Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I own nothing and can claim nothing from the Harry Potter Universe. All characters still belong to JK Rowling.
IMPORTANT – PLEASE READ
It is my personal choice to not include content warnings at the beginning of chapters for a few reasons. Published books do not have them and I believe that they take away from the spontaneity and surprise of the story. (You read major character death and you spend the entire chapter or story wondering who it is and I feel it's distracting.) That being said, please understand that this story will have some dark elements. This is a story written for Mature audiences only. If you are not an adult, please do not continue.
This story may include the following triggers so please be aware: Death (including major character death), murder, violence (possibly graphic), attempted non-con, non-con (I will never write a graphic non-con scene nor will I glamourize it or fetishize it), domestic violence, miscarriage, sexual situations and drug and alcohol abuse.
June 18, 1998
The midsummer morning sun shone bright and warm across Hogwarts extensive grounds. Only a few of the volunteers tirelessly working towards bringing the thousand year old castle back into its former glory before the next term began were awake. Hours on the reconstruction project were long and exhausting. It wasn't unusual for the rebuilders to wake up just as the sun was rising and work until long after the sun had gone down. For many it was cathartic to help the almost-sentient castle rebuild itself following the harrowing events six weeks earlier when Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters were once and for all defeated by the young Harry Potter and his supporters. Tents of various sizes had been erected anywhere space could be spared on the grounds. Former students, teachers, Ministry officials, Hogsmeade residents and even a contingent of foreign witches and wizards who felt a loyalty to the fighters of the winning side had been arriving by the Knight Bus load since the end of the final battle. So many felt that they owed the castle and its defenders their time and energy to return it to its former glory. It was one way in which those who had been too cowardly to actually fight had been trying to assuage their guilty consciences.
Hermione Granger woke yet another morning with a crick in her neck and the uncomfortable knowledge that the hardness she was feeling jammed into the small of her back was her overeager boyfriend's perpetual morning erection. It never failed. Even if they worked twenty hours the day before and fell into bed with zero energy, she was going to be woken up by the incessant prodding in her back. She rolled her eyes and tried to slip out of the uncomfortable camp bed that had been transfigured from a single to a double without waking the snoring redhead.
"Where you going?" Ron asked, reaching out a hand to stop her from leaving.
"I can't sleep any longer," she answered. Her annoyance was growing steadily every second she was awake. It had been a long time since she could remember actually getting a good night's sleep.
"Come back to bed."
His hand caught her arm and with a single tug, she was back in the bed next to him. Ron had been insatiable since the night after the Battle for Hogwarts when their mutual grief and sheer relief brought them together for the first time in the most intimate of ways. Hermione regretted the act the instant it was over. Everything had happened so quickly that she hadn't really had an opportunity to process it. Ron had been attempting everything he could think of to keep his mind off of the death of his elder brother. He learned that the all-too-brief few minutes he could spend with Hermione in the privacy of their own tent allowed him the chance to forget for just a short time. Knowing that he was not handling Fred's death well, Hermione had been sympathetic even when she wished he would just leave her alone.
"Ron, stop!" she ordered, pushing the redhead's lips away from her neck. She was not in the mood for his overeager pawing that morning.
"What's your problem, 'Mione?" he demanded.
Hermione could sense another argument brewing. That was all they ever seemed to do anymore. Wake up, fight, build, fight, eat, fight, shag, fight, sleep. Repeat the next day. Every single day was exactly the same as the day before. While she understood that they were both under an inordinate amount of stress, she couldn't imagine spending the rest of her life living such a destructive pattern. It would be bloody miserable. She fought to get out of his clutches.
"I don't have a problem, Ronald," she spat. "I just don't want you to grab me like that."
Only a few minutes later after she was completely dressed, Hermione stormed out of their tent. She could not stand another moment in another argument with that infuriating boy. How strange that life had seemed almost easier when they were fighting for their lives as opposed to the weeks following the end. Once the dust settled, problems she had never imagined began to crop up.
