on why the school system was failing so many students. She was rather proud of her work, having spent the winter with research and compiling everything together to present to the headmaster in hopes of making it this year’s end of school debate.

Athena liked to tell her that change happened only when the young demanded it, loudly and continuously. And well Hermione had her reasons for wishing for school curriculum reform. While her teachers were happy to give her more work, it was her peers whom Hermione was concerned for.

As she quickly walked toward the headmaster’s office, she took note that there were ten minutes of lunch left. With her perfect attendance record in jeopardy Hermione sped up to just shy of a jog. Her thick braids bounced on her back and her oxfords made sharp squeaks on the waxed tiles.

Taking the corner at a reckless pace had her slamming into a body with her own before falling back in a flurry of papers and loud laughter.

“What’s the hurry Granger?”

Hermione winced at the pain shooting from her hips up through her spine while noticing the group of her classmates having a laugh at her expense. A few of them were the usual subjects when it came to teasing or bullying her but most were just curious spectators. Johnathan being one of the later was smiling but made no move to help her, none of them did. She was lightly irritated as this delay was putting her plans in serious peril.

Jim, the boy she had run into had a malicious gleam in his eye as he bent down and plucked up one of her papers.

Irritation turned to anger, something Hermione usually was able to keep tightly leashed.

“…the uneducated lead to unambitious and feeble minded adults…” Jim read aloud, a sneer twisting his lips. “Are you calling us stupid Granger?”

Hermione ignored him, though it was costing her greatly, and began to gather her papers. The moment she stood and turned to Jim for her last remaining paper, he slapped them out of her hands, sending them sweeping across the tiles once more. The laughter died down to a few long O’s as everyone waited to see the delicious drama playing out before them.

“I asked you a question swot.”

Inhaling deeply through her nose, Hermione bit back the words raging for release, just as she always did and instead knelt to pick up her papers once more.

The sound of paper being slowly ripped echoed through the hall.

Hermione froze. Something prickled beneath the surface of her skin and her breath stopped for one long heartbeat.

A word whispered through her mind, a strange word, she didn’t know where it came from or what it meant and she felt something akin to static electricity sweep across her as her breath released with a sigh. She felt… open and free.

For one breathless heartbeat.

One of the girls in the small gathering cried out in surprise, drawing Hermione to look up just in time to watch Jim fall over backwards with a horrible crack, stiff as a board. A sick feeling overcame Hermione at the sight of Jim’s arms lifted above him, her paper still held between his fingers in mid tear. His eyes were open and watching his hands, his lips frozen in a cruel smile.

“I-is Jim d-dead?” someone asked.

Hermione didn’t wait to hear the answer, as she scrambled to her feet and stumbled backward, her gaze locked onto Jim’s still form. He wasn’t moving. Just staring with frozen, unblinking eyes at her work in mid tear.

Gulping back the roiling of her stomach, the rise of voices began to penetrate the hollowness in her mind.

“What did you do to him Granger?”

“She’s a freak- don’t touch her!”

“I just knew there was something wrong with her.”

Tears of panic, of shame, of confusion welled in her wide eyes.

Shaking hands.

Difficult to breathe.

Running through florescent halls that gave way to perfect sunshine.

Indecipherable shouts.

Left at the end of the block.

Up three streets.

Cut through the park.

Keep Running.


 

For weeks now, Ms Strop had been meaning to buy a new timer. If she had, she would have seen quite the unusual sight of a clearly distressed Hermione Granger sprinting down the walk, fall to her knees just steps from her primly white door before flailing for the door knob to let herself in.

But Ms Strop hadn’t gotten around to the purchase of a new timer. This led to a burnt loaf of her famous blueberry lemon bread and instead of seated in her usual spot by the front window with the home shopping network displaying shiny baubles on the telly, she was desperately waving a towel to clear the air of smoke.

“Ath-Athenaaa!” Hermione moaned from her place on the floor. Her heart beat erratically and she knew at any moment the police would be knocking on the door. It took a moment of heavy breathing and frantic attempts to make sense of what had happened before she realized that Athena had never answered her.

Swallowing back her panic she brushed at lingering tears with a trembling hand, she slowly stood from the floor and listened.

The silence wasn’t unusual, but the absence of her guardian was.

Slowly exploring the rooms of the house, finding each of them empty and untouched until she finally came to Athena’s room.

“Athena?” Hermione whispered, letting herself through the door.  Holding her breath, she took in the perfectly made up bed, the sunlight filtering in through the laced windows shining onto a simple wooden desk. Vaguely she realized that this was her first time stepping into the room as in her far off memories as a curious child, Athena had strictly forbade her from venturing in.

Hermione had accepted the rule just as she always accepted rules and she felt quite the invader at the moment. But the room was still and empty.

Save for her breathing, in fact the entire house was still.

Waiting.

Trepidation setting in, Hermione returned to her own room. Shelves lined with books organized first by serial chronological order, then publication date. Out of habit, she approached to be certain they were in the correct order as occasionally they would be mysteriously mixed up and upside down.

They were in perfect order.

Lining the walls were various sketches she had done throughout her life. Some were characters from her favorite stories and some were of places she had read about. They were passable in skill though she had no claim to greatness, but the soft lines of Elizabeth Bennet’s jawline or the curves of Hobbiton were recognizable for what they were.

Like Athena’s room, nothing was out of place. The thick blue blanket on her bed was tucked tight, her flannels laid out waiting to be worn to bed. Her wardrobe was closed but she knew her clothes were pressed and hung, shoes in in neat order.

Her gaze caught on a solitary envelope in the center of her otherwise clear desk. The envelope was sealed and lacking an addressee. With bated breath, Hermione opened the envelope to find not a note explaining the absence of her guardian but a bus ticket in her name.

A ticket to Scotland.


 

The decision to run had been instinctive. Even when it came known to Hermione that it might not be necessary later that day when a quiet knock had come from the front door. She had ignored it until the clink from the mail slot alerted her to the passing of a message.

One of her papers with a short note on the back.

Jim is alright. Nurse said he’s fainted. –Johnathan

A wave of relief had swept over Hermione, her skin flushing as she pressed her brow to the cool wood of the front door. But immediately following came confusion. Jim had most certainly not fainted. She thought back to what had happened, playing the events and feelings through her mind. The excitement and righteous anger. Her hard work, her plans, her very being mocked and destroyed.

Now staring out of the rain speckled window of a rambling bus, Hermione realized that she might have been more emotional than what the situation had warranted. Athena had warned her that people were cruel and not worthy of her attention but she also recognized in herself that she had to continually reign in her emotions. To give nothing away.

But hearing that paper rip, she had felt that.

Her thoughts stuttered at the memory of the words she had whispered in her mind for fear of causing it to happen again. For she had concluded, standing at the door to her house that it was her- and the unspoken word that did such a bizarre thing.

No, Jim had not fainted- she had done that to him… somehow turned the loathsome boy to a statue- temporarily at least. It was illogical, she knew. Completely mad.  And the one person she just knew could tell her what she had done had vanished, leaving behind a solitary bus ticket to Scotland.

Northern Scotland.

For a tour of old highland castles to be exact and she had exactly twelve hours to meet the bus for departure. A decision to be made.

The entire scenario was becoming more and more odd. Which said a lot as everything about her life was already peculiar as it was.

Beyond historical significance, Hermione held no particular interest in old castles, Scottish or otherwise. But if that is where Athena had gone, and a ticket as her only clue, she would go where the mystery led. She had been torn about abandoning her studies but after the disaster with Tom, she didn’t see how she could go back to the semi peaceful existence she had tolerated before. And now she didn’t know if she could even be trusted to be around them anymore.

As always, her future was uncertain and difficult to piece together a plan, but for once her education was not her priority. Finding Athena and making sense of what had happened to Tom… and to her, seemed a bit more important than debates and essays. It was a terrifying thought, leaving on her own when the furthest she had traveled had been her school.

All her life as a student she had overheard others discussing family vacations and never really felt the desire to ask Athena to take her traveling. She had always been content with her small world. Books had always been enough for her. But she was certain this was something she could- had to do. She was logical and of steady mind and if anything she could always ask for assistance. It was easy enough for her to learn where she must go to board the bus that would have her to the first destination.

But when it came to packing supplies into a back pack, her bravery had faltered. She would be leaving behind various plants she tended to in kitchen. Most of her books. The pillow on the couch Athena had taught her to stich on. The piano she sometimes pecked at with her fingers.

Of course to hear Athena tell it, if she had been born in the early eighteenth century, she would be considered quite accomplished. Not that she wasn’t in this modern age but back then, Athena claimed she would have been invited to every drawing room tea in the city.

As she had stood in the living room, looking about with her school uniform replaced with jeans and sweater, Hermione determined that she would miss her little house that always felt to her as if it were holding its breath, waiting for some momentous reason to finally feel as if it were being lived in and she just knew she would be back.

With Athena.

Until then the odd little house at the end of Hallow Street would remain empty.

Now, several days later, the sparsely occupied bus was nearing its final destination. An inn near the last castle on tour, Beldorney Castle. Everyone was achy, tired, and hungry so general socializing among the bunch was quick and quiet as they ambled out of the bus. As the group filed into the inn to check in, Hermione held back and took in the shadowy little town. Yellow lights twinkled from the windows of various houses. The air was brisk, but it felt pleasant against her cheeks, and the air tasted faintly of salt.

In the far distance a crumbling castle sat atop a high cliff against the quickly darkening sky.

It felt strange to be so far from home and surrounded by strangers, but with every moment that passed, every stop on the way she felt an anticipation rising in her chest. The journey hadn’t been easy emotionally as she continued to look for Athena in every face she encountered and as with school remained socially outside of the other tourists. Avoiding their conversations and questions about why she was alone. Politely denying their invitations to join the rest for lunches and dinners but they soon stopped trying.

One pair of the tourists, newly wed and full of knowing smiles and lingering glances passed her, their hands entwined and swinging between them. Despite her determination to hold herself apart from the rest, the romantic in her smiled at the sight. Rubbing her fingers together, Hermione wondered at what it felt like. To touch someone and to be touched for no reason other than to give and receive comfort.

Athena had helped her with her hair and the laces on her shoes, and while her touch had always been patient and kind, it had never lingered to which Hermione had been grateful for. Athena’s hands had always been cold.

Following the happy sighs of the couple in love, Hermione went through the now familiar process of checking into the inn- asking if an Athena Smith were there- being told no- and making her way to her room for the night. She was relieved for the all-expenses paid tour, as managing funds was not something she’d ever had to do, though she was confident in her ability to do so if she had to. Athena had not left a bank book or any money to be found so that decision had been made for her.

Tomorrow, Hermione hoped to find Athena as every stop as of yet, she remained absent. It had been a pleasant and fantastic learning experience, but she was tired and ready to return home. Ready to understand herself and the feeling of being uncomfortable in her own skin. To know why she was odd and felt disconnected from the world around her. Words wanted to whisper through her, and she struggled to lock them away from fear of what they meant, of what they could do.

To distract herself, she pulled out a tour map.

Pictures of Beldorney were in the margins and the sight of them brought a frown of confusion to Hermione. It was in beautiful condition, and nothing like the pile broken towers she had seen in the distance. And much closer than expected. Her curiosity properly piqued, she tucked herself back into her coat and left her room.

She paused by the dining room for a sandwich, a quick word with the tour guide- a kind little man called Awtry- to inform him that she wanted to stretch her legs before bed, and a moment later was once more in the crisp evening air.

The sun had well and truly set by then but a five minute walk through town and the lights shining on Beldorney could be found. Unlike the castle she had seen in the opposite direction, it was indeed beautifully kept.

Back in her room, Hermione tried to be satisfied with her answer. The castle in the distance was not Beldorney. But why was it not on the tour? And why was she so concerned over it? As far as the guidebook went it mentioned the ruined castle not once.

All through the night and the tour the next day, Hermione’s mind kept returning to it. Awtry had given her a confused look when she asked about it, following her finger when she pointed at it.

“Miss Granger…” Awtry said quietly, drawing her further from the group. “Are you feeling alright? I must ask because… well Miss Granger, there’s nothing out there. Just fields and forests and cliffs. No other castle for two hours at least.”

Hermione blinked but kept her wits enough to nod in understanding. “I see. My mistake. I think I’ll join the others in the gift shop.” Awtry gave her one last pitiful look before moving on to join one of the other tourists waving for his attention.

She would have given anything to have Athena back at that moment. It was truly beginning to feel as if she were losing her mind. Taking this chance was meant to have given her clarity but still nothing made sense and there was an electric sensation moving across her skin, making her mind fuzzy.

As if drawn by magnets, Hermione’s gaze locked on the ruined castle far off in the distance. It beckoned her with its broken towers and shrouded mystery.

Another decision was to be made.

Return to Hallow Street with more questions than when she’d left or take this into her own hands.

Hermione always did enjoy a good mystery novel.


 

The tour bus was one rider short, though no one gave the disappearance of the young woman on her own much thought beyond the rumor that she had found a local lad to shack up with. Any one of them that might have truly known her would have known that it was preposterous to suppose such a thing about her, but well- youth were youth to them and all the same.

Rather than illicit activity, Hermione was hiking cross country. Her backpack heavy on her back but not as heavy as the anxiety weighing on her mind. With every step her thoughts switched between the foolishness of abandoning her one sure way to return home and just how exciting all of this actually was.

She had zero money to her name, a bottle of water and a half bag of crisps, but she also had a mission. Something in her very being just knew that the unknown castle held the key to everything. She could feel it in the air, the waves of certainty and encouragement swirling around her like whispers.

An hour into the journey and a darkening of the skies warned Hermione that she’d best hurry. Half an hour later and rain began to slash through the rising winds, soaking Hermione and her pack. Before long she was shivering and the mud stuck to her sneakers, slowing her progress to near stop. The ruins were now indiscernible from the shadowy weather and a panic began to grip Hermione.

Lightning struck to the cacophony of thunder, setting Hermione on edge. The feeling of static crept across her skin and foreign words slipped through her mind.

Struggling to keep her composure, Hermione began to do what she did best and berate herself aloud. “Well you’ve go-gone and truly done it n-now. A fool’s errand. What h-happened to your sensib-bility? Hermione Granger does not go off on foolish adventures, seeking out-“

Everything- the rain, wind, lighting- it all stopped abruptly with a thick fog creeping across the wet grass in its place. An exhausted and soaking wet Hermione stopped as well, watchful of the utter stillness where once a torrent of chaos was.

The world was still shadowed but now dark structures stood but a short distance away. Swallowing thickly, Hermione began to move toward them, the fog swirling around her as she went. A hand flew to her mouth as the shapes at last became recognizable.

Buildings. Some looked to be houses, others little shops. But all were nearly completely destroyed with their roofs caved in, windows shattered, and walls in blackened jagged piles of lumber… and all terrifyingly empty. It was impossible to tell how old the damage was but the writing on a shop sign- barely legible from the damage and weathering- read Tomes an- with the year 1768 printed below it.

“Quite the ancient little village are we not?” Hermione asked with a voice colored in pity. She continued on through the little village, saddened by the destruction and wondering at the people who must have once lived here. Did they make it out with their lives? Why did the not return to rebuild?

One shattered building in particular caught her eye. It looked to have once been bigger than the other buildings, or at least taller. It wasn’t the building that caught her attention but the emotions it evoked. A tear slipped down her cheek and she recognized grief mingling with her confusion.

“Soldier on Granger.” She whispered, brushing the tear away and forcing the emotions away.

Soon the village came to an end but the road continued, and so did she on until another horrifying sight gave her pause.

Wrought iron gates, once of grand design were opened wide and twisted in such a distorted way, Hermione was lost as to what could have done such a thing. It was not difficult to piece together that the decimated village and what had once been a beautiful gate were linked. And every girl who harbored a shred of romanticism in them, then they would know that beautiful gates often protected beautiful places- such as castles.

That long gone feeling of excitement and elation returned. She was close- could feel it all around her, the wind sweeping past from behind as if to urge her on. With renewed vigor, Hermione fought against the mud and wound her way up an overgrown path, through overcrowded trees and even over a handful of logs nearly half her height.

It had become difficult to see, and the temperature had steadily begun to fall since the storm had moved on, bringing about uncontrollable shivering. Taking a moment to loosen her damp braids to allow the strands an attempt at drying, she knew she must look quite frightful. Her hands felt grimy and she was certain her shoes would not doubt be a loss, but all of that ceased to matter when the trees finally gave way to stones.

Slowly, her gaze taking in the smallest details from the vine covered statues, to the snow dusting the steps, she made her way into a courtyard. The fountain- half of it shattered into rubble- was covered in vines and snow, contradictions of winter and summer. It was easy to see it had once been beautiful, but now pillars had toppled and were scorched from fire.

A sound coming from the empty doorway had Hermione catching her breath as she paused midstep.

Laughter. She was certain. But who could possibly live in such a place? At the very least from where she stood, she could see that not a single tower looked to be intact. That did not bode well for decent living conditions.

Her heart beating wildly, Hermione continued on, stepping lightly from the courtyard and into the dark castle. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the gloom and she wished she had anticipated the need for a flashlight.

“You truly are foolish Granger.” She whispered to herself. “A flashlight or even a match would have been brilliant right about-“ her words faded away as torches, candles, and even a chandelier suddenly lit with flame. They lined the walls and tables- the ones that were standing anyway, holding back dancing shadows and revealing an expansive hallway. Empty portrait frames lay scattered on the stone floors, scorch marks were blasted into the walls and great sections of stone were strewn everywhere she looked.

As terrifying as it was, Hermione was pulled further in, a mixture of fascination, sadness, and comfort welling within her. On she went, past caved in rooms and even an entire section that looked to have fallen into the angry sea below.

It never occurred to her that being in the castle was dangerous, as she did not feel threatened by obviously unstable structure. She was more wary of what had done the damage in the first place. Everything was incredibly old, the rotted tables and chairs and plant growth seeping in was plenty evidence of that, but it felt as if the evil- for that was what instinct first chose to describe it as- was lingering.

The ruin was massive, even as broken as it was, she had no sense of how long she had explored. Climbing over crumbled walls and slowly up stairs with missing steps and handrails long gone. There were times where she squeezed through collapsed doorways and dug her way through, never really knowing where she was going and why she was so determined to keep moving on.

Good sense told her that she should have stopped long ago and turned back. Hunger and thirst had set in but she didn’t pause to consume the crisps and water she still had packed. All she knew was that she was almost there.

“Soldier on Granger.” She wheezed, pulling herself up over another collapsed wall. Wind whistled through cracks in the walls but it was the sound of voices that sent a shiver up her spine. Holding her breath, she listened, trying to make out the words.

 “…you hear?  It’s all anyone can…”

“…don’t- what would your parents…“

“…years for this…”

“… frown Blue?”

“… ever serious Red?”

The voices faded in and out, but they all came from an empty entry way just across from her. The voices were familiar, causing an ache to rise in her chest rather than fear. Surrounding the dark hole was a large, gilded portrait from, the portrait long gone. But as she stepped through, she was unafraid. Quite the opposite… she felt happy.

Happy to be in a room full of pitiful remains of furniture. Candle light danced from a shelf lining the room. The fireplace might have crumbled in on itself, but it still felt inviting. The circular room smelled of parchment, wax, and cider. A single tapestry lay piled on the floor near a shattered window, and though it felt as fragile as tissue paper and as dirty as her mud crusted sneakers, she pulled it around her shoulders for what little warmth it could give.

Settling on the long stone window seat, she rubbed a thumb across the dirty threads and discovered reds and golds glinting in the moonlight.

With a sigh she tilted her head back against the wall.

The voices had left her with crashing waves from the lake below taking their place.

Nothing made any sense to her. Not what she had done at school. Nor Athena’s disappearance. And most certainly not this wild goose chase she had thrust upon herself.

But most of all this- place.

It was exhausting, she realized as her eyes slowly fell closed. Being odd was exhausting.

But her last thought as Hermione fell asleep.

Who were Blue and Red?


 

“First years! This way! Onto the boats- you there-“

Hermione blinked open her eyes with a long yawn at the sound of a young man shouting.

