A/N: Hello! Sorry for not updating during the holidays. One would think they'd have more time during the summer, but not at all. But here I am at last! I hope you feel like it was worth the wait. Let me know what you think.
"Hermione, my dear," Albus greeted as he watched the witch enter the pub.
Said witch tilted her head at the elder man. "Hello Albus," she replied, dropping the use of her usual formalities. He had summoned her to this bar in the middle of her summer holidays, after all, so she was allowed some leniency.
"Thank you for coming on such short notice."
Hermione smiled tightly at the wizard as she signalled at a barmaid. "I wasn't entirely sure I had a choice… your owl sounded rather urgent, leaving little room for argument," she admitted. "May I have a butterbeer, please?" She requested, turning to the young woman who had approached the table.
"'Course, it'll be righ' ou'," the witch assured as she walked away.
"You always have a choice, Hermione," Albus assured her. "I apologise if my message failed to make that clear."
"So, may I ask why I am here then?" The Delacour witch questioned, glancing briefly at her watch. "Guillaume informed me we had a dinner planned with the Potters and I'm already late."
"I certainly won't keep you long. Unless, of course, you wish to join me on my venture," he intoned.
"And what venture would that be, Sir?"
"Aberforth has successfully broken through the wards at the Riddle property," Albus informed her.
Hermione choked on the sip of butterbeer in her mouth and quickly wiped her chin and lips off with a napkin. "He has?"
"Indeed," Albus nodded, pulling out a piece of paper from his pocket and handing it to the witch. "I called you here to ask if you wished to join me on this quest."
Unfolding the small note, Hermione observed the wizard in front of her with slight suspicion. "I wasn't even aware that he was doing that."
"Let's just say that the attack on his pub showed us it was finally time to outright move forward against Voldemort rather than simply attempting to slow down his actions."
Pursing her lips, Hermione scanned the brief and succinct message written in Aberforth's easily recognisable scroll. Eagerly, the witch met Albus' gaze. "Will Aberforth be present?"
Albus smiled softly at the witch, a twinkle appearing in his gaze. "You have missed him a lot, haven't you?" He inquired gently, before finishing his drink. "Yes, my brother will be meeting me at the manor, and he will be most pleased to see you again should you choose to join us."
"Of course, I'll join you," Hermione declared, following his lead by downing her glass and standing from the table. "Let me just inform my brother."
Once done with her floo call with her brother who was currently visiting the Potters, Hermione turned to Albus as she pulled out her wand and straightened the black robe that covered her shirt and jeans.
"Let's go then," she urged, taking Albus' outstretched arm.
The young witch spotted Aberforth as soon as she landed on the outskirts of Little Hangleton. Rushing towards the elder man, she wrapped her arms around his neck with a cry of his name.
"You're alright," she commented softly as she finally pulled away from the wizard.
"'Course, I'm alright, girl. Why wouldn't I be?" He huffed gruffly.
Hermione threw him a quick glare. "Because I haven't heard from you since the Hog's Head was attacked. Oh, sure, Albus told me you were fine, but it's not as if you ever bothered to let me know yourself. How was I to know Albus wasn't simply lying to placate me?" She demanded, crossing her arms over her chest in a show of stubbornness.
Aberforth scanned the witch quietly for a moment, noting the genuine flicker of concern and fear hidden in her gaze as she looked him over as well. Sighing, Aberforth shook his head gently before pulling her back into his embrace.
"I'm okay, Hermione," he murmured. "A few Death Eaters with a weak mastery of the Dark Arts aren't a challenge for me."
When the duo pulled apart, Albus cleared his throat. "Shall we get a move on to the mansion?" He inquired. "While this place seems mostly muggle, there can be no guarantee that Tom doesn't send a follower of his to check out the village on occasion."
Suddenly, Aberforth frowned as he glanced from Hermione to his brother. "Undoubtedly, brother, I must be misunderstanding the situation and you simply brought Hermione here to see me before you return her to her brother's safe house. You cannot be allowing her to join us."