She didn't see a single person milling outside their tents during her trek across the grounds. Even with the sun out it was still too early for many of the volunteers to be out of bed. Hermione crossed the grounds towards the Black Lake. She needed to clear her head and stretching her legs would be an added bonus. Along the banks of the shore near the island holding the recently repaired White Tomb, she saw a solitary figure staring off across the lake. At the distance she could've sworn she was seeing Headmaster Dumbledore himself. Shaking her head, certain that she was going round the bend, she realized she was actually seeing Aberforth Dumbledore.
"Good morning, Miss Granger," the wizard greeted when she was within earshot.
"Good morning, Mr. Dumbledore."
She felt guilty interrupting the man in what was obviously a private moment. Aberforth Dumbledore closed the distance of the twenty or thirty feet separating them in only a few short moments. Hermione smiled at the man, hoping that she would be able to slip away quickly. She had never really had a private conversation with him before and part of her wondered why he seemed so eager to change that fact.
"How is the rebuilding?" he asked.
If Hermione had known the man better she might have assumed that he was feeling nervous to speak. His eyes seemed reluctant to meet hers and he was fidgeting with his hands.
"Slowly," she responded. "I'm concerned that we won't be finished before the fall term begins."
"Are you planning on finishing up your last year? Since your education was interrupted?"
"Yes. If I want to get a good job, I have to make top scores on my N.E.W.T.s."
Aberforth's loud laughter caught Hermione off guard. A few moments of listening to his ringing chortles made her cheeks flush and her stomach tighten. Why was he laughing at her? There was nothing funny about her education. If she wanted to have a chance at any kind of a successful future, she had to have the right grades. Future life wasn't likely to be easy on the Muggle-born without proper qualifications. How could he not understand that?
"I'm sorry, my girl. I don't mean to laugh, but I find your response amusing."
She was still offended.
"Now that the war is over, the world is going to be very different. We've been living under the threat of Voldemort for decades. With him gone, the world can be whatever we want it to be. You should only go back to school if it would make you happy."
"How can I expect to be happy if I'm stuck in some nothing job for the rest of my life because I didn't take the time to get the proper qualifications, Mr. Dumbledore?"
He lifted his hand to hang in the air for a moment. It seemed that he was at odds within himself of how to approach her next. Finally, he placed the palm of his hand lightly on her shoulder. Hermione jumped at the contact, but calmed almost immediately. The twinkling in his blue eyes was similar in many ways to his elder brother, yet so very different. With Professor Dumbledore she always felt as if he were keeping something back. With Aberforth Dumbledore, she knew there was more going on behind his warm eyes. What was he hiding?
"You should do what makes you happy, lass. Forget everyone else. It's your life after all."
The next few minutes passed in a series of unimportant small talk questions and comments. She found that her earlier discomfort around the unusual wizard melted away fairly quickly. He was surprisingly easy to talk to when they got started. More than once she found herself laughing out loud at something he'd said.
"You remind me of my daughter," Aberforth announced.
Hermione's eyes widened at the confession. She had no idea that the man even had a daughter. Certainly she had never heard mention of one. Wouldn't there have been some side or footnote in Rita Skeeter's awful book about Professor Dumbledore if he'd had a niece? One wasn't even mentioned in his obituary from what she could remember.
"I'm sorry, sir, but I was unaware you even had a daughter."
A sad smile crossed his bearded face. The twinkle was still present in his eyes, if a bit dimmer. His hand had long ago been removed from her shoulder. He clasped them together and just stared at his fingers before responding.
"I was a sixty-eight year old bachelor without a care in the world when she was born. Bit of a surprise at my age."
"I imagine it would've been."
"Never saw myself as the family man, but I don't regret a moment spent in that beautiful girl's presence."
His sadness was palpable. Hermione wished she hadn't said anything until she realized that he was the one who brought her up first. It must have been a tragedy. She grew sadder thinking about all that this man had suffered in his long life. His sister being attacked by Muggles and his father seeking out revenge before landing himself in Azkaban for the rest of his life. His childhood could not have been easy with keeping his younger sister's condition a secret. His mother dying after an accidental burst of magic from Ariana. His sister dying after the horrible three-way duel between the Dumbledore brothers and Gellert Grindelwald. Nothing about his life seemed to be happy.
"May I ask what happened?"
She was hesitant in her request. He rewarded her with a warm smile.