“-First year am I right? Onto the boat- come on then nothing to be frightened of, here, in you go.”

Unable to comprehend just what exactly was happening much less speak, Hermione felt a hand wrap around her elbow and urge her toward a boat tied to a little dock. The owner of the hand- and the order- was a boy in his mid-teens with bright red hair upon which a pointed black hat sat, black robes, and a harried expression.

Still attempting to simultaneously please the boy and understand just what kind of dream she was having, Hermione tumbled into the boat he was urging her towards. A very young and bespectacled boy with wild black hair turned in his seat to look at her.

He was familiar and for some reason Hermione was quite relieved to see him. But after nothing more than a polite nod, he turned forward once more. The red haired boy next to him didn’t turn to look at her, but spoke to the other one too quietly for her to hear.

They were both forgotten to her as the boat began to move. Startled by the movement for she had never even been within sights distance of a boat, Hermione clutched either side of the little rowboat with both hands. That is when she realized something else more than a bit odd. Distracted from the self-propelling- without a motor that is- rowboat, Hermione lifted her hands to examine them closely.

They were… small. Or well smaller than they were expected to be but they were clean and neatly manicured. She then took note of her clothing a long black robe of some sort with side button boots pinching her toes. It was a relief to find her unruly hair in the usual long plaits. If she were lucid dreaming, then she had better be put together at least.

Her thoughts were given pause when she at last took in the scenery around herself. Dozens of other little rowboats- self propelling- with little lanterns hung from a shepherds hook at the bow, and each with several young children sat within, glided smoothly across the lake.

Smiling at the sight of lights moving across the black water, Hermione settled in to enjoy her dream and looked forward to their destination.

Gasping loud enough to draw the attention of the boys, Hermione had to say she had not expected the majestic castle before her siting tall and proud atop rocky cliffs. Towers, whole and intact shot into the starry sky. Lights glowed in countless windows and down a winding path where the boats were moments from docking.

She knew this place. Not as a ruin with a tragic past, with haunting voices and covered in snowy shadows.

This was supposed to be a dream but… no, somehow, Hermione knew it as something else entirely but the words terrified her.


 

Chapter Text




 

Children tumbled out of rowboats with excited chatter and wide smiles. And though it was only a dream, Hermione was one of those wide smiles. She hadn’t pieced together just what was going on, why she was a child along with all the others crowding up the steps, why they were making their way into a truly breathtaking castle, but it hardly mattered.

It was naught but a dream and after the week she’d had, a perfectly welcome one at that.

Hermione was more than content to keep to the back of the crowd, losing sight of her rowboat companions early on. She smiled to the children as they passed her by, charmed by their long robes and a few had pointed black hats. Most were nervous, but even they couldn’t hide the excitement in their smiles.

The castle was remarkable, no longer broken and scarred. The familiarity pulled at her heart and Hermione whished desperately to understand why. Towers, too many for her to count without a serious dedication of time, shot into the sky and she wondered which one was hers. They were coming from a different entrance than the one she had come in through so it was difficult to tell without a vantage point.

Taking her time and sweeping her gaze across the stairwell she and the children were making their way up, she thought about how nice it was to see the broken picture frames whole again, hung in their place with all manner of sceneries and portraits.

That is until a lady dressed in a chiton and holding a vase, shook the bouncy brown curls from her face. Not expecting the portrait to come alive- even in a dream- Hermione came to an abrupt stop and peered closer. The ancient Grecian woman’s lips lifted into a pretty smile before waving to her.

“First years, gather around-“ Hermione’s head whipped toward the voice “- so that we might commence the sorting cerem-“

“Athena!” Hermione gasped out loud and began to shove her way through the students. It didn’t matter if she were being rude- they weren’t real- and that was Athena at the top of the stairs glaring down at her. “I’ve finally found you! Look- we have to speak. I mean, I’m not entirely certain how it makes any difference as you’re not real-“

“I assure you Lady Granger, I am real enough.” Athena said with a cold voice that sent a shiver down Hermione’s back. “Listen up children for this is a lesson to Lady Granger and yourselves as well. My name is Minerva McGonagall- Professor McGonagall to you. I hold each and every one of you to the same high standards regardless of social rank or heritage. That means studies, commitment, rule abiding, and-“ another cold look down at Hermione, “-manners. Now then, you are to remain quiet during the sorting ceremony, when your name is called, proceed to the dais. Once you’ve been given your house you are to join your new housemates while minding your behavior. Any questions?”

‘Yes actually, dozens.’ Hermione thought but kept them to herself. She nearly laughed at herself, for she realized that even in her dreams she was falling in line with the rules, and feeling guilty for displeasing a teacher. It saddened her that this Minerva was not her Athena. They looked so similar with their tall frames matching perfectly, wide icy blue eyes, and iron colored hair pulled back into a severe knot. Even the glasses perched on her nose were the same.

The crooked hat and ruby velvet robes however were not.

Without giving Hermione the chance to apologize, the professor swept toward a set of impressive wooden doors. As the children followed suit, passing Hermione by, they gave her side eyed glances and whispered amongst their neighbors. Words like muggleborn and lofty floated through the air.

“Great- even in my dreams I’m the odd one.” She said to herself once they’d all passed. Feeling a bit sad about this turn of events, what Hermione really wanted to do was to go off on her own and explore. To see where she’d walked and climbed through before, but now in all its glory. She’d gleaned from Professor McGonagall’s comments that this was a school of some sort.

A magical one if the moving portraits and self-rowing boats were to be let as a clue.

“Magic…” Hermione said thoughtfully. Allowing the familiarity to settle around her the edges of her mind.

“Ummm- you might want to catch up- lest Professor McGonagall have you in detention before you’ve even been sorted.” A small, timid sounding voice came from beside Hermione.

A boy with pale chubby features and lanky brown hair waited, twisting his hands in his robes.

Withholding a long sigh, Hermione hurried up the stairs. She had to pull up on the long robe and skirts of the dress she wore beneath it to avoid tripping but she soon joined the boy. “I suppose you are correct. In my other school, I had a perfect record. I wouldn’t want that tarnished so early on here because of a bit of delinquency.”

With her now leading the way toward the rest of the students, the boy watched her as they walked. “You went to school?”

Hermione sent him a confused smile. “Of course I did. Why wouldn’t I? I’m Hermione by the way. Hermione Granger.” She held a hand toward him as they walked.

“Oh I know! Everyone knows who you are.” He didn’t shake her hand but offered a little bow which she found charming but didn’t press on it.

Standing at the back of the crowd now, Hermione nodded in acceptance. “I suppose that makes sense. It is my dream after all. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name…”

“Neville Longbottom, err your ladyship.” He offered awkwardly.

“Well Neville there is no need for any of that. Ladyship- who would that be... me? Ha! But it is very pleasant to meet you all the same. Can you tell me about this place?” Hermione was feeling rather confident with her interaction with Neville. Certainly she’d had conversations with others, but never before had she felt so… in her element. Athena said relationships with others was pointless as they would never understand her-

But here, in this castle of dreams, it didn’t matter. She would wake after a sufficient amount of sleep and go on with repairing her inverted life.

Neville didn’t have the chance to answer her question as Professor McGonagall had the great doors thrown open to reveal a great hall just beyond. Four tables stretched the length of the room, full of students ranging from just older than those she stood with on up to her own actual age. Their talking and laughter gave the hall a welcoming touch, enhanced by the warm glow of candles and-

“My stars, the ceiling!” Hermione cried out in amazement- earning her multiple glances and whispers. Stars twinkled against a velvet blue backdrop, clouds rolled in and out at a leisurely pace, and a moon- the moon glowed hauntingly full. Her amazement was short lived as that overwhelming sense of familiarity swept over her.

She had seen this before.

The knowledge and acceptance if it had been taking root for some time now.

The seated students fell silent- for the most part as Professor McGonagall’s moved to stand on the dais that Hermione was just taking note of. Teachers and a headmaster, each dressed in what she could only describe as wizarding clothes. McGonagall stood next to a solitary stool with a tattered old hat on it before calling out a name.

“Abbott, Hannah.”

A girl broke away from the crowd of first years and quickly moved to sit on the stool the hat had once been on. McGonagall sat it on her head and the hall waited- watching the girl and the hat until a voice called out “Hufflepuff!” and everyone cheered, one table louder than the others. Hannah removed the had and skipped over to the louder table with a happy smile on her face.

As the ‘sorting’ went on, Hermione began to whisper the houses each student was being sorted into before the voice called it out.

‘Brown- Gryffindor, Corner- Ravenclaw, Davis- Slytherin.’

One by one, she guessed the-

“Granger, Hermione.”

-correct placement of each student. What this meant for her-

Granger, Hermione.”

-she could only grasp at. It was a dream-

An elbow nudged her in the ribs, bringing her out of her thoughts and she found herself the sole center of attention. From the black haired boy from the row boat who had been the one to nudge her to the clearly losing patience Professor McGonagall.

Properly burning with embarrassment, she quickly hurried to the front of the hall and hopped onto the stool and avoided looking out toward the crowd of watchful students. The professor set the saggy hat on her head and a voice other than her own filled her thoughts.

‘Hermione Granger, mmm yes… fascinating.’

“What is? How is this possible? Magic isn’t real.” Hermione muttered as quietly as she could without moving her lips.

‘No need to speak out loud, I can hear your thoughts just as you can hear mine. As to the answer to your second question, everything is possible. You will learn that soon enough. The first question… just the musings of an old hat. Tell me Hermione Granger… where do you belong? With the Hufflepuffs and their undying loyalty and fairness, Ravenclaw with their pride in knowledge and the never ending pursuit of it? Perhaps Slytherin’s-‘

‘Gryffindor- I-I’m a Gryffindor.’

‘Ah so you do remember something- Gryffindor!’ The hat called out. By far her house sorting had received the weakest applause but Hermione only noticed in passing as she joined the table she knew to now be considered her own. It was all quite bewildering.

Turning the telepathic conversation with the hat over and over in her mind, she lost track of the sorting and sat frowning at the table, twisting the end of her braids over her fingers. What she really needed was a pen and paper. There was too much in her head at that moment and she needed to get everything down, to separate what made sense and what didn’t and write down the many theories running rampant through her mind.

When Neville Longbottom sat beside her, she was pulled to the present enough to greet him with a nod and to overhear some of the words of her classmates.

“Why do we always get the odd ones sorted into the house?”

“Maybe she’s constipated, frowning like so.”

“George, her sort don’t do that particular body function.”

“Shut it Lee, everyone knows they go more than anyone else! All the fancy food.”

“Fred! George! That is enough!”

“Oh Percy, what are you going to do? Dock points which haven’t even been earned yet?”

Curious, Hermione lifted her attention to several boys barely within hearing distance, three with fiery red hair- two identical while the third was very similar if a bit older- and one with African heritage who looked to be the same age as the twins. The three had carefree slouches and grins that were nothing but mischief for the older boy.

“I could do that. Or I could write to Mum and let her know that you’re being crude.”

One of the twins scoffed and shared a glance with his brother. “What’s she going to do? She’s ages away.”

“Have you already forgotten the howler she sent to Charlie for getting caught out after curfew? Not to mention she revoked his Hogsmead permission for the rest of the year. Now let’s see you three are third years now so that means-“

“Alright Perfect Prefect Percy, message received.”

“We’ll stop mentioning whether the lady of the castle has the ability to take a-“

Fred.” Percy practically growled.

Hermione fought the conflicting urge to laugh and roll her eyes. As far as childish speculation- it certainly wasn’t the worst she’s overheard. But she did decide to dig up the answer to at least one of her questions.

Quietly she turned to Neville, drawing his attention with a touch to her arm. “Neville, may I ask you something that may sound… odd?” At his nod, Hermione leaned closer and stared into his eyes. “Why does everyone keep referring to me as ‘lady’ as if I’m of the peerage?”

Neville was now looking at her as if she’d completely gone mad, and before answering, swept his gaze across the table as if looking for someone else to answer the question for him. Finding no escape, he looked back to her and swallowed nervously.

“Well because you are the daughter of Lord Philip Granger, eighth Earl of Anvindr. Your mother is-“

“Lady Charlotte Granger, daughter of Duke Alexander Blackthorn.” Hermione finished for him in a daze, the answers filling her mind.

“Even in the wizarding world you’re well known. It was all my grandmother could talk about when you were seen in Diagon Alley for the first time.” This had Hermione more aware than ever of the stares shot her way- and often.

The Gryffindor table began to cheer and holler- the three third years from before more than any other- but Hermione quickly dismissed the others to focus entirely on Neville.

 “Why is that? Are there not those with titles in the- wizarding world?” The implications of a wizarding world versus a non-wizarding- another thought provoking facet of this little dream of hers.

The longer they spoke, the more Neville seemed to perk up. “Indeed there are but well- you’re- different.”

“How so?”

“Well- you see- you’re well-“ That confidence that had been blooming in Neville shriveled and he folded in on himself. “You’re muggleborn.” He finally finished with a whisper.

She began to ask him to clarify why he meant when a new voice spoke out above the rest and she looked to see a man with a long white beard and half moon glasses perched on his nose stand from his chair

“Welcome newly sorted first years and the returning students of years past. I am Professor Dumbledore and I welcome you gladly to-“

“Hogwarts.” Hermione whispered.

“-Hogwarts. It does this old professor good to see each and every one of you and I hope you look forward to the many adventures and lessons this great school has to offer. A few words of caution before the feast arrives if I may… the Forbidden Forest, though inviting with its mysteries is forbidden for a reason. I must also request that you not tease the whomping willow. And lastly… the pudding is delicious so beware a sick stomach from consuming too much. Tuck in!”

The moment Professor Dumbledore finished, platters and serving bowls with all manner of food appeared on the tables along with plates, cups, and cutlery. Torn between amazement, wanting to know how it- magic that is- worked, and the growling of her hungry stomach at the abundance of delicious scents, Hermione settled for dishing out roast chicken, sweet potatoes, and a medley of vegetables onto her plate.

She had more- so much more to ask Neville, but it would just have to wait. The Great Hall had quieted as everyone seemed to be just as hungry as she was. Before long she had eaten her fill and now wanted to just close her eyes and drift to sleep…

Her wish for sleep was put on hold when Prefect Percy called for the newly sorted Gryffindor’s to gather around him. She took one last sip of water and did just that. Interested to see where they would be going. She noticed her two rowboat mates had been sorted into the same house as her and she sent them a smile.

Neither returned it.

Hermione could have strangled her consciousness for bringing the fact that she was unlikeable into her dreams, and though it hurt despite the fact that they weren’t real, she concentrated on Percy’s quickly given tour. They were led up moving staircases and down long halls. Ghosts stopped to introduce themselves and frighten those who had never seen a ghost before.

When they stopped before a large portrait with a richly dressed woman, Percy informed them of the password, Gloria, and the portrait swung open like a door, revealing a large hole built into the stone wall.

Immediately, Hermione recognized where she was at. Gryffindor tower, the room she had fallen asleep in. As Percy continued to educate the first years on school rules, Hermione drifted away from them. The same tapestry hung next to the same window, a gold lion on the backdrop of red. She touched the golden fringe before looking out the window. The moon was high and full above the lake and the water was still, reflecting like glass.

What happened to this castle, and more importantly who would do such a thing? Right now the common room was full of overstuffed chairs and sofas, shelves of board games, candles and lamps, and trays of chocolate chip biscuits. It was warm and lively, students laughed and asked various questions, but when Hermione woke… all of that would be gone.

Her first day at Hogwarts might not have been the most welcoming but for so many it had been. Turning away from the window, she watched as the older students began to join them, and after several minutes of mingling a prefect by the name of Mary called for all of the girl first years to join her in going up to their dorm room.

Hermione was joined by three other girls, waiting as they rushed to pick their beds. Parvati Patil picked the bed nearest the mirror and Lavender Brown picked the bed nearest the fireplace. That left Hermione and Evelina Wynn to sort out the last two beds. They were on either side of a tall window but one was closer to a book case.

If this had been real, Hermione knew which she would have preferred. “Do you mind if I take this one?” She asked pointing toward the second one.

Evelina rushed to nod her head before moving to the last bed.

Lavender whispered something to Parvati, resulting in the two giggling behind their hands, but Hermione chose to ignore them. A large trunk appeared at the foot of her bed and upon lifting the lid, she found a wand laid across the fine linen blouses and skirts. It was light brown with vines carved into the wood.

Slowly, almost afraid of what would happen should she touch it, Hermione wrapped her fingers around the wand. It was surprisingly warm and the connection she felt… almost like a piece of herself that she hadn’t even realized existed. Carefully she set it on her bed and saw to the unpacking of her belongings. All manner of clothing and toiletry, journals, quills, books- oh so very many books- cauldron and scales but the wand still trumped them all.

With a long yawn, Hermione cleaned up, dressed for bed and gratefully sank into her pillows. Lavender and Parvati sat on the formers bed whispering and giggling while Evelina had tucked herself away before Hermione had even finished unpacking.

Lying in bed, her gaze staring blindly at the deep red canopy, her thoughts and emotions raced through Hermione. Judging by the clothing she had unpacked; the year was somewhere near the turn of the twentieth century. Magic was real and her parents were alive.

It was difficult to remember that this was all a dream. That as she fell asleep, she would likely wake up to find herself in an abandoned castle ruin. She couldn’t help wishing it were all real, however. Her life wasn’t terrible, and she loved Athena dearly… but to have her mother and father in her life, that was something Hermione could never pass up.

As her mind allowed her to finally drift away to sleep, Hermione promised herself that she would look up this Lord and Lady Granger of Anvindr. They would never be her real parents but if they were indeed real people who had once lived and breathed, she thought she might not feel so… achy within.

And maybe investigate reincarnation while she was at it.



 

The ringing of a wind up alarm clock roused Hermione from a pleasant dream about fields of gold, of a hand holding hers and humming a lilting tune. For a moment after stretching and rubbing her eyes open, she lay there thinking about the dreams from the night before.

The castle full of students and teachers there to study and teach magic. The reveal that Hermione Granger from eighteen hundred something had alive parents. And the calmness that followed in the field of wheat.

“Turn off the alarm before I hex it and you!” Lavender shouted from the other side of the dorm room.

Startled, Hermione realized several things all at once. First, the alarm was indeed still ringing loudly in her ear. Second, Lavender Brown was not a morning person. And lastly… she was still in the dream world of past Hogwarts.

After quickly turning off the alarm, she took stock of herself and found she was still in her eleven year old body, in the midst of puberty.

“No-no-no-no.” Hermione whispered before running for the bathroom.

“What’s with her?” Parvati asked as Hermione slammed the door closed and took in her appearance. Her hair ties had fallen out of one of her braids, leaving one side wildly unruly. Otherwise she looked just as she did when she was eleven. And she was yet still asleep.

“How is this possible?” She whispered.

A loud knocking from the other side of the door again startled her. “Hurry it up Lady Granger. Others need to use the bathroom as well.” Lavender’s voice came through. “I won’t be late because you left your maid behind.”

The complaints of the other girl resonated through Hermione and she promptly threw open the door. “I’m sorry Lavender, I- er- I thought-“

“I’m sure I didn’t ask.” The girl snapped before sweeping into the bathroom and effectively maneuvered Hermione out.

After staring at the door for a long moment, attempting to not be shocked by the girl’s rudeness, Hermione returned to her wardrobe and pulled out the days uniform. A long sleeved white button up to be tucked into a long black skirt. Her robe went over them, the crest of Gryffindor on the front where none had been the night before. Feet were shoved into side button boots, books crammed into a book back and wand tucked away in a pocket of her robe. It felt odd to change in a room occupied by others but with the many layers the time period required, she was never truly exposed.

With the bathroom still occupied, first by Lavender, then Parvati and now Evelina, Hermione tried to wrestle her hair blindly into a single braid. She was about as ready as she was going to get but had yet to seen to her teeth. Dream or not, Hermione could stand forgoing tamed hair, but she refused to go without brushing her teeth.

