A/N: Those disclaimers are still in effect. I'm just playing with J.K. Rowling's world and characters, expecting and gaining no monetary rewards from my efforts.
"Harry, have you noticed anything lately?"
"Hmmm?" he responded, distracted. Over the last few days they had covered one wall of the tent with various notes and speculations, about everything from horcruxes, to Tom Riddle, to Dumbledore's plans, to the Order of the Phoenix, to the last war; basically any topic that they thought was related to their quest to defeat Voldemort. It had been Harry's idea originally. He remembered something similar from a television detective drama that Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were addicted to. Hermione exclaimed that he was brilliant. She and her parents watched the same show. In fact, it was the only non-fiction television her parents let her view. They liked it because it emphasized using logic and the scientific method to catch criminals.
The idea was to lay out graphically out all their knowledge about a problem and look for connections and missing pieces of information. The large scale format helped with visualization. Hermione did it one better, using magic to highlight some of the connections that weren't obvious before. They took to calling it "The Wall of Mysteries". Hermione was standing in front of the wall of notes and diagrams, tapping her chin and thinking hard. She turned her head to look at Harry and saw him deep in thought. The sight warmed her heart in ways she didn't fully understand. That was what prompted her query to him.
"I mean," she clarified her earlier question, "have you noticed anything different about yourself, about how you've been thinking since we recovered our memories?" He frowned and looked up at her face inquiringly. "For instance," she asked, "what are you thinking about right now?"
"Well," he said hesitantly. "I was thinking about Riddle's horcruxes, but then you bent over to pick up your quill and I started thinking about how good your bum looks in those jeans." Hermione blushed and unconsciously twisted to look at her own backside. "Then I thought about how much, um, sexier, you look in Muggle clothes than in wizarding robes. That got me to thinking about how prudish wizard clothing and attitudes are. From there I went to our favorite topic of how little progress the wizarding world has made in the last few hundred years compared to Muggles. Then I thought about how Muggles are continually and rapidly advancing their society, politics, art, science, technology, you name it. Whereas witches and wizards are content, even adamant, to keep the status quo. Wizard culture is, by nature, most likely due to the existence of magic, stagnant, whereas Muggle culture is always seeking improvement, most likely because of the lack of magic."
"That's exactly what I'm getting at!" exclaimed Hermione. "I mean, a week ago, I don't think your hormonal teen brain would have gone much further than contemplating my bum, yet now you're using my bum as a launching point for deep contemplation about the anthropological differences between Magical and Muggle societies. You even used the term status quo in a sentence! Don't you find that a bit odd?"
"Well," smirked Harry, "your bum is a bum that could launch a thousand thoughts, Hermione."
"Prat," she said, throwing her quill at him, but she was smiling proudly at him. "What I was trying to say is that I think the Order was doing more than suppressing your memories and manipulating your desires and loyalties. I think they were doing mild Confundus charms on you. No offense, Harry, but you've been acting quite a bit more intelligent than you used to."
"No offense taken, Hermione," Harry said rubbing his chin again in thought. "I think you must be right. I do seem to have more productive thoughts than ever before. I used to feel I was only good at Quidditch and rushing headlong into things. I left all the real thinking to you and to Dumbledore."
"All part of Dumbledore's Plan, I'm sure," growled Hermione. "Keep the Chosen One docile and unquestioning, a willing tool."
Harry smiled at her anger. He wasn't that angry at Dumbledore anymore, since the anger would be futile. He was just anxious to get on with dealing with the present situation. Well, almost. "You know what this newly freed intelligence thinks now?" he asked.
"What?" she said curiously.
"That your bum looks even better out of those jeans," he said grabbing her hand and pulling her down onto his lap.
"Harry!" she squealed, laughing. She was silenced with a deep kiss that made her legs weak and would have curled her hair, if it weren't already as curly as hair could get. "There is one thing about wizarding robes that I like," Hermione said a moment later, frustrated as she frantically fumbled with the buttons of his shirt. "Easier access!" Harry grabbed his wand from the table next to him and flicked it at her. "Oooh!" she squealed in surprise as all of the buttons on her blouse quickly became undone, her bra unhooked itself, and her jeans became unzipped. "Just where did you learn to do that, Harry Potter?" she said with mock indignation. He just smiled at her wickedly and flicked his wand at his own clothes. Soon Hermione was squealing again as Harry worked another kind of magic, one that, in her undeniably biased opinion, he was very good at. They didn't think much more about the Wall of Mysteries or about Voldemort for a few wonderful hours.
