It was Christmastime. There was garland hung over the archway into the kitchen and an electric candle in the window. In the corner, there was a Christmas tree with a few presents wrapped underneath. One, in particular, was badly wrapped. That was Hermione's present for her mum. It was a green jumper. Jean Granger had purchased it, of course, but the wrapping had been all Hermione. It wasn't too bad considering she was only five.
Hermione knew she was smart, had been told she was precocious in that overly sweet syrupy tone her mother's friends and strangers alike all tended to speak to her with, but she wasn't sure if that was a bad thing or not. All she knew, as she stood on the third shelf of the bookcase to tug at the spine of her favourite book was that she liked to read.
The book slid free after another hard tug and Hermione tumbled onto the floor in a small heap. The book was held aloft and safe from damage from the floor. Unfortunately, half the shelf of books came with her. None landed on Hermione or the book she held. The noise alerted her mother.
Jean stepped into the sitting room from where she had been making dinner in the kitchen. "What are you—" she paused in her inquiry then taking note of Hermione, the position of the book, and the book itself, changed the direction of her question, "—That book again? Haven't you read everything in it?" She didn't bother mentioning the pile of books all around Hermione. That was a familiar enough scene. The little girl would take a moment when she wasn't so focused to put them all back in a stack for Jean to place back on the shelf later.
Hermione stood up, smiled and shook her head. "I like it." She hugged the book, Women in History, to her chest.
"I didn't know teaching you about prominent women in history would make you obsess so. Who's your favourite this week?"
When Jean had first read the book to her, Hermione's favourite had been Marie Curie. Then it was Mildred Dresselhaus. Now, as it had been for the last month, was, "Agent Peggy Carter."
Jean smiled and turned back towards the kitchen. Two loud pops startled them both enough to shriek. A man and a woman had appeared in their sitting room between Hermione and her mum. "What—? Who are you? What are you doing in my flat?" Jean demanded.
"Stupefy, Obliviate," the man said waving a stick at her. She fell over, hitting her head on the doorframe on the way down.
"Mummy!" Hermione cried and darted between the strangers to get to her mother. She didn't know what to do but she knew hitting one's head was painful and could be dangerous.
"Grab her!" the man said. Arms wrapped around Hermione and scooped her up. She flailed in the woman's grasp in her attempt to get free.
"Stop wiggling, girl!" her abductor said. Hermione struggled harder and flung her head back into the woman's face. She dropped her, blood spurting from her nose, and Hermione darted away as soon as she touched the floor.
"Fuck!" one of them said.
Hermione didn't know what to do but she knew her mother couldn't help her just then so she ran towards the door. The neighbours would help.
She never made it to the door. The man grabbed her before she could twist the knob. She did the next best thing and screamed as loudly as she could even as she struggled again.
"Just stun her, Patrick!" The woman said wetly.
Hermione was dropped again, her knees banging on the hard floor. Before she could stand back up, a red light flashed in her eyes.
When she woke up, she wasn't in her mother's flat anymore. Instead, she was laying on a sofa in what looked like a small office. There were books along the wall behind a large desk. Someone was sitting next to her and someone else was shuffling through papers at the door.
"Can't believe Patrick and Laura left us with this one. Doesn't look like they filled out all the paperwork," the person shuffling papers said.
"Laura's nose got broken and you know how we've got to file everything with the infirmary." The man kneeling beside the sofa next to Hermione glanced at her and smiled. It was one of those fake smiles Hermione recognised from strangers who called her precocious. "How are you?" He looked back up to his accomplice. "Do know if they wiped her?"
The woman at the door shrugged, frowning down at the papers. "Ask her."
"Do you know your name, dear?"
Hermione was smart, but she wasn't omniscient. She had no idea what the man meant but she understood enough to not tell him her real name. She opened her eyes wide and shook her head like she didn't know anything.
The woman said, "Looks like it worked." She held out her hand for her. "Come on, it's time to go home."
The man snickered as he stood. "You know that pun is so bad."
"It's not like they understand," she replied.
Unsure of what to do, Hermione got up and followed. Getting out of the room was better than staying put and the woman might actually be telling the truth about going home. She took the woman's hand and followed along. The room beyond the office was very large and there was a giant gold machine all around them. In the centre of the room were large glass tubes with different coloured grains of sand. The woman adjusted knobs and valves, allowing a small mixture of different sands to gather in the centre bulb. She talked to herself as she worked. "All right, next on the register is 1927. That's five green grains, seven yellow. And, it's what? Midnight now? So let's go with five white."
"Make it six. Just in case she hasn't had any supper yet."
"Good thinking," the woman said. She looked down at Hermione and put on that overly sweet voice to ask, "Would you like that, sweetie? Are you hungry?"