So, the moment Evelina stepped from the bathroom and hurried down to the common room, Hermione rushed to scrub them. Her body balked at the boar hair toothbrush and curled her lip in annoyance at the dream giving her such details as fuzzy feeling morning breath, but she managed on anyway.

Dream or not, she was not going to be late for classes. In a flurry of flapping robes, bouncing hair, and boot heels clacking, Hermione ran down to the great hall for breakfast. The tables were already crowded and noisy with student chatter and clinks of silverware. Several faces looked up at her entry but when none answered her smile with one of their own, Hermione buried the hurt and sat alone at the end of the table.

It was only a dream. She had always been an outsider so it made sense that it would carry over. Neville had said she was muggleborn which when paired with her dream parents rank was something of an oddity. Whatever any of that meant… Hermione resigned herself to eating toast, mixing cream into her coffee, and playing her dreams part for her until she woke up.

Whenever that might be.

Until then, she had an entire new world to learn about. A library to find. A castle’s secrets to uncover.

“Lady Granger. You’re class schedule.” Professor McGonagall said crisply, a square of parchment in her hand.

Taking it gingerly, Hermione reminded herself that this was not her guardian, but her teacher.

“Thank you, Professor.” After McGonagall moved on, Hermione studied her schedule. Charms and transfiguration. Potions and herbology. History of magic and most interestingly, defense against the dark arts.

There were a great many things she didn’t understand about this dream world she’d fallen into, but she was going to make the most of it.

 



 

Chapter Text


 

Exhaling a long suffering sigh, Fred dangled upside down from a low limb of a lakeside tree. The tips of his fingers brushed the grass and a cheery breeze twisted through his on end red hair. Students milled around in various groups, all enjoying the late Saturday morning in one of the last days of summer sun.

The first two weeks had flown by, classes were a cinch- at least when one ignored the work like he did. As much as he loved home and the lack of responsibility that came with summer break, Fred was happy to be back at Hogwarts- truly he was. The professors were easy enough to manage, he was well liked within his house and even had friends in the other houses. He and George were sure to be chosen as beaters for their house Quidditch team. Every day he got to eat his favorite foods and Millie Spruce- a fifth year Hufflepuff always sat in clear view during all the meals.

Yes it was certainly good to be back at Hogwarts. Only… a restlessness buzzed beneath his skin.

Fred heaved another sigh, picking at the grass and tossing the ripped blades at George stretched out in the grass.

“Alright, twin-o-mine, what’s wrong?” George asked, his eyes remaining closed but blowing at the grass on his cheek.

“Wrong? What makes you think anything is wrong?”

“Because you’ve sighed like mum whenever dad brings home more ‘muggle treasures.’” George lifted his hands into air quotes before dropping them to rest on his stomach.

“I do not sigh like mum whenever dad brings home more ‘muggle treasures.’”

In reply George raised a single brow with his eyes still closed yet.

Fred sighed.

“Alright fine. But you sigh like Percy whenever there’s a weekend without homework.”

George grinned, peeking open one eye to look up at Fred for a moment before closing it again. “I’ll accept that. But my sighs are usually because Ronald ate all the biscuits.”

“That he does. Remind me to wop him the next time we see him.”

George made a clicking sound of agreement. “So… at the risk of sounding like mum trying to get everyone to the table for dinner, I’ll repeat myself. What’s wrong?”

“I’m bored.”

“How so?”

“I feel… like we’re wasting time. Two weeks in and we haven’t done any grand pranks, not even a little one. A whole week has gone by and we’ve done nothing to earn detention! In fact Flitwick gave you points for banishing Lee’s hair. Quidditch practice hasn’t started and Hogsmead is ages away.”

During Fred’s tirade, George sat up to lean on his elbows, his expression thoughtful. “So let’s do something.”

Fred scrunched his nose in concentration, turning classic pranks over in his mind. The upside down sight of Hermione Granger hurrying past with a stricken expression distracted him and before he could think better on it, he called out to her.

“Oi Danger Stranger Changer…. Um… Banger! Granger!”

The first year stopped, her gaze settling on him when she pinpointed him as the one who had called out. He caught a flash of white paper that she stuffed in the pocket of her skirt. Her white shirt glowed in the sunlight and hurt to look at, especially with the stark contrast to her black skirt. With her dark hair pulled back into a tight braid, and lips pressed into a thin line, see looked like a little professor.

“You’re ability to rhyme is… impressive indeed. Yes…?” She asked, tilting her head slightly.

“You look like a kicked puppy.”

George looked between them before leaning closer to Fred. “What are you doing?” He whispered.

Fred didn’t rightly know what he was doing if he were being honest. He didn’t pay much mind to anyone outside of his friends and family but he had noticed how peculiar the girl was. A fancy lady like her, he had expected everyone to flock to her like they did the Malfoy git.

“And you look like a ripe tomato. Just how long have you been upside down? All that pressure is sure to be harmful.”

Fred scrunched his nose. “What are you my mum?”

“He’s been like that so long that he’s clearly lost his mind.” George muttered before collapsing back onto his back.

“How so? He isn’t normally this rude… or red?” Hermione eyed Fred critically.

“Because he’s talking to your sort.”

“My sort. I see.” Hermione said coldly while Fred huffed with annoyance.

“I’m right here you! I can speak for myself.” Fred held onto the branch, tipping his feet over and lowering himself with a flip. A wave of dizziness from the rush of blood sent him stumbling over George with a laugh. George answered with an elbow to his side. “I just mentioned that she looked as if she were about to cry! Just like when-“  

“You’re Ronald Weasley’s brothers, correct?” Hermione interrupted, crossing her arms across her chest.

Fred noticed a small letter in one of her hands and the thought occurred to him that perhaps she’d received bad news.

“Only when our mum forces us to be.” George said, his voice growing as suspicious as his glance to the girl.

“Well I have to say that Percival seems to be the only decent one from the whole lot of you!” Hermione snapped out at them before turning on her heel and marching away with her head held high. She’d only gone a handful of paces before marching back to a still stunned George and Fred. Only she didn’t say anything for a moment, she only stood there glaring down at them with that kicked puppy look from before with eyes that were like hot cocoa on Christmas mornings. A contradiction of warmth and cold, of being home and lost.

Where the bleedin hell those comparisons came from, Fred didn’t know and quickly shut them down. The mad as a hornet girl was obviously ready to make a scene fit for Flitwick’s theatrical troupe of Spellbinding Sphinx club

Fred braced himself for more insults at the least, tears the most. But something rather concerning happened instead. The glare, the hurt, all expression melted away, leaving closed off brown eyes in a blank face. This time when she walked away, she kept going until she disappeared back into the castle.

“What the bloody hell-“

“-just happened?”

Disturbed for unknown reasons, Fred was contemplating whether they should go after the girl to check on her when George shoved him in the shoulder.

“Why did you strike up a natter with her of all people? Not to mention insulting her while you were at it!” George ranted with wide blue eyes.

Fred shrugged and laid down in the grass. “I was only being honest! The lady looked distressed! And what do you mean insulting her? How about the fact that she tossed us in with Ron’s lot and spouted off that Percy was better than us? Talk about bleedin insulting. It all just…” Fred sigh “-it doesn’t sit right with me, what just happened.”

It was George’s turn to roll his eyes with a sigh. “I definitely got the brains of the two of us. One, you do not under any circumstances tell a lady- highborn or not- that they look like a crying dog. Second, you do not under any circumstances talk to the granddaughter of the man who owns the land our family has lived on for the past century.”

After a long pause of silence, Fred began to shake with laughter. The sound rang out across the lakeside shore and drew several glances. A few moments later, gasping for breath and holding his stomach, Fred sat up, grinning at his brother.

“I have brains where- and when it counts little brother. Bill said women love honesty-“

“Have you never heard mum ask dad if her dress made her look round?”

“Well yes-“

“And he said no, right?”

“Mum was pregnant with Ginny at the time you arse!” Fred shook his head. “ As I was saying. Honesty. And I could care less about who her granddad is. And you couldn’t wait to insult her!”

“I shouldn’t have… but I couldn’t help it. I- I overheard mum and dad one night this last summer when I went down for a glass of water. Taxes went up, by thanks of your Lady Granger’s grandfather Blackthorn.”

Fred’s indignation deflated away, leaving him anxious, a feeling he was most unused to. “She’s muggleborn- Blackthorn is a muggle. Her parents might know about her being magical but I doubt anyone else. She can’t very well tell him to take our home because a couple of gits from the school she attends where she learns magic- if she even knew we lived there in the first place!”

George didn’t look as confident as he did. “Just… watch yourself around her. I don’t trust them, not after hearing mum and dad trying to figure out how to pay what Blackthorn demands.”

“Fine. Now let’s plan a prank- it has to be on first years. Its tradition.”

“Agree. I’m hungry, let’s head to the kitchen for a sandwich.”

Hopping up, Fred dusted his slacks off before helping his brother up. “That gives me an idea.”

“Let’s hear it. Oh and-“ George decked Fred in the shoulder again.

“What was that for?” Fred cried out, rubbing the offended spot.

“Im not a git. You- yes. Me- nope.”

“You are the gittiest of gits. Well after Percy. And Ron.”

With halfhearted shoves and long legged trips, the two boys made their way back to the castle to implement the plan Fred had cooked up and explain in between hoots of laughter.

The peculiar first year girl with her powerful family ties and preference for their older snooty brother was forgotten about. At least by George. Beneath the jokes, laughter, and prank planning, Fred was feeling something he didn’t understand. A lingering sadness. And a voice in the back of his mind telling him that wasn’t how his first conversation with Hermione Granger was meant to have gone.



 

“They’re just children. They’re just children.” Hermione chanted to herself as she talked through the castle. “Honestly, the one time I think to take advantage of the sunshine, it’s ruined by a couple of loathsome, immature-“ Hermione stopped herself as she just stepped into the library.

Madam Pince sent her chiding glare but made no comment to the girl as she hugged her arms around herself and resumed walking. As quickly as propriety would allow, she hurried to an alcove between book shelves and dropped onto the wooden bench.

Rubbing her palms over her eyes in an attempt to bring clarity to a day gone mad, Hermione forced herself to be honest. She hadn’t been seeking sunshine, she had been fleeing the castle and its other inhabitants. She wasn’t as brave as Gryffindor’s were touted as being. And she wanted to desperately to wake from what was quickly becoming a nightmare.

Magic- this universe was spectacular- it truly was. She had seen things that she had never dreamed were possible, and she made them happen. A quick research of different types of magic within the first few days of her being caught up in this dream world of magic and she discovered that her run in with Jim had been her doing a bit of uncontrollable magic. A freezing curse to be exact.

But she had also quickly learned how to do controlled magic. Levitating charms and transfiguring items from one thing into another. But history… leaning how it all began… Her year one text book on the history of magic had quickly been read from cover to cover, burning a midnight candle against her better judgement.

Yes, Hermione Granger had quickly taken to magic and the learning of it.

But some things never change, no matter what reality she finds herself in.

Magical folk are not so fond of her.

She quickly learned the term ‘mudblood’ was not a charming thing to be called. Then there were the typical insults of ‘know-it-all’ and ‘teacher’s pet’. Those were expected, as Hermione was not about to let a teachers question go unanswered, especially when it was something everyone ought to have already studied.

But the insult that confused her the most had come from one Weasley, sending her out of the castle and right into an encounter with two more infuriating Weasley’s.

Thinking about the entire ordeal reminded Hermione of the letter she’d stuffed into her pocket, a letter that had started it all. Slowly, Hermione slipped it out of her pocket, her gaze tracing the names written on the envelope, lingering on the red wax seal of an eagle breathing fire with roses clutched in its talons.

It had been such a good morning, Hermione recalled, closing her eyes against the ache behind them. Well rested, ready to study and practice and with luck, explore one of the towers. Breakfast had been quiet with toast, eggs, and coffee- a habit her eleven year old self ought to avoid but her eighteen year old self just could not skip.

Percy dropped off his notes from second year potions, but only after she promised to take careful care of them and return them as soon as she was done. Neville had given her a small smile as he passed by to sit with the other boys in their year, Ronald Weasley and Harry Potter.

Both were normally harmless with Ron making the usual comments on her need to answer questions and had snapped at her to mind her own business once when she helpfully reminded him of an assignment that was due. Harry neither agreed nor disagreed but strangely always avoided looking her in the eye.

The expected arrival of the owl delivery of letters that morning had been exactly unexpected as one had dropped a perfectly folded and pressed letter right beside her cup of coffee. With wide eyes Hermione froze mid chew of her toast and stared at the unexpected delivery.

A shock, a thrill, a wave of apprehension, all swept through her as she suspected- wondered- hoped that this letter was from her parents. Well this reality’s parents. For most of her time there, she had not truly thought much about them. Out of habit, they just didn’t exist to her. But now- with the possible evidence of their existence presented to her with a firmly pressed seal with the Latin phrase aquila non capit muscas.

A phrase she now held close to her heart and had whispered to herself in that moment of staring down into Fred Weasley’s deep blue eyes.

Sitting there at that great hall table with other housemates still lingering over sausages and pancakes, laughter lilting through the morning air as plans for lazing the day away were made, Hermione’s world had narrowed down to one envelope held gingerly in a trembling hand.

For the first time since awaking in this strange land somewhere in the past, somehow linked to her in the future… Hermione wanted to stay not because there was so much to learn, but because this worlds Hermione Granger had a family.

“What’s the matter Granger? Did your lordly parents cut you off because you’re a witch?” Ronald Weasley called down to her from his place at the table. When Hermione swung her gaze to land on him he swallowed nervously. He didn’t look like a typical bully taking pleasure in insulting her but almost… afraid. And angry. “Tell me, do muggles still burn witches?”

“Ron!” Harry hissed from beside him but as she’d come to expect from the bespectacled boy, he avoided looking in her direction. Those surrounding them had fallen silent and watched with great interest.

Hermione had looked from the red faced boy who obviously despised her for reasons she could only theorize about and read the phrase surrounding the eagle on the wax seal. ‘The eagle does not catch flies.’ A spark of pride lit within her, giving her strength. She was an eagle, skimming the sky at heights a fly like Ronald Weasley could never reach.

She might not be able to control the dream itself, but she had full control of her actions within it. She was not limited to whatever this worlds Hermione Granger might have done, whether it be to give in to the tears that burned her eyes or tell him off for being so horrible.

Hermione Granger as an eagle. And just as importantly a lion.

And he is just a child. In a dream. Or a dream of the past.

And she was brave enough to not concern herself with his fear and anger toward her. There was obviously something about this world and her place within it that she did not yet understand, but it didn’t matter. Not while she had something so wonderful to look forward to.

So in the face of Ronald Weasley’s ire, Hermione Granger ignored him, finished her coffee, and left the great hall to find a quiet place in the sunshine to read her letter. Her new found strength had gotten her out of the front door before the first tear fell.

It was not the first time cruel comments had brought her to tears, and that spark of pride Hermione had found began to die out as her thoughts turned to what must be so innately wrong with her if she was so unlikeable no matter what sort of life she had.

She could tell herself until time ended that it was them and not her, but she recalled the fear in his eyes. A fear she saw in a Weasley’s twins’ eyes just moments later.

A fear that had been… absent in the others. It was that absence of the anger and fear his brother’s harbored toward her that had stayed her emotions from lashing out as she’d so wanted to do. Concern and humor reflected at her, reminding her that they were not cruel but frightened. And one of the three was not cruel but mischievous and humorous.

Running her thumb over the wax seal, peace hummed through her blood and though the boy’s words were not forgiven, their emotions were. Harry and Neville were forgiven for not speaking up in her defense, she did not need them to do so.

Hermione was an eagle. And she silently, with a smile, upgraded the group of boys from flies to dung beetles.

Having worked her way through the torment of the past hour, Hermione took a deep breath and opened her letter.

My Dear

               Since I have not received any word from you since your departure, I can only assume something horrible has befallen you. With your unfortunate demise, I fear I must send all of your beloved critters off to the zoo for care.

               I am only jesting my little bird.

               But this old grandfather of yours has aged considerably since you left and I have worried so over your silence. Make haste to tell me all about the wonders you have discovered in his magical school of yours. I wish to hear of your new friends, and teachers, and everything about the castle.

               Does it compare to Riverbend? Does it at least have a piano and a respectable stable? I should wait until you are more settled before pestering you with so many inquiries.

               But oh how adventurous it all is.

               I will practice on my patience. If you are too involved with your studies and your friends, then I understand the delay in writing your old grandfather. I know how dedicated you are to learning, and how excited you were to make friends.

               Just know that I miss you my little bird and you have my endless love.

Grandpapa

PS Be on the lookout for something special arriving.

The tear that fell on the edge of the expensive stationary went unnoticed by the girl in the library alcove. A second, third, and even fourth time did she read the letter, falling in love with a grandfather she knew almost nothing about. He was charming and the care he had for his granddaughter was clear, shining brightly with every slashing curve of his handwriting.

There was no mention of parents, of Phillip and Charlotte Granger, but Hermione locked her disappointment away. What she had in her hands was enough. More than enough, and more than she had hoped.



 

For the next week to the day of Hermione’s birthday, she walked tall with a smile on her face. Classes were better than ever, challenging her and expanding her to a universe of knowledge she was beginning to hunger for. Students made their comments every time she raised her hand or even breathed it seemed, but not even they could touch her good spirit. There was someone in this dream who cared for her, who was excited for the adventure she was on and frankly, though she loved Hogwarts and learning, she was looking forward to the holidays to meet this grandfather of hers.

The day she turned twelve for the second time, for Hermione, was like any birthday she had in her present day life. She woke up, went about the day, and in the evening threw herself into her studies. Only… there was no surprise gift from the duke, just as there was no cranberry rice pudding waiting for her from Athena.

Hermione had never been one to fuss over her birthday, why would she when  she only ever shared it with one person but the lack of that pudding at dinner had struck something within her that had quickly turned the shred of happiness she had found into a shadowy reminder of the reality she was trapped in.

Was September the nineteenth even this version of her self’s birthday? Who even was this Hermione Granger? She played the piano, but she also rode horses if Alexander’s letter was interpreted correctly. Something present Hermione had never done.

Feeling as if she didn’t truly know herself anymore, Hermione trudged into the Gryffindor common room and needing to feel closer to home, her real home in Hallow Street, collapsed down into the window seat next to the red and gold tapestry and watched the shadows stretch over the black lake.

Not even a month had passed and Hermione was already beginning to forget the color of the curtains in the windows of Ms Strop’s front windows. It was a silly detail to be concerned with, she knew, but she found herself missing them.

A commotion from the entrance to the tower caught her attention and she looked away from the lake far below, to find the Weasley boys making an entrance. Their faces were overly shocked as they whispered something to Seamus Finnegan- one of her fellow first years. The twins each had a hand on the boy’s shoulder, their nods prompting him to nod along.

Hermione might have dismissed the scene if it hadn’t been for Jordan Lee- if she recalled correctly from the welcoming feast- as he stood slightly to the side attempting- poorly- to hide a grin. Sensing troublemaking at the expense of Seamus, Hermione felt her need to put a stop to it before it could even begin.

With narrowed eyes and crossed arms, Hermione left her spot and approached her battle.

“What is going on here?”

All eyes turned toward her, none of them pleased with her interruption but she held herself tall.

“Nothing you need co-“

“Good that you came firstie, this concerns you too.” One interrupted the other and when he caught his brother’s glance, he shrugged in silent conversation.

Feigning surprise, Hermione widened her eyes. “Does it now? How so?”

The brother that was less contemptible of her presence stepped over a bit to give her the same concerned gaze he’d given Seamus. “You see, there’s this curse. A statue on the fourth floor will curse any first year who didn’t leave an offering by the fourth Friday of the first semester.”

He was so serious, Hermione nearly let her amusement crack through at the ridiculousness of it all. “Why the fourth Friday?”

Clearly expecting her to just go with it the way Seamus had, her question threw him off a bit.

“Because that’s when he died.” The other twin added with a knowing look toward his brother.

“The statue.”

“Err yes.”

“What is his name and what happens if you do not leave an offering, and just what kind of offering is this dead statue expecting?”

