Chapter Nine

Hermione landed gently in front of her new home and shop. The first thing she did after arrival was look down at Harry, to ensure he was alright. He was awake, green eyes staring into her face bemusedly, as he gurgled and babbled, seeming no worse for the wear, after apparation. Hermione smiled down at the baby boy, relief and triumph running rampant through her mind. She had done it. She rewritten time itself. Harry was hers, finally, and he was safe. But she was not anywhere close to being fooled into the notion that the most difficult challenge was over with. Certainly, it was the most crucial task to her plight, but now, she would engage herself in the most challenging task of all; raising a child.

Hermione had read all the books in the world on childcare. She had read every magazine, muggle and wizarding alike, on how to raise a child, since her plan to raise Harry herself had first occurred to her. But time and experience had taught her that not all things can be learned in the pages of books, and besides, she herself had never raised a child. In fact, she'd hardly ever been around children. She and Ron had had none of their own. She'd not even had any younger siblings. She had visited young Teddy Lupin a few times, but that certainly did not make her eligible to raise a child. For pity's sake, she had never even babysat a child. No, Hermione Granger was no fool. She knew that the actual raising of Harry would be her hardest challenge yet.

But she would not be alone. Ernest was already proving a perfectly helpful assistant. Hagrid had made it clear he too would be interested in visiting Harry. And Dumbledore would certainly provide assistance if Hermione cared to ask him for it she was sure, though she was not so sure she cared to. And, her next task, just as soon as she got Harry situated, would hopefully ensure she could rely on two others to aid her raising of Harry, as well.

She made her way to the front door, struggling with the rather large bag of baby supplies, and Harry, who was starting to squirm. Her body was old and frail, and not acquainted with holding heavy bags or squirming children, and certainly not at the same time. In fact, she almost dropped one of them, except a hand shot out and relieved her of the bag. Hermione turned, a thank you on her lips, expecting Ernest, only to find the young woman she had seen from the window with the little boy when she had first looked at the house.

The woman was pretty, and young, in her early twenties, Hermione guessed. Her dark brown hair was unbound and reached past her shoulders. She was curvy and of middle height, average, really, except for her lovely smile. It was full and bright, slightly crooked, showing straight white teeth, her lips a pretty coral color. Despite her happy smile, however, her nut brown eyes looked somewhat sad.

"Thank you, so much," Hermione exclaimed, hoisting Harry closer to her, a tingling relief going through the arm that had been holding the heavy bag.

"No problem, Miss…?" The woman replied, head tilted quizzically.

"Lucretia. Lucretia Evans." Hermione extended her free arm to the woman, and they shook hands.

"Ah, so you're my new neighbor then? Well, I welcome you to the Hooper's Circle, Ms. Evans. I'm Jayne Rockleer." At that moment, a small boy, no older than four, peeked out from behind Jayne's skirts. "And this is my little rascal, Finley, who mummy told was supposed to be picking up his toys."

The boy had blonde hair and grey eyes, but he smiled his mother's smile when he said, "I did pick up my toys, mummy!"

"Did you now," Jayne replied, and she patted the boy's head fondly. "Good Finley."

You could tell just by looking at the mother with her son that she loved him, Hermione thought, and she smiled a small smile herself.

Jayne noticed, and straightened, nodding at Harry, nestled in Hermione's arms. "Is that your grandson, then?"

"Oh, no," Hermione said, "I'm just his Aunt." She hesitated, and then, feeling this woman was trustworthy, she added, "This is my nephew, Harry. Harry Potter."

The woman's eyes grew round, and she peered closer at Harry. "R-really? Ohh, yes, yes, I see the scar on his forehead. A pity. Poor little thing, losing both his parents like that. I wonder how he'll take it, once he's old enough to know.

"I dunno," Hermione murmured, frowning. How would he take it?

"Of course, it'll be a while before he understands. Finley doesn't just yet. But he's lucky, only lost one parent. He's lucky he still has me, his mum. Or, at least," She sighed, eyes cast downward, "that's what everyone keeps telling me."

Hermione finally understood the sad look in the woman's eyes. She hesitated, and then laid a hand on the woman's arm. "I-I'm so sorry, Ms. Rockleer."

The woman straightened. "I, I apologize. It's quite alright, thank you." She smiled again, but her smile looked rather pasted on. "May I assist you in bringing your bag in?"

Hermione smiled at her. "You may, thank you, very much."

They entered the shop, after Hermione unlocked the door. It was all set up for its Grand Opening tomorrow.

"Ooh, you're running a used bookshop?" Jayne commented, right behind Hermione, bag in one hand and Finley's hand firmly grasped in her other. She glanced around in an intrigued manner.

