(A/N: This is it, ladies and gentlemen, the final installment in our story. I deliberately left some things unfinished – if Hope is to have more adventures in the future, we have to set the stage now. Don't we?
The lovely and talented Mary Caroline has been my beta for this entire story, advising on everything from the niceties of British grammar to the social dynamics of young girls. I'm in your debt, MC. Thank you.
If you enjoyed this story, please tell your friends! And if you didn't enjoy it, I hope you'll tell me.)
(Disclaimer: I no more own these characters now than I did when I started writing. )
1 September 2009 – Year 11 P.V.
Hermione wasn't simply lying on the bed. She was sprawling on it, positively boneless – enjoying that wonderful languorous state halfway between sleep and wakefulness. Her eyes were closed, and her mouth felt like it was permanently frozen into a smile of pure contentment.
The fact that she wore not a single stitch of clothing added a bit of spice to the contentment. Especially since the body next to hers was similarly unclad, with not even the bed's coverlet to separate them. She made sure to keep in full skin-to-skin contact with him, from neck to toes.
She sensed, rather than felt, his lips approach her ear. "Did I tell you I've been exploring?" he whispered.
Her smile deepened. "Mmm, you certainly have," she said huskily without opening her eyes.
Harry choked slightly. He'd somehow never quite grasped – probably would never – the fact that Hermione had a public persona and a bedroom persona. It would always surprise him, a bit, seeing that side of her… which never failed to amuse her.
"I meant," he said after his voice returned, "that I've been exploring Hogwarts… you know, the other portraits? But maybe you aren't interested in what I found."
"Mmm?" Hermione refused to open her eyes. She wanted to just lie here, snuggling next to Harry, stealing Harry's body heat… her hands beginning to slip down his torso again…
His voice turned even softer, seductive. "Hot chocolate."
Her sharp intake of breath, her sudden motionlessness, told him he had her. "There's a winter landscape, down in storage," he continued insidiously. "Skaters, drinking hot chocolate. The artist even painted wisps of steam over the cups."
Harry stopped at that point and waited, watching her reaction, gauging her thoughts. He waited until the instant before Hermione broke down and asked – then he murmured in her ear again. "Why don't I go fetch us some?" he volunteered. "Stay here and keep my place warm, love."
Eyes still closed, Hermione smiled her thanks and relaxed again – then stiffened and gasped when he kissed her nipple as he rose from their bed. She could hear him chuckle as he grabbed a robe and made his way out of the painting. Oh, he is so going to pay for that, the tease. Come to it, when did he learn to do that?
Do I care? As long as he keeps doing it!
She sighed and stretched happily. Hermione opened her eyes and looked about the room… or rather, this painting of a room. The light was dim, partially because the setting had been painted that way, but also because of the cloth that covered the painting from "outside". (Sometimes she was still confused – which irked her – by the strange dimensionalities of magical paintings: this room felt like it had depth to her, but there was a visible "edge of the canvas" superimposed overall. It further irked her that Harry had adapted before she had. Massively unfair, in her opinion, that.)
The painting had been brought up from the Hospital Wing. Originally, it had shown a nurse tending patients in their hospital beds. Once the situation was explained to them, the nurse and her patients had cheerfully vacated for another painting – leaving this painting, with its wonderful beds, to her and Harry. Harry had immediately deemed it the "honeymoon suite", ignoring her protests that they couldn't have a honeymoon if they hadn't formally had a wedding.
But in the end, she had to admit, this last week had been a honeymoon. It was one more reason to be grateful to the Headmistress.
Speaking of whom…
Hermione heard the Headmistress's voice approaching. "Hello? Hermione, are you there?"
The meeting with the Board of Governors had been last week. The meeting with the staff, where the year's course schedule was finally set, had been yesterday. Today's meeting was with the Heads of House. McGonagall gave thanks to the Light that no more meetings would be needed before the students arrived in the evening. Sometimes it felt as though her entire professional life had become an unending series of meetings.
She caught Professor Weasley's eye as Professors Sinistra, Flitwick and Sprout exited her office. He understood, and waited behind until the door closed behind them. "What's up, Professor?" he asked.
"I thought you'd be interested in what's been done this week for our new… boarders." McGonagall waved at the wall behind Ron. Amidst the portraits of past Headmasters of Hogwarts, two smaller frames hung side-by-side. Both were empty.
