It was definitely getting colder, thought Hermione. She sighed. Summer was making its inevitable and yearly transition into autumn, which would become winter sooner than she liked. Right now the days were more or less unaffected, but she noticed the gradual change of the seasons in the evenings, when Harry and Ron’s noses and cheeks grew pink in the crisp night breeze as they broke camp and how her guitar needed tuning nearly every night where it had not when the days and nights were warmer.
Kneeling in the sandy earth, Hermione bent her head, shook the mass of curls forward and felt around the nape of her neck. Her fingers closed around the clasp that held her necklace on and she deftly flicked it open. The charm in the middle slid off the exposed end and dropped onto her knees. For a moment she palmed the miniature guitar, thinking. Shrinking the instrument had been the only way that she had been able to talk Harry into letting her bring it along – he had been insistent to the point of impracticality about how they travel light. Of course, Hermione grinned, that had only been after he and Ron recovered from the shock of discovering she could play in the first place.
Hermione had always been careful not to reveal this particular ability while at Hogwarts. It had been the one thing that she had kept entirely separate from the wizarding world, saving it instead for the long nights of the summer holidays when she lived at home with her mother and father.
It had been her father who taught her to play. With a small smile, Hermione flicked her wand over the shrunken guitar and watched as it expanded to its normal size. The smooth wood gleamed in the fading sunlight, the rich mahogany tones and glinting copper strings bringing on a fresh rush of longing for home. She remembered warm evenings spent on her front porch with her dad showing her the proper places to lay her fingers and her mum singing in a low voice to the keening songs of her violin. She remembered watching the day fade slowly into night, the low hum of distant traffic, children's voices carrying across the neighborhood and the leaves rustling as the dark trees were stirred by warm summer zephyrs. It made a simple harmony all its own, one Hermione listened for whenever summer came. The Grangers were a musical lot. Hermione’s mother was Greekand heralded from a family so large that Hermione, at 17, still had not met all of her cousins. Her father was English, an only child who filled the empty afternoons of his childhood listening to fledgling rock on the radio and teaching himself how to play the guitar.
When it came down to it, music was the only thing Hermione had that wasn’t in any way complicated by her being a witch. It was simply something for home, for her parents. She felt she owed them this much, this one thing. Years of living another life during the 9 months she was at school had changed their relationship.While the love they shared remained, it could not be denied that every summer she returned home full of wizard news and a head full of another year’s education was another step down a road her parents simply could not follow. Music was something all three of them could understand, all three of them could share without constantly attempting to bridge a gap between two worlds that stubbornly refused to meet. Well, Hermione conceded as she began to tweak the tuning knobs, some would say that music was a magic in and of itself, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to put that label on it yet.
Her decision to take the guitar had been one of the easiest and most agonizing she had ever made. As much as she felt like she was taking something from her family, being out on the search for the Horcruxes made something familiar a necessity for sanity. She was away from Hogwarts, away from her father’s house and devoid of company outside of Harry and Ron. As much as she hated to admit it, she was terribly homesick.
It had long before become habit between the three of them to spend the evenings around a campfire – Harry, Hermione knew, could sit unmoving for hours, mulling over the tasks ahead and watching R.A.B.’s locket glint in the firelight. Ron would write letters until his hand shook so badly he could no longer hold a quill. Hermione knew he never sent them; he just stuffed them into his backpack without a word. As for herself, she would get lost in the enchanting flicker of the flames for hours as well, daydreaming about another time and another place. It could only go on for so long, she knew, before the tension and the extended silence drove them all mental. There were days when they would not speak at all so at night, within the confines of her carefully drawn protective circles, they needed respite, relief.
Rustling in the bushes caused Hermione to look up sharply and she relaxed when Ron’s tall figure pushed a branch out of his way and dropped an armload of wood near the growing fire.
“Harry’s coming along,” he said, seeing the question on her face. “We’re really close to this crag, did you know? I think he just wanted to sit and be alone for a bit.” Ron smiled crookedly at her and sat down in the sand. “You’d think he’d never seen the sea before.”
Hermione said, “I really don’t know if he should be out there by himself, do you?” Ron tried to grin again, but gave up halfway, leaving a strained look on his face as he replied.
“I don’t know. I couldn’t force him and he needs it, I think. We should be safe enough. There is no reason for Death Eaters to be lurking about and those Ministry goons who have been keeping an eye on us have been lost for days now. And,” he added in a quieter voice, “it means I get a moment alone with you.” Hermione felt her cheeks pink at his words and a genuine smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. Ron’s blue eyes were twinkling where he sat and he reached up to her. For a wild moment, Hermione thought he was going to stroke her face, but instead he patted the glossy side of the guitar. “So what is it tonight?” he asked her and his hand returned to his side.
“I was thinking just, I don’t know, whatever…” Hermione shruggedand began to strum absentmindedly.
