Actions

Work Header

A Stubbornly Persistent Illusion

Work Text:

As soon as Hermione got to her room after the Opening Feast, she saw that her pajamas were already laid out - probably by a house-elf. Hermione glared at them before digging into her trunk. Finally finding her copy of Hogwarts, A History, she grabbed it and then changed quickly before crawling into her bed and spelling the curtains shut. She was quite certain that it had never mentioned House-elves before, though she did have a vague recollection of the Triwizard Tournament appearing somewhere. She’d look for both here before heading to the library tomorrow.

Tapping Hogwarts, A History with her wand, Hermione muttered sciscito house-elf. Immediately two bookmarks appeared in the text, a function of the searching charm. Surprised that she had missed these references before, Hermione opened to the first marker, which was near the beginning, in the chapter on the founding.

Skimming the marked page, Hermione finally found it: ‘Rowena, coming from a wealthy family, provided the first lot of elves for the castle.’ Well that explained her missing it before: it was lacking the ‘house’ modifier. Hermione now remembered that she had assumed something closer to Tolkien elves, the same way there were centaurs in the forest.

Annoyed, but suspecting that the second reference would be as useless, Hermione flipped to the second marker. As she flipped the last page, her hand froze. There, tucked between the pages, was a neatly folded piece of printer paper, just like the ones she had gotten from her parents’ dental office. Hermione found her hand shaking slightly, and she angrily clenched it around her book.

Last year, when she had been given the Time Turner, Hermione had come up with this as a way to pass messages to herself. She knew that none of her roommates could be bothered to look at Hogwarts, A History, except for Alice, who had her own copy, nor could Ron or Harry. And someone wizardingborn who might figure out what she was doing wouldn’t have access to anything but parchment. It was a way for her to leave messages to herself if necessary, without fear of someone else catching on.

But Hermione had given back the Time Turner at the end of last year after that fiasco with Sirius Black and the Minister. There was absolutely no reason for a piece of printer paper to be resting here in her copy of Hogwarts, A History. None whatsoever.

Hermione cautiously slipped the paper out of the book and unfolded it. It felt a bit smoother than the paper she currently had in her trunk, and was possibly a little brighter white, though that was hard to tell when contrasting with the off-white parchment of the book. Inside, in her own handwriting, it said:

You have cultural attribution bias. First, read Elvish Cultures by Terrence Hawking and after that call for Dobby. Don’t harangue Harry about it. As soon as possible, ask Moody about detection charms. Don’t drink the pumpkin juice.

It wasn’t the most cryptic note ever, though there were certainly plenty of details Hermione would like to have clarified. The real question, though, was whether she trusted her own future self enough to take this advice. And she did.

Hermione added the book to her ‘to research’ list in her planner, and then made a note to stay after the first Defense class and ask Professor Moody about detection charms. She would also look them up in the library, but the note had been clear that she should start with the Professor.

oOo

Elvish Cultures hadn’t been in the library when she checked at lunch, so Hermione had to owl-order it from Flourish and Blotts. While she waited for it to arrive, she had checked out a few books about the Triwizard Tournament. There were a few that looked like they might mention house-elves, but Hermione had learned from the Lockhart fiasco that not all books were accurate. If her future self was directing her at a specific book, she would wait for that one before forming her opinion. There were no books specifically on detection spells, so she decided to wait and see what Professor Moody recommended.

From listening around at breakfast, she had discovered that the Gryffindor sixth years had Defence on Mondays before dinner, and if she hurried from Arithmancy, she could hopefully make it to the classroom before Professor Moody left.

Hermione was halfway down the stairs when she heard Harry call her name. She waved at him over her shoulder, but kept up her power walk to the Defense corridor. Just as she reached the classroom, Harry grabbed her arm. He was panting lightly; apparently he had run a bit to keep up with her. “Bloody hell, Hermione,” he protested mildly.

“I need to ask a question,” Hermione explained, tugging open the classroom door. “Professor Moody?” she called.

He wasn’t visible, but she heard him grunt and then call “In a minute!”

Hermione glanced behind Harry as she entered the classroom, but he was alone. “Where’s Ron?” she whispered.

Harry raised his eyebrow at her, clearly conveying his opinion of the question. Hermione sighed. “Dinner, of course.” She should have known better than to ask. This mystery note had her rattled.

Professor Moody emerged from his office into the classroom, as Hermione was pulling out her notebook and pen. “I haven’t had your lot yet,” he said gruffly.

“You haven’t,” Hermione agreed quickly. “I’m Hermione Granger, and this is Harry Potter.” Professor Moody looked a little surprised at that, but she had gotten used to that reaction over the last few years with Harry.

“I noticed that you seemed to use detection charms at meals,” Hermione said. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Harry perk up at the topic. “I was hoping that you could teach them to me, or tell me where to look them up?”

“Good idea!” Moody declared. “You can never be too careful! It would be a good thing for you to learn too, Potter.”

“Yes sir,” Harry said politely.

“There are three classes of detection charms,” Moody launched into a lecture, and Hermione hastened to take notes; she slid over to the closest desk so she didn’t have to balance her notebook in her hand. “Detecting people and creatures, detecting spell work, and detecting potions work. There’s medical ones too, but those aren’t relevant.”

Harry perched on the seat beside her, and Hermione gave a slight nod to tell him that she would share these notes later. His tension eased slightly.

“Detecting people and creatures starts at OWL level, but you could look it up early. Your standard textbook for that year is a good place to start. Charms’re NEWT level, for the most part. You need to know what kind of charms you’re looking for, and that’s advanced stuff. You could probably learn to cast the spell, but the readings it gave would be meaningless until you had that grounding in distinguishing charm forms and signatures to be able to wade through the results.”

Hermione nodded as she noted that; it made perfect sense that casting the spell and interpreting the spell would be two different things.

“Most of your curse breakers start with charms detection. If you’re good at it, and good at unraveling their arithmancy, you can move to breaking ‘em. Wards follow the same patterns, so knowing one is almost the same as knowing the other.”

“Now, detecting potions is a different field, even though that also isn’t taught until NEWT level. However, for your purposes, it isn’t hard to learn. You don’t have to know who made it, or who gave it to you. You only need to know what potion you’re looking for. Memorize the incantations and the standard charts of reactions and you’re ready.”

“Where would we find those charts?” Harry asked, surprising Hermione that he seemed quite interested in the topic.

“NEWT level defense texts should have them; so should your potions text,” Professor Moody said, stroking his chin. “Your standard Potions text from this year should have the information too. It only takes a few seconds for a competent potions teacher to tell you the key color or trait of a potion as you’re making it, so you can pick these things up as you go. Course, you lot’ve got Snape, so I’m sure he’s never mentioned it.”

Harry grinned, and Hermione suppressed one of her own. She knew Professor Snape was a horrible teacher, but it went against her grain to insult a teacher so openly. Harry had taunted her once that if she was willing to set the man on fire, she should be willing to admit aloud that he was a git, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to agree.

“The spells themselves don’t require any degree of power,” Professor Moody continued. “The motion for the first is a slight jab and the second’s a wave. You can chain them together, once you have each one down pat.”

So saying, he pulled out his wand. “First for testing liquids, the jab,” he demonstrated, “and say ‘Pepurigoso’.”

Hermione and Harry drew their wands together and copied him. The jab was barely a poke, and they both pronounced the spell properly on the first try.

“Good. It’s got about a meter radius, but that only works if you can see inside the container the liquid is in. So if you’re sitting together, you could do it once for both cups, but you probably couldn’t see into the cup of the person four down, even if it would analyze it. Got it?”

“Yes sir,” Hermione said, jotting that down.

“Good, now that works for liquids of any size, in theory. A barrel, a puddle, whatever. The hitch comes in when your body of water is considerably bigger than the spell range. For example, you could stand at the edge of the Black Lake and cast that. If I had dumped a potion in the middle of the lake, it would be so far away from you that you couldn't detect it. Even if I was only a few meters away, it would probably dilute so quickly that you still couldn’t detect it. Now, if the whole lake was tainted by something, like litres and litres dumped into it, the spell would work.”

Hermione nodded again. That fit with what she remembered about dilution and comparative ratios from her science classes before Hogwarts.

Professor Moody continued. “Now, the second one you’ll’ve seen me use for food: just wave over whatever you want to check. It also has a range of about a meter, but it gets fuzzy beyond the reach of your arm and wand. The incantation is Ostendo. There’s a food specific addendum, Alimentus. Without it, the more general version works on just about anything: clothing, tables, what have you. The food addition narrows it down to the kinds of potions you’d find in food. You don’t expect a hair smoothing potion in your food, for example. It wouldn’t poison you either, and there’s no reason for it. The food addendum narrows the search field, which means you can miss things, but it is easier to memorize the smaller list of results.”

“Do these detect poisons as well?” Harry asked.

Professor Moody looked pleased at the question. “In a way. If it is a known potions ingredient, venom, or toxin, then yes. Otherwise? Possibly.”

“What about Muggle chemicals?” Hermione asked. She knew that most wizards weren’t familiar with such things, but for someone as paranoid as the Professor appeared to be, he was quite certain that he had also looked into such things. And if not, he likely soon will.

“You’d be surprised how many muggle chemicals are actually identifiable by it,” Moody said with a small chuckle. Harry looked slightly surprised, but Hermione wasn’t. “There are some things, chemicals they invent…” he trailed off, thinking.

“Lab synthesized,” Hermione quickly supplied.

“It won’t pick those up,” Moody agreed, nodding. “But anything natural? More than likely.”

It probably also wouldn’t detect radiation, Hermione reasoned. Not that she suspected to need to detect radiation with magic any time soon. But it was worth jotting a note to investigate some day. Perhaps she could invent one if none existed. So thinking, she jotted the note to the side, where she could later remove it to her idea notebook.

“Now you two try it, the general first and then the food one,” Moody instructed.

Harry still had his wand in hand, while Hermione had put hers down to write, so he went first. Professor Moody had to slightly correct his pronunciation of Alimentus - his emphasis was on the third syllable instead of the second, but other than that he achieved it. Hermione followed his example and got them perfectly.

“Good!” Moody declared. “Now take something simple you've got on hand and dump it in a cup of water and on some snack. Test it until you can actually get the results correct. Then you’ll be good to go. Now, off to dinner with you,”

Hermione and Harry quickly thanked the Professor and he nodded before stomping out the door to his office.

Hermione quickly tucked her notebook back into her bag, and Harry courteously held the classroom door open for her to precede him. “So, you think we’ll need to know that?” Harry asked conversationally as they walked down the hall.

“I’m not sure,” Hermione said, nibbling her lip. Her note to herself had indicated it was necessary, but she couldn’t exactly tell Harry that. “I know that over the summer, the twins mentioned something in passing about pranking food, and after seeing the Professor testing his own food... I just thought it might be useful to learn.” All true statements, just slightly obfuscating her real motivation.

“That makes sense,” Harry agreed. “So we need to check out a potions book to find out what we detect, right?”

Hermione nodded. “Yes, but that isn’t crucial at this juncture. I would place testing above analysis; better that we know that something is in our drink, rather than knowing exactly what that something is.”

“Yeah,” Harry nodded his understanding. “So at dinner, wanna test it?”

Hermione considered it, then shook her head. “We should wait until later. First off, we don’t want people seeing us practicing and asking what we’re doing. That would give them the idea to find a different way to dose us. Second of all, though he taught us the words, you can see that Professor Moody casts it silently, without speaking or even mouthing the words. If we can get to that stage, or at least to the point where we’re barely muttering, then that will make it harder to tell what we’re doing, or even that we’re doing anything. Second of all, we need something to put onto the plate or into the goblet. Without a potion, there’s no way to tell we’re doing it right.”

Harry nodded agreeably. “Right. So after dinner? I can nick something now, and then we could find an empty classroom?”

“You really want to learn this right away,” Hermione mused, pleasantly surprised.

“Last year, when we were in the infirmary and Snape and the Minister came rushing in?” he asked. Hermione nodded to show she knew what he was talking about. “They mentioned Veritaserum. I asked Percy, and he said it was a truth serum. I know enough from Muggle - normal - movies and telly to know that’s usually a liquid that goes in your water or something. And the way Snape’s glaring at me again, I wouldn’t put it past him.” Harry explained.

Hermione was tempted to remind Harry that the Headmaster trusted Professor Snape, and that he probably wouldn’t hurt them, but she reconsidered. His glares at Harry this year had been worse than last year, and there was a difference between trusting someone with your life and trusting them with your secrets. Case in point, herself and Harry. She trusted Professor Snape not to kill Harry, at least once their first year had been explained, but she didn’t necessarily trust him not to slip Harry a truth serum and ask him all kinds of humiliating things.

“That’s very well reasoned, Harry,” she said instead. If he was truly serious about learning this, then that was a second person she could trust to check things for her. And if they did find something, as the presence of her future note implied, she would have someone she could talk to who would understand how she had found out.

“I’ll check out those potions books after dinner, so we can check that we’re getting the right color indicators as well.” Hermione decided.

“Should we invite Ron?” Harry asked, as they turned the last corner to the Great Hall.

Hermione considered that. “We could, but I have two reasons not to,”

Ron would have jumped in angrily, but Harry just looked at her expectantly. “First of all, we don’t want to advertise that we’re searching for potions in our food and drink just yet, in case that tips off someone like Professor Snape. Ron has a tendency to speak without thinking, and he’s not subtle in his wandwork.”

