Chapter One – Childish Things
A/N: This chapter was inspired by imadrablue's Facing Forward. I've borrowed some elements from this story and played on others. She's simply a wonderful writer.
Life had dealt its fair share of rotten lemons to Hermione Granger. Being an only child hadn't been perfect, even with loving parents, because people love to inflict pain on the ones they're jealous of. Being abnormally intelligent (aside from allowing her unparalleled success in school) had cost her many friends, even after coming to Hogwarts. Living two lives, however, is what hurt her the most. One life with her parents and extended family as a Muggle and one in the magical world, where she felt increasingly more at home than in the one she grew up in. The two halves were growing apart and the required schizophrenia was unbearable. Her precious few Muggle friends could never seem to find the time to fit themselves into her schedule and her wizarding ones were all involved in the biggest war in a century. Now, she was, too.
It wasn't the fetid lemonade that she'd been forced to make time and time again that bothered her, though. Nor was it the lack of available sugar when she'd wanted to sweeten it just a little. It was the bitterness at realising that her best friend had been drinking unsweetened, rotting lemonade since he was a year old – and he didn't ever seem to mind.
Maybe he'd become accustomed to it. Maybe the hard knocks of life that seemed to keep slamming into him had deadened his sense of taste. Whatever the reason, Hermione, in her very isolated, private way, was only now beginning to understand what it was to be like Harry Potter. In understanding Harry Potter, Hermione had been given new resolve. Fresh from the bitter experience of misplaced doubt over the last school year and then having it result in Dumbledore's death, she vowed to never second-guess Harry again, no matter how illogical his hunches or how dangerous following them seemed to be. Harry was going to save them all, and Hermione was going to be by his side until the very end.
She threw items from her trunk into an open suitcase on the floor, things that wouldn't be needed any more. Going with Harry wherever he went and however long it would take to defeat Voldemort narrowed her needs to a select few items. Books, cauldrons, school robes, and gloves were all piled into the suitcase that should contain two weeks of clothes and essentials for her summer trip. Instead, she was going to leave them and her Muggle life behind forever.
Her eyes found themselves lingering on her bed and the single worn, stuffed bear that she'd had for as long as she could remember. Scooping it up, she hugged it to her seventeen-year-old body, burying her nose into its frayed head. How many times had she sought comfort in Pricilla? How many thunderstorms? How many imagined monsters under her bed? The stitches holding one of the legs was coming loose and an eye had popped off the year she went to Hogwarts, never to be seen again. Pushing the well of melancholy memories aside, she placed Pricilla back on her bed and prayed she'd be able to come back to her again, when the war was finally over. She had new sources of comfort in her life now and where she was going, Pricilla (and her parents for that matter) could not follow.
Turning from her bed, Hermione surveyed the essentials still in her trunk: the clothes, potions ingredients, and food that she'd nicked from her pantry the night before. With a swish of her wand, it all floated to a large blue duffle bag; with another wave, the now-filled bag shrunk to the size of a pack of Exploding Snap cards. She placed this in the pocket of her loose jeans and walked downstairs, mentally preparing herself for the fight ahead.
Her parents were sitting on the sofa, their bags packed in the entryway for their annual holiday trip; this year they were to go to Spain.
"Where're your things, Hermione?" her mother asked, noticing her empty hands. "The taxi will be here in a few minutes and we're pressed for time as it is."
Hermione walked carefully across the rug covering the Grangers' expensive stone floor and stood in front of her parents. She held her breath, dreading what she was about to say. Then, after some hesitation, she gathered her courage and said, "I'm not going with you."
Her father chuckled dismissively, as she knew he would – he never took her seriously when she needed him to. "What's this about? Of course you're going. You've had a whopper of a year at school and things are funny in England now. It'll do us all some good to get away for a bit."
The casual brush-off hadn't lulled her mother into believing that Hermione wasn't serious. She knew Hermione too well for that and could probably see the stern look in her daughter's eyes. "I'm going to help a friend kill an evil wizard and I probably won't be back for a long time." She squeezed the sweaty slip of vine wood in her hand and took a half-step back. "Take care of each other."
Her father stood, a haunted look on his face. Her mother's eyes were glistening but Hermione could also see acceptance in them.
"I love you," she said, and turned on the spot, disappearing with a small pop.