That night, due to the afternoon's vigorous activity, they ate a hearty supper. Hermione had packed a good deal of food. Before leaving her parent's house she transferred much of their pantry of tinned food and dry goods into her beaded bag. On the morning they left Grimmauld Place for the Ministry, Kreacher helped her add a some magically preserved fresh foods like meat, fruit, and vegetables. She estimated they could easily survive a month without having to replenish their supplies, two months if they started rationing. Harry was really starting to appreciate Hermione's nervous nature in planning for every scenario that might unfold. He had been thinking they'd be back at Grimmauld Place the same day they left, but she was prepared for the possibility that they wouldn't. She was right, of course.
After sating their hunger, the two young lovers went outside and sat in front of a campfire, cuddling and looking at the stars. Their conversation, however, soon returned to their quest. Harry was anxious to look for the other horcruxes. They still could find no satisfactory common thread in the objects Riddle chose for keeping parts of his soul. So far, because of Harry's private sessions with Dumbledore the previous year, they knew of Riddle's diary, Marvolo Gaunt's ring, Slytherin's locket, and Hufflepuff's cup. The first two were destroyed, one by Harry and one by Dumbledore. The third was in their possession and they hadn't a clue about the location of the fourth. On top of that, they didn't know what the other two horcruxes even were.
Worse, they failed miserably in trying to destroy the horcrux they had. They spent an entire day trying every destructive curse they knew on the locket, all to no avail. They knew that Basilisk venom would destroy it, but short of returning to Hogwarts, that was in short supply. They also knew, from Hermione's reading, that Fiendfyre would do the job, but they didn't know how to produce such a dark spell. Try as he might, Harry could not remember any clue that Dumbledore might have given him as to how he destroyed the ring. The fact that even a powerful wizard like their former Headmaster wound up fatally cursed in the effort caused them to despair that they could be more successful.
Depressed, they turned their thoughts to places that Voldemort would have hidden the horcruxes. The diary had been in Death Eater Lucius Malfoy's possession. The ring had been hidden in the house that Riddle's mother was raised in. The locket had originally been hidden in a secret cave. They had no clue where the cup wound up after coming into Riddle's possession.
"How about the orphanage where Riddle was raised?" Hermione suggested.
"Maybe," said Harry thoughtfully, "but he hated the place. Though I suppose he hated the hovel where his mother grew up, too."
Hermione nodded and huddled closer to Harry and the fire. "Hogwarts would be the obvious place, of course."
"Yeah, like me he thought of it as his real home. I can see him hiding at least one, if not more parts of his soul there. I would."
Hermione looked at Harry, concerned. She didn't like the way he had worded that. Her worry over his mental state was increasing. He'd had three visions of Voldemort since the Ministry, all of which concerned a young boy who had stolen something from Gregorovitch, the wandmaker. Something that Voldemort wanted very badly, so badly that his anger at not finding it overrode the walls both he and Harry placed between their minds. After each vision Harry had been angry and short with her. He would later apologize, but his change in personality, no matter how brief, frightened her. Something similar would happen whenever Harry spent too much time in contact with the locket, like a bit of Voldemort would rub off on him. Even Hermione could sense the evil stored within the locket, which was why she kept it safely hidden inside a heavily warded box deep in her beaded bag. She didn't want to expose either of them to its twisted influence.
Harry, sensing Hermione's worry, smiled and hugged her close. "It's okay, love, I've got you to keep me…well…me." She returned the hug and buried her face in his chest so he wouldn't see the look of concern that didn't go away. What if she wasn't enough to keep him sane, to protect him? "I don't think we're ready to go back to Hogwarts yet. So I think we ought to go find Riddle's orphanage," he said resting his chin on the top of her head.
"Do you know where it is?" Hermione asked, lifting her head from his chest and brushing he hair back from her face to look at him.
"Not exactly. Somewhere in south London, I think. Dumbledore's memory of visiting Tom Riddle there didn't show the name of the orphanage, but I do remember that a woman named Mrs. Cole ran it. I think it was around 1930 that Dumbledore went."
"That should be enough to find it in library records. The London Library is in St. James Square. We should start there. It's a really great library. I went there once on a school trip before Hogwarts." Harry chuckled at Hermione's excitement about going to a library. "We can use the cloak to get there, but it'll be awkward to stay under it while searching the records. We'll need to blend in with the Muggles." She was in full planning mode now.
"How much polyjuice potion do you have left?" Harry asked.