The brother who had spoken to her first straightened with a confident grin to match his crossed arms. “The statue is in honor of Baron Leroy. He was rather known for his pudding but any food will do. If you don’t, then you wake with boils.”

Hermione stared at him, wondering if he expected anyone to buy into this. “Baron Leroy, purveyor of pudding will give me boils if I refuse to leave him an offering, simply because I’m a first year.” She summarized with a monotone voice.

“Exactly.”

“You don’t really expect any of us to believe that.”

Several voices broke out in argument but the boy before her was the loudest.

“It’s true Granger- Lee didn’t believe it either and well tell her Lee!”

Hermione held up a hand. “No, I beg of you to not tell me more. I will not be partaking in this obvious scheme of yours for- for pudding!” She swept her gaze across the common room, meeting several gazes of watchful first years, including Ron, Harry, and Neville. “And if any of you have any sense, you will not fall for this either.”

“Is that a challenge?” A voice, very near her ear, full of mischief uttered words that were familiar. As if she’d heard them a thousand times. She felt the burn of tears and a hollow ache in her chest. But when she turned to meet the gaze of the boy who spoke them, she first caught eyes with his twin.

Fear.

Just as down by the lakes edge. His fear of… what, she couldn’t be certain, but it made her stomach twist in recognition. As if somewhere deep inside, she knew he was right to fear her. But why? Hermione Granger in 1891 is a little twelve-year-old girl who likes learning and horses.

But she knew she was too frightened herself to ask him. Besides, there was a boy who didn’t look at her with fear or anger but with curiosity and humor waiting just then for her retort. Shifting her gaze from his brother she met his with a deadly serious expression in contrast to his sly smirk, clearly enjoying the arguments surrounding him about the validity of the curse.

An agent of chaos these boys were.

“You would do well not to cross me Red.”

He snorted with a roll of his eyes. “Why, because you’ll write a strongly worded letter to your lordly grandfather?”

Hermione blinked with surprise while scrunching her nose in disgust. “No- why would you think that? I mean because there are rules for a reason and punishments for those who break them but I shall say no more on it except for-“ Hermione turned her back to him and looked at each of the first years presently scattered about the common room “-do not let these- these” she glanced over her shoulder with a quick glare “agents of chaos sway you into nicking food for them-“

“Bugger off princess!” Someone called out to a scattering of chuckles.

Hermione felt her face flush at the language being used toward someone so young and opened her mouth to call them out for it when someone beat her to it.

“Oi this doesn’t concern you Towler you git!”

She sent the boy she called Red another glare. “You are not helping, nor do I need your feeble attempts at it. An eagle does not concern herself with flies-“ She paused before giving him a small smile. “-unless they break the rules. Its been interesting Red.” She gave a slight nod of her head to him, his brother, and Jordan Lee before beginning to head for the girl’s dormitory stairs.

“Real original by the way, calling a bloke with red hair red.” He called after her in a singsong voice.

Turning to walk backwards Hermione couldn’t contain her smile. “Oh, Red isn’t because of your hair, its because of the color of your face when you were hanging upside down in that tree. It was that or tomato so…” Without waiting for a reply, she turned away and finished the journey to her dorm room.

It was silent and empty, so Hermione took full advantage of the privacy and flopped out on her bed with a sigh. It wasn’t so terrible, this birthday of hers, in fact she had rather enjoyed that bit of battle of wills. It was odd to think of that little interaction as the closest she’s come to making friends as of yet, and she wasn’t even certain as to exactly who he was. Fred or George, she remembered that much from the first feast.

Though she was hesitant to believe they would follow through with the curse from Baron Leroy, a small part of her hoped they did. She would rather enjoy making them pay for doubting her. But rather than freezing them for a few moments with accidental magic, she would do it through the proper channels this time.

“Er Her- Lady Granger?” A soft voice came from the foot of her bed, bringing Hermione to sitting up in straight back attention.

Evelina stood in the candle cast shadows holding something tightly to her chest. “Oh, please call me Hermione. I don’t stand by all that title this title that nonsense.”

“Right… Please call me Evelina then.”

Feeling another veil of isolation beginning to fall away, Hermione smiled. “Evelina. Very pretty. How may I help you?”

Evelina, with a slight blush in pretty contrast to you tan features held the item clutched tightly to her chest out to Hermione. “I was asked to give this to you.”

With wide eyes, Hermione accepted the brown paper package tied up with string. “But who…”

Evelina shook her head. “I promised not to tell. Happy birthday Hermione.”

A stunned Hermione whispered thank you to the retreating girl, the implications of the delivery startling. Someone knows her birthday, and incidentally it lined up with her true birthday. “Extraordinary.” She whispered before carefully pulling one end of the string and unwrapping the gift.

A book.

Hogwarts: A History

There was no note, no card from the giver. The book had a fine red leather spine and golden lettering. It smelled of new paper and ink and something about it was just achingly like holding home in her hands. With a grin of excitement, Hermione quickly readied for bed and put all else out of her mind as she settled back against her headboard and burned her candle low into the night reading.



 

It was with a turned-up nose and an arched brow of satisfaction that Hermione stood on the Saturday after the alleged curse’s Friday deadline, behind Professor McGonagall. She watched as Lee slunk down the boy dormitory stairs with Fred and George after having been tasked with retrieving them at the Professor’s demand.

She couldn’t resist the little smile that curled the corners of her lips as Red- she could now easily distinguish him by the glint in his blue eye versus the one in his brothers- handed over the bulbadox powder over and were given two weeks’ worth of detentions. Her smile fell as one of the boils on her neck burst, causing her stomach to turn dangerously as the slimy contents slid down to her shoulder.

It was almost worth it she decided. But Neville and Harry sent her smiles to go along with their boils. Smiles that turned to grins as Ron complained that he had left a “whole bloody pie so why did he end up cursed?”

As McGonagall left the common room with tsks of disapproval for the third years, Red met her gaze with a wide grin and for some reason, Hermione suspected he’d gotten exactly what he wanted.



 

Chapter Text



 

Running a finger down her planner, Hermione took inventory of her day. The first of November had dawned a chilly day, and her internal clock alerted her to the quickly approaching end of term testing she must now begin to prepare for. That was one thing Hermione found to be the same between her world and this one… there were always tests and finals to prepare for.

And if one were to prepare successfully, every minute of the day must be planned- which, Hermione noted, she needed to finish her eggs quickly now. That would give her an extra thirty for revising potions before class began that morning.

After taking one last bite, she pushed her plate aside and pulled out her potions tome and notes as well as the copies of all the essays she’d turned in throughout the term so far. It was moments like this that she was rather pleased with her place at the Gryffindor table. Far enough away from the main crush of students so as to allow her plenty of room to spread out her work.

With a quiet wince of apology to those seated nearest her at the loud thump her tome made on the table, she also noticed those within listening distance. Her fellow first years with cheeks full of breakfast watching as the older years mused bedraggled hair and tossed chunks of bread roll at each other- discretely of course.

While she hadn’t quite formed lasting friendships with any of them, there did seem to be an understanding between herself and the other students in her house. Even if she didn’t quite understand the understanding- she was relieved that the snickering and comments had ceased. Slytherin house and more often than not, Ravenclaw house, kept it up, but now her housemates cut warning glares in their direction when they did. Hufflepuff seemed amused by it all, and she could hardly blame them. Nothing else seemed to be fueling the need for drama and excitement.

Shaking her head at how people were always just people, no matter the time period or age or background, Hermione dismissed them all and focused on her studies. She had narrowed down the possible end of term potions she would likely be making to one of four and had decided to perfect all four just in case she was wrong.

“George! Please tell me that is not a text book I see this early in the morning!” Red- or more formally known now- Fred- exclaimed while dropping onto the bench across from her.

Hermione sent him a stern glare before dismissing the boy and his brother.

“C’mon Fred, Ron’s almost ate all of the bacon.”

“I will, I just wanted to address the issue I have with Blue here.”

She sent George a thankful glance to which he shrugged helplessly and sat beside his brother. “Blue?” Hermione queried, dropping her attention back to her work, but not before subtly checking on the color of her hair to be certain the well-known prankster hadn’t turned her hair blue. She shot out a hand and covered the top of a pewter cup to prevent Fred from pouring juice in it. “No drinks around the text book.”

Fred leaned low to catch her gaze. “What if I promise to be careful?”

“You share genes with that-“ Hermione jabbed a thumb in the direction of Ron, who had recently spilt pumpkin juice in his plate “-and you didn’t answer my question.”

Fred sat up straight but it was George who surprised her with an indignant huff. “Our claim to that disaster is conditional. Malfoy making a snide insult to Ron, hexes will be thrown. Ron ruins an entire plate of pancakes with his clumsiness? Yea no brother of ours! And he thought up Blue because he thinks you’re a bluestocking.”

George oofed when Fred elbowed him in the ribs, his face flushed bright and Hermione quickly remembered that the term might have been still considered insulting during this time. “No need to be so tied up about it Red. I know what I am. I prefer learning over activities such as-“ Hermione almost said texting with one’s mobile but caught herself just in time “-going to the theater and dancing,” she finished instead.

“What about Quidditch?” Fred asked, giving her pause as she tried to dismiss him and find her place in the textbook.

“What about it?”

George’s mouth dropped open, and Fred visibly paled.

“You’ve really done it now Hermione.” Harry stage whispered down to her from several seats away, causing Hermione to realize that everyone up to ten seats away was now staring at her. Her instinct was to use her hair to hide her face but she’d braided it tightly that morning.

“Even Percy cares about Quidditch.” Ron added with a shake of his head.

“I see, well I’m sure it’s a very exciting… sport. But midterms are-“

“Two months away!” Fred exclaimed.

“Exactly!” Hermione snapped back while jabbing her finger in the middle of the open page. “And I have four potions to prefect, eight charms to review, the entire transfiguration-“

“Alright, alright Blue…” Fred interrupted with a much more subdued voice and blue eyes shining with an emotion that Hermione couldn’t define clearly. “Just… consider coming to the match this weekend. It’s us against Slytherin.”

Hermione stubbornly held onto her frustration with him- with all of them for judging her so. Coldly, she began to pack away her supplies. “Now that I’ve lost an entire half hour, I don’t see how that will be possible. Good day Messrs.”

She didn’t care if any progress she’d made with her housemates beginning to warm toward her had just been lost. She was not going to put them above her studies. And she wrote as much to her grandfather that evening. In dire need to have someone who understood her, who knew how she was about learning, to tell her she was doing the right thing.

It didn’t matter that none of this was real or even mattered in the end. She was learning, and excelling at it. Top marks in all of her classes and skilled with every spell and word was spreading through the houses that she was the one to go to if they needed help understanding a spell or theory. Though it had happened precisely only five times since the beginning of the year, Hermione took great pride in being the one who knew it all.

And a silly game in which people flew around on impractical brooms at dangerous heights and speed was not going to get in the way of her keeping her place at the top of the class.

And just as she thought, those closest to becoming her friends gave her the space she’d frostily demanded. So be it. They were distractions that she didn’t need. It was something she stubbornly held onto, told herself over and over every time she heard Fred laugh in the common room or Evelina bring called over to sit next to Lavender.

Hermione didn’t even realize until Alexander wrote back by Friday, that she’d begun to consider this dream reality in a sense. She’d taken on the potential consequences of failure as real consequences. Lost sight of her original intention of exploring and experiencing as well as learning.

And as she’d eagerly cut out five minutes of time to read Alexanders letter, she realized she needed that same validation that Athena had always given her. Always telling her that it was alright if the other children didn’t like her, they wouldn’t understand. Her studies were important and that someday those children would barely be a memory.

Yes, Hermione needed Alexander to tell her the same. That she was doing the right thing.

But he didn’t.

It seemed he knew his granddaughter quite well and had feared she would isolate herself willingly, and that stubbornness within her grew and began to entrench itself ever more at his words until…

…Life is so short, so painfully fleeting little bird. Reach for every moment that you can… even if you must do so alone. Even if it frightens you.

A tear to go along with the tightness in her chest and honesty fell with it down her cheek. She couldn’t say the words aloud but she knew deep down why she did this to herself.

Fear.

Fear of losing herself in this world, of falling in love with it and the people. Of forgetting that it wasn’t real- at least not to her. Of forgetting her true life, a life she’d never even gotten to dream of as she never thought beyond school.

Fear that she would never know herself in this world or her own.

Fear… of waking up one day and remembering that it had indeed been a dream all along.

Reach for every moment.

“How does one even do that?” Hermione whispered to herself, her gaze tracing over the curved words. The thought of sacrificing even a sliver of who she was to follow this grandfatherly advice had panic rising into her throat.

And for a heartbeat, Hermione nearly gave up even considering the possibility. But rationality won out and she was able to recall that she already had before. When she chose to leave her Hallow street home behind, she’d willfully stepped into the unknown.

It was making a decision.

To stick with what was familiar and comfortable… or take a chance.

The next day, the students all displayed house pride as they all trooped out to the Quidditch pitch. Cheers and jibes were tossed around and more than once a Gryffindor had to be held back from pulling a wand on a smirking Slytherin, but overall the atmosphere was exhilarating to Hermione. She walked much slower than the main crush of students and continually pulled her wool cap down over her hair, whether to help hide her identity or out of need because she’d left her hair loose for once, Hermione wasn’t quite certain.

She had been prepared to sit in the far back corner of the stands but the sudden appearance of Neville standing before her with a massive smile and a hand held out toward her had quickly squashed that plan. Instead she found herself in the very front of the stand, shoulder to shoulder with Neville and Evelina, the cheering and smiling infectious enough to bring a toothy grin and laughter to her own lips.

Whatever she had expected of Quidditch, it was quite more than that. It was fast, and brutal, and dangerous. Lee was commentating with bias but even before he mentioned the last name Weasley, she was able to make them out with their red hair poking out beneath their leather caps.

How they managed with the incredibly fast balls flying at them constantly, she didn’t know. All she could do was watch, and cheer, and gasp every time a player scored or dived or shot straight into the sky.

It was a graceful sport she was able to admit, until one of the balls- she didn’t know if it had a specific name and determined to research on it later, hit one of the Slytherin players in the shoulder, knocking them from their broom.

Fear clutched her throat as they dangled there but quickly a teammate helped them back astride.

How a game like this was legal, especially with children playing it, Hermione had no idea. Her heart had nearly stopped when Lee had called out Harry’s name. But everyone loved it and deep down, Hermione admit that yes, even she enjoyed it. Not so much when the ball was struck straight in her direction only to have one of the Weasley twins swoop in at the last second and bat it away with a twinkle in his blue eyes- Red.

Yes, Hermione could admit that she enjoyed this wild thing called Quidditch. And not once had her thoughts turned to the potions and charm revision waiting for her back in her dorm.

That evening, a phonograph played a little ditty about drunken brawling- entirely inappropriate- while the Gryffindor house celebrated the first win of the season, Hermione sat in her- for that was how she’d come to think of the window in the common room- window, watching the merriment with a touch of sadness. Though there was alcohol-  a foul brew of the name fire whiskey which she strongly disapproved of- she thought maybe these people- these kids deserved these moments of freedom.

She still recalled the state in which the castle was some hundred years plus from now. She didn’t know what would happen to these smiling carefree faces she was coming to know, or how soon. But it was there, haunting the back of her mind.

“You came to the game.” Fred said as he appeared before her, blocking her view of the common room.

Offering him a small smile, Hermione nodded. “I did.”

“And? What did you think?”

“I think you and every other person who chooses to ride a broom and play Quidditch are brilliantly, fantastically, mad!”

Fred tipped his head back and held his waist as he laughed loudly.

“It’s true!” Hermione continued. “Zipping around with those cursed balls-

“Bludgers.”

“-yes those, prepared to brain you all while your hundreds of feet from-“

“Maybe not hundreds.”

“No, you must have been five hundred feet in the air!”

Their laughter drifted off, leaving them with matching grins for a heartbeat of time.

“But honestly, you- all of you were brilliant.” She nodded to George as he joined them. “And as such, I have some ideas on improving reaction speed and reading your opponent.”

Fred shook his head. “We best keep her away from Wood. Now then Blue, this is a party, not practice. There’s music and-“

“Hermione, will you dance with me?” A voice piped in.

A wide eyed Hermione leaned to the side to find Harry Potter waiting for her answer. “I apologize Harry, but I don’t dance…” there was an awkward pause of silence as the three boys exchanged glances. Harry didn’t seem upset by the refusal but he seemed to be looking for something… “Would you like to walk about the room instead?”

“Yes!”

Nodding, Hermione stood and shook out her robe. “Please excuse me Weasleys.”

Fred stepped aside, watchful as she passed. She wondered at Harry’s sudden approach of her- and the use of her first name. She rarely heard it on the lips of anyone here and she welcomed his use of it. Even if he didn’t know it. The bespectacled boy was silent as they weaved through dancers and groups of talking friends leaving Hermione the task of striking up conversation. Desteable thing to try and do…

“Did you want something Harry?” Hermione finally got out, hoping her tone was pleasant and not as annoyed as she felt.

Her question prompted Harry to stop walking and turn toward her. “I’ve saw you read-“

“Hogwarts a History. Yes-“ Hermione narrowed her gaze. “You sent it.”

It was an answer not a question but Harry nodded. “I did. It’s youre favorite book.”

Fisting her hand in the sleeve of his shirt she pulled him further from the throng of students and lowered her voice. “You knew it was my birthday. And favorite book. How?”

Nervously he glanced around then his green eyes met hers with hesitation. “I- I’m not sure this is- I just knew.”

“What do you mean? Explain yourself Harry Potter because not even I knew it was my birthday, not for certain.” She was becoming frantic for answers, to know if Harry held some magical piece of knowledge that could help her understand all of this.

“I woke up that morning and it was my first thought. ‘Today is Hermione’s birthday’ and I already had the book in my trunk. I knew then that it was for you. What do you mean you didn’t know it was your birthday?”

Hermione’s shoulders sagged with disappointment. “It’s not a conversation I can have right now. Not until I know more. And even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me, and honestly, I don’t trust you.”

“You’re not alone Hermione.”

She looked at him, a wordless anger filling her chest and it took a moment to tamp her emotions down enough that she could trust herself to speak. “I have been ostracized by you and everyone else in this school for being something as audacious as smart-“

“It’s not because of that.” He rushed to say wide eyes but a moment later became embarrassed and looked away. “Well some maybe.”

“Then why?” Hermione bit out. “Why am I treated as if I’ve done something so horrible?”

“I cannot speak for everyone, I only know from those that have spoken of it, and my own feelings.”

She crossed her arms with raised brows and pursed lips, waiting for him to continue.

“They don’t trust you. The Slytherin purebloods because you’re muggle born. Everyone who isn’t considered rich, because you are. Those in between because you’re intelligence… But those are the surface excuses.”

“And what is yours?”

“You- you terrify me- them. You don’t fit. It makes looking at you… difficult.”

Hermione thought she was going to be sick. “I see.” Unable to bear it any longer, Hermione pushed past the boy and rushed out of the portrait hole. She didn’t see Harry try to follow after her, only to trip over mysteriously knotted together bootlaces.

Without pause, she didn’t stop. Didn’t care about breaking curfew or the cold now biting at her face. With no direction in mind, she left the castle behind and into the moonless night until she found herself at the edge of the forbidden forest but she gazed into the misty dark wood with blurry and unseeing eyes.

She didn’t need some boy in a dream to tell her that she didn’t fit.

She knew that already.

Hermione Granger had never fit in.

But if she didn’t belong in 2019 or a- a remnant of 1891… then where?

And why her?

Hermione pressed her eyes tightly closed.

All she wanted was the wake up. To find Athena. To be normal.

When she opened her eyes, her hopes were again dashed as she found she was still in the same spot, staring into the same forest. But she felt decidedly calmer… more rational. The cold began to seep into her bones, so with a sigh, she began to turn away.

But a blue light deep within the wood caught her attention. Without will of her own, Hermione knew she had to follow.

And so she did.