"It turned out to be safest to keep them here, in my office," McGonagall explained. Ron understood: Harry's and Hermione's essences were bound to the physical portraits, the paints and potions, in which they'd been originally painted. Even if the portraits weren't being occupied at the moment, they had to be kept safe. It was why he'd had to rescue Hermione's portrait from Bellatrix, even after Harry'd pulled her to safety.
"Also, while rumors of Hermione's existence are starting to crop up, we all thought it best to keep Harry's existence a close secret. Rest assured, every portrait at Hogwarts has been sworn to silence." Behind McGonagall, a portrait of a silver-haired witch gave a firm nod.
"Oh. Okay." Ron raised an eyebrow. "'Harry'? 'Hermione'?"
The Headmistress made a noise somewhere between a snort and a sigh. "They insisted. I'm afraid I kept dithering between 'Miss Granger' and 'Mrs. Potter', until she informed me that living tally wasn't the same as a wedding as far as she was concerned. And Mr. Pot… Harry said that if I could call my predecessor 'Albus', I could surely call him by his given name."
"Fair enough." Ron ran a finger around one of the empty portraits. "Y'know, I did think we could keep Harry's portrait at our place, and let Hope keep Hermione. But it turned out to be too far… they have to be in the same building to travel from painting to painting. They'd've never seen each other – and Luna said that would be too cruel."
McGonagall sniffed. "As though I'd let the child keep either of the portraits with her, once classes begin! She'd be asking them for all the answers… her mother particularly… No, Hope may see them under supervision, or during the holidays, but she may not use them as an academic resource. That would be patently unfair to the other students."
Privately, Ron didn't think Hope would need any help in her studies. He kept his opinion to himself: he considered that he'd already dropped enough hints. But even with those hints, and even with Hope's display of magic at Gringotts, McGonagall didn't seem to realize just how advanced Hope's abilities truly were. The Headmistress – and the staff – would just have to learn the hard way.
Ron made a mental note to ask Luna for a really nice, slightly skewed way to say I told you so.
"So where are they now?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Back here, in all likelihood. I gathered some unused paintings from around the castle, to make private quarters for them, of a sort." McGonagall headed to the back of her office, motioning Ron to follow. Three framed pictures, covered with cloths, were propped up on a table. "Yes. The thing is, you see, Mr. Thomas showed remarkable skill in bringing them to life so accurately – most remarkable, considering these were the first two magical portraits he's ever done! But he still has much to learn… including the need for background details."
She noticed Ron's puzzled look. "For instance, it would have been a kindness to Hermione to have included bookcases behind her. Instead, Mr. Thomas left the backgrounds blank, à la Rembrandt. Classic Muggle style, I daresay, but magical portraits need to keep busy." She raised her voice slightly. "Hello? Hermione, are you there?" Without waiting for a reply, she drew the cloth from one of the paintings.
And would have immediately replaced it, had it not fallen from her paralyzed fingers.
"Good morning, Pro— Yeeeeeep!" Hermione scrabbled at the foot of the bed, where the coverlet had fallen. She seized it and brought it up to her chin, while blushing as furiously as… well, as Ron was.
The coverlet wasn't doing a very good job of covering. She tried to regain a modicum of poise. Clearing her throat once or twice seemed to help. "Ahem. Erm. Hello, Ron." When Ron didn't move, she managed to release the coverlet with one hand and make a tiny circling motion. "Do you mind?"
Ron still didn't move. His face was still scarlet, but his eyes stayed fixed on Hermione – certainly the part of her outside the coverlet.
"Do. You. MIND?" she snapped. With a start, Ron realized he was staring, and hastily turned his back. It's true, Hermione decided. Even a nude picture can strike the male brain into stupidity.
"My apologies, Hermione," said McGonagall, as Hermione quickly rose from the bed to put on a dressing gown. "I should have asked whether you were prepared to receive visitors."
"Well, you did say they needed to keep busy…" Ron muttered, his back still turned. "Um, Professor? I thought paintings had to, you know, stay the way they were painted? I mean, their clothes are painted on, right? They can't come off?"
"Evidently," replied McGonagall dryly, "no one thought to inform Harry and Hermione of this fact. You may turn around now."
Ron gave a cautious glance over his shoulder to check that all was clear – or rather, that all was hidden – before he turned back to face Hermione. "Cheers, Hermione. Whatcha been up to?"
