Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all its affiliates belong to JK Rowling, Scholastic, and WB. Additionally, the references to Andromache come from Racine's play, Andromache, and the line "Do As Thou Shalt" comes from Francois Rabelais's The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel. I'm not making any money off of this story. All of my runic information can be found here: wwwdotemmaempiredotnet/archives/cmsdotendottextbooks_runesdothtml (and of course, replace "dot" with a period). Finally: While the Order of the Phoenix movie pictures Sirius's Animagus form as an Irish Wolfhound, I took some liberties and made it a Belgian sheep dog.
This story was written as part of the Hermione Big Bang on LiveJournal. My sincerest thanks go to the hardworking Hermionemods, my fellow Bangers and their support on the Bangers LJ community, my lovely artists, Pennswoods and Selene2 for being so incredibly talented where I fail, and most of all, to my beta, lilmisblack, who suffered through the rough draft with astounding patience and brilliance. The accompanying artwork can be followed back through this link: (again, replacing "dot" with the appropriate punctuation) hermionedotmagical-worldsdotus/viewstorydotphp?sid=22&index=1
PART ONE: The Present
1. An interlude in Hogsmeade
It had started out as a nasty day that wore well on into a nasty afternoon. Now entering an equally horrendous evening, the darkness had come early for summertime. The candles in Hogsmeade had been charmed to light, and stay lit, in the mid-afternoon. They served as a beacon for those foolish enough to force their way through the torrential rain and muddy, wet streets of the wizarding town. The rain itself brought with it a hint of the fall to come, the chilly breeze adding insult to injury.
A hooded figure in a corner of the Hog's Head pub watched the one or two regulars forcing their way through the front door to drip and track mud through the room. Knowing Aberforth, the mud would dry to dirt, get shifted around a bit with a broom, and eventually be forced into a corner somewhere and forgotten. The Hog's Head would be remembered for its characters, not for its cleanliness.
The door to the pub slammed open and a dripping, cloaked individual stumbled in from the sideways downpour. It paused to gaze around the bar as if looking for somebody, before hesitantly making its way to a dark corner where the original hooded person sat. With a glance to the rest of the clientele, people familiar with how the Hog's Head worked and, therefore, not paying attention beyond their own drinks, the newer figure pulled out a chair and hurriedly sat down.
"Is that you?" it asked in a feminine voice, still dripping water onto the floor.
The first made a hurried glance around and pulled out a wand. The faint shimmer of a magical barrier was the only hint that a spell had been cast and that, too, disappeared quickly. After a moment's hesitation, the first pointed the wand at the dripping woman and the water was siphoned off her cloak. "If it weren't me, you certainly would have gotten my attention from your introduction. It's safe to talk now, by the way," she muttered, lowering the wand and shaking off her hood.
Hermione Granger blinked a few times to allow her eyes to adjust to the new addition of light. "I've been sitting here for over half the afternoon. I didn't want to garner any attention I didn't need; it's bad enough being Harry Potter's ex-best friend, but anybody out in this weather's bound to get a few odd looks."
The second figure followed suit and lowered her hood as well. Hermione cringed for a moment before schooling her features into a naturally calm look. Padma grinned back ruefully. "I'm sorry. I sometimes forget that you there when they found her. Or, at least, what there was left to find," Padma admitted.
Hermione shrugged, looking off to the side. "Rationally, I know you aren't her, but I spent six years sharing a dorm with Parvati and I can't help it. It's uncomfortable enough seeing Lavender, who was just a friend, let alone her twin."
"I understand. Whenever you see either of us, it's a reminder of what Greyback did to her. It's been two years since the Final Battle but I still have nightmares, too, you know," Padma replied. Hermione looked back up from where she'd been staring fixedly at a knot in the table's surface and noted that Padma's face was not unkind.
"I think we all have nightmares," Hermione affirmed with a haunted tone and meeting her counterpart's eyes. "We'll always have nightmares, but it doesn't have to end that way." She shifted nervously in her chair before fixing Padma with an excited look. "Do you have it with you?" Hermione asked, bringing the conversation back into focus and not bothering to mask her eagerness.