Over fallen trees, through thorny bushes, clinging spider webs, and sticky puddles of mud, she followed the floating blue light. She felt no fear, didn’t flinch at the sound of howling or mysterious clicks coming from the shadows. All she cared about was following the light.

The forest gave way to a small clearing seen only by the blue glow of the floating light which stopped at last, hovering above a stone taller than she was. Markings were carved into the surface, worn and filled with moss. It called out to her with indistinguishable whispers, drawing her closer. With bated breath, Hermione reached out, whishing she could understand the whispers-

Cold, suffocating fear, and the scent of blood invaded her senses.

She dropped her hand and stepped back.

The blue light faded, leaving her in darkness until she found her wand and whispered lumos.

With the pale light of her wand, Hermione saw that the stone, the clearing, it was all gone, replaced with thick dark forest.

And so was her bravery.

The realization that she was alone and without direction froze Hermione in place for all of two heartbeats before she frantically searched for her footprints and followed them out.

Every sound that came from the shadows spurred her on. She ignored the limbs pulling at her robes and hair, the cold numbing her fingers and the tears stinging her eyes. The moment she broke free of the forest line, the castle just a field away standing tall and aglow with comforting light, she dropped to her knees, her wand clutched tightly to her chest.

What had she been thinking… or feeling to do something so- so reckless? Had any of that been real or imagination? The whispering… a language so familiar but not.

“Hermione?” A familiar voice called from a distance away and she looked over to find a Weasley twin sprinting toward her, dropping to his knees at her side. “Bloody hell, you must be freezing. What are you doing out here- we’ve been searching for hours.”

George.

Blinking with exhaustion, Hermione noticed the pale light beginning to streak across the sky.

“I’m sorry George.” She whispered faintly as he wrapped something warm around her shoulders before helping her to stand.

“For what?” He asked roughly.

She was able to make out the other Weasley twin sprinting toward them from a little hut surrounded by pumpkins. “For making you afraid. I don’t know why-“

“Enough of that. I’m a Weasley and I’m never afraid of anything. Especially little slips of girls with more brains than sense.”

Fred skid to a stop beside them before she could say more and tossed his cloak around her shoulders along with his brothers, only he left his arm, holding her up. “Damn Blue, did you spend the night in the Forbidden Forest? Exactly what did that clod Harry Potter say to you?”

He was warm, and comforting, and she found herself leaning into him just the barest of bits. “It- it didn’t seem like hours to me. I felt as if I’ve been out here mere moments.”

“Hours and hours you were gone. Harry waited up until we sent him away with the promise that we would find you.”

“How did you? Find me that is.” She tilted her head back in time to catch their shared glance.

“We have our ways.” George offered mysteriously and she didn’t press for clarity. They had their secrets and she certainly had hers now.

They fell into silence as they entered the slowly awaking castle. They passed the occasional early bird who gave them curious glances but their common room was blessedly empty. At the stairwell to the girl’s dormitory, Hermione pulled away and shrugged off their cloaks and handed them over.

“Thank you.”

With a nonchalance that didn’t match the seriousness in his eyes, Fred shrugged and grinned crookedly. “It’s what we do.”

“We’ll see if one of your roommates will bring you breakfast. But otherwise… get some sleep.” George continued.

With a wrinkled nose Fred reached over and plucked out a twig from her hair. “But first clean up. You smell like Hagrid’s dog after he’s been- oi!” He yelped with a light laugh as George yanked him toward the boy’s stairs.

Anything but insulted, Hermione’s lips curved into a small smile. “I’m certain I look the part as well. Good night- er morning.” She said before heading up to her bed. Cleaning up was an arduous affair especially as the other three occupants were still asleep, but she felt cosmically better once she curled up beneath the heavy blankets.

She would have been able to make it back on her own but… it was… nice- unfamiliar and unexpected- but nice to have been looked for. She had gravely misjudged those two boys and though the last half of her day had been a train wreck of emotions and confusion, it had been alright in the end.

As the girls in the room with her began to stir, Hermione fell asleep to a dreamless serenity. When she awoke, a tray of food with warming charms welcomed her. She was still noticeably tired and haunted by the night before but a good study session before the fire was just in order to help distract her.

None payed her any mind when she made her first appearance of the day in the early afternoon. And not a comment was made as she took over one of the tables near the fireplace and began to review. And not a word was spoken when Harry quietly joined her though he did send her a smile which she returned with cautious warmth.

And so it went.

The days passed, the season grew colder, lessons more arduous, but relationships began to take root.

First it was Harry who sat with her, and then Neville and Evelina, Ron though with that cautious mix of anger and fear she’d become so familiar with but accepting of. The other first years such as Seamus and Dean and even Parvati and Lavender began to welcome her in general discussions and sat with her at Quidditch games.

Often however, so long as no one was watching, her gaze would be drawn to the forest, her thoughts brushing against her memories of that night. But she wouldn’t- couldn’t linger long on them else she feared she would find herself again traipsing through those endless trees searching for whispering stones.

What Hermione Granger didn’t realize however, was that she was noticed. One Fred Weasley with the careful aid of his twin brother remained watchful. They kept their distance and a great deal of focus was spent on pranks and giving their head of house grief but they never strayed far.

Two weeks before Christmas, the students packed onto the Hogwarts Express, and Fred, leading the way on the search for a compartment for his friends and brother. He poked his head into one and found Hermione Granger seated within, alone, already nose deep in a book.

“The Noble Sport of Warlocks. A bit lighter than your usual tome of history of magic reading.” He said, drawing her attention. Her smile was bright and welcoming and it… did… something…

“I hopped I’d see you- both of you before the spring games begin. George- come sit with me. I saw a maneuver I think you might be able to add-“ Hermione broke off and began to dig around in a bag that had a rather suspicious depth to it and pulled out a journal.

Fred felt a tightness in his chest as George moved to sit beside the girl who was eagerly flipping through pages and pointing out various things- but it wasn’t a bad feeling. It was… actually rather relieving to see George getting on so much better with her. There had been such suspicion and dislike on his brothers part, and while Fred understood where it had come from, he hadn’t liked it either.

“Oi Fred- move it.” Angelina Johnson shoved him lightly on the shoulder and he stuck his tongue out at her as he moved to sit across from Hermione.

Soon Lee, Alicia, Harry and Ron all piled in and the trip to Kings Cross was full of Quidditch discussion and bets and dares. It was… really nice to see the once isolated Hermione partaking so actively with the conversation. She had sound ideas on plays and at one point Angelina hollered down the walkway for Oliver Wood to join them.

But as they neared the city, Hermione became more and more withdrawn until she now sat silently looking out of the window. Subtly he nudged her toe with his, drawing her attention.

“Everything okay?” He mouthed silently.

She perked up enough to send him a nervous smile and shrug. “Parents.”

He could only guess at what she was worried about but he nodded in understanding anyways. “It’ll be alright.” He offered and it must have been the right answer for she nudged his toe with hers this time and her smile was a smidge brighter.

“Thank you.”

 



 

Chapter Text

 



 

A strange feeling weighed on Fred as he followed George from the train. There was a tightness to the air, like static spreading across his skin. It was strange because, well, usually he was beyond excited for the hols. Endless plates of mum’s biscuits, hot cocoa, time with his family whom he hadn’t seen since September, sleeping in as late as mum would let them, snowball fights… all wonderful things he couldn’t wait to get to.

Then why did his stomach feel heavy with worry?

George nudged him before nodding to further down the crowded platform.

A familiarly short girl with barely tamed brown hair stood looking around, uncertainty clearly radiating from every strand of her wild hair.

“Boys! There you are! Yoo hoo! Where’s Ron?” His mums voice pulled his attention around to find the comforting sight of her and his little sister Ginny hurrying towards him and George.

“We dunno mum-“

“-we’re not his keepers!”

“Check with Percy!”

They took turns hugging her and Ginny as they took turns answering her.

She narrowed her eyes at them but probably decided finding Ron was more important than scolding them. “Gather your trunks and meet me at the exit. And keep an eye on Ginny. Your father is caught up with some muggle with a unicycle outside.”

After giving the appropriate ‘yes mums’ they each set about piling their trunks on trolleys and asking Ginny what she had been up to while they were away before singling out Lee and Angelina for farewells. By the time they were ready, their mum was waving at them from the brick wall exit with Ron and Percy waiting on them.

But as they went to join her, Fred’s attention was caught by Hermione piling her luggage on her own trolley and watching the faces passing by. Without comment he stopped before her, George following suit.

“Alright there Granger?” George asked.

“Oh certainly, I’m only… waiting for someone…” She replied, her brown gaze barely brushing theirs before moving on and examine random faces.

“What do they look like? Maybe we can help you look for them?” Fred offered.

“I’m not sure…” Her gaze became distant before focusing on him with a smile. “Tall, burly. Snow white hair and mustache. Cane with an eagle at the top.”

“Well if he’s muggle, we should check through the barrier.” George put in and began to make his way to their impatiently waiting family.

“I’m Ginny by the way. These twos favorite sister.” Came his sisters voice from his side.

Hermione jumped a bit before a blush stole across her cheeks. “I apologize Ginny, I had not realized you were with them but well- I ought to have guessed with your pretty red hair.” She cleared her throat and held out a hand to Ginny. “Hello Ginny, I’m Hermione Granger.”

After the exchange of handshakes, Fred nodded toward the back of George. “C’mon Blue, through the barrier with you. She’s my only sister by the way. Favorite by default.”

Ginny winked when Fred and Hermione looked at her with amusement.

“I see. How many siblings do you have? If it’s alright to ask.”

“Bill the oldest,” Ginny held up fingers as Fred named everyone, “then Charlie. Percy- restrictions apply to that one, me- I’m older than George. Ron- restrictions apply to him as well. Lastly ickle Ginnervakins.”

Hermione laughed quietly as Ginny tried to jump and twist Fred’s ear.

“How about yourself?” Ginny asked once she’d successfully exacted her revenge.

After a long pause that drew both him and Ginny to look at her, Hermione met them with a small smile. “Just me.”

“That must get lonely.”

“Ginny!” Fred hissed with a jab of his elbow to her shoulder.

“Well it does!” Ginny cried out, spinning to the front of the trolleys and forcing them all to stop. “Now that Ron is enrolled and it’s just me at home, it gets terribly lonely. No one should have to sit and make small talk with their mum and dad about radishes growing fine this year.” She turned her full attention on Hermione, her hands on her hips. “Promise that you’ll come visit if you get lonely? Or send an owl at the very least.”

“I will. I promise… Thank you Ginny, and you’re right. No one should be forced to endure small talk over radishes.”

Ginny met his gaze with a firm nod. “We can keep her.”

“Ginny! Fred!” This time it was their mum’s high pitched voice carrying over the noise of the platform. “Now!”

He sent Hermione a roll of his eyes to which she shrugged in reply before following Ginny in joining the rest of his family. “Mum, this is Hermione. She’s muggleborn so her family can’t join her here so we offered to help her look.”

“If it’s too much bother, I understand. I’m certain I will find my grandfather on the… other side of the barrier.”

Mum waved a hand in dismissal, just as he knew she would. “Nonsense! We would never abandon you to wait on your own. Come now, my name is Molly Weasley.” Before Hermione could say more, mum began to round everyone into a line and ushered them through the barrier.

On the other side, they moved as one to blend in with the other travelers rushing to and fro while keeping an eye out for the man who might be Hermione’s grandfather. His mum’s eye had turned critical when Hermione had repeated the description but didn’t say more.

As for the girl herself, she stood next to him with nervous energy emanating from her like static, twisting her hands in fabric of her half cloak. Subtly he stepped closer and caught her attention with the press of his elbow to her arm. She nodded at his unspoken question before taking a deep breath and continuing her search of every passerby’s face.

“Lady Granger.” Everyone turned to find a little elderly lady with pursed lips and narrowed eyes looking each one of them from top to bottom before stopping on Hermione. “I might have found you sooner if you hadn’t been surrounded by such… colorful people. Come now, we’ve a long journey.”

Every instinct in him said not to allow this woman near the girl at his side but he was not given a choice, as Hermione stepped away with just a barest hint of hesitation but paused when his mum stepped in front of her.

“I’m Molly Weasley, the mother of these colorful children. And you are?”

Fred rather adored his mum in that moment.

“I say, does your grandfather know the sort attending this school?” The rude woman shook her head with the true airs of a gentry snob. When Hermione stopped short, anger flashing across her face, she was cut off when the woman shot out a hand and snapped Hermione’s wrist in a grip that look unnecessarily tight.

A man around Bill’s age dressed in a fancy uniform stepped forward and took control of Hermione’s trolley and pushed it into the flow of travelers. With little more than a frantic glance toward the rest of them, Hermione was pulled along, quickly disappearing.

It felt… wrong… to let her go and if the glances from his siblings and mum were anything to go on, they felt the same.

“Did she say Granger?” Mum asked, still watching the place where they’d last seen Hermione.

“Yes.” Percy answered with a sniff. “The Granger’s your thinking of.”

“But she’s not like them!” Fred said, along with Ginny’s nod.

“I didn’t say that she was. Be her friend, I won’t stop you. But if she or hers hurt any of you or treat you like- like-“ His mums face turned red with anger. “I won’t stand for it.”

“I hope she’s ok.” Ginny said quietly to Fred and George when they finally began to make their way to the streets outside the train station where their dad was found watching a gent circle him on a unicycle while holding an umbrella.

“I’m sure she is.” George replied though his gaze was concerned.

Much later, finally home in his warm bed, full of his mums cooking and his dads work stories… Fred’s mind wandered. He didn’t know where Hermione’s home was, if she lived in the country or the city. With her parents or grandfather.

George said the Burrow was on her grandfather’s land… but how far did his land stretch? It was frustrating knowing so little of his small corner of the world. In the candle lit shadows, he gazed at the patchwork curtains that hung between his and George’s beds. The uneven floorboards that he had to be careful where he stepped or else he’d alert his parents to his sneaking about at night. He thought of the mix matched chairs crowded around the scarred dining table. The garden and the pond and the grain fields and the forest and the little village beyond that. And a want filled his chest. A need to help secure his family’s home… and a bit of the anger he’d felt from George took root only not toward Hermione.

No, this was anger towards her family. Anger for making his parents insecure. For threatening to take all of this away. For not meeting their granddaughter at a train station…

“Stop thinking about it Fred.”

“I can’t. And I know you can’t either.”

“I know… but there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

Fred’s eyes narrowed in the dark. “Of course, there is.”

He heard George sit up and lean on an elbow. “Alright you convinced me. What’s the plan?”

The smile he sent George was on par with a Slytherin, he just knew it. “Mayhem and chaos of course.”



 

With a critical eye, Hermione stared at her reflection. It was as familiar as it wasn’t but if she were honest, since waking in a dream, she never took more than a moment in front of the mirror each day. Long enough to be certain her hair was tied into braids and her buttons were straight. Seeing her twelve year old features were never high on her priority list these days.

But now…unable to sleep and with dawn yet to bring light, a candle did its best to fight back the shadows surrounding her as she found little else to occupy her mind other than to just think.

It was strange taking such a long moment to just… stare at herself. To take in the outline of her dark brows, the light dusting of freckles over her nose, her cheeks still lined with a child’s thickness.

Most days, Hermione forgot that in another world- another life, she was mostly grown and on the edge of adulthood with a cloudy future and vague idea of what independence was.

Most days, she forgot that she had another life altogether in which she had already gone through changes and experiences.

It was easy to forget.

Easy and frightening.

On days like this… when the world slowed enough to remind her that something wasn’t quite right, she remembered. And sometimes confused that reality with this one.

What if that were the dream?

The future in which two world wars had already been fought, humans raced into space and walked on the moon, where all of known knowledge was available with a few short keystrokes on a computer… Where magic was a myth and she didn’t belong.

Some days, Hermione knew she was going mad.

Most days, she preferred to forget and allow memories that didn’t truly belong to take root within her, challenging what she believed to be truth.

This however was not one of those days.

She clearly remembered the train ride to the train station. The excitement racing just beneath her skin at the thought of meeting a grandfather and parents and everyone else whom she couldn’t quite remember. The feeling of belonging as people she’d grown comfortable enough with to consider friends.

A nervous energy that slowly took root the closer the train drew to the city, one that quickly turned into fear and no matter how many times she told herself that she was above such silly fear, as an eagle and as a lion, she was still bone deep terrified.

The Weasley’s had been a welcome reassurance, a united front standing with her as they helped her search for her grandfather in an endless sea of faces.

What she’d gotten instead of a kindly old gentleman was a straitlaced governess by the name of Mistress Cullum who expected perfection and was strong in her disapproval of this school up in the wilds of Scotland.

If only Mistress Cullum knew the half of it. Magic, as dangerous as it is beautiful. Impossible castles with all manner of legendary beasts and beings. Forests shrouded with mysteries that drew her with whispers and blue lights.

Yes, the elder lady would lock Hermione up if she only knew…

As it was, for the entire ride to Riverbend, Hermione had listened as Mistress Cullum listed her imperfections and the must dos for the holiday. A hair trim was in dire need, new wardrobe, and apparently a refreshment course over manners and decorum.

No mention of parents or grandfathers, of decorating and exchanging gifts and sleigh rides. Even plans to write to Ginny Weasley was dashed as Mistress Cullum reprimanded her for being seen with the children and their mother and she was strictly not to encourage contact with them.

Anger had burned deep within her chest as her current guardian said such insulting things of her new friends and her defense of them had been cut short when the woman had racked her across the knuckles with a long slice of wood that resembled a ruler.

It had humiliated her more than it hurt, but Hermione took it as a lesson to choose her battles. Mistress Cullum was obviously an unreasonable sort who had a very lofty idea of how the granddaughter of a duke ought to behave… and Hermione quickly realized that defense from a twelve year old would not be taken seriously.

She just hoped that Ginny would forgive her…

As horrible as the carriage ride was for Hermione, she still had looked forward to arriving at Riverbend. And it was as old and beautiful as she had hoped. It had taken severe restraint to keep her poise and not press her nose against the cold carriage window, but she had managed to sneak a few glances as they wound their way past frosty fields that promised to be green and full of life come spring.

The river frozen over now but promised to be refreshing in the summer.

Trees bordering a wide clearing, bare and haunting but sure to put on a colorful display when autumn cloaks the land.

And at the center of it all, a gatehouse opening to give way to a sprawling redbrick manor. The original building must have been centuries upon centuries old with each lord and lady who inherited adding on until it seemed nearly impossible to know every room and stairwell.

With snow, dark trees, and a cloudy sky, the red manor was a beacon of warmth, once which she gladly fell into. With the giddiness of a true twelve year old, Hermione had sprung from the carriage without waiting for a footman to help her down, and all while ignoring the scolding and promises of days without dinner from Mistress Cullum, sprinted inside.

Richly decorated with imported rugs and wallpaper, paintings and vases the grandeur went on and on, the likes she had never seen before only in pictures. A familiar path had come to her, leading her to a library with books from floor to ceiling and ladders that rolled on tracks. She found herself looking forward to examining each and every one of them even if it meant she ended up with blisters from the ladder rungs.

Her excitement had been short lived for as soon as Mistress Cullum had caught up, she’d been sent to her room with the demand that she bathe the stench of travel from her person.

Now a week into her holiday from school, and she’d yet to have been allowed back in the library. And just as disappointing, yet to see her grandfather, though Alexander did send a note with excuses that he was tied up in London and he was happy that she’d made it to Riverbend safely.

As for her parents… no word. And honestly, she was too afraid to ask about them. What if they were dead? She didn’t feel they were, though memories of them were slow in coming to her. She had a vague sense of what they looked like… she had her mother’s eyes but her father’s uncontrollable hair.

But anything else was just… not there.

She looked around her room, at the dark blue walls- her favorite color- and the gold crushed velvet blanket with matching pillows. A finely carved writing desk, shelves with a globe and books on grammar and arithmetic. And more than half the shelves were full of fashion periodicals and pamphlets on dancing.

Hermione had a feeling those were the work of Mistress Cullum as she was often pushing such things on her, hoping to turn her head from sciences and history and more in preparation of a seasonal debut in several years.