Since she had fetched the guitar, their nighttime meditations by the fire had become considerably more jovial. At first, Harry and Ron had insisted on exhausting her library of memorized songs, which, she was proud to say, was quite extensive for someone who spent most of her time listening to the tinkling sounds of Parvati’s wireless – a cheap device that was difficult to operate at the best of times – and only a few select months studying the simpler rhythms and melodies of the great Muggle musicians. Hermione’s father was a Beatles fan to the core, so she knew a great deal of their repertoireand a collection of her mother’s Grecian melodies, old church books that had guitar accompaniments to hymns in the back, various popular artists and her and her father’s personal creations. Out of these Ron and Harry had decided on distinct favorites. Ron unwound most if she simply let her fingers take her whereveror sometimes he would look at her, firelight reflected in his bright eyes and ask, softly, for Wes Montgomery – any jazz artist really. He never said particularly why, but Hermione had remembered the summer previous, when the wailing strains of a saxophone or the throaty, soulful voice of Billie Holiday could often be heard floating throughout the house from Mr. Weasley’s repaired record player. If jazz made Ron think of home, if it made the furrow between his eyes ease and his broad shoulders relax…well, Hermione thought, she would play until her fingers were raw and sore.
Then there was Harry. He rarely asked for anything specific, but Hermione was known for her ability to pick up on details and she’d be switched if she didn’t notice Harry’s lips twitch whenever she sang something particularly sillyand the skin around his eyes crinkle with internal mirth. Hermione had often noticed this in Harry – he had a tendency to covertly rebel against minor conventions when under a great deal of strain. If encouraged to eat up and get healthy, he would consume thrice his usual amount of junk food. If in a situation where people expected him to sit and brood and dwell, he’d probably go play Quidditch. If asked to be the mascot for the Ministry of Magic, he’d try to join a secret Order. It seemed fitting then, when Hermione would have thought of love ballads and angst, that Harry preferred juvenile children’s songs, bawdy tavern tunes and anything that bordered on the ridiculous.
There was an exception, however, and a profound one. Over one evening’s campfire, the trio had been cheerfully arguing about what they thought their Animagus forms might be when Harry had gone unusually quiet. Ron was busy detailing the finer points of why he considered a fox to be a likely candidate and Hermione had been remembering (aloud) everything she could about the nature of Animagus transformations, so they did not notice his silence until he broke it.
“I think I’d like to be a bird.” Both Ron and Hermione had looked at him, surprised, and she distinctly remembered the shy smile he wore. He looked decided, and rather self satisfied. “A blackbird, I think,” he continued, ruffling his hair unconsciously. “I mean, flying is…it’s freedom, isn’t it? For me anyway. And it’s the thing I’m best at, flying. Quidditch is…” His voice trailedoff and he scratched the back of his neck absentmindedly, eyes watching the fire and the same small smile on his mouth. The three of them sat in contemplative silence for a minute or two more, Hermione cradling her guitar to her body, Ron staring at the sky and Harry watching sparks dance at the fire’s edge. “It would just be nice,” he broke in again, shaking them from their personal reveries, “to be able to take off whenever you wanted to…to leave the world behind you for a little while. Just to not have a destination or a purpose, but the ability to take off and come back down wherever you wanted, whenever you wanted. And hey, your Animagus form is supposed to reflect your strengths, right? Well, I can’t think of an animal that hunts Dark wizards, so a bird had better be it, right?” He looked at them hopefully, Ron whooping and Hermione grinning in spite of herself.
That seemed like a long time ago now, Hermione thought, but really, it couldn’t have been more than a couple of weeks. If that. In any case, the next night she knew exactly which song to play. Until Harry had reminded her, she had forgotten she knew it. It was a quiet sort of song and the melodic pluck of the strings that next night lulled the three of them into restful contemplation. It would be a long time before Hermione forgot the look in Harry’s eyes as she softly sang the words; how his features fell into a look of mixed sadness, delight, hope and determination, or how his eyes glazed over and she knew he was remembering the past and dreaming about a future that he didn’t often think he had. When she at last stilled the vibrations of the strings against her fingers, Harry’s whole body looked more relaxed than she could remember. He yawned, stretched and looked straight at her. Sometimes Hermione was still startled by the depth of his green eyes. Their gazes locked for a moment and he nodded, a sincere thanks conveyed before Ron announced loudly that the tinder around the fire’s edge was catching and Hermione had better move her bag.
Harry eventually drenched the ground with a spout of water from his wand, Hermione extinguished the fire, Ron double-checked the wards and they all squeezed into their tiny tent. Hermione had lain awake for a while afterwards, listening to Ron’s deep breathing and occasional snores on her one side and Harry on the other, humming softly under his breath.
Hermione was startled out of her memory by Harry’s unceremonious crashing through the trees. He looked remotely thunderous, which Hermione expected. The last time he had seen the sea was when he and Dumbledore had gone searching for Riddle’s locket Horcrux. Harry had told her as much this morning. Ron looked up at him mildly, and Harry dropped mutely to the ground next to him, suddenly expressionless. The two men said nothing, but looked to her with a question, which she answeredas she always did.
The fire crackled, the night fell swiftly and Hermione thumbed the strings of her guitar, letting the whisper of thenight wind carry her voice softly into the sky. Slowly Harry’s expression and hunched over body softened, Ron faintly sang along and they were simply Harry, Ron and Hermione – dreaming about the day after tomorrow, lulled by the gentle melody of Hermione’s guitar.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night Take these broken wings and learn to fly All your life You were only waiting for this moment to arrive