I originally meant for this story to just be a oneshot on why Hermione might have acted the way she did in sixth year, but then I decided to explore a little further on what Harry would do without Hermione and Ron. Here is the result.
Four Months Later
Harry was enjoying a quiet breakfast at #12 Grimauld Place when he was disturbed by a chiming noise. It was the communication mirror that was lying on the side table; he picked it up to find Remus Lupin peering out at him.
"Hi Remus, what's up?"
"Hi Harry, just wanted to let you know that a friend of yours turned up at Tonks's apartment this morning. Hermione's trying to find you, what do you want me to do?"
""She's there now? What the hell? I thought she'd gone to Australia?"
"She had, but now she's back and wants to talk to you."
"What's the matter?"
"I thought I had managed to persuade her to stay out of this mess, and now she's back. Why the hell does the girl have to be so damn stubborn?"
"She's a Gryffindor, what did you expect? Maybe she just wants to talk to you?"
"Yeah, right. Knowing her she'll want to take over about 2 minutes after she gets here."
"So, should I get her over?"
"I'm not sure that's the best idea, I don't want to let anyone who hasn't signed the contract into the fidelius. I'll apparate over after I get dressed, see how it goes from there."
"Okay Harry, see you in a while then."
Harry sat and cursed up a blue storm for a few minutes. He had really hoped to have Hermione safely out of the way. Plus he so didn't want to deal with any drama at this point. He'd had more than enough of her and Ron bickering all of last year.
"Well, at least Ron is stashed away at Hogwarts. Hopefully without him around I won't have to deal with too much crap" he thought as he finished getting ready. He then apparated directly to Nymphadora Tonks's apartment to find Hermione, Remus and Tonks sitting around the kitchen table.
"Remus, Tonks, could you kindly give me a few minutes alone with Hermione please."
"Sure Harry, we'll just be in the other room if you need anything."
Harry looked at Hermione who was looking highly uncertain and nervous, which was quite an odd look for her he thought. Normally she was a lot more confident, or at least gave the appearance of being so.
"Why are you here Hermione? I thought I made things clear back at Hogwarts."
"You did, but I had some things to say to you."
"Just that you were right, all except for one thing."
"You're actually admitting I was right about something. That's new."
"Well, you were right about me and Ron not making any sense. You were also right that for some reason my behavior was different last year. While I'd like to chalk it up to hormones or something, you might have been right about the life debt as well. But there was one thing you were totally wrong about."
"You said I should take some time and examine my feelings and that I'd probably realize that I don't even like you. You were totally wrong about that. The thing is Harry, while I agree that the Life Debt might have made me more predisposed towards friendship with you, you're forgetting one thing."
"You were my friend as well. You were never under any life debt or obligation towards me, and you've always been my best friend. There was nothing forcing you into friendship with me was there? I may not have been the best of friend to you last year, but you were still always there for me. You've always been there for me, well except for that broom incident, and that was more Ron's fault."
"So I was your friend, big deal, you still shouldn't be here Hermione. It's not safe, there are rumors coming out of the ministry that they're going to be moving against all the muggleborns soon. There are rumors of special teams called Snatchers being formed whose sole responsibility will be to round up the muggleborns."
"Is that why you pushed me away? To keep me safe?"
"You never could lie to me Harry."
"I'm not lying Hermione, I still don't want you here."
"Yes, but the reason isn't because you don't trust me is it?"
"I don't trust anyone Hermione, I can't afford that luxury anymore."
"You trust Remus and Tonks obviously."
"I made them sign a contract Hermione."
"What kind of contract?"
"It's similar to what you had everyone sign for the DA meetings. I got the idea from that actually, only the curse is a lot worse than a little outbreak of acne."
"Oh... I didn't expect that, what kind of curse are you using?"
"I really don't want to get into it Hermione, what I'd really like in fact is for you to leave the country."
"I did, I took my parents and moved to Australia, I couldn't stand being there Harry, I couldn't stand not knowing what was happening with you, not knowing if you were okay, I had to come back."
"What did your parents have to say about that?"
"They weren't happy obviously, they're very worried about the situation here, but eventually they understood that this was something I had to do."
"What if I gave you a way to be in contact with me? We got some more of those mirrors that Sirius had given me back in fifth year. You could take one; head back to Australia and still be in touch with me anytime you want."
"No Harry, I've decided my place is here, I'm going to help you find those Horcruxes and I'm going to help you find a way to defeat Voldemort."
"I have people helping me already. People with a whole lot more experience than you."