"She disappeared towards the end of the First War," he explained. "No one is certain what happened. There have been many theories, but I'm not certain what is correct. Her mother was a Lestrange and she was a first cousin to Rodolphus and Rabastan Lestrange."
That information was surprising. Aberforth Dumbledore had a relationship with a member of that hated family? She would've never guessed.
"She made some unlikely alliances with some unsavory characters," he continued. "Always assumed she put her trust in the wrong Death Eater."
"Your daughter was friends with actual Death Eaters?"
"My dear, she had Death Eaters for family. She got caught up in the excitement. She likely even dated a Death Eater or two. I never got all of the details from her. I didn't want them."
Hermione continued to grapple with the information she had just been given. How could Albus Dumbledore's niece get involved, possibly romantically, with the followers of Lord Voldemort? It didn't make sense. Weren't the Dumbledores always a family against the Dark? Her expression didn't fail to elicit a soft laugh from her companion.
"Don't think too harshly of her, lass. It was an exciting time. Dangerous, yes, but exciting. I imagine she got a bit seduced by the dangers. It's happened to the best of us."
For several minutes they continued their walk around the lake in silence. Hermione felt perfectly at ease with the wizard she had only spoken to very briefly on previous occasions. She struggled with what he had just revealed. How could anyone be seduced by the Dark? Her decisions and actions in the past had not always been innocent and pure, of course, but she couldn't imagine willingly seeking out those who were interested in Dark magic. She shook her head physically to banish reminders of the darkness she had within herself. Wasn't she responsible for leading Dolores Umbridge into the Forbidden Forest her fifth year knowing full well what centaurs did with captured human women?
"The first time I saw you and your little mates walk into my pub for your little defense group meeting, I thought I was seeing a ghost."
Aberforth smiled. The twinkle was back in his eyes, all traces of sadness absent.
"I'm very pleased that you made it out all right," he added.
They said their goodbyes soon after. Aberforth urged her to come by his pub later after she was done for the day for a stiff drink. He said that she looked like she needed one. Unsure how to respond to that statement, she simply smiled and promised she would try. One more smile sent in her direction from the wizard and they parted.
Ron was awake when she stopped by the tent after her surprisingly enjoyable conversation with Aberforth. Her good mood vanished almost immediately after her boyfriend began demanding to know where she had been. Was she expected to tell him every single thing that she did and saw each day? If so, it was going to be a long life. She was unused to being held accountable for how she spent every second of the day. After a few terse words, she stormed back out of the tent.
She had been able to make good progress the day before in repairing the damage to the third floor corridor with help from Oliver Wood. He was able to take some time off from his Quidditch training to help and had been an eager participant. The Keeper was already in place repairing more of the shattered windows when she arrived. They exchanged a quick greeting before returning to the therapeutic work. Very few words passed between them for hours at a time. Whatever Oliver was dealing with personally was his business just as Hermione's was hers. They were both using the work to distract themselves.
"Think I'm done for now," Oliver announced just as the sun was setting.
Hermione stretched the tired muscles in her back. Though she still wasn't ready to face Ron after their morning row, she was done as well. She checked in her pocket for her beaded bag. Satisfied that she had everything she needed, she climbed the stairs to the fifth floor. She had been pleased to learn in the early days following the battle that no damage had been done to the prefects' bathroom. While the enormous bathtub would certainly be almost decadent on her sore limbs and back, she opted for the faster option of a hot shower.
Once she was dressed and her hair charmed to be somewhat less messy, she made the decision to sneak down to the village. Aberforth's invitation was very attractive when the alternative was likely another row with Ron. No one tried to impede her progress across the grounds. Travelling alone down the path to Hogsmeade was a little nerve-wracking at night, but she was determined to no longer live in fear. With her wand clasped firmly in her hand, she braved the darkness. Most of the escaped Death Eaters had been caught by then. Surely none would be foolish enough to travel so close to the castle with its grounds full.
The Hog's Head was almost empty when she pushed the heavy door open. It had never been a very popular pub, but the usual shady patrons had been avoiding the area since the battle. Aberforth spotted her immediately. A bright smile lit up his face and he waved her over to the bar. She was only inches from the open seat he was pointing to when she realized the wizard seated at the bar was none other than the newest Minister for Magic himself.