Hermione re-appeared in a small cubicle inside a woman's clothing shop in the heart of Little Whinging. It was dark inside the shop, as it had not yet opened. She peeked out of the stall and looked among the racks of clothing, at the till, and around the dressing rooms to make sure she was indeed alone. Satisfied, she walked swiftly to the door, charmed it open, and after locking it again, marched determinedly towards Magnolia Crescent.
She had never been to Harry's relatives' house and now that Hermione was standing outside of number four, she reflected that she probably wasn't missing much – just the companionship of her best friend. Given the way Harry compulsively downplayed his hardships, the indications of abuse she did know about were probably only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It was going to be good for everyone to have him finally leave this miserable place forever.
That happy day wasn't going to be for another two weeks, however, but she and their other friend, Ron, had promised to spend however long he'd needed with him. Bill and Fleur's wedding was going to be on the twenty-eighth of July, and so that was when they were going to leave for the Burrow.
Hermione waited outside of number four for half an hour, turning over in her mind her parents' likely course of action after her hasty departure, before she gave up on Ron going in with her. Her dad would be on the phone with the local constable, while her mother made tea. Then, they'd likely contact Hogwarts, looking for Dumbledore, not knowing he was gone...
She snapped her mind shut and looked around the neighbourhood. Several neighbours had noticed her loitering, and if Harry's last letter had been accurate, it would be best if she didn't infuriate his aunt by attracting too much attention. She still didn't even know if Harry's relatives knew she was coming.
Two muffled notes from behind the door confirmed that the bell worked properly and Hermione nervously waited a discrete distance from the dark green door. There was a scrambling sound and then the metallic clunk of a deadbolt being thrown back. The door opened and she was pleased to see Harry's face poking out behind it.
She stepped forward, but caught herself when he pointed his wand at her. "Where's Ron?" he asked quietly, holding his wand low so as not to be seen by the neighbours.
"He wasn't here when I walked up," Hermione explained, noticing out of the corner of her eye the shade being pulled back from a window in number six. "Can I come in?"
Harry scrutinized her for a second before speaking. "What's your middle name?"
"Jane," she said immediately, cottoning on to his suspicious behaviour. "Which bottle let you through Snape's potions room before you got the Philosopher's Stone?"
She could tell he'd had to think about that one, but he eventually responded. "The smallest and you took the round bottle."
Hermione smiled. "Right. Can I come in now?"
He threw back the door and she strode into what she instantly decided was the most sterile house she'd ever been in. She crinkled her nose. "Not very welcoming, is it?" she asked.
"No, I reckon they'd rather scare most people away. 'Specially if they're normal like us." He seemed saddened by this line of thought so Hermione prodded the conversation in another direction.
"Are they here?"
He shook his head and started walking toward the stairs, motioning for her to follow. "No, they're off shopping or something. They'll be back before noon, though – Dudley's favourite show is on the telly then."
With a smirk, Hermione followed Harry to his room and was grateful to see the perfectly normal piles of dirty clothes, messy stacks of books and papers and the moving, waving pictures of she, Harry, and Ron on the wall next to Harry's bed. There was also a pleasant moment of surprise when she saw that Ginny's photograph had made it into his collection. The younger girl had confided in her before they left the Hogwarts Express just a few short days ago, and told her that he'd broken up with her. Hermione was concerned that Harry may have had the mistaken impression that Ginny would simply go away and that, instead of keeping her safe, Harry's actions might do just the opposite. If Harry wasn't distracted by missing Ginny, then Ginny would almost certainly insist on going with them. Either way, Harry's noble idea was doomed to failure.
"I hadn't thought about sleeping arrangements," Harry admitted as he pushed a large pile of dirty jeans, shirts, and boxers into his miniscule wardrobe. The single bed was almost too small for Harry's nearly six foot tall frame, let alone all three of them. Not that they would consider sharing a bed together, but the problem of adequate sleeping space wouldn't resolve itself.
Removing her wand from the back pocket of her jeans, Hermione motioned for Harry to stand back. "I've got just the thing," she said, waved her wand around the room and watched as the once postage stamp-sized space slowly expanded until it was four times its original size. Then, flicking her wand at two spots in the newly open area, she conjured two beds the same size as Harry's, complete with pillows and bedding. Hermione's was pink with a lace bed ruffle and Ron's was a garish orange that she was sure he'd appreciate. Then, considering that both of her friends had noticed she was a girl more than two years ago, she levitated her bed into the corner of the room and conjured a dividing wall for privacy.