Hermione tried glowering at him, but her heart wasn't in it.
"We wished to keep you and Harry apprised of recent developments," said McGonagall. "Magical Law Enforcement has been interrogating the Death Eaters who were captured at Gringotts. One thing has come to light: all of them were ordered by Bellatrix to avoid using the Killing Curse at all costs."
"Right. Because they're so merciful and all," snorted Ron. "They weren't making any effort to avoid killing people at Gringotts. They killed Seamus and Lavender! They used the Killing Curse then!"
"But that was when Bellatrix made her Horcrux," said Hermione thoughtfully. "Oh, thank you, Harry, you're an angel," she added, as Harry stepped into the portrait bearing two cups of hot cocoa.
Harry kissed her as he surrendered one of the cups. Ron smirked and shook his head sadly.
"Don't start," Harry warned him, and took a sip. After a moment he looked up. "Ron, tell me again about when Voldemort killed us. Didn't he say something about the Curse to Bellatrix…?"
"Yeah," Ron admitted, losing his smile. He would never be happy recalling the memories of that day. "He told her that, uh, the Killing Curse was his alone."
"Right, so maybe that's why the current crop of Death Eaters isn't using it," said Harry. "Bellatrix gave them the same order that Voldemort gave her. Makes sense, if she sees herself as Voldemort's successor…"
"I don't think so, Harry," Hermione mused. "Avada Kedavra is terrible, terrifying… a potent weapon for fear-mongers. They'd never give up using it without a good reason. And even Bellatrix gave up using it – she didn't use it at Gringotts – but she did use it when she murdered Lavender. To make a Horcrux."
"Ahhh, I see," said McGonagall. "Horcruxes require the soul to be fractured by committing murder. You're suggesting that the murder needs to be done with the Killing Curse?"
"As opposed to, say, burning someone to death with Incendio. Exactly. The Killing Curse is driven by the pure desire to kill – that's what makes it Unforgivable. And if you want someone dead that badly, you're halfway to fracturing your soul already."
"I think all of the murders Voldemort used to make Horcruxes were done with Avada Kedavra," added Harry, counting on his fingers. "His parents, Hepzibah Smith, old Frank Bryce…"
"You," she added. "Or at least that was his intent."
"And even if your theory's wrong, love, it only matters that Bellatrix thinks Horcruxes need Avada Kedavra."
"So you think Voldemort wouldn't let his followers use the Killing Curse because they might make their own Horcruxes? And Bellatrix is doing the same now?" Ron whistled and shook his head. "Suppose we shouldn't complain. I mean, as long as they're not using the Curse, it doesn't matter why."
"We can take some comfort in the fact that Bellatrix doesn't come close to matching Tom Riddle's raw power," said Hermione. "She'll only be able to make the one Horcrux – not six."
"But we've no idea what it might be," McGonagall pointed out.
"True," Hermione admitted. "She's not the megalomaniac that Voldemort was. She won't insist on relics from the Four Founders… she could use, well, anything, really. We can try to guess her choice, but I'm afraid our only real expert on her psychological profile is… you, Ron."
"Oh, bloody wonderful." Ron rubbed his eyes dejectedly. "I'm going back to my office and try to get ready for the Sorting tonight," he said with a sigh. "Harry, Hermione, you want to drop by after the feast is done? I promise to tell you which house Hope gets Sorted into…"
"Thanks, Ron, we'd like that," said Harry. "Yours is the office with the picture of St. George, right?"
"Uh huh. I'll tell him to lose the dragon. See you." Ron turned to leave.
"Ron!" called Hermione suddenly. "Tell me again – what was the spell Harry cast that finished off Voldemort?"
Ron paused and furrowed his brow. "I never heard it before, or since. Expecto... something. Not Patronum, but it did make something that looked like a Patronus. Expecto… Expecto nem…"
"Expecto Nemesem?" asked Hermione softly.
"That's the one. I remember when we were still at… at the Place, you were researching all the different Expecto spells. You must've found that one and taught it to Harry."
"Yes… I remember you telling me, now. Thank you, Ron."
McGonagall waited for Ron to leave before speaking again. "Obviously, Professor Weasley's knowledge of Latin isn't as deep as one might wish. Else he might have known that spell for what it was."
