Note: In order to lend a certain level of credibility to this story, I enlisted the help of my friend Rebecca. She did everything from help me research student visas to finding maps of the Melbourne CBD for me. My thanks go out to her for all her help. The title is from "Homeward Bound":
"If you find it's me you're missing
If you're hoping I'll return
To your thoughts I'll soon be listening
In the road, I'll stop and turn."
FOR RENT. Amiable couple seeks a sub-letter to lease their au pair suite. Private bath and entry, functional kitchen, one bedroom and a small sitting room. Lovely house in Melbourne. Rent negotiable. Contact Wendell or Monica for details at (03) 9624 4263.
The paper wasn't in the best condition. After all, she had been rifling through the classifieds, circling and eliminating options for some time. If her coffee mug had not stuck to that particular part of the page, she might have overlooked the listing altogether. Instead, she had unglued her mug from the offending newsprint and scowled at the flat listing that was partially obscured by a brown ring.
And just like that, seven hours of bureaucratic nonsense and trying her best not to threaten the Muggle housing administration had resulted in success. It had just been completely unintentional. At least, she hoped that these were the people she had come all the way to Australia to find.
Her hand reached into her beaded purse, rummaging around lazily as she took another long drag on the unnecessarily strong brew that the waitress had dumped into her mug on the last pass. Finally, her groping hand located her cellular phone and she extracted it, shaking off the bra that always seemed to wrap itself around any loose object in there before slapping the phone on the counter.
She dialed quickly, and then wedged it between her shoulder and ear as she counted out the money for the tab and tip. She didn't notice the other party had answered until the second time the woman spoke.
She had heard that tone a thousand times and had heard it in her dreams more often than not, but it seemed surreal nonetheless. It was a voice that she had prepared herself never to hear again.
She stammered over the word that she could not possibly utter just yet and took a deep breath to calm herself.
"Monica?" she greeted.
"That's right," the woman said. "Who is this?"
"I saw your advertisement for a flat to rent?" Hermione explained. "Is it still available?"
The laugh was familiar and absolutely natural. "Of course, miss," Monica said genially. "We just placed that advert yesterday."
"Lucky me," she murmured, getting to her feet so she could get her things together. "May I come by and see it sometime?"
"Any time you'd like," Monica assured her. "I just need to put the little one down for her afternoon nap, but she's a fairly sound sleeper these days."
Her stomach dropped to somewhere around her ankles and it became immediately difficult to breathe, much less speak a coherent sentence. Her right hand came up to cover her eyes, but nothing else came. It was as if she had expected something of this sort, but had not expected to have it confirmed.
"You there, miss?" Monica asked solicitously.
"I am," she blurted. "If you'll give me your address, I can be there as soon as possible."
"Lovely," Monica responded more cheerfully. "Do you have a pen handy?"
She scribbled down the address, noting that it was on the other side of the city. It was mid-afternoon, so traffic shouldn't be too bad…
"I'm very near there," she lied. "I'll be there in a few minutes."
A blast of warm air hit her the moment she left HQ's and she blinked against the sunlight, squinting at the landscape to get her bearings.
"Looking for something in particular?" a light voice asked.
She turned to find a young woman her own age, ambling along the same thoroughfare.
"Just the Dudley Street edge of Flagstaff Gardens," Hermione replied in kind. "I'm to meet a friend there."
"You'll want to head north, then," the girl replied. "It's not too far, I'm headed that way myself. Mind if I join you?"
In fact, she did. After all, she had no real desire to have company when she got to the Apparation point, but it was better to agree to company then spend her time wandering around Melbourne's Central Business District in search of an inconspicuous place to wink out of existence.
"Not at all," she said.
They walked for a few minutes in silence, enjoying the mid-winter air. Williams Street cut a fairly straight path through the gardens, but there was a particular stand of trees that she had favored the day before. Hopefully, none of the businessmen who had been picnicking there the day before would be there at this time of day.
"On holiday or a newcomer?"
She had allowed her mind to wander for just a moment and it barely registered the question. Instead of responding properly, she let out a vaguely dotty, "Hmmm?"
"Are you on holis here or intending to stay a while?" her travelling companion reiterated. "You're definitely not from around here."
"Oh," she blurted, coloring slightly. "I'm starting a course in history at Melbourne University come September and have been looking for a decent flat to lease. That's where I'm headed."
"Great," the other said enthusiastically. "I'll be starting there as well. We might just see each other again."
"That would be nice," she granted cautiously. "Are you from here?"
"Born and raised in the suburbs," the other confirmed. "What made you come here?"
"I'm not sure," she confessed. "I'm hoping to find something here, but I'm not sure it's possible."
"Aha," the girl smirked. "Had your heart broken, did you?"
For the first time that day, she was able to smile. It felt slightly unnatural as if she'd forgotten how. "Not exactly."
"Well, I'm Rebecca," the girl introduced herself. "Let me give you my number in case you need a friendly face once you settle in."
The girl reminded her sharply of her mother, since both were the type to form quick friendships and give help without much hesitation. She extracted the same pad of paper where the address was scribbled and jotted down the numbers.