‘Over my dead body.’ Hermione had decided with venom at the thought and had packed all the books in a trunk to be forgotten about.

She could endure lessons on tea pouring and- and- well whatever mundane task Mistress Cullum had decided was feminine enough that she ought to have it perfected. Yes, she could do what she had to in order to keep her knuckles from being bruised and earn her suppers, but the moment Alexander or anyone with any authority over the woman joined them, she would be having words with them…

Not that these things were not worth learning, but with Mistress Cullum’s lesson they were for the strict reason of procuring a husband. A suitable husband. That made them undesirable for her to learn with the due diligence that she always gave her studies.

Hermione sighed. The sun was rising, and she could now see the dark circles beneath her eyes her lack of sleep had given her. Soon, she would be collected for lessons before breakfast, so she set about dressing herself before a maid arrived to pick out her clothing for her.

As expected, Mistress Cullum arrived for her and set her to practice needlepoint.

Another perfectly boring day. It bled into the next and the next until she forgot entirely what day it was.

Hermione couldn’t even be certain that Christmas hadn’t already passed, that she’d been forgotten about in this beautiful but confining manor. Had the Hogwarts Express left without her? She could feel the need to use magic, itching just beneath the surface, but had learned early in the school year about the restrictions and the trace.

That didn’t mean she couldn’t read her books on magical history and theory in secret, but she could only read those so many times before the words already memorized by her ceased to hold her interest.

Eventually came a day where Mistress Cullum didn’t come for her precisely at six am. With more curiosity than concern, Hermione slowly stepped down the grand staircase that led to the entrance and the lower entertaining rooms to find her guardian talking frantically with the housekeeper- a kind woman of moderate years who always had a pitying smile for Hermione.

At the sight of her Mistress Cullum turned all her attention on her, dark blue eyes moving over her quickly, judging every detail. “This will not do, not at all.  Child return to your room at once and dress in the dark green blouse with the velvet black skirt. Mary will do your hair for whatever it is that you’ve done with it just will not do.”

Hermione ignored the slight about her hair but frowned all the same. “Is there something happening?”

Mistress Cullum’s irritation was obvious, but she was too preoccupied to give too much of a set down. “His Grace, his daughter and her husband are due to arrive by noon. Now go!”

Too shocked to ask for more information or to tell the stubbornly proper woman to just say her grandfather and parents were coming at last; Hermione turned and followed the woman’s command without question.

She changed quickly and had to admit the colors were perfect for the season and even Mary’s painful tugging on her hair didn’t bother her in the least. By the time she was buttoned and pinned, Hermione felt she looked older than twelve, if not for her shorter stature.

Breakfast was skipped as Mistress Cullum set her to reading about garden architecture and design until her family’s arrival was spotted.

With the book laying forgotten in her lap, Hermione watched out of the front sitting room window, her mind silent for any thought would send her into a state of complete panic. If she kept her mind empty, then she couldn’t think about how she was supposed to act with parents and grandparents… she’d never had them. She barely had a grasp on memories of them in this dream…

The clock on the mantle signaled the noon hour, and her hands began to tremble.

A black carriage drawn by two black horses came into view, and she thought she might be sick- and on an empty stomach, it would not be pleasant indeed.

Mistress Cullum called for her as she swept by the doorway toward the front door, and Hermione barely had the strength to stand.

Yet she managed.

The heels on her boots felt wobbly and her heart as if it were going to beat out of her chest, but she took her place with Mistress Cullum at her side and the house staff behind her, watching as the carriage pulled to a stop.

The sun shone brightly against the snow, cold seeped quickly through her clothing… she felt everything too much. Even the wind tugging her hair from pins felt gritty against her skin. Electricity tingled across her fingertips as she pressed her nails into the palms of her hands.

She recognized the feeling from another time in another life.

Accidental magic.

The realization that her emotional state was beginning to cause a loss of control cleaved through any fear or anxiety over meeting her family. She mustn’t let her emotions control her. So long as she’s the perfect gentry daughter, the perfect example of a lady, then there was nothing to fear.

She just couldn’t talk about magic unless they were strictly alone. Couldn’t talk about her friends. Her classes.

‘So long as you’re not yourself, you will get through this Granger.’ She thought to herself as the first occupant of the carriage stepped down.

“Little bird!” The grandfather she had looked for at the station with a smile beneath his snow white mustache and his arms open wide, a cane held in one hand.

Relief swept through her and without thought, took a step forward, prepared to throw herself into his waiting arms… but a warning glare from Mistress Cullum paired with a clearing of her throat stayed Hermione’s next step.

He looked abashed for a moment before settling for kissing her hand instead. Hermione remembered to curtsey, internally grimacing at all the practicing of the act she had done the past week.

“Mistress Cullum is quite right. I keep forgetting that you are well on your way to growing into a lady, though I see you’ve hardly grown since I last saw you in July.” Alexander said with a wink before turning to watch as his daughter and son in law joined them.

Hermione was speechless, and for once not because of nerves, but she honestly had no idea what to say. And the wash of memories taking over did nothing to help.

Winter days of her hand in the tall brown haired man’s hand before she’d run off into the snow drifts with childish shrieks.

Springs in the garden with the brown eyed woman, humming songs and picking flowers.

And the feelings that came with them… she loved these two people. Ached from missing them. Was anguished because…

Hermione’s heart, just a moment ago had been so lifted and- and happy, sank like a stone in a still lake.

Fear.

While she was looking at them with such hope and happiness, they were looking at her with fear.

Memories of a doll dancing through the air in that same garden, vegetables turning into sweets in the middle of dinner, fire burning out of control as she stood in the middle of the chaos…

Hermione remembered now. That house was gone now, and she hadn’t seen her parents since.

The sting of tears brought her back to herself, locking the painful memories of another girl’s life away, she determined to make the best of the meeting that she could. Control was more important than ever.

“Momma-“ The word felt natural to her, but Mistress Cullum cleared her throat for the second time in just a handful of seconds- Hermione was not off to a good start in her guardians’ eyes. “Your Grace, Lord and Lady Granger, welcome to Riverbend.”

Phillip and Charlotte didn’t respond but watched her carefully. Alexander however filled the void of silence by jovially complaining about the chill and led the way into the manor, Charlotte and Phillip following slowly after.

Hermione would have remained standing there in the ankle deep snow, wishing for a way to wake up from this never ending nightmare, had Mistress Cullum not stopped in her line of view with a snapping glare in her eyes. Message received, she followed the family she’d been painfully excited and terrified to meet into the manor, the sound of the door closing behind her.



 

Today was the day.

Christmas.

The day Hermione finally got her family alone and said her piece.

She understood so much more at last, the lack of written contact, the lack of warmth, the overly strict caretaker…

And the sudden arrival of her parents after a separation of three years.

They were as curious as they were afraid.

And Hermione understood, truly she did. It wasn’t so very long ago that the belief in witches and the fear driven hunt of them had been. And as someone who had put their lives in danger… well Hermione was a very logical girl, and the entire situation was now made perfectly logical to her.

So she pulled her hair into a tight braid, tucked her blouse into her skirt and kept herself in perfect control and poise.

She needed these people to believe she was no longer a danger, for them to trust in her maturity and what she wanted out of this reality, and to send Mistress Cullum on her way with honest references.

It still galled her that there were no decorations or visits to the library… even Athena had a tree on display though Hermione was never there when it was put up and decorated. But none had made any mention of the absence of holiday cheer.

Next year would be different. Next year there would not be a Mistress Cullum which meant next year there would be holly and glass baubles, presents, and maybe even visits from friends.

Hermione walked into the breakfast parlor with the bravery of a lion to find the three adults seated at the smaller table. Alexander read a newspaper, Charlotte jellied a slice of bread, and Phillip was picking out breakfast food at the spread, but each paused their task at her entrance.

“Good morning Hermione! Sleep well?” Alexander asked with enthusiasm.

“I did. Happy Christmas.” Hermione said with a small, hopeful smile before taking the seat across from her mother.

“And to you.” Alexander was the only one to reply before he went back to reading his paper.

She was awfully surprised at his lack of interest in Hogwarts, he had seemed so excited about it through his letters. She waited until her father sat with his plate of food before checking that all doors were closed, and they were truly alone before clearing her throat and gaining the attention of the other three.

“I… I was wondering if anyone had any questions… for me.” At their silence, she added in some clarification. “About where I’ve been since September, and all that I’ve learned.”

“I don’t wish to speak about it.” Charlotte said right away in a voice that was equally sad and terrified.

That cleared up why Alexander was so quiet about it. Charlotte must have had him promise that he wouldn’t bring it up.

Logical.

“Alright, if that is what you wish. In any case, I want to discuss Mistress Cullum.”

“She came highly recommended and already I can see she’s improved upon you.” Phillip spoke up, but his gaze remained on his plate.

With a tone sharper than intended and growing sharper with every word, all pretense of the perfect lady she tried to be went out the window. “Highly recommended? All she does is have me read ‘Topics Certain to Keep His Attention’ and how to design a menu for visits from the royal family, and if I so much as yawn while being forced through these lessons I go without dinner and have my knuckles bruised.”  

The three adults sat in silence, save for the rattle of Charlotte’s china cup in its saucer.

Recognizing her fear, Hermione calmed her voice into a sincere plead for understanding. “I am twelve, and I have no interest in marriage.”

Alexander set his paper aside and smiled softly. “Alright little bird. What does interest you- you know besides-“

“That-which-must-not-be-spoken-of?” She offered and he nodded. “Traveling. The sciences. Laws. Agriculture. Engineering.”

“It sounds as if you want to know everything.”

Charlotte managed to set her cup down without breaking it. “The traveling is an acceptable energy for a young lady, but the rest? A woman knowing such things would only frighten suitable young men away.”

Hermione shrugged in a very unladylike way. “That is acceptable to me.”

“But not to me.” Phillip spoke up with Charlotte’s nod of approval. “You are the only child to not only the Granger line but Blackthorn as well. Your husband-“

“I think Phillip,” Alexander interjected with a sigh, “now is not the time. Hermione has already reminded us that she is a child and any plans of the future should be put aside for the time. As for Mistress Cullum, well you have displayed a strength of character so perhaps a different-“

A sound similar to gunfire came from a room across the hall followed by screeching. Phillip pulled Charlotte down to the floor and beneath the table while Hermione and Alexander both stood and ran for the door.

Good sense shouted through her mind at the last moment to not just swing open the door into a live gunfire fight, so she pressed her back against the wall and squeezed her eyes shut. Her wand was up in her room and tucked at the bottom of a trunk and she’d never done wandless magic except by accident.

The gunshots and screams continued, a stench of gunpowder and something far more odious seeped beneath the door.

But she was determined to try.

“Hermione no-“ Alexander called out as she swung open the door with nothing more than the spell for levitating small objects in her mind.

She expected masked intruders with handguns, sacks of silver candlesticks and tableware at their side.

What she found was Mistress Cullum in the center of the next room screeching and swatting at fireworks whizzing about and exploding with pops of smoke and awful smells.

box sat on a table with the fireworks continuously shooting out of it. Ignoring the fireworks, Hermione hurried to the box and closed it, holding the top down as fireworks kept trying to shoot out. To everyone except Mistress Cullum and the other employees, it was clearly magic at work. A

“What is the meaning of this Mistress Cullum?” Alexander shouted to be heard over the noise and hurrying over to open windows.

“A box was delivered with my name on it. Th-thinking it was a gift from my niece in Bath, I opened without question only- only-” Mistress Cullum turned enraged blue eyes on Hermione. “Lady Granger has clearly been against my teaching methods and decided to play a nasty little prank on me. I hate to say it Your Grace, but she is a rotten, bad little seed.”

Hermione felt sick.

A prank.

She knew who had done this. The why was lost on her but honestly, she didn’t care.

Alexander was no longer looking at her as the light of his world. Charlotte and Phillip who slowly walked into the room now that the danger was seemingly passed, looked at her with renewed fear and disappointment.

“I think…” Alexander began, holding a handkerchief out to the harried woman so she might wipe the soot from her brow, “that you are needed more than ever Mistress Cullum.”



 

Something was different.

Fred knew that right away.

He and George had waited on the platform for Hermione to board the Hogwarts Express, but they never saw her. And after a search of the train, she wasn’t there either.

They had expected a letter from her, especially after the gift they sent to the piece of work guardian she had, but none had ever come.

When they arrived at Hogwarts, she was already there with the other students who had stayed at the school over the holiday.

They ignored their curiosity about the reason why and attempted to ask excitedly about their prank.

Again, something was off.

Hermione Granger looked straight through them as if they didn’t exist and it made him feel sick to his stomach.

He liked her, she was serious and studious, but when she was teasing and laughing, or sure of herself and bossy, she was actually quite likeable.

Fred didn’t want her to stare through him.

Soon he realized it wasn’t just him and George she did this to.

It was the beginning of the year all over again only this time it was her pushing everyone away.

He never saw her at meals or the common room and especially not at the Quidditch games.

Hermione Granger became a ghost, only seen by the other first years when in classes or her dorm room.

He had asked Ron and Harry about her, but all Harry had to offer was a sad shrug with the information that she sits in the front row of each class and ignores anyone around her, even Neville when looking for help.

With more investigation, Neville revealed that it wasn’t that she didn’t want to help but didn’t go into detail on why she couldn’t.

Fred knew what had changed. As did George.

Something must have gone awry with their prank and now… a month before school ended, operation corner Hermione Granger and try to explain themselves became more important than ever.

The map created by the mysterious and brilliant marauders, showed her to often be in the library but every time they set aside their anti-education morals and went in to find her, she was never where she ought to be.

Until, a flicker of a shadow seen by Fred, a cut of a breeze felt by George, and a small passage between a bookshelf and a wall was found. It was easy to miss and blended perfectly together unless you were to stair straight into it, but it was with great accomplishment that the two squeezed through and up a spiral staircase to an indoor balcony overlooking the restricted section of the library.

There were even more bookcases, tables and chairs, and a wall of stained glass windows. And seated in a high back chair beneath one of those windows was one Hermione Granger, her hair done up in a tight knot and robes of fine make. Reading a large book that was no doubt of boring caliber but held her attention so completely she didn’t hear the first time he called her name.

“We’re sorry.” George said before Fred could say her name again.

That got her attention. And just like before, it was with passive brown eyes. Not even irritation at the invasion of them in a place she obviously went for solitude.

When George elbowed him, he nodded. “Yes, we’re sorry for what we did… I take it the fireworks er worked?”

As much as it pained him, he was actually relieved to see anger flash across her face. Apathetic brown eyes became dark and hard and he could feel static move across the skin of his arms.

With barely controlled movements, Hermione snapped the book in her lap closed and stood.

“Worked?” She took a step toward him.

If she were taller, he might have actually felt threatened but as it was, she was short, and he thought she looked rather adorable. Like an angry little kitten. It was only when George pinched him on the back of the arm with a look asking if he wanted to die did Fred realize that he was grinning like an idiot at a girl who was dangerously irate with them.

“Yes see, we experiment with different pranks-“ George began to answer her question only to be cut off by the sudden appearance of her wand being pointed at them.

“I’m not going to hex you, because that would be against the rules. But know that I want to.” Hermione lowered her wand, but her expression turned… into something akin to pain and horror. “What you’ve done is ruin everything!  You can take your pathetic pranks and well I won’t say what you can do with them because that would be inappropriate, but you know exactly where I was going with that. You say you’re sorry? Prove it and leave me alone.

Fred felt his shoulders tighten, the desire to argue and defend himself already on his lips. But George was already pulling him away. Pulling him down the stairs and out of sight of the angry girl, past a tsking Madam Pince and down to the kitchen.

“Why did you do that George? I didn’t want to leave her alone, not like that!” He groused as a house elf passed him a plate of tarts.

George sighed. “We obviously messed up somehow. We don’t know the whole story Fred. She needs time so we should give it.”

“I know… it’s just she shouldn’t be alone.”

“I agree. Give her time and we’ll win her back.”

Fred scrunched his nose at his brother. “You didn’t even like her in the beginning. What changed?”

With a shrug, George grinned. “She likes quidditch. And she treats everyone the same. Even when she’s right pissed at us, she takes it out on the entire school.”

Matching his grin, Fred laughed, feeling a bit better if no longer sick to his stomach. “That is a rather spectacular facet. How about the fact that the fireworks actually worked? I say we send them to Snape next.”

“We need a first had experience, I agree.”

And again, life went on within the stone walls of Hogwarts.

Pranks played, detention served, classes ended, quidditch and house cups won by Gryffindor, plans for summer made, and farewells shared.

Space and time were given to the girl who hid away in the library, while two boys waited for the day of forgiveness.

But that day did not come before the last day of school, not did it come on the train back to Kings Cross.

Instead they kept their sighs of disappointment to themselves, at a loss as to how they might repair the damage they did to the friendship that had just barely begun.

Forgiveness did not come by owl or a promise kept to their little sister, but it came one hot July day in the most unexpected of ways.



 

Chapter Text



 

The sweat slipping down from red hair stung eyes squinted against the sun. Gloves nearly worn through in places on the palms, rubbed against sore skin and creaked with every clench. A hot breeze rolled through golden fields, the scent of the nearby river flowing into the pond teased invitingly.   

No matter how often Fred swiped his wrist across his brow, the heat brought more sweat, but he couldn’t stop. Not now. Not when he was so close…

His eyes widened, his quarry finally in sight.

Risking a quick toss of his head to get his hair out of his eyes, he tightened his grip, crossed his arm across his chest and with a light shout, packed as much energy as he could into swinging his arm back out.

It was the sound of Charlie’s bludger cracking on his beater bat before shooting out into the sky, the vibration sent up his tense arm and into his shoulder, the shout of dismay from an older brother, all these things brought a grin of triumph to Fred’s face.

“It landed in the trees Fred!” Ron complained.

“It’s alright Ron because Fred is going to go and get it!” Charlie called as he jogged closer, eyes narrowed with irritation.

Fred shook his head in bewilderment. “Why the bloody hell should I have to fetch the ruddy bludger? Ron’s the one who missed the quaffle!”

George bounded over, his beater bat swinging in his hand. “C’mon lads, Mum will notice we’ve stopped working in the garden soon and then we won’t get to finish the game!”

Running a hand through his hair, Charlie groaned. “Fred hit the bludger over the river and into the trees. And he’s going to go get it because he’s the one who hit it so far, and since we’re playing without magic, it’s not bewitched to come for his head.”

“Why can’t you just accio it?” Fred demanded hotly, sizing his older brother up. Charlie had six years and just as many inches on him but he was confident that he’d get a few good hits in before Charlie’s dragon wrangling build took him down.

“Because,” Charlie reached over and shook Fred’s hair roughly, “you hit like a Slytherin-“ he was cut off with an oof as Fred crashed into his chest before gasping laughter took over Charlie as he halfheartedly wrestled with Fred.

“Get him Charlie! Watch his left fist!” Ron shouted from the sidelines.

“Keep out of it Ron!” George shoved Ron behind him before focusing on his fighting brothers. “Go for the ear Fred! No not the ruddy elbow- oh hell-“ George winced as Fred took a knee to the ribs.

After a brief recovery spent gasping in which a still laughing Charlie had backed off a step, Fred launched himself again, this time slipping behind Charlie’s back and hooking an arm around Charlie’s neck. He was too short and his strength too lacking to truly do any harm, not that he’d wanted to anyways, but it allowed him a moment of triumphant heckling.

“Call me a Slytherin once-“

Charlie sent an elbow into still throbbing ribs sending Fred down to one knee. “Then don’t play like one.”

“Charlie! Boys!” Mums voice cut through the hot air and over the field, followed by the sound of four boys muttering curses and cutting glares at each other. “George, Fred, and Ronald!”

Without needing to be told to get their rears back to the house, they gathered what quidditch gear they had- minus one bludger- and trudged through the field to their clearly irate mother. Her arms were crossed, a foot tapped impatiently, and her glare was angrier than Percy when Ginny spilled ink all over a mysterious letter that smelled suspiciously like flowers.

