Concentrating on the garden of the Burrow, Hermione Disapparated with a soft crack and appeared on the path that wound from the fenced garden to the kitchen door. Even though it was late at night, lights burned in all of the ground floor windows. This was a common sight as the Order of the Phoenix used the Burrow as one of its three headquarters.
The Order had not used Grimmauld Place since James’ birth fifteen months ago. In truth, number 12 Grimmauld Place was not connected to the Floo network, and as far as Hermione knew, only herself and the Weasleys could Apparate into it. Those changes had been instituted after James was born and Harry and Ginny had moved into the house. They had hoped the house, and the Fidelius Charm that Dumbledore had placed on it, would be safe enough for Ginny and James. Unfortunately, too many people had access to Grimmauld Place, and after an attempt to kidnap young James, Harry and Ginny and James had gone into hiding under their own personal Fidelius Charm in a separate, Unplottable location.
With the kidnapping attempt on James and the amount of information that was being leaked, the Order had moved out of number 12 Grimmauld Place to several other locations. One was the Burrow. Another was the home of the Diggorys’, and the last was the flat above Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes in Diagon Alley. All three places were under Fidelius Charms with a different person as Secret-Keeper for each. Hermione was the Secret-Keeper for the Burrow.
She approached the kitchen door and knocked on it. There was the sound of scraping chairs inside, and she heard Ron’s voice. “Who's there?”
“It’s Hermione, Ron.”
“Oh, good, I’ve been… ouch! What dy’a hit me for, Mum?”
“Ask her a question, young man. You know the rules,” Molly said from the other side of the door. Hermione cracked a smile. Ron was a stickler with everyone else about double checking identity, but he always forgot to do it with her.
“Oh yeah,” Ron said. “Let’s see… ummm… oh, what happened the first time you changed James?”
“Ron!” Hermione said, her cheeks coloring in embarrassment. “Don’t make me tell that again.”
“Nope. That’s the question,” Ron said with a chuckle.
Grinding her teeth, Hermione stamped her foot and blew out a snort of frustration. “Fine! I couldn’t get the nappy to stay on, so I cast a sticking charm, and it took Harry and Ginny an hour to get the dirty nappy off at the next changing. Happy, Ronald?”
“Pickled,” he said, and the door cracked open. Hermione slipped inside, and Ron ambushed her, wrapping her up in his arms and pressing her against his chest. All of her worries slipped from Hermione’s mind, and she luxuriated for a moment in her fiancé’s embrace. His breath was hot across her forehead, and his heart beat with the fury of rain on a tin roof. “I was worried. You took so long, and I hate that you have to meet so close to Hogwarts.”
Pushing away from Ron, Hermione cupped his cheek and smiled. “Sorry it took longer than expected, but everything is in place for tomorrow.”
“Well, that is a relief,” Molly said from behind Hermione. “Do you want something to eat, dear? Or a nice cup of tea or hot chocolate?”
“Oh, no thanks, Mrs. Weasley,” Hermione said, and then she stood on her tip toes and gave Ron a quick kiss. “Harry wanted me to report when I got back.”
“He said you could report to him in the morning, ‘Mione,” Ron said. “He’s probably asleep, and you should be as well. This won’t work if we’re all falling asleep as we storm the castle.”
Hermione sighed and took a step back from Ron. His blue eyes were weary from a long day, but his smile still reached them. His hair hung loose about his face, curling at the ends as it pooled about his shoulders. Automatically, she slid her hand from his check and ran it through his hair. His eyes closed, and he leaned into her hand. As difficult as the war had been and with all the years they had spent traveling and on the run from both Death Eaters and the Ministry, she was amazed that they had endured as a couple. She loved him with all her heart, but he was the most infuriating man she had ever met.
“Ginny said we could stop by at any time for any reason,” Hermione said, quickly taking on the tone she used to lecture Ron and Harry. “Tomorrow afternoon is going to be all preparation, and I want to spend time with our friends.”
“But. ‘Mione, I was hoping…” Ron was using the wheedling voice that often cajoled her into his bed.
“Ronald!” Hermione glanced over her shoulder to where Molly was cleaning up, pretending not to be listening to her son and his fiancé. “We will talk about this there.”
“Yes, dear,” Ron said as he hung his head. “I just…”
“Ron,” Mrs. Weasley said, causing both Hermione and Rod to start. “Nothing is certain about tomorrow. I’m certain Ginny and Harry will be waiting for you. Just go.”
Ron stared at his mother and then nodded. “Alright, ‘Mione, I’ll get a few things, and we can go.” Ron stepped past her and headed for the stairs, but he stopped halfway, turned around, and grabbed his mother in a tight hug. Hermione smiled as Mrs. Weasley was crushed against her son’s chest, his chin a few inches above the top of her head. He dipped his face down and whispered something in his mother’s ear, and then he was up the stairs and clumping about like a rogue bludger.
There was a wistful smile on Molly’s face as Hermione went over to the Floo. Hermione smiled as well. Ron never ceased to amaze her. Hermione was glad that Ginny kept an extra room available for guests. She would just have to make sure she cast a good Silencing Charm before she and Ron went to bed.
Hermione picked up the jar of Floo Powder from the mantle and threw a pinch into the fireplace. The flames roared green, and Hermione stuck her head into them. She called out, “Headmistress’s office, Hogwarts,” and then she felt the strange stretching sensation as her head rushed through the network. After a moment, she could see into Minerva McGonagall’s office.