Hermione kept her eyes wide and nodded and even stuck out her bottom lip in a pout to make her seem more believable. She was hungry.
"Okay then." the woman said. She adjusted two more valves and pressed a large button that stayed down. The machinery around them started slowly moving. It reminded Hermione of a carnival ride as it started up. "Come here, sweetie. I need you to sit right here." The woman had opened a half-door near the sand tubes, inside was a bench. "It's just a ride. You'll have fun. I promise," she cajoled.
Hermione did not believe her at all but she didn't know what else to do, so she did as she was asked. She sat on the bench and let the woman secure the belt across her lap. The machine around them was starting to move a bit faster now.
"Well done. You stay right there and we'll get you off the ride when it's done," the woman said. She and her partner turned and retreated back to the office. Hermione had to turn her head over her shoulder but she watched the door shut behind them. The machine whirred and groaned and soon the little bench she was sitting on started to spin. As the spinning started to accelerate, she noticed there were two more parts, even larger than the one she had already seen, also spinning around her. Hermione was starting to feel a little sick in her tummy and she wondered if she should have mentioned to the woman that she tended to get sick on spinning rides. The spinning continued, faster and faster, and soon she had to close her eyes and lower her head. The motion of all the parts was making her unavoidably dizzy.
There was a loud crack that seemed to ring in Hermione's ears and she couldn't tell if she was still spinning or if the ride had slowed. Her stomach churned and she cracked her eyes open to find that everything was stationary. She sat still and breathed deeply to try to settle her twisting tummy. After a few minutes, something near her made a snapping sound. Her gaze darted to the control panel to see that the button the woman had depressed must have popped back out.
She heard the office door open and looked back to see two different people than the ones who put her on the ride. When they got closer she could see that one of them was a woman and her hair was styled in an odd way. It reminded her of the pictures in her Women in History book. "Hello dear," she said.
She glanced at an open tube next to the bench that Hermione hadn't noticed before. "Oh, Lionel, they forgot the paperwork again," she spoke to her partner. To Hermione, she said, "Do you know your name?"
Again, Hermione understood enough not to give her own name so instead, she used two names from Women in History. "Mildred Carter."
"Carter?" Lionel repeated. He had a heavy book open and he seemed to be searching through it. "We don't have a Carter in the books, Muriel," he told his partner.
"We don't? Why would they have..." Muriel turned from where she was speaking with Lionel and crouched down to bring herself closer to Hermione's height. She looked directly into Hermione's eyes, her own seemed to twinkle. "Are you sure your name is Mildred Carter?" she asked in that syrupy sweet tone.
Hermione focused all her might on the name Mildred Carter, unsure of why it mattered. It must be very important. She wouldn't let any other thought interrupt her focus on that name.
Muriel nodded and stood. "She's positive. That's the name."
"What do we do?" Lionel asked, looking confused or concerned.
"I suppose we put her with Muggles. Send the Obliviation Team anytime there's a slip-up. Provide new memories when she's accepted into school." Muriel said.
Lionel scoffed. "If it was that easy, what's the point of this department?" The two adults shared a look before returning their attention to Hermione.
"Well come along, Mildred. We'll take you home."
* . * . *
Hermione had been very disappointed. She hadn't been taken home. Instead, she had been taken to a house in the country and integrated into the Carter family as the youngest daughter of three. Michael and Peggy accepted her as their sister without question, both encouraging her to seek out adventure and excitement on top of her voracious appetite for learning. Her new parents, Amanda and Harrison, treated her as if she had always been there. Had always been Millie Carter.
Over the next six years, strangers showed up seemingly at random. Every time they came and left, the things that seemed bizarre or mysterious that happened around her had been explained away. When Millie asked, her mother Amanda had chided her for making things up.
The summer after she turned eleven, a letter arrived in the post for her inviting her to a boarding school. The following day two strangers stopped by in the afternoon and did something to Millie's parents and siblings. She was told that the name and nature of her school—Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry—was to be kept secret from everyone. Including her family. If she ever breathed a word of it to anyone who wasn't magical she would have her memory erased. The Muggle, the non-magical person, she spoke to would also suffer the same fate.
Hermione had only grown more intelligent and she understood the immensity of that threat. She knew with utter certainty that she would keep the secret of magic, just as she'd kept the secret of her real mother locked deep in her heart. No one, no Muggle, could ever know.
She was sorted Gryffindor, the house of the brave.