Harry nodded his agreement to the first point, so Hermione pressed on. “Second, if the twins are planning to potion our food or drink, we don’t want them tipped off either, and you know Ron can’t lie to them convincingly.”

Harry snorted. “No he can’t,” he agreed. “He’d probably also be horrified to learn something that won’t be on a test,” he grinned.

“There is that,” Hermione said, pursing her lips. She honestly did not understand Ron’s overblown laziness. She had given this a lot of thought over the last few years, and come to no logical conclusions. She had eventually filed it into her mental index under “things about Ronald Wealsey that make no sense” and done her best to forget about it.

They reached the Great Hall only ten minutes late, and found that Ron appeared to already be on his second helping. He had saved them two seats, at least, and Hermione allowed Harry to sit first so she wouldn’t have to watch Ron shovel food into his mouth.

Sparing a small regret that they hadn’t mastered the spells yet, Hermione stuck to water instead of risking the pumpkin juice. She wasn’t sure if he was copying her or feeling his own sense of unease after their lesson, but Harry did the same.

The meal seemed to crawl, but finally dinner was over. Harry and Hermione had eaten slightly less than usual, but were still finished long before Ron, as normal. Fortunately, it gave them a chance to slip away without needing an excuse. Harry had also pocketed some dinner rolls to test. “See you later,” Harry offered, and Ron simply waved without taking his eyes from his plate.

Sighing at his gluttony, Hermione dragged Harry down the Transfiguration corridor, where she pointed to the empty classroom at the end. She had hidden here more than once in her first year, under the reasoning that few people would want to pass the classroom and office of Professor McGonagall just to come taunt her. It had also provided a good transition space last year when she was using the Time Turner.

“I’ll grab some potions from my trunk, and fetch the library books,” Hermione explained. “You go get some water from the bathroom.”

Harry nodded, but then looked worried. “You can’t do the cup transfiguration yet?” she asked. It was the first spell in their fourth year text, but if Harry hadn’t read ahead at all… Hermione suppressed a sigh. “Come up to Gryffindor with me, then, and get some empty Potions vials. Get a handful, just in case. Then meet me back at that classroom.” She pointed to her haven again.

“Alright,” Harry agreed easily.

They both finished their tasks quickly and regrouped in the classroom. Because of Hermione’s frequent use, despite the classroom being officially abandoned, it was spotless, and she and Harry quickly emptied their pockets onto the larger professor’s desk. Harry had three dinner rolls and four potions vials full of water. Hermione had a mild headache potion and an energy restorative potion, that she had brewed in practice for class this year. Additionally, she had the OWL and NEWT potions books from the library.

Hermione placed two of the water vials on separate student tables. She poured a drop of the headache potion into the first, a good bit into the second, and then placed the potion itself on the third table.

Aiming at the third one, she performed the proper jab. “Pepurigoso.” The flask took on a very faint red hue for a second, but it was gone before she could blink.

“Well done!” Harry cheered.

“You saw it, then?” Hermione asked, pleased.

“Redish, yeah?” Harry agreed.

Nodding, Hermione took a half step forward and cast again. “Pepurigoso!” she said firmly.

This time the red hue was distinct, and seemed to ripple inside the flask. When Hermione dropped her wand, the color vanished. She heard pages rustle, and glanced over at Harry. He had picked up the topmost Potions book and was thumbing through it.

Hermione grabbed the second one and checked the table of contents. Her best bet appeared to be “Reaction, Timing, and Other Tables” on page 493. Turning to it, Hermione thumbed through the section until she found “Detection Tables.” “Got it!” she said happily.

“I think I did too,” Harry said. Hermione peeked over the edge of his book and found it too labeled detection tables. Looking back at her own, she was pleased to find that it was color coded, and red was even the first section.

Red is generally associated with the medical family of potions,” Hermione read the section preface aloud. “The pure red color is associated with denatured dragon bile, which is the base of most healing potions. A burnt orange tone usually indicates the presence of animal venom, which is also common in potions of this family. Red with orange tones is, with very few exceptions, indicative of a healing potion.

“Here’s the part on the ripples,” Harry said. “There are seven categories of movement with the standard detection spells: ripples, shimmers, undulations, gradations, pebbling, crystallization, and tremors. There’s also a section for multiple colors at a time, with things like speckling, spotting, and striping. It’s got little moving examples like wizarding photos.”

Hermione glanced at his book and saw what he was talking about. “It looks like we got ripples; you’re right. What does it say those mean?”

Harry cleared his throat and then read, “The seven categories of movement are tied to the seven types of potion activators. These, of course, are animal, human, plant, mineral, crystalline, chemical, and other.” The speed of movement further distinguishes the sub-category of activator. We’ve got ripples, so that’s crystalline. It says… see page 517 for ripple speed…” he leafed ahead. “Here, so it looks like ours was kind of in the middle of the examples, which means it is one of the family of carbonates, hexates, or sul-in-ates?”

“The headache potion uses powdered hugosilis vert as an activator, and that’s a sulinate, so that’s probably accurate,” Hermione said.

Harry looked at her blankly - they hadn’t covered this potion in class yet, so he hadn’t gotten to the part of the book that talked about crystalline families. “Trust me,” Hermione said, and to her pleased surprise he just nodded and looked back at his book.

“That’s all I’ve got for starters.”

“Well my book explained the red, and as it was red-orange, we know it is likely a medical potion that uses denatured dragon bile and animal venom. And, of course, the headache potion is a medical potion, containing Chinese Opaleye bile and scorpion venom, so I’d say we got a pretty accurate reading.”

“But that could still be dozens of potions, couldn’t it?” Harry asked. “How are we supposed to narrow it down if we don’t know what we’re looking for?”

Hermione glanced back at her book. “Well, this one has more charts for deciding the exact shade of orange and red, and it lists the most common potions associated with each… oh, here we go! For those who are serious about potion detection and analysis, or those wishing to study antidote creation, detection parchment is needed. There are two varieties: one that cross references color, motion, variegation, and intensity charts and lists all possible results, and a more expensive variety that contains the detection charm in enchantment form and calculates the exact potion placed upon it.

“So if we really wanted to know what we were finding, we could get the first kind of parchment, and it would narrow it down for us, or the second to do the work for us?” Harry summarized.

“Well, I’m sure the second one is hideously expensive,” Hermione hedged. “For now, I think it is most important that we know our food or drink has been tainted, rather than needing to know exactly what is in it, beyond the general.”

“That’s true,” Harry shrugged. “So in general, we just need to make sure we can do the spells correctly, and ideally silently?”

“Yes,” Hermione agreed. “It might be nice to see what the general contents of truth serums are made of, so we could guess if that was in your cup. It also wouldn’t hurt to see if the twins tend to use the same base for their prank potions, or if prank potions in general use a common ingredient. Then we could have a general idea if any potion we find is intended maliciously or not.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “I could ask them, maybe. Like, ‘hey guys, how do you do so well in potions with Snape breathing down your necks? What’s in all these anyway?’”

“That is definitely a route we can try,” Hermione agreed. “We should also look up the basic coloring or movement of things that are explicitly dangerous, like poisons, just in case. Not that I think we’ll need those, but it never hurts.”

“Agreed,” Harry nodded.

“But there’s time for that,” Hermione said. “Now that we know that it works, we need to try it on the diluted vials so that we know how to recognize it in smaller quantities. And we need to practice the food one. Once we’re sure we’re doing it correctly, and can tell when we’ve got results, then it is a matter of practicing until we can do it discreetly.”

Harry nodded again. “Yeah, sounds like a plan.”

After an hour of practice, both could cast the spell perfectly, and had mastered chaining them together. Unfortunately, since both of the potions Hermione had brought were healing ones, they didn’t have a chance to see different colors, but the restorative used a different activator, so they were able to see what pebbling looked like.

After an hour, and with Harry needing to do homework, They cleaned up and headed back to the common room. Hermione intended to skim through the reaction tables and see if she could make them a quick cheat list of results to keep handy and eventually memorize.

They were a few halls shy of the tower when Harry paused. Hermione turned to him expectantly and saw his ‘working something out’ expression. She had learned over the last few years not to interrupt him in these moments, no matter how much she wanted to help or contribute.

“Professor Moody said something about curse breakers using these spells, didn’t he?” Harry finally said aloud.

“He did,” Hermione agreed.

“Ron’s brother Bill is a curse breaker,” Harry continued. “Ron mentioned that he took an apprenticeship in it, and that he had to study all the time during the first year.”

“Okay,” Hermione nodded. Ron hadn’t mentioned that to her, but she didn’t doubt Harry’s memory.

“So it sounds like there are a lot of books on curse breaking, and there might be one that lays out the common reaction combinations or something, instead of you having to cross-reference and make your own list.” Harry concluded.

This time it was Hermione who stopped dead in the corridor. Harry also stopped and turned to her apprehensively. Finally Hermione found her voice and she flung herself at Harry in a brief hug. “Harry that’s brilliant!”

“Er...ehm…” Harry stuttered until Hermione released him.

“You go start your homework,” she instructed, already taking a few steps in the other direction. “I’ll look for curse breaking books in the library and meet you back there!”

oOo

Hermione eagerly watched for the mail to be delivered on Wednesday morning. She had been to the library, but there was only one introductory text on curse breaking, and a pamphlet for seventh years considering curse breaking as a career.

Skimming through the text had proved fruitless, but the career pamphlet had included a list of books that the potential cursebreaker would need to study. One of those was even called Detection Spells and Results for the Curse Breaker. There had been enough time for Hermione to run to the owlery before curfew and send another book order to Flourish and Blotts.

From experience, she knew that they usually could turn around orders in one to two days, meaning that at least the book on house elves, and possibly the curse breaking book, should arrive today.

One good thing about her project with Harry to learn detection spells was that it had distracted her fairly well from her questions about house elves.

Hermione spotted the owl as it neared the Gryffindor House table, and to her delight it appeared to be carrying two books. When the majestic Eagle owl landed, she carefully offered it a piece of bacon, reasoning that if it worked on Hedwig, it should work on any other owl. It greedily chomped at the treat as she untied her package.

It took only a moment for her to press the knot to unshrink the package, as she had become very familiar with this standard post owl charm. Harry looked excitedly at the package, but Ron didn’t seem to have even noticed that she received post.

“After dinner,” Hermione told him quietly. They did have a free period right before lunch today, but she knew he and Ron would be working on their Potions homework then. That would give her a chance to skim the book on house elves first as well.

Harry nodded in understanding, and soon it was time for them to head off to Charms.

oOo

After Double Potions, followed by Transfiguration that afternoon, Hermione and the boys went down to an early dinner. Hermione still didn’t want to advertise that they were looking into detection spells, so she pulled out the elvish book to continue reading. It was actually full of fascinating information, and Hermione was starting to understand why her future self had directed her towards it.

“What’s that then?” Harry asked after he had gotten a few bites in.

Elvish Cultures,” Hermione explained, flashing the cover at him. “It was recommended to me to understand more about House Elves,” she explained. She never had to say who recommended it, after all. “It was written by Terrence Hawking, who is a cousin of Stephen Hawking,” she explained, knowing that Harry would understand the reference.

“Why would you want to read about house elves?” Ron asked, not bothering to swallow his mouthful of potatoes first.

“Ugh,” Hermione scowled at him. “I wanted to learn more about them, Ronald. And it turns out that this book covers all kinds of elvish species, not just house elves.”

“There are other elves?” Harry perked up. “Like the ones from telly?”

Eager to share her newfound knowledge, Hermione nodded. “Yes, and it is clear that some Muggle authors either aren’t as Muggle as we think, or that somehow they met or found out about true elves, because some of their depictions are scarily accurate.”

“Wow.”

“But, starting with house elves, they appear to be like tiny people, right? Not human exactly, but not an animal.”

“Right,” Harry nodded.

“Well it turns out that they aren’t. This is an example of convergent evolution, where they gained features that are similar to a human’s, but they don’t descend from the same primate evolutionary tree as us.”

“Huh?” Ron looked completely baffled, and Hermione assumed that evolution was probably one more thing that wizarding children weren’t taught, like literature and maths.

“So they aren’t related to monkeys and such?” Harry looked intrigued.

“Not even slightly!” Hermione explained. “They are closer, evolutionarily speaking, to birds, by way of fairies. There is a whole class of animals, including pixies, doxies, and fairies, that evolved from birds and took on what we think of as human-like characteristics. These also created a branch that led to brownies and elves, with house elves being closer to those ancestors than tolkien-esque high elves. And it turns out that veela, like the ones we saw at the Quidditch World Cup, are the only known descendent of this evolutionary branch that has become compatible, in a breeding sense, with humans.”

“Wow,” Harry rocked back. “I hadn’t even realized that they weren’t basically humans. Like the way that witches and wizards are.”

“They aren’t,” Hermione confirmed. “It is our magic that makes us compatible with Veela.”

“Huh.” Harry thought about that for a few minutes as he turned back to his meal. Hermione returned to her own food and reading as well.

“So, what else does it say about house elves?” Harry finally asked, a few minutes later.

“Did you ever get to symbiosis, parasitism, and mutualism in science?” Hermione asked. She didn’t think so - at least not in depth -, since he would have been a year behind her in school, but it was possible.