Just as when Dolores Umbridge tried to take over the school, when Voldemort took over Hogwarts he found the headmistress’s office barred to him and his Death Eaters. Although the Death Eaters occupied the castle, it had not been easy for them. For months the House Elves of the school had terrorized the Death Eaters before Voldemort figured out how to capture and kill almost all of them. Even so, the ghosts of Hogwarts still roamed the school, and Headmistress McGonagall remained seated in her office, ensuring that the school remained in her possession. She had sealed off her office and tower from Voldemort. In a fit of rage, Voldemort had come by and placed his own wards on the entrance to ensure that no one could get out of it, even if they wanted to. However, Voldemort regularly attempted to break into Minerva’s office, and now she was little more than a prisoner in her school.
Early in the occupation of Hogwarts, Minerva would regularly leave the office either by Portkeys or by Apparating from the Headmistress’s Cottage. However, without the students in the school and because of the dramatic re-sculpting of the wards that Voldemort and his followers had done, Minerva had tied the remaining wards to herself. As such, if she ever left the Headmistress’s Office or Cottage, she would lose control of the castle. Luckily, she could still make Floo calls to people, and each of the safe houses that the Order of the Phoenix used were always connected to Minerva’s Floo.
“Minerva, are you there?” Hermione asked.
Torches cast a soft, undulating glow about the room, and other than the few personal artifacts Professor McGonagall had added, it was not much changed from Professor Dumbledore’s days. The portraits of the dozing Headmasters and Headmistresses of the past lined the walls. Strange, delicate, silver instruments whirled and puffed smoke on bookshelves and counters. There was some movement near the back of the office, and Minerva stepped around one of the bookshelves and stared at the fire, adjusting her glasses. “Ah, Miss Granger, what can I do for you at this hour?”
“I just returned from the meeting, and Ron and I wish to speak with Harry and Ginny.”
“And you thought to use my entrance into the cottage?” Minerva asked.
“Yes,” Hermione said. “It’s faster than Apparating and walking two miles through the wards.” Harry and Ginny lived with their son in the cottage that was reserved for the Headmistress of Hogwarts. A door at the rear of the office allowed direct access to the rear garden of the cottage. When Harry had told her of the cottage, Hermione had laughed at the audacity of hiding within Voldemort’s newly acquired fortress. “Of course,” Hermione said, “If you would rather not be bothered…”
“No, that is fine, Miss Granger,” Minerva said. “I will send a message to Harry. I’m sure he will send Fawkes right over to help you. Come over whenever you are ready.”
“Thank you. It will only be a few moments,” Hermione said and then ended the Floo call. She stood up and brushed the soot off of her jeans.
A large crack caused Hermione to jump and spin around. Ron stood behind her, a knapsack over his shoulder and a grin on his face. “Ready to go?” he asked.
Covering her racing heart with her hand, Hermione scowled. “Merlin, Ronald. Why do you insist on making so much noise when you Apparate? I know you can be quiet as a mouse.”
“Sorry,” Ron said sheepishly, and then he took a step forward, pressing his fiancé back against the fireplace. He put a hand beside her face and spoke in a low, rumbling voice. “I like it when you’re all flustered and angry.”
“Honesty, Ron. I’m worked up enough as it is.” Ron grinned as his eyes swept downward, and Hermione blushed. “No… I meant… Bugger it all. Arghh,” Hermione stalked away from Ron and then sat down on the couch. “Minerva is letting Harry know. Hopefully he’ll send Fawkes along.”
“How long do you think it will take?” Ron asked.
Hermione shrugged, but then there was a flash of flame. When the flame cleared, Fawkes, the brilliant red and gold phoenix, flew in lazy circles about the room and then landed on the couch next to Hermione. There was a note and a rattle clutched in Fawkes’ talons. Hermione retrieved them and opened the note. As she read, Fawkes let out a trill of music that brought a smile to Hermione’s face, and then the phoenix disappeared in a ball of flame.
Since you’re too lazy to walk, here’s a Portkey.
Tap it with your wand and count to three.
The rattle was an old one that James had used while teething. It had once played a lullaby as he played with it, but the magic had long run out. Ginny had dozens of these small Portkey’s in a drawer in her kitchen. Because Minerva had tied the wards on the Headmistress’s office directly to her, the Portkeys could bypass the other wards around Hogwarts and allow quicker access to the Cottage. Of course, Voldemort’s wards still guarded the entrance to the office, so there was no direct access to Hogwarts from Minerva’s office prison.
“I don’t see why Fawkes couldn’t just take us back,” Ron said as he took the note from Hermione and read it. “I mean he takes Harry directly to the cottage.”
Hermione rolled her eyes and patted Ron’s forearm. “You know that phoenixes are loyal to only their bonded wizard. It’s very rare for them to take anyone with them when they travel by flame.”
“That ruddy bird takes Ginny all the time,” Ron said.
“Ron,” Hermione said in impatience, “I don’t feel like arguing about your issues with a phoenix. Can we just get going?” She held out the rattle to Ron, who clamped his mouth shout and grab the toy tightly. Hermione tapped the rattle with her wand and counted to three. There was a tug around her abdomen, and then with a rush of color she was pulled across the country.