Fred knew they were in trouble alright but he sent a wink up to Ginny when she poked her head out of the window from the floor above.

Mum laid into them the moment they came within reasonable distance, close enough to see the flour dusted on her apron yet far enough away that they were out of reach from the towel she would surely be swinging threateningly before she was done with them. “Before I even begin to address the fact that three out of the four of you were meant to be in the vegetable garden while the last one of you was meant to be packing up to abandon us for Bulgaria- why-“ Fred had to smother a grin when she pulled the dish towel from the pocket of her faded blue apron and began to wave it about- “are the four of you brawling like muggle sailors?”

“Mum, the Bulgaria thing isn’t a sure thing yet-“

Seeing his chance to sway his mum to his side of the conflict, Fred stepped forward, making sure to keep his expression contrite. “George and Ron didn’t have anything to do with it, Mum. It was all Charlie and I.”

Naturally, his mum didn’t care for such things as taking responsibility for squabbles. “Oh I know exactly who was involved, George.”

The real George groaned. “Oh come on Mum, I’m George.”

She blinked between them for a moment before sending George an apologetic look. “Alright, sorry about that dear. Charlie, you’re helping me in the kitchen for the rest of the day. Fred, you’re to weed the entire garden on your own, and sew up that sleeve.”

It was Fred’s turn to groan. “I don’t understand why you can’t just use a spell for all this extra work.” His thoughts were on the bludger still out in the trees and he wondered when he’d have a chance to go find it now that his work load had just doubled.

“Because little brother,” Charlie nudged him with his elbow with a cocky grin on his face. “It’s your work to do. When you hit seventeen, then by all means cast a spell for every little bit of work. Besides, manual labor builds character and you could seriously use some.”

A small shard of thought struck Fred as he wondered if it were true but he knew his brother was teasing but enjoyed playing along and bared his teeth in response.

“Charlie! That’s enough!” Mum exclaimed while George laughed.

“It’s true that I got all the character.”

“And none of the brains.” Fred fired back.

Ron sighed with a roll of his eyes. “And here’s where George says ‘who needs brains when you have a face like this.’”

Everyone looked at George expectantly to which he shrugged. “Well it’s true.”

The glare his mum was trying so hard to keep up began to waver as amusement began to curl her lips. Before it slipped entirely, she began to shoo everyone away. Their afternoon now free, George and Ron ran off to the pond to cool off, Ginny racing out the door after them with a cane fishing pole in one hand and screams at the top of her lungs for them to wait for her.

Charlie went to clean up before handling any food, leaving Fred to stare sullenly at the garden. His sigh was long suffering as he went to begin the task of cleaning out the garden, but a tough on his shoulder stopped him and he looked to see his mum watching him with obvious concern.

“Are you alright Fred?”

“Of course I am. I’ve gotten into worse scuffles on the Quidditch field, but you shouldn’t tell Charlie that. Might hurt his feelings.”

“I mean besides the senseless brawling. I saw your face when Charlie said what he said.” Mum took a deep breath before continuing with a shake of her head. “And you’ve been wilder this summer. Chores undone, fighting with your siblings, even George.”

Stepping back so his mums hand would fall from his shoulder, Fred offered a lopsided grin. “Oh come on mum, you know I always have better things to do than chores.”

Mum bit her lip, her eyes saddened. “The chores are important. That garden helps to pay for your tuition. Next year there will be five tuition fees to pay for- and I’m not telling you this to make you feel guilty-“

“Then why are you?” Fred asked sharply. “Forget it, you’ve made your point.”

“Fred-“ Mum began, but he was already marching into the garden.

A cloud settled over him as he fell to his knees next to a row of cabbages and began to pull weeds up and toss out the occasional gnome. He was fourteen, practically a man, and here he was still in the garden pulling gnomes off his leather gloves.

“Blast...” He muttered as a new hole appeared after managing to toss a rather fearsome gnome over the fence. Glancing down at the rest of his appearance, the torn sleeve, the dirt and grass stained breeches, hand me down boots… He didn’t know how to sew the sleeve, couldn’t use magic on it without causing trouble for his parents.

Fred tipped his head back, face to the sun and closed his eyes with a long sigh.

He was a terrible burden.

He didn’t take seriously an education he didn’t want and yet his parents scrapped to give him. And he couldn’t even focus long enough to help them grow a few vegetables to sell in the village…

His mind was always coming up with ideas, though typically they were ideas for causing trouble, however this time he looked for an idea on how to make things better. There were small ways, such as taking the initiative to help with the vegetables, and not wearing out his clothing with reckless abandon. But these things were just so small.

The Weasley’s were barely holding it together, he realized hours later at the dinner table. His father, while always ready with a smile and a funny story, looked hollow eyed and worn, and had only looked at his torn shirt with quiet acceptance. Mum didn’t talk other than to reprimand Ron for flicking peas at Ginny.

Percy asked their dad endless questions about the ministry, Charlie went on about Bulgaria and the dragon reserve there he hoped to be employed soon, Ron and Ginny picked at each other, while George was as quiet and pensive as he was himself.

Their plates were full of seasoned vegetables, potatoes, and steaks of pork with gravy, and the sight pained his chest. He absently rubbed his heel against the inside of his boot, noticing the hole in his sock. Just a few hours ago, he would have let it be, knowing his mum would fix it when she did the laundry.

Just as she always did.

He watched Ron wipe at a spot of gravy on his shirt, one that had once been his. The dress Ginny wore was plain and a size too small for her growing arms. He knew mum would be resizing the sleeves from long to short before long.

They might not have much in the way of well anything really, but they always had food and enough clothes to keep them warm when it mattered. But at what cost? Parents who were worked ragged and feared for the future?

Bill had made it out, seen an opportunity to take off to Egypt, and so he’d taken it.

Charlie was too just as soon as he secured his Bulgaria gig.

Fred knew what he should do. But he didn’t want to.

No, he didn’t want to leave his family… his home. But he wanted to make their lives better.

Sleep eluded him that night just as his decision.

Until he heard the clock strike twelve.

For once without a plan, and without discussing it with George, Fred slipped from his bed, stuffed his ripped shirt and grass stained breeches and wand into a small bag. On his way to the door, dodging the creaky boards, he picked up his boots and reached for the doorknob.

“Where are you going?”

Fred didn’t look back but he heard the shuffling of his brother as he sat up in bed.

“To look for the bludger.”

“At midnight?”

At this Fred looked over his shoulder with a half grin, moonlight coming through the open curtains. “Might as well. Mum will have me cleaning out the garden for the rest of summer for fighting with Charlie.”

George sighed and stood from his bed, running a hand through his mussed hair. “I’m certain you’ve already been forgiven, but c’mon, let’s go.”

Panic flashed through Fred as George began to copy his movements and shoved a pair of clothes into the bag on his shoulder. “W-what are you doing?”

“You think I was going to miss out on this running away attempt?” George rolled his eyes when Fred’s widened in shock. “We share a brain Gred. I’ve been picking up on your restless, need-to-make-a-break-for-it emotions all night. So what’s the plan?”

George was always asking him that, Fred realized. It was always him dragging his brother down with him, and finally realized he might be going too far. He couldn’t do this to George. This was so much more than detention for breaking curfew. He’d never be able to forgive himself if something horrible came from this little piss poor idea of his.

“No running away Forge… just getting the bludger and coming back, none the wiser.” Fred shoved an exasperated expression onto his face.

“Well let’s go get it. Two wands is better than one.”

Deciding to bide his time until the moment was right, Fred shrugged and led the way down the stairs and out the front door. In the shed they grabbed a couple of their families’ shabby old brooms and took to the sky. If any ministry folk came looking to perpetuators of underage magic, no one would be surprised as it wasn’t the first time they’d snuck out for a late night fly.

The heat of the day lingered yet but Fred was unbothered in his thin undershirt with the wind in his hair, as he flew high above the tree line, George a pace behind him.

The Burrow became small, the garden a shadowed square of green against dark gold fields. The river created a natural border on one side with trees spreading out for miles all around them. Over the hills to the east were the Lovegoods, and beyond them the small village of Ottery St Catchpole. He didn’t know much beyond that.

Fred stilled his ascent and tilted gaze from the land below him to the stars above.

“From here, it’s almost as if I could touch them.”

“Yea well, I wouldn’t recommend it. We thought today was bloody hot, well imagine coming within touching distance of the sun.”

Fred shot George a grin. “I’ll take that challenge.”

“I bed you would you mad bastard.”

Tossing his head back, Fred’s laugh carried across the night breeze. He felt more like himself now, mounted on a broom, his favorite brother at his side, and breaking not only his parent’s rules but the governments as well. He felt like for the first time since Christmas he fit in his skin.

“C’mon, wands out so we can find the ruddy bludger you’re so determined to find.” George said, heading down to the trees the bludger would have gone in, Fred following suit.

By the glow of the lumos spell, they slowly weaved through the trucks for around ten minutes before Fred halted and shook his head. “Why haven’t we simply accioed it? We’re already breaking the law, might as well use magic to finish the job.”

“So much for building character eh?”

“Shove off. Accio bludger.” Fred flicked his wand and listened as the limbs and leaves began to rustle from his right. Quickly he turned on his broom, countless days of practice keeping him balanced as he held his wand with one hand and kept his other free to catch the incoming object.

With a shout of triumph, he successfully caught the ball and tossed it to George.

His mirth died down as he noticed something odd, as did his brother whose own expression turned serious. From the opposite direction the sound of rustling leaves continued with the stead sound of… something loud.

Something heavy.

Pierced by something high pitched… like a girl’s voice.

Clarus.” Fred whispered and the light from his wand brightened. He and George held perfectly still as they watched the trees. The light of the moon was speckled through the trees, and just beyond their circle of light, complete darkness.

“Stoooooop. Pleaseeeeee.” The voice called out, faintly.

The noises were coming closer, and fast.

Quickly Fred exchanged nods with George, defensive spells and offensive hexes going through his mind if whatever was coming happened to be dangerous. Whatever- whoever it was, they were in the direct path to the Burrow, the small river simple enough to cross, and Fred was prepared to do whatever it took to protect his home.

Fred expected anything from a troll to a muggle army to come through those trees.

He did not expect to see a grey horse taller than he was, tearing through the trees straight for him without control.

And he certainly did not expect to see one Lady Hermione Granger, the epitome of aristocratic and bookish propriety to be in the saddle of such a beast, holding on to the horse’s mane as if her life depended on it.

With quidditch honed reflexes, he and George maneuvered out of its path with a breath to spare, before sense kicked in and they gave pursuit. Dodging and weaving, they quickly caught up to the pair.

Unruly dark hair slipping from the braid down her back and whipping in the wind. Dark eyes wide and shining. It was indeed Hermione, and she was clearly frightened and had lost control of the horse.

“F-Fred?” She managed to get out in between lurches from the horse jumping over a fallen log.

“I’m going to grab the reigns!” He called out before putting his wand between his teeth.

“No need! I h-have ever- oof- everything under c-control!” Hermione shouted back before stubbornly looking away.

Forced away for a moment by a tree in his path, he quickly exchanged his wand around before coming back to her side. “Don’t be mad! The river is coming up!”

“What?”

“The river!” George called from his side and reached for the loose reins.

But it was too late. The tree line broke, the horse skid to a stop at the rivers edge, but its momentum sent an unstable Hermione flying over its head. With a screech and a splash, she hit the water and went under.

“George get the horse!” He called out as he hopped from his broom and dived in after her, wand still in hand. The water was dark but thankfully shallow and the flash of pale hands in the light from his wand was easy to find.

Kicking forward, he caught one of her hands-

-flowers blue. The Nightingale comes for you. Hearts desire of flowers untold blue. The Night- The whisper of an arrow, endless red-

The burning of his lungs and through his arm brought Fred to his senses, and he allowed instinct to take over. Gripping Hermione’s hand tightly, he kicked for the surface, and dragged a deep gulp of air the moment he felt free of the water. He tucked his arm around a gasping Hermione and trudged for the shore where a now calm horse stood with a not so calm George.

For a long moment he laid in the grass after having pulled Hermione from the water, and closed his eyes.

“I had-“ Hermione began but had to stop to coughed up water. He peeked open an eye to see her collapse one her back before continuing. “I had everything- under control.”

For a single beat of the heart he thought she were being serious but then she broken into a coughing, raspy, laugh and looked at him with a cut of her eyes and quickly his own laughter joined hers.

“Did you both hit your heads or something?” George asked, his tone devoid of the amusement that Fred and Hermione were enjoying.

“When you face death as we have Forge, you face it with a smile.” Fred answered, closing his eyes again.

“To quote a lion cub ‘I laugh in the face of danger.’” Hermione said with a long sigh.

“A lion said that eh?” George asked and from the sound of it, Fred guessed he’d come to sit on the other side of Hermione.

Instead of replying, she sat up with a gasp, and only when she snatched her hand from his did he realize he had been holding it all this time. “What did you do?” She demanded, the mirth in her voice from just a moment ago replaced with not anger but fear.

He knew she wasn’t talking about the dunk in the river, but what had happened afterward. His arm still tingled and the words that he had felt more than heard, came back to him one by one.

“Did you hear it too?” He finally opened his eyes to find her and George staring down at him side by side.

“Hear what? Someone better bloody clue me in before I have you both sent to St. Mungo’s.” George demanded hotly.

Hermione crossed her arms, drawing brief attention to her black fancy vest, white shirt sleeves still dripping wet, and curiously enough breeches tucked into calf high boots.

With a sigh he sat up and shook his wet hair from his eyes. “Something about the Nightingale coming for me, flowers and arrows. What it all means, no bloody idea. But my arm hurts all the way to my fingertips.” He held his hand out and straightened the fingers wide. “What did you hear?”

In silence Hermione turned to face the water and hugged her knees to her chest. “It’s too horrible to repeat.” She whipped her head around to stare at him. “Here, give me your hand.”

Understanding where she was coming from, he did as she asked and waited silently as she touched a finger to his palm. Other than a light tingling that spread through his hand, no voices or pain came with her touch. He wanted to push for an answer on what she heard since their experiences were obviously not the same. The questions were stacking up

“I don’t understand, we’ve touched before.” Fred said.

Hermione pulled her hand away and rushed to stand. “Never skin to skin though. Here George, your hand.” She looked down at a still seated George and as they touched hands, Fred waited with a breath he hadn’t even realized he was holding.

“I didn’t feeling anything.” George said, cutting his eyes between the two of them.

Hermione paced within the small circle of light from their wands, her shadowed face scrunched in a frown. “Neither did I. Tell me Fred, have you ever dabbled in divination?”

“I take it because I needed an elective but nothing outside of class.” Fred replied and eased his way to his feet, noticing how Hermione jumped back when his arm nearly brushed hers.

“And even then we didn’t take it seriously. Made up most everything.” George added.

Pausing her pacing, Hermione glanced between them for a moment, her expression unreadable. She hadn’t changed much since he last saw her. Still short and a glare in her eye that told him she hadn’t forgotten her ire with him.

“What are the two of you even doing here?” She asked, taking the reins to her horse from George.

“We live here-“

“Well over there.” George finished, pointing to the tip of the Burrow’s roof seen in the early morning rise.

“I see. But why are you out in the woods?”

“We might ask you the same thing.” Fred crossed his arms, glancing pointedly at the horse.

She put her nose in the air. “I’m exercising Kelpie.”

“Where you running away to?” Fred asked with a grin.

“Why would you assume I’m running away?” She asked with a sharp look.

George held up the bag slung across his chest before nodding towards Fred’s and then her own bags belted to the saddle. “We know.”

Shock flit across her face. “You were running away? But why?”

“You first-“

“Fred didn’t know how to sew a shirt sleeve.” George interrupted, his grin turning Fred’s into a scowl. “Well it’s true.”

“That is not the reason. And I’m the one running away, you were not invited.”

“No, you were only going to leave me behind to clean up the mess,” George cut a hand through the air. “No thank you.”

With a glare that said they weren’t finished discussing this, Fred turned his attention back to a silent Hermione. “Go on then, you know why we were packed up. Your turn.”

She sighed and looked away. “You’ll laugh.”

“Well it doesn’t take much to make me laugh but I shall do my best seeing as how you didn’t laugh at mine.”

After a long pause in which Hermione gave a great deal of attention to the threading of her saddle bag, she finally spoke. “I know that it’s reckless and- and irresponsible- but I just could not stand her anymore. Mistress Cullum.

“The woman from Kings Cross.” George added.

“Yes. I dislike talking about someone behind their back but she’s horrible. And since your awful prank on her at Christmas she’s been a nightmare that would put Professor Snape to shame. Only instead of sneers because you ask the purpose of fairy wings in a girding potion-“

“Well fairies must have plenty of endurance to be fluttering their wings so quickly.” Fred interjected.

Hermione sent him a curious glance before continuing. “Yes and I had to research on my own since he told me to wait until I was there as a third year- if I managed to make it that long.”

“Well that was rude of him.” George said.

“Just so. Dung bombs?” Fred asked.

“Dung bombs.”

Hermione waved her hands about impatiently. “No! Absolutely zero dung bombs! It’s almost as if you want to get expelled.”

Fred pointed at her. “We were talking about you here, not out academic future.”

Another famous Hermione glare. “Fine. Mistress Cullum is a nightmare and instead of Professor Snape’s brand of hostility, hers is filled with books stacked on my head and if I lose balance then I add an hour onto walking the perimeter of the parlor with them there. I’m not allowed in my own wretched library and haven’t read anything that wasn’t saturated in fashion or- or- how to discipline staff.” Her voice became thick with emotion. “She ordered me to sack one of the maids today for staining the table cloth with- it hardly matters with what. The point is I refused. She said it would build character and prepare me for when I was in control of the estates. That’s- that’s when I decided I didn’t want them. So I packed a bag, left a sure roof over my head and food to eat for a life away from that. I know how to survive- and- and other things. But then something spooked Kelpie and I lost-“ She looked off into the woods. “I lost my wand.” She finished in the smallest of voices.

George braced his broom over one shoulder began to head through the path of snapped twigs and deep hoof prints created by Hermione’s horse. “Well come on then, let’s go find it.”

Hermione glared after him. “Yes because that’s going to be simple! Finding a stick in a forest of sticks.

“Never fear Blue.” Fred said, coming to stand beside her and taking the horses reins into his own hand while raising his still lit wand with this other. “We’ve dabbled in our fair share of underage magic tonight, a bit more wont hurt. Grab my broom will you?”

He smiled when she rolled her eyes and swept it up. He could practically hear the thoughts rambling through her head that if he hadn’t just pulled her from the river, she would have told him to get it himself or to at least say please. As it was, she did as he asked silently and tied it to the saddle bag before walking after George.

The woods were becoming lighter and the song of birds gave their wake up calls. He had not slept and yet he had enough energy to clean out ten of his mums gardens.

“Were you truly running away because of a ripped shirt?” She asked after several minutes of silence.

“No. Though its true I ripped it, I realized something and thought my leaving would make things easier.” He glanced down and caught her frown and decided to clarify, after all she had given a great deal of insight to her own reasoning. “The Weasley’s are a poor family barely surviving on hopes, dreams, and hand me downs. I’m a right selfish bastard who has no wish to go to school, especially if the price for that education is Ginny in clothes that once belonged to Percy.”

“But Fred, they are your parents! You leaving like this would not make things easier on them… if anything it would make it much worse! And no education? But then how do you expect to find a meaningful career?”

“My uncles Gideon and Fabian were aurors and hunted down dark wizards. Maybe I could become a bounty hunter of a sort and sent the rewards home.”

“Fred… you said were.”

He sent her a look. “I didn’t say it was a good idea. I just felt helpless and needed to do something other than chores and trying to sneak in a game of quidditch.”

“So gardener, seamstress, and Fred Weasley Hunter of Outlaw Wizards, are out… if you did stay, what would you do? You know when you grow up?”

Fred shrugged. “I haven’t gotten that far. What about you?”