"Enough for two or three more hours for the each of us. That won't give us much time to visit the library, do the research, then visit the orphanage," she frowned, her brow furrowed.
Harry smiled and kissed her forehead. "We were raised as Muggles. We can blend in."
"Better than Ron ever could," she chuckled, remembering how their former friend couldn't even figure out how to order a coffee or use a telephone. "But we'll need a disguise anyway," she added quickly, seeing Harry's frown at the mention of Ron. "London's full of magical people. And our faces have been all over the Daily Prophet. Undesirable Numbers 1 and 2, remember?"
The next afternoon a skinny, brown-eyed teen with spiked blonde hair asked in a bewildered voice, "Are you sure this is the right address, Herm…um…Jean?" He was wearing black jeans, a Union Jack t-shirt, and 1950s style horn-rimmed glasses. His female companion was a bit more mainstream, wearing a green sundress and carrying a beaded handbag. Her hair was in short black curls and the color of her eyes matched the grey cardigan draped over her shoulders.
"For the third time, James, yes!" she huffed back in irritation, "This is the right address. You can read what the reference librarian wrote as well as I can," she added shoving a slip of paper into his face.
The two teens looked like any of the many London youth on the streets that sunny September afternoon. Blending in was just their intention. They'd chosen their clothes and altered their hair, eyes, and a few other facial features so that they wouldn't be recognized by any magical folks that saw them. The lightning bolt on Harry's forehead was hidden with Muggle makeup after they discovered that magic didn't seem to work to cover up cursed scars. Though Harry had a hard time remembering the fact, they decided to call each other by their middle names while out and about in public, on the off chance that someone overheard them. While Harry was common enough, the name Hermione was bound to be noticed.
The teens frowned and continued to look up at the glass walls of the high rise office building. The reference librarian they visited earlier that day told them the orphanage ceased operations sometime in the 1960s. They'd assumed something else had taken over the building, not that it had been torn down and replaced with modern offices. They spent another hour wandering around the outside of the building, and through the parking structure underneath it, but they found no clues and sensed no dark magic.
Dejected, they decided to have tea at a café a few blocks away. They munched their sandwiches and sipped their drinks in silence, deep in thought. "How much money do you have?" Harry asked suddenly.
"You mean British pounds? Quite a bit," Hermione responded, giving him a quizzical look. "I took out my whole savings account and cashed in my college fund."
"Do you think we could stay in a hotel instead of the tent?" he said, pointing his nose at a posh hotel across the street.
She turned and looked at it. "Maybe not one quite that upscale," she laughed, "but yeah, I don't see why not. As long as there aren't any…. um… you know around."
"Do you know of anyplace like that?" he asked.
"Well, London's out. There are too many um…tourists… in London," she said, inventing a new codeword for witches and wizards.
"Are there nearby towns where tourists don't usually go?" Harry asked, wishing he knew more about the country he lived in. The Dursley's never took him anywhere, and since he discovered he was a tourist he had really only been to Hogwarts, a few places in London, and the Burrow. He knew there were only a few purely wizarding towns, like Hogsmeade and Godric's Hollow, so that meant wizards were blending in with Muggles, or at least living near them in hidden places, like Grimmauld Place. He didn't know if there were places that wizards just didn't live at all.
"I know just the place," Hermione smiled. "Mum and Dad liked to go there for quiet getaways. No tourists anywhere, as far as I ever noticed."
Later that afternoon found them driving up to a little inn in the village of Shere in Surrey. They hired a car, realizing that it would help them blend in, and drove the hour or so from London. Actually, Hermione did all the driving, since Harry had never learned to operate a car, more evidence of the Dursley's neglect. She promised she'd teach him to drive. Hermione called ahead to reserve a room at the place her parents usually stayed. They agreed to continue using their middle names, so the innkeepers were expecting a young couple named James and Jean, and gave themselves the common last names of Jones and Brown.
"Wait," Harry said, as they got out of the car in front of the inn. He stooped and picked up a twig. Twisting it into a circle, he hid his wand from view and muttered a spell. The twig transfigured into a beautiful golden ring with emeralds on either side of a small diamond. Coming around the car, Harry said, "I was planning on waiting until your birthday to ask, but now seems like a more appropriate time."
"Harry! What are you…?"
"Hermione," he said, kneeling on one knee while holding up the ring, "will you marry me?"
"Harry! Are you doing this just for our disguise?" she whispered, her hands covering her mouth in astonishment.