Stumbling, they appeared in Professor McGonagall’s office. Minerva sat behind the great desk, and she glanced up from the book in front of her as Hermione and Ron regained their balance.
“That was very quick,” the elderly witch said as Hermione righted herself. “And how are you this evening, Ron?”
“Er, fine, ah, Minerva,” Ron said in a tentative voice.
Minerva glanced at them over the rims of her glasses. “Are you planning to spend the night with Harry and Ginny?” she asked, nodding at the knapsack Ron carried.
“Well, only if they are still up,” Hermione said. “I wanted to report that everything is ready to go and to spend some time with them.”
“I’m sure they are still up,” Minerva said with a small smile. “Nymphadora has yet to return, so they are probably still discussing tomorrow’s plans with her.” Hermione frowned and sighed, and Minerva quirked an eyebrow. “I see you are still unhappy about the plan.”
“Yes,” Hermione said, “but I don’t have any better ideas. Voldemort hasn’t left Hogwarts since Wormtail betrayed him and gave Harry the cup. I know this is the only way, but something doesn’t feel right.”
Ron snorted. “C’mon, luv, you’ve always told me that Divination is a load of rubbish. Don’t go all Trelawney on me now.”
“It’s not Divination, Ron,” Hermione said. “Just a bad feeling.”
“Oh,” Ron said, rubbing his arm sheepishly, “well I guess that’s alright, then. You need to trust your guts.”
“Yes,” Minerva said, “it is good to be cautious, but I agree with Remus and Harry in this case. This is our best chance, Hermione.”
“Yes, Professor,” Hermione said, quickly slipping back into her school days. “I mean, ah, Minerva.”
Professor McGonagall smiled at bit and waved her hand at the back of the office. “Now, go along and say hello. I’m always here, so it does not matter how late you are.”
“Thank you, Minerva,” Hermione said. Hermione and Ron stepped around the desk and walked towards a bookcase on the wall behind Minerva’s desk. Rapping it lightly with her knuckle, Hermione said, “Prongs and Lily.” With a sound like a thousand bells tolling from a distant town, the bookshelf swung inward and revealed a short, dark passageway. Though the office was filled with the scent of incense and smoke, a gentle breeze wafted out of the passageway and brought the scent of the evening air to Hermione.
Ron and Hermione stepped through the portal and began walking down the dark corridor. The bookshelf closed behind them, and they were left in darkness for a moment. With their next step, they stepped out of the stone passageway and onto a stone path. The rustle of the wind in the trees surrounded them, and the air became crisp and cool. After a few more steps, the moon and star-filled sky appeared above them and a garden surrounded them. In the summer the garden had bloomed with enough flowers to entrance Neville Longbottom, but now it was nearly empty except for the evergreen bushes that lined the paths. One of the paths led to the back of a rambling cottage.
Yellow lights danced warmly in the windows, and the scent of baking bread and sweets wafted on the wind. “Ginny’s baking,” Ron said as he picked up his pace and ran towards the door. Hermione followed quickly behind him, shaking her head. Ron would always have that little boy inside of him with dirt on his nose and a bottomless stomach.
Not bothering to knock, Ron opened the door and entered. “Hey, sis, are any of those biscuits ready?”
“Ignore him, Ginny. He’s already eaten,” Hermione said as she stepped into the Potters’ home. The delicate scent of baking became a torrent of delicious scents, like the Burrow at Christmas, as Hermione walked into the kitchen. The kitchen and dining room were one large room at the center of the cottage. The combined room was bright and airy with whitewashed millwork and a worn granite floor.
To the right a hallway led to three small bedrooms and a bathroom. To the left were a family room, library, and the front door. However, those rooms were rarely used. Just as it was in the Burrow, the cottage’s kitchen was usually the center of the house, and tonight was no exception. Ginny was at the central island, wiping down the counters, with her hair tied up in a headband and her apron covered with flour and batter. Several mops were moving about the floor, and Ron was already propped up at the dining table, pulling biscuits off of the cooling racks.
“Ronald!” Hermione said.
Ginny glanced up and stepped away from the counter she was cleaning. “Ronald Weasley, those are not for you. Leave them alone, or I’ll hex you.”
Ron stared at his sister for a moment and then defiantly popped a biscuit in his mouth, but he did return the others to the cooling racks under Ginny’s daunting glare. Ginny swept in with her wand and levitated the biscuits off the table. With another flick, they sorted themselves into several dozen piles, and napkins jumped from the counter and wrapped them up. With an almost negligent air, Ginny prodded the neatly wrapped biscuits into a tin and then closed it. Hermione only looked on in amazement. It was like watching Molly cook, but with a definite attitude. “There,” Ginny said as she tucked her wand into her apron, “now you won’t be tempted.”
“Who won’t be tempted with what?”
Hermione glanced towards the left and saw Harry and Tonks walking into the kitchen. “Your brother-in-law and my biscuits,” Ginny said.
Harry laughed, his voice carefree and vibrant. “You made extra because you knew he was coming over,” Harry said. He took the few steps to Ginny and kissed his wife briefly on the lips. “I think you just like being angry at him.”
“True,” Ginny said, leaning into Harry. “He wouldn’t be my brother if he wasn’t always a prat.”
“Oi, I can get picked on at home, you know,” Ron said.