“Uh, symbiotes live together, and parasites are like them, but bad for the host?” Harry said slowly, face screwed up in concentration. “Symbiotes are like a bird that eats bugs that bother cows in return for a meal? And parasites are like fleas and ticks?”

“Yes, somewhat,” Hermione agreed. “There are degrees to both of those relationships, and there is a category called mutualism. Mutualism means that both parties gain something from the relationship, either in a service sense or a resource sense. Service-resource relationships would include something like a bee that provides a service - pollination - to the plant, in return for a resource - food.”

“Got it.”

“Service-service is trickier, since there is often a resource component as well, but a good example would be a sea anemone that provides a home that protects a clownfish from predators, while the clownfish chases away other fish that would feed on the anemone. Service for service.”

“Right.”

“So a good example of mutualism with humans is dogs. We provide them with food, shelter, medicine, things like that. They provide us, at the least, companionship. Some times, and especially in earlier times, they would work for us, herding sheep, protecting our homes, hunting or bird flushing for us… a variety of roles.”

“So you’re saying house elves are like intelligent dogs?” Harry asked.

“In a way,” Hermione agreed. “They provide us service through their magic, which is different from ours. But in return, they feed off of our magic: not in a parasitic way, he made quite clear. Purely in a symbiotic way.”

“They feed on us?” Harry looked confused.

“Think of it like this,” Hermione used the example from the book. “We humans put off heat. It escapes from our body and goes into the air. We don’t do anything with it, and if you invented some kind of machine to absorb that heat from the air around us, it wouldn’t negatively impact us at all. Well, all wizards and witches also exude magic. Not a lot, but a little at all times, unless we’ve severely depleted our magical cores somehow.”

“Oh, and house elves feed off of that extra magic?” Harry got it.

“Yes! Early house elves just absorbed magic from being near any magic user. They would return the favor by doing little things that they thought would help us. Most fables, like the cobbler’s elves and tooth fairy, are examples of that kind of thing. Eventually, they found that formalizing the relationship with a bond produced more magic for the elf, or magic they were better able to collect. Since then, they tend to specialize in assistance magic in a variety of forms, but generally of the domestic chore variety, as that is what human magic users find the most beneficial from them.”

“So the elves at Hogwarts are bound to the Headmaster?” Harry asked. “That seems like a lot to ask of one person.”

“Actually, they are bound, communally, to the community of Hogwarts, with the Headmaster as the bonder,” Hermione explained. “There's a whole chapter devoted to communal bonds. The Ministry uses the same set up, as do manufacturers and Quidditch stadiums. They have fewer elves than Hogwarts and the Ministry, obviously, but they use the same kind of communal bond. Apparently at the stadiums, the elves get a little bit from the teams during practice, but basically ‘top off’ on game days from all the spectators.”

“That’s really interesting,” Harry said, excitedly.

“I thought so,” Hermione agreed, pleased that Harry felt that way.

Suddenly, he frowned. “But what happens to elves who are freed, like Dobby?”

“I was just getting to that part,” Hermione explained. “But from what I’ve read so far, my guess is that they would be able to go back to absorbing ambient magic from wizarding communities, like Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade. It wouldn’t be as… filling… as if they were bound. But like I said, that’s a guess.”

Harry considered that, then hesitantly said, “Can you… would- when you’re finished, can you tell me, or let me read it? I don’t want him to be… hurting, or starving, or whatever, because of me.”

“I’ll let you know,” Hermione promised. After all, Winky’s plight had been the catalyst for her to investigate this. Anything Hermione could do to help her or Dobby would be a benefit.

“Can we talk about something less boring now?” Ron complained, still not bothering to clear his mouth of food beforehand.

“Honestly, Ronald,” Hermione huffed. “You could at least swallow before speaking. That’s disgusting.”

Ron frowned at her, but actually obeyed before retorting. “You’re not my mum.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and resolved to bury her gaze in her book to avoid looking at him until the meal was done. She honestly wouldn’t still be his friend if it wasn’t for Harry; some days it felt like everything he did was calculated to upset or annoy her.

oOo

The rest of September and the beginning of October passed without incident. Hermione and Harry had mastered nearly silent casting of the detection charm chain (Harry still muttered slightly, but it was great progress, especially for fourth years.) They had indeed found the curse breaker text helpful, and each carried a short list of the most common interaction results.

Veritaserum had its own category, as it happened, as truth serums were the only known category of potion to contain both erumpent fluid and dragon’s blood. The combination resulted in a detection result that was sky blue with undulations, and was impossible to mistake for anything else on their list. That reassured Harry greatly, though they were both confounded by the fact that prank potions could fall in all kinds of categories, and thus weren’t easy to screen for.

From the list they had formed, Hermione was now the most worried about love and control potions, which were generally an olive green with speckles and tremors, respectively. They hadn’t even occurred to her as a danger, until reading the book, but now she was thinking about them frequently. Mrs. Wealsey had mentioned last summer that she had used a love potion on her husband, which had slipped Hermione’s mind with everything else happening.

However, Harry was the boy who lived, and Hermione was now realizing that it was entirely possible that someone might decide to snag him using a love potion. She didn’t share her concerns in that respect with Harry, but resolved to always check his results for that shade.

Fortunately, the results were the same for both the food and liquid detection spells, so they only needed to memorize one chart. The reason for the different spells, as the curse-breaking text explained, was not for the potion reactions, but to account for the difference between liquid and solid in what they were testing.

Similarly, they had made good progress on their understanding of house elves. Harry had tried to call Dobby to their classroom in mid-September, and to their surprise the elf had answered immediately. It turned out that he had moved to Hogwarts, and brought Winky with him, so that both could feed on the ambient magic of the students.

Winky was not doing well with freedom, they discovered, having been very fond of her family. Dobby, on the other hand, was revelling in his freedom, though being at Hogwarts was his concession to needing magic to survive.

When pressed, he was able to explain to them that the magic he got as a free elf was considerably less filling than that he received when bonded, to the tune of one meal versus one weeks’ worth of meals. Not that it directly correlated to food, but it was the best comparison they could all understand.

It also came out, in that conversation, that Dobby’s greatest wish was to bond to Harry. Now that she knew that Dobby wouldn’t be a slave, but more like a highly intelligent pet, and knowing that Harry would never mistreat the elf, Hermione did not protest. She was also fairly certain that this was what her future self had meant by the instruction not to harangue Harry about it. Clearly, in whatever future the note-writing her was from, Dobby and Harry had bonded before she had found the Elvish Cultures book, and she had probably gone a bit over the top about it.

Hermione didn’t like to admit it, even in her own mind, but considering the drastic steps she had contemplated that first night, including a hunger strike, and somehow getting clothes to all of the elves in Hogwarts, she could believe that she had indeed harangued Harry badly in that timeline.

Thanks to her better understanding, and their very informative conversation with Dobby, Hermione now viewed Harry bonding with Dobby as a chance to witness an elvish ritual firsthand, and even get Harry’s perspective of it. Hawkings had witnessed several rituals, as he explained in the book, but Hermione wanted to get her own data.

She had, as was her habit, also looked at the books in the Hogwarts library, but they only mentioned elves in passing, and did nothing to distinguish their relationship from slavery. Hermione was inordinately grateful to her future self for setting her on to the correct book first.

Between their extracurricular studies on house elves and potion detecting, not to mention homework from their regular classes, Hermione and Harry were quite busy for the first six weeks of school. Harry missed flying, he confessed, but not necessarily the hours of exhausting Quidditch practice Wood put him through.

Then, on a regular Friday in mid-October, Harry’s discrete check of their dinner got a hit. He was so shocked he dropped the spell, and Hemione quickly recast it long enough for them to properly register the results. She was not entirely surprised to see it belonged to the love and loyalty class of potions, as she had already feared that someone might slip Harry one of those. What utterly shocked Hermione was that the potion was in her own goblet, not Harry’s.

They shared another wide-eyed look, before Hermione made a snap decision. Picking up the goblet, she pretended to take a sip, then put it back down. From the way Harry’s eyes widened, Hermione thought he believed that she had swallowed it. Hermione pretended that everything was normal for the rest of the meal, and as soon as she finished, Harry stood.

“Hermione, I need to talk to you,” he said firmly. “Ron, we’ll see you later.”

Ron, who was still stuffing his face, waved at them, and Hermione rose to follow Harry. As soon as they were out of the Great Hall, to Hermione’s surprise, Harry grabbed her arm and began leading her to the stairs.

“Harry, I’m fine. I didn’t drink it,” she protested. “I just pretended.”

Harry slowed slightly, but didn’t stop. “I guess we don’t need to run to the infirmary, then,” he allowed, “but we still need to talk, and I’m not sure we can rule it out yet.”

“Harry, what-?” Hermione asked, but he just shook his head until they reached the classroom where they practiced.

Once they were inside, he further shocked her by locking the door before relaxing slightly. “Hermione, I don’t know how to tell you this,” he started pacing. “When you drank- pretended to drink- that potion… It was- Ron was- Ronwaswatchingyou.” he finally said.

“Ron was… what?” Hermione struggled to interpret his garbled comment. Ron had been sitting beside her tonight, with Harry across, so she hadn’t noticed anything from him.

Harry sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “Ron was watching you,” he said softly. “When you- before you drank it, he was staring at you. When you pretended to drink, he stopped eating and watched you for a moment, like he was expecting something. Then he started eating again, but he kept glancing at you every so often.”

“Oh,” Hermione sank down onto the closest desk. She wasn’t sure how to feel about this, but she was fairly certain how to interpret it. She felt like ice was suddenly running through her veins. “If he was watching me, then it is likely that he knew what the potion was,” she thought aloud. “From that it follows that he’s likely the one who put it there.”

“But Hermione, that was the combination for love and loyalty potions,” Harry sounded confused.

Hermione realized she hadn’t told him what Mrs. Weasley had said. “Last summer, right before we left for Hogwarts, Mrs Weasley told Ginny and I about brewing a love potion when she was in school.”

Harry frowned, as though trying to remember something, but then slowly nodded.

“She said there were different versions, different strengths and durations. The one she used was extremely mild and short-lived; apparently Mister Weasley was very shy, and though everyone in their friend group knew that he wanted to ask her out, he couldn't bring himself to do it. The potion she chose was one that naturally makes the person bolder to act on their feelings, and he was able to ask her out after taking it.”

“That kind wore off within a few hours, so the fact that he still wanted to go out with her once the Hogsmeade weekend arrived meant that his emotions were true. It also wouldn’t have worked if he had loved someone else; he would have been emboldened to ask them out instead, or been confused if the component aimed at Molly tried to direct him away from someone he actually loved.” Hermione concluded.

“So Ron might think that you love him, and be trying to get you to say it?” Harry asked, sounding relieved.

“It’s very possible,” Hermione allowed. That reasoning actually made her feel a little better. If Ron was using the same potion as Mrs Wealsey had, then it should have barely affected her. Her mind had gone immediately to the darkest kinds of love potions, without starting with the simplest, most logical explanation. “I wish I’d thought to take it with me to check.”

“Well, since it didn’t work, Ron might try again,” Harry offered, sounding torn between hoping that that would and wouldn’t happen. “He’s kind of impatient, so he’d want to try again until he got the answer he wanted.”

“That’s also quite possible,” Hermione agreed. “Next time - if there is a next time,- we need a plan in place. What if I remember that I need to run to the library before I can drink it.”

“I could remind you that you need to eat,” Harry added. That exact thing had happened more than once last year, when Hermione was struggling with her time turner. Looking back, she definitely could have handled that better, especially in terms of setting aside time to sleep and relax.

“And I’ll grab the goblet and something to eat before leaving,” Hermione concluded. “It’s a good plan.” She frowned and added, “If, of course, it happens again.”

“Right,” Harry quickly agreed.

Still, Hermione could tell that, like her, he was fairly certain that it was a matter of when, not if.

oOo

The more Hermione thought about it, the more she wanted to know exactly what kind of potion was in her drink. Hermione got up early the next morning and made her way to the classroom, where she summoned Dobby. Since his bonding with Harry, he had agreed to answer summons from Hermione as well, though she had yet to call on him.

Once he arrived, she showed him the passage in the potions text about detection parchment, and asked if he knew where to buy any. She had intended to send out an owl to order some, but to her surprise Dobby informed her that there was a stack of the parchment in the Potions storeroom, in the drawers used by the NEWT students.

Hermione wavered about it for several hours, but when her pumpkin juice was again laced at dinner, she made up her mind. She and Harry perfectly enacted their plan, and she absconded with the tainted juice to their classroom.

Once there, she cast the spell again, to confirm, before calling for Dobby and asking him to fetch a sheet of the detection parchment and any books in the library that covered love or loyalty potions.

As he popped away, Hermione opened up the professor’s desk and pulled out her own stack of parchment. After the second time they checked out the advanced potions books, she had finally looked up a copying charm and copied the reaction charts wholesale. They now kept these in the classroom as their own reference.

Flipping to the correct section, she cast the detection charm again. The spell reaction was slightly more green than yellow, meaning that it was definitely from the love class, not the loyalty class. The love potions used pearl dust, while the loyalty ones used abalone dust, causing the distinction in colors. The speckles had already identified it as not being a controlling potion, which was the same color range, but with tremors instead.