"How many of those people know you like I do? How many have been by your side every step of the way, and please don't bring up last year or that life debt again. You know what I mean."
"And what if some of those people are former authority figures of yours? Remember summer after fourth year, Dumbledore found it much too easy to convince you not to tell me anything. What if you're put in that kind of situation again and someone asks you to do something for the greater good."
"It was hardly easy Harry, and it was Dumbledore who asked me. You always did everything he asked of you too."
"I wouldn't have if it had meant going against a friend Hermione."
"I've already told you I'm sorry about that, so many times, looking back would I do the same thing again, probably not, but at that time Dumbledore had convinced me that he knew what was best. I won't do anything like that again, you know I won't."
"It's not just me Hermione, I have to think of other people in the group as well, I can't let anyone in who hasn't signed the contract."
"So where do I sign?"
"Just like that? No thinking about it first? You haven't even heard what the curse for breaking the contract is yet."
"So tell me."
"Basically the contract forbids you from disclosing any group business to anyone not in the group. You are also forbidden from giving anyone any information about me or the horcruxes. The penalty for breaking the contract is... severe."
"What is it?"
"You die. Plain and simple, you break the contract and you die."
"You die?" squeaked Hermione. "Isn't that a bit..."
"Extreme? Harsh? Ruthless? Cruel? You could say that, I'm not taking any chances with me or my people Hermione."
"So that's why Remus refused to tell me anything at all about you this morning."
"Yep, once you sign the contract you won't even be able to tell your parents that you met me. If you run into someone like Molly Weasely you won't even be able to tell her that I'm fine. Still feel like signing? I won't hold it against you if you don't."
"Give it to me Harry."
"Are you sure? There's no backing out once you sign it."
"I'm absolutely certain."
"Okay then, I'll just apparate back and fetch it."
A few minutes later Harry was back with the parchment.
"Here you go Hermione. Read it carefully then sign the bottom."
"No one else has signed it?"
"The names are hidden from you until you sign, basic security precaution, just in case you back out at the last moment."
"Okay then, let me read it then... What's this about a secondary secret?"
"That's for your protection in case you get captured by Death Eaters. If you're captured probably their first order of business would be to torture you for information. If you reveal the secondary secret written down there; then instead of dying, you will be put into a magical coma. You can't be wakened from that coma without the consent of the people listed in the contract. They can't torture you if you can't feel it. Also anyone breaking the secondary secret will immediately show up on the parchment, so we'll know that you're captured and if possible will mount a rescue mission."
"Harry Potter wears boxers. That's your secondary secret? Really?"
Harry shrugged "It's a fact that hardly anyone should be aware of, apart from people I've lived with anyway, it qualifies as a secret."
Hermione picked up a quill and signed the bottom of the parchment, immediately a small group of names became visible.
"Not very many people here, you've got Remus and Tonks, Fleur and Bill, Mad Eye and Victor Krum. Krum? Why do you have Victor?"
"I know you and he were involved at one point and I'm telling you right now to keep it discrete Hermione. I had enough of your drama with Ron last year and I won't stand for a repeat of it. Do what you want but keep me out of it."
"Victor and I are just friends Harry; we've barely exchanged a handful of letters ever since the tournament."
"Good to know, as for why he's part of the group - He's a good guy, and out of all the people on that list, well apart from Moody who's in a class of his own, he's had the best education in terms of Defense. Say one thing about Karkaroff, former death eater he may have been, but he made damn sure his students were well educated in Defense against the Dark Arts. Victor came over for Bill and Fleur's wedding and I asked him to stick around after Fleur suggested it. Fleur and Tonks were both kind of package deals with Remus and Bill, but even Fleur was better educated than any of us in defense. Dumbledore really screwed up when it came to our defense teachers."
"Can't disagree with you there" said Hermione thinking back to all their incompetent if not downright evil teachers.
"Out of all our years at Hogwarts, there was only one time when he actually hired someone qualified to teach."
"Nah, even Remus will be the first one to tell you that he wasn't hired for his qualifications. He was hired that year simply because Dumbledore was worried about Sirius. It was sheer luck that he turned out to be good at teaching. I was thinking about Moody, out of all our teachers, as an ex-auror he was the only one who was actually qualified. Dumbledore probably only bothered that year because his usual type of incompetent might have embarrassed him in front of the heads of the other schools. Of course it all went pear shaped when he was kidnapped by Crouch."
"You're sounding uncharacteristically critical of Dumbledore."