Padma jumped at the excitement in Hermione's voice but quickly recovered. She reached into a pocket of her cloak and procured a vial and a rumpled piece of parchment. "Yes, I have it with me. It took me two months of refinery—even after the time you spent on it yourself—and almost destroyed half my flat. If I hadn't set up precautionary shields beforehand, I would have lost everything." She plunked the vial on the top of the table where it caught what little light there was in the bar and gave off an eerie, green shadow.
Hermione eagerly reached for the parchment, ripping it out of Padma's hand. Her eyes skimmed the document critically and Padma became edgy, nervously drumming her fingers against the tabletop. "I did what I could," she said, interrupting the silence. After a pregnant moment, Hermione looked up from the sheet of parchment to give Padma her full attention. "I couldn't work past the Boomslang skin, though. That's what almost took out my flat. If I had more time, at least six months, I might be able to find an alternative to replace it, one that's easier to obtain, but you told me you needed the potion right away."
Hermione sighed, folding up the document and sliding it into her own cloak. "I'll probably be able to work through getting more skin from where I'll be. And I wish I had the extra time to give you, but the longer I wait to act, the easier it'll be for somebody to put the pieces together. Kingsley's almost figured it out but I think he agrees with what I'm going to do." She paused for a moment and made a mental cross out. "No, not 'agree,' per se, but he won't try to stop me. He understands why I have to go through with this and I think it's understood that any different outcome couldn't be too much worse. I sometimes wonder if so many people would have died had You-Know-Who won the war. Would we be living in a world this bad?"
Padma's brows furrowed and she shot Hermione a look that the brunette couldn't translate. "There's a reason I was put into Ravenclaw," she began. "We're smart, and we like to work out the puzzles. I know you didn't ask for help on the potion because you wanted easy hair management, especially not hair exceedingly similar to Andromeda Tonks's, as per your request. Just like I know there was no possible way you could have attended two classes at once our third year at Hogwarts. If the two happen to correlate, you need to be extremely careful. Time paradoxes can be very dangerous, Hermione. Even you aren't smart enough to predict the future." She finished this with a slight grin. "As I recall, you don't even believe in divination."
Hermione huffed and reached out for the potion, trying to change the topic. "What do I need to know about this?" she asked, twirling the green vial between her fingers. She'd had her own doubts regarding her planned course of action; she did not need Padma adding to them.
"Pour a few drops into your shampoo. The more you pour, the darker your hair will become, until about the fifth drop, which will leave your hair black. It needs to be used every twenty-four hours, though, because your hair has a life of its own." Padma paused and thought for a second. "After twenty-four hours, the dye may begin to run from your hair with any moisture, and the curls will start to frizz out. As for your other 'beauty enhancements,' you already know the charms to alter your skin pigment, don't you?" Hermione nodded back at her. "And unfortunately, I couldn't work out anything that would alter your eyes but wouldn't end with a badly placed 'Finite Incantatem.' You gave me two months to adjust something that could take years to perfect."
Hermione shrugged. "If I had another two years to play with it, believe me, I would've let you change and alter as much as I could. But again, time is of the essence." 'Mostly because I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to keep the resolve to go through with this,' she added silently to herself. "How long does the potion take to brew?"
This time, Padma's resulting, dazzling smile reminded Hermione why the Patil sisters had been considered two of the most beautiful girls in their year. "That was one thing I did perfect and I'm quite happy with the outcome," Padma told her. "Normally, the Polyjuice Potion takes a moon cycle to brew, but this potion isn't a Polyjuice. You didn't want to be somebody else in particular; you just wanted to be anybody else. I was able to cut brewing time down to a week. In fact, if you need to speed up the process, you can brew the potion in two days, but the effects won't be as great. Your hair won't curl as much, or the sun might give it a reddish sheen. Unless somebody is looking very hard, they won't notice too much of a difference, just that you haven't had the time to care for your self-image or something."
Hermione returned Padma's grin warily. "You did an excellent job on the potion, then. I'm horrendous with anything beauty-image related; years of focusing on more important things finally caught up with me, I guess. And I did not want to end up as a cat again." She paused, pondering a new question. "So, with black ringlets, blue eyes, and pale skin, do you think you'd recognize me?" she asked innocently.