Harry coughed self-consciously. "Er… you know, we can't all be Latin scholars, Professor…"
"No," Hermione said indulgently, "but some of us compensate in other ways." She reached out and ran her fingers through Harry's hair… a gentle caress. After a moment, she began to explain. "There's a word," she said, "that's got an undeserved bad reputation in modern times. And yet, it's used over and over, when speaking about God. And it was one of the chivalric virtues of the Middle Ages." She stopped.
He waited for her to continue. When she didn't speak, he caught her eye and raised one brow questioningly.
"Expecto Patronum is powered by happiness," said Hermione obliquely. "It produces a Patronus. Can you guess what Expecto Nemesem would produce?"
"Um, well, if Patronum gives a Patronus… Nemesem would give a..." Harry blinked in surprise. "Nemesis?"
"Nemesis," confirmed McGonagall with a nod. "The divine embodiment of retribution… and of justice."
"But Expecto Nemesem wouldn't be powered by happiness," Hermione continued, wrapping her arms around Harry, "but by another positive force. The one with the bad rep." She smiled proudly at him. "Righteousness."
Harry took a moment to digest this. "So… my 'power the Dark Lord knows not'… it wasn't love, like Dumbledore always thought? It was…?"
"Your sense of right and wrong," finished Hermione, emphasizing the point with a hug. "Something Voldemort never had – and that you never lost."
Harry hastily set down his mug of cocoa and returned the hug, holding her tightly. Absently, he noted that the room had suddenly grown darker… McGonagall had considerately replaced the cloth over the painting and left them to themselves. His thoughts flitted over to the hospital bed, but he wanted to finish their discussion first, just to make sure he understood.
Not that he'd let go of Hermione. Harry kept her close to him, a full-body embrace, shifting his weight slightly as she nestled her head in the crook of his neck. With his face in her hair, he murmured, "So to use this Expecto Nemesem, Ron will have to be, er, righteous?"
"Yes," she replied softly, "in its original meaning. To be pleased for its own sake when Right prevails."
"Mm. Think Ron's matured enough for that now?"
"Let's hope so."
"It's really stupid," grumbled Hope. "We live in Hogsmeade. Why do we have to come all the way down here to London so we can turn around and go right back to Hogsmeade again?"
"The Hogwarts Express is part of the tradition," Ginny said firmly. "And it's a chance to meet your new classmates without the pressure of Houses and classes and all."
"But I know a lot of them already," Hope pointed out. "Five years at Potter Primary School, remember?"
"You don't know all of them, sulkworm," Luna chided her. "Even in your own year. There are a fair number of Muggleborns, after all, who've only just learned they're magical."
"Plus the upperclassmen," put in Isabeau excitedly. "They weren't at Potter…!"
"Do not pay too much attention to upperclassmen," Fleur said sharply, as she led her daughters along the platform at King's Cross. "They will certainly not be paying attention to you." Isabeau said nothing, but the expression on her face was undaunted.
"Right, then," said Ginny as they passed Platform 9. "Fred and George have gone ahead with the trunks. Are we all in position? You all have your tickets? Hope, you have your cloak? Everyone, follow me and stay close." She marched towards the brick wall between Platform 9 and Platform 10; Hope, Michelle and Isabeau were right behind her, flanked by their mothers, with Angelina as rear guard.
The moment they appeared on Platform 9 and ¾, the sharks began to circle.
The first one was talking rapidly even before he reached speaking distance. "Harrison from the Prophet, Miss Potter, I was wondering if you could give us a few words about your battle at Gringotts, how did it compare with the fight at Hogwarts last year…?"
It was obvious that Hope's Cloak of Anonymity was going to be of no use today: public interest in her was too strong for its mild Aversion Charm to repel. Other people on Platform 9 and ¾, parents and children and at least two Aurors, were watching her. Some of them, especially the children, were pointing; all of them looked excited to see her.
Meanwhile, Harrison was quickly joined by two more reporters, all trying to maneuver close enough to Hope to get her undivided attention. "Miss Potter, can you tell our readers where you studied Defense Magic? Miss Potter, is it true that you commune regularly with the ghost of the Chosen One? Miss Potter…"
Smoothly, Fleur stepped forward and caught the reporters' notice. Silvery moonlight seemed to bathe her form, even though it was mid-morning; her hair stirred in a light breeze that existed only for her. Her blue eyes grew huge, and deep, and touchingly vulnerable, as she began, "I have always been told that the gentlemen of the British press are gentlemen, indeed. I know you would like to hear about what truly happened at Gringotts, yes? Let us step over here, where we may talk privately, yes?"