“But I’ll forgive him because who knows what tomorrow will bring.” Something passed between Harry and Ginny at that moment. Hermione felt as if she had disappeared from the room, and the horrible turning feeling from earlier in the day began to gnaw at her stomach.
The moment passed quickly, however, and Ginny pulled out her wand and pointed it at the tin. One of the biscuit packages hopped out and floated over to Ron, who grabbed it out of the air. “Those are all you get,” Ginny said.
“Thanks,” Ron said as he tore open the napkin and snapped up another biscuit.
“What is it about Weasley men and their stomachs?” Tonks asked.
“I think it is all men in general,” Hermione said as she watched Harry walk over and slap Ron on the back before nicking one of the biscuits.
“Hey, those are mine,” Ron howled in indignation. “Get your wife to make your own.” Hermione rolled her eyes as Harry and Ron fell into a good natured argument over the remaining biscuits.
“Well, I should get going,” Tonks said, walking towards the door. “Remus is expecting me, and Hermione here looks like she’s itching to tell you something. I assume everything went okay at the meeting?”
“Yes,” Hermione said. “Everything is in order. I wanted to talk to Harry about the final plans and a few other things.” Harry frowned, and Hermione bit her lip. “But it can wait for tomorrow. Ron and I really came over to spend time with Harry and Ginny, right Ron?”
“Mmhhmm,” Ron said around a mouthful of biscuits.
“Ron, where are your manners?” Hermione took a few steps to the table and smacked Ron on the shoulder.
“Well, I’ll be going, then. I’ll see you tomorrow, Ginny. I’ve got guard duty during the attack,” Tonks said.
“Thanks, Tonks,” Harry said. “I appreciate it.”
“Well, I only do this because of my godson,” Tonks said as she opened the door. “Otherwise, I’d be watching your back tomorrow, Ministry arrest warrants or not, Mr. Dark Lord Potter.” Tonks’ hair became a sickly green, and then she was out the front door.
Shocked, Hermione turned to Harry and found him and Ginny chuckling. “Harry, how can you joke about that? The Ministry is dragging your name through the mud.” Both Harry and Ginny stopped laughing and adopted unreadable expressions, but at least they were paying attention to her. “I don’t see how you can just let this go on without even trying to correct them.”
Harry and Ginny glanced at each other, and then Ginny shrugged and said, “It’s all spilt milk, Hermione. Why waste our time bothering with it?”
“Because your war with the Ministry isn’t helping a blasted thing,” Hermione said. She was struggling with her temper, and Harry and Ginny were standing in their kitchen as calmly as if they were all planning a holiday. In truth, for the past few months, nothing had ruffled the two of them. It was as if the war were already over. “And now a bunch of people will probably die tomorrow because they don’t have any warning.”
“I’m not going to help the Ministry, Hermione,” Harry said. He frowned, and his jaw tightened. “Not after what they did.” He turned and walked out of the kitchen and into the family room.
“Hermione, I don’t think tonight is a good…”
Hermione spun to face Ron. “He’s fighting Voldemort tomorrow. He might die, and I want the air cleared between all of us.” Hermione turned and silently implored Ginny with her eyes, but Ginny shook her head.
Hermione was tired of living with the worry and the fear. She was tired of Harry hiding and pushing everyone but his family away. Undaunted by Harry’s attitude, she stormed out of the kitchen with Ron and Ginny close on her heels. Harry was seated in the chair across from the fireplace, staring at the empty portrait that usually held Professor Dumbledore. Toys littered the floor in front of the fireplace, and Harry casually shuffled them about with his feet. As Hermione walked in, he picked up a toy broomstick and released it. It wobbled for a moment and then hovered over the carpet.
“Are you just planning to stay here for the rest of your life, Harry?” Crossing the room, she stopped in front of him, pushing into his personal space in the hope of getting some reaction. “Do you even know how bad it is? How many people are as scared of you as they are of Voldemort? Defeating him is not going to be enough to clear your name, and I don’t want you locked in prison because of your stubborn pride.” Harry sat there and stared at the small broom. Tears stung at her eyes, and Hermione collapsed to her knees and wrapped her arms about Harry. “Please, Harry. I can’t help you if you don’t let me.”
A hand touched her shoulder and pulled her away from Harry until she was standing in front of him. “Leave him be, Hermione,” Ron said. His arms wrapped about her in a loose embrace. For a moment, Hermione wanted to struggle and fight with him, but after a glance at Ron’s determined face, she simply gave in to him. “We’ve been with him this long. We just have to trust him and Ginny.”
“I do,” Hermione whispered into Ron’s forearm, and then she turned and looked at Harry and then Ginny. “I do. I swear I do. I just…”
“Want answers.” Harry said. Hermione nodded, and Harry deactivated the toy broom. It clattered to the floor. “I’m not sure what I can say, Hermione, but you deserve to know.” Harry took his wand and made a complicated gesture. All the toys in the room lifted from the carpeted floor and danced through the air to a toy box near the fireplace. They arranged themselves neatly, and then the box closed.
Ron dropped his arms from about Hermione’s shoulders, and they both sat down on the loveseat across from the sofa where Harry was perched. “I’ll get you lot some tea,” Ginny said and turned to walk away.
“Stay,” Harry said. “We all started this together, and I’d like us all to be together tonight.”