When she was satisfied, she turned to see Harry's mouth hanging open. "That's bloody brilliant!" he said.
"Language, Harry," she scolded slightly, but her lips twitched in very pleased sort of way. "You didn't expect we'd be sleeping standing up, did you?"
"W – Well, no... I suppose not." He sat heavily on his bed, his face blank as he seemed to sink back into himself.
With a frown of her own, she took her tea box-sized bag from her front pocket, set it on the floor, and tapped it once with her wand. It immediately sprung back to its original size and she replaced her wand in her back pocket. She bent to unzip the bag, intent on grabbing a bite of breakfast now that she was settled in.
Harry snorted and she turned her head in his direction. "Don't let Moody catch you with your wand there," he said with a small smirk. "He'd lecture you about blasting your buttocks off."
Taking advantage of the opening he'd left her, she raised her brow in a shocked manner and said, "Been looking at my buttocks, have you?"
Harry's eyes shot to hers and he coughed into his hand, unsuccessfully hiding his grin. "Guilty as charged," he said and then glanced at Ginny's smiling photograph. "But I'm sure Ron'll do more of that when he gets here. He's got a keen eye for that sort of thing."
Hermione sighed, thinking about how long it had been since she'd caught Ron looking at any part of her besides her face. "Maybe. We haven't spoken much since the funeral."
With his own incredulous look, Harry turned back to face Hermione. "You two looked pretty cosy on the platform at King's Cross."
"The hug was nice," she confirmed, sitting on the floor as she continued to dig through her bag and gritted her teeth at the memory. "But I was expecting a little more from the red-haired git."
"No declarations of love?" Harry asked with mock seriousness.
"No, and I've been waiting for four bloody years to hear it!"
There was a brief silence in which Hermione pulled out a sugar-free piece of liquorice and took a bite.
"Has it really been four?" he asked, still staring at Ginny's photograph.
She swallowed her sweet and nodded. "Ever since he went into the forest, after I was Petrified." Harry's brows furrowed as he apparently tried to catch the significance. "Anyone as deathly afraid of spiders as Ron, who'd willingly go into a great big nest of oversized ones for me, well..." she trailed off. Something started to squeeze on her heart as she thought about all that Ron had done for her.
Harry's eyes glistened as Ginny's picture beamed back at him. The pressure on her heart increased. Her hunger suddenly left her and she put her half-eaten liquorice back into her bag. She folded her arms tightly around her chest and distractedly wondered where Ron was.
Ron showed up just before noon, having Apparated to Mrs. Figg's, scaring her cats with his impromptu appearance, and received several long scratches as a result. After answering questions about their time in the Shrieking Shack in their third year, they let him enter. Hermione was already tutting and shaking her head at the scratches.
"It wasn't my bloody fault she lets those things run wild," Ron said bitterly after explaining his story on number four's front porch. Harry hastily ushered him inside.
"My relatives will be here any minute," Harry complained. "Get in before they see you bleeding all over the carpet."
Hermione observed this all from the staircase, noting with satisfaction that Ron was at least a little cowed by his experience with the cats. "Maybe that will teach you to announce yourself before you Apparate into someone's house, then?" she said with a continued tutting sound.
Ron's offended look returned immediately as Hermione healed his cuts with her wand. "You're glad I got mauled by a dozen rabid cats?"
"Well, if you'd thought for a second that it was okay to barge into someone's house, then you deserved what you got," she replied waspishly, taking care to overheat the sensitive skin behind his knee.
"Oi!" Ron exclaimed, pulling back his leg and rubbing it fiercely.
Harry was fidgeting by the now-closed door, a look of bemused anxiety on his face. "Can we take this argument upstairs, please? I'd like to at least try to act like I didn't just let a fully-qualified witch and wizard into my aunt's house."
Clamping his mouth shut, Ron glared at Hermione, and took the steps two at a time, while Harry waited for Hermione to follow. "If he'd only act like an adult, it'd be all right," she whispered to him over her shoulder as she, too ascended the stairs. "But he just doesn't think."
"I'm not going to argue with you, but this is Ron we're talking about, here. Thinking before acting hasn't ever been his strong suit." There was a pause as they reached the landing. "Nor mine," he finished.