Padma shot a sidelong look at her. "I don't know what you're going to do to change your eye colour, but with a few alterations and different, memorable hair, you'll find that people won't even consider equating Hermione Granger with this other individual. I doubt even your own mother would recognize you."
This time, Hermione visibly flinched at Padma's words. It took a second for the other girl to realize what she'd said, but upon reflection of Hermione's expression, Padma gasped in horror. "That was in really bad taste. I'd… I'd forgotten," she stammered. "They reported it in the Prophet a few months ago. I'm so, so sorry, Hermione."
Hermione was silent for several moments, trying to block out the day that the Ministry owl returned her parents' wedding bands to her. "I can take care of my eyes through Muggle methods," Hermione pointedly stated, ignoring the awkward tension in the air. "Push comes to shove, I will transfigure them. It'll be more troublesome by far, but it'll be worth it." They both pretended that the faint bit of water gathering at the corner of Hermione's eyes was from the amount of dust in the bar.
"I…" Padma trailed off, lost for words. A moment of understood silence passed through them; both girls had alluded to deceased family members, casualties of the war that rocked the wizarding world, and both understood the other's pain.
Hermione was the first to speak up again. "I need to be leaving," she stated, clearing her throat and wiping any trace of water from her face. "Andromeda has been excellent to me, but she'll be wanting a break. It's not easy taking care of Teddy and Ron at the same time." She stood up and made to leave.
Padma took this as a cue and stood up as well. "How is Ron doing these days?" she asked tentatively.
Hermione paused for a moment. "He's doing… well. We've been relearning a few basic things, like using a fork, but I think it might be a bit too much for him. He keeps getting frustrated with the hand-eye coordination," she replied. Pulling up her hood again, she motioned for Padma to do the same.
With a whisk of her wand, the privacy shields around the table fell and both girls were assaulted by the clinks and mutterings around the bar. Hermione dropped a few sickles onto the table to thank Aberforth for the privacy and headed to the door, Padma trailing behind. Taking a moment of mental bracing, Hermione flung open the door to once again face the weather when a hand on her arm stopped her. She turned back to face a reluctant Padma. "I just want to tell you… good luck," the other girl said. "Whatever happens, we'll understand that you did what you could. And if you can't do it, then it's just impossible to achieve."
Hermione smiled wryly before remembering that the other girl could not see it from underneath her cloak's hood. "Nothing's impossible, not with the right amount of determination. There was a reason they put me in Gryffindor instead of Ravenclaw; I'm excruciatingly stubborn when it comes to achievement." With that, she bid her leave from Padma and took off into the pouring rain, slipping and sliding in the dark and the mud until she reached the Apparation point. There was a slight "Pop," and then she was gone.
2. An interlude in history
"Phineas Nigellus Black."
"Married Ursula Flint. They had five children: Sirius, Phineas, Cygnus, Belvina, and Arcturus. Phineas was later disowned for supporting Muggle rights."
"Married Violette Bulstrode and had four children: Pollux, Cassiopeia, Marius, and Dorea. Marius was disowned for being a Squib."
"Went to live with his Great-Aunt Isla, who had been disowned two generations before for marrying a Muggle. In his mid-twenties, he was introduced to Ariadne Gamp, another cast-off Squib, and they had two children: Isla and Robert. Both were born without magic, which really goes to show a few things about inter-generational breeding if you ask me."
"Hermione. Please spare me the lecture."
"But Ariadne was practically his cousin! Marius's Uncle, Sirius, married Hesper Gamp, and Ariadne was her niece! I mean, it has nothing to do with you, Andromeda, but you would've thought that somebody along the way would stop to think that inbreeding might be one of the reasons behind the increasing amount of Squib-births. In fact, I once considered doing a research project on it over the summer. Mr. Weasley convinced me that it probably wasn't the best idea, though. He said that pure-blood fanatics like the Malfoys hated me already, so I didn't need to add fuel to the fire when there were other things for me to focus my attention on."
"Isla and Robert Black, Hermione." The wariness in Andromeda Tonks's shone through at this comment. It was the voice of a mentor whose over-enthusiastic student would drive any other man to drink. Having lived and tutored Hermione for over two years now, though, she was familiar with Hermione's personality and knew how to bring a conversation back into focus.