With their tongues practically lolling out of their mouths, the first three reporters docilely followed Fleur away from Hope. Angelina intercepted the next reporter, a young woman from Teen Witch who wasn't distracted by Fleur's Veela magic. Luna was easily able to put off Fergus Ferriter, merely by looking irritated – there were advantages, after all, to owning the Quibbler. One way or another, Ginny and her charges managed to board the Hogwarts Express without being stopped by a single journalist.
Once aboard, they quickly spotted Fred and George waving them into a compartment. "One advantage of showing up early, you get your choice of seating," said George. "Your trunks're stowed up here," he pointed, "and Mum's packed some sandwiches for you to eat on the way."
"And if you don't like corned beef, just toss them out the window," added Ginny. "We always did, didn't we?"
Fred grinned. "Ah, those were the days, weren't they, Gin? And that reminds me. You three…" He turned to face the girls and put on a stern face. "When you're at Hogwarts this year, I want you all to remember that you're Weasleys," (this last was said with a quick smile at Hope), "and that you're our nieces."
"Which means," continued George, equally stern, "that there are certain kinds of behavior we expect from you."
"For instance, when you prank someone…"
"Not if, when…"
"We expect everyone to know who did it – and nobody to be able to prove it."
"Make friends with the ghosts if you can, they're valuable allies…"
"Remember that the house elves will never snitch on you…"
"And don't ever forget that Weasley Wizarding Wheezes has a special discount for trouble-makers who are family."
"And that we fully expect you to take advantage of it," Fred concluded, breaking out in a smirk at last.
"Out, you reprobates! Out!" laughed Ginny. "Corrupting innocent minds, you should be ashamed!" She shooed the grinning twins out of the compartment before she turned back to her nieces. She hugged each of them in turn, taking advantage of the moment to whisper in their ears privately. She said goodbye to Michelle first, then Isabeau, before coming to Hope.
It seemed to Hope that Ginny hesitated for a second, as though changing what she was about to say. "Thank you again for the gift, Hope," she finally whispered as she held the girl. "It… it really helped." She straightened, gave them all a big smile, and left the compartment with her head high.
"I don't know about you," said Michelle as they settled into their seats, "but I think Aunt Ginny's starting to channel Gran."
Two hours into the journey, and Hope had grown very fond of her Cloak of Anonymity.
There had been a constant stream of students of all ages, trooping past their compartment and gawking through the window while trying to not look like they were gawking… hoping to get a glimpse of Hogwarts's new celebrity. Isabeau and Michelle had waved to some of them, but hadn't opened the door to any; as long as Hope did nothing to draw attention to herself, the gawkers didn't seem to notice her.
"I'm bored," announced Isabeau finally. "I'm going to find the food trolley. Are you two staying here?" This was asked in the tone of voice which expects compliance.
Hope nodded and tried to return to the book she was reading (Hermione's fourth-year Transfiguration textbook, though she didn't show it to anyone). Michelle looked ready to join Isabeau anyway, simply to be contrary, but she found herself yawning uncontrollably. Isabeau took the opportunity to slip into the corridor and close the compartment door firmly behind her.
"I don't think she's looking for the trolley," muttered Michelle, settling back into her seat. "I think she's looking for trouble."
Hope gave Michelle a slight smile. "I think she'll find out she can't get away with as much at Hogwarts as she does at home. She hasn't met Professor McGonagall yet."
Michelle gave Hope a Gallic shrug in return, and leaned back in her seat. Her eyes closed… soon she began to gently snore. Hope smiled again and tried once more to return to her book. Yet for once, she found herself unable to concentrate on the pages. Her mind was spinning, still struggling to digest everything that had happened in the month since her birthday.
Got a wand. Lost Mother. Got a new last name. Lost Mum and Dad. Got Father. Got a vault. Got attacked. Got Mother back. Got Mum and Dad back. Lost Mother and Father again – well, separated. For now.
Haven't got A Nickname yet, but give the Prophet time.
If this was what Harry Potter had gone through in his first year, she really felt sorry for him. Yet she didn't see what else she might have done. After all, it wasn't her fault, was it, if Death Eaters attacked Hogwarts, or if the goblins wanted their Artifacts back… in her opinion, she'd been an innocent bystander each time. Well, pretty much.