Ginny stopped for a moment and then stared at Harry as if they were having some sort of silent argument. After a few seconds of silence, Harry patted the cushion next to him, and Ginny quirked an eyebrow at him before joining him on the couch. Sinking back into the sofa, Harry draped an arm about Ginny’s shoulders and pulled her close.
“You need to understand that I trust you both,” Harry said after a few moments. “I trust you with my life, Ginny’s life, and James’ life.”
“Mate, I’ve never doubted that,” Ron said. “I’d die for you. You’re more than my best mate and brother.” He reached out and took Hermione’s hand. “I don’t know what my life would’ve been without you, but I never want to know. I have everything I want right in this room.” Hermione quickly voiced her agreement.
“But you deserve more,” Harry said. “You and Hermione, your families, our friends… I wanted none of you in this. If I had known you would stay away, I would’ve shipped you all off to some island in the Pacific Ocean.”
Hermione shook her head at Harry’s noble stupidity. “But you can’t. And we wouldn’t have let you. We’ve been a team since the beginning, and nothing you could’ve done will ever change that.”
“Trust me,” Ginny said, “he knows. I’ve more than drilled that into his thick head. Half this mess we’re all in is because he wanted to protect me.”
Hermione mulled over that statement. How could Ginny’s safety be responsible for anything? Well, that was not entirely true, Hermione decided. After Ginny had almost died during the Fall of Hogwarts, Harry had changed and become secretive and reluctant to discuss his plans, but they had still continued with the hunt for the Horcruxes. Glancing up at Ginny, Hermione began to ask her question, but Ginny caught her eye and shook her head slightly, the pleasant smile never leaving her face.
“But that’s over now, isn’t it, dear?” Ginny asked, closing the conversation.
A lopsided grin appeared on Harry’s face, and he nodded. “Yeah. No more leaving you behind for any reason. Not even death.” Something passed between the two of them, and Ginny’s smile became intense and sultry as she leaned up and kissed Harry’s cheek.
“Harry, you’re not…” Harry held up his hand, and Hermione stopped.
“I can’t guarantee what will happen tomorrow, Hermione. I’ll live or die, and Ginny and I’ve accepted that.” Harry closed his eyes. “I can only tell you that Voldemort will be dead tomorrow. I will make sure of that.” Harry opened his eyes, removed his arm from about Ginny, and leaned forward. “I refuse to have James grow up during a war. He’ll have a childhood, and he won’t have to deal with any of the crap I dealt with.”
Hermione stared at Harry, and the room fell silent. There was no response to Harry’s wish for his son, but Hermione wondered how realistic it was. “Harry, when you defeat Voldemort, your problems won’t go away,” Hermione said. “The Ministry wants you arrested, and the public thinks you’re as bad as Voldemort. How can that not affect James?”
Harry shrugged and smiled back at her with the infuriating grin he had picked up from Remus during the Horcrux hunt. He was about to tell her something she would not like.
“Harry, please…” Hermione said, but Ginny interrupted her and smacked Harry’s arm.
“Stop being a prat,” she told him, and a serious mask quickly replaced his impudent grin.
“Fine,” Harry said. “Look, it doesn’t matter what the Ministry says about me or how the public looks at me. I don’t care. I’ve never cared. I never wanted my fame, and I never will. I want to be forgotten and left as a footnote in Binns’ class right next to Ulric the Oddball.”
“But how?” Ron asked, but Hermione had already figured it out.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?” Hermione asked. After a moments thought, Harry and Ginny nodded.
“Leaving,” Ron asked. “Leaving what?”
“England,” Ginny said, “the Wizarding World, our names, everything. Remus has already set it up.”
“So you’re just ditching your family and vanishing because Harry doesn’t want to be famous?” Ron said. “Well, what about what I want?” He pushed away from Hermione and stalked across the room and out into the kitchen. The rear door slammed, and the room was silent.
“Bloody hell, Ron,” Harry said, and then he got up and followed his friend out of the room. Hermione made to stand up as well, but Ginny rose and put a hand on her arm.
“Let them be, Hermione,” Ginny said. “They need to work this out.”
Hermione sat back down and stared at the kitchen. She refereed their fights regularly, and she hoped that they could work out their differences. But to be truthful, she was hurt as well. Ten years of friendship and dependence could not be casually thrown aside. The suddenness of Harry and Ginny’s announcement left a bitter taste in Hermione’s mouth. It hurt more because she doubted they would have told her if she had not forced them to talk. And if she were upset and angry, then Ron, who wore his feelings like garish dress robes, would be incensed.
Again she made to get up, but Ginny pushed firmly on her shoulder. “You need to let them both work this out, Hermione. You cannot be their mediator forever.”
“Maybe I need to vent as well,” Hermione said. It was harsh, and she knew it. But it also felt good to lash out. “Maybe I’m tired of all the secrets you two keep. Harry, Ron, and I have always been a team. I’ve given up everything for Harry and this bloody, stupid war. Everything!” Anger and frustration welled up within her and came pouring out. “I can’t lose you both, too. I can’t.” The pressure on her shoulder eased, and Hermione buried her face in Ginny’s stomach and sobbed.
“Shh, Hermione. Shh, it’ll be alright,” Ginny said in a soft voice. Ginny’s arms wrapped about Hermione and cradled her head as she rocked back and forth. For a long time, the two friends sat wrapped in each other’s arms, and Hermione cried out her frustration and fears. Eventually, her tears dried up, and she pulled away from Ginny.