"Yes, yes. Well, Isla ended up marrying a Muggle she met in university and they both became active members in UN peacekeeping actions. Robert Black, however, fell in love with a witch when visiting France. Geneviève, albeit having a family history that would have done any Black proud, was rumoured to have had a bit of veela in her, which, in retrospect, was probably the only reason she got away with marrying a Squib. When in doubt, blame 'animal attraction' and the rest of the family just nods in sympathy."
Hermione came to a temporary halt in the middle of her dialogue, stopping long enough to take a breath before continuing. "Anyway, Robert and Geneviève eventually settled in a southern French province after the war. She later came into a hefty inheritance, including a title and several million Galleons, which they later deposited into Gringotts for safekeeping. They were—stupidly, might I add; how utterly oblivious to the state of the world can one be?—visiting her distant relatives in Vietnam in 1965 when the United States initiated Operation Starlite. Robert and Geneviève never returned to France alive. Their considerable funds were left in the care of Isla the Younger's family, which was rather daft when you think about it."
She paused to scoff at the notion, giving Andromeda enough of a warning to brace herself for more of Hermione's personal commentary. "What's a Squib going to do with several million Galleons? And that's if Gringotts would hand the money over to a Muggle in the first place, which I highly doubt, mostly because that money would never see their bank again."
"Hermione, if I wanted your opinion on how ridiculous my family history is, I'd ask you to write a book on it. Would you please continue?"
"Fine. Well, Robert and Geneviève left behind no child that British records are aware of. However, because Robert and his wife settled in France, and because the British Ministry of Magic fails to recognize Squibs for magical registry, whether or not they actually had children is unknown. Well, except for me. I was able to find some sentimental members of Geneviève's family and speak to them."
Hermione gave her mentor a wicked grin, making the elder woman groan inwardly. "Then, I was also able to hunt down a member of Isla's family. They were raised as Muggles and were, eventually, the sole inheritors of Marius and Ariadne's fortune, as well as Robert and Genevieve's. Including bank notices from Gringotts, mentioning a large inheritance. They passed off the bank notice as an odd quirk of sentimental value and shoved it in a box in the attic."
Andromeda Black cast a wary eye on her friend and pupil. "Why do I have the feeling I'm not going to like where this story is heading?" she asked, fighting the urge to rub the bridge of her nose.
"Well, it does get a little fishy here, and I'm a little ashamed at it myself," Hermione admitted reluctantly. "But I need to tell you so I can get it off my chest. Back when I was completing research on your family, I must've spent ages digging through genealogy books in maybe ten different libraries in three different countries before I finally tracked down Isla's living family. I posed as a student writing a thesis on the innovations of the printing press through the 20th century and they let me buy the 'unique' document from them for £100."
Andromeda made a squeak from her chair and cast Hermione a disapproving glare. "I know, it sounds like I stole a bushel of money from the ignorant. But please understand that Gringotts would never, ever convert that entire bank account into pounds," Hermione added quickly, her guilt making the statement come out in a rush. "The goblins would find some way to wheedle out the money and the Muggles wouldn't be able to do a thing about it. I'll be surprised if they don't put up a fight about having to reopen the vault after only a few years, let alone forty."
"It still sounds like you conned an awful lot of money off of Muggles, Hermione," Androma reprimaned, gazing over to where Hermione sat in her favourite armchair opposite a polished coffee table in the sitting room. As usual, the younger girl sat tucked in a ball, legs folded up underneath her and arms folded across her chest. On the rare occasions when Hermione wasn't busy planning her future or taking care of the others who lived in the house, she could be found in that chair with a worn copy of Hogwarts: A History levitating in the air in front of her. It was the designated Hermione-Spot.
Momentarily lost in thought, Andromeda's eyes swept from where Hermione curled up in her chair, to the rosy fire in the fireplace. It kept the oncoming fall chill at bay and provided a friendlier atmosphere for the underlying tension in the room. Her eyes moved to trail across the mantlepiece and she tried her best to ignore the happy family photos waving out to her. Hermione, Teddy, and to some extent, Ron, were all the family she had left now.