"And you are…"
"Oh, rats," she blurted, checking her watch. "I'm late. I'll ring you!"
Without further comment, she sprinted towards the thick cluster of trees that she had spotted. Fortunately, there was a clear space well out of sight of the people lounging on the green. She focused on the address, and then turned on the spot. Everything went black and there was a moment of intense pressure on every part of her body, but then a few moments later, it was over.
She landed, knees buckling slightly from the impact, at the bend of a street corner. Any casual observer would assume that she had just rounded the corner. Four houses east of that was the one she had been trying to envision ever since she had received word of the Wilkins' safe arrival in Australia.
It was a fairly nondescript house, red brick with a picket fence in front and a small fringe of flowers on the walkway and awnings over the front windows. The white lace curtains were drawn back, but it was difficult to see into the front room.
She pushed open the front gate, closing it behind her before she approached the house. The moment she reached the front porch, the front door creaked open and her legs and heart both stopped working properly.
"You must be..." Monica stopped, a puzzled expression on her face. "I'm sorry, I don't believe I got your name."
She had hoped that something in her appearance would jog the memory. After all, she had grudgingly purchased the blue button-down blouse and black trousers on this woman's recommendation. Her light brown hair, tamed into a ponytail, was pulled back severely from features that Monica should have recognized at first sight.
"Hermione," she said quietly. "I'm Hermione Granger."
Hermione had always been the sensible type, since her "hopelessly mundane" mind predisposed her to look at the world in a patently logical manner. It was not to say that she did not give in to her instinctively sensitive side at times, but she had trained herself to eliminate the more whimsical turns of fancy that her fellow primary school students favored.
Still, there had been a part of her that had hoped to see a flash of recognition in her mother's eyes at the moment that her firstborn stood before her. It was, perhaps, the same hope that had allowed her to follow Harry from the haven of Hogwarts into whatever danger lay beyond. She had hoped that the lengths to which she had gone, the danger that she had taken upon herself and the desperate madness that she had faced in the forest along the Cotswold Way would have been worth all of it in the end.
It was, of course, worth it. After all, it had ensured that Harry would be able to kill Voldemort. It had given her the chance to protect her family , when so many other families had been decimated by mere association with those fighting in the war.
Still, there was a blank friendliness in Miriam Granger's eyes that Hermione had always seen directed at complete strangers. It was the expression, Mum had said, that "lets them like me long enough for me to return the favor." That left a dull ache in her stomach that would be a long time in curing.
"Here we are," Mum was saying as they reached the back of the house. "It's not much, but it'll give you privacy when you want it and we've kept it fairly clean."
That was a bit of an understatement. The room was furnished simply with her familiar bed, the worn old writing desk from which she'd quilled many a letter to Harry or Ron and a single bookshelf that held all of her pre-Hogwarts favorites. Everything from her Grimm's Fairy Tales to the pencil cup on the corner of the desk was in its place, but clean was not the word for it. It appeared as though Miriam and John—Monica and Wendell or Mum and Dad—had set things in order and then closed it off as a shrine to something they could not identify.
Not mine at all.
"Wonderful," she finished inadequately.
"The kitchen has new appliances," Mum added, sweeping further down the hall without a second glance at the remnants of Hermione's life, "and the loo has a full bath. I think you would be quite comfortable here."
"What do you and your husband do?" Hermione asked.
Mum flashed her a more genuine smile. "Wendell is a professor at the School of Dental Science and I…well, Lord knows I haven't had much time since Emilia came along."
It was the first time she had heard the name of the sister she might have never known. She had not even asked to see her, since it would have been a terribly strange thing for a perfect stranger to request.
The name, however, was the first suggestion that they had not forgotten everything. She had learned the story of A Winter's Tale as a child as others might learn the story of Cinderella simply because it featured a woman with her own name. She had named her lone doll Emilia for the trustworthy and beautiful maid who attended on her.
"And you?" Mum prompted. "I imagine you must have something of interest here to have come all the way from England."
"University," Hermione supplied. "I'll be starting at Melbourne University in September."
"I thought you seemed keen," Mum lauded as if she remembered that she should be a proud parent. "And your parents are supporting you?"
"No, ma'am," she said honestly. "I'm Commonwealth-supported."
"Well," Mum replied, "if you decide to take the flat, we'll have to have you tell us all about it."
"I'd like to," Hermione answered, "if that's all right."
"Certainly, love," Mum said, clapping her on the shoulder. "If you'd like, I'm sure Wendell would be willing to retrieve you and as many of your trappings as can fit in our car on his way home. Where are you staying?"
"The Radisson on Flagstaff Gardens," Hermione supplied. "Let me give you my number."
"I'll have him give you a call once he's getting close," Mum promised. "Shall we say to be ready at 6:00 so you'll be here in plenty of time for dinner?"
"Yes, thank you."
Without further comment and by common consensus, they returned to the front door via the sitting room.
"You're all right taking the Met?" Mum asked.
"Quite all right," Hermione insisted—there was no reason to mention that the Met was the hopelessly slow way to get about. "Tonight at six?"
"Right," Mum beamed. "Until then."
