Even in the wizarding world, lines ruled the majority of busy thoroughfares when intercontinental travel was a necessity. All over the world, wizards and witches queued up to take the next available Portkey from wherever they were to wherever they wanted to go. Australia was no exception and two women were standing in an enormously long line listening to the grumbling around them with deaf ears.
"You didn't have to wait with me," a tall, attractive young woman with long, auburn hair and hazel eyes said with a grateful smile. "I'm glad you did, but this must be terribly boring for you..."
"The institute is what's boring," a shorter, older redheaded woman said as she rolled her eyes. She smiled flirtatiously at a man who had been ogling the two women for the past few minutes, obviously reminding her that she was still very attractive.
"How can the Sydney Oceanic Institute for Magical Marine Life be boring, Aunt Ginny?" The taller one asked incredulously. "Look at all the wildlife you see each day! And the trips to Lemuria! Those were fantastic!"
"You sound more and more like your mother the more time I spend with you, Erin..." Ginny said dryly. "Spend thirteen years underwater and you'll see why I like to come topside every once in a while."
"You and Uncle Neville need to get out more," Erin said with a smile. "Will the four of you be able to make it for Dad's and my birthday?" She asked hopefully.
Ginny smiled and gave her niece a hug. "We're going to be there come rain or shine," she said reassuringly. "Besides, Mum would go spare if we didn't visit each year!"
"Gramma Molly is rather strict when it comes to family gatherings," Erin said with a laugh, "Uncles Fred and George were five minutes late and she made them clean up the garden last time!"
"That sounds like Mum, alright," Ginny laughed. "Oh! Time for you to Portkey home..." Ginny looked at the younger woman warmly and pulled her into a tight hug. "Tell your brothers and sisters that I said hi, and give your mother and father a hug from me."
"I will, you and Uncle Neville take care," Erin said quietly. "I miss you guys already."
"We'll miss you too, now get going before you miss your Portkey!" Ginny said with a laugh as she wiped a tear from her eye.
Erin waved again and turned to the customs officer. After the standard questions that he'd been spouting all day, he handed her a deflated rubber duck with her specific address attached to the charm. Erin turned to smile at her Aunt and waved once more before she felt a hook catch behind her navel and jerk her forward through a blur of sound and a whoosh of color.
Tall and beautiful were two words that described the young woman that landed in the secluded garden that was her destination, but graceful was not. She somehow tripped on her luggage and toppled to the ground with a thump. A garden gnome laughed amusedly at her predicament just before laughter seemingly echoed from the large house to which the garden belonged. The gnome scurried under a large potted plant, cackling all the way, when she tried to shoo it off with an attempt to look menacing.
Grateful that nobody but the gnome had seen her clumsy entrance, Erin got to her feet and dusted herself off gingerly. She retrieved her luggage and slowly walked to the open back door and smiled lovingly at the couple at the kitchen table.
"She'll be eighteen in two weeks!" A woman with long, bushy brown hair said as she covered her face with her hands. "I feel so old..."
"You're far from old, Love," A strikingly handsome man with raven black hair said as he rubbed her shoulders gently. "Colin will be finishing Hogwarts in two years and Eileen will need her dress robes for fifth year. Andrew is looking at a new broom for second year and we still have three years before Catherine even goes to the school," He rambled off as he sat beside his wife and smiled. "You're beautiful and don't let anyone tell you different!"
The woman blushed slightly and shook her head as a shy smile spread across her lips. "We've been married for seventeen years and you still compliment me like that?" She asked with a snort of laughter. "I hate to break it to you, Dear, but you've already got me! You don't have to try so hard."
"I'm not trying hard, Love," he said with a cheeky smile, "I'm just telling it like it is! You're beautiful and as wonderful as I remember!"
She laughed again as he took her hand in his then kissed the back of it. "You're insatiable!" She exclaimed with another laugh, slapping his arm playfully.
"How about we go for number six?" He asked with a mischievous grin, raising an eyebrow at her suggestively.
The woman rolled her eyes and pushed him away playfully. "Honestly, you'd think five would be enough!"