Placing her hands on her hips, Hermione squinted her eyes at the wizard she had just reunited with. "Of course, I'm joining! Getting rid of Voldemort is part of the reason why I was sent back to this bloody time, so I will be involved with the task of destroying him as much as I possibly can!"
Aberforth raised an eyebrow at her outburst but quickly latched onto what he deemed most important. "Part of the reason? Have you figured out more about your time travel?"
The curly-haired girl clenched her jaw slightly as she recalled her last conversation with Merlin and what losing his Magic could mean for her. Hermione quickly shook her head, knowing that now was not the time to worry herself nor the two Dumbledores with that issue. Instead, she nodded.
"Indeed, I have," she admitted. "Since you've been gone, I've had a few conversations with Merlin, and he informed me of my task here. However, in order to complete it, I need to get Voldemort out of the way."
"So, Tom is not the main reason you were sent here?" Albus inquired, curiously.
"No, Merlin himself stated that Dark Wizards are necessary for the balance of Magic. However, at this moment in time, there's too much of saturation of Dark Magic being released into the Earth. That is why we must defeat Tom."
"Merlin himself?" Aberforth repeated, incredulous. "Surely, you must be referring to Merlin's Book, Hermione."
Hermione frowned at the man in confusion. "No, I do mean Merlin himself. I've met him a few times already."
Both brothers' faces turned blank at her words, and as Hermione watched them carefully, she couldn't help but think that this was perhaps the first time Hermione had ever seen either of them so genuinely shocked.
Opening his mouth, Albus attempted to say something, before closing it silently, his brow furrowing as he took in the unassuming witch in front of him. "Miss Delacour, you did not inform me you had been meeting with Merlin. How- um," Albus faltered, unsure how to phrase his question. "How exactly did this come about?"
"Well, I first met him when I went to the Forêt de Paimpont, he's the one who led me through the forest safely and told me what to do at the fountain. I was going to tell you when I returned, but then I discovered that the Hog's Head had been attacked and I became occupied with other matters. After a while, it just didn't seem that important and since I didn't think I'd see him again, I decided to keep it to myself. But then, just before the holidays, I met him again. That's when I realized it might happen again another time and so, I was going to tell you about it when I returned to Hogwarts in the fall."
Aberforth shared a glance with his brother, feeling resigned. "Only you, Hermione, would think a meeting with Merlin wasn't knowledge that should be shared immediately."
Hermione shrugged. "It's not as if it makes a big difference to you. He only comes to me in locations he strongly imbued of his Magic during his lifetime or on Ley Line intersections and even then, it's only if I want him to come. He's not just walking around the world alive."
Shaking his head, Albus blinked a few times, deciding to focus the matter at hand. "Right well, we will discuss this in detail at a later date. For the moment, we should move ahead with our reason for being here. We have a Horcrux to find."
As they reached the Riddle Mansion, Hermione paused and turned to face the wizards. "When you see the ring, you'll be drawn to its power. But whatever you do, don't touch it. It's cursed to kill you slowly and painfully. Not even Severus Snape could save you, Albus, in my other time."
Albus raised an eyebrow at the witch. "Severus Snape couldn't save me, you say?" He questioned, a twinkle in his eye.
"Yes," was the only word she said in response as she reached into her small purse.
Finding the vials, she was looking for, she removed three and handed one out to each man. "I noticed neither of you brought the vials I gave you," she reprimanded the wizards. "With how dangerous this Horcrux is, it's not a good idea to hang on to it. If there's any Horcrux to destroy immediately, it's the ring."
"If any of us has even a suspicion of having found a possible hiding place for the ring, summon the other two before doing anything else. The pull of the ring is strong enough that I wasn't able to resist it in Hermione's original timeline. None of us should face it alone."