"No," he said shaking his head vigorously. "I don't know how all this is going to end up, but I do know that I want to spend whatever time we have left together as a couple. A true couple. I want to be your husband, Hermione. I can't think of anything that I've ever wanted more. So, will you marry me?" he asked again.
"Yes!" she squealed, diving at him, knocking them both down onto the turf, covering his face with happy kisses.
Rose Middlemarsh smiled when the young couple came into the lobby of her small inn. She'd seen the proposal through the front window. Over the forty three years she ran the romantic getaway, she'd witnessed lots of such events, yet she never tired of seeing young love. The couple were still a little disheveled and covered with grass clippings when they walked up to her desk. "Hi," the blonde boy said a little nervously, "We're James Jones and Jean Brown
Unable to contain herself, the curly dark-haired girl squealed, "Soon to be Jean Jones! We're engaged!" She held up her hand showing off the ring. "He just proposed!" Rose nodded knowingly, smiling broadly.
"It's lovely," she exclaimed warmly. "You'll be wanting our honeymoon suite
The following week passed in a blissful blur for the young couple. They spent much of their first day at the inn in their room, behaving like they truly were on their honeymoon. Gradually, they emerged, though often one would grab the other's hand and they'd run, giggling back up to their room, not to emerge for another hour or two. Their behavior was much to the amusement of Rose and her husband Angus, who helped her run the inn, and to the other, less demonstrative couples staying there.
Even more amusement was caused later in the week by Hermione's attempts to teach Harry how to drive. Grinding gears, squealing brakes, and an even louder squealing young woman were heard all over the usually quiet town. Occasionally a crash or crunch was heard, accompanied by a heartfelt call of "Sorry!" by Harry. After one such incident the contrite young man spent several hours helping Angus repair the white picket fence in front of the inn. Eventually, though he seemed to get the hang of driving, and the sleepy town became quiet once more.
The second week at the Inn, the young couple apparently started exploring the surrounding countryside. Rose and Angus would cheerfully wave Jean and James off each morning as they drove out of town. The locals sometimes saw the car parked behind bushes or under culverts. They never looked inside, though, but smiled knowingly at the images of young love their imaginations or distant memories conjured up.
In reality, Harry and Hermione were driving outside of town, hiding the car, and apparating under the Invisibility Cloak to London, or other nearby cities. They were desperately searching for clues to Tom Riddle's past. They didn't, however, travel to the two places they knew they would eventually have to visit: Hogwarts and Godric's Hollow. Everytime one of them would bring either place up, they would argue and eventually come up with some excuse not to go. The truth that they were unwilling to admit to each other out loud was that they were afraid. Hogwarts, like the Ministry, was under the control of the Death Eaters. And Godric's Hollow, hometown of the Potters, the Dumbledores, and Godric Gryffindor, was so obvious a place for them to go that they couldn't convince themselves that Voldemort himself wouldn't be there waiting for them. They just couldn't face giving up the carefree fun they were having together in exchange for walking into certain danger.
One evening they were having a romantic dinner in the small dining room of the inn. Rose was waiting on the half dozen or so tables occupied by couples of all ages staying at the inn. The bar was lined with locals being served by an amiable Angus. In the corner a trio of young local musicians played soft classical music. Rose smiled at James and Jean as she poured more wine for them. The young couple was oblivious to her presence. Instead they were holding hands across the table, completely enchanted by each other's eyes. Rose had grown to like these two over the last ten days. They were polite, intelligent, and so obviously in love. Later, while they were having coffee and pudding, Rose overheard them talking softly. It was an odd conversation.
"This has been wonderful," the girl said with a sigh.
"Yes," her fiancé replied pursing his lips, "it's been brilliant. But you know it can't last."
"I know," she sighed once again, her grey eyes looking sad. "We've run out of places to look."
"You know where we have to go," he said grimly, reaching across the table to squeeze her hand.
"I know," she said with a curt nod. "Something has to be at Hogwarts or at Godric's Hollow."
"Either that, or at a Death Eater's house. Lucius Malfoy did have the diary, if you recall."
"Do you really think he trusts his Death Eaters that much?" she asked shaking her head. "I mean Voldemort doesn't really…" She never finished the sentence because suddenly there were loud cracks all around the dining room. Cloaked figures with silver, skull-like masks appeared out of nowhere. Harry and Hermione froze, looking around at the six Death Eaters with wide eyes.
"Now isn't this a pleasant little gathering?" the apparent leader of the Death Eaters said, stepping between the tables, tapping his wand into his gloved hand. "How romantic."
"Excuse me," said Rose, trying to hide her confusion and astonishment at their sudden and strange appearance. "May I help you?"