Turning to the chart with speckle reactions, Hermione cast the spell again, trying to see if she could pick out more details. The speckles were very frequent, which was worrisome, as it indicated the presence of orchids. These were found in the stronger love potions, but not the weaker ones, though admittedly Hermione didn’t know the exact recipe of the potion Mrs Wealsey had used.

Also worrying was the fact that, as far as she could tell, the speckles were in every color of the rainbow except brown. Brown would be indicative of rose thorns in the brew, instead of rose petals. Like the orchids, this was another indication of the potions’ strength. Using thorns shortened the effect of the potion, compared to petals.

By the time Harry arrived, right on the heels of Dobby, Hermione was starting to fret.

“I made an excuse about needing to talk to McGonagall about something,” Harry said as he rushed in. Seeing her expression his face immediately fell. “What’s wrong?”

“I want to look up some recipes,” Hermione said, pointing at the book from Dobby. “Why don’t you run the charm yourself and see what results you get, then compare notes.”

“Alright,” still looking a little worried, Harry slid into the desk chair and accepted the charts from Hermione.

Hermione half listened to him as she began leafing through the potions book, reading each description in an attempt to find the one that sounded like what Mrs Wealsey had used.

“Alright, green for minerals, yellow-green for shells,” Harry muttered. “The olive or grey overtone indicates the presence of snake ingredients but not blood or venom. In this color range, that is most commonly indicating the presence of ashwinder or naga eggs in love or loyalty-slash-controlling potions, respectively.” he read.

“And that’s more green than yellow, so probably pearl, which is most commonly found in love potions,” Harry continued to mutter. “Now speckles means a plant activator, and the size matches a flowering plant, though I suppose it could be a shrub. Not the roots or leaves, so either stems or flowers. Maybe nectar. Hmm…. they’re appearing a lot, which leans towards plants in the orchid family. They’re also in all sorts of colors… wait… rainbow colors usually means roses or nettles. It could be nettle stem… I’m not seeing the grey, though. Wait, is there brown? Hmmm... That could be? I think it’s more orange, though.”

“Well that’s pretty much exactly what I found, though I forgot about the nettle,” Hermione said, plonking down her own book. “Now, here’s the potion that I think Mrs Weasley used. ‘Audaciaffectux is a short-lived potion that strengthens attraction, promotes action, and sparks attention. It is unable to manufacture feelings where none exist, but it can elevate interest to attraction, and attraction to love. Maximum duration two hours.

“Now, being a love potion, you can see it uses the pearl and roses, but it uses thorns instead of petals, and no ashwinder eggs: only robin’s eggs to promote courage. We both saw that there was no brown in the speckles, so the potion used on me must use petals instead of thorns.”

Harry was reading over her arm and pointed at the ingredients, “No orchid either.”

Hermione looked back at the list, having missed that when Harry was doing his analysis. “You’re right. So I think it’s fair to say that this isn’t the potion Ron tried to use on me. That’s why I asked Dobby for the testing parchment. Apparently it’s kept in the NEWT-restricted cabinets in the student stores.”

“Hermione! Stealing from Snape again? I’m shocked at you!” Harry affected shock and horror.

“Prat,” she smacked him on the arm. “Anyway, I say we test it definitively, instead of trying to compare the reactions of every potion in this section, of which there are forty-seven.”

Harry looked ill at the thought. “No, using the parchment is fine,” he agreed quickly.

Hermione pushed the book out of the way and grabbed the top sheet of detection parchment. Then she took her goblet and poured a few drops of the tainted juice onto it. The liquid glowed for a moment, and Hermione thought she saw hints of the green and speckles that the detection spell created.

After about a minute, the juice was entirely absorbed into the paper, and then writing began to scroll across the parchment.

Ingredients
Pumpkin Juice
Apple Cider
Pumpkin Puree
Apricot Nectar
Brown Sugar
Powdered Cinnamon
Powdered Nutmeg
Powdered Ginger
Powdered Cloves
Powdered Mace
Powdered Shrivelfig Root
Suspected Potion: Pumpkin Juice

Ingredients
Pearl Dust
Ashwinder Egg
Rose Petals
Orchid Nectar
St John’s Wort Sap
Ladybug Shells
Krill Oil
Dove Egg Whites
Black Moonstone Shavings
Suspected Potion: Gliscor-Amortentia

“I didn’t realize it would show the pumpkin juice,” Harry mused, as Hermione picked up the potions book and flipped through it looking for the named potion.

Finally, she found it. “Gliscor-Amortentia is as strong as its cousin, Amortentia, but it is distinct in that it features a slow-acting component. Whereas drinking Amortentia causes the imbiber to immediately fall in love and act noticeably so, Gliscor-Ardortenstia has little immediate effect. The imbiber will display a more tolerant attitude towards the target, followed by fondness, affection, love, and with continued doses, obsession. Gliscor-Ardortenstia is preferred when an immediate change in attitude would be suspicious, or when a stronger result (due to long term build up) is desired.

Hermione’s voice faded away and she and Harry sat in silence for a long moment. Suddenly, Harry jumped to his feet. “I’m going to kill him!” he growled.

“Harry, no!” Hermione grabbed his arm, doing her best to tug him down.

“But Hermione-”

“NO!” Hermione yanked his arm again. “I know you’re upset; so am I! But you can’t just go attack him! We don’t have any proof. And even if we did, the impression I got from Mrs Weasley is that this sort of thing is considered acceptable in the wizarding world. Even if we told a teacher they might not do anything.”

Harry thought about that for a long moment before finally slumping back in his chair. “They never do anything anyway,” he muttered.

Usually Hermione would try to find examples to show that the professors did care, but right now she didn’t have the energy. Instead, she sat in silence with Harry for a few minutes.

“Well what are we going to do about it?” Harry finally asked.

“Research protective or neutralizing potions,” Hermione promptly replied, having been thinking about it for the last minute.

“Alright, but I meant about Ron,” Harry said.

“All I can think of is to stop being friends with him,” Hermione admitted, “but that isn’t without downsides.” Dropping Ron wouldn’t be a great hardship for Hermione, but she knew that he was Harry’s best friend. And, possibly, from hints he had dropped, Harry’s first friend?

“That’s all I had too,” Harry said glumly.

“Well, we don’t need to take drastic steps,” Hermione said. “We could start by distancing ourselves and just play it by ear.”

“That’s true,” Harry sounded slightly less sad.

“Come on,” Hermione bumped shoulders with him. “We’ll do homework in here until curfew. We’ll take a little time to think about it before we make any decisions.”

“Alright, if you’re sure,” Harry said.

“I am.” She hoped her voice sounded more sure than she felt.

oOo

Since getting the note, Hermione had taken to thumbing through her copy of Hogwarts, A History before bed every night. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to find another note or not, but she felt she owed it to herself to check.

That night, as they slipped into the Tower a few bare minutes shy of curfew, Hermione went straight up to her room and readied for bed. Then, ignoring her roommates, she crawled into bed and grabbed her copy of Hogwarts, A History out from beneath her pillow.

There, tucked into the chapter on Slytherin breaking from the other founders, was another note. Hermione let out a shaky breath and unfolded it.

Sorry for that shock, but better you find out early. Read Contracts for Lay Wizards by Bernard Jorkins first, then Bonds and Oaths: Beating the Unbreakable and Breaking the Unbeatable by Basil Mintumble. Harry needs to know as well. Finish before Halloween.

oOo

When the Headmaster had announced that the other two schools would be arriving on October 30th, with the draw happening the next night, Hermione had made the very short leap from her future self’s insistence that they finish the books well before Halloween. The only thing that she or Harry could think of was that, whatever mess with contracts and oaths Harry was going to get tangled in, it would probably involve the Triwizard Tournament.

Hearing the night before that students would submit their names to a magical cup, which would then select the champions via magical contract, narrowed their focus. Hermione thought it was rather obvious that Harry’s name would be submitted by someone else, and the question became; what was binding, the name or the submission?

As soon as dinner ended, she and Harry had hurried to their classroom to research. Hermione had already read Bonds and Oaths cover to cover, and done the same with Contracts for Lay Wizards. The latter was part of a set, alongside Contracts for Law Wizards, and she had gotten both, just in case. She had skimmed the second book, but it was written for someone with much more background in law than her, so it was slow going. Harry had skimmed the first two as well.

Now that they had more details about the selection process, Hermione was able to flip to the chapter in Lay Wizards on “Contracts Created by Magical Devices.” Here they were supremely lucky - or supremely well guided - to find a subsection entirely devoted to the Goblet of Fire.

“It looks like the Goblet was created as a way of choosing Ministers and Department Heads,” Hermione summarized as Harry paced. “Names were submitted by each applicant, using a piece of parchment and a dollop of magic to record their magical signature” she recited. “Well that certainly sounds like it is more important to cast the spell, than to write on the parchment, per se.”

She kept reading. “Yes, here it is. When a department head so chosen, one Allois Carrow, was later found to have accepted bribes in direct contraindication of his oath of office, he attempted to claim that he was not bound by the oath because his full name was in fact Adley Allois Carrow. The Goblet of Fire was called to arbitrate, and, matching his signature submitted with his application, stripped him of his magic. From this, it became clear that the Goblet relies, not on the exact wording of the submitted name, as Carrow believed, but on the magical signature submitted.

“So it doesn’t matter if someone puts my name in the Goblet, as long as I don’t cast a spell at it?” Harry stopped pacing.

“It would seem so,” Hermione said, then continued skimming. “It looks like they retired the Goblet because politicians didn’t like risking their magic over their oaths of office, which they would much rather bend,” she concluded. “Nothing about being submitted against your will. But I remember…” She quickly pulled out her wand and cast the searching charm “sciscito against his will, sciscito against her will, sciscito against their will, sciscito against its will. Immediately a handful of bookmarks sprang up, sprinkled throughout the text. “You should look for anything relevant in the bonds book,” Hermione informed Harry as she began to check the markers.

After a short while of quietly reading, Hermione finished her cross-referencing. “Okay, I think I’ve got it,” she said. Harry obediently closed his book, holding his place with a finger, and looked at her attentively. “The general consensus is that, if you are entered into a contract against your will, the best way to fight it is to take no steps that will fulfill it. For example, if the contract states that you must attend a meeting at Gringotts, then even going to Gringotts to protest would work against you, as you are partially fulfilling the contract by going there at all.”

“Alright, that makes sense.” Harry agreed.

“Now, the second thing to do is to fight back against the validity of the contract. With wizard-made or goblin-made contracts, your best bet is human error. Or goblin error. If you can prove that they made an error, putting in the wrong name, or including a typo, for example, you have better grounds to have it nullified.”

“With object-made contracts, there is less room to fight, because the object is presumed to be flawless. In your case, our best shot would be to attack the validity of the name submissions and investigate the wards that are designed to keep underaged students from submitting their names. If you can find fault with the selection, or prove that the protections put in place would have stopped you from entering, you have a better chance of protesting your inclusion.”

“Alright,” Harry agreed.

“Now, what’ve you got?” She asked.

“Well, it seems that I could make one of the unbreakable vows,” Harry said, flipping his book back open to his previous spot. “There are different kinds, but only two that are relevant. I could make a vow on either my magic or my life that I didn’t enter my own name; if I was lying, I would either die or lose my magic.”

“Both of those are fairly drastic,” Hermione agreed. “You’d need to be very careful in your wording if we went that route.”

“Yeah, but there was one interesting thing,” Harry said. “They made a point to say that many pureblood wizards consider it a stronger vow to swear on your magic than your life.”

“Huh.” Hermione thought about that for a moment. “I wond- oh, wait, that makes sense, actually. Think about it; a pureblood has never lived without magic, so for them, living like a Muggle, or a squib, really, would be a fate worse than death. Muggleborns are probably much more likely to be fine with that, because they lived as Muggles for years, and their parents are normal.”

“Oh yeah,” Harry agreed. “So from our perspective, swearing on my magic isn’t as big a deal as swearing on my life, but wizards would see the opposite. If I do need to swear an oath, that would be the best route to take.”

“Agreed. But again, we would need to be very very careful in the wording.”

“What more do I need to say than ‘I didn’t do it’?” Harry asked.

“Well, from what I recall of that book, typical wording might include a phrase like ‘I have no idea how my name was entered’, but if you’ve thought about it enough to think that someone else might have put your name in, then you’ve got some idea. Another common phrase is ‘I had no intention to participate.’ But is there a moment at all, since you found out about the Tournament, that you didn’t wonder what it would be like to be the champion, or think about what it might be like to enter?”

Hermione could tell from Harry’s falling face that he had indeed had those thoughts. “Exactly. Depending on how strict the Goblet is in terms of interpretation, those kinds of thoughts might be counter to that phrasing of oath.”

“Right, carefully worded, got it,” Harry said, looking a little green.

“That said, and I’d need to check, but something along the lines of not putting your name in nor asking anyone else to do it might be enough. You aren’t saying you haven’t thought about it, or don’t know how it might have been done, but just that you didn’t take any actual actions.” Hermione concluded.

“Right. So, we need to figure out the wording before tomorrow, just in case? And anything I’m told to do I refuse?” Harry asked.

“Until you can prove that following those instructions doesn’t work towards accepting the contract, yes,” Hermione agreed.

“Alright, let’s get to it,” Harry said, diving back into his book.

oOo

As the fourth slip of paper came out of the goblet, Hermione exchanged a glance with Harry. This was the moment they had been prepping for.