It wasn't until she reached the sidewalk once more that she realized that she had been shaking for the duration of the visit.
She barely remembered Apparating this time, but since there were no anti-Apparition wards on the Muggle hotel, she did so directly into her room. Fortunately, housekeeping had already done its rounds and there was no chance of her landing on top of an unsuspecting maid.
She kicked off her trainers immediately and pulled the hair tie free before setting her bag on the bed and extracting the contents. The first item was a set of luggage that was returned to its full size with a simple Engorgio. Her clothing came next, Banished to the open suitcases with a few flicks of the wand. Last of all, she removed a ham sandwich, a packet of crisps and a bottle of water before retrieving her phone once more.
There were few Muggle gadgets that Ron had agreed to, but once he had realized that Harry and Hermione would be using a communications method much more quick and sanitary than owls to communicate while they were on different continents, he had agreed to take a few lessons in phone usage from Harry.
Still, it was relatively early in the day in London. They would still be in the flat in Diagon Alley that they shared with George. Ron would be snoring loudly at the wall after drafting his report on the Quidditch League for the Prophet. Harry would be up, of course, since he had never quite broken the habit of rising with the sun even if he had crashed onto his mattress three hours before.
She had not had the time to call since arriving, but since Harry's 'graduation present' of a thousand Galleons had funded this trip, he and Ron had the right to know that those Galleons were being put to good use. She selected his number instead and waited patiently for the call to connect.
"Hermione," Harry greeted cheerfully. "I was hoping you'd call."
"You're missing me, then?" she teased.
"Well," he countered, "Ron hadn't heard from you since you left Heathrow and was half-convinced that you'd run afoul of some Australian Death Eaters."
There was a note of cautious humor in his voice, as there always was when they spoke of the war in casual conversation. She let him hear her laugh, though, and when he spoke again, his good mood seemed to have increased.
"I'd tell him myself that I'm fine if he weren't dreaming of the Quidditch World Cup," she reminded him.
"You're all right, then?" Harry prompted.
"I am," she promised. "I spent most of yesterday trying to locate my family, only to find that they needed a tenant in Melbourne today. Wendell will be retrieving me in about three hours."
There was a slight hesitation before he spoke again and she knew he had caught the meaning behind her use of the name Wendell.
"They didn't recognize you."
"Mum didn't," she confirmed. "I don't know if Dad will be the same, but I have the feeling I performed the charm too well for my own good."
He made a slightly choked noise as if he were trying to sympathize with her without mentioning that she always did charms too well for her own good. A moment later, he let out a slight sigh.
"They'll remember," he insisted. "You're their daughter…"
"And they already have another," she informed him.
There was another stunned silence. She plunged on without waiting for a proper answer.
"I haven't seen them in a year," she continued, "and Emilia is nearly six months old. Mum must have already been pregnant when I did the charm and she kept asking for me to come home for a visit. She must have known and wanted to tell me through something more personal than owl post. Instead, when I went home, I spent a day as her daughter and then made her forget it all."
These were the words that she had been wanting to spill since the moment that her mother had mentioned "the little one," and the release of tension that accompanied soul-baring finally came. She had not meant to blurt out the sorry tale so early in the conversation, but Harry was well-accustomed to the sorts of small sadnesses that followed them all around.
"I'm sorry," he said genuinely, "but you did the right thing. Your Mum and Dad and Emilia are alive because of you. Just because it will take some time for them to remember that much does not make it any less true."
She abruptly felt a wave of homesickness, but was not sure to whom it was directed. "I hope so," she murmured.
"It hasn't been even one day yet," Harry insisted. "Give them, and yourself, some time."
Hermione's hand clenched briefly and then flattened on her thigh, releasing the tension that had been building in her shoulder. "Thank you," she said simply. "You'll give my love to Ron, won't you?"
"As long as you don't ask me to pass a kiss on," Harry rejoined with a laugh. "He watched the Cannons get flattened by Oliver Wood last night and could use some good cheer."
"Be sure and give it to him, then," she persisted. "Are you keeping well?"
"I am," he assured her. "McGonagall has been owling daily to find out when I'm sending in my lesson plans for the year, but I reckon she just misses me. She's always had a bit of a soft spot for me, after all."
"I think she'll have more of one once you prove one thing," Hermione postulated.
"That the Defense Against the Dark Arts post curse ended with Voldemort?" Harry guessed.
"Precisely," she confirmed. "It's the job you've been training for since you formed the DA and you will be an excellent Professor, but if you get murdered in the line of duty, don't come running to me."
It was the sort of macabre humor that they had developed to cope with the aftermath of tragedy. It was much easier to joke about death now that they were no longer expecting to meet it face to face, but it still took some getting used to.
"I won't," Harry swore humorlessly. "Besides, after surviving the Killing Curse twice, I doubt it would be easy to break the habit."
He had a point there, but it didn't keep her from worrying. She supposed it was a pattern that she would never quite outgrow.
"I'll let you get to work, then," she suggested. "I miss you both terribly."
"Me, too," Harry responded earnestly. "We'd like to see you come home to us, but I'd rather you found your way home first."