"Not another one!" Erin said with a wide smile as she opened the porch door and stepped into the kitchen.
"Erin!" Hermione cried as she shot from her chair and pulled her eldest daughter into her arms. "How long have you been back?!"
"I just got home, Mum!" Erin Potter said with a laugh, wrapping her mother in her long arms. "I see you and Dad haven't changed a bit!"
"It's only been a year, Sweets!" Harry said as he joined his wife and daughter in a family hug. "We've missed you terribly!"
"How did you two go without seeing each other for five years when you can't hold it in for one?" Erin asked as tears started dribbling down her cheeks.
"How was Australia?" Hermione asked after she and Harry led their daughter to the kitchen table in an obvious attempt to change the subject.
"It was wonderful!" She replied enthusiastically as she wiped the tears from her eyes. "Aunt Ginny was a blast to spend time with!"
Harry and Hermione smiled at one another as Erin relayed everything she'd done with Ginny Longbottom, previously Weasley. "Work was exciting though," she continued with a bright twinkle in her eyes, "you wouldn't believe the number of lost civilizations they have there! The curses alone would curl Uncle Bill's hair!"
Harry laughed at the mental image, knowing full well that Bill would have been able to crack just about any curse or hex that was laid before him. He looked to Hermione, sharing a quick, silent conversation of their own as Erin rambled on about the different coral kingdoms and ancient aborigine settlements she'd visited.
"And that brings me back to my original question," Erin said pointedly. "You two didn't see each other for five years, then you had me and were married a year later... Why won't you tell me anything?" She looked to her parents in frustration as Hermione handed everyone steaming mugs of tea.
"That's all in the past, Erin," Harry said gently, placing his hand on her arm. He glanced at Hermione again but looked away when Erin pulled her arm from under his hand.
"There you two go again with the silent talking!" She growled. "I'm an adult! I can handle it!"
"I don't think we're willing to go through it again, honey," Hermione said compassionately. "To tell you the truth, those were some difficult times that I really wish never happened..."
"Mum... I know you love me and you want to protect me from whatever happened, but honestly, I'm almost eighteen!" Erin pleaded exasperatedly. "Why was it so tough? Was it Voldemort? Aunt Ginny wouldn't say anything either and it drove me mad!"
"Sweets... There's a lot there that your aunt doesn't even know," Harry said gently as he took her hand in his. He looked to Hermione once again then back to his daughter. "I promise that your mum and I will talk about it," Erin's face lit up like it was Christmas in July. "BUT!" Harry said swiftly, "I won't promise you anything more than that."
"We'll let you know what we've decided in a few days," Hermione added as she placed her hand on top of theirs. "I, for one, want to enjoy the first few days you're home!"
Erin sighed, defeated by the tag team of her parents once again. "You keep saying you'll talk about it each year! When I was six, I was too young. When I was eleven, I was going to Hogwarts. Then when I finished, I got accepted as a curse breaker for Gringotts... Every year there was an excuse... I know you don't want me to be hurt by whatever it is you're hiding... Please let me know what happened this year?" She pleaded, giving them both the saddest puppy dog eyes she could muster.
Harry gave her a lopsided smile and shook his head. "I don't think that look will work this time, but we will talk about it and let you know," he said softly and kissed her cheek. "It's not easy for either of us to remember those years, so please trust us..."
Erin rolled her eyes once again clearly upset that she didn't get her way then closed them tightly. "Ok, Dad... I guess I can wait..."
"You know we love you..." Hermione said softly.
"We really do, and we're not doing this to hurt you, Sweets," Harry added.
"I know you do," Erin said quietly, "and I love you too..."
Hermione was the first of the two to hug her, followed very closely by Harry. She hugged them back and they stayed in their tight, family embrace for a few moments before Erin pulled away.
"I'm knackered," she said with a tired smile, "I'm just going to kip in my room for a few hours..."
"Get some sleep, honey," Hermione said tenderly as she stood with her daughter. Harry wordlessly grabbed Erin's luggage and the three of them went upstairs to the room she'd stayed in for seventeen of her eighteen years of life. "Want me to call you when tea's ready?"