“Harry Potter,” Headmaster Dumbledore called.

Hermione reached beneath the table and gripped Harry’s hand comfortingly. “Just like we prepared,” she muttered.

“Harry Potter!” the headmaster said. “Harry! Up here, if you please!”

“No thank you, Headmaster,” Harry replied firmly, just as they had scripted.

Hermione could see the open shock on the faces around them. Ronald, of course, had anger mixed with his shock, but many of the others were just surprised. None more so than Headmaster Dumbledore.

“Excuse me, Harry?” he said, looking down his nose at Harry over his spectacles.

“I will not join the champions, Headmaster,” Harry said politely. Hermione was pleased to note that he had remembered her coaching and not called them the “other” champions, implying that he was also one. “I did not submit my name to the Goblet, and would be willing to swear to that effect,” Harry continued. “As such, it would not be appropriate for me to take any steps that might be construed as accepting that I am bound by this contract when I am not.”

Hermione gave his hand a squeeze, proud that he had gotten the phrasing perfect. She suspected that he had continued rehearsing it after they went to their dorms last night.

Headmaster Dumbledore stared blankly for a moment before repeating, “Excuse me, Harry?”

Harry straightened slightly, seeming reassured. “I can elaborate; which part confused you, Headmaster?” he asked, a hint of snark in his tone.

“Your name came out of the Goblet, my boy,” the Headmaster said. “I’m afraid that means that you are now a champion.”

“And I’m afraid you are in error, Headmaster,” Harry said more politely. “I have recently read a book on contracts in anticipation of any potential incidents. This book had a section specifically on the Goblet of Fire, as it happens. One of the points it made was that, if you believe that you have been selected in error, your best course of action is not to take any actions that might reinforce the error.”

“I don’t believe-”

“You see, Headmaster, if I agree with you that I should join the ‘other’ champions, I am implying that I can be considered a champion. I disagree,” Harry explained. Hermione gave him another squeeze, in reassurance. “As such, I will not be leaving this bench until you have completed your meeting with the champions, and I will not engage in any Triwizard Tournament-related events until my law-wizard agrees that I am not bound by this contract.”

Hermione risked another peak around the room, and saw that the students appeared to be watching this as though they would a quidditch match - any anger at Harry cheating to enter his name seemed to have been washed away by the spectacle of him standing up to the Headmaster. Except Ronald, of course, who was the exception. His anger seemed only to have grown as the argument went on. Hermione thought there was every chance that she and Harry could finally break with Wealsey over this.

“He’s right, Dumbledore,” their support came from an unexpected quarter. Hermione’s gaze shot across the Head Table, where the Ministry official, Barty Crouch, was rising. “I’ve studied contracts for years, and we looked at the particulars when bringing the Goblet of Fire out of stasis. If young Mister Potter’s name has been submitted by someone else, he is taking the correct actions to keep from making his entry self-fulfilling. As this is all highly irregular to begin with, should he be willing to swear that he did not enter his name, I believe we can continue the meeting without him, and sort this out after the Champions are briefed.”

Having prepared for this, Harry pulled out his wand and stood. Hermione released his hand so that he could do it unencumbered, and she noticed him glancing at his palm as he did. His lips moved slightly, and she realized that he had probably written crib notes on his hand for this part. Holding his wand aloft, Harry declared, “I, Harry James Potter, do swear on my magic that I did not enter my name into the magical object known as the Goblet of Fire, nor did I ask anyone else to enter my name into said magical object. This I so swear.”

A bright flash of grey light surged from Harry’s wand, coating him in a thin grey aura for a moment. It was just as the book on contracts had described would happen if the oath was properly cast. Harry waited a beat for everyone to process that before jabbing his wand. “Lumos!”

The tip of his wand glowed brightly for a moment before Harry muttered, “Nox.”

Hermione immediately jumped up to defend her friend. “As Harry still has his magic, it should be obvious to everyone here that he is not responsible for his name appearing in the Goblet of Fire,” she said, hoping to reinforce his oath in the minds of the other students.

She glanced around the Hall, looking for support. “I, for one, am very concerned about the supposed precautions that were placed around the Goblet, and about its use in the first place when it had been retired for several centuries - with good reason. What would have happened if whoever entered Harry’s name used the same chicanery to enter the name of a firstie? Especially one who was not aware that following the Headmaster’s order to join the “other” Champions could see them locked into the contract? This seems a perfectly hideous way to put a child in the position where they have to compete in a tournament where they are likely to be killed, or risk losing their magic.

There, that should set the cat among the pigeons! Or kneezle, as the older Gryffindors said. Let all those purebloods think about what would happen if it had been their name entered, or their younger siblings’ name.

“We’ll talk of this later, Miss Granger. Harry, my boy, wait in my office please,” Headmaster Dumbledore managed to recover some of his composure. “Bartemius?” He gestured at Barty Crouch to proceed him in the direction of the antechamber where the champions had been sent.

As soon as he was on his way, Harry thumped down into his seat again, followed a moment later by Hermione. Harry let out a shaky sigh, and Hermione again grabbed his hand to squeeze it reassuringly.

“That was wicked, mate,” Dean whistled from his spot a few places down.

“How’d you know all that?” asked Parvati from next to him.

“How else?” Harry said self-deprecatingly, and jabbing his head in Hermione’s direction. “Hermione.”

“I wanted to know how they would pick the champions,” Hermione explained quickly as every eye swiveled towards her “When I found out that it was the Goblet of Fire, I wanted to know more. The accounts of how it formed the contracts seemed quite dodgy, so I looked into those.”

“Hey, does that mean that if Angelina had crossed the age line and put our names in, and they had come out, we could have competed?” Fred or George asked from slightly further down the table. By the way he quickly winced it appeared that Angelina, who was sitting across from him, had kicked him under the table.

“Yes and no,” Hermione explained. “The goblet is tied to the magic of the person who submits it. The name is, as far as I can tell, somewhat irrelevant except for identification purposes. You could do it that way, but Angelina’s magic would be on the line, depending on you competing to protect her.”

“The names don’t matter?” Angelina spoke up.

“Let me put it this way,” Hermione said. “Angie, what’s your full, legal, name?”

“Angelina Leigh Christie Johnson,” she replied.

“And did you write all that on the paper, or just Angelina Johnson?”

“Oh,” she said quietly, clearly understanding the point.

“So, if the goblet was bound by your name, you wouldn’t actually be the one to compete, but rather someone whose name was only Angelina Johnson, no middle names,” Hermione concluded. “Instead, it locked on to your magical signature as you entered, and tied that to your slip of paper, so that the paper could be used to identify the signature. In fact, without the magical signature, the whole thing wouldn’t make much sense; how would the magic determine your worthiness if it just had a name on a paper? Can it even read?”

Hermione could tell that her points were being well taken by the Gryffindors, and several Ravenclaws were not-so-subtly listening in from the table behind her.

A thought suddenly occurred to her and she decided to throw it out there too. “What confuses me is that there were four names picked. I would have assumed that Harry’s name would be called for Hogwarts, but clearly there already is a Hogwarts champion - Cedric.” That should keep the Hufflepuffs from turning on them.

“For a fourth name to come out, means that someone somehow reprogrammed the Goblet to believe that there was a fourth school in the Tournament. Then, as the only student entered for that school, Harry becomes the obvious choice.”

“She’s right,” the seventh year Ravenclaw boys prefect, Roger Davies, piped up unexpectedly. What seemed like half of Gryffindor turned to face the eagles’ table.

“We’re studying advanced applications of confounding charms this semester,” he explained, seeming a little unnerved by the attention. “We’ve already learned that the level of intelligence of your subject is a factor: confounding people is easier than confounding dogs, which is easier than confounding toads. Confounding an object is an order of magnitude harder than confounding an animal, because it has no brain to affect. We’re going to be trying it with enchanted parchment later in the term; I can’t imagine trying it on something as advanced as the Goblet of Fire.”

“Is there a way to do it without Confounding the Goblet?” a younger Ravenclaw asked.

“I actually looked up the Goblet, since I want to go into enchanting,” said another Ravenclaw. Hermione recognized her as sixth-year Patricia Clearwater, Penelope’s younger sister. She had visited them often when they were petrified in the infirmary.

“Your best bet would be to reprogram its instructions,” she continued. “The Goblet wasn’t always used for the Triwizard Tournament; it has arbitrated a number of decisions over the years. There are a set of runes on the bottom that are used to tell it how many names to select, and what criteria to use. For the Triwizard Tournament, they would have used those to set it up to pick one name for each of the three schools. To make it recognize a fourth school would take some doing, and you’d risk it spitting out all of the names already entered, if you did it after the flame was lit.”

As the other students digested this, Hermione nudged Harry. He had one more thing to do. “Oh yeah,” he sighed. “Hey, do any of you lot have a parent who’s a law-wizard?” Harry asked down Gryffindor table. “Or you?” he half turned to the still listening Ravenclaws. “I’m afraid this is going to go way over my head once they get down to arguing the contract.”

Hermione was watching carefully, and saw that no one seemed inclined to be angry at Harry at this reminder of his predicament. Turning the situation into a discussion about how hard it would be to enter Harry’s name - beyond the seventh years, even - seemed to have blown away the last of the resentment and anger. There was still a chance for Hufflepuff to cause trouble - and of course Malfoy and his gang - but hopefully they would hear the Ravenclaws talking about it and get the gist. If not, Hermione could probably talk to some of the Puffs she shared classes with and try to get the word out that way.

“My uncle is a law-wizard,” offered Maribelle Turpin, one of the Gryffindor seventh-years.

“So is my mother,” said a younger Ravenclaw that Hermione vaguely recognized from his sorting. She thought his name might be Thistlewait. Maybe Tintwistle? Something -istle. Merlin but wizards had odd names some times!

“Could you both contact them? Would they be willing to help? And come tonight?” Hermione asked. “Knowing Harry, he’ll need all the help he can get.” she teased.

Harry nodded glumly, raising chuckles from the others.

“I’ll send an owl right now,” Maribelle promised. The Ravenclaw nodded the same.

“Thank- hang on,” Hermione snapped. “Do either of you have a house elf? Can you even call family elves within Hogwarts?” she muttered.

“You can,” Marielle said, “and I will. You’re right, time is of the essence.” So saying, she ducked aside and quietly called “Poppy!”

Hermione turned back to the Ravenclaws, and found an older Ravenclaw introducing an elf to the younger one.

“Hang on a tic,” Padma - Parvati’s Ravenclaw sister - suddenly said. Then she stood and looked over her table towards the Puffs. “Oy, Suze! C’mere a minute?”

A moment later, Susan Bones and her friend Hannah Abbott had come around to the space between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor. “Padma?” she asked. Hermione had to hide her glee; they were going to get the Puffs on board already, and it hadn’t even had to come from her!

“Suze, can you send a house elf to fetch your Aunt? Potter’s got to meet with the Headmaster soon, and he needs someone who knows the law to help make sure this contract isn’t fulfilled.”

“Oh! Yeah, I can do that,” Susan said quickly. “Mimmer,” she called, as yet another house elf popped into the Great Hall.

Her friend, Hannah, was studying Harry, and clearly saw some confusion on his face. “Susan’s aunt is the head of the department of law enforcement,” she explained.

As soon as she said it, it jogged Hermione’s memory; she had heard that mentioned before, but it hadn’t registered. “That’s brilliant!” she said. “Thank you, Padma, and of course you as well, Susan!”

Just as Susan’s elf popped away, Professor McGonagall approached the group. “Miss Bones? Miss Abbott?” she asked, raising one eyebrow at the misplaced Hufflepuffs. Neither of them offered an explanation, so after a moment she turned to Harry. “Mister Potter, the Headmaster is expecting you in his office.”

Hermione immediately put her hand on his shoulder, in case Harry was thinking of jumping to obey. “Professor, Harry is waiting on his law-wizard, but then he will be making his way to the Headmaster’s office.”

“Miss Granger, I hardly think that is necessary,” Professor McGonagall sniffed.

“With respect, Professor, we think it is,” piped up Maribelle.

“Miss Turpin?” the Professor whirled to look at the seventh-years’ end of the table.

“By rights he should have a parent or guardian with him, since he’s underage,” added one of the older Ravenclaws, causing McGonagall to spin and look at them. “Who’s your wizarding guardian, Potter?” he asked Harry.

Harry glanced at Hermione, and she shook her head slightly; this wasn’t the time to bring up Sirius’s situation. “I live with my Aunt and Uncle, but they’re Muggles,” Harry said carefully. “I think my wizarding guardian is my godfather, but he’s out of the country. He wouldn’t be able to get here in time.”

“Then you definitely want to wait for Madam Bones and the others,” the Ravenclaw nodded.

“Madam Bones?” Professor McGonagall frowned, turning to look at the Hufflepuffs again.

“Right, so, Professor, as we said, he’ll wait,” Maribelle said firmly.

Professor McGonagall looked around the group with another frown, then stalked back to the Head table. However, she passed it and went to the antechamber where the Headmaster and the champions had gone. A moment later, Hermione noticed Professor Moody following her.

Harry let out a long, shaky breath. “Thanks, everyone,” he said sincerely. “And how did you know about the guardian thing?”

Several of the older students gave him odd looks. “It’s in the Hogwarts rule book,” the Ravenclaw said, frowning. “In the section on your rights.”