"I don't think so, Muggle" he replied snidely, spitting the last word like it left a disgusting taste in his mouth. "Unless you happen to be hiding a Blood Traitor or Mudblood magic thief under your quaint roof." He turned around looking intensely at the cowering people in the room, who all seemed frozen like statues, staring back at him. "Come out, little rabbits!" he called with a laugh.
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," Rose said, her ire at this rude fellow rising. He grunted dismissively at her, waved his wand, and sent an astonished Rose flying across the room. Her head hit the wall with a sickening crash. Her eyes rolled back into her head as she slid to the floor, leaving a trail of blood down the wall. Hermione dug her fingernails into Harry's hand, trying to keep from crying out.
"What the hell!" roared Angus. He came rushing around the bar brandishing an ancient double-barreled shotgun at the stranger who had just assaulted his wife of fifty years.
"Avada Kedavra," said the cloaked figure almost casually. A green light flashed from his wand and Angus fell to the floor deathly still. Pandemonium broke out in the room as the locals at the bar rushed to their friends' aid and the couples at the tables screamed and dove for cover. Green and red lights flashed from the wands of the Death Eaters. More people fell, instantly dead. Others were thrown about like dolls. The scream of the woman at the table next to them ended abruptly with a spray of blood in their direction.
Harry knocked their table over and pulled Hermione down behind it. "Where's your beaded bag?" he whispered frantically, pulling his wand out of his sleeve.
"Up in the room," she hissed back, also pulling her wand out.
"Pop up and get it then meet me at the car…Quickly!"
Hermione nodded, then frowned. "Harry! I can't apparate! They must have wards up!"
"We need that bag, it's got the locket," he whispered, ducking a curse that flew over his head and exploded against the wall behind him. "I guess we fight our way out." He lifted up his pant leg and pulled out the spare wand he'd gotten from Ron. Hermione reached under her skirt and got her own spare out. "Ready?" Harry asked. Hermione nodded, biting her lower lip, her eyes wild with fright. "Now!"
They jumped up and sent simultaneous stunning spells at the four nearest Death Eaters. Caught by surprise, the cloaked wizards fell to the ground. The other two were not so easily disposed of. One dove behind the bar and started shooting curses at them rapid fire. "There you are little rabbits!" shouted the leader with glee. He stood calmly in the middle of the chaotic room and pointed his wand at Harry, who deftly blocked the curse with a shield charm. The Death Eater then managed to block the first six curses that the couple sent at him, but Harry finally got him with a stunner. Hermione dealt with the remaining Death Eater. He had too good a cover behind the bar, so she simply sent the heavy wooden shelves full of liquor bottles behind the bar crashing down onto him.
Gasping with exertion and sahking from the surge of adrenalin, the two looked at each other and at the destruction around them. Hermione knelt to see if she could help the bleeding woman from the table next to them. "Hermione," Harry said with unnatural calmness. "There may be more of them outside. We need to go. Now!"
She looked up at him, her eyes wild. They were no longer grey, but had reverted to their natural chocolate brown, as had her hair color. She couldn't hold on to the glamour with all the excitement. She nodded and he grabbed her hand, which was slick with the woman's blood. They ran to the doorway of the dining room. A local man was gingerly rising to his feet. "Call 999!" Hermione shouted to him as they ran up the stairs to their room.
The wards had gone down, probably when they stunned the leader. As soon as Hermione had the beaded bag, they held hands and apparated away with a loud crack shattering the strange silence of the inn.
They appeared in the middle of their old clearing in the Forest of Dean. Hermione fell to her knees, sobbing. In a trance, Harry walked around the clearing and said all of their standard protective enchantments. Then he dropped to his knees in front of Hermione and held her.
"They died because of us!" she wailed. Biting his lip, tears running down his face, Harry could only nod in agreement. They were the cause of Rose and Angus' deaths, and of the death and injury of dozens of other innocent, normal people. People who had never heard of Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Voldemort, or Death Eaters. People whose only knowledge of magic had been the magic of a sunrise or a babbling brook through a green pasture.
They held each other and cried until there were no more tears left in them, even though the guilt and grief remained unabated. Then, slowly, numbly, they pulled the tent out of the beaded bag and erected it, moving like zombies. They stood at the entrance, looking at each other's bloodshot eyes and red faces. They silently held hands and bent to step into the tent.
"Hi Guys!" came the cheerful voice of a tall, lanky redhead who was standing in the kitchen. "Did you miss me?"