Hermione and Co. belong to Ms. Rowling, not me. I'm making not a cent from this fanfic.
Responses welcome!

Mine Protector

Helena woke at 8:00--far too early, considering the headache she had, but someone, or something, was making a ruckus just outside her bedroom window, a scurrying sound right against the glass that drove into her drowsy head like an ice pick. "Whatssit?" She slurred, throwing a hand over her eye and stretching. The noise continued. She spread her fingers and gazed through them at the high-beamed ceiling, then finally rolled on her side. A wineglass was perched carelessly at the very edge of her nightstand, a few drops of redness still pooled at the bottom, a sight which served only to intensify her headache.

"Fine!" She said outloud, startling even herself, and sat upright, kicking the blankets off her legs. The floors of the little post-war suburban house were freezing, even on a summer morning, and she had to tip-toe her way to the window at first, dodging the piles of laundry she had folded neatly at the foot of the bed. The noise that had woken her was coming directly from her west-facing window, of that she was sure--she could even see something moving behind the eggshell white curtains. Slowly, she lifted back a corner of the fabric and peeked outside; she saw nothing at first, just her neighbors stately maple tree. No one, she thought, puzzled. Then quite suddenly, a giant brown bird swooped down, chirping shrily, batting at the window with its wings. She stepped back with a little squeak of her own, letting go of the shade. After mentally scolding herself for such unnecessary caution, she breathed a sigh of amused relief and opened the window to let the owl in.

---

Vacation was over. The wine glasses had been rinsed out and lined up in the cupboard; laundry had been folded into great big steamer trunks, along with shoes and spellbooks and parchment. The house was neat as a pin, almost as if no one lived here, and looked for all the world like an ordinary muggle household. Only a sharp wizard's eye would be able to idenfity the foe-glass that hung over the fireplace mantle--to anyone else it looked like a delicate, cathedral arched mirror that reflected nothing more than a tidy sitting area filled with stylish, but modest, furnishings. Other misleading objets de art filled the house, looking like pretty trinkets, when really they served a much greater purpose: Egyptian sneakoscopes lined up on bookshelves, as did a number of enchanted fallacy stones that could be used for weighing truth and lies--one only needed to hold the stones while talking with someone, and the mass of the stones would change depending on the truthfullness of the subject. These were all the tools of an Auror. They belonged to Helena Black.

She was sitting in the sunroom located at the back of the house, kneeling on a seagrass mat, deep in thought. This was where she often came to meditate, to practice Tai Chi--the Eastern muggle practice that actually had its roots in wizardry--and to work on weapons training. The room, which was mostly empty, had a wardrobe at one end which was stuffed to the gills with what looked like every lethal weapon known to man: knives, hatchets, swords, and even muggle shotguns. Helena was adept at weilding all of them--especially the knives, which were her speciality--but had been using them, as of late, for pure defensive tactics. With the bullseye charm, she could easily enchant the weapons to take aim at her, all of them flying swiftly at her from different directions, so that she could deflect them before any actually came close to harming her. Sometimes she banished the weapons away with a murmured spell and her wand, but once a weapon was in close range, she preferred to physically remove it with a high kick or a deflect of the wrist. Dodging was used only as a last resort--a last resort that, thanks to repeated training, she rarely had to take.

Helena knew she should get in one last round of training before leaving London, but she found that her mind was too cluttered--hours of meditation had done nothing to sweep her thoughts away. Calm. Concentrate... she whispered to herself. Her tightened chest muscles loosed a bit at the mantra, but her mind raced on in abandonment, flooded with paranoia.

Is this what did in Moody? she wondered, tightening her fists. Was it a barage of worry that picked him up like a wave and held him there, half-crazed? The question was enough to calm her down, oddly. She had to perserve, had to hold on to her strength. She couldn't let what happened to Moody happen to her. The stakes were too high.

Dumbledore's early owl was what had her in knots. "You should be first to know of new developments at Hogwarts for this upcoming term," he'd written on a scrap of parchment--he hadn't used official Hogwarts stationary, which meant this was a letter he'd sent to her only, and informally, at that. His script was a bit more hurried than usual, and Helena discovered just why when she read on to discover that there would be a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts, come fall.

Sirius Black.

Uncle Sirius...she thought remotely, testing out the phrase in her head.