With a final, silent nod to each other, the three separated and entered the Riddle house. Albus was in charge of the ground floor, while Hermione went to the first floor and Aberforth to the second. Hermione travelled from room to room, waving her wand expertly, trying to detect protection, shielding, or veiling spells and curses, but nothing stood out. Finally, after an hour, as she was moving to enter a fourth room, a phoenix Patronus found her and Albus' voice reached her ears, asking her to join him in the dining room. Walking at a quick pace, Hermione met the Headmaster in minutes.
The two of them waited quietly for Aberforth to join them and once he had, Albus pointed to a few floor panels near the destroyed dining table. There was a large patch of stained wood at that specific location and Hermione suspected it was a stain caused by blood. Breathing in deeply, Hermione observed the area and then looked around the room as a whole.
"So, this is where he did it," she stated, her voice emotionless. "This is where he murdered his family."
Neither man reacted to her words, Aberforth simply waving his wand as he attempted to determine what types of curses were placed over the location. Hermione bit her lower lip as she moved to the only large high back chair that remained standing near the stain.
"I sometimes wonder if it would have changed anything if his father had accepted him," she whispered. "Or would it have already been too late?"
Albus moved to place a hand on the witch's shoulder. "It does not do any good to dwell on the past and what-ifs."
"Of course," Hermione agreed, giving him a jerky nod and closing her eyes as she turned to face Aberforth again. Straightening her body, Hermione released a shaky breath before steeling her nerves. "What have you found, Aberforth?"
"The wards and curses are strong," he informed them. "But they can be removed, as long as we take our time and remain careful. With the two of us," he gestured between himself and Albus, "we should be able to take them down within a few hours, I'd wager."
Prepared for a long wait, Hermione settled herself against the wall and leaned her head back against the wall as the brothers set to work on removing the magical obstacles separating them from the ring.
With a start, Hermione sat up straight, her eyes shooting wide open when a loud crack resounded in the dining room. The witch gathered her wits as she looked around, realising that she had unintentionally dozed off. Wondering how long she had been drifting for, Hermione sought out the two wizards who had accompanied her to the Riddle mansion. Hermione's blood ran cold when she noticed them hunched over a hole in the floor, their eyes blank, their mouths gaping and their arms disappearing into the hole. It appeared that the snap that had woken her had been the final wards breaking away from the ring's hiding place.
Feeling completely terrified, all of Hermione's senses disappeared, her body numb and her heart pounding in her ears. Despite knowing her words would fail to snap the men out of their curse induced haze, Hermione screamed. "No!"
Reacting on instinct, she threw her hand up as if she thought she could reach them from where she sat. The moment that followed was a blur as the two men flew across the room, slamming against the walls. Frantically, Hermione pulled out her wand as she crawled across the floor. She waved it over the hole all the while searching for her vial of Basilisk venom in her pocket. Her body was shaking from head to toe as she struggled to contain her panic. Once she found the vial, Hermione chose to take zero chances as she dumped the contents of the vial into the hole. A shrill, ear-piercing scream was ripped from the Horcrux and Hermione herself was forced to the floor by the Horcrux's last attempt to protect itself, causing droplets of venom to rebound back onto her. Hermione cried out as some landed on her left arm, causing a burning sensation to quickly spread throughout her body.
Finally, when their surroundings calmed and the two men had recuperated from their flight across the room, Albus delicately took Hermione's injured arm in his hands. He briefly noted the four burnt patches of skin, before revealing a vial of his own filled with a clear, pearly liquid. The Headmaster then proceeded to scrupulously place a drop of the liquid on each burn.
"One should never handle Basilisk venom without phoenix tears on hand," he explained.
Aberforth approached the duo with a pained grunt. "Is it done then?" He demanded, not daring to glance in the hole.
Hermione grimaced, releasing a small moan of pain as she was healed. "I'm not sure. I think so. You heard it scream."