Harry looked startled. “There’s a Hogwarts rule book?”

This caused the older students to exchange looks. “It's on the book list for all firsties,” Rodger Davies said. “You didn’t buy it?”

“That wasn’t on our book list!” Hermione said, starting to become annoyed. “I even asked at Flourish and Blotts, and they told me I would find out at Hogwarts. I couldn’t find anything in the library, either.”

The looks between the older students were becoming darker, but before they could say anything else, the doors to the Great Hall opened. An older man who appeared about the same age as Professor McGonagall entered, accompanied by a woman who looked closer to Professor Lupin’s age. Both were dressed in smart wizarding robes and carried business satchels.

Glancing at the others, Hermione saw Maribelle and the young Ravenclaw both rise, and she guessed that these were their uncle and mother. “Perhaps we should go to an empty classroom?” Hermione suggested.

“There’s a meeting room just off the entrance hall,” Maribelle explained. “We’ll go there. Bones?”

“I’ll wait for Aunty in the hall, and we’ll meet you there,” Susan agreed.

Determined not to leave Harry’s side, Hermione stood up at the same time and grabbed her bag, which she had brought just in case they needed the book on contracts. “Hermione!” Ron hissed, finally seeming to find his voice. “You don’t believe-”

“Not now, Ronald,” Hermione said sharply. “This is important.”

So saying, she caught up to Harry and grabbed his hand: partly to reassure him that she was there, and partly to piss off Ron. Harry shot her a grateful look and then they had arrived at the end of the tables.

“Clarence Turpin, Mister Potter,” Maribelle’s uncle shook Harry’s free hand.

“Tessa Thistlewait,” said the Ravenclaw’s - Thistlewait’s - mother. “Trevor here tells us you need legal help?”

“Why don’t we go to the meeting room Maribelle mentioned and discuss it there?” Hermione suggested. Mrs Thistlewait glanced down at where Hermione still held Harry’s hand and smiled. Hermione flushed, and was hit with the sudden urge to let go before anyone got the wrong idea, but she suppressed it. She was Harry’s friend, and she was here to support him.

“Lead the way,” Mister Turpin nodded at his niece.

oOo

It took a week and a half, but it was finally decided that Harry did not have to compete in the Triwizard Tournament. Hermione, Harry, and the other three explained everything to Madam Bones and the two law wizards, with Hermione showing them the relevant portions of the two books they had studied.

Harry shared his fear that his name would be drawn because bad things always seemed to happen to him at Hogwarts, especially on Halloween. All three adults had wanted to pursue that further, but for the moment accepted that reasoning and Hermione’s confessed curiosity as the explanation for why they were so prepared.

The students also explained what the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws had discussed about the Goblet’s selection process and how to confound it. Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione noticed Susan following that conversation with interest, and knew that she would soon have it around Hufflepuff.

As it happened, Mister Turpin had studied the Goblet of Fire during his apprenticeship, and was familiar with its workings. He was even acquainted with Bernard Jorkins, the author of the two contract books Hermione was using. All three adults agreed that Harry should not have to compete, and had indeed done the right thing in refusing to meet with the champions.

They also wanted more details about Harry’s guardian, and Hermione saw him eying Madam Bones calculatingly. Hermione didn’t want him to do anything rash, but she also wanted to fix the miscarriage of justice that had seen Sirius imprisoned, so she didn’t try to talk Harry out of it.

Once the adults felt ‘up to speed,’ they had trooped off to the Headmaster’s office. Maribelle, Trevor, and Susan begged off, but Hermione stuck by Harry’s side. If one of the adults on ‘their’ side wanted her to leave, she figured they would say something, but none did, and Hermione wanted to see this out.

The Headmaster had tried to dismiss her - tried to dismiss all the adults, actually - but Hermione refused to go. He also had Professor Snape present, but not Professor McGonagall, which was something that Madam Bones raked him for. The Headmaster kept repeating that he trusted Professor Snape, but Hermione couldn’t see what that had to do with anything. Neither could Madam Bones, apparently, as she finally said that ‘either Snape leaves, or Harry does.’

Once they got down to it, the Headmaster also kept trying to force Harry to compete. Hermione found herself more and more perplexed and disillusioned with a man she had once respected very highly. She started thinking back on the other anomalies over her years, things she had reasoned away under the auspice that ‘He’s the Headmaster! He must know what he’s doing!’ Seeing other adults who did not seem to believe that, and who, in fact, were using the law to disprove his comments, was eroding Hermione’s rose-tinted view.

However, over the course of the past week and a half, there were several meetings with Harry and his ‘legal team’ as Hermione had to come to think of them, and also meetings with just the legal team and the Headmaster. The Headmaster also tried to meet with Harry alone, but Madam Bones, as his acting guardian, had told him, in front of the Headmaster, that Harry was not allowed to attend them without her.

Even Barty Crouch and the other headmasters were called in for one meeting, and Madam Bones mentioned meeting them without Harry as well. All in all, after many discussions and even a ritual involving the goblet, Harry was declared free of the contract.

Thanks to their work with the Ravenclaws on Halloween, and Susan and Hannah’s work in Hufflepuff, three quarters of the school appeared firmly in the camp of believing Harry innocent. Some of the Slytherins probably thought so as well, but as Malfoy was the only one who ever seemed to talk to Harry or Hermione, she had no way to gauge. There was only one dissenting voice in Gryffindor, belonging to Ron Wealsey.

The first night, after their meeting with the Headmaster, Hermione and Harry had returned to the Common Room to find that Maribelle, Harry’s quidditch teammates, and some of the others were waiting to hear how it went. Before Harry and Hermione could start the tale, Ron had stomped over and started a screaming match with them.

In addition to accusing Harry of entering his name “for the glory,” and lying about it afterwards, Ron also went off about how Harry was now getting more special treatment thanks to meeting his legal team. He also gave blatant hints about the Potioning, informing Hermione that she should have turned on Harry to be with Ron, and how she should “know better.”

Fortunately, McGonagall had come in and broken things up before either Harry or Hermione was pushed into punching the git. The twins quickly apologized to both of them on Ron’s behalf, though it wasn’t needed. Hermione was just pleased that she now had a legitimate reason to stop the appearance of being his friend, though she was only partly hopeful that that would stop the potioning attempts.

The other notable event was that Madam Bones and the others had pressed Harry more about his guardian, and he and Hermione had finally confessed the whole story about Sirius Black. Madam Bones had drawn out their memories to watch in something called a Pensive, and had been livid, especially at the part in the infirmary with the Minister. Once the trouble with the Goblet and Tournament was sorted, she promised - with both law wizards backing her - to get Sirius a trial and restore his guardianship of Harry.

That conversation had also included a detailed discussion of Harry’s home life with the Dursleys, and why he was so eager to go live with Sirius. From what Harry said - and more importantly, didn’t say - it became apparent even to Hermione that his life with them was not healthy. She knew from the looks the adults were giving each other that they were going to look into the Dursleys while they looked into Sirius.

Hermione felt much better about that, and about the way this year was going in general - indeed, the last two weeks had been almost peaceful! She still wasn’t sure why she was getting these notes from her future self, but she trusted them. Clearly, a great many wrongs had happened to that version of herself, and even little corrections, like a book title at the right moment, were enough to make large changes.

Thinking about it, Hermione’s greatest fear was that Harry had been forced to participate in the Tournament and had been killed or worse. These thoughts had spun through her head for a few days before Hermione figured out exactly what she meant by ‘worse.’ It was while she was reorganizing her notes for History of Magic that Hermione was hit by the brainwave that there was just the smallest, tiniest, teeniest chance that she was in love with her best friend.

Hermione had no idea what to do with this revelation - her mother, while a good mother in many respects, was not a touchy-feely kind of person, and she had never talked to Hermione about falling in love. The biology of sex and how not to get pregnant, yes, but nothing about feelings.

Very much out of her depth, Hermione finally approached Angelina, Alicia, and Katie while they were studying with some friends in the common room. To her surprise, they took one look at her face and Alicia said, “So, you figured out you’re in love with him, I take it?”

When Hermione just gaped at them, they took pity on her and dragged her up to the sixth-years’ dorm. Several hours later an embarrassed, but much wiser, Hermione fled back to her own room to hide behind her bed curtains.

Merlin, she was in love with Harry Potter! And, from what the older girls said, he was likely in love with her, but just too dense of a male to realize it! From what she had learned of his home life, and from what she had since looked up in the library, Hermione knew that people who were raised in neglectful homes often didn’t recognize those kinds of emotions in themselves, since they didn’t have anything to compare it to. If Harry did love her, he probably didn’t realize it, just as the girls thought.

Hermione mulled over this for almost an hour before deciding to turn in. She was so distracted that she almost forgot, but just as she was about to turn off her light she remembered to pull out her copy of Hogwarts, A History.

There, in the chapter about the seventeenth century, when Headmaster Harrison Potter was at Hogwarts, Hermione found a new note. She was no longer surprised to see them, but she was dreading what this could mean for her and Harry now. The notes were certainly helpful and gave good advice, but that she needed their guidance was worrisome. At the least, she felt bad for the future her who hadn’t had this advice.

Invite him to the ball; you’re right about his upbringing. Try Ara ‘n’ Basque’s Magic Steps kit. To save some lives:
1. Before the first task, say ‘Yes’ to visiting Hagrid, but bring Cedric.
2. Madam Bones should know that Fleur will have an unfair disadvantage in the second task.
3. Well before the third task, read Personal Wards and Protective Enchantments by Waraclus Warrington: Chapter five. Moody isn’t Moody. Remember Myrtle.

Hermione stared at the note, nibbling on her bottom lip. The first part was easy: there was going to be a ball, probably as part of the tournament. She had reread that section of Hogwarts, A History often in the past year, and it mentioned a Yule Ball as part of the festivities.

Clearly, Hermione’s assumptions about Harry were correct, and he was unlikely to bring himself to ask her to the ball. By asking him instead, she had a way around his shortcomings. The Magic Steps kit was probably to teach him to dance, given the name. It was likely that, if the Dursleys were neglectful, they wouldn’t bother to make sure Harry knew how to dance.

That was the easy part. The rest of the note was more worrisome. Say ‘yes’ to visiting Hagrid but bring Cedric? that sounded like Hagrid knew something about the Tournament that Cedric should know. Hermione didn’t think they should cheat, and showing something to Cedric might cross that line. But future her hadn’t led her wrong yet, and this section spoke of saving lives. Was it possible that there was some other cheating happening and this would just be them evening the score? Or perhaps, by having Cedric in a certain place at a certain time, for an irrelevant reason, they were preventing something worse happening to him where he would have been, like sabotage? That, Hermione’s conscience could accept. She would just need to wait and see what Hagrid wanted.

The next task: an unfair disadvantage? How would she go about revealing that to Madam Bones? Fleur was the girl that Ron had swooned over the night the other schools arrived. And all while he was Potioning Hermione to swoon over him! The thought still made her blood boil. Ron had claimed that she was a veela, and Hermione had scoffed, because, honestly. However, after watching the girl more over the last few weeks, Hermione was fairly certain that Ron was right, at least partially.

Hermione could only imagine that having Veela powers could give Fleur an advantage, but the note said differently. Perhaps Hermione could broach the topic with Madam Bones more generally. It was true that the Tournament had already been tampered with once, with Harry’s attempted inclusion. Hermione could suggest that there might be other tampering to give one champion or another an advantage or disadvantage, and that perhaps Madam Bones, as a reliable independent party, could double check? Hermione was confident Madam Bones would look into it thoroughly. If Fleur was at a disadvantage, Madam Bones would find out.

The next part was fairly standard, as these notes had gone: instructions to find a book. Hermione would look in the library first thing tomorrow - though as with the others she doubted she would find it - and then send off the owl order before breakfast if necessary. There was no sense in trying to puzzle out that mystery until she had the book itself.

But the last bit; that was very troubling. Moody isn’t Moody. Remember Myrtle. At the beginning of the year, her future self had directed her to go to Professor Moody for help. Now future Hermione was telling her not to trust him? What had changed? And remember Myrtle? Myrtle was a ghost; what did she have to do with the Professor?

Hermione tossed and turned for over an hour before deciding that she couldn’t do anything until she had done more research. The new book might also reveal the connection, as would a tour of Myrtle’s bathroom. Since there was nothing more to be done tonight, Hermione tried to put it out of her mind and go to sleep.

oOo

The next morning, Hermione popped down to the library first thing, but of course the book was nowhere to be found. After jogging up to the owlery to send off the owl order form, she made her way back down to the Great Hall via Myrtle’s bathroom on the second floor. There were no puddles in the hall, so Hermione hoped that Myrtle was in a good mood.

Carefully opening the door, Hermione didn’t hear any crying, so she cautiously entered. She was looking around curiously, hoping to jog her memory, when a voice startled her.

“What are you doing here?”

Hermione whirled around, hand to her racing heart. “Oh, Myrtle, you startled me!” she exclaimed. “How have you been?”

Myrtle shrugged, but didn’t immediately start sniffling. Hermione imagined it must have been very hard, dying in the middle of puberty, with her moods all over the place to begin with, and then having to watch everyone else grow up and have the life she should have gotten. Hermione had thought a lot about that while she was petrified, as the world passed by around her. She had felt a great kinship with and sympathy for the ghostly girl after second year.

“Have you heard about all the fuss over the Tournament?” Hermione asked carefully.