She'd sat promptly back on the bed after reading Dumbledore's letter, the throb in her head intensifying. The school owl took a drink of water from her bathroom soapdish, groomed his feathers for a good ten minutes, then took off out the window. Just as he left, a tiny silver fluff zoomed into the room, bobbing wildly around her shoulders so that she couldn't even track it with her eyes. "Stop!" she finally shouted, snatching Ron Weasley's owl out from mid-air and cupping him in her hands. She sat like that, hunched on the end of the bed for several minutes--hair hanging over her eyes, the tiny owl hooting contentedly--before finally untying the soiled piece of parchment that was attached to its foot. She recognized Ron's sloppy writing immediatly, a single line that read: "Surprise B-day party for Harry next weekend. Mum says you can stay through 'til school starts, if you like. Send word back with Pig."

Helena sighed, then forced herself up from the bed and over the dresser, which was crowded with books and supplies. She grabbed her second-best quill and used it to scratch out a quick reply in the back of Ron's note. "Sounds Great, Ron," she wrote, then paused for a moment. "Parents on holiday. I'll take friday's 5 o'clock train." Pig was ambling around her pillow as if intent on making himself a little hollow to nest in, and protested a little when she tied the note around his leg. "Rest as long as you like," she said. "Just remember that Ron's waiting." At her words Pig seemed to nod, then closed his eyes in exhaustion.

Two surprise letters in one day. Well, she had been expecting to hear from Ron sooner or later; it was practically tradition that she and Harry come to the Burrow for a visit in the weeks before school started. But knowing that she would have to stay with the Weasley's while at the same time preparing to live under the same roof as her Uncle. . .well, she didn't know if she could pull it off without giving herself away. She took a shower as she thought her dilemma over, and when she stepped out from the billowing steam, she felt a little better. Wrapping herself in a light cotton robe, she swiped the bathroom mirror clear of moisture before taking a good look at herself. "You're Helena Black," she told herself. "Twenty-two years old. Apprentice Auror to the Order of the Phoenix." She swept back her hair and studied her profile. It wasn't particularly remarkable; she had a cutesy, upturned nose, full lips and long lashes. She certainly didn't look dangerous. "Voldemort killed your parents." She stepped away from the mirror, letting her eyes unfocus until she could no longer see herself clearly.

It was time to become Hermione Granger.

---

Helena kept all her potion-making equipments and untensils in the kitchen, just like any good witch did, but her couldron was housed in a cupboard along with ordinary muggle appliances like a toaster over and an electric wok. The vials of bat's teeth, scorpion tails, marigold essence, and boomslang were crowded on a shelf alongside saffron, sweet basil, and curry powder. Helena didn't necessarily feel pressure to live like a muggle--no one, including Ron and Harry, had visited her here, after all--but she found that she had a taste for certain muggle foods, like Masala, for one. And she didn't mind the muggle appliances, either--they were especially handy to use on occasions when a great big cauldron fire would have attracted the curiosities of her muggle neighbors. But because of the wide variety her kitchen contained it took her nearly an hour to round up all the ingredients necessary for the VesClotho potion, and she was startled to discover that she was nearly out of the potion's key ingrediant, fairy-lash. Fairy-lash was just what it sounded: the tiny, glitter-like eyelashes of fairies. To be harvested, a fairy had to first be caught, then be made to sit still while having its eyelashes magically plucked. Not a pretty sight--the plucking didn't hurt, but fairies, being notoriously vain, were ususally furious with the results. Luckily, Helena found just enough fairy-lash crusted around at vial's rim to finish concocting the VesClotho, and now the potion was simmering quietly on the stovetop.

While waiting for the potion to brew, Helena sat at the kitchen table and removed a small hand mirror from the pocket of her robe. She checked out her reflection quickly, noting that her hair had returned to its natural color--a deep, tarry black--over the course of her summer vacation; she would have to re-lighten it again. "Lumosify" she murmurred, holding the tip of her want to her temple; with that, her hair lightened drastically from the roots outward, turning a soft, ochre-brown color. She held up her hair and turned her head, checking it from every angle. Now, what to do about these curls, she thought, biting her lower lip. Her hair was naturally wavy, and hung quite heavily over her shoulders. Usually she completed her disguise by giving the hair a good frizz-up--a touch that she thought made her look studious and unencumbered. But surely, at the age of sixteen, Hermione Granger could be expected to have taken a concern with her appearance? It's not -that- vain to want smooth hair, she mentally insisted, deciding to forego the frizz-job for once. After the hair came the lumi-eyes, a wizarding brand of eyedrops that could temporarily change the user's eye color. The bottle, labeled "hazel", had been purchased at Hogsmeade last Spring, and would last her until Christmas, at least. The only trouble was that, unlike the Lumosify spell, which would last for up to three months, the lumi-eyes had to be applied weekly. Thankfully, she had always been regorous about remembered to put in the eye drops every Sunday while at Hogwarts (she had a remembrall in the same drawer as the eyedrops, just in case, but it had yet to light up in reminder). To her knowledge, not one person at school other than Dumbledore had any idea that her eyes were actually green.