Aberforth sighed. "I'll take a look," he muttered. "You two stay vigilant in case it's still alive and I get sucked into it again."
Albus and Hermione attentively watched as the third member of their group peeked into the hole. Grumbling under his breath, Aberforth cast a few spells before the tension escaped from his shoulders.
"It's done," he told them, reaching to take the ring with a piece of cloth. "Blimey, girl, how much venom did you put on the damn thing. It's almost completely melted."
"All of it," she snapped, still eyeing the red patches of skin on her arm warily. "I wasn't taking any chances. This is one of his most dangerous Horcruxes. Be glad he didn't place that curse on all of them."
Nodding gravely, Aberforth held out the destroyed Horcrux so that the other two could see it for themselves. Exhaling loudly, Albus collapsed backward, leaning against the wall as all his adrenaline dissolved. Hermione pursed her lips as she spelled the ring clean once again, for good measure, and then picked it out of Aberforth's grip. The three of them remained in the dining room for a few moments, attempting to calm their nerves. When they believed they had regained enough strength, Hermione summoned a cloth-covered box from her small purse. Despite having successfully calmed down, her hands continued to shake as she unwrapped and opened the box. Gingerly, Hermione picked up the ring and placed it next to the diadem she had destroyed during her second year. Aberforth snorted when he noticed what was in the box.
"Walking around with destroyed Horcruxes in your bag, Hermione?"
"Where else am I supposed to put them? I can't just leave them lying around, can I? I would leave them with you, but Hog's Head is too accessible, as the recent attack has proved."
"You could leave them in my office," Albus offered. "It would be one of the safest places for them as I could keep a constant eye on them."
Tilting her head, Hermione agreed and handed him the box. "So, how many more are left?" Aberforth questioned.
Hermione huffed. "Honestly, did you not read the list I gave you?" Aberforth merely grunted in response. "Aside from the diadem and the ring, there's Salazar's locket, which he hides in a cave. It's not there yet, but I've already come to an agreement with the person who will know where to find it once it's there. Then there's the diary. It already exists, but aside from possibly being with the Malfoys, I have no idea how to find it. In my time, Lucius has it, but I don't know when it comes into his possession. There's also Helga's cup, which could very well be in the Lestrange's Gringotts vault. But I haven't seen Bellatrix around, and I have no clue when she comes into Voldemort's favour. In this era, those should be the only ones to deal with. Nagini doesn't exist yet and he only makes it when he returns from the dead, so to speak."
"Only two more Horcrux's to find, three more to destroy," Aberforth commented, smacking his lips together. "Then we can finally kill the bastard. I like our odds."
"Can you search for information regarding the contents of the Lestrange's vault, while I attempt to glean information from Lucius?" Albus asked his brother.
"I'm not sure what much I can do, other than sneak into Gringotts itself, but I'll give it a go," Aberforth shrugged.
"Thank you, brother."
Not replying to his brother, Aberforth observed the young witch beside them. "Would you like me to bring you to your brother's safe house, Hermione?"
Shaking her head, Hermione declined his offer. "That's awfully kind of you, Abe, but he's staying at the Potter's house tonight."
Albus smiled, resigned. "What good is it making someone a safe house if they don't stay in it?" He sighed.
Hermione shrugged. "He's lonely. It's not as if Apolline can stay there all the time with him. Besides the Potter home is really quite safe."
The three of them stood, dusted themselves off, and finally left the dreary Riddle manor. Walking a good distance away from the house, Albus stopped and glanced at the other two as he shifted the box under his arm. "I will place this in my office and plan an Order meeting tomorrow to inform the others that we have taken strides towards Tom's defeat," he announced and quickly lifted a hand to stave off Hermione's protests. "Without giving away any details, of course. I simply wish to give them hope."
Hermione relented and the man quickly Apparated away. She faced Aberforth and watched him silently for a few moments before hugging him. "I'll see you soon, I hope."