Ginny’s blouse was wet, and Hermione mumbled an apology as she fumbled with her wand.
“Don’t worry about it,” Ginny said as she sat down on the loveseat next to Hermione. Ginny pulled out her wand and cleaned her blouse with a quick spell. “Tears are the least that this blouse has seen in the last year.”
Hermione laughed as she scrubbed her face with her sleeve. “I’m sure the most interesting things have ended up on you because of James.”
“Trust me,” Ginny said. “Harry is not innocent in messing up my blouses either,” Ginny added as Hermione blushed, “but you probably don’t want to hear about that.”
Hermione shook her head. “I don’t mind,” she said. “Thank you for letting me cry on you.”
“What are friends for?” Ginny reached out and squeezed one of Hermione’s hands, but Hermione tightened her grip and kept hold of Ginny’s hand.
“I miss our talks,” Hermione said. “I mean, I like your mum, and Fleur isn’t so bad when she isn’t complaining. But you’re like a little sister to me. Although,” Hermione said, as she conjured a handkerchief and finished cleaning her face, “lately, I feel like I’m your little sister.”
“Sometimes,” Ginny said, “I feel absolutely ancient. Like I’m my grandmother, and I miss being a kid.”
Hermione frowned at the wistful tone in Ginny’s voice. “Do you regret having James?”
“No,” Ginny said, “I’ve never regretted James or Harry.” She shrugged. “It’s everything else, the war and growing up at eleven years old and just wanting a normal life without the world hanging on the decisions of a twenty year old mother and her husband.”
“Ginny, it doesn’t have to be all on Harry and you,” Hermione said. “We’re all in this together.”
“I know,” Ginny said, “but I want to live in a place where I can walk outside and my biggest worry is what kind of trouble James is getting into. Not whether he’s going to be kidnapped, or killed, or mocked because of his parents.”
“I don’t want you to leave,” Hermione said.
“Hermione, we won’t be leaving you all,” Ginny said. “We’re just leaving public view. As soon as we’re settled, we’ll send Hedwig with a Portkey.” Ginny squeezed Hermione’s hand. “My family is very important to me, especially my future sister-in-law.”
Hermione sighed in relief and leaned against her friend. “I’m being ridiculous. I came over here to spend time with you and Harry, not to get into a fight. I’ve just been so worried recently.”
“I think we’ve all been a bit frazzled recently,” Ginny said. “And I think some relaxation is in order. Accio wine and glasses.”
Hermione grinned as a bottle of chardonnay and four glasses floated into the room and landed on the coffee table. Ginny stood up and poured two glasses. She handed one to Hermione, who took it and sipped at the wine. It was dry with a hint of apples and oak, and she and Ginny talked in between sips. Mostly Ginny talked about James and all the developments of the past week.
“He seriously let James have his wand?” Hermione asked as she filled her glass for the third time.
“Oh, it was cute, for a while,” Ginny said as she chuckled. “He kept shooting these colored sparks all over the room and then trying to catch them as they fell. “
“You’re lucky he didn’t hurt himself,” Hermione said. Ginny stared at Hermione for a second and began chuckling, her eyes alight with mirth. “What?” Hermione asked.
“I really shouldn’t tell you this. But James having the wand wasn’t the problem.” Ginny leaned forward and whispered into Hermione’s ear. “When Harry went to take the wand away at bedtime, James threw a fit and accidentally banished all of Harry’s clothing.”
Hermione started to giggle as well. “That must have been a surprise,” Hermione said, “but I’m sure it wasn’t a problem for you, was it?”
Instead of responding, Ginny shook her head and then covered her mouth as she started laughing. In between breaths, she was able to gasp out, “No. But Mum and Dad got a show.”
Hermione stared at her friend and then blushed and collapsed into laughter at the image of Harry standing starkers in the living room in front of his in-laws while struggling to take a wand away from his fifteen-month old son. “Now that’s a story of accidental magic,” Hermione said.
“A story of what?” Ron asked.
“Nothing,” Hermione and Ginny said in unison before breaking out into another fit of laughter.
“Women,” Ron said under his breath. “They’re all nutters. Right, Harry?”
Hermione glanced up and saw Ron and Harry walk across the family room. Although rosy-cheeked from the cool autumn air, both wore smiles. Obviously, Harry had placated Ron’s temper in some manner which Hermione doubted she would ever hear about. It was always that way with Ron and Harry. Arguments were dismissed with a wave of the hand and a long talk about Quidditch or chess. Still, she could not help but wonder as they both watched her and Ginny with wary expressions.
“Don’t bring me into this one, mate,” Harry said as he reclaimed his seat on the couch and reached for the wine and the glasses. “I want to sleep with my wife tonight.”
Hermione gaped at Harry and then turned to Ginny. “When did you get him trained so well?”
Ginny shrugged. “Don’t know. He’s been that way since we found out I was pregnant with James. Not that I’m complaining.” She stood up, walked towards Harry, and leaned down to kiss him hard on the mouth. Ron grinned at Hermione from across the room. There was a question in his eyes, and Hermione smirked at him and glanced back toward the bedrooms.
Smiling, Ron walked over to her, grabbed her hands, and pulled her to her feet. “I think they’re going to be busy for a while,” he said. Hermione glanced over his shoulder and saw Ginny firmly ensconced in Harry’s lap, their wine glasses forgotten on the table.