Myrtle’s face lit up. “Oooh, have you seen those Beauxbaton boys?” she giggled. “And that Viktor Krum? He does exercises outside his ship in the mornings. I like to go out to the lake and watch. If I stay near the shore the merfolk don’t bother me.”

“There are certainly some very dishy boys in both groups,” Hermione agreed.

“I heard you’re snagging Harry, though,” Myrtle sighed pitifully.

“How did you know that?” Hermione boggled. “I just figured that out last night!”

Myrtle smirked. “The portraits like to gossip,” she explained. “Especially those old biddies that guard the girls dorms.”

Hermione was even more shocked. She had noticed the painting of the elderly witch in the sixth-years’ dorm room, but hadn’t thought anything of it. The younger years hadn’t had portraits, but she had seen one in the fifth years’ room last year, when the prefect, Cynthia, dragged her in to talk to her about her barmy schedule. “They what?”

“All the older girls’ dorms have portraits in them, silly,” she explained, giggling. “They listen in to see if the girls are going off to meet their boyfriends. If they’re planning more than a snog, they tell the teachers so they can interrupt them. Hogwarts doesn’t want any pregnant students, you know.”

Her brain seemed to have shorted out, as Hermione was having trouble finding a reply. Myrtle’s giggles escalated to full laughter at her expression. “I thought the same thing when I found out,” she finally managed to say. “Of course, by then, it was too late: ghosts can’t exactly snog. Harry promised to come visit me if he died, but he survived,” she added glumly, her emotions making a quick heel turn.

“I know he wanted to come visit you, Myrtle,” Hermione offered, “but he’s quite a boy about coming into a girl’s loo: even an unused one.”

“Ooh, I could visit him!” Myrtle said, perking up a little.

“You could visit both of us,” Hermione offered. “You know the classroom just past the Transfiguration office? Harry and I study and practice there. You’re welcome to come join us some evening.”

“Really?” Myrtle looked skeptical. “You’re not just saying that? People say an awful lot of things to ghosts that they don’t actually mean.”

“Myrtle, I’m making a genuine offer,” Hermione said seriously. “And you know that Harry isn’t like that about ghosts. He even went to Nearly Headless Nick’s Death Day party.”

“That’s true,” Myrtle sounded calmer.

“You just need to get out of the toilet more,” Hermione said firmly. “I know you can visit the dorms; you could have joined us for our chat last night. I’m sure the other girls wouldn’t have minded either.”

“The other girls don’t like me,” Myrtle huffed.

“I think they’re intimidated by you,” Hermione said carefully. “When we’re upset, we hide somewhere quiet and have a good cry. Your good cry can flood the hallway. While I find that very impressive, from a power standpoint, if I just needed to use the loo, I’d be a bit intimidated.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” Myrtle agreed.

“The other girls just haven’t had a chance to get to know the real you, because they’ve been frightened off on your bad days. Everyone has bad days; there’s nothing wrong with that. Once they get to know you on a good day, I’m sure you’d find several girls who would like to be friends with you.” Hermione hoped that she wasn’t lying through her teeth right now, but she really did feel sorry for the teenage ghost.

“I guess you’re right,’ Myrtle said a little more brightly. “You and Harry weren’t mean to me when you were in here brewing your potion. And the girls who hung out in here a few years ago weren’t horrible either.”

“You come up to the dorm sometime and you’ll see,” Hermione said, though her mind wasn’t in it. “I have to go to breakfast now, but I’ll see you at our classroom this evening or soon,” she left as quickly as possible without being impolite.

Thoughts were whirling around Hermione’s mind, spinning off from Myrtle’s offhand comment. Hermione’s main connection to Myrtle at this point was the month she had spent in the ghost’s bathroom brewing polyjuice. Future Hermione might have visited with her more, but at this point in time that was their only connection. Remember Myrtle - remember the potion!

Her future self was trying to remind her about her time brewing the polyjuice potion, Hermione was sure about it. She wasn’t sure yet why, but likely she would figure that out soon. Relieved to have made some progress on that riddle, Hermione rushed off to breakfast.

She and Harry had taken to sitting away from their usual seats and closer to the older students. This put them near Harry’s quidditch teammates, with Neville as their closest neighbor from their year. Ron was still being a prat, but at least he seemed to be gravitating towards Dean and Seamus right now, instead of trying to reattach himself to Harry and Hermione. She thought he might be trying to make them jealous, or show them what they were missing, but honestly they were both just glad to be well shot of him.

This morning, the Gryffindor chasers were all staring at Hermione, and she knew why. Primly ignoring them, she slid into the place Harry had saved for her and greeted him and Neville, who was across the table.

“Before I forget,” Harry said, “I got a note from Hagrid just now. He wants me to go down and meet him midnight tomorrow night. Want to come?”

“After the Hogsmeade trip? Alright,” Hermione agreed. For the second time that morning, her brain was whirling off a hundred km an hour. She thought she would have more time, but now she had to find a way to get Cedric to come.

The easiest way would be to tell Harry, and brainstorm together - he and Cedric had a bit of a connection through quidditch, after all - but she wasn’t quite sure she wanted to share the truth of these notes with him yet. There was a chance that he would be perfectly accepting of the knowledge, but she couldn’t risk him thinking she was barmy.

She saw Neville watching them and thought she might have the beginning of an idea. “Neville, have you ever visited Hagrid? Outside of class, I mean.”

Neville blushed slightly. “A few times. He showed me where to find some fanged geraniums on the grounds last year, and he found Trevor for me once or twice in first year.” Neville had finally gotten one of the older students to charm a breakout-proof tank for Trevor at the end of first year, which put an end to the toad’s escapist shenanigans.

“Do you want to come with us? We should all fit beneath the cloak.” Harry asked immediately. “He’s a great friend, and makes really good tea. Just don’t try the rock cakes.”

“I already knew that,” Neville grimaced. “But yeah, if I wouldn’t be a bother.”

“No bother at all; it's settled,” Hermione assured him. She was suddenly realizing that they - she - had largely ignored Neville since first year. Ron had been so demanding with their time that she had drifted apart from Neville, who had been a good friend to her in first year.

“That might also give me a chance to harvest some night-blooming jimsonweed,” Neville mused. “It likes the shade of buildings, and I think I saw some buds near Hagrid’s hut during class last week.”

“Perfect!” Hermione said. As Harry politely asked Neville what night-blooming jimsonweed did, Hermione let her mind wander. Inviting Neville made sense, but now how to get Cedric to come along? Neville was closer to the Hufflepuffs than she and Harry were, since he was childhood friends with Hannah and Susan, as he had once told her. Her hasty plan to invite him hinged on him spreading the word to the Puffs, who would then somehow tell Cedric. The more she thought about it, however, the less stable of a plan it seemed. She couldn’t Neville why she wanted Cedric there, any more than she could Harry! And while the Puffs might not be upset with Harry about the Tournament fiasco, they might still think her intentions were suspicious.

As the post owls began swooping into the Hall, Hermione wanted to smack herself on the forehead. That would only alert the boys that something was up, so she refrained. She’d send a note!

Hermione spent the rest of breakfast plotting, and by the end she thought she’d hit upon a workable solution. During Charms, she jotted down a quick note, using her off hand to disguise her handwriting.

Potter and his friends will be going down to the grounds tomorrow midnight. It would be a good idea to follow them.

After Runes, and before meeting Harry for lunch, Hermione ducked into an empty classroom and called for Dobby. She instructed him to put it on Cedric’s plate before the meal, and to remain unseen, then she hurried off to join Harry and Neville, coming from a free period in the Common Room.

It was agonizing, but Hermione managed not to look in Cedric’s direction all of lunch, lest she give the game away. She waited until that evening, when she could check back in with Dobby. He confirmed that Cedric had read the note and then glanced at Harry off and on during the meal. Hermione jotted a second note, and gave it to Dobby as well. If it looked like Cedric wasn’t going to follow them tomorrow night, he was to deliver it.

This is not a prank. There is something very important you need to see. Follow Potter tonight.

She only hoped it would be enough.

oOo

“DRAGONS?!” Neville yelped, as soon as they were clear of the area and on their way back to the castle.

The new trio had spent a very enjoyable day together in Hogsmeade with Susan Bones before returning to their respective Common Rooms. At eleven, the Gryffindors had headed down to Hagrid’s to harvest some of Neville’s night-blooming flowers before setting off on what turned out to be Hagrid’s date. A date with dragons!

Dobby, as arranged, had squeezed Hermione’s hand just before Hagrid emerged, to let her know that Cedric was shadowing them. Now they had slipped out from beneath the cloak, as they kept stumbling into each other after seeing the incredible beasts.

“Can you imagine if you were forced to compete, Harry?” Neville continued. “You’d have to face a dragon!”

Hermione shuddered involuntarily; she didn’t think she could sit and watch Harry go up against one of those beasts. Especially that vicious Horntail with the extra spikes. “My heart couldn’t have taken it,” she murmured. “I am sooo glad that’s all sorted!”

“We’ve got to tell Cedric,” Harry said suddenly. “You know Madam Maxime will tell Fleur, and Karkaroff was skulking around - he’s sure to tell Krum. Cedric can’t be the only one who doesn’t know. I bet that’s why Hagrid asked me to come; so I could pass on the message.”

“He might have just wanted you to see the dragons, after Norbert and all,” Hermione said, “but yes, I agree we should tell Cedric. First thing tomorrow, I think, so he’ll have as much time as possible to prepare.” She was fairly certain that Cedric was still tailing them, unless he’d remained behind with the dragons, but they still needed to make the appearance of telling him, as they weren’t to know that he’d been there.

“I can talk to Susan and Hannah at breakfast,” Neville offered. “I’m sure they could get him to meet us in the hall or something.”

“Excellent, we have a plan!” Hermione decided. “Now, we’d better get this cloak back on and get back to the Tower, before we’re caught out after curfew.”

“Yeah, I’ve got to write back to Sirius before bed,” Harry agreed. Neville and Susan - who knew the broad strokes from her aunt Amelia - had both been told the true story of Sirius today. After bonding with Dobby, Harry had been delighted to discover that an elf’s ability to find any member of its family included those bound by magic, like godparents. Dobby was easily able to find ‘Great Master Harry Potter Sir’s Paddy.’

After taking money from Harry’s vault, Dobby had gone off to purchase clean clothes, toiletries, camping food, and a warm sleeping bag. Then he popped those right to Sirius’s side. Now they were able to use the elf to pop letters back and forth, instead of riskier methods like owl post or floo calls.

“Tell him hi for me,” Hermione said, as they adjusted the cloak over themselves.

“Yeah, me too- that is, if he’d-”

“I think he’d appreciate that,” Hermione interrupted Neville. She had noticed his tendency to second guess himself around them; she was afraid it was a result of them being such distant friends recently. “I’m sure he’d be eager to meet more of Harry’s friends once he’s able. And really, you’re quite lucky to have missed all of the drama and terror the first time.”

“Yeah, I’d rather wait a bit than have had to deal with Snape and a werewolf in one night!” Neville joked back.

They were at the castle now, and they stopped talking, not wanting to risk detection. They made it back to the tower without incident and found the fat lady dozing in her portrait. She barely woke as they gave the password and she let them by. Then, with cheerful goodnights, they split off to their dorms.

Hermione checked her book, but there was no new note. Relieved, she dropped off right away.

oOo

As they packed up their astronomy kits, Hermione looked out over the grounds and sighed deeply. It was a new year, officially, having just ticked over a few moments before their lesson started. She didn’t understand why they didn’t have astronomy earlier, like at nine, when the stars were already out, but that was neither here nor there. What was important tonight was that their late start meant that they were now ushering in 1995.

The first task had gone splendidly for Hogwarts. Harry had told Cedric about the dragons at breakfast that Sunday, and he had acted credibly surprised. In the task, he came in first by conjuring a pack of dogs for the dragon to chase, giving him time to retrieve, unscathed, a golden egg from her nest.

Hermione had made her move with Madam Bones in mid-November, sending a letter to voice her concerns that whoever had entered Harry’s name in the Goblet might also have tampered with the tasks. Hermione also wrote that, as the head of the DMLE, Madam Bones might have the purview and be considered acceptably neutral to investigate such things.

Madam Bones had taken her questions to heart and apparently had it out with Barty Crouch and the other officials responsible. She then had asked to meet Hermione again right before Christmas break to update her in person - for secrecy reasons. After swearing Hermione to secrecy, Madam Bones revealed that the second task had originally been designed to take place underwater, in the Black lake, in February! Aside from that being hideously boring for the spectators, it would be brutally cold for the competitors.

As veela were associated with fire, the icy temperatures would have been disastrous for Fleur, reducing her power considerably. When Madam Bones found out that there were to be hostages planted in the lake several hours before, and that one would be Fleur’s little sister Gabrielle - also a quarter-veela, she hit the roof. Apparently there was a danger that little Gabrielle, with her underdeveloped magical core, could fall into a coma or die if she was in that freezing water for too long. Madam Bones had given Barty Crouch and Ludo Bagman a serve about it, and they were designing something new that would also be more ‘viewer friendly.’

Hermione couldn’t be told more details about the new task, as it had to be a surprise for the champions, but she didn’t much care about that anyway. Madam Bones had only told her about the old version so that Hermione could understand how her question had potentially saved the girls’ lives. Hermione was pleased to have that mystery unraveled, and glad that the task would now be safer for Fleur and her sister.