"That'd be great, Mum," Erin said with a hug.
"Then we can crack open the photo albums," Harry said eagerly as he set the luggage next to her chest of drawers.
"Dad, do we have to go through them every year?" Erin asked embarrassedly.
"You just let your father remember when you were his little girl..." Harry said with a twinkle in his eyes.
She hugged him tightly and whispered, "I still am, Daddy." With a kiss to his cheek, Erin closed the door to her room, leaving a man with a wide smile on his face and a loving look in his bright eyes.
"She'll always be your little girl," Erin heard her mother say from the other side of the door. She listened quietly as her parents walked back downstairs.
"What is it they're hiding?" Erin hissed to herself as she undressed and slipped into a pair of silk pajamas. "They've already told me I wasn't adopted..." She yawned sleepily then concentrated for a few moments. Erin watched her hair shorten to a manageable length before tying it up into a loose ponytail and climbed into bed.
They're going to tell me this year! She thought determinedly before she let loose another yawn and was soon fast asleep.
"Erin? Time for tea, honey," Hermione said softly as she shook her daughter awake.
Erin stretched as the room began to swim back into focus and she let out a low, contented groan. "Hmm, what time is it, Mum?"
"It's just past six," her mother replied with a caring smile. "Wash up and I'll see you downstairs..."
"Alright," Erin said with a soft smile. It's great to be back home... She added as her conscious mind finally reasserted itself. A few minutes in the bathroom and she was sitting at the dining room table with her parents, talking excitedly about visiting Bill Weasley in Egypt for another assignment.
"How long do you have until you leave again?" Hermione asked with a sad look in her eyes. Harry looked up from his plate with a look of interest on his face.
"There's still time, Mum," Erin replied with a smile, "I'll be leaving on the first of September so I'll be here all summer."
Hermione's spirits rose considerably at the news as they finished their meal. They spoke of what happened since their last owl and laughed at the pranks that Fred and George had pulled on Harry just a few days ago.
"Let me tell you something, I don't ever want to put on another brazier as long as I live!" He said with a red face as Hermione stifled a laugh. "I'll leave being women to you..."
Erin laughed harder than she had in the past year. She loved being home with her parents but their secret kept sneaking its way back to her thoughts.
"Give us a few days, Sweets," Harry said seriously when she'd stopped laughing and looked at them curiously. "We promised we'd talk about it..."
"How do you do that?!" Erin squeaked in irritation.
"Father's intuition?" Harry said thoughtfully. "Well, it might not exist, but I've always been able to read you, remember when you were seven..."
"Of course I do!" Erin said with a laugh. "That was the last Halloween that I tried to scare you, it was like you read my mind and knew what was going to happen!"
"You don't spend as many years with Fred and George as we have and not see things coming..." Hermione said with a grin. "Face it, your father has this strange ability to know what you're thinking..."
"You better not be using Legilimency on me, Dad!" Erin said warningly.
"You'd know if I was," Harry said with a grin. "Remember, it's all in the eye contact..."
"I'll never figure out how you do that..." Erin said in a huff.
"When you have children, you'll know how it's done," Hermione said with a smile. "Which leads me to ask: How are things going with you and Justin?"
"That guy turned out to be a total creep!" Erin said in a growl. "One minute, he's nice and sweet, the next he starts telling me all these lies..." Harry and Hermione glanced at one another at the startling news. "It was like he wanted to control me or something!" She fumed. "Can you believe he tried to tell me that Aunt Ginny was using me for my money?!"
"Well, it's good that you got out of there before things went too far," Hermione said comfortingly.
Erin glanced at her eyes and saw something there she hadn't seen before and quickly looked to Harry's as well. She nodded when she saw the same thing there. "I'm going to get dressed," she announced as she took her plate into the kitchen.
"Are you going out?" Harry asked with a hint of disappointment.
"No, Dad," she said as she rolled her eyes, "I want to get into something other than pajamas so I don't feel like a slob. Besides, didn't you want to go though the photo albums again?"