“Are you and Harry okay, now?” Hermione asked.
“Yeah,” Ron said. He tugged on her arm, and Hermione only resisted playfully as she allowed him to pull her through the kitchen and towards the guest room. “He explained it all. I guess I don’t blame him. It was just a shock. And we can go on holiday to visit once they’re settled, right?”
Hermione kissed him, proud that he had worked it out, especially when she had struggled so much to come to grips with the news herself. “We can figure it all out in the morning, luv, but right now, I’m tired.”
“Tired?” Ron said as he waggled his eyebrows. “I thought that, well…”
“You could tire me out?”
Hermione pushed him through the doorway to the guest bedroom and then closed it behind her. After pulling out her wand, she cast a Silencing Charm and pounced on Ron, who was sitting on the edge of the bed with a silly grin on his face. It was a while before they fell asleep.
Hermione awoke with the sun the next morning. Years of early rising kept her from sleeping in even when she had been up late like the previous night. Ron, however, had no such habits and only grumbled a bit as Hermione slipped out of bed and into her dressing gown. Canceling the charms on the door, she left the room and made her way down towards the bathroom at the end of the hall.
The door to James’ nursery was cracked open, and as she passed it, she heard a voice. Curious, she opened the door and peaked in. The room was a soft sky blue with clouds painted on the ceiling and walls. Quidditch players zoomed about the paint, dipping, weaving, and scoring in a perpetual game. Toys and pictures buried the top of the bureau, and the sweet, talc scent of baby powder permeated the air.
A rocking chair occupied a corner of the room, and Harry sat in it, holding James. On the table next to Harry, a quill was writing in a small book as Harry spoke softly to his son. Even from a distance the book tugged at Hermione’s memory, but she could not place where she had seen it before. There was a small creak as the door opened further, and Harry glanced up.
“Morning, Hermione,” he said. “You’re up early.”
“I could say the same for you,” Hermione said. She took a few steps into the room and glanced around for a place to sit. She found a second chair behind the door, pulled it out, and sat down next to Harry. James was asleep, his small chest rising and falling. Most everyone said that James looked like Harry, but in truth, only the dark hair and green eyes came from his father. Hermione could see the Weasley bone structure and nose in the toddler’s face. He had his mother’s skin and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose. As Molly had once exclaimed, except for the hair and eyes, James looked exactly like Bill had as a baby.
“So, did you come in here to talk or to look at my son?” Harry asked.
“A little of both,” Hermione said. “It’s probably the last time I’ll see him for a while if you guys are going to disappear tomorrow.”
“I’m sure it will only be a short separation,” Harry said. “A month or two at most.”
The quill scratched away, and Hermione glanced at the small book. Where the quill had been writing, there were pages of indecipherable runes which glowed silver in the low light. Hermione recognized the writing. “That’s your mother’s journal.”
“Oh,” Harry said, “I forgot about that.” Carefully, Harry began to shift James in his arms as he turned toward the table.
“Do you want me to hold him?” Hermione asked.
“Ah, no, I’m fine,” Harry said, as he awkwardly plucked the quill from the air and closed the book without disturbing James.
Hermione reached out and touched the cover of the small, black leather diary. Silvery vines traced a pattern on the leather, and a perfect flower bloomed in each corner. “I thought you gave up on this. I mean we never had much luck translating it.”
“I figured it out a long time ago,” Harry said, “but it’s mostly personal stuff.” Harry smiled a bit and ran his finger along his son’s cheek. “It was wonderful reading her words, even if they weren’t directly to me, and I wanted something like that for James. So I tore this thing apart until I figured out the spell so I could write in it,” he said. “Ginny and I’ve been talking to James for months now and recording everything in the diary.”
“Why would you… oh,” Hermione said in sudden understanding.
“Yeah,” Harry said. “I would give anything to have something Mum and Dad wrote, especially if it was just to me.” Harry reached out and grasped James’ hand. James’ fingers closed about Harry’s thumb.
“I wish you wouldn’t be so morbid,” Hermione said after a few moments. “I don’t like hearing about you dying.”
Harry sighed, and Hermione felt the knot reforming in her stomach. “Then you’re going to hate this,” he said. He shifted James again, reached into his robes, pulled out a roll of parchment, and placed it on Hermione’s lap.
“What is it?” Hermione asked. It looked innocent and simple, but her gut told her that she would rather have a coiled basilisk on her lap than that roll of parchment.
“It’s Ginny’s and my will.”
“Ginny’s? Why does she need a will?” Hermione asked in a loud whisper. James squirmed in Harry’s arms and began whimpering. Before she could apologize, Harry soothed James with a few soft words while he rocked in his chair. Hermione stared at Harry and waited for James to calm down before repeating her question. “Why do you have a joint will?”
“Ginny has my will in case something happens to me,” Harry said, “but we still haven’t found the traitor in our midst. Voldemort might know what we are planning today, and anything could happen. If Ginny and I both die tonight, or even in a few years, I want James taken care of.”
“You won’t die, either of you,” Hermione said.
“This is not about wishes, Hermione,” Harry said. His voice was cold and hard, and Hermione recoiled a bit from him. “I don’t have the luxury of assuming everything will be perfect. James is the most important person in my life, and I won’t take any chances with him. He won’t have my childhood, and he won’t become some ward of the Ministry.”