Kingsley spun around at her approach. His hand was full of a glass that was undoubtedly a fire whiskey. When he realized who he was seeing, his entire face lit up with his familiar smile. Hermione felt her cheeks flush at the attention. Both wizards seemed pleased to see her. Kingsley reached across the space between them to kiss her cheek in greeting.
"Good evening, Minister."
She hadn't heard his loud, booming laughter in a very long time. Maybe since the last time they were all gathered at Grimmauld Place during the war. It was a sound she had not even realized she missed.
"Kingsley, Hermione," he corrected. "Anyone who fought Voldemort and the Death Eaters with me on the back of a thestral can bugger off with the fancy titles."
"Aren't you too important now to drink with the masses?" she teased.
"I'm enjoying the company just fine, thank you. My darling, you are now more famous than I am and Aberforth is practically family."
Aberforth laughed and poured Hermione a generous glass of fire whiskey. She was nervous about the drink. Her only experience with it was a horrible night during the horcrux hunt when Ron stumbled upon Sirius' hidden stash. She sipped at the glass, enjoying the laughter between the two wizards.
"You wish you could be a member of the illustrious Dumbledore family," Aberforth replied.
"Yes, Ab, I do. Every single damned day."
Kingsley turned to smile at Hermione. She felt her stomach swoop at the gesture. Had he always been that attractive? Not that it matters, Granger. She was fairly certain that his affections were situated elsewhere. His statement sounded strange to her ears. Was he trying to admit to being in love with a Dumbledore? Maybe he and the Professor were closer than any of us realized.
"I was madly in love with Ab's daughter," Kingsley clarified. "Desperate to marry her. I think I was pretty close to getting her to agree before she, well…"
His smile was still across his devastatingly handsome face, but it didn't reach his tear-filled eyes. Hermione was surprised by his admission. She had always assumed…
"Oh," she replied without thinking about her tone.
"What?" Kingsley asks.
She could feel her cheeks burning in embarrassment again. Should she just come right out and admit what she had been thinking?
"I'm sorry. It's nothing."
"Out with it, Hermione."
She was mortified. Kingsley's impish grin meant that he wasn't going to simply drop the subject. Finally, she just decided to come right out and say what she was thinking.
"I always assumed you were gay."
It was spoken in an extremely soft whisper, but both men heard. Aberforth and Kingsley made eye contact before bursting out in boisterous laughter. Both men were wiping the tears away from their eyes when they finally had enough control to stop.
"I'm sorry," Hermione added. "I just couldn't ever figure out why I'd never seen you with a witch before. It wasn't too far of a stretch to assume the gorgeous, unattached wizard wasn't interested in women."
"You have always been a natty dresser, Kings," laughed Aberforth.
Hermione didn't miss the heat suddenly present in Kingsley's eyes. She was certain he had never looked at her so intensely before. It made her uncomfortable in a manner that wasn't wholly unpleasant.
"You think I'm gorgeous?"
Kingsley winked. Hermione rolled her eyes. He began chuckling again at her response.
"You know you are, Kingsley. Stop fishing for compliments when I've already given you one."
Aberforth's laughter brought another smile to Hermione's face. She loved the sound. Kingsley simply stared at her with another wistful expression that made her uncomfortable yet again. What had changed between them since the war's end? They used to be able to sit across from each other at the table in the Black kitchen with a cup of tea and talk for hours about any number of topics. Not once did he ever look at her the way he was looking at her in that moment. She cleared her throat.
"So was it love at first sight?" she asked.
Both men burst out in another round of laughter.
"Absolutely not!" answered Aberforth. "What did she call you, son?"
"An arrogant berk who showed promise of one day being handsome if some exasperated witch didn't hex my face out of sheer frustration," Kingsley answered, the wistful expression back on his countenance.
"That's a lot to remember," Hermione said.
"She was unforgettable."