"If it makes you feel any better, the wills left the money to the 'next of kin.' Because the Muggles can't use the money, it'll technically get returned to the next of kin. It'll be deposited into the Black accounts when I leave. That £100 is the most the Muggles would ever get from the Gringotts notice," Hermione replied, starting to look a bit peevish. "I need some way to prove that I'm related to the Blacks. The goblins—and the Ministry—won't be able to do any sort of inheritance checks because of their own ignorance and ethnocentricism. My appearance alone isn't going to cut it, but an official, goblin-made notice that says I have rights to the vault, and no family members with a clue to contest it, will help a lot."
Hermione fiddled with the loose strands of an afghan that was thrown over the arm of her chair. Andromeda had not been happy with Hermione's plan from the start. One of the biggest rules about time travel was not to change things, and for multiple reasons. Time paradoxes, for one, were a pain. Then, there was always the risk of accidentally changing time for the worse. Hermione had not jumped into her plans immediately. Over two years had passed since You-Know-Who had been killed and nothing had changed. Many had died—too many—and the wizarding world was rapidly falling into a decline. Of the Order, only a handful had survived the war, mental condition withstanding.
Matters then worsened. Not enough people had lived through the years of war to build up the wizarding world to the height it had been before You-Know-Who's return. The mass purging of Muggleborns and half-bloods had all but ruined the wizarding world's economy. Then, the July following the end of the war, the Muggle economy was hit with a financial crisis that spread around the world. While society was able to survive, the financially unstable wizarding world in Britain, already in shambles, was put to test even further: Muggles had discovered the wizarding world. They found out that many of the previous years' 'natural disasters' were not-so-natural, and they'd become exceedingly upset. They were now angry and looking for retribution and blood. The wizarding world had become their scapegoat.
Harry would have been able to bring their society out of this hole. Hermione tucked her arms even closer into her body as she let the dismal thoughts carry her away from the conversation at hand. Harry Potter was The Boy Who'd Saved Them All. He had been willing to give up every aspect of his life since birth and the final sacrifice had been just that—final. Like Lily, he had voluntarily welcomed death to protect the ones he loved. Many of Hermione's nightmares were plagued by visions of Hagrid carrying the limp, bloody body back to Hogwarts, nightmares that woke her up with tears running down her face and unable to make a sound.
Many more had died in the battle that pursued. Neville had been able to stab Nagini with Gryffindor's sword, but found his end through Bellatrix Lestrange. Ginny, too, had been murdered by the woman before Bellatrix met Molly Weasley's wrath; both witches had ended up taking out the other. Hermione had watched in horror as, one by one, her friends fell. Then, in the aftermath, she had watched the wizarding world further rip itself apart. It was easier to count the living now instead of the dead.
And Ron. Sweet, lovable Ron. Jealous Ron, who ended up proving his Gryffindor worth by coming back, who proved his brilliance by opening up the Chamber of Secrets, and who finally listened to a damned word she'd ever said when he'd asked about the house elves that fateful night. Daft, stupid, idiotic Ron, who decided he'd be the one to avenge Harry's death by bringing on You-Know-Who's demise. Poor Ron, who, upon raising his wand to You-Know-Who, met his match in the Dark Lord. You-Know-Who was killed by the same love that had been his end sixteen years prior and Ron…
You-Know-Who was more clever than Snape when it came to inventing new and unique spells. For a man with only a small portion of his soul left, he definitely understood how the human psyche worked and used that for his advantage. You-Know-Who might have sneered upon the power of love, but he understood that others put great faith into the emotion. Killing a person would lead to a few months of grief before moving on. Ruining a person, but keeping him or her alive, though, could turn what would be several months of grief into an entire lifetime of bitter agony.
Hermione never found out exactly what curse You-Know-Who had used on Ron, but she figured that it was some sort of variant on the Confundus Charm. With the flick of a wand, Ron was rendered an invalid. Much like Neville's parents', his mind had been destroyed. Unlike them, though, he would have small moments of clarity and recognition before reverting back to simple-mindedness. He too had nightmares about the final battle, yet lacked the mental prowess to work through them like Hermione could.
Hermione would be leaving all this behind to fix things for the better.