"That I am," Hermione answered, as she led the way to the staircase leading to the upstairs and her home. "I noticed you run a shop to, though I did not see exactly what it was…?"

"A children's consignment shop," Jayne answered, weaving deftly around a bookcase whilst snatching a book from Finley's hands and replacing it on the shelf.

"How convenient," Hermione replied, with a grin. "I'm certain young Harry and I will be frequenting your shop often!"

"You would both be most welcome," Jayne replied. Hermione was pleased that she sounded pleased again, and they continued up the staircase to the house.

When they entered, Hermione found Ernest busy in the kitchen. "I'm just making tea, dear. I see you've got your nephew! May I…?" He stretched his arms out, and Hermione happily deposited Harry into them. Her arms had been beginning to complain.

Ernest's blue eyes shone as he gently rocked Harry. "Ooh, he's simply beautiful, Miss Lucretia! Not that I ever doubted he wouldn't be, mind, he being the defeater of Voldemort, and all…" At that point, he noticed Jayne, standing semi-awkwardly in the background. He passed Harry back to Hermione and bounced over to her and her son, Finley.

"Hello!" He said, beaming. He swept into a low bow, and, right before Hermione's disbelieving eyes, deftly took the baby bag from Jayne, and kissed her now free hand.

"Er…hello," Jayne answered, and her bemused gaze swept to Hermione for some sort of answer. Hermione shrugged, at a loss for words to describe Ernest's positive oddity, and instead she said,

"Jayne, this is Ernest, my assistant, Ernest Quippley. Ernest, this is Jayne, Jayne Rockleer, and her son, Finley."

Ernest swept out of his bow, and knelt in front of Finley. "Hullo, Finley, good sir! How're you on this splendid, splendid day?"

Finley giggled. "You're funny," He said.

Ernest giggled back. "I try, dear boy, I try." He popped back up, and turned to Hermione, baby bag swinging from his arm, and he took Harry back from Hermione gently, as Harry looked ready to fall back asleep again, despite the commotion. Hermione didn't blame him. It had already been a busy day for the both of them, and it was hardly even time for tea yet. Ernest lowered his voice, and said,

"I'll take little Harry back to his room and put him down for a nap, and put away his stuff. Tea's almost ready, and I should be done in time to finish making it, but just in case, if you could watch everything Miss, that would be splendid."

He turned to face and Jayne, and added, "And Ms. Rockleer, you and your son simply must stay for tea, I insist!"

Jayne looked to Hermione, and said, "Well, er, I'd be happy to, provided it's alright with Ms. Evans…?"

"It would be a pleasure to have you, Ms. Rockleer. And you simply must call me Lucretia. Both of you, actually." Jayne and Ernest both smiled.

Tea was a quaint and perfectly nice affair. Finley was a polite little boy, and Ernest, who seemed quite good with children, kept him well occupied. Jayne seemed to like that. After a while, like Harry, Finley grew tired, and dozed, and the adults had a long conversation. Within that afternoon, Hermione was pleased to find faithful friends, it would seem, in both Ernest and Jayne. Jayne opened up, and told them that her husband, Finley's father, had been a muggle-born, and her Hogwarts school sweetheart, but he had been killed by Death eaters a few months ago. Hermione found that heartbreaking, and Ernest gave Jayne a long hug, which she seemed unsure of at first, but eventually she grew comfortable with it and squeezed him back tightly. Then, Ernest deftly made the conversation cheerier by amicably explaining that, though fresh out of Hogwarts, he was Twenty years old; he said it was because he had been "simply dreadful" at dueling and Defense against the Dark Arts, and his Professor had held him back twice.

Finally, after a few hours of chatting, Jayne left, a sleepy Finley in tow, though she promised to come around the next day for tea as well. Ernest cleaned up, and while he busily, (and almost inhumanly quickly) cleaned up, Hermione went in to see Harry. He was still fast asleep, and Hermione didn't want wake him; instead, she stood by his crib, and looked down at him. His mouth was open, his little chest rising and falling as he breathed slowly and deeply. He fingers and toes curled and uncurled as he slept, and every now and then his eye would twitch. Hesitantly, Hermione ran a finger down his cheek, marveling at its' smoothness. She felt a stirring in her chest. This was Harry, her best friend, in another life. And now her little Nephew. But already, she could feel the stirrings of motherly love within her, the same love she saw on Jayne's face for her son Finley. Hermione smiled, a small, true little smile. She kissed Harry's little forehead gently, and then carefully backed out of his room.

"Ernest," she called to him as she made her way to the front door. "I'm going out. I'll be back in a little while. Keep an eye on Harry please?"

His head popped to look at her from the kitchen, beaming. "Certainly, Lucretia, glad to!"

Hermione grabbed her bag, and headed out the door. Now for her next challenge…