Each year of school was challenging as she learned about magic and how to fit into this new world. She learned the hardest lesson in her first year. There was no such thing as 'Muggle-borns.' Starting at the turn of the century, the sporadic development of magic in the children of Muggles no longer happened. It had taken a lesson in fourth year History of Magic class for understanding to snap into place. Hermione Granger had been a Muggle-born, or at least she thought she had been; she had no recollection of her father. Technically, she still was. In her official documents as a student at Hogwarts, Mildred Carter was an orphan. No one knew, or could know, that the family she returned to every summer was Muggle.
When Hermione returned home after her fourth year at Hogwarts, it was to the news that her brother Michael would be getting married. Edith joined the family less than three weeks later and then she and Michael holidayed in Scotland for their honeymoon. Hermione was happy for them even as she weaved the lies she had been told to tell as Edith asked about her schooling and her friends.
Two days after the start of her sixth year, in 1939, Headmaster Dippet made an announcement that Britain had gone to war with Germany. For a while, things at school did not change. Then, near the end of the school year, word came that wizards associated with Gellert Grindelwald were attempting to use the Muggles' war to overturn the Statue of Secrecy. The Ministry of Magic started recruiting heavily for Auror positions both nationally and internationally. Duelling clubs sprang up at Hogwarts. Whispers about rationing amongst Muggles followed by happy reassurances and smiles. The phrase aren't-you-glad-you-aren't-a-Muggle abounded.
When Hermione returned home for the summer she learned that Michael had enlisted in the Royal Armed Forces and Peggy had qualified to work at Bletchley Park. Officially, Peggy only worked as a secretary. In the quiet hush of the early morning hours, she confessed to Hermione that she was a code-breaker and doing important work for the war effort. Edith had given birth to Michael's son in January and named him Harry.
With so much change happening at home, Hermione wasn't sure what she should be focusing on. As much as she loved the magical world and supported the Ministry's efforts to combat Grindelwald's army and exposure, her heart longed to follow in her adopted siblings' footsteps. What tipped the scales all happened that summer. Peggy got engaged to Fred Wells about the same time Michael got her recommended for fieldwork.
Then Michael died.
Just like that. He had returned to Europe and then he was gone, leaving his wife and six-month son alone. Leaving Peggy and Hermione alone.
Peggy broke off her engagement with Fred and took the fieldwork opportunity. Hermione was stuck going back to school despite her earnest desire to join the war effort with her sister. Peggy had encouraged her to finish school and Hermione had listened to her older sister. Hermione spent most of her time reading in the library, content to read and learn as many Muggle subjects as Magical to get herself ready to join the war effort properly when she left school.
She came across the subject of time travel once in her studying. At first, she dismissed it. But the descriptions of time-turners struck her as familiar in a way she couldn't move past. It took over two weeks of reading and focusing on her memories of her past but then the fog in her head seemed to clear. She understood. Muriel and Lionel, who had delivered her to the Carter family home thirteen years earlier, must have worked with time travel. That enormous golden machine with its precise grains of coloured sand must have been an advanced type of time turner. The book from which she studied had said time travel was strictly regulated to only return in hour increments for observational purposes. The author was obviously not privy to the truth.
Deep in her heart, Hermione knew that her Jean had not worn clothes or styled her hair like Amanda did. Unfortunately, as a five-year-old, Hermione had never needed to know the date. She didn't know from when she came. She didn't know why she was sent back in time. She wanted to find out.
* . * . *
8 July 1941
"Millie?" Peggy called. Hermione turned around and smiled, happy to see her sister after the long train ride from school.
"How was your trip? Did you do anything special for your last year?" Peggy gave Hermione a hug as they came together on the platform.
"Long, and no, and how's Mum and Dad? Edith? Harry?"
Peggy rolled her eyes and laughed, her brown curls bounced with the movement. She hooked her arm with Hermione's as they started back toward the entrance. The walk back to the townhouse the Carters lived in while in the city was almost a half hour's walk from the station. Hermione was grateful her travelling trunk was wheeled.
"Mum and Dad are the same. Mum's still unhappy I decided to cancel the wedding with Fred and follow Michael's suggestion with work. She thinks I'll either die working in the field or be ruined and never marry. I hate disappointing her but Michael was right. I... Fred wasn't what I wanted. I was settling because I thought that was the life I wanted. Now..."
"Now you are untethered and can pursue the adventure you've always dreamed of," Hermione said for her.
Peggy reached up and patted Hermione's own bushy brown curls, a shade lighter than hers. "You've dreamed of adventure too. Do you know what you want to do?"
"I want to be where you are. I want to do some good."
"I don't know if I can make that happen but I'll try. You'll have to cut your hair, you know. Regulation is not touching the shoulders."
"Is there any limit on how far out past my ears this way?" Hermione asked with a laugh, holding her hands up above her shoulders like she was going to put on ear muffs.
Peggy laughed. "I'm sure we can find some way to tame them."