Kingsley, Andromeda, and Padma weren't the only ones to guess at what Hermione was about to attempt. It had all started when, following the end of the war, an elderly lawyer stopped by for a quick visit. Much to her surprise, Hermione had found that that she'd been written into Professor McGonagall's will. The lawyer had handed Hermione an oak box the size of her fist and was on his way just as quickly as he had come. Inside the box, though, Hermione had found, written on a folded-up piece of parchment, the words "Do As Thou Shalt." Sitting on a pillow of crushed, purple velvet was the Time-Turner she had used her third year at Hogwarts.
For several minutes Hermione had sat there, holding the chain of the Turner in one hand and the note in the other. However, as soon as she'd gotten over her amazement, she'd begun to plan.
In the two years following the war, Hermione had had plenty of time to plot and experiment in order to use the artefact as she saw fit. The Department of Mysteries would have been quick to recruit her if they'd found out that it had only taken Hermione a year and a half to alter the Turner so she could use it to travel for more than just a few hours at a time. An addition of winding gears, much like the individual numbers mechanisms on simple Muggle padlocks, allowed Hermione to adjust time settings on the Turner to something a little more specific than, "Two turns, and I can be in Muggle Studies, right?" With a twist, a tap from her wand, and a muttered incantation, Hermione could travel back years.
More importantly, she could travel back far enough to break the biggest rule of time travel by altering the past. Hermione fully intended to make sure that You-Know-Who did not live long enough to see Halloween, 1981. If she had to break every rule in the book, she would, if only to guarantee the wizarding world's survival. Even the unknown couldn't be worse than the shadow of humanity wizarding Britain had become.
Now, Hermione had all the tools she needed to travel back to July of 1976 just before the initiation of the first war. With several documents Kingsley had been able to provide, the bank notice she'd gotten from Isla's family, the potions and spells Padma had provided, and Andromeda's knowledge, Hermione would be able to play the role of a missing Black heiress. She'd establish her presence amongst wizarding society long enough for rumours to spread before contacting "Aunt" Walburga about reconnecting with her family. Eventually, she would be in the thick of things, so to speak, in hopes that being visible on the forefront allowed her to be invisible from behind enemy lines. In playing the part of a perfect, pure-blood princess, she hoped that she would avoid detection from her enemies, thus performing her duties without inconvenient questions asked.
And she planned to start as soon as she could work up the courage to do so.
3. An interlude in the bathroom
Andromeda knocked on the bathroom door for the third time in five minutes. "Hermione?" she called through the white door as she jiggled the handle. "Fretting about how it looks isn't doing anything for my nerves. At least lower the wards and let me help you." She futilely banged against the door and attempted to tug on the handle again.
It was another minute or so before she finally got a response. "It doesn't feel right," said the muffled whine through the door.
"I should hope not," Andromeda replied dryly. "The thought that you might have curls that actually behave is alarming. Please lower the wards on my bathroom."
There was another few moments pause before Andromeda felt the electricity of the ward fizzle out and heard the click of the lock slip back. She quickly pushed the door open before Hermione had a chance to change her mind.
Amidst a pile of crumpled toilet paper squares, a girl with red, puffy eyes sat cross-legged on the floor in Hermione's pyjamas and Hermione's bunny slippers… yet she wasn't quite Hermione. She had a similar build to the girl Andromeda knew, and certainly had the same facial features, but instead of the summer tan, wild, brown hair, and eyes of a matching colour, this girl looked as if she had fought a losing battle with raven ringlets that brought out the blue of her eyes and the paleness of her skin. The girl sniffled a couple of times and dragged the back of her hand across her cheeks.
"It's stupid. I just…" she sniffled again and blew her nose into another toilet paper square. Andromeda noted that she at least still sounded like Hermione. "I've worked the past two bloody years on this project. I've dedicated all my time to studying and researching and trying to come up with a way to make this all better. I was fine, and strong, and I knew I could do this, and not once did I cry over how tired I was or how hard the work seemed or how impossible the whole situation seemed to be." She took a pause. "Well, not cry-cry. But now, here I am, bawling over this stupid, perfect hair." She emphasized the last three words by angrily ripping at the curls on her head.
Most definitely Hermione, then. Andromeda mentally congratulated Padma on her potions brewing skills and made a note to visit the girl for her own reasons. She knelt down on the floor next to Hermione and gave her a hug. "The Blacks have a history of stupid, perfect hair," she told her, cradling Hermione in her arms. "You've seen those pictures of Sirius when he was younger. You know Narcissa is my sister. Even Dora had fantastic hair when it wasn't purple. To be a Black, you have to look the part. And right now, you look like an aristocratic Black heiress."