Hermione smirked and walked into Harry's room. Ron was standing inside, his jaw hanging open as Harry's had done that very morning.
"Blimey," he said, scratching his head. "I must have been half asleep the last time I was here. You always told us your room was tiny, Harry."
"Don't be stupid," Hermione said, moving past him to sit on her bed, her arms folded across her chest. "I expanded the room when I got here. You'd have seen the original configuration, had you been here on time."
Ron walked to his bed and tentatively touched the orange duvet. "Yeah," he said, suddenly serious. "I was late because Dad needed me to help him with something."
This got Hermione's attention so she tucked her knees close to her chest and rested her chin on them.
"The Order is leaving Grimmauld Place." He hesitated, casting Harry a careful glance. "Since... Since Dumbledore died," he said, forging on despite the fact that Harry cringed at the name. "Well, they didn't think it'd be safe for them, with the Secret Keeper dead and all."
Hermione cringed as well, thinking that the Order would be hard pressed to find as capable a leader in the war against Voldemort as Dumbledore. Finding a new headquarters was almost moot.
"I reckon that's a good thing then," Harry said suddenly with a forced smile. "We're going to need a place to stay apart from the adults while we're out there. Grimmauld Place would be the last place they'd look for us." He made a vague gesture towards his window and the determined look returned to his face.
"But, Harry," Hermione said, suddenly confused. "With the Fidelius Charm broken, we won't be safe there either."
For the first time since Dumbledore's death, Harry smiled. Well, it wasn't a true smile, as his lips merely stopped curling downward, but Hermione wasn't going to be picky. He selected a book from his trunk and tossed it to her. "I want you to put the Fidelius Charm on Grimmauld Place again. You're going to be the Secret Keeper, too. The sooner you can perform the charm, the better."
Turning the book over in her hands, she read the title, Advanced Concealment Charms, and looked back to Harry. "Where did you get this?"
"From the library, just before we left on the train," explained Harry.
Hermione gaped at him. "But that's stealing!" she said, outraged.
Harry levelled his gaze at her and without blinking, said, "It won't be the worst thing we'll do before it's all said and done."
There was a deep, booming laugh from downstairs and the sound of the front door being closed loudly. The Dursleys were home. Harry let his eyes linger on Hermione for a moment as she fidgeted with the checkout card in the front cover of the book. He gave them a strained grimace and said, "I'd better go act like I care they're home."
They performed the charm that evening, after Harry had nicked some roast lamb from the Dursleys' table to provide them a meagre dinner. The Fidelius Charm turned out to be not as difficult as Hermione had led herself to believe. One simply had to think about the address, or other permanent feature of the location being hidden, and then say the incantation. As soon as Grimmauld Place was hidden by a new Secret Keeper, Hermione was amused to note that neither Harry or Ron were able to think of the name of the street, or even to describe the inside of the house, though they could recall events that had happened there.
She scribbled the address on a piece of parchment and showed it to both of them before setting the paper on fire. It was as if a flood of memories had spilled into their minds.
"Whoa," Ron said as he shook his head. "That was the strangest thing I've ever felt."
Harry seemed to agree, as he was nodding slowly. "It's like I knew I'd been there, and I could even see Moody handing me the address the first time, but I couldn't even read what was on the parchment in my memory."
Hermione felt pleased. "It worked, then," she said. "So what are we going to do after we get to Godric's...?"
"Hermione," said Harry forcefully. "You're a great friend and a wonderful witch, but I'm not ready to talk about that just yet. I'm really tired; we'll talk tomorrow, okay?" He flipped the switch on the wall, extinguishing the lights in the room. She heard a rustle of clothes in the period where her eyes weren't adjusted to the darkness and by the time she could see anything, Harry was in bed, under his covers, turned on his side, facing away from her.
Ron said nothing, but moved to his own bed, throwing back his duvet. He began to unbutton his trousers when he froze and stared pointedly at her.
"Uh, sorry?" she murmured, and slowly backed around the divider separating her bed from the rest of the room, her cheeks warm as she tried to ignore the sounds of clothes hitting the floor around Ron's bed. It was a long time before she fell asleep. Try as she might, she couldn't control her racing thoughts. Staying at Privet Drive was going to be more complicated than she'd thought.