“I haven’t gotten that far.” She heaved a sigh. “I just know that it will not be as lady of the house. Do you know that I have not seen my parents nor my grandfather since Christmas? Other than a monthly letter from Alexander to be certain I’m behaving…”

Wincing with guilt, Fred tried to keep his brother in sight. “Because of the prank?”

“That… didn’t help, but it is not the reason, no. They are afraid of magic, of me. I’m quite certain that if I wasn’t the only child of two family lines, I could ride off into the sunset and everyone would be perfectly happy.”

“What rubbish!” He cried out, drawing a glance from her. “You have friends Hermione Granger. Friends who were hurt and lost when you shut them out and missed you!”

She opened her mouth but she held back the words and instead hurried her step, leaving him to follow as she caught up to George. The whole conversation left him confused, plagued with guilt, and a small amount of hurt… and he didn’t really understand why.

To put it plainly, the past day had been a confusing blur of emotions and that energy he’d felt just moments ago was wearing thin, leaving him drained and exhausted. If he could start the day differently he would, that is until he realized that would mean he and George wouldn’t have been there to help Hermione with her run away horse.

Hermione Granger would have disappeared and the realization left a terrible taste in his mouth.

In the gentle glow of the morning  light, she glanced back over her shoulder and held her newly found wand aloft. He supposed George finally managed to find it with an accio.

“Nox.” He said quietly, allowing the light from his wand to finally fade away.

While George and Hermione walked back toward him, Kelpie suddenly tossed her head and stepped back restlessly.

“Shhh, what’s wrong old girl?” Fred said soothingly, patting her on the neck. Holding her reins tightly to fight against her restless movements, he glance around for whatever was disturbing the beast.

“Boys…” Hermione whispered, but something was wrong with her voice, and it drew his attention immediately.

Three shades paler with eyes as big as a Hogwarts house elves, she stared at some point through the trees. He could practically feel her fear but it was only when he finally saw for himself, did he understand it… and feel his own shock of fear.

Through the trees, tied to a high limb by the feet, a body swayed in the early morning breeze. Not a sound could be heard beyond the rustle of a frightened Kelpie until the sudden shock of crows bursting into flight caused Hermione to break free of her trance and turn away, George wrapping an arm around her shoulder.

“We need to get Dad.” Fred said quietly, fighting against the rise of acid in the back of this throat. In a small way he was relieved the persons back was toward them as he was certain if he saw their lifeless face, he would have lost his senses. As it were, the sight of unnaturally grey skin of hands and bare feet, the dirt caked in unruly shaggy… he had to get out of there.

Had to get Hermione out of there.

“Hermione come on-“ He reached for her as she turned toward him, the tears in her eyes piercing his chest painfully. “Can you ride Kelpie?”

Taking a deep breath, she brushed her tears away with a nod. He noticed the tremble of her hands and the deep way she bit her bottom lip, but she didn’t break. Even after realizing that she was too short to reach the stirrup, she didn’t fall to pieces.

George quickly sat on his broom and took to the air in the direction of home.

“Fred… will you help? I had a step stool back at the stable.”

“Here-“ Fred held tight to the reins and stepped into the stirrup himself. His balance was wobbly, and the restlessness of the horse wasn’t helping any but he managed to find his seat and reached down for Hermione. “Like riding a broom.”

“Have you ever ridden a horse before?” She asked with a skeptical raise of her brows.

Fred rolled his eyes. “No milady, never but I’m not letting go of this beasts reins to help you up. But I think I can manage to get us to the river at least.”

She didn’t say a word in reply though her glare said enough, and put her hand in his. The warmth came back, much more pleasant this time, spreading from his palm and up his arm. Knowing he didn’t have time for thinking about the strange reaction, after much heaving and hauling, Hermione managed to scramble into the saddle behind him.

Hermione held onto the back edge of the saddle and gave him bossy directions on how to control the horse. The further they got away from the body, the better Fred began to feel though he and Hermione had soon fallen into silence.

The sight of Dad, and two out of three older brothers had him nearly shaking with relief.

“Fred! Are you alright m’boy? And the lady?” Dad called out as he flew his broom over to their side of the river, Charlie and Percy following right behind.  Charlie immediately landed and came to take control of the horse.

“We’re fine Dad.” Fred said with a tired and hoarse voice. “It’s about half an hour into the woods, directly towards the Lovegood’s.”

Dad nodded and flew into the trees, leaving Charlie to lead the horse across the river.

“Hermione? Merlin, what are you doing here?” Percy asked once he recognized the pale and mussed girl behind him.

“Hello Percy. It’s a long story.” She groaned quietly when Charlie helped her slide off the back of Kelpie.

“I’m Charlie by the way.” Charlie nodded to her as he offered to help Fred who waved him away and slid down to land on wobbly legs.

“Hermione. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“This way, Mum will want to check you both over. I imagine the ministry will send over aurors and representatives to speak with your family.”

Fred caught the look Hermione shot him, a look he understood with clarity. If the ministry went to Riverbend, they would not find her family there but a terror equal to Snape. He nodded reassuringly and silently promised to speak to his own parents.



 

Exhaustion, emotionally and physically, weighed heavily as Hermione followed the Weasley boys to their home. She would give anything, anything, to skip the next forty eight or so hours. Time in which she could bathe, eat, sleep, and wake long after the fallout of what she had done.

Fool.

That was what she was, for thinking she could escape her role in this dream. But it wasn’t really a dream anymore. There was life certainly but…

There was also death. And pain and fear and anger.

As she walked, Hermione squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her nails deeply into her palms.

Stars was she angry.

Stumbling over a stick, she was forced to open her eyes and ignore the concerned glances of three blue eyed boys.

Stars was she tired.

But the sun coming up over the ramshackle of a house along with the waiting Mrs. Weasley at its door told Hermione that she would have to endure for a while longer.

“Let’s have a look at you.” Mrs. Weasley said, her expression serious but lined with concern and not anger. At least not yet. Hermione chanced a glance at Fred, whishing she could help with the consequences of his actions.

But there was no helping them, either of them. They had both done something reckless and dangerous and now… they would have to face the consequences and hopefully not be blamed for murder.

At the thought of the body left behind in the woods, Hermione was powerless against the shudder that wracked her frame, something that Mrs. Weasley quickly noticed.

Waving them inside, Mrs. Weasley plucked up an afghan and wrapped it around Hermione’s shoulders. “Percy, why don’t you check on Ron in the kitchen and help him bring out the tea.”

Surrounded by warmth and the scent of tea, cinnamon, and bread, Hermione allowed the older woman to lead her to an overstuffed sofa where an already bundled up George sat watching them with a slightly haunted look in his eye that she knew could be found in her own and in Fred’s.

She was unable to silence her sigh of relief as she sank into the couch next to him with Fred settling on her other side. All at once she felt every ache and bruise, the burn in her throat from nearly drowning, the scratches from thorns.

The whispers in her ear when Fred had touched her hand. The memory of them caused her stomach to turn more than the body had and she was careful to keep from touching him as he sat beside her.

“Here drink up.” Mrs. Weasley held out cups of tea that smelled of mint. “A patronus has been sent to the ministry and I know they will want to speak with you, so this should help perk you three up.”

“Mum.” Fred said quietly and Hermione caught the glance he sent her before focusing on his mother. “Hermione’s parents are not at the estate.”

Mrs. Weasley blinked in surprise and looked to Hermione for clarification.

“The ministry had best find them in London instead… they’re there for the season.”

“Your grandfather as well?”

Hermione nodded, her eyes dropping to her tea.

Mr. Weasley strode through the front door, a fair shade paler and a good deal more worried than the brief moment she’d met him outside. He must have confirmed what she and the twins had already known. The moment he collapsed into a nearby chair, Mrs. Weasley was ready with another cup of tea to which he took with a grateful smile. There were a few words spoken lowly between them before with a nod Mr Weasley summoned a ball of wispy light that took the form of a weasel.

Taking a small sip of tea, Hermione watched, entranced, as it bounded through the wall and disappeared from sight.

Mr Weasley downed his tea in one go before focusing on them. “Alright children, we know you may only want to tell this story once, but we need to know… what you were doing out there?”

Slowly Hermione set her half empty cup on the couches table before her and took a deep breath. “I packed my things and left Riverbend. I have certain… circumstances that were no longer tolerable. When I reached the city, I planned to sell the horse and book passage for the first ship out of port.” She managed to say in a rush before she lost her nerve.

Neither of the Weasley elders berated her or called her foolish with promises of punishments, the merely nodded and looked to their children, waiting for their explanations. For a slip of a moment, Hermione had wanted to claim the fault for herself, lie and say that she was the reason why they had been out there…

But she remembered that they were Gryffindor’s and prideful and would not want her to take on their burden… but she did feel as if she were intruding. Fred’s unhappiness was a personal as well as a family matter, a family that she was not a part of.

It was crushing to watch tears flood Mrs. Weasley’s eyes as she felt a pain that Hermione was certain only a mother could understand. The disappointment that fell over Mr. Weasley’s face and slumped his shoulders ever so slightly.

But it was just as horrible to listen as Fred’s voice cracked on the words that they would be better off without him. George was clearly suffering as well and for one selfish heartbeat, she couldn’t help the longing to have someone care for her like this family did for their own.

She couldn’t help the small spark of anger toward Fred for wanting to throw it all away.

But it took only a small peek at his profile for Hermione to know that he was suffering most of all.

“Well.” Mr. Weasley took a deep breath and nodded. “We’ll talk more on this after the ministry has come by, but I have to say… it was a good thing you boys were out there or something unthinkable might have happened to Lady Granger.”

“Please call me Hermione Mr. Weasley. I’m not a lady, especially not after attempting to emancipate myself from that life. And while the circumstances are… difficult-“ Hermione glanced at both boys who were watching her just as carefully as their parents- “I am grateful to them. They were brave and saved my life.”

A knock at the door gave everyone pause and Mrs. Weasley hurried to open the door. A scarred man with shaggy hair and brown suit stepped in followed by black haired man who bend down to press a kiss to Mrs. Weasley’s cheek. With a delighted blush and swat to his shoulder, she waved the new arrivals into the sitting room.

They introduced themselves as Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, aurors with the Ministry of Magic. They were kindly middle aged men whose presence immediately put her at ease. They took their statements, mentioned that her family has been contacted and are on their way. After stepping aside and speaking with the elder Weasley’s, the two aurors departed.

Mr. Weasley took Fred and George up the stairs, leaving Hermione with Mrs. Weasley who looked to have a great deal to say and ask. Instead she offered her room to Hermione to rest in while they waited for her parents and grandfather.

Her head had barely hit the pillow before unconscious took her over.

Blissfully dreamless.

She awoke some indiscernible time later, still full of aches and dry of mouth, but at least she was able to string a thought together. Which was in dire need as the sound of hooves could faintly be heard. With a sigh, Hermione pressed her face into a pillow, trying to gather every speck of strength that she could.

A gentle knock on the door sounded and she knew her time was up.

When she sat up she watched Mrs. Weasley’s face as the older woman fussed over Hermione’s tangled hair. She could see the worry lining her face and thought she might be a few shades paler than usual. The entire family had been an ordeal and had their own issues to work through but it touched her heart to know that they were willing to set them aside to help her through her own.

“They’re afraid of me.” Hermione said quietly, catching Mrs. Weasley’s eye. “My parents. My grandfather was too but he set it aside to be excited about wh-what I can do. Couldn’t wait until I could show him all the magic I’ll learn. But that excitement is gone and he’s just as certain that I’m bad. I had to bargain to be able to go back to Hogwarts after Christmas. I could go so long as I submitted to all lessons by Mistress Cullum.”

Brows raised in understanding, Mrs. Weasley nodded and have her hair a final pat. “I’ve known your grandfather a long time my dear. I think I understand where all of this is coming from. Come along, let’s go see about getting this straightened out.”

Nodding slightly, Hermione followed Mrs. Weasley down to the sitting room. The light outside the window put the day in the late evening but not a single Weasley child could be found. This knowledge did not bring her comfort, if anything it left her feeling more isolated than ever.

Hermione was ushered to sit on the couch, a fresh cup of tea that she silently wished were coffee, and a plate of scones sat on the side table. Despite her nerves for the upcoming confrontation, her stomach urged her to nibble on one. It had been longer than she felt comfortable remembering since she’d had a sweet.

She’d managed down one before the door opened and she shot to her feet as Alexander strode in, removing hit hat and sweeping his gaze around to land on her. The relief on his face was unexpected but melted her instantly.

Tears came to her eyes as the elderly man tossed his hat and cane onto the nearest chair and pulled her to him in a fierce hug.

“When I heard there had been an incident- I came straight away... though I was already packing to come to Riverbend.” He said into her hair.

Turning her head, she peeked around his arm to find only Mrs. Weasley still by the now closed door.

Her parents had not come.

Hermione pulled away slowly, preparing herself to come clean but Alexander beat her to it.

“I had just received a letter from Mistress Cullum. She reported that yesterday you refused to sack a maid.”

Gesturing to the seat beside her, Hermione sat and when he did as well, she nodded. “I did. And it was the last straw for me. I’m not some cold hearted lady in training and I refuse to be told to be such.” She paused to take a deep breath. “Even if that means I must leave. I will go to France or America or anywhere that will have me to learn magic, but I can no longer not be who I am.”

Mrs. Weasley stepped forward; a sharp look ready for Alexander. “And what are you Hermione?”

Hermione met her grandfather’s gaze and tilted her chin up. “A sorceress, a magician… a witch.”

“Precisely. What she is not- or rather who she is not… she is not May.”

Glancing between a now pale Alexander and softening Mrs. Weasley, Hermione couldn’t help her curiosity. “Who is May?”

After a long pause of silence, Alexander straightened his countenance and met her gaze. “You are not the first witch I have known my little bird. Long before I married your grandmother- a woman I loved despite our arranged marriage- there was another. Our Mrs. Weasley’s aunt.”

Hermione held her tongue as she caught Mrs. Weasley’s nod.

“May was kind and good and talented. And goodness were we ever carefree in our youth. But all of that ended when the Ministry of Magic learned she was showing magic to someone like me… they made me forget her… until-“ He glanced at Mrs. Weasley. “I always knew I’d forgotten something, someone. People without magic have always tried to snuff out what they fear. I remembered her… the day they brought her before me. A-a witch. I ordered her release and the people complied. But that did not ensure her safety.”

“There was an accident a month later. And I use the word accident loosely for we all know that is not what it was.” Mrs. Weasley added, dabbing at eyes that were more angry than sad.

“Indeed. So when you first showed signs of magic… I was delighted! And then after the fire at Brightridge… I shared in your parent’s fear. It was easier to get past it once it came to be that you were going to the same school May had gone to, and I was so excited to see you do all the amazing things May had once shown me. But then…”

“You realized she couldn’t be part of your world while being part of May’s.” Mrs. Weasley finished for him.

Flushing in shame, Alexander nodded. “Quite so.”

Hermione swallowed thickly and stood, walking a few paces away before turning back to face him. “I understand. And I want to be a part of your life- I do. But I will not set aside being a witch, and I will not be molded into a younger Mistress Cullum. You threatened to bar me from a life of magic.”

“I beg your forgiveness little bird. Mistress Cullum will be sent on her way.”

“And I want to be a part of the wizarding community. Have my friends over and I want to visit them. I want to visit other wizarding communities and learn from them and just- experience everything there is to experience before-“ She cut herself off before she gave away too much. Perhaps she already had for the looks she was getting from Alexander and Mrs. Weasley were full of pity.

The sort of pity adults gave to children whom they felt were in too much of a rush.

Alexander gave a small smile to go with his small nod. “Quite right you are. How much of summer is left, a month? Then why don’t we send Mistress Cullum on her way, close up Riverbend, and bring you to London. We’ll spend our summer days exploring what the magical side of the city has to offer, how about that?”

Excitement welled up within Hermione and she smiled eagerly. “Lets!”

After asking for a bit of paper and quill with ink, Hermione wrote a quick note to the Weasley boys. While her grandfather spoke to Mrs. Weasley about the incident in the woods and offered his full cooperation and help in any way, Hermione folded the paper and propped it up against her tea cup.

During her own tearful thank yous, Mrs. Weasley gently tugged her into a hug that quickly melted Hermione’s instinct to stiffen and pull away. Especially when Mrs. Weasley whispered into her ear that she could run away to the Burrow any time she was in need.

As she watched the helter skelter house disappear in the distance from the back window of Alexander’s carriage, she realized there had been a great deal she’d wanted to say to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, to Fred, and to George. But it wasn’t her place. As warm and welcoming as they were, she was an outsider who just happened to know too much about a sensitive incident or two involving them.

After that perilous twenty four hours, life changed for Hermione.

Good on his promise, Alexander dismissed her cold eyed guardian, closed up the house, and moved Hermione to London.

Incidentally Charlotte was advised by her physician to retreat to Bath due to her health. The fact that her parents were driven away by her brought a great deal of darkness to Hermione, perhaps as much as her memories of the body in woods.

A haunting memory that no amount of reading, exploring museums, or even Diagon Alley, could push away.

But in the last weeks before school, she learned a great deal of the magical world. The fireplace in her room in her grandfather’s townhouse was soon connected to the floo network, she learned of several entries into the various magical corners of the city, and even purchased an owl.

A cinnamon colored owl she named Talon.

She considered writing to the Weasley’s or Harry and the others from Hogwarts… but she feared she didn’t have anything they would find of interest. What could she say other then ‘Heyoo, I learned how to floo, by the by, remember that body we found in the forest? Well now I cannot sleep at night. Have a good rest of your summer!’

Instead she talked to Talon and though she was certain she was mad because of it, would pretend he talked back.

She never heard from the aurors and if Alexander had been informed of the investigation, he kept such things from her.

The summer drew to a close, Hermione received top grades in all of her classes, bought her supplies for her second year, grumbled about having barely grown an inch, and left her grandfather behind at Kings Cross.

She felt much more stable leaving him versus the last time she had at the end of her disastrous Christmas holiday and looked forward to writing to him with the help of Talon. While walking through the platform and preparing to board the Hogwarts Express, she searched for a group of red-haired children, excitement buzzing across her skin at the thought of seeing them.

What she got was a sudden weight attaching around her waist and the long-lost voice of Ginny crying out her name.

“Oh Ginny how good to see you!” Hermione said with a smile. “I was worried you would be angry about me not writing you but there were circumstances and then by the time I could I thought maybe you wouldn’t want me to write you-“

“Don’t worry, I know about your mad governess, and even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have held such a promise against you! Hurry, show me the best compartment- I want to get it before any of my wretched brothers do.”

Hermione didn’t know about the best compartment, but she picked one near the changing train car and settled in to listen to Ginny tell stories about their summer and how much she’d wanted to see Hermione when she was there, but her mum had shooed her up the stairs and then their father took them to Diagon Alley for ice cream while the duke was over to collect her.

None of the Weasley boys ever came across them but Neville did along with a dewy eyed first year named Luna Lovegood.

All was right with the world… for the most part.

Hermione sat in her old spot at the table in the great hall, close enough to join in any conversation she thought she might be welcomed into but far enough away that she had plenty of space to herself. The sorting went well with Ginny sorted into Gryffindor at the surprise of no one, but the delight to everyone.

She didn’t fall right back into her place, and awkwardness kept her from approaching anyone she might have once held hope of being friends with.

Fred and George would give her smiles, and she would try to return them, but then she would remember the horrible sight they had found in the forest, remember the horrible words from when she’d held Fred’s hand… and her smile would disappear.

And then there was the Forbidden Forest and the barest string of a memory that something was in those dark, endless woods. Something that called to her, a call that she wanted to answer.

But she couldn’t.

Horrible things could be found in woods like that.

Hermione’s birthday came and went with a half decent drawing of Professor Lockhart from Ginny- something that reminded Hermione of a life where she herself had been a half decent artist, and a note from Harry Potter delivered from her owl Talon.

A note that said it was urgent they speak.

To meet in the library at noon the coming Sunday.

Added to the dung bombs exploding in Professor Snape’s classroom all day, forcing the classes to be cancelled for the day, turning thirteen for the second time wasn’t the absolute worst thing to have happened that day.