Earlier in December, Professor McGonagall had also announced the yule ball, as the note predicted. Wasting no time, Hermione had barely waited until they were out of the classroom before taking her own advice and dragging Harry down the corridor to their study room. When she asked Harry to escort her to the ball, he flushed adorably, then stumbled over himself to agree. He also managed to share that he didn’t know how to dance, and Hermione promised to help him learn.

The Ara ‘n’ Basque’s Magic Steps kit was brilliant, giving them a ghostly mentor to follow. The instructions explained that, while other kits created footprints on the floor, these would train the dancer to look down, which was improper form. By creating a guide directly behind their partner, showing the proper moves a half-beat early, the student learned the motions while also maintaining their form.

It had taken a little work, and had greatly amused Myrtle with their efforts, but eventually Harry and Hermione, and Neville and Ginny, who joined them, were able to credibly perform five different formal dances. Hermione could have paid extra for the ten dance kit, but she didn’t think that was necessary. A simple waltz, foxtrot, bolero, swing, and quickstep should more than cover them for a single night. They didn’t intend to spend every second on the floor, after all!

The ball had been wonderful, only slightly marred by Ron throwing a fit in the Common Room after. He hadn’t been able to work up the courage to ask anyone until it was too late - if one didn’t count his aborted attempt to ask Hermione, the prat - and after seeing the hideous robes his mother sent him, Ron had just decided not to go.

That hadn’t stopped him from getting stroppy with everyone who did go, however, and he targeted Hermione (for being a loose woman), Harry (for stealing Hermione), and Neville (for taking his sister Ginny) with his vitriol. The only thing stopping Hermione from slapping him silly was Ginny beating her to the punch with her bat-bogey hex, and then Professor McGonagall was again there to break things up.

The next few days had been quiet, save for Madam Bones sending a letter saying that Sirius would be getting his trial in the next month, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione would be called as witnesses.

Hermione had not received any new notes from her future self, but after thinking it over, she reasoned that she would still be working on the last one until the final task, and so that made sense. She still checked her copy of Hogwarts, A History nightly, but she didn’t expect to find anything.

The copy of Personal Wards and Protective Enchantments by Waraclus Warrington the note had told her to order arrived on Monday, before the first task, and Hermione had read it all by the end of the week. Chapter five dealt with personal wards against forced travel, including floo, apparition, and portkey. It even lamented that there was no way to resist forced broom travel, save for gluing one’s feet to the floor, and then proceeded to teach a charm that would do just that.

After puzzling at it for a week or so, Hermione realized that this was likely related to whoever had entered Harry’s name in the Tournament. If they wanted him to compete, they likely wanted him to be at a specific time and place to enact their nefarious plan, and the tasks would create that opportunity. If she and Harry practiced the personal wards religiously, he should be protected from someone trying to scoop him off.

The only problem was how to get him to do it! Hermione had worried at that problem off and on for the last month, and was no closer to an answer. Now, looking out over the snowy, moonlit grounds, fresh with the promise of a new year, she wondered if maybe she shouldn’t just tell him the truth.

oOo

The day after the second task found Hermione going over her Potions notes.

The new and improved task saw the champions taking it in turns to travel through a long, heated tank with underwater obstacles to find an object of great importance to them. The sides were spelled to be clear to the onlookers, but dark to the champions, as though they were actually in the lake. Specially trained rescue swimmers from the Aurors were also on hand, in case anything went wrong, just like the dragon handlers had been for the first task. The tank was roughly the length of the quidditch field which they were situated upon, and various underwater plants and animals had been transplanted to it temporarily. Even with what little she knew about the first version, Hermione thought it was a vast improvement. The best part, of course, was that there were no innocent hostages.

Now, though, Hermione was prepared to buckle down to her end-of-term studying.

Valentine’s Day the week before had been lovely - she and Harry spent it in Hogsmeade, and after a shaky start, he asked her to be his girlfriend. From then on it was wonderful, as they spent the time holding hands, and even shared a few kisses. Myrtle, the Gryffindor chasers, and the Hufflepuff girls had been thrilled when they found out that night. Hermione thought she sensed Sirius’s hand in Harry’s actions; he was not normally this confident in emotional or romantic things.

January had seen Sirius’s trial, and he was finally a free man, and able to openly spend time with Harry. That had caused quite a stir around the castle, as had Harry’s interview. Madam Bones had told them in advance that the reporter covering the Triwizard Tournament - Barnabas something - had heard about Harry’s near inclusion, and spread it around the Daily Prophet office. That had led to their lead gossipmonger, Rita Skeeter, pining for an interview with Harry. Madam Bones had suggested that Harry agree to give it, but with Sirius, and in her office, as apparently Skeeter was prone to lying and hyperbole, but scared straight by Madam Bones.

So, after the trial, they had all settled into her office in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement for the interview. She had started with a lime green quill that Hermione had later learned would make things up to sound more dramatic, but Madam Bones made her put it away and use a regular dicta-quill.

The interview had been brief, and covered Harry’s almost inclusion in the Tournament, how pleased he was at the results of Sirius’s trial, a very brief (and heavily edited) summary of his time at Hogwarts, and, to Hermione’s surprise, how he could not have made it this far without his good friends by his side. That Harry listed herself and Neville by name, and that Rita Skeeter kept their names in the article, was very meaningful to her.

That, and his offer at Valentine’s Day, made her wonder how long Harry had been interested in her as more than a friend.

But! She was not allowed to get distracted by that, because she had to make her study schedule for exams right now. With all of the incidents around the end of the year each year, and with the final task occurring, Hermione had a good guess that something would happen to keep her from studying in the end. So instead of waiting for April to start revising, she was going to begin early.

There was also the matter of the note, which she was still unsure of. She had decided that telling Harry the truth was the only way, but she was stuck on exactly how to explain it. She had toyed with the idea of starting with Sirius, but eventually decided against that. Then she had wanted to wait and see how the second task played out, given the note’s influence on that. Now, however, she had no excuse, save for her nascent exam study schedule.

“Hey, Hermione, can I borrow this?” Harry’s voice broke her rambling thoughts.

“Hm? Sure,” she agreed without looking up. She quickly flipped the page in her notebook, trying to hide that her mind had been wandering.

“Thanks, Sirius mentioned something I wanted to check,” he said as he slid into the seat beside her. They were in the classroom, where Hermione could spread her things all over the professor’s desk without worrying about another Gryffindor moving it, or Madam Pince shushing them for talking, as she would in the library.

Hermione very determinedly focused on reviewing her Potions notes for the next several minutes, and then marking out when to study each potion on her preliminary review calendar.

It wasn’t until Harry made a choking sound that she finally looked up. He was staring at her book, wide-eyed, but otherwise seemed alright. “Harry?” she asked softly.

“Err, what is this?” Harry asked. He held up a piece - no, several pieces, clipped together, of printer paper. Only then did Hermione belatedly realize that the book he had borrowed was her copy of Hogwarts, A History.

“Oh! Oh bloody hell,” she sighed. “Uhm, let- let me read that first, and then I’ll explain everything,” Hermione said.

Harry looked more puzzled, and she realized he probably thought she had already seen it, but then he handed over the letter without complaint. Resisting the urge to rub her eyes - her study schedule was now firmly delayed - she accepted it and began to read.

Hello Harry,

Oh Merlin, this was worse than she thought.

Hermione is being particularly stubborn, so you’ll need to take the next step and ask her to explain to you what has been happening. Know that she, and I, only have your best interests at heart. This I so swear.
~ Love, Hermione

~

Hermione,

Too much has changed now for me to maintain this for much longer. I had hoped that you would tell Harry by now, but I understand why you haven’t. Still, I need you to get a move on before things change too much for me to maintain our connection. Share all of the notes with Harry and explain it all; he’ll understand, at least according to my Harry.

Hermione paused to glance at her Harry. He was reading the book, but from his frown she could tell that he was just waiting for his explanation. And judging by the first part alone, she couldn't blame him. Before he could look up and see her looking, she quickly began reading again.

As you have probably guessed, our pasts have been slightly - maybe even considerably different than yours since the first night of your fourth year. In our version, my blind obsession with what I knew to be true, about house elves, about authority, about rules, about right and wrong… these things led to a distance between me and my Harry.

Neither of us found out that Mrs. Weasley was having Ron and Ginny potion us. Ginny isn’t at fault, and she can be a very good friend, we believe. Mrs. Weasley is suffering from the loss of her brothers in the last war: trying to make everything perfect for her big happy family. With a little help from St. Mungo’s she’ll be much better. Ginny and Harry could use the same, for their respective experiences with Voldemort. Ron is an irredeemable prat; don’t bother.

In our past, Sirius was never exonerated, and was killed in battle at the end of fifth year. This is because Voldemort rose at the end of our fourth, after he force-portkeyed Harry away from the third task. Yes, mine competed; we had no idea that he shouldn’t have to, and no adults in our corner. The law-wizards were a brilliant touch!

My next note was just going to have you look up the entire corpus of The ICW Society of Legilimens, to teach you and Harry Occlumency, but I’ve gone this route instead. You’ll both need to master it.

I thought my last clue would be enough, but I suppose I was a little too cryptic. Moody is currently being impersonated by Barty Crouch Junior by way of-

“Polyjuice!” Hermione said, furious with herself for not working it out before. Moody wasn’t Moody because he was a polyjuiced imposter! As she should have remembered after visiting Myrtle and reminiscing about brewing it herself! She was daft!

Harry made a questioning noise, but she waved him off with a muttered, “not done yet.”

-Polyjuice. Madam Bones will need to know about that. However, I realized that, without your Harry needing gillyweed from Snape’s stores for the second task, Snape wouldn’t suspect him of also stealing the boomslang, and accuse him of it, so you wouldn't get that clue this week. And before you give yourself a serve about not working it out, remember that you’ve had a very pleasing distraction since Valentine’s Day - one I envy you.

Hermione had already chided herself, but the reminder about Harry did bring a smile to her lips. At the same time, she again felt sorry for the future her who clearly hadn’t ended up with her own Harry.

Anyway, your next instructions, after you pick up the occlumency books, and in order:
1. Master the personal anti-travel wards. Both of you, and Sirius too for good measure. Master occlumency. Do both before the end of May. A girl in Ravenclaw called Luna Lovegood can be surprisingly helpful with this task.
2. Sirius and Madam Bones need to get Harry into the Department of Mysteries to find, listen to, and then smash a specific orb in Aisle 97. The Unspeakables will know which one. Do this before June. As you’ll also need her help with Barty Junior, you should probably tell Madam Bones about the letters too.
3. Don’t go to Grimauld. Potter Manor is still standing, just hidden behind the war-footing wards. Harry, as a Potter, and Dobby, protected by his bond, can pass through these. Neville’s Gran can explain how to disarm them; Longbottom Hall’s war wards are almost identical.
4. Don’t let Sirius and Remus rejoin the Order. Dumbledore will try to force his way into their - and Harry’s lives. Refuse.
5. Finally, get a copy of Soul Mates, Bonds, and Breaks by Aphrodite Ishtar. You want the last ritual in it; you two need to complete it before you have sex. Don’t blush like that; it's going to happen. The Unspeakables will help, and Luna, too. This is the strongest soul mate bonding: heart, mind, magic, and soul. It is “the power he knows not.” You’ll understand after completing the previous tasks. My Harry’s task was left half-finished because he never realized his true potential.
6. Harry has a destiny, but so do you. Train hard, but don’t forget to embrace what childhoods you have left. Oh, and by Merlin, don’t let Harry name the children.

That’s all I can give you, my dear. My Harry and I missed our chance, and we will not get a second. It is taking too much of me to send back something so long. I go to my rest knowing that you will not suffer the same fate, which, after everything I’ve seen, is enough.

Best of luck, and all my love,
~Hermione

~

Herms,

Harry’s a bit dense and never mastered reading a bird’s mind, though my Herms tells me that’ll change with the mind ritual. Either way, give the bloke a break and avoid subtle hints, yeah? Use a lorry if you have to.

Harry

The postscript, written in a chicken scratch that she knew better than her own writing, actually made Hermione chuckle. That was her snarky Harry alright. Well, not hers. She looked up at her own Harry, and found him waiting expectantly.

It was time to tell him everything. If what future her said was true, - and she had no reason to doubt it - they had a lot to do in a short amount of time, and not only Harry, but also Madam Bones and likely Sirius would need to be told the truth. Future Hermione, if she was reading this correctly, had given her own life to send these messages back and make sure things came out right. Present Hermione owed it to her to follow through.

“Alright Harry, first I need to explain something about my time turner from last year,” she began.

oOo

Seventy years into the future, a Hermione who appeared closer to two hundred quietly closed her eyes. That last message had been the worst, taking nearly a century from her in recompense, but she had done what she set out to do.

As timelines and realities shifted through her mind, settling into the patterns that she had hoped and prayed for, she breathed out a sigh of relief. They had done it; the younger Hermione and Harry had completed the ritual and stopped Voldemort for good. They would go on to live a long and happy life together with their true friends.

Strong arms belonging to her Harry - but never fully her Harry - wrapped around Hermione’s frail body and held tightly. “You did it, love,” he whispered, gently kissing her ear.

Love, she thought back, before going to her rest, at last at peace.