"I miss my brown nest," Hermione muttered, another tear slipping down her face. "I miss my brown nest and my brown eyes and—and anybody with skin this pale deserves skin cancer." She scrubbed at her cheeks, wiping off the tears and trying to control herself. "But Hermione Granger is known for her infamous hair and eyes, and the Blacks are infamous for having transparent skin, so matters can't be helped. And they say that people never remember the face behind the hair. If I don't have Hermione hair," she sniffled a bit at the thought, "then chances of being recognized as Hermione when I return are slim to none."
Andromeda wisely remained silent as Hermione worked through grieving mechanisms over her hair. After another few minutes of silently composing herself, Hermione abruptly stood and walked over to the sink. She splashed a bit of water on her face from the tap and forced herself to gaze back at the person in the mirror. "You, Andromache Black, do not scare me. You could very well end up being everything I despise about the elitist pure-bloods I've met in the past, but I won't let your stupid hair or your unseemly skin won't keep me from reaching my goal."
"You've decided on a name?" Andromeda asked.
Hermione nodded and faced the elder woman with an eerie blue gaze. "It seems appropriate, doesn't it? In the French play, Andromache is made the prisoner of war and is forced to choose between her past and her future while struggling with her morals. She's also Hermione's foil character; Andromache has the one thing that Hermione wants. I think it's appropriate to play the foil to Hermione in the past, don't you?"
Andromeda fixed Hermione's—Andromache's—eyes with a look of her own. "In Racine's play, Hermione's character ends up dying for the one thing that Andromache has, yet can't obtain herself," she warned.
Hermione was the first to look away. "I know," she muttered, gazing off into the hallway. "If it takes dying to make the play end, don't think I won't do it." She met Andromeda's eyes again, steeling up her Gryffindor courage. "There's nearly nothing I wouldn't do to keep my friends from dying."
"Those are some very strong words."
"I know. Just like I know I can live up to them. I've got to live up to them."
4) An interlude in the night
This time, it wasn't her own nightmares of the final battle that woke her up in the middle of the night, but the sobbing that came from the other side of the room. Hermione darted out of bed, vaulted over the random articles on the floor, and approached the other bed with trepidation. The covers were pulled over a shaking lump in the middle of the mattress, and Hermione's heart went out for the figure underneath.
"Ron. Ron, it's all right. You're safe, in your own bed, and I'm here for you, Hermione's here for you," she soothed. She perched on the edge of the mattress, careful not to make any sudden movements that might frighten him. "Can you come out from under there and talk to me? It's hard talking to a blanket," she coaxed.
There was some shuffling from under the comforter and two eyes peaked out from under the edge. "You aren't Hermione," he accused with confusion. His head darted back under the blankets.
"What?" she asked, incredulous. "Of course I'm Hermione. You've known me for ages now! Do you remember riding on the train together, and I was helping Neville look for his toad?"
"What's a toad?" came the muffled question.
She fought down her irritation. "It's like a frog, but different. Do you remember the frog we found out by the pond? You tried to catch it and got all muddy and thought it was funny when Andromeda got angry because you left footprints on her floor. Well, frogs are related to toads." 'I think,' she added to herself. She'd spent more of time her preparing the two species for potions than looking up their evolutional backgrounds.
"Oh," he responded. "I remember doing that, and I remember Hermione, too. You aren't her," came the muffled accusation. "You don't have Hermione's hair."
Her hands flew up to her hair and she groaned. Padma's potion was still creating a monstrosity on her head and, even after several hours of restless sleep, the curls were still nowhere near as bad as her normal bush was. She would have to try a different approach.
"That was just somebody playing a trick on me, Ron. It'll be gone by the time we wake up in the morning. I swear," she told him.
"Was it the twins?" he wanted to know. "They're always playing tricks on people."
"I…" she trailed. Ron's half-lucid moments were sometimes worse than the ones where he'd forgotten everything. Having to tell him, over and over, that his family was dead only reopened the wounds for her. It also brought back her nightmares, remembering how each individual died with all-too-keen detail. "No. Andromeda thought she'd play a trick on me. Anyway, would anybody but Hermione Granger know that you want to play Quidditch for the Cannons? Or that your favourite colour is maroon?" she asked.