The man patted her shoulder in response. "I suspect you will," he agreed. "The magic you used to save us was not your run of the mill magic. That was the magic we were trying to draw out of you in our training sessions."
"I finally united my Cores, Aberforth," she explained. "However… the power I possess now frightens me somewhat. There's so much of it now, Aberforth, and I can feel it within me, always bubbling just below the surface. But I don't know how to control it. It mostly comes out in sudden bursts when I feel a strong emotion. I attacked a friend of mine with it, simply because I was frustrated with him. And so far I seem unable to do much with it other than throw people across a room."
"We'll start the training sessions again then. Guillaume will be happy to get out of his house," Aberforth assured her, leaning down so that he could meet her gaze. "You'll learn to control it. I promise you."
Giving her a final hug and not speaking another word, he waited for her to Apparate over to the Potter's home.
Appearing on the edge of the Potter property Hermione allowed her shoulders to slump. Perhaps she should have returned to Hogwarts with Albus and flooed into the Potter home from his office. If she were to walk through their wards at this hour, it would set off a gentle alarm. Despite being an authorised person, the Potters would hardly give their underage charges the ability to sneak on and off their grounds without alerting them. Fleamont and Euphemia lived with two Marauders, after all, and they were fully aware of how troublesome the group could be. They weren't about to let the boys the freedom to do as they pleased. It was unfortunate that the underage ward would cause her to wake up the entire household.
Pursing her lips, Hermione placed a hand in front of her, letting it hover just shy of where she could sense the wards. She really didn't want to wake them all up at this godforsaken hour. She didn't have a choice, however. Aberforth hadn't yet returned to the Hog's Head and it was dangerous to go there alone at this hour. She wouldn't be able to access Hogwarts during the holidays either. Not to mention she truly didn't want to sleep in the street, so her options were rather limited. Sighing, Hermione was preparing to walk through the wards when a gentle pulsing in her Core made her pause.
Hermione furrowed her brow and glanced down at her chest. What in the world was that? She wondered. She hadn't noticed it initially, but it had been growing steadily stronger as the seconds ticked by and it was now impossible to ignore. It wasn't bothersome. It was simply a warm sensation in her Magical Core. Experimentally, Hermione tugged at her Core and gasped when the feeling seeped throughout her entire body, spreading to her fingers and toes. She struggled to find a way to describe the feeling, even to herself, but the closest thing she could find to characterise it was a feeling of coming home. No not even that, she corrected herself, chewing on her bottom lip, it's a feeling of being welcomed home. Which was odd considering no matter how welcoming the Potters' were, she was still a guest in their home. Curious, Hermione pulled at the initial feeling with more confidence and felt it rush out of her, reaching for the wards.
In awe, Hermione watched as the flow of Magic smoothly washed over the wards in front of her. It spread slowly, marking the area of the wards in front of her in a dim red light. Comforted by the sensation of home within her, Hermione didn't even hesitate to step through the red light. As she moved through it, the witch couldn't stop the joyful laugh that slipped from her lips. There was no way to explain it, but she suddenly felt overjoyed. She knew this feeling. She recognised it. It was her. No, she corrected herself again, it was a part of her. A Gryffindor part of her.
"Godric," she breathed, raising a hand to examine her skin as if she expected it to look just as different as she felt. "Godric Gryffindor."
Spinning around, Hermione watched as the section of the wards she had walked through gradually returned to its usual invisible state.
"Fascinating," she murmured, stepping up to the wards in order to inspect them closely. "These wards contain traces of Godric's magic and they recognised my Core as also possessing Godric's magical signature."
She laughed again, amazed by what this meant for her. Even the underage wards hadn't been set off by her entrance due to the fact that she had used her Gryffindor Core to open them. She was united thanks to her trip to the fountain, but she could apparently still call upon one magic over the other if she wanted. Giddy with the revelation and her first somewhat intentional use of the Magical Cores within her, Hermione twirled around and almost skipped to the pond on the Potter grounds, giggling in happiness.