Kingsley downed the rest of his whiskey in a single swallow. Hermione felt a sharp pang of guilt at bringing up what was obviously a painful past. She excused herself to visit the loo to give him the chance to not have a practical stranger watch him in his moment of pain. Though they had known each other for years and even fought side by side in battle, she realized she knew very little about the man. The realization of her ignorance made her a bit sad.
Several minutes later she prepared herself for reentering the main room of the pub. In her absence all of the other patrons left. It was growing late after all. She was about to step out of the corridor into the main room when she heard the two men arguing in hushed tones. Despite knowing that eavesdropping was wrong, she couldn't help herself. Something instinctually kept from her stepping out of the darkness.
"It has to be tonight, Ab," Kingsley insisted. "If it's not, we risk ruining the whole timeline."
"I'm not sure about this. What if it doesn't work?"
"It will work! I've had the Unspeakables working on nothing else for weeks. Don't you want your daughter back?"
"Of course I do!"
"Then we have to act tonight."
Hermione couldn't make any sense of what they were saying. How could the Unspeakables bring back Aberforth's daughter? No one was certain what had even happened to her. It made her stomach twist and clench with the concern that both men were likely grasping at straws. Aberforth's daughter was most likely dead and most likely had been for many, many years. She cleared her throat loudly before stepping out of the corridor. Both men instantly stopped talking. Aberforth looked worried. Kingsley looked determined.
When she approached the bar, Kingsley rose to his feet. At a couple of inches taller than six feet, he easily towered over her much smaller frame. He held a thick envelope in his hand.
"Hermione, would you be kind enough to take this envelope up to the castle when you return?"
She accepted the envelope. Once it was safely stowed in her front pocket she smiled and agreed. Kingsley leaned down to kiss her cheek once more.
"I very much look forward to seeing you again soon, Little Witch."
Kingsley nodded silently in Aberforth's direction before stepping out into the cool night air. Hermione felt it was getting too late to stay much longer. The epic row she was anticipating with Ron couldn't be put off indefinitely. When she suggested to Aberforth that she follow Kingsley's lead and head back, he stopped her.
"May I show you something in the back?" he asked.
She willingly followed the man back into the room she had only been in once. Memories of the night of the final battle were thick in the space. She glanced up to the frame hanging above the fireplace that had once been a hidden entrance to the castle. Ariana's portrait smiled at the visitor and waved. Hermione easily returned the gesture. She stood uneasily in the private sanctum of Aberforth's private quarters. He was quietly cursing to himself as he dug through a messy drawer.
Finally, he pulled a leather bound album from its hiding place. Gesturing towards the single sofa in the room, he sat next to Hermione. She understood within moments that he was holding a valued photo album. His quick flips through the pages passed by revealed only glimpses of photos from his past. Once or twice she thought she recognized Albus or Ariana, but those were not the photos he was interested in. A bright grin spread across his face when the album was opened in the center.
"You might be interested in seeing this."
Aberforth held open the album to a large photograph containing a familiar face. A younger Kingsley, aged only about twenty or twenty-one at most, was staring at the girl in the photograph with a besotted expression of content on his striking features. Apparently he had always been gorgeous. Hermione hardly thought that was fair. The woman in the photo had her back to the camera for the first few moments of the loop. Her thick, brown, curly hair seemed awfully familiar to Hermione, but she certainly didn't think too much on that fact. Lots of people had curly hair.
When she rotated in place to face the camera, Hermione gasped. Aberforth hadn't been joking when he said that she reminded him of his daughter. It was too easy to see the resemblance. The smiling witch in the photograph could have been Hermione's twin. They looked exactly alike. Hermione felt as if this was a glimpse of what she would look like when she was a few years older.
"Please forgive me, lass."
Aberforth's whispered apology startled Hermione enough that the leather album fell from her hands to crash on the floor. What could he possibly have done to need her clemency? Not a single word escaped her lips before he threw a heavy chain around her head. She felt the weight of a pendant land on her chest before the room began to spin with a frightening speed. Blurry images and muffled sounds exploded around the room. She tried to stand from the sofa, afraid she was going to be ill. Her feet seemed to be unable to hold her body weight up any longer.
Moments after she stood, she crashed to the ground hitting her head on the way down. The images continued to spin around her with a frightening rapidity until she lost complete consciousness.