"Get dressed!" Harry said with a laugh as he set the rest of the dishes to cleaning themselves.
"I'll be right back," Erin said with a smile. His reaction was so typically her father's, always spending a few nights a month going over the same tattered, old albums.
Erin causally walked upstairs and, once in her room, quickly dressed in a pair of shorts and a T-Shirt. She looked in the mirror and smiled as her hair returned to its natural length.
"I love being a Metamorphmagus," she said as her face added the light makeup she used everyday. Just enough to accentuate but look like she wasn't wearing anything at all, which was particularly true in this case as she looked herself over in the mirror.
Erin left her room and stopped midway down the stairs when she stumbled upon a very rare occurrence in the house.
"Not yet, Harry!" Hermione said in an elevated voice. Erin had never really heard her parents argue before and her eyes went wide at what she was hearing.
"Hermione, Love," Harry said comfortingly. "Erin's going to find out when she's eighteen whether we want her to or not... We should be the ones to tell her, not the Ministry."
"I know you're right," Hermione said in her normal voice, though it sounded rather sad, "But what if she hates me? I don't think I could handle that..."
"She won't hate you, Love," he retorted almost too quietly for Erin to hear. "She's going to be down here in a few minutes, think about it... I'd rather she learn it from us..."
"And not the Ministry, I know..." Hermione said as she choked back a sob. "I don't want to lose my baby girl..."
Lose me? Erin thought incredulously. Am I sick? She sat on the stairs in shock, wondering what she'd just overheard. Metamorphmagi don't have a shorter lifespan, I wasn't adopted... Erin thought hard over the different texts she'd read, trying to piece together something that would make sense. She heard footsteps heading towards the stairs and she stood quickly, trying to make it look like she'd just started down the staircase. Erin took a nervous step and her luck foiled her once again as she tripped over the rug and began to fall forward.
"ERIN!" Harry yelled in surprise and before she could fall even a few centimeters, Harry had apparated a few steps down and caught her mid-fall. "Are you ok, Sweets?" He asked concernedly.
"Thanks, Dad," she said a little shaken, "I'm fine, I just forgot to use the handrail again."
"What were you thinking about that made you forget that?" he asked nervously.
"I just wasn't thinking," she lied and winced when her father's eyes told her he didn't believe a word she'd said. "Ok, I was thinking about that secret you two have, OK?" She pulled out of his arms and took hold of the handrail as she stomped down the stairs. Erin made her way to the sitting room and slumped into the sofa, where they'd always sit when going over the family photos.
"I'm sorry," Harry said quietly as he sat to her right. "We're still working on that..."
"Maybe this will help, Love," Hermione said as she handed him two books that Erin hadn't seen before.
"Are you sure?" He asked as he took them from his wife.
"You're right, Harry," Hermione sighed then turned towards Erin. "I want you to know that I love you very much," Hermione started as she took her daughter's hand in her trembling ones, "and I hope you won't hate me after we tell you the truth."
"Mum, what could be so bad that I'd hate you?" Erin asked bewildered as tears began to well in hers and her mother's eyes.
"Eighteen years ago, I took you as my own," Hermione said with a shaky voice. Her eyes dropped from Erin's and she concentrated on her hands instead. "Your real mother died and I carried you to term."
"My REAL mother?" Erin asked in shock. Her mind began swimming with unanswered questions and she was unable to concentrate on any particular one until a specific memory surfaced. "You told me I wasn't adopted," she said evenly as her tears began to flow freely.
"Erin, you weren't adopted," Harry said as he moved to sit on the coffee table. "I am your father and your real mother died before you were born..."
Hermione's tears were building as she looked to Erin, "I'm sorry that we didn't tell you sooner," she said with a wavering voice. "Your Dad and Mum were engaged when... This is so hard to say..." Hermione looked to Harry for support and he provided it with a gentle smile.
"Erin, it will be easier this way," he said gently and turned her face to his tenderly. "Look into my eyes..."
"Dad..." She started but as soon as her gaze met his, her eyes went wide.
"Legilimens," Harry whispered softly and Erin's world fell away, replaced by her father's memories.