"They might," he responded, slowly lowering the covers again. He leaned forward cautiously, their eyes meeting. Inside, a small part of Hermione bawled for the Ron she had loved and was murdered by You-Know-Who during the final battle.
She was surprised when he suddenly smiled. "You don't look like Hermione, but you're her on the inside, aren't you? Like you're playing pretend at being Andromeda." He melted into her embrace and Hermione desperately cradled his head to her chest.
"Do you want to talk about your dream?" she wanted to know while stroking his hair.
"I don't remember. I just remember being really scared. You were screaming and I couldn't get to you to make it stop. It just kept going and I couldn't do anything," he responded, muffled into her chest.
"I'm not screaming now. I'm fine and I'm here with you and we're both safe," she told him.
They remained like this for several moments and Ron's breathing evened out. Hermione thought he might have fallen back asleep when he spoke up. "Mum's not going to like that you're in my room, Hermione."
His statement was akin to pouring a bucket of ice water down her back. Molly Weasley had been dead for two years now, something that Hermione mourned almost as much as she did her own parents' death. "Your mum…" she paused, trying to speak without breaking up, "She isn't here right now, Ron. Your mum's gone away and she left Andromeda and me to take care of you. I promised her that I'd watch over you always."
"My Mum's dead, isn't she?"
Ron looked up at her with clear eyes. "That's okay, Hermione. You don't have to keep on pretending that everything's okay. I know it's not and I know it hurts you." Hermione fought to choke back a sob. Ron's moments of clear lucidity were the worst out of all of them.
"Harry. He's dead too." Hermione could only nod. "It's probably better that way. He'd blame himself for all of this, I just know it. A lot of people are dead, aren't they?"
Hermione nodded again, a tear slowly rolling down her cheek.
"What about your parents? Are they okay?"
"They…" Hermione's brain flitted back to a moment, several months ago.
She had been sitting at the breakfast table, helping Ron eat his oatmeal while Andromeda fussed over Teddy and a booster seat. There had been a tapping on the window that alerted her of the post's arrival and she stood up to retrieve it. Frankly, she considered it amazing that the Daily Prophet was able to continue, what with the wizarding world spread so thin. Sometimes, she reckoned, journalists like Rita Skeeter were harder to wipe out than cockroaches.
"Anything new? Or just more moaning and despair?" Andromeda had asked, fighting over a cup of yoghurt.
Hermione had barely heard the other woman over her utter amazement. 'Rioting Outside the Ministry of Magic Spreads Through London, Taking Wizards and Muggles Alike,' read the title. A picture on the front had shown a gaping crater, still smoking and full of rubble, where the Ministry had once stood.
"The Ministry has fallen," Hermione had whispered.
Before Andromeda could question her, a second owl had flown into the kitchen, this time brandishing a letter for Hermione to take.
She had skimmed through the letter, barely taking in the words as she stroked the slightly-melted gold loops that had fallen out of the envelope. 'Dear Ms. Granger… we regret… caught in the MoM riots… identified by their wedding bands… pass them on to you… sorry for your losses…'
Hermione returned to the present, where she sat on Ron's bed and held on to him for dear life. "They're gone too, Ron. I think they'd be happier this way," Hermione responded distantly. "The Muggles… they know about the wizarding world now. They aren't happy that we've been hidden too long," she told him.
"I wish there was some way we could fix this," Ron sighed, snuggling up against her.
"There is some way to fix it. I'm working on it right now."
"That's okay, then. If Hermione wants to do it, it'll happen."
This was exactly the moment Hermione had been waiting for. Remembering what You-Know-Who had done to her world, mentally reliving the travesties the wizarding world had gone through, and talking to Ron during one of his rare moments of clarity, all of it gave her the courage and mental boost she needed in order to initiate her task. She waited until Ron had fallen into a deep sleep, gathered her things, and slipped the altered Time-Turner over her head. "I'm not afraid of you," she muttered to it as she set the dials. "I'm not afraid because I know what I'm doing is right." She cast the incantation and, with a last lingering look at Ron's sleeping form, was gone.