But try telling that to all the people who pointed at her, goggled at her, wanted to interview her… whose faces brightened just for seeing her. Hope resolved to find every one of her classmates from Potter Primary that evening at the feast, and make sure they understood that nothing had changed – that she was still their friend Hope, not very exciting, not all that pretty… just Hope. Nothing had changed.
Except for the color of her eyes, and her last name, and a few other minor details…
She was startled out of her reverie – and Michelle out of her doze – by the bang! of the compartment door slamming open. Isabeau stormed into the compartment and flung the door closed behind her. She was in a towering fury – what was more, she was shining with a silver aura of Veela magic. Evidently, she'd been inspired by her mother's display from earlier that morning, and had tried to match it.
Isabeau pointed an accusatory finger at Hope. "You!" The single word was an indictment.
"Me what?" asked Hope, bewildered.
"I found a group of fifth-years, from Hufflepuff," snarled Isabeau, "and one of the good-looking ones acted like he wanted to talk with me alone, so I took him to one side…"
"When did you start showing Veela powers?" demanded Michelle, clearly jealous that her twin had come into them before she had.
Isabeau waved her hand impatiently, dismissing the question. "And he got me into a little nook at the end of the car, and I even thought he was going to… but… but…" She stomped her foot. "He only wanted to ask me about you! What it was like to be your cousin! Could I introduce him to you! Ooooohhhh!" She flounced to her seat, folded her arms over her chest, and glared daggers at Hope.
"A fifth-year is too old for you anyway," said Hope, trying to be reasonable.
"That's the point, idiote! He wouldn't have done anything with me, but I could have practiced on him!" Isabeau's silver aura was fading rapidly as she fumed. "But non! I am only his entrée, his passport to the Daughter of Heroes!"
Hope's throat went dry. "Did he… did he say that?"
"His very words! So I left him and came to tell you to… to stay away from the upperclassmen! You heard our Mama, we should pay no attention to them!" Isabeau transferred her glare to Michelle. "And that goes double for you, ma soeur!"
Michelle was laughing gently. "Oh Isabeau, don't ever change," she said with a grin.
Hope was no longer paying attention to the twins. She was listening to the words running through her head, over and over: Daughter of Heroes. She knew, knew with unshakeable certainty, that those words would appear in the Daily Prophet before the week was out.
Miserably she wrapped her Cloak around her again. She was no longer looking forward to the Sorting, or to Hogwarts… not if everyone expected her to be the Daughter of Heroes. At that moment, even her classes didn't seem so inviting. Instead, she wondered if anyone would ever again like her for herself, and not as some sort of… of hero. She'd never felt less like a hero.
It occurred to her that Harry probably hadn't felt like a hero either, on his first train to Hogwarts.
She was startled by a tapping at the window. Hope looked up to see a white blur outside the glass, keeping pace with the train. With a quick glance at the twins, still discussing Isabeau's misfortune, Hope opened the window.
Into the compartment flew a snowy owl, with something large and shapeless clutched in its talons. The owl settled down on the seat next to Hope and regarded her with unblinking amber eyes. Hope quickly shut the window and examined the bird carefully. It seemed almost familiar, somehow, as though she'd seen it once in a dream…
Not a dream. A memory. In the Pensieve.
"Are you… are you Hedwig?" she asked hesitantly. The owl made a soft heep-heep-ing noise and sidled closer to Hope. Tentatively, she reached out a finger to stroke the owl's breast feathers, and was surprised when the bird nipped her finger – but gently, affectionately.
"Ohé!" exclaimed Michelle, breaking off from her teasing. "Whose owl is that?"
Hope held out her arm. Without hesitation Hedwig climbed onto it. That seemed to settle the matter. "Mine."
Isabeau looked at Hedwig with a touch of scorn. "Hmph, I thought your papa was full-bore into using Speaking Glasses. Uncle Fred says owls are a thing of the past."
An hour ago, Hope might have agreed. Gazing into Hedwig's eyes, though, holding the elderly owl on her arm… Hope could feel a bond starting to form, and knew that no Speaking Glass could ever replace it.
She examined Hedwig more closely. The owl seemed slightly larger than it had in Dad's Pensieve memory… and her feathers far more unkempt. Clearly, she hadn't been living in a house as a pampered familiar. "Have you been living in the wild all these years, girl?" she asked softly. "Why?"