Just as she finished with the eyedrops, a small "Pop!" came from the cauldron that she'd set up on her modern gas stovetop. Ah, the VesClotho was ready. Like the Lumosify Spell, the effects of VesClotho would last for a few months before finally fading away from her body; its purpose was to reduce Helena's physical age from twenty-two to sixteen. A small difference, really--especially when compared with the wretching transformation from age seventeen to age eleven, a process she'd undergone during her first year as Hermione Granger. How shocking it had been to feel her breasts shrink away, her hips narrow until her skirt slipped off and she was left with a prepubescent body, all awkward, skinny angles. In some ways, transforming herself to the age of twelve had been even worse--at that age she re-entered puberty for a second(!) time, and felt her body flood with horrible hormones and feelings of anxiety and puppylove. She had forgotten how awful adolescence was, and though reducing her body back to those early years was necessary, it'd been the cause of many mistakes on her part, too. Afterall, if it hadn't been for that horrible eleven-year old's brand of insecurity, she would have never been crying in the bathroom when Professor Quarral had set a mountain troll loose in the castle, feeling sensitive about that fact that she couldn't get two miserable first-year boys like Harry and Ron to befriend her. She just begun to laugh hysterically, feeling stupid about the whole thing, when the troll had knocked the bathroom door off its hinges. Luckily, she'd been in her right mind to let Ron and Harry save her. Blasting a good stun at the troll would have only made the boys wonder how she'd acquired the power to cast such a potent spell in only her first year. Plus being the damsel in distress delievered her right into their good graces--Ron and Harry had realized, for the first time, that Hermione Granger actually needed someone.

Helena Black, on the other hand, needed no one. Aside from Dumbledore's knowledge of her true identity, she lived her life in secrecy. To the wizarding world, the Helena Black that had graduated from Hogwart's six years ago had eloped to California with an American muggle. "Such a shame about Helena Black," people said, catching wind othe rumor, "So clever, she was." Uncle Sirius believed the same story, as far as she knew. In the few times she'd been in his presence, he hadn't mentioned a neice, nor the deaths of Helena's parents. Maybe... she thought, slowly. Maybe hiding my identity from Sirius won't be as hard as I think. It is, afterall, a chance to see how much he knows about what happened to me...About what happened to mum and dad. She shook the hope loose. Her VesClotho was boiling over.

A few minutes later, Helena was studying the oddly translucent potion on the table before her; she had filled an entire glass, but was trying to calculate how much of it she would have to drink to shave off a few years. Did she even have to drink it at all? She looked her body over; her sixteen year-old body hadn't been much different than what she had now. Her breasts has been the same average size since age fifteen, and she'd always been quite trim and athletic, with broad shoulders and long legs. She looked in the mirror again; it was her face that gave it away. Her eyebrows arched a little too knowingly--cynically, you might say. The charming roundness of adolescence had long left her cheeks and chin, leaving her with a rather defined bone-structure. At sixteen she had been cute. Now she was...Attractive? Elegant? Certainly not beautiful. Not quite, anyway. She decided two swallows would do the trick.

VesClotho tasted, unlike polyjuice potion, quite good. Like a summery drink--lemonade, maybe. It was what it did to Helena's insides that she hated. The potion went down cool and sweet, but as soon as it hit her stomach it burned like nothing imagined. She dropped the glass into the sink and fell to her knees, gasping for air, feeling as if her whole skin was suddenly perforated and leaking out gallons and gallons of lava. Gentle words...gentle words... Helena chanted her favorite mantra silently, clutching her stomach as she rolled to her side, shivering despite the fact she felt on fire. Within a few minutes, the floor felt like a cool kiss against her sweaty cheek.

Now the face in the mirror was filled-out with youthful exhuberance--or was she just red-faced from the VesClotho? No matter; the potion had done its trick. Helena Black was now the spitting image of the Hermione Granger that Harry Potter and the rest of Hogwarts knew so well. Soon she would be at the burrow, and no one would be the wiser.