"I loved the man Hermione, you know I did, but Hermione, Dumbledore's big plan for the Horcruxes was for the three of us, you, me and Ron to go searching for them. He specifically forbade me from telling anyone else but you two about them, thank god I had a chance to think things over after the funeral and realized just how bad an idea that was."
"What have you been up to all this time Harry?"
"Well, the first thing I did was go to ***** and recast the Fidelius with me as the secret keeper, I went straight there after we left Hogwarts, didn't see any reason to waste time at Privet Drive this year."
"I'm sorry, where did you say you went?"
"Yeah about that, now listen carefully - Harry Potter lives at #12 Grimauld Place."
"You went back there, is it safe? Snape knows where the Headquarters is after all."
"Does he? We recast the Fidelius Hermione; a minute ago you couldn't even hear me when I said the name of the place out loud. Snape knows that there was a headquarters, but by now he's forgotten where it was and what it looked like."
"Anyway, like I said I got Remus and recast the Fidelius at #12, then he and I worked out the details of the contract. We then asked Bill to join."
"He's been working at Gringott's as a curse-breaker, and we needed someone experienced at curse breaking considering the protection's around the last two horcruxes. The ring made Dumbledore's arm shrivel up, you saw it, and the last one - Dumbledore went there with only me for backup, I still don't know what he was thinking. The place was filled with Inferi, hundreds of them, not to mention that the locket itself was inside a bowl full of poison that had to be DRUNK before the locket could be removed. Well, after all that I knew I wasn't going anywhere near a horcrux without an experienced curse-breaker with me. Fleur's his wife and incredibly talented as well, best witch at Beauxbaton's anyway if you go by the Goblet of Fire."
"Anyway, Tonks was in mainly because of Remus but she's trained as an Auror as well, she suggested Moody who's incredibly experienced at fighting dark wizards. He's the one who insisted on the death penalty for breaking the contract. Initially we had chosen to go with the magical coma only, but he said he wasn't going to join us unless we were serious about security. Said he'd had enough of pussy footing around when he was in the Order of the Phoenix."
"I can so see him insisting on that. CONSTANT VIGILANCE."
"Yep. Can't say I disagree with him on that."
"So then what did you do?"
"Well, then we started searching for the Horcruxes of course. Had a huge stroke of luck right off the bat. Kreacher recognized the fake horcrux, the locket we retrieved from the cave. Turned out that Regulus Black, Sirius's younger brother had stolen it from the cave and given it to Kreacher to destroy. Unfortunately Kreacher could never figure out a way to destroy it and by the time we found out about it, it had been stolen by Dung."
"Dung stole it? How could he?"
"Yeah, luckily we managed to track him down and retrieve it before he had a chance to sell it."
"What did you do to Dung?"
"Obliviated the last three years from his memory. I wanted to just obliviate his memories of the Order, but Moody insisted that it was safer to just wipe all three years completely."
"Moody is quite the piece of work, I can't feel sorry for Dung at all though, it was a horrible betrayal to steal from headquarters."
"Yeah, anyway so that was how we found our first Horcrux."
"First, so you found more?"
"Yep, we knew that Voldemort had given the diary to Malfoy, so on the off chance that he had given another to another one of his Death Eater's we had Bill search their vaults at Gringott's. As an employee he has access and was able to conduct a discrete search under the guise of performing an audit. We found another one - Hufflepuff's cup, inside the Lestrange Vault. We replaced the cup with a duplicate so unless Voldemort himself shows up at Gringott's to check it we should be fine. Course Bill was taking a terrible risk, Goblins are death to anyone caught stealing from them, but he was willing to take it and thankfully it paid off."
"So you've got two of them, that's fantastic."
"Yeah, but we still haven't figured out how to destroy them. That's something you might be able to help us with, talk to Bill at the next meeting, he'll fill you in on all the stuff we've tried so far, maybe you can figure out something that the rest of us have missed."
"I'll do that."
"Also you'll be joining me every day in training, I've had Moody and Tonks both driving me ragged and you could do with some proper training in defense as well."
"Okay, that does sound like a good idea as well."
"Anyway, back to the horcruxes, we think Voldemort's snake might be another, and we think that he might have hidden another at Hogwarts. We've had Kreacher and Dobby searching the place discretely but no luck so far. Doesn't really help that we don't know exactly what we're looking for."
"Give me all the information you've gathered so far, let me see what I can figure out."
"Okay then, guess you'll be staying with me at #12 then, go grab your stuff, I'll apparate us there."
"It's good to have you back Hermione, even if I would have preferred that you stayed safe in Australia. I did miss you a lot."
"Thanks Harry, I missed you too."