Hermione considered arguing with him, but Harry’s face was resolute. This was not something he had done lightly or on the spur of the moment. However, what he had said about the Ministry bothered her. “Ward of the Ministry? Wouldn’t he go to Molly or one of Ginny’s brothers?” Hermione asked.
Harry shook his head. “There is an old law that was written right after the Black Death in Europe. A lot of the pureblood families were decimated, and so they passed a law to protect the pureblood lines. The Ministry can take custody of and give any magical orphan who has a pureblood parent or grandparent to any pureblood family.”
“What?” Hermione said. “They can take any child? Even if Ron and I have one?”
“No, not just any,” Harry said. “The law was meant to protect pureblood lineages and property rights. The child has to be the last of a familial line, and the family that takes him in must have two or fewer living heirs.”
“That is just pureblood supremacy and bigotry at work,” Hermione said. “It’s pure sophistry intended to keep money and power.”
“You’re right,” Harry said, “but that law is the reason I did not end up with the Malfoys or the Notts.”
“Why would the Malfoy and Nott families have any claim on you?” Hermione asked.
“Both of those families are related to me a few generations back and could have claimed me based on familial rights,” Harry said. “My great-great aunt Elizabeth Potter married Draco’s great-great grandfather.”
“And the Notts?” Hermione asked, thoroughly entranced. She had never realized that Harry had traced his lineage.
“Ah, well, it turns out my mom’s great-grandmother was a squib named Beatrice Nott who married Shannon Evans, a Muggle,” Harry said.
Hermione’s eyes widened. “You mean your mother was not Muggleborn at all?”
“Er,” Harry said, furrowing his brow in thought. “I’m not sure how that works, but I’m definitely a half-blood.”
“Well, yes,” Hermione said, “but your grandfather and great-grandfather were technically squibs.”
Harry shrugged. “No one really knows that. I only found out because my mum wrote it down in her diary. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Dumbledore invoked the old law and fought long and hard to get me declared a ward of his family, since the Dumbledore line had no viable heirs after Albus and his brother.”
“But then why did you end up with the Dursleys?” Hermione asked.
“I was Dumbledore’s ward. He could do with me as he wished as long as I was cared for,” Harry said.
“So why are you so certain that the Ministry would try that with James?” Hermione asked. “I mean the Weasley family is not without their allies, and many of the other pureblood lines are suffering because of Voldemort.”
“A couple reasons, actually,” Harry said. “One, James is the heir to the Potter, Black, and Dumbledore lineages. Any family would kill for the wealth and power that represents. But, more importantly, because they have already tried to take him.”
Hermione shook her head and stared at Harry and then down at James. She could not think of what to say, but Harry went on, unaware of Hermione’s shock. “Percy came to us shortly after James was born. The Ministry really hadn’t declared me to be the next dark lord yet, but they weren’t refuting the press, either. They still wanted to use me, and well, they figured James was the perfect tool to control me.”
Shaking off her shock, Hermione asked, “Scrimgeour wouldn’t sink that low, would he?”
“I didn’t think so, either, but I was wrong. They were the ones who tried to kidnap James from Grimmauld Place. Mundungus brought two Animagi into the house, and they tried to steal James. Luckily, Ginny and Tonks were there. Otherwise, I’m not sure what would have happened.”
“I always just assumed that was Death Eaters,” Hermione said.
“One of them was,” Harry said. “But, even if the Ministry was being coerced by Voldemort, they still tried to take James, and I know they will try again if I don’t protect him.”
Hermione nodded and mulled over what Harry had said. The Ministry had made many mistakes in the past years, and Hermione no longer trusted them without reservation. Even when Harry told her plainly, though, it was hard to believe that they would stoop to that level. Still, she trusted Harry, and his words rang true. Sighing, she leaned back in her chair. There was a creaking sound in the room, and Harry’s eyes flickered upward, but Hermione ignored it and picked up the will. “So what does your will do?” she asked.
For a moment, Harry’s gaze focused behind her, but then he smiled and looked directly at her. “If Ginny and I die, that will makes you and Ron James’ legal guardians. It also has all the information you need to leave England like Ginny and I are planning to do.” Shifting James slightly, Harry reached out and placed his hand over Hermione’s. She felt a slight jolt, like static electricity, but any concerns faded as Harry’s green eyes locked with hers. They were deep and sincere and compelling beyond any Imperius curse. “Please, if something happens to Ginny and me, make sure you take care of James. I want him to be happy. I want him to have everything I didn’t. Please, promise me this.”
There was no reluctance on Hermione’s part. This was not about Harry and Ginny but about their child, and she loved James. She was his Aunt Ermy, and she would do anything within her power to protect him. “I swear, Harry. I swear that if it comes to be, I will raise and protect him the way you want.”
A hand touched her shoulder, and Ron’s voice sounded strongly in her ear. “As do I.” There was a flash of light, and it felt as if a weight had settled on her heart. But it was not a heavy load, more like a missing piece had been found. She smiled at Harry and then turned to see Ron standing by her side, his hand on her shoulder and his hair still tousled from sleep. Behind him, Ginny also stood, her hand resting lightly atop her brother’s hand on Hermione’s shoulder.
Ginny’s face was lit with a beatific smile. “Thank you, Hermione. Thank you, Ron. This means a great deal to us.”
“Anything for my friends,” Hermione said. “Anything.”