Hedwig gave no reply, not that Hope really expected one. She turned her attention to the shapeless thing Hedwig had brought into the train.
It was filthy and weatherbeaten, as though it had spent years unprotected in the elements. Hope brushed some dirt off it, and saw the straps, and suddenly recognized it – again, from the Pensieve. It was the rucksack Harry had been wearing when he arrived at St. Mungo's, the night Hope was born. Hedwig must have taken the rucksack away when Harry died… stowed it in a tree or something, and left it there for years while she waited for…
For Hope to come to Hogwarts.
But if this was Harry's rucksack… Hope remembered the scene, and what Harry had stuffed into the rucksack as soon as he arrived at the hospital…
Frantic with excitement, she unzipped the pack – and there it was. A mass of silvery silken fabric – her father's Invisibility Cloak.
Isabeau whistled. "Is that what I think it is?" she asked, greatly interested. Her previous annoyance had vanished at the Cloak's appearance.
"Don't make me have to Obliviate you," Hope said absently, as she opened the rucksack wider. She shifted the Cloak to one side and began to rummage. She found a wand – Harry Potter's wand! – and a couple of old dog-eared books, including a Potions textbook. There were some vials of potions, probably gone bad after eleven years. Something that resembled a magnetic compass, but which Hope was willing to bet was something else entirely. A toy top – no, she realized, a Sneakoscope – and a folded parchment, old, and at first glance, blank.
And a smaller slip of parchment, with writing on it. She brought it out of the rucksack for closer inspection. "The headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix," she read silently, "may be found at number twelve, Grimmauld Place."
And Hope couldn't help gasping aloud, as thoughts and memories came rushing back into her brain. All the details of Grimmauld Place, all its furniture and trappings, the books in its library, the street outside… the master study where Harry had kept items too precious for his Gringotts vault. All the details that had been blocked from Hope's mind by the Fidelius Charm protecting the House of Black.
The Fidelius Charm's Secret Keeper had died over a year before Hope was born. Only Ron Weasley, of all living people, could remember the Place's existence and location. He could Apparate there, but no one else could; no Floo or Portkey could find it; and with Bellatrix's destruction of their full-length Speaking Glass, no other way to get there.
But now I can remember the Place, too! And Father said the house is mine now. I should be able to get into it, now that I know about it – if only I could get there! Can I learn to Apparate? Dad can't Side-along Apparate me… oh Merlin, will he even want me going there?
Well, I'll think of a way. Can't leave school before the Christmas hols anyway… that's plenty of time to think of something. Unless there's an emergency…
She looked up at Michelle and Isabeau, who were watching her with eager, shining eyes. They might not understand exactly what this rucksack represented, but they could tell it had to be important. And they didn't flinch from Hope, or gawk at her… they were willing to help her, while treating her as they always had.
Without a word, Hope passed the slip of parchment to them. They read it together, their heads nearly bumping, before looking back at Hope. "I don't understand," confessed Michelle.
"Grimmauld Place was Harry, Hermione and my Dad's hideaway. They spent a year there getting ready to fight the Dark Lord," said Hope, retrieving the precious parchment and replacing it in the rucksack. "It's hidden under a Fidelius Charm. But now that you've read that, you can know about it... and all the things in it."
"Is that good?"
"It could be." Hope smiled at the twins and made her decision. "When we get to Hogwarts, there're two people I want you to meet. I know they're there, somewhere…"
"Really?" said Isabeau. "Who? Are they teachers?" She sounded slightly disappointed, and craned her neck to look into the rucksack to see what other treasures lay inside.
"You'll understand when you meet them," Hope promised. "It might take me a while to find them." And maybe I can find out more about what's happening from them than I can from Dad.
She began to grow excited again, her earlier fears not forgotten, but put aside for now. She would be at Hogwarts, practicing all the things she'd studied with Mother. And unlike Father, she had family: Dad taught at Hogwarts, and Mum would surely visit… and she'd definitely find Mother and Father… and now Hope knew that, if it ever came to a fight again, Isabeau and Michelle would stand by her.
Father wasn't alone – he had Mother and Dad. Dad's not alone – he has Mum and me. Maybe I don't have to be alone, either. I really don't feel like a hero, or even a Daughter of Heroes… but if I have to play the part, I'll take all the help I can get.