She had barely settled down by the pond before the sound of footsteps met her ears. "So, how did you manage to sneak onto Potter grounds without setting off the wards?" James wondered, taking a seat on the grass by Hermione's side, keeping his gaze fixed on the pond.
"Did you know that legend has it the Potters are very distantly related to Godric Gryffindor himself?" Hermione questioned as a reply.
"As a matter of fact, yes, I did. We Potters pride ourselves with that fact, despite the problem that no one can actually prove it."
Hermione smiled knowingly. "Turns out the rumours were true," she shrugged, not caring to elaborate as another joyful giggle escaped her lips before she questioned him in turn. "How did you know I was here? I didn't set off the alarms."
Two more bodies plopped down onto the grass on her other side, as a messy black-haired and a sandy-haired boy joined them. "Your loud laughter is all the alarm that's needed, Delacour," Sirius huffed, wiping his eyes tiredly. "We could hear you from a mile away. Maybe remember that for the next time you manage to sneak in somewhere," he teased, nudging her with his shoulder.
"He's not wrong you know," James interjected. "Your sneaking onto the grounds would have gone unnoticed if you hadn't been giggling like you had just been hit with a Tickling Hex."
"I'm sorry for waking you three," she apologised. Sirius yawned, stretching his arms over his head as he waved away her concern.
"Where have you been all night, Hermione? Your brother said you couldn't make it, but he didn't expand on it further," Remus inquired, struggling to stay awake.
James eyed his friend in concern and quickly summoned a blanket and settled down on it, being shortly followed by Remus who immediately fell back asleep. "The full moon is in a couple of days," James reminded the others. "He really shouldn't have gotten out of bed."
Then, the boy glanced at Hermione, raising an eyebrow at her to show that even though Remus had fallen asleep, she still had to answer the question he had posed.
"I was visiting a friend," Hermione shrugged.
James snorted. "You chose to hang out with a friend instead of your not-dead-brother?"
"Don't go trying to make me feel guilty for not spending enough time with Guillaume," she snipped.
"I'm not," James argued, shaking his head as his eyes drifted closed. "I just think that if I had a brother who I thought was dead for a time but turned out to be alive just in hiding and hunted… well, I would spend every minute of every possible day with him."
"I had to deal with something," Hermione murmured, as Sirius leaned his head against her shoulder. "He understands."
"Don't let James get to you, Delacour," he told her, after a few minutes of silence during which James started softly snoring. "He knows you care about family. He's fully aware that you're the only reason why I still have the resemblance of a salvageable relationship with Regulus," he paused for a moment too long and Hermione was certain he had fallen asleep.
But just as she was about to move him so that they could lie down next to the other sleeping boys, he spoke again. "He admires that about you," he told her, his voice throaty, obviously in the process of falling asleep again. "So, do I," he admitted, with a final yawn.
Hermione remained still for a few moments, waiting for him to nod off before moving him into a comfortable sleeping position. Finally feeling the events of the night catching up with her, Hermione struggled to keep her eyes open and realised the house was too far away for her to make it back with the extra weight of the boys. Thus, she decided to simply lie down where she was between them. In a matter of seconds, she was in a deep sleep and failed to notice Euphemia Potter wandering into the backyard and observing the four teenagers for a moment. After a brief moment where she gazed down at them with affectionate eyes, the Potter Lady summoned pillows and a thick blanket. She placed them so that the four would be comfortable before returning to the house and rejoining her husband in their bed.
Fleamont shifted when his wife returned to his side and gathered her in his arms. "Everything alright, love?" He asked his voice heavy with sleep.
Running a hand through his hair, she nodded. "Yes, everything is perfect," she whispered. "Our children are all home now."
Fleamont simply smiled in response, instantly knowing who she was talking about. Blood or not, those children were